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Mercury: Transmutation, Transformation and Transcendence, By Linda Reid

Truly, without Deceit, certainly and absolutely -That which is Below corresponds to that which is Above, and that which is Above corresponds to that which is Below, in the accomplishment of the Miracle of One Thing. And just as all things have come from One, through the Mediation of One, so all things follow from this One Thing in the same way. Its Father is the Sun. Its Mother is the Moon. The Wind has carried it in his Belly. Its Nourishment is the Earth. It is the Father of every completed Thing in the whole World. Its Strength is intact if it is turned towards the Earth. Separate the Earth by Fire: the fine from the gross, gently, and with great skill. It rises from Earth to Heaven, and then it descends again to the Earth, and receives Power from Above and from Below. Thus you will have the Glory of the whole World. All Obscurity will be clear to you. This is the strong Power of all Power because it overcomes everything fine and penetrates everything solid. In this way was the World created. From this there will be amazing Applications, because this is the Pattern. Therefore am I called Thrice Greatest Hermes, having the three parts of the Wisdom of the whole World. Herein have I completely explained the Operation of the Sun.

The Emerald Tablet of Hermes Trismegistos

Paradox, truth, reality, existence, awareness, conscious and unconscious, certainty and uncertainty are embedded in the meaning of Mercury in a psycho-astrological framework. Yet we consistently underestimate the profound nature of this planet, oversimplifying its processes in mundane and in psychological terms. Keywords mask the depths of meaning when we use such generic words as the mind, speech, language, thinking and exchange, but behind the words is a huge store of implied meaning taking us to sources that reveal far more than the superficial.

In Hermetic tradition, the mating of the Father Sun and the Mother Moon produces an entity that facilitates and produces clarity, awareness, lack of obscurity and the ability to rise above material considerations to find possibilities beyond time and space. All these are associations with the planet Mercury. Philosophically this places Mercury on an equal footing with the Luminaries, both in the Zodiacal pantheon and as a power that creates 'existence' or the 'miracle of the One'. It follows that for us to experience psychic 'wholeness', or Jungian 'individuation' we need to be able to fuse the differentiated parts of the psyche, and Mercury is the agent that goes some way to procuring that goal.

In the pursuit of self knowledge, as well as in the pursuit of astrological knowledge, it is through the actions of the mind that human beings move between the natural world of ordered form into the intellectual realm of chaotic disorder and back again. To do so, the winged messenger, Mercury is able to enter the transpersonal realm where imagery, uncertainties and potentials dwell; then return to the natural organic realm where defined structures, certainty and instincts for survival provide a mental comfort zone.

But the process is one that carries the message: the only guarantee is that there is no guarantee! That which is gained in the chaotic realms of creation, inspiration and transformation influences the structure and form of life on earth and our view of it. And so we are in a state of constant shift. Opinions we held last year may alter this year, language we used as children is transmuted into adult form. Scripts on which we base our responses to life and its challenges, that we use to interface with others on a worldly plane, by which we identify our own authenticity and view our own internal workings, are all mutable and whether we know it or not, a function of the mind.

In the opening quote, Hermes Trismegistos[1] tells us of the entity which "rises from the earth to heaven and descends again to earth and receives power from above and below". An important section of this quote is that "it masters all subtle things and penetrates all that is solid". Those who are familiar with the alchemical tradition will understand this entity to be Mercury. Similarly this penetration is a creative seeding of reality with seeds brought from the realm of subtleties.

Thoth, as the earlier archetype of Hermes and subsequently Mercury was a potent force in the Egyptian pantheon. He derived much of his authority from being secretary and counselor to the solar divinity. Here we can see how the Greek Hermes was later to become 'page' to Zeus and act in a similar role. In Egyptian lore Thoth was lord and manipulator of time, regulator of human destiny, and regarded as the originator of cosmic order, religious and civic institutions. Pretty powerful! He governed temple cults, the law, sacred rituals, writing of texts and formulas, and the magic arts. As scribe, reputedly inventor of writing and consequent lord of wisdom, much sacred literature, including parts of the Book of the Dead were ascribed to him. His main cult was centred at Hermoupolis Magna, and it was here that he developed god-like status through his followers and was assigned a part in the myth of creation itself as a source who called things into being by the sound of his voice.

