Mercurial devotion

There’s a lot to write in this blog, a lot of planned texts yet to publish, so I’m ending the silence and resuming the habit of writing with a post on mercurial things, from the birthday to small offerings to Maia’s Son and others.

1. The fourth day of the fourth month
As said in other occasions, there’s no historical record of a Ludi Mercuriales or that at any time ancient Romans celebrated the anniversary of Mercury. But because I’m not talking about a fossilized religion, nor do I practice a re-enactment of the past, it is natural that time, devotions and religious experiences make way for new festivities. The 4th of April – the fourth day of the fourth month – is one such case: based on the historical link between Hermes/Mercury and the number four, I picked that day to celebrate the birth of that god. And I strengthened the symbolic charge by expanding it in order to include the first four days of April, a month that begins with April Fool’s, which is another appropriate date to honour a trickster.

Last year, April 4th was also a Wednesday, the old Dies Mercurii, and for that reason my offerings and tributes came in packs of four as much as possible: four sweet dishes, four toasts, four cairns on which I poured four offerings, four lottery tickets, four mourning offerings during four days, four floral tributes, etc. This year, the date fell on a Thursday and so the numerical emphasis was less stressed

NM 2019

This year, for Mercury’s anniversary, I made two sweet dishes – aletria and a crackers’ cake – along with several sugar-free pancakes so my dogs could eat them and thus have a seat at the god’s table. All consecrated to Mercury during the ceremony on the morning of April 4th, with the first portion of each being given to the deity and then rest was returned to the human sphere so my family and I could eat it. There were also libations of medronho strawberry and honey liquor and offerings of fennel, cinnamon, wine and honey, a wreath for the shrine, another to hang on the front door and a strawberry tree to plant in a family plot of land this month, it too consecrated to Mercury with portions of salted flour, honey and liquor. And to top it off, adding to small walk, cairns and offerings from the previous day, as well as the sacrifice to Maia on April 2nd, I also bought a lottery ticket.

In the end, there was the expected feeling: the sense of work done, duty fulfilled, devotion piously expressed and nurtured bonds. And joy.

2. The triad and the family
My devotion to Mercury doesn’t come alone. It’s part of a greater whole, of a modern cult still in construction and focused on the roads, trails and pathways, in the perpetual movement and interconnectedness of all things, linked to the Iberian west and, when it comes to philosophy, consciously influenced by the Buddhist school of Madhyamaka. At the heart of its pantheon is of course Mercury, together with his mother Maia and his companion Quangeio, the Iberian dog god, and together they form the central triad of said cult. Around them orbit other deities: Faunus, Silvanus, Proserpina and the Lares Viales, who are the divine host of Mercury Vialis – the Wayfaring Lord of Pathways. And because the cult is meant to be an Iberian branch of modern Roman polytheism, there’s also Janus, Jupiter, Juno and Vesta, the Family Lars and the Penates, fundamental deities of Latin orthopraxy.

As a way of deepening my mercurial devotion and with the possibility of enlarging the pantheon, I’ve been looking into Mercury’s maternal relatives, particularly Pleione and Atlas. The former, by being of the Oceanids, poses a dilemma, in that I must choose one of the versions of Okeanos, if the oldest, according to which he was understood as the titan of the great river that enveloped the world and origin of all its sources of fresh water, earthly and celestial, if the later version, according to which he’s the titan of the oceans and hence salt water.

Given that the theonym Pleione carries the many of increasing in number, particularly flocks, both senses have merit, at least in a Portuguese context, since clouds can be religiously understood as a celestial flock – in which case Mercury’s grandmother would be a multiplier of clouds and as such a deity of mist and rain – but in Portugal the foam on the top of sea waves is colloquially called “little rams”, and in that case Pleione would be a stirrer of maritime waters. But given that her daughter Maia is a mountain nymph, my preference goes for the former hypothesis.

Reinforcing it is the idea of Atlas as a god of astronomy, an interpretation that’s rich in possibilities, since it awards the titan the responsibility for the movement of the sky, which in a modern sense that takes into account the present knowledge about the planet and the solar system makes Atlas the god of the Earth’s axis. And that amounts to a celestial aspect that thus touches Pleione’s sphere as a goddess of heavenly flocks, and Maia, daughter of the two of them, is a mountain nymph, i. e. of the earthly extremities where mist and clouds settle – where Pleione’s flock grazes – and touch the sky that turns around Atlas.

