The Story of Hermes
(“Um, That’s 'Mercury' to you!”)
ong ago, in a land far, far away.... there lived a King of the Gods named Zeus. Now Zeus was married to this faithful babe named Hera, but Zeus was loose and liked to fool around — a LOT! One of Zeus’ paramours was a nymph named Maia, and when the God of Lightning and Mother Night made whoopie, their fireworks created a son named Hermes.
Hermes grew from an infant into a little boy with astonishing speed! He quickly became bored and declared, "This place needs some mischief and I’m just the little devil to do it!" So Hermes made tracks — literally! Y’see, he stole the cattle that belonged to his brother, Apollo. Being a tricky little rascal, he fooled Apollo into thinking he’d made his getaway in the opposite direction, by attaching special "shoes" to the cows’ feet, so that they made hoof-prints that pointed backwards.
Poor confused Apollo, God of the Sun, searched high and low for the cattle, until one day he heard a strange sound. Peering through the woods, he spied Hermes strumming a strange musical instrument.
"Yo Hermes!" Apollo called out. "Qu’est que c’est?"
"Lyre," replied Hermes.
"Hey, who’re you callin’ a liar???" retorted Apollo.
"No, no," choked Hermes on his chuckles, "IT’S called a lyre, O Sun-Stroked One."
"Oh. Never heard of it," decreed Apollo.
"That’s probably because I just invented it, O Brilliant One," explained Hermes.
"Oh," enthused Apollo. "How’dja do that?"
"I took a tortoise shell and strung it with the gut from one of your cows," admitted Hermes.
"What!?!? It was YOU!?#@%!"
Enraged at having been tricked, Apollo grabbed Hermes by the scruff of the neck and hauled him before Zeus to answer for his crime. At first, Hermes lied about his actions but then he couldn’t help bragging about how cleverly he’d done the deed. However, being a silver-tongued devil, Hermes proceeded to charm Apollo into dropping the charges and forgiving him. Hermes played his lyre and sang songs about what a terrific guy Apollo was and soon he softened from resenting to relenting. In fact, so flattered was he that not only did Apollo drop all the charges but he also agreed to let Hermes keep the cattle if he could have the lyre. "Kids these days..." lamented Zeus’ shaking head.
Hermes knew a good thing when he saw it and concluded that he’d never go broke underestimating the intelligence of Apollo. (Hermes later shared this little gem with P.T. Barnum — who, fortuitously, had Mercury in Gemini.) So, Hermes made a shepherd’s pipe out of cut reeds and managed to trick—I mean trade it for Apollo’s golden shepherd staff. Hermes figured he was getting pretty good at seeing into the minds of others, so he also got Apollo to refer him to the best Personal Trainers in the arts of Prophesy and Divination.
Now that Hermes had a variety of transferable skills on his résumé, he set out to convince Zeus to take him into the Olympian Elite. Hermes opened up the Quicksilver Messenger Service and proposed to courier Zeus’ messages to the other deities and to Earth. But Zeus was a tough negotiator, and agreed to use Hermes’ services only on the strict condition that he stop stealing and telling lies. "If I catch you being your Mutable Self, I’ll fry your brains to mush!" Zeus promised. "Roger on the Mutable Mush," agreed Hermes, crossing his fingers behind his back and secretly vowing, "I’ll tell him the truth, just not the WHOLE truth...."
When Zeus saw how well Hermes performed his new job, he expanded his portfolio to include Official Contract Negotiator, Director of the Chamber of Commerce, and Minister of Transportation. Zeus also gave Hermes a very groovy uniform — a herald’s staff with white ribbons, a round hat against the rain, and winged golden sandals to carry him as swift as the wind on his appointed rounds. "Oh rats!" griped Hermes, "I was really hoping for the ruby slippers!"
Hermes could now wander freely between Olympus and Earth, but there was one more realm he was curious about — the Underworld, that dreaded place where not even Gods and Goddesses could venture unscathed. However, Pluto, Lord of the Underworld, had done some research and was impressed by Hermes’ gift of gab. "How would you like to be the Official Underworld Tour Guide?" asked Pluto one day. "Ya sure, what the Hades, why not?" agreed Hermes.
So the two negotiated a special contract that gave Hermes the pompous title of PSYCHOPOMP along with free run of Hades. Hermes’ job was to operate a shuttle service for the dead who were entering Hades, and was to extend his courier service into the Underworld. ("Dontcha just love Free Trade?") He also guided back to the light of day those confused, pathetic souls who were told to "Go to Hades" and were actually stunned enough to try. Hermes was delighted with his new job and thought Hades was his idea of Heaven!
Hermes continued to play the trickster —("One of these days I’m gonna KILL that little son-of-a-god…")— but his charm always won the affection of his Olympian family. In his more thoughtful moments, he taught them how to make fire by twirling sticks. ("No Apollo, not like a baton…") He also helped the Three Fates construct the alphabet, and his ingenuity devised the musical scale, astronomy, weights and measures. Hermes also worked with his Personal Trainers to learn the art of divination and became known as the Patron of Magic.
Hermes remained forever young. ("So Peter— I mean, Hermes, how’s the Wendy-babe...?") And to this very day, if you squint and cross your eyes just right, you can still see him jogging through the Olympian hills, faxing letters and delivering junk mail.
© 1997, 2004 Wendy Guy; all rights reserved. This article was originally published in the Aries-Taurus-Gemini 1997 issue of Transitions Astrology Magazine.