No individual can exist without an 'idea' of their own existence. Mercury has much to do with how we experience ourselves by articulating and mapping our own reality. In doing so we need an understanding of the process by which discernment of that 'idea' is created. Mercury is unfettered by learned behaviour, by educational traditions or by thoughts planted by others. This powerful archetype allows us to associate being alive and aware with our position on this spaceship we call earth.

Moving from the alchemical idea of creation, from Thoth and his 'voice'; to a Christian creationist viewpoint; then God created the earth, its elements, animals and human beings, the first of whom were Adam and Eve who, like all the creatures that inhabited the earth, shared natural lives in the perfect 'garden of Eden'. As a union of two they were fused as one, until at some point they experienced the existential cliché - "I think therefore I am" and realised their separateness.

The dawning of consciousness in humanity as we know it seems to have occurred as humans emerged from the undifferentiated natural, animist state of vegetable, animal, elemental, cosmic and spiritual realm. The 'self' as an intellectual ideal evolved from and inherits part of that natural state, as humans reached a point in consciousness of identifying 'self' from 'other'. The dawning of that same evolutionary event occurs in individuals at some time in the birth process or the weeks thereafter.

I enjoy the theory that humans developed from a very early proto-form, when they were simply animalistic, fused with nature, living in an unquestioning environment where life's comforts were available without the need to seek them. I like the theory that at some point in archetypal pre-history, along came an agent for transcendence from this animist state. Symbolically this is represented by the idea of a 'fall', which is graphically explained in the eviction of Adam and Eve from their natural state. Thus it could be argued that human beings also transcended and evolved from that life form, and may even still retain some of the symbolic components of primordial ancestry. We might call this 'race memory', 'collective memory', mythic inheritance or archetypal imprinting.

"To supersede is at once to negate and to preserve"[2] In other words, even as we take a higher position in the evolutionary hierarchy, we retain and include our predecessors. This too is through the agency of Mercury at its most organic level. Images such as the 'serpent' of Garden of Eden trigger some prehistoric part of the human psyche. So who was this 'serpent' - was it yet another metaphor for Mercury? We retain those mythological images by the grace of the instrument of our human-ness. We do so in the depths of our own psyches where connection to both personal and transpersonal sources is accessed by our Mercurial function.

The Egyptian Thoth was to be supplanted by Hermes and Roman Mercury yet the depth of meaning in the Thoth mysteries are inherited characteristics of the astrological Mercury. Just as Thoth conducted souls to be reborn, and held sway over the physical health of people, so Hermes was to continue this tradition. Hermes used a magic rod, the caduceus, with which he practised magic (and deception) and it was this caduceus, which gained him entry into the underworld. The caduceus is also the rod of healing and so Mercury is also the god of medicine, as had been Thoth before him.

By embracing Mercury power, we can learn much more about the process of the mind, body and spirit; of existence and of our own world view of reality. When reading an astrological chart, Mercury should not be glossed over or treated trivially, because the very existence and reality of the native's life will hinge on that planet's ability to identify and articulate those life experiences he or she will undergo.

There is a point in the film The Matrix when Neo is released from his prison and made to grasp the truth of his life and the world. The story is drawn from an image shaped almost two thousand four hundred years ago by the Greek philosopher, Plato (427-347 BC). Plato drew on the philosophy from Socrates, who expressed the thought that the unexamined life is not worth living. In the Republic he likened the human condition to the state of prisoners bound in a cave seeing only shadows projected on the wall in front of them. Transcending this state, release from imprisonment, turning or reorientation of one's whole life, is an upward journey from darkness into light. Socrates' concern was that our souls be in the best condition possible to take the journey to higher realms.[3] Thus Mercury has a 'soulful' connection as well as an intellectual one. There is a resonance between The Matrix, Socrates' philosophies and Plato's ideas. Like the allegory of the Cave, The Matrix dramatically conveys the view that ordinary appearances do not depict true reality and that gaining the truth changes one's life.

