Hermes at War

Hermes at War April 5, 2016

ngv-jacob-jordaens-mercury-and-argusConflict is inevitable. How we deal with it is one of the greatest measures of our character and integrity. Hermes in myth, and experience, is often in the center of conflict and challenge yet is not known for battle. But the Guide of Souls is a sure hand in times of struggle…

In training people for Hermes’ priesthood aspirants are bound with an oath to not lie, cheat, or steal, except at war. In part this is because anyone steeped in the archetype Hermes embodies will find it incredibly easy to lie, cheat, and steal, both for ability and due to a reduced moral threshold. Naturally, this causes issues in polite society and needs to be kept in check. Doubly so when you have relations with other Deities of opposite character. They get rather irritated. But there is a place In the world for lying, cheating, and stealing. As Sun Tsu says, the essence of war is deception. When the conflict is real, Hermes’ skills become effective solutions, as Argus found out.

But knowing this demands responsibility in their use. Knowing a sure route to defeating your opponent does not mean you should take it. In most conflict we are likely to participate in, all of the parties survive and remain around after the battle is done. Even when we win, tomorrow is another day and they may win then. Grace on the part of the victor, respect for the defeated, are the courtesies that emerge when conflict is not totalizing. We do not generally slaughter our opponents or genocide their culture. And tomorrow the shoe may be on the other foot. So when we deal with less bloody conflict, we need to bear this reality in mind and apply Hermes’ other skills of discourse and inquiry, of negotiation and diplomacy. These are not far from the lying, cheating, and stealing, but seek a more even-handed result.

While it may sound odd for such an expert in cheating, Hermes is also the Prefect of Contests, and as master of cheats, a good referee. This shows the essentially non-dual quality of Divine virtues and vices. It is we humans who split them into the good and the bad.

In the Great War of the Greeks, the Trojan war, a battle of the Gods is drawn up. Each Olympian is matched with another in combat. But Hermes is paired up to fight Leto, Apollo and Artemis’ mother, and simply bows out of the conflict, telling her she can claim victory. Discretion, indeed, can be the better part of valor…

We are in a strange phase of human discourse. So often, folks are more attached to their outrage than the outcome. Hardly surprising: We have so little power to shape the outcome, but so much room to complain, and with the Internet, never have we had such an audience for our grievances. We do what we can and sometimes all that we can do is complain. But for the Lord of Words, words are true weapons. Nobly used, they are tools of understanding, negotiation, and honorable dealing. Basely wielded, they are but poisons and lashes. While the power is His, it is on us to apply it in our lives. Let us pray for the wisdom to do so aright.

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