Read an Excerpt
The Winged Prophet from Hermes to Quetzalcoatl
An Introduction to the Mesoamerican Deities through the Tarot
By Carol Miller, Guadalupe Rivera
Samuel Weiser, Inc.Copyright © 1994 Carol Miller and Guadalupe Rivera
All rights reserved.
MYTHOLOGY OF THE MAGICIAN
The cards in the tarot deck are called arcana, meaning "mysteries," referring to the "secrets" in Hermetism as described in the arcanum, the Latin word for "trump." These secrets, however, are not dark truths at all, and contrary to popular misconception, have never been withheld from mortal men and women. They have been shielded, protected, even guarded, but never withheld. They are openly available to any thinking, positive, and conscientious being, for there is nothing mysterious in the definition of human purpose, nor in the application of intelligence toward a higher than ordinary goal.
Knowledge of these laws or principles offers an enormous potential for mortal awareness for purposes other than the vanities normally indulged in by society. Yet precisely as a result of humankind's incapacity or unwillingness to grow, or to fully penetrate an analysis intended for the glorification of the magnificent in the higher realm of existence—the essence of life itself—the fundamentals of Hermetism have been protected, like a precious elixir, for they are far more valuable than jewels or gold.
These principles were conceived as a guide toward personal rather than collective fulfillment and were generally revealed through symbols, to be captured and applied only by the receptive. An invaluable memorial to Egyptian symbolism has, therefore, been conferred on modern society by means of this semiotic language, expressed basically in its three areas of singular syntaxis: color, geometric figures, and numbers. Each card in the tarot, as is the case of the corresponding Mesoamerican Tonalamatl, is related to the evolution of mental contemplation as expressed in this graphic alphabet, to be deciphered and read, or interpreted like any other language.
The first arcanum is represented by Aleph, a Hebrew letter symbolizing "Unity," referring to a real or imaginary cosmic point at which all the events, ideas, actions, forms of life, art, music, poetry, in fact every person and every thought, every force and every illusion in the entire universe must eventually come together. This point is a beginning, a depository, but it is also a finality, the convergence of the infinite at a theoretical pinpoint, where past, present, and future blend, forming a single, perfect presence or concept.
This arcanum, called "The Magician," or the Divina Essentia, represents humankind in direct contact with Heaven and Divine Wisdom, wearing the crown of the Infinite. In most tarots, the figure is associated with Hermes, the young Greek messenger of the gods, though a number of versions confirm a connection with the Vedic Sarameya, derived from Sarama, god of the storm or of the dawn. The Hermetic syndrome is further related to a Greek word that conveys an idea of movement, though earlier interpretations suggest the word for "rock" or "stone," and the verb which means "to protect."
Subtleties of the Hermes legend indicate that this figure was either a god of the twilight or of the wind, as in the case of the Ehecatl manifestation of Quetzalcoatl. He was known "to make the sky clear." He probably originated as an ancient Pelasgian divinity of Thracian beginnings, associated with clouds. He was particularly honored by the mythical shepherds of Arcadia—divine park and playground of the deities. It was his mission to watch over their flocks and protect their huts, an assignment which led to the Greek custom of placing his more or less folkloric image at the doors of their dwellings.
The Dorian invasion lessened Hermes prestige, replacing him with Apollo Nomius, while the primitive Hermes of the shepherds and of animal fertility took on another character. Hermes remained the god of travelers, and in a natural extension of this role, he was also charged with conducting the souls of the dead to the underworld. He was also the god of commerce and profit, licit or otherwise, and of gamblers and games of chance. Since buying and selling require discussion and negotiation, and the art of the trader is encompassed in the overcoming of the buyer's resistance, all by means of subtle and persuasive words, Hermes became the god of eloquence, Logios, and was thus confused later with the Egyptian image of Hermes Trismegistus.
To these various functions, however, Hermes added his specifically assigned role as Zeus' messenger, and as such is described by Homer, qualified with the epithet Diactoros, meaning "emissary" or "messenger." He came to earth repeatedly with orders from the King of the gods and undertook the most delicate missions. In Hesiod, Hermes was the god who brought the impressions and sentiments inspired by Zeus himself into the hearts of men and women. As an indefatigable runner, he was honored by athletes. Described as Agonios, "he who presides over contests," his statue was placed at the entrance to the stadium in Olympia, home of the celebrated games. He was credited with the invention of pugilism and racing. And, if in earlier times he had been represented as a mature man with a thick, long beard, and hair bound with a fillet, falling in curls to his shoulders, he was later idealized as a lithe and graceful young gymnast, an ephebe with a nervous, taut body, short, crisp hair, fine features, a curiously alert expression, a winged hat and sandals, and a winged staff called a caduceus.