We can't go far in examining Mercury without the inevitable paradox! Since outer rational verbal and intellectual 'self' is differentiated from inner sentient and naturist 'self' a 'gap' is created by the differentiation. This is invariably described mythically as a 'fall' and may be a psychological necessity for humans living in a world that is increasingly dependent on certainties to become reflective and balance personal truth with social mores. The serpent tempted the Universal parents to eat of the tree of knowledge and intellect, thus choice and uncertainty were born. In the animistic state, fusion with nature does not allow for awareness of individuality. It is this split that is variously explored in psychology and spiritual traditions as we are told that this breach needs to be healed so as to discover 'real' self, whatever that might be. We cannot, nor should we, go back to that unthinking state while there is breathe in our bodies! Mercury's 'birth' was to make us human and to recognise the humanity in others.

The concept that Mercury bridges the gap between intellect and nature is clear in the writing of the Emerald Tablet. Mercury accesses the 'subtle things' - the ideas, images, chaotic concepts, imaginings and embedded mythologies and brings them back to earth to alter reality by 'penetrating' the mind with chaotic and heavenly subtleties, thus enabling them to take on a different and constantly changing form. If we resist the messages, we look for certainties and associate only at the organic level of life experience. If we are open to them then we can progress along the lines of their meaning to create something valid in the framework of our own reality.

Thus Mercury, as our mental power planet gives us the gift to 'write the script' by which we make choices at all levels of life experience. Mercury in astrology is not explained simply through the story of a little Greek upstart who thought he could beat all-comers at the game of cunning, but is our access to more profound and arcane levels of wisdom, and evolution. It is embedded in the archetypal images of Hermes, the healer Asklepios, in the legends of Hermes Trismegistos, and in those of Thoth. A key to many of these allegories is that all these archetypes were of both godly and mortal parentage. All of them aspired to a greater position in the ethnogeny yet maintained their human connections.

In practical terms, we interpret Mercury in charts by its sign and aspects to other planets. Since modern-day astrologers include the transpersonal planets Uranus, Neptune and Pluto in the person-centred psychological model, Mercury is required to make sense of the chart, through enabling us to understand more about the planets it accesses. It allows us to 'personalise' those planets that lie well beyond the visible - effectively outside of the cave - which remain out of focus until we get past the 'shadows' to access them in the upper reaches. We understand their principles in an intellectual and collective sense, but can only make sense of their individual impact through the Mercury connection. Every person, by his own astrological make up will have a Mercurial connection with the transpersonal plants, either by aspect or sign rulership.

When astrologers first started looking at the effects of the transpersonal planets in psychological terms there was a tendency to view them as "malefic" in nature. This was an inherited mindset postulated by the astrologers who were more attuned to the 'visible' planets and maybe a continuation of an attitude that the 'reality' was indeed contained within the walls of the 'prison'. Many astrologers have gone on to explore the meaning of these planets and made associations both mythic and psychological so that we have a general concept of what each planet means in collective terms. The general consensus is that in some way all these planets are involved in a process we may variably call transmutation, transformation and transcendence.

We tend to still have an undercurrent of negativity towards the process today because the effects can be manifested as trauma in one shape or another. The idea behind transformation is the destruction of one set of paradigms and the replacement of it with a new set. Getting through the intellectual reality barriers we erect is their job - to penetrate and alter! The agent is Mercury - pronouncing our existential reality.

