My Weekend With Hermes

Ghost- Mercury Man (1994), by Andrew Leicester , at New York Pennsylvania Station, New York, NY. From Flickr

Ghost- Mercury Man (1994), by Andrew Leicester , at New York Pennsylvania Station, New York, NY. From Flickr

“When you enter a village, swear by its god” – ancient Arabian proverb, “Arabia and the Arabs: From the Bronze Age to the Coming of Islam”, by Robert G. Hoyland

“If there were a god of New York, it would be the Greek’s Hermes, the Roman’s Mercury. He embodies New York qualities: the quick exchange, the fastness of language and style, craftiness, the mixing of people and crossing of borders, imagination.”  – James Hillman

I travel from New Jersey to New York City every other weekend to visit my SO, my girlfriend of eight years. Traveling up there means taking the NJ Transit from my home town to New York Pennsylvania (Penn for short) Station.There’s a practice I used to do irregularly at the station, which I stopped some time ago. I would leave an offering of coins (50 cents, typically) in front of the Mercury Man mural, an image of the god Mercury (or Hermes), and whisper “Ave Mercurius” in Latin and “Khaire Hermes” in surely-mangled Greek (EDIT: I later found out that the vocative of Hermes is Herme), just in case.The practice seems natural to me. After all, in ancient times, when one traveled, one honored the god or gods of the place one traveled to or through. I don’t seek to be a devotee of Hermes or Mercury the way I am a devotee of Hathor. (If it were to happen, it would not be bad, just that it wouldn’t be what I intended.) I only seek to show good manners to a god in His/Her/Eir place, just as our ancestors knew to do instinctively, before rudeness and impiety took over.
Note: Henceforth I will refer to the god simply as Hermes, as the “Hermes/Mercury” construction is unwieldy to write and surely tedious to read. (and I’m sure, to some, redundant.)
Recently, before his own journey to the City That Never Sleeps, Sannion put up a post about Hermes, and I asked him if he knew of the Mercury Man mural at New York Penn Station (pictured above). He told me he did, and provided an interesting quote (I placed it at the beginning of this post) that made for me a strong case of treating Hermes as the god (or at least the Greek god) of the city. I remembered my previous practice of leaving Him offerings. This weekend, I would be visiting my SO, so it would be a perfect time to do it. Here’s my story, after the jump.
That morning, I took the New Jersey Transit to New York Penn Station. I figured out how to do the offering, but in a relatively inconspicuous matter. (While I’m not afraid of explaining that I am offering to the god, even in these ignorant times, I don’t necessarily feel like expending the time and energy doing so)
Now, as far as offering, the problem with the Mercury Man mural is that it’s behind an escalator, as you can see in the picture, so you can’t leave stuff directly in front of it. Another problem is just up ahead past the mural is often a newsstand staffed with a cashier, one who could see me.
Here’s what I’d do, and did: I readied my offering ahead of time, ideally two quarters, if not, some other change adding up to 50 cents. (I’ll get to why that amount shortly) I walked towards the mural such that my left hand would be facing it (because I was walking in the direction of the subway train I’d be taking, no more significance than that). I’d have the change in my left hand, the handle of my rolling suitcase in the right. I’d discreetly drop the coins before the mural and the side of the escalator and whisper my words, all while walking and acting as though I were an ordinary traveler or tourist, and not a pious polytheist offering to a god of the city.
Now, before I continue my story, I’d like to pause for two considerations involving this practice of mine:
  1.  Why 50 cents? Well, there’s no special significance as far as I know. I just judge it as an amount easy to find, but also not too small. It’s half of a dollar, the standard smallest amount for most things (i.e. a Dollar Menu at McDonalds, or the dollar store.) So it is, in my estimation, respectful but also affordable and easy to discreetly drop.
  2. In an earlier post, Propitiating a Foreign Deity of the Depths, I chose not to name my SO’s god, who I propitiated that day, following her advice. However, her advice did not apply only to her god, but to any god someone may wisely or unwisely speak the name of. Why then, am I doing this? Well, to be honest, I don’t *entirely* agree with her. When it comes to her god, I happily take her advice because I don’t want anything to do with Em. But with other gods, I don’t always take her advice. Not all gods one honors or offers are gods one will have some devotee/deity relationship with. It’s simply not possible, and that’s fine, and I think the gods, on the whole, understand this. She is working from the logic of her experience, particularly with her god.I am working from the logic of how local gods seemed to be treated by travelers from other places. Both are right, just not necessarily for all gods.
