A Herm of Gratitude

“I sing of Hermes, the Slayer of Argos,
Lord of Kyllene and Arcadia rich in flocks,
Luck-bringing messenger of the deathless Gods,
giver of grace, guide, and granter of happy boons!”

Such is how the eighteenth Homeric Hymn praises Hermes, and as many can attest from personal experience it is a very apt description. Of all the Gods, Hermes is perhaps the closest to mankind. He is constantly depicted as putting on a human guise and walking among us, working his strange magic and causing the unexpected to occur. He is a God of the crossroads, where two points meet and the road diverges into unfamiliar territory. Chance, coincidence, synchronicity, luck, an accident so full of meaning it ceases to be arbitrary. We have many ways to describe the Hermetic presence in our lives, and it can be felt in an equally abundant variety of manifestations. For Hermes has taken upon himself many offices: his realms include everything having to do with money and finances, with commerce and exchange, with thievery and clever ideas, with communication and logic (both expressed as clear thinking and cunning deceit), with travel and exploration, with social bonds and their transgression, and ultimately everything that has to do with the human world and what lies beyond it.

Hermes is fond of surprising us. When we’re agonizing over which bill will have to go unpaid this month, he drops a windfall into our laps. When we’re feeling that our life has lost its moorings and we’re drifting aimlessly along he’ll cause our eyes to flash upon a billboard with a message that seems to have been written just for us. Sometimes Hermes’ change can be drastic and frightening: a long-time relationship suddenly crumbles or the job that we were sure we were going to get falls through. At such times it is easy to get discouraged and even to become angry at our lot in life – but if we don’t lose heart and continue pressing on, often we will find that this happened for a reason: another person, better able to meet our needs steps into the fore; that job we thought looked so promising is actually a dead-end that would have sapped our spirit and left us feeling trapped and bitter. Hermes is an amazing God, and the more you look for his presence in your life, the more it will be found.

But sometimes that can prove difficult. It is easy to get caught up in things and lose our focus, especially when our lives are so hectic and fast-paced and we have to juggle a dozen things at any given moment. While Hermes’ presence can be announced with colorful fireworks and life-altering events, more often than not he acts in subtle, easily missed ways behind the scenes. Just as anyone who works so hard to make our lives better and run smoother (when he’s not throwing a monkey-wrench into things for his own amusement that is) appreciates when we take note of their benefactions, Hermes likes it when we honor him in a spirit of gratitude.

This can take a number of different forms. Obviously there is the lavish sacrifice and votive gifts which form such an important part of Hellenic polytheist religious practice. Additionally there are small devotional activities that we can perform for him, such as writing poetry or making crafts to please him, or showing kindness to random strangers on the street or donating time and money to worthy charities in his honor. And there is always the solid stand-by of prayers and even spontaneous expressions of gratitude such as, “Wow, thanks for ____” or even “Holy shit, Hermes, that rocked!” whenever we note his activity. All of these are fine examples, and I would most heartily commend their adoption. But lately I’ve been thinking of another way that I could express my gratitude to the God, one that is more permanent and concrete, and I would like to share that with you today. 

In ancient times people used to set up hermai by the wayside to mark important boundaries. These were piles of stones, sometimes with a pillar erected in the middle, which had been built up over the years, each traveler setting a rock on the pile as he passed by. Scholars speculate that Hermes acquired his name from this practice, being originally the guardian of such numinous places.

Reflecting on this practice, I figured it might be a wonderful way to show our continual gratitude to the God. The practice, as I envision it, consists of this:

Every time that you feel thankful to Hermes for something, pick up a rock or pebble. Using a permanent marker – a magic marker would indeed be appropriate, considering that Hermes is the patron of the magical arts – inscribe it with some type of dedication. Depending on the size of your stone this could be a date, or a single word to remind you of the event, or even a small paragraph describing what happened. Afterwards place the stone in a bowl which you can keep in a special place such as his shrine, and every time that you pass by you will have a tangible reminder of that event. Once your bowl is full, take the pile of stones outside – in your yard, or to a park, or an abandoned city lot, or some wooded location, or at a crossroads or the roadside of a highway – and set them up in a mound as a herm of gratitude. Thus you will have erected a monument to the God and consecrated territory for him, and left a physical representation of your gratitude. And who knows, depending on where you set it up somebody at a later date may stumble upon it, perhaps leading them to seek out more information about this God, and who knows, they may even end up cultivating a relationship with him just because of your example. It will also be a continual act of devotion that can help ground you and remind you of his presence and his many blessings in your life.

3 thoughts on “A Herm of Gratitude

  1. What a wonderful way to explain how the God Hermes works in our every day life. Erecting a pebble/stone by placing a stone each time we are thankful for His help & assistance is ancient & modern way to give Him an outdoor shrine.
    Hermes helps me & family members when we ask for His protection as we travel, especially by car. He has saved me from several accidents. Hermes is “swift-footed” indeed!

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  2. I know of four sites that have already had small cairns consecrated to Him. Two are in the Northeast, though I don’t know if they still stand since I haven’t visited them in four years or so. The closest one to me kept getting destroyed and I haven’t found a better site for it yet. The only one I’m fairly sure remains intact is probably underwater. There is also a travelers’ cairn at Squaw Peak in Great Barrington, MA. IAFAIK, it is not explicitly consecrated to Him, though.

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  3. In a random artistic aside, I’m struck by how some of Robert Frost’s poetry seems to touch on Hermaic mysteries. “Road Not Taken”, of course. But “Mending Wall” feels almost like a discourse on the duality of a God who both defines and transgresses boundaries. Anyway, I just found that interesting.

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