Hermes is the messenger of the Olympian Gods, as well as a psychopomp. While he originally had strong associations with the Underworld, his function expanded over time. He’s a trickster god, deity of merchants, protector of travelers, and much more.
Though Hermes is considered a Greek god, his origins are likely far older. His name may derive from a Greek word meaning “stone cairn,” but he may have originated in Mesopotamia as a kind of snake deity that served as an emissary between humans and deities. Interestingly, this Mesopotamian snake god was depicted as a caduceus — one of Hermes’ symbols.
According to other sources, Hermes may have arisen as an aspect of Pan. This emphasizes his status as a deity of boundaries, which is underlined by the etymology of his name.
In this case, Hermes would’ve began as a god of boundary markers, and therefore also the ability to cross boundaries. This highlights his function as a messenger of the gods and psychopomp — as a deity of boundaries, he’s able to pass from one world to the next. This could also connect him to shamanic practices, altered states of consciousness, and divination.
Hermes is sometimes referred to as Mercury in modern times. Mercury is the Roman God of commerce, with whom Hermes was eventually syncretized.
Hermes’ parents were either Zeus and one of the Pleiades (the group of nymphs who accompanied Artemis) named Maia, or Uranus and Hemera (the personification of the day).
In his earliest appearances, he seems to be an Underworld deity who guided the souls of the dead on the road to the afterlife. Over time, his domain expanded to encompass roads in general, as well as other forms of travel, like sailing.
From there, he became the deity of merchants and commerce. He was also a god of shepherds, which may be a holdover from his proposed origins as an aspect of Pan.
He’s also classically portrayed as a trickster. He’s said to have stolen Apollo’s sacred cattle and misled him by leaving fake footprints in the dust.
He’s also the one who gave Pandora the ability to lie, trick, and seduce. When Zeus wanted Io, one of his lovers, freed from Hera, Hermes was the one who put Hera’s hundred-eyed guardsman to sleep and slew him. He’s also very skillful and is the one credited with inventing a harp-like instrument called a lyre.
Symbols & Associations
Hermes has several distinct symbols.
- The herm: This is a rectangular stone pillar topped with a carved head of Hermes (many also had a phallus and testicles carved at an approximately appropriate height on the pillar). These were boundary markers and way points that originally started as cairns. They were sometimes placed outside of homes, perhaps to invoke the deity’s protection and signal allegiance to him.
- The kerykeion (known as a caduceus in Latin): This is a winged staff with a pair of serpents entwined around it. This may have been conflated with the staff of Asclepius (a plain staff with a single snake wrapped around it) and used as a symbol of hospitals and other medical facilities. It should be noted, however, that Hermes is also associated with the curing of illness. He was said to have saved Boeotia from a plague.
- His Winged Helmet: Known as the petasos, Hermes’ winged helmet is a symbol of his role as the messenger of the gods. The wings represent speed and the ability to move between realms, reflecting Hermes’ role as a psychopomp guiding souls to the afterlife.
- The Pteroeis Pedila: These are Hermes’ winged sandals, another symbol of his swiftness and ability to travel between worlds. Like his helmet, the wings on his sandals signify his role as a divine messenger and guide of souls.
- Hares: In Greek mythology, hares are often associated with fertility and abundance. As a god of commerce and trade, Hermes’ association with hares could symbolize prosperity and success in business ventures.
- Tortoises: The tortoise is a symbol of wisdom and perseverance. Hermes is said to have invented the lyre using a tortoise shell, symbolizing his inventiveness and connection to music and art.
- Fish: Fish are often seen as symbols of abundance and fertility in Greek mythology. Their association with Hermes could be a nod to his role as a god of commerce and abundance.
- Rams: Rams are often associated with leadership and determination. In the context of Hermes, rams could symbolize his role as a guide and protector, leading others through journeys and transitions.
- Strawberry Trees: As mentioned earlier, Hermes was nursed under a Strawberry Tree. This tree could symbolize nourishment and growth, reflecting Hermes’ nurturing aspect.
- Crocus Flowers: The crocus flower is associated with Hermes due to a myth involving a mortal youth named Crocus who was a lover of Hermes. When Crocus was accidentally killed during a game of discus, Hermes transformed him into a saffron crocus flower. The flower thus symbolizes transformation and the cyclical nature of life and death.
- God of Travel: As the god of travel, Hermes has the ability to move swiftly between different realms, including the heavens, earth, and underworld. This power is often symbolized by his winged sandals and helmet, which allow him to travel at incredible speeds.