These are still preliminary ideas, but at the moment it’s the mental course that I’m following.

3. One for all…
Finally, there’s a small ritual habit that I’ve been acquiring: that of, whenever I perform a monthly sacrifice to one of the elements of the aforementioned triad, adding an offering to the other two. In other words, when paying tribute to Mercury on the first Wednesday of every month, I offer to Maia a portion of honey and another to Quangeio. Whenever I honour the daughter of Pleione on the Ides, I pour an offering to Mercury and another to the Iberian dog god. And when, on the 24th of every month, I perform a small sacrifice to Quangeio, I offer a spoon of honey to Maia and another to her son.

It’s something that adds to the inclusion of Mercury’s mother and companion in my prayers to him every morning and every night and to the portions of wheat that I sometimes dedicate to the two of them whenever I paying tribute to the Fleet-Footed God on a cairn or by a road. Ritual expression of a connection between them and of a devotion that does not exist alone, but as part of a greater whole.


Slowly, but surely – always & everywhere.

I’ve been looking for a Mercury-themed pendant for some time now. Seven years ago I had a small caduceus that eventually broke and I haven’t replaced it with a new one, partially because, well… it’s not the most appealing of symbols to me and it didn’t help getting asked every now and then if I was studying medicine or worked at a hospital. And mind you, this was in Portugal, where the common medical symbol is the one-snaked rod of Asclepius, which is the correct one, but people tend to conflate it with the caduceus. I suspect a lot of good folks are lacking a few classes of Classical Studies.

Anyway, short of a good pendant with an actual depiction of Mercury or Hermes – coin or other – and at a reasonable price, I considered other options. The ideal would be a scallop, because it’s commonly used by pilgrims in Galicia and could therefore easily stand for wayfaring, the Lares Viales and the Iberian aspect of Mercury. But again, the options available online are either disappointing or expensive and the best place to find them in abundance and at a good price is Santiago de Compostela. Ironically, I lived there for four months back in 2010 and what scallops I bought at that time I give them away as gifts, ignoring their mercurial value. Which is understandable, since Mercury only stepped into my life after I came back from Santiago, in what was the start of the ways-and-Lares-Viales-focused path that I’m currently on. So I’m going to wait for things to come full circle and one day return to Compostela, at which point, in a manner of symbolic milestone, I’ll buy two small silver scallops, one for me and another for Mercury. In the meantime, I opted for a turtle pendant.

The pendant – not actually made from turtle!

Obviously, the choice wasn’t random. It’s an animal with a mercurial link by way of the myth of Hermes’ birth and of how He invented the first lyre using a turtle shell. But in the Iberian cult of Mercury that I’m constructing, it’s also an animal representative of the notions of movement and change. Which may seem odd, given that the turtle is far from being the fastest of species, especially on land, but that’s exactly where its symbolic value resides: however slow, however seemingly non-existent, things are constantly moving and change is a permanent part of life. There are no final destinations, just stops and stages in a perpetual journey.

Granted, the turtle from the myth is a tortoise, a fully terrestrial animal, whereas the pendant, as seen in the photo, depicts at best a sea turtle or a terrapin, but that is nonetheless appropriate, since those are the two branches of the species that are native to Portugal. So there’s an Iberian note there, in line with an equally Iberian cult and similarly to what I had in mind with the scallop.

The Mauremys leprosa, also known as Spanish, Mediterranean or Moorish terrapin, is a member of the turtle family that’s native to Portugal. Photo by David Germano (source)

Thus, on the final days of August, I bought two pendants, one for me and another for Mercury, and placed them by His image in the domestic shrine dedicated to Him. There they stayed until the first Wednesday of September, at which time I removed them and kept them by the fireplace as I burned the offerings I make to Maia’s Son every month – cinnamon, fennel and wine, together with a candle that’s left burning on the shrine. And then I consecrated the pendants, sprinkling them with cinnamon and adding a portion of dark chocolate as an additional offering to signal the moment.

After the ceremony was over, one of the pendants was returned to the shrine, where it now stands next to god’s image. And the other I’ve been using every since as a symbol of luck, protection, of the perpetuity of movement and change and as a physical expression of a bound with Mercury, with whom I now share a small object.