This son of Zeus and Maia was born in the depths of a cave on Mount Cyllene in Arcadia. On the very day of his birth, Hermes revealed his mischievous character by stealing the cattle previously confided to Apollo's care. He sneaked furtively from his cradle and climbed the mountains of Pieria, where the divine herd had been sent to graze. The infant god separated fifty lowing heifers, which he drove before him under the cover of the night to the banks of the Alpheus. He made them walk backwards so their hoofmarks should not betray the direction they had taken. He himself had cautiously placed enormous sandals of tamarisk and myrtle twigs on his delicate feet. Before shutting up the heifers in a cavern, he picked out two of the fattest and, having ingeniously produced fire by rubbing laurel twigs together, he roasted them, dividing the flesh into twelve equal portions in honor of the twelve great gods.
Afterward, says the legend, he regained the heights of Cyllene, artfully entered his cave through the keyhole, like vapor or a breath of autumn, and crawled back into his cradle like any other naughty child—as if nothing happened.
Apollo detected the absence of the heifers on the following day. He went straight to Hermes, who denied all knowledge of the theft. Apollo, feeling betrayed, was furious. He gathered up the infant Hermes and carried him at once to Zeus, their father, who only laughed at the baby's audacity. Still, Zeus loved Apollo as well and instructed Hermes to return the heifers, stabled at sandy Pylus, near the ford of the Alpheus, in the tall stables beyond the fields.
The reconciliation of the two gods was eventually blessed, according to Robert Graves in his treatment of the Greek myths, when Hermes devised an ingenious musical instrument, using a tortoise shell, stretched oxhide and seven strings fashioned from sheep gut. Apollo was still outraged over the theft of his cattle but at the delightful sound of the divine music, which penetrated his senses, a sweet desire, says the tale, took possession of him. Hermes made Apollo a gift of the lyre he had just invented and Apollo, in turn, rewarded Hermes with a bright whip or a golden wand, a prototype of the caduceus, and entrusted him with the care of the celestial herd. With this, Apollo became the patron of music and Hermes the protector of flocks and herds; and according to the myth their friendship was never broken.
Hermes was engaging, ingratiating, and ingenious. He pacified even the jealous and vindictive Hera. He was the only one of Zeus' illegitimate children to find her favor and she even suckled him. He was bright and helpful. During the war against the giants, he put on the helmet of Hades, which made him invisible, and killed Hippolytus. He freed Zeus when the King was a prisoner of the monster Typhoeus, and restored his father's strength by replacing the nerves and tendons which the giant had cut. He protected Zeus during his father's amorous adventures, using every imaginable ruse; and became the King's messenger, having been granted winged sandals in order to cross more rapidly "the celestial spaces, and be borne over the watery sea or the vast earth like a breath of wind."
Hermes' protection was extended to heroes. When Perseus faltered, Hermes restored his courage. He accompanied Herakles (Hercules) in his descent into the Underworld. He went with Orpheus on his search for Eurydice. He gave Odysseus a magic plant that made him immune to the enchantments of Circe. He helped Priam bring Hector's body back inside the walls of Troy. He rescued Aloadae and recovered the golden dog, Panareus, stolen from Zeus by Tantalus. When Tantalus cut his own son into pieces and served him as a feast for the gods, Hermes reassembled the pieces and restored the young man to life according to instructions given him by Zeus. He loved Persephone, Hecate, and Aphrodite. He pursued the nymphs in the forest and produced numerous progeny. He was a benefactor of humankind, a shrewd negotiator, and a master of melodious speech. He could lead the souls of the dead back to the world of light. He was quick-witted, amusing, thoroughly enchanting, and utterly fascinating.
Hermes appears on the arcanum with a jovial gesture, suggesting the triumph inherent in a clever wit and swift action, applied in combination with his divine powers. In the Roman pantheon, he was called Mercury, in recognition of his agility, and his association with doctors and the art of healing, a consideration granted in response to his natural faculty for transmitting divine knowledge into the human—or material—realm.
During the Middle Ages, the image of Hermes was replaced by a juggler or harlequin on the card that later became the joker in the modern deck, in addition to representing the principle of the trump card used in the game of bridge. Its power was indicated in its natural gift for reassembling the cosmic elements implicit in the symbols of the arcana, until they could be applied at the observer's interest or convenience.
