Hermes the Trickster

Of special interest is another aspect of nature that is seen both in the realms of myth and of objective reality, in the inner world of the psyche and the outer world of external events. This is synchronicity itself, the uncanny intrusion of the unexpected into the flow of commonplace happenstance, an intrusion that hints at an undisclosed realm of meaning, a disparate landscape of reality that momentarily intersects with our own. The seeming intelligence with which synchronistic events orchestrate themselves gives the sense that some personal but ‘larger-than-life‘ agency is operating behind them.

We might imagine, for instance, that some whimsical god has taken a personal interest in our affairs and arranged them in some pattern understandable, perhaps, only to himself. This god was known to the ancient Greeks as ‘Hermes‘. Homer calls Hermes the ‘Bringer of Luck.’ He is also known, in one of the many paradoxes that characterize Hermes and other trickster gods, as the patron of both travelers and thieves. He is the ‘Guide of Souls‘ to the underworld and messenger to the gods.

As all these roles suggest, he is the quintessential master of boundaries and transitions. It is by this account that he surprises mundane reality with the unexpected and the miraculous.

The Trickster in the Modern World

In our own culture, the notion that we can understand our lives by tracing all events and situations to understandable causes has become a powerful obstacle to confronting relationships unconnected by chains of cause and effect. Thus, we are often oblivious to meaningful coincidences, even when they are striking, thinking them no more than our share of chance. Statisticians encourage this view; however, this attitude is a hold over from the Newtonian mythos in which people are seen as analogous to atoms that are knocked about by random Brownian motion, forming brief, illusive, and seemingly intelligent patterns, but at root amounting to nothing but dust devils of perception. This attitude throws up a wall against the irrational part of life, closing us off from symbolic meaning.

Unlike allegories, which have fixed and entirely comprehensible meanings, synchronistic events are symbolic; they are not in the end reducible to any form of expression other than that which they originally take. We can gain insight into the symbolic meaning of a particular synchronistic event or dream, but it will still retain something of the mystery that belongs to the truly numinous. A synchronistic event points to the correspondence between two deep mysteries, exposing a connection between them in symbolic form.

We live in a world in which, for the last fifty or sixty years, subatomic physics has described a universe founded at bottom on acausal connections, on paradoxical and seemingly illogical relationships and observations. Yet as a culture we still deny acausal, symbolic connections as part of our lives and the lives of our souls.

As a result, the ‘trickster‘ continues to play the devil with us, continually upsetting with his sudden windfalls. The ‘trickster‘ puts life in our path in spite of our denials. We continue to stumble over his gifts, ignoring their disturbing nature when our luck is good, cursing some vague fate when our luck is bad. Through the trickster‘s play we enter myth, the imaginative awareness of life that answers questions about who we are, where we have come from and where we are going. This entrance we make symbolically, through acausal connections, ‘the synchronicity‘ that is the gift of the ‘trickster‘.