Hermes is a son of Maia and Zeus and the last of the Greek gods arrived on the Olympus. He is the god of occult knowledge which gives access to the overmind. He is always full of goodwill for mortals and maintains a perfect equanimity.
Hermes and Athena welcoming Heracles in Olympus – Louvre Museum
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As the child of Zeus and Maia, he is the expression of a new impulse of the spirit aiming to establish in man a new phase, the overmind, by anchoring it into the body.
See Family tree 17
His mother Maia’s paternal grandparents are the Titan couple Iapetus and Clymene. This couple holds a very special place, for their descendants illustrate the stages to be surpassed in the progression through the levels of the mind to realise the link between Spirit and Matter, as well as all the human conquests already achieved. The different stages are defined by the seven Pleiades, children of their son Atlas.
In Homer’s texts (The Odyssey), Atlas is ‘he who knows the depths of every sea, and himself holds the tall pillars which keep earth and heaven apart.’ Thanks to these pillars, he maintains the separation between Spirit and Matter and curbs their powerful mutual attraction, but he is also the last step before they are united again.
Basing themselves on Hesiod’s text which states that ‘Atlas supports the sky (…) on his head and his tireless shoulders’, other representations of this story have inversed earth and sky, making the former the charge of Atlas by an inversion of meaning, and thus giving not the image of a separation, but of a terrible burden assigned by Zeus. But in fact it is only in later traditions that Atlas was made guilty and his task interpreted as a punishment for having supposedly taken the part of the Titans in the war against the gods.
Hesiod specifies that Atlas stands at the confines of the West near the garden of the Hesperides, a symbol of the origin of evolution. Hespera, evening, is also the region of the setting sun, the place of the past opposed to the East, which is what is eternally new. The garden of the Hesperides represents both ‘what was’ in the past and the ‘memories’ which have covered up this origin, making it more obscure, distorted and inaccessible. It is there that all the great heroes will have to go to engage in ‘rediscovering’, for the transformation of memory is the key to evolution.
While Atlas is the image of separation, he is therefore also the symbol of its opposite, that which bridges Spirit and Matter. He represents the path which man must embark on if he wishes to once again reunite what had become divided when he entered into the human mental plane. This is why Atlas is united with Pleione, which means ‘the evolution of what fills with consciousness’ (from the root Πλε). The origin of the word Atlas proposed by etymological dictionaries seems doubtful (an association of the verb τλαω). It seems more likely that the word was formed around the structuring characters ΤΛ, a splitting on the plane of the Spirit.
The couple of Atlas and Pleione therefore represents what fills the space between Matter and Spirit and weaves the links between them. It is their seven children, the Pleiades, who mark the stages that will fill this void. Individuals who progress through them become themselves the bridge between Spirit and Matter, creator and created, or in other words ‘Man’.
In addition to the Pleiades, Ovid and Hyginus mention six other children of Atlas, who through their names seem to indicate an evolutionary series. These are Hyas and the five Hyades. All of them disappeared through the effects of evolution, of the ego or of an excess or demobilisation of the primitive vital nature (Hyas was stung by a snake or killed by a lion or wild boar in Libya, and his sisters consequently died of grief). This version, which we will study in greater detail in chapter four, adds that the Pleiades’ deaths followed after theirs.
The Pleiades therefore appear in the genealogy of all the heroes, for they indicate the stages described in the corresponding legends. They are Alcyone, Celaeno, Merope, Sterope, Electra, Taygete and Maia. No specific order is given in mythology, and the one presented here has been established by the study of their alliances and of the stories in which they appear. The classification of the mental plane corresponding to each of them is taken from the works of Sri Aurobindo, who also describes seven levels or planes of the mind. This classification only exists to facilitate a better understanding, but there is really only a single continuum of consciousness. Even if their representation seems abstract and forbidding, this differentiation of planes is often the only key allowing us to orient ourselves in mythology.
Let us specify that these planes are proper to man: the preceding levels belong to the evolution of animal consciousness, the powerful influences of which are still present in man and will be described in the following chapter with the study of Pontos’ line of descent. Humankind as it is today in its vast majority only functions in the two or three first planes described below.
(Refer to the diagram “Planes of consciousness”.)
Most indications given hereunder are taken from Sri Aurobindo’s writings.