This is a powerful and benevolent card. The Magician is fully aware of his youth and dominion over life itself, his potential for fulfillment, and the powers of the superior, or evolved, spirit, which neutralize extremes until a reconciliation has been accomplished, in the balance and harmony which permit the highest accomplishments of the creative mind.
A young man is shown on the card, dressed in a magician's tunic, though his garments vary according to the style and period of the deck. The traditional cards showed him dressed in a multi-colored robe, with ornaments of gold. A symbol of the Infinite, a figure eight on its side, appears in some decks above his head. He may wear a golden crown but more frequently he appears with a diadem or circlet of gold around his head. A similar belt encircles his waist.
For the Egyptians, The Magician represented eternal life. On all Egyptian or Greek talismans he appears with a serpent in his right hand, symbolizing eternal wisdom and, in his left, the Medieval magic wand, a scepter which refers to the caduceus of the messenger, Hermes. If The Magician appears as a juggler his clothing is festive and colorful. The cap he wears instead of the circlet or crown is intended as a sign of eternity.
He normally stands behind a table that appears in the form of a cube, with three objects on its surface, which may, in turn, be either covered or bare: a cup, a sword, and a coin, symbolizing the Trinity-in-Unity, considered successively as the active archetype, the activity of humanity seen as a male figure, and nature's activity in itself. This concept is translated as Spirit, in relation to Energy, thrust on Matter; or as the inter-relation of ideas, forms, and material objects.
The young man appears on the card in a standing position, to emphasize his active role, while his arms are deliberately placed in a twofold position, suggesting his binary nature; that is, the combination of two opposite poles or planes, as in the metaphysical juxtaposition of Essence and Substance—two balanced opposites, synthesized in Spirit and Matter along a direct axis.
The magician in the card holds a magic wand in his raised right hand to symbolize resourcefulness. Yet the lowered left hand indicates the duality of his condition, confirmed in the straight line along the axis of his extended arms. The binary is further emphasized in his artifacts, implements and adornments, represented in the cup, the sword, the coin, and the scepter—all references to the suits in the original, or medieval decks of cards, of the sort still termed today as "Spanish" decks.
The wand or scepter depicts fire, the initiation of all evolution, the father, virility, and male energy. The cup indicates water and physical life, divination, maternity, and female receptivity. The sword refers to air, a spirit that penetrates the material in order to create humankind, the intellectuality in decision and the definition of the alternatives that permit action. Yet the cross on the sword's hilt in the Wirth deck suggests the union of the masculine and feminine principles.
The coin and the golden ornaments in this arcanum represent the Earth, where life begins, the cavern from which humankind emerged—and in which the baby Hermes was cradled—a starting point, from which to synthesize the various principles in the card until Unity is achieved.
This arcanum stresses the binary condition of humankind's initial position, the binaries similarly encountered in the card's other references: awareness and fulfillment, good and evil, light and shadow, heat and cold.
When two binaries merge, the introduction of a third factor creates a unit, an important concept in Hermetism. When the binaries are neutralized, another fundamental concept, called a balance, is achieved, which permits the potential for harmony, which is the resolution, in fact, of awareness-fulfillment.
Not all binaries are easily neutralized. In philosophy, the binary essence-substance may be resolved in the term "nature." Yet spirit-matter must be resolved as "the soul," life-death as "projection onto the astral," good-evil as "the deed."
In the same sense, the resolution of light and shadow may be seen in half-shadow, essentially the same phenomenon achieved when heat and cold are neutralized in a modification of the existing temperature. The opposition of the sexes, however, is only neutralized in the appearance of a third element, a child, until the three entities are reassembled in a unit as "the family."
The Magician in the first arcanum is intended as a point of departure, the beginning of discrimination and selective thinking, the initiation of an interpenetration of the three planes—mental, astral, and physical—in which humans must distinguish among their mental (mens), their Astral or Astrosome (the soul) and their Corpus (physical body), until the idea of unity and activity have been properly and effectively contained.
The first arcanum symbolizes a course of action, in which all beings are in harmony and are returning to that unity, which is their true aim, expressed in the Vedantic idea of the Atman, that "unity comprises unity, for everything is contained in everything."
Excerpted from The Winged Prophet from Hermes to Quetzalcoatl by Carol Miller, Guadalupe Rivera. Copyright © 1994 Carol Miller and Guadalupe Rivera. Excerpted by permission of Samuel Weiser, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.