Back to the story! So, having made my offering to the god, I took the subway and went to my SO’s house, and relaxed for a time, then took the bus and subway to Brooklyn, to have lunch (and, as it turned out, filling enough for dinner) at an amazing Greek restaurant. At the end of our meal of chicken souvlaki and french fries with olive oil, spices, and feta, I noticed a chalkboard with the Greek Word of the Week written on it. I love things like that, so I walked up to it and read the word, and found myself being asked by a man who worked at the restaurant (was he the owner? I’m not sure!) if I was Greek, because my pronunciation was excellent. I answered no, but that I had an interest in it, and was as of late, studying ancient philosophy in an effort to improve myself. Then my SO and I gushed about the food, and it all went well, and we went on our way.
  I realized then, that Hermes may have smiled on me, since He is (among many other things) god of communication. We walked around and eventually returned to the house, and watched the TV movie “Mists of Avalon”,which she had watched when she was little (though thankfully, she started her Pagan education learning about indigenous religions first, which explains her rigor). When I looked at it as a historical fantasy, it wasn’t bad, and the ending made even this prickly recon smile. Oddly enough, we watched this movie, where the celebration of Beltane plays a large role, just as Beltane is coming up.
The next day, Saturday, proved to be stressful and interesting for both of us. My SO takes an ASL (American Sign Language) class, which requires her to go to at least one Deaf event, and Saturday night was the night, for a tour/dinner at a restaurant/brewery in the city. We dressed in our finest and arrived at the restaurant, only to find no tour, and no staff to guide us for about half an hour.
My SO was getting nervous and panicky waiting. I looked around for a menu so I could call the restaurant and ask about the event. No luck. I asked her to give me the number of the restaurant instead. She refused, and just kept on panicking. I was steadily growing frustrated and impatient. Finally, I saw SOMEONE who looked like he could be an employee (he wore a uniform), and walked up to him and asked him about the deaf event. He signed and said that he was deaf. VICTORY! I eagerly directed his attention to my SO and told her “talk to him, he’s deaf!” She thanked me and started signing to him, and it so happened, there was a deaf couple nearby, 40s-50s, and they signed to her. All this was fortunate because apparently through incompetence or miscommunication (Ha!) there was never any tour. Instead, the deaf couple offered to have dinner with my SO and me.
The dinner was a lot of fun, but nerve-wracking for my SO because the couple signed in ASL fluently and rapidly and she had to struggle to keep up. It went a lot better than we thought, though. For her, because the couple was friendly, and for me because instead of being by myself and off to the side (like I thought I’d be, as a hearing person with almost no knowledge of ASL), they involved me in the conversation, though it meant my SO translating for me. Towards the end of it, I realized that Hermes may have smiled once again in this other instance of communication, especially since, in retrospect, it was I who made it possible, by getting frustrated and getting the attention of the uniformed man. We exchanged contact information and we went on our way, onto the subway and back to her house.
Sunday was largely uneventful, except for an argument my SO and I had (the specifics don’t matter here). While our communication abilities have improved over the last eight years, there’s still room for improvement, and I wound up improving them even more, where I was able to make my SO feel more comfortable than she usually would during one of our arguments, and turned the nonconstructive argument into a constructive one. We then spent the rest of the day looking at her homework and cuddling.
It wasn’t until I was on the subway, on my way back to NY Penn Station, that I realized that Hermes may have smiled on me a third time, this time during the argument. I decided it would be good to make a second offering, both as thanks, and as goodbye till the next time I return to New York.Once off the subway and back at NY Penn Station, I prepared my change and kept it in one pocket. I walked through the station intent on making my offering, missing a man who was asking for my attention (whether for money or directions, I didn’t know, either way, I felt bad–was I supposed to give my offering through the man?) I walked past the mural and dropped the change and whispered my words, but a considerate woman stopped me, and said I dropped a bunch of change. I thanked her and walked back to the mural, as though I were going to pick up the money. I looked around, she was gone, and I went back on my way.
I went to the NJ Transit area, and was stopped by a woman who said she lost her money and was trying to get money to buy a ticket to go back home. Whether or not she was genuine, I don’t know. There are both genuinely unfortunate people and con-artists here, and I’m not a perfect judge of character. (Though maybe it wouldn’t matter for a god said to be a god of thieves? I don’t know.) Either way, I had little money to spare but gave her my change, and then I waited for my train and took it home.
And so ended my travels in New York.
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