“In some myths, the gods set out to create a world that was perfect and ideal, but this world––with its complexity and ambiguity, its beauty and its dirt was trickster's creation, and the work is not yet finished.”
Mercury, the winged messenger, God of communication and poetry, travellers, trickery, the Roman God of commerce, eloquence, messages, boundaries, luck, prophecy and thieves; he was also the guide of souls to the underworld.
“His name is possibly related to the Latin word merx (merchandise, merchant, commerce)mercari (to trade), and merces (wages); another possible connection is the Proto-Indo-European root merĝ(boundary, border)and his role as the bridge between the upper and lower worlds.” (wiki)
He is often depicted holding the caduceus in his left hand, which was given to him by Apollo, his brother. The caduceus/wand he carries depicts two serpents coiled around a central staff.
To the Greeks he was Hermes. The divine trickster and the God of boundaries, the patron of herdsmen, thieves, graves, and heralds as well as the inventor of astronomy, astrology, medicine, maths and magic. He is described as moving freely between the worlds of the mortal and divine, and was the psychopomp (psychopompós) literally meaning the "guide of souls" escorting souls to the underworld.
To the Egyptians, he was Thoth; the Ibis headed God of writing, magic, and wisdom. The Egyptians credited him as the author of all works of science, religion, philosophy, and magic.
Trickster Gods are known throughout the world – in Norse mythology there is Loki, a shape shifter, sometimes he assists the Gods and sometimes he acts maliciously.
In Africa and the Caribbean, he is Anansi, often depicted as a spider, or a human with spiderlike features, he is cunning and knowledgeable and at times the Gods bestow temporary powers on him so he can help humans.
In Haitian Vodou he is Gede Lwa, who walks between the dead ancestors and the living, passing on messages.
To the Chinese he is Sun Wukong, the Monkey King, who creates so much havoc in heaven; he is exiled and eventually imprisoned, finally redeemed by his involvement with the Buddhist monk Tripitaka, and their sacred journey to the west.
In Hindu he is Krishna, God of compassion, tenderness and love, a prankster, a model lover, a divine hero.
The tricksters we may be most familiar with are the folk tales of the Native Americans, coyote or raven. They are charged with helping humans, bringing in fire and medicine, they are the messenger between our world and the upper, and occasionally they disobey the Gods and bring magic or mayhem into our world.
In Lewis Hyde's captivating book - Trickster Makes This World– the ambiguity, disruptive and subversive energy of the trickster is an intrinsic ingredient to be mixed into our imagination, as a source that brings in new ways of thinking, new art forms, and a rule breaking anarchy to our perspective. Tricksters dare to ask those unacceptable, inappropriate questions, they are not part of, nor do they wish to belong to that acceptable etiquette of polite society or the establishment.
Mercury/Hermes was the illegitimate son of Jupiter/Zeus; he was not part of the pantheon of the Gods, but through trickery, charm and sheer audacity he manages to become indispensible to them. Yet always he hovers on that border, the edge, belonging more to the in-between twilight world of thieves and revolutionaries, climbing over walls and squeezing through keyholes, finding out secrets, lying and stealing, sometimes from the Gods themselves and sharing these gifts with us. Reminding us that just because a culture, a system, a hierarchy, a belief seems immovable, fixed, something that is what it is, because it has always been that way, doesn’t mean it can’t be changed, that rules can’t be remade, can't be broken, that the whole shebang can't be overturned and dismantled.
This is the heroic side of the Trickster, asking those uncomfortable questions, finding a new perspective that changes what has gone before and suddenly we wonder why, how, we ever thought that this was the way it should be. And none of us are the quite the same, we have crossed the threshold into a new world and we can never go back. And there lies the brilliance of the trickster imagination.
So strap on those winged sandals/boots and connect with your inner magician, alchemist, trickster and climb onto the threshold and prepare to fly through the door of your imagination and change your world. After all as God of communication, Mercury is also the modern God of our sprawling and uncontrollable Internet, the www portal that opens up our access to knowledge, fake news and each other, in all our unfettered weirdness and uniqueness.
A Brave New World indeed.
Photo: Mercury stature – Vice Chancellor’s Quadrangle (official name) or as I call it Mercury’s secret garden, Sydney University – the courtyard was built and landscaped in the mid 1920s – in 1952 the statues of Mercury and Fortuna were added, these had previously stood on the parapet of a row of shops on George Street West and were acquired when the shops were demolished. The statues, both signed 'Jean Bologne' are probably French copies of the work of the Italian Renaissance sculptor Giovanni Bologna. The fours sides of the quadrangle are formed by the chemistry laboratory & the organic chemistry department - very alchemical - at one time there was also a set of offices behind a glass door engraved ‘The Department of the mind’ which I would pass just before I entered the courtyard and found very intriguing.
I always smile when I see Mercury, as he always looks like he is flipping the finger to some academic or another because that’s what he would do. And the head he is standing on is actually Zephyr the wind aiding his flight. I think his caduceus is missing, probably one of those students! You know what students are like? And Mercury would approve of that.