- God of Messaging: As the messenger of the gods, Hermes has the power to communicate directly with all the gods and mortals. He can deliver messages across realms and is known for his eloquence and persuasive speech.
- God of Invention: Hermes is credited with the invention of various things in Greek mythology, including the lyre, a musical instrument. This power highlights his intelligence, creativity, and resourcefulness.
- God of Sleep: Hermes has the power to induce sleep in others. This power is often used in myths where Hermes needs to sneak past guards or help others escape.
- God of Speed: Hermes is known for his incredible speed. He is often depicted as the fastest of the gods, able to move swiftly between realms and deliver messages in an instant.
- God of Thievery: As a trickster god, Hermes has the power of stealth and deception. He is known for his cunning and ability to steal without being noticed.
- Immortality: Like all Greek gods, Hermes is immortal. He cannot die and is resistant to all terrestrial diseases.
- Superhuman Strength, Durability, Stamina, Agility, and Reflexes: Hermes possesses the typical powers of an Olympian, including superhuman strength, durability, stamina, agility, and reflexes. These powers enable him to perform feats beyond the capabilities of ordinary mortals.
- Ability to Wake People: In addition to inducing sleep, Hermes also has the power to wake people. This power can be used to rouse individuals from sleep or to awaken them from a state of unconsciousness.
These powers, along with his role as a god of commerce, diplomacy, and border crossings, make Hermes a versatile and influential figure in Greek mythology.
His powers reflect his multifaceted nature and his roles as a messenger, trickster, and guide.
Appropriate offerings to Hermes include:
- Food and Drink: Traditional offerings to Hermes include food and drink items such as honey, wine, milk, and bread. In particular, Hermes is known to appreciate beer and white wine. Some also offer strawberries, eggs, and olive oil, which are associated with his pastoral and agricultural aspects.
- Coins: As the god of commerce and trade, Hermes appreciates offerings of coins. These can be left at his altar or thrown into a wishing well or fountain with a prayer or request.
- Written Messages/Stories: Given his role as the messenger of the gods, written messages or stories can be a meaningful offering to Hermes. These can be personal letters, prayers, or creative works like poems and short stories.
- Feathers: Feathers, particularly those from birds associated with Hermes such as hawks, can be offered to him. This aligns with his connection to the element of air and his swift nature.
- Incense: Burning incense is a traditional way to honor the gods. For Hermes, suitable incense includes frankincense, myrrh, storax, and camphor.
- Turtle Shells or Turtle-shaped Objects: The turtle is associated with Hermes because of the myth where he created the first lyre using a turtle shell. Offering turtle shells or turtle-shaped objects can be a way to honor this aspect of Hermes.
- Panspermia: Panspermia, a mixture of beans, peas, seeds, olive oil, milk, and honey, is traditionally offered to Hermes in his Underworld aspect. This offering is considered food for the dead and should not be tasted by the living.
- “Foods for the Dead”: Other foods associated with the dead, such as pomegranates, onions, garlic, fish, or pork, can also be offered to Hermes, particularly when honoring his role as a psychopomp.
Remember, the intention behind the offering is as important as the offering itself.
When giving an offering, do so with respect and sincerity, acknowledging Hermes’ power and the aspects of his divine nature that you wish to honor or connect with.
Signs Hermes is Calling You
Since Hermes has many names and has gone through so many iterations, it can be tricky to tell when he’s the one calling you. You may dream of a man (either mature and bearded, or youthful) wearing winged sandals and a winged helmet.
You may also be called by Hermes if you feel drawn to travel. This is especially the case if you’re traveling for business purposes, specifically as a merchant.
If you frequently see animals sacred to Hermes (hawks, hares, tortoises, and rams, especially), it can also be a sign from him.
It’s important to remember that a deity reaching out to you often isn’t a flashy, one-and-done thing. You may not get a dramatic message, but rather a series of small messages or little synchronicities that push you in a certain direction.
You might find that you frequently see references to Hermes or his symbols in places where you don’t expect them, for example.
Crystals Associated with Hermes
Connecting crystals to deities is largely a modern practice, but there are some specific stones that you can work with to strengthen your connection to Hermes.
These include stones associated with luck, prosperity, or the element of Air, like:
- Citrine: Known as the “Merchant’s Stone”, citrine is associated with Hermes due to its properties of attracting wealth and prosperity. It also promotes clarity of thought, which aligns with Hermes’ role as a god of intelligence and communication.
- Aventurine: This stone is linked to Hermes because of its properties of enhancing leadership qualities and decision-making skills. It is also known to bring good luck and abundance, which aligns with Hermes’ role as a god of commerce and trade.