The first is that of the physical mind. It is represented by Alcyone. The Halcyon is a mythical bird which nests near the sea and the breaking waves, and is therefore a symbol of a mind just emerging from the plane of the animal vital personified by the children of Pontos. This is an aspect of the mind that is mostly preoccupied with the satisfaction of the needs and wellbeing of the body like food, sleep, security, reproduction and so forth.
The second level is that of the vital mind. It is represented by Celaeno (Κελαινω), whose name means ‘black, dark’. It is the second level of the human mind, a quality of mind which still progresses in darkness but acquires a gleam of reflective consciousness, hence the name of the son she had with Poseidon, Lycos, ‘the light preceding dawn’.
In this plane mental activity is concentrated on the justification of vital expressions such as passions, desires, ambitions, etc. It is the source of prejudices and opinions which cannot resist the urge to analyse, and is associated with what is peremptory, arrogant, undisciplined and resistant to all spiritual progress in man.
The third level is that of the intellect or the reasoning mind, and is represented by Merope. Merope means ‘mortals’ or ‘men’ if the word is built from Μεροψ, or ‘partial vision’ if it is built from Μερος+οψ. In both cases, this describes humankind in its current state, having reached the stage of reason. We are familiar with this plane, for it is the one responsible for establishing all major civilisations. It supports itself on memory and functions through deduction, induction and inference, pursuing the truth through trials and errors. As it builds up new hypotheses which ceaselessly break down previous ones, it is almost impossible for this aspect of the mind to integrate opposing truths. The illustration of this is given in the myth of Sisyphus, the spouse of Merope, in the line of descent of the great hero Bellerophon who triumphed over the Chimera.
It is on this plane that man is situated in his moments of real reflection. The rest of the time he functions at the preceding levels, with a great persistence of the animal mind associated with the reptilian and limbic brain represented by the children of Pontos.
The following level is the plane of the higher mind represented by Sterope, ‘lightening’ or ‘extended vision’, a particular modality of the perception of Truth.
It results from a widening of the mind, a vast vision which introduces the intuitive mode so as to surpass the approximations of the logical mind. Attaining this plane presupposes the effort of questioning one’s opinions and prejudices and striving for a higher synthesis. It is for this reason that Sterope took as her lover Ares, the destroyer of established mental forms. She participates to the genealogical line of the Atrides, being the great grandmother of Agamemnon and Menelaus through her daughter Hippodamia.
Then comes the illumined mind. This is a relatively stable state of the higher mind in which consciousness is filled with a flow of light. In this state there is a great enthusiasm for achieving the aim which the soul has set for itself in its incarnation, and which becomes clearer and clearer for the seeker as he moves forward in his progression. The emergence into this plane is often accompanied by new creative capacities, the most natural expression of which blossoms in the domain of the arts (let us however specify that only a very small number of artists produce works of the level of the illumined mind).
It is represented by Electra, who was one of Zeus’ lovers. Their son Dardanos was at the origin of the royal dynasty of Troy.
The following plane is that which Sri Aurobindo calls the intuitive mind. In this plane, the flashes from the world of Truth become more numerous and precise. Everything becomes more rapid, evident, immediate and simple. However, this is still a vision of disparate points rather than of a whole. The corresponding Pleiade is Taygete, named after a majestic Peloponnesian mountain. She too was one of Zeus’ lovers and appears at the origins of the royal line of descent of Sparta. Her descendants include the Dioscuri Castor and Pollux, Helen and Clytemnestra, as well as Ulysses’ wife Penelope.
The last plane is the overmind. It is the plane that forges a transition with the Supramental. In the Vedas, it is described as an ‘ocean of stable lightening’. This mass of light in the consciousness allows the vast extensions of space and time to be considered, but not to be comprehended in their totality yet. It is the plane of the highest knowledge which can be attained by the mind at the level of a great inner force. It is represented by Maia, whose name signifies “dedicated consciousness”, or “gift of oneself”. She is the mother of Hermes, whose name, formed around the characters PM, indicates ‘the evolution of a devotion or dedication in accordance with the right movement’.
Hermes therefore represents the highest plane of the mind accessible to human consciousness, probably from a period earlier than that of Homer or ancient Egypt. This explains why he is the last god to have arrived on Mount Olympus.
The initiates of ancient times have highlighted the fact that the overmind is a plane of transition by making Hermes to be, amongst the twelve Olympian gods, the sole representative of the fifth divine generation, the one closest to humankind. This explains his function as a herald of the gods: he transmits their wills to mortals, sometimes ensuring their execution and becoming the agent of the deities’ wills.
It is only at the level of the overmind that the seeker c