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by Gary Brand - written October 10, 2007,
published in the November 2007 edition of Echo* newspaper

The first photo of Mercury taken by the Mariner 10
spacecraft on March 24, 1974 at a distance of 3,340,000 miles from the planet. Mercury as a crescent, the first photo of the planet taken by the Mariner 10 spacecraft on March 24, 1974 from a distance of 3,340,000 miles.  Mercury goes through phases like the Moon because its orbit is inside Earth's.  Courtesy of NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute.

This is a 1491 woodcut of the personification of Mercury
riding a chariot drawn by two doves. This is a 1491 woodcut of the personification of Mercury (Mercurius in Latin) riding a chariot pulled by birds, probably doves.  He is depicted with wings on his feet and holding a caduceus in his right hand, his staff of power and symbol of his ability to heal or re-establish balance.  Virgo, the principle sign ruled by Mercury, is depicted by a virgin in the front wheel of the chariot.  Gemini, the secondary sign ruled by Mercury, is depicted by the twins in the back wheel of the chariot.  From the 1491 edition of Bonatti
(G.B. (c. 1282/1491)).
his article is one of a series about the metaphysical and esoteric meanings of the planets that focuses on the metaphysics of Mercury in our birth chart.  In Greek and Roman mythology, Mercury was the messenger, scribe and herald of the gods and goddesses and keeper of the Books of Life.  He was swift of wit and feet, symbolized by the wings he sometimes added to his helmet and his winged sandals.  There are many chronicles of his quick wit and Mercury in the human birth chart is an indicator of our ability to think on our feet or in the spur of the moment.  This planet and the god it represented was, in most cultures, the symbol of human genius and ingenuity (this association was made two millennia before the discovery of Uranus, considered by modern-day astrologers to be the primary indicator of genius).  Mercury was the god of travelers and, by extension, he conducted souls to the underworld after death.  As such, he was the only god who could freely come and go from the underworld (besides Pluto, ruler of the underworld).

Out of Mercury’s union with Aphrodite came Hermaphrodite, who was androgynous.  The hermaphrodite is the esoteric symbol for the alchemical union of opposites, the divine marriage.  Mercury is the most androgynous of the planets since, alchemically, astrologically and medicinally, it can have a dry or wet, masculine or feminine, hot or cold, beneficial or malefic, diurnal or nocturnal nature and it can be an evening or morning “star.”  As such, Mercury is a symbol of the ability of the human body to maintain equilibrium or stasis and it symbolizes the importance of equilibrium as a universal principle.

Mercury is also a symbol of the restorative power of the human body, for it was Hermes (the Greek name for Mercury) who, under the direction of Zeus (Jupiter), reconstituted the youth Pelops and restored life to him (though some say the goddess Clotho restored his life) after he had been cut into pieces by his father Tantalus and served as a feast to the gods (to test their divinity).  Ironically, Pelops later murdered Myrtilus, one of Hermes’ sons, and Hermes avenged the death by laying a curse on Pelops and his family.  This myth can be interpreted to mean that what we restore to health may eventually injure us spiritually in some unforeseen way.

The terms “mercurial” and “mercurialize” are derived from Mercury and mean changeable, fickle, erratic, quick-witted, and of or pertaining to the god or planet.  When Mercury is emphasized in a birth chart, these traits are pronounced in the personality.  The terms “hermeticism,” “hermetic,” and “hermeticist” are derived from the name of Hermes.  Many of the earliest hermetic writings about mysticism, philosophy, astrology, and alchemy are ascribed to an Egyptian priest named Hermes Mercurius Trismegistus (the latter name means three times greatest), considered one of the greatest minds of all times.  Hermetic also means sealed and, therefore, not affected by outside influence or power, a reference to the nature of incorruptible, Universal Truth.  In alchemy, Hermes was the quinta essentia (from whence our word “quintessential” is derived), which literally means the fifth essence.  The elemental metal Mercury is “ruled” or governed by the planet Mercury and was called “quicksilver” in the past – signifying the quickly moving or changing nature of the planet ruling this metal, which is a dense, heavy, but fast moving liquid at room temperature.

The staff or symbol of power of the god Mercury was the caduceus, emblematic of his healing and alchemical powers.  The astrological and alchemical glyph or symbol for Mercury is a stylized caduceus – a circle atop a cross and surmounted by a semi-circle.  The usual representation of the caduceus is a small globe with two outspread wings atop a staff around which two snakes are entwined but facing off or fighting with one another.  The wings symbolize transcendence and the mobility of air – our ability to rise above a situation with our intellect or to change our mind.  The staff (or wand) represents the power we hold in our hands and wield with our mind (hands and mind are astrologically associated with Mercury).  The snakes are depicted as opposing each other with open mouths, ready to strike.  They symbolize all of the inherent opposites and the complementary nature of the balancing forces in the Universe:  light vs. dark, heat vs. cold, gravity vs. centrifugal force, health vs. illness, good vs. evil, ascending vs. descending, above vs. below, inner vs. outer, mundane vs. esoteric, physical vs. metaphysical, etc.  Since the snakes are entwined, they also represent the synthesis of opposites, transformation (as when chemical ions combine), and the “... transcendent function of mediation between the upper and lower realms” (J.C.C., p. 28).


Reference Citations.

See related articles Metaphysical Virgo and Metaphysical Gemini.

*Echo is a monthly newspaper about community, the environment, health, cuisine, and spirituality that is distributed in central Virginia.
Good Timing and Location are Keys to Success

Gary Brand, Traditional Astrologer
Tallahassee, Florida

© copyright 2007-2013 Gary Brand.  All Rights Reserved.