- Blue Lace Agate: Blue Lace Agate is a stone of communication and clarity. It is associated with Hermes due to its ability to enhance understanding and articulate thoughts and feelings with clarity. It’s a calming stone, which can help in situations where clear and calm communication is needed.
- Marble: Marble is often associated with purity and immortality, which aligns with Hermes’ divine nature. It’s also a stone of wisdom and learning, reflecting Hermes’ role as a god of intelligence and communication. Marble’s connection to architecture and sculpture can also tie into Hermes’ role as a protector of artisans and craftsmen.
- Topaz: Topaz is a stone of good fortune and manifestation, which aligns with Hermes’ role as a god of commerce and abundance. It’s also known to promote truth and wisdom, reflecting Hermes’ role as a god of intelligence and communication.
- Emerald: Known for its properties of promoting wisdom and understanding, emerald is associated with Hermes due to his role as a god of intelligence and communication. It’s also a stone of successful love, which can tie into Hermes’ role as a guide and protector of travelers and their journeys, both literal and metaphorical.
- Gold: Gold, while not a crystal, is a metal associated with the divine and with wealth. As such, it is fittingly associated with Hermes, the god of commerce and messenger of the gods. Gold’s properties of enhancing energy and vitality also align with Hermes’ dynamic and energetic nature.
These crystals and metal can be used in rituals, meditation, or simply carried or worn as a way to connect with the energy of Hermes.
Herbs Associated with Hermes
- Strawberry Tree: The Strawberry Tree is a fruiting tree native to the Mediterranean. It’s associated with Hermes due to the myth that he was nursed under a Strawberry Tree. The fruits of this tree can be used in making jams, jellies, and liqueurs, symbolizing abundance and sweetness.
- Crocus Flowers: Crocus flowers are associated with Hermes due to a myth involving a mortal youth named Crocus who was a lover of Hermes. When Crocus was accidentally killed during a game of discus, Hermes transformed him into a saffron crocus flower. The saffron spice derived from this flower is highly valued, symbolizing the preciousness of life and the transformative power of love and loss.
- Palm Trees: Palm trees, particularly the date palm, are associated with Hermes due to their resilience and ability to thrive in harsh conditions. This aligns with Hermes’ role as a protector of travelers and those who journey through difficult terrains, both literally and metaphorically.
- Olive Trees: Olive trees are associated with Hermes due to their importance in ancient Greek culture and economy. Olive oil was a vital commodity in ancient Greece, used not just for cooking, but also for lighting, skincare, and religious rituals. This aligns with Hermes’ role as a god of commerce and trade.
- Almond Trees: Almond trees are associated with Hermes due to the symbolism of the almond nut in ancient Greek culture. The almond was seen as a symbol of watchfulness and promise due to its early flowering, which aligns with Hermes’ role as a messenger of the gods.
Working with Hermes
You can start working with Hermes by exploring his origins and legends. He features prominently in Greek and Roman myths, but you may also want to delve into the Hermetica.
These are the writings said to be passed down from Hermes Trismegistus that outline a philosophical system. This has since become a whole school of thought and magical system unto itself.
You may also wish to work with Hermes by making a space for him in your home or garden. Start by choosing a pleasant area that you’ll visit frequently. Outfit it with an image of Hermes, an offering bowl, and an incense burner.
If you like, you can also add crystals connected to him, a vase for fresh flowers, images of his sacred animals, models or pictures of his symbols, and a candle holder. Go to this place often to make offerings and say prayers to him. Be sure to keep it clean and tidy.
Working with Hermes’ sacred plants or animals is another way to connect with his energy. Take up gardening and grow some crocus flowers.
Volunteer your time with an organization that works with rescued sheep, goats, or cattle, or preserves the habitat of wild hawks, hares, or tortoises.
Since he’s a psychopomp, you can also work with Hermes by volunteering your time to bring flowers to untended graves. Brush the dust from their headstones, then remove old flowers and replace them with fresh ones.
Tending to the dead is one way to engage with Hermes’ Underworld aspect.
As a deity of boundaries, Hermes is also associated with journeying practices like trance meditation. You may wish to explore shamanic techniques or various forms of divination to experience this side of his energy.
Hermes is a complex deity with ancient origins. While we can’t know where exactly he came from, and he may be an amalgamation of multiple syncretized gods, he has become a powerful and distinct figure in his own right.
As the God of commerce, merchants, sailing, roads, and boundaries, he is able to cross all borders between this world and the others.