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Mercury: Philosopher or Postman

If Hermes Trismegistus (or indeed Nabu) seems a more profound figure than the Mercury found in some modern astrological texts, this reflects a recent change. In Jeff Mayo's The Planets and Human Behaviour, Mercury is primarily associated with communication and adaptation to the environment; study and knowledge are assigned to Jupiter. William Lilly's 17th century text Christian Astrology presented a very different picture, connecting Mercury with learning, mysteries, and occult knowledge. In antiquity, Manilius, Valens, Antiochus, and Firmicus all associated Mercury with astrologers, philosophers, and writers.

The change has largely come about as a result of the tendency of modern astrologers to blur the distinctions between planets, signs, and houses: Mercury tends to become no more than a reflection of Gemini, and of the third house (which does not even belong to him). The astronomers seem to have preserved a more balanced view of Mercury: the craters on its surface are named after writers, artists, and musicians.

According to the Picatrix, the great Arabic compendium of the occult sciences, successful students of magic generally have either Mercury or Jupiter as the strongest planet in their nativities. I do not have many charts of magicians to hand, but I notice that Mercury is the almuten of the charts of W.B.Yeats, Aleister Crowley, and A.O.Spare, while Israel Regardie had Jupiter.

Another illustration of Mercury's connection with learning is the way in which the ideas of philosophers reflect its sign position in their nativities. For example, Mercury appears in Taurus in the charts of Hume, Husserl, Mill, Russell, and Wittgenstein, all noted for their interest in seeking the foundations of knowledge. Wittgenstein's last book was called On Certainty: just what a Taurean wants.

© David McCann, March 1999

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