The three outer planets, when aspecting Mercury, symbolically act as the source of higher knowledge that facilitates transformation. The transformation is most likely to be one of attitude, intellectual bias and view of reality. Every 'traumatic' event effectively reshapes our view of the world and it is a distinct advantage to the astrologer to examine Mercury and its transpersonal connections for ideas as to how this might transpire.

Mercury is the messenger of the gods and emissary of the universe. When Mercury and other planets, particularly those least understood transpersonal planets, are in aspect, Mercury will act as translator of the planets' meaning. Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto bring transformation and connect our consciousness with the worlds beyond time and space. In doing so they connect us to a bizarre realm, which has not yet been given form. So we cannot expect to understand them fully, but only to tap into their mythic and archetypal potential. They 'send' - via Mercury - those inner daemons that are bent on shaking up and shattering limiting preconceptions of who we are and what our role in life is. They can represent those very 'subtle things' that come to awareness to penetrate our core.

In practical application, Mercury as the model for thinking is dualistic. It governs what we understand as left and right brain function, so we can tap into both sides of our own mental potency and ensure we are using both rational and intuitive understanding. Everyone's Mercury can access these differing structural 'landscapes'. The double face of Mercury ensures that each of us can access both explicit and factual thinking process as well as tacit or implied meaning. Explicit thinking enables us to put implied meaning into words. This is how language develops. Tacit thinking enables us to image or intuit meaning before and after we have found words to describe it. It could be described as feeling, visual, coming from inward imagery, only triggered by explicit words. The image that may be formless and imprecise until it is expressed through description. And so left and right brain interface; together they equal a dynamic that is a rich exchange of information and articulation to achieve meaning. They compliment each other to bring fullness to our understanding.

We understand best if we can stand outside our own 'cave' of predispositions and build up the meaning of the chart from neutral to meaningful without preconceived ideas or personal bias. This is not as easy as it seems because we have to use our own Mercury function to do so. We can well describe how we 'think' - but try interpreting those faculties in another person. Explicit knowledge of signs, planets, houses and aspects are pointers or dots on the paper, the alphabet through which we form words and find the direction to explore the chart with a sense of order. It is learnt as part of the alphabet of astrology.

A chart is a cosmic landscape where tacit knowledge can create a beautiful image, but if you only do that, there is no direction or order. That alphabet is needed to create a 'story' that is meaningful, has boundaries and makes sense. One can map the landscape and add colour and texture, music and dynamic movement - still life becomes a moving mandala - but it must be music that is appropriate to map. Engage Mercury at its most profound and access the magic, the language, the knowledge, the wisdom and the existential idea behind the chart and there are limitless verbal statements that can be made about a concept. Perception is profound and boundless. Have Thoth and other 'named' archetypes at your side and ask that they reveal those 'subtle things'.

Notes & References:

  1] This name is variably used to describe a person, a god figure and an alchemical process. When the Greeks came to Egypt, they replaced many of the Egyptian god's names with Greek ones. Hence this archetype finds it roots in Thoth, god of letters and sciences.
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  2] G. Hegel "Science of Logic" trans. Johnson and Struthers 1929
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  3] Plato, Apology
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  Plato: Republic
Martin Dunstan G : Shadows in the Cave.
Michael Polyani : The Tacit Dimension.
Carl Jung : Memories Dream Reflections.
"The Matrix" - Warner Brothers
Joseph Campbell: Primitive Mythology
Aleister Crowley - The Thoth Tarot
Geddes & Grosset - Ancient Egypt Myth and History

Linda ReidLinda Reid is the author of the internationally acclaimed Canopus Academy's 4 level courses in Astrology and embraces both the traditional and contemporary models. She has written several E-books on specific topics as well as the printed book "Astrology Step by Step" now in its second print, and "Crossing the Threshold - the Astrology of Dreaming". As an aficionado of Mercury is its Neptunian guise, she enjoys exploring mythology and symbol as well as various meditations. She can be contacted through her website

© Linda Reid, 2004

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