May 17, 2014

Tribute to Hermes

Small stone Tribute to Hermes

We create because we can and we must.  Idle on the beach today I saw the excellent stones that were calling to be piled into these small sculptural formations.  We see these on beaches and at trailheads.  We pile one stone upon another as a tribute to Hermes who will see us on a safe journey.  Hermes delivers messages from the gods, is the the go-between worlds of the mortal and divine, and guides people when they die to the underworld.  He is the protector of travelers and boundaries, orators, poets, literature, sports, athletics, invention, and the finder of things lost or stolen.  Hermes is most often seen carrying the cadeusus, the staff of crossed snakes with wings above and which is different from the symbol of the physician which is the Rod of Asclapius and has only one snake.

On a quiet stone wall at the beach.
The Buddhist Bodhisattva Jizo, or Ksitigarbha, who also carries a staff, acts in a similar regard overseeing the underworld and guiding the souls to give comfort in the hell realms and to protect people on journeys.  Small piles of stones may be seen at the crossroads where there are also Jizo statues in the hope that it may shorten the time of suffering in the underworld.  I find the similarities of these two striking and since they evolve from such ancient roots, I cannot help but feel the Greek influence on Buddhism once again.

Jizo has a long mythological beginning and is said to have developed in China, more so than in India, and then to have been modified again with the development of devotion to Jizo in Japan.  Early mythic connections come from the Hindu goddess Prithvi, associated with the earth and fertility, who is the mother of all creatures and the consort of the sky.  Much later in China, Jizo was connected with Kokuzo Bosatsu who represented space so that the two paired together represented the blessings of earth and space.  In the Jizo Bosatsu Sutra, a 7th Century Chinese translation from Sanskrit, Prithvi vows to use all her miraculous powers to protect Jizo devotees.  Here is an interesting marriage of Hinduism referred to in a Buddhist sutra that I suggest has Greek influence.

Greek influence has already occurred in India long before the development of Jizo and the merging of mythic forces is very possible and likely.  Hermes as an essential figure in the pantheon is completely present in the culture of Alexander and his retinue.  To transfer this responsibility that Hermes carried in his messaging and care of the underword seems totally natural in its development and transfer into China and Japan once the pagan world diminished.  The archetypal responsibility would not just be abandoned, but would be redrawn and expressed in a means that spoke in the adoptive culture.  This entails a great deal of study and elucidation and is too big a subject for this column and I'm not doing it justice, but it touches me as another example of syncretic mythical development from Greek and Indian symbols and practices with the Buddhist Asian and Mediterranean pantheons.