Robert Moss on the oracle of Hermes

In the ancient Greek city of Pharai, in Achaia, there was a busy market, enclosed by a high stone wall. At the very center of the market, among the press of grain merchants and fish sellers, was a rough-hewn statue of the god Hermes, the divine messenger. The Greeks called Hermes “The friendliest of gods to men.” He is the herald and interpreter for more remote Olympians, speeding back and forth between the surface world and the spirit worlds in his winged sandals. He presides over chance encounters and happy coincidences. He is lord of journeys, the special patron of travelers, including merchants, gamblers, and thieves. You will often encounter him in border areas, places of transition: at crossroads, gateways, and on the road itself. He also presides over the border zone between sleep and waking—he frequently communicates with humans through dreams and dreamlike states—and over the liminal zone between the living and the dead.[20]

The oracle of Hermes worked like this:

The Market Oracle

Around dusk, when business is winding down and the last vendors are closing up shop, you bring your question to the statues of Hermes. Your question might range from “Will I be healed?” to “Is my husband cheating on me?” or “What will be the price of olive oil next season?”—perfectly appropriate, since Hermes is also the patron of commerce. All that matters is that your question reflect what is truly important to you at this time.

You will want to bring some oil for the lamps, to show respect for the god. You might burn a little incense. But there are no dues to pay, and no priests to collect them. What is going on here is between you and the god, one to one, and between the two of you and the world.

You have made your modest offerings. You are ready to approach the statue. You will speak your question directly into the right ear of the god. This should be shared with no one else.

Your next step is to stuff your hands over your ears, blocking out external sounds. You will walk like this all the way to the gate through which you entered the walled market.

As soon as you have stepped outside the market, you will unblock your ears. The first words of human speech you overhear will give you the answer to your question. The words might be a simple yes or no, or an enigmatic phrase that will set you scrabbling for associations, as you might do with a fragment from a dream. Whatever you pick up will relate to your question. You have made sure of that by evoking the Hermes energy, the power of synchronicity.[21]
Robert Moss in his book Conscious Dreaming: A Spiritual Path for Everyday Life, (New York: Three Rivers Press, 1996), p. 167.


[20] Karl Kerenyi, Hermes, Guide of Souls (Dallas: Spring Publications, 1987), honors the god in his many guises.

[21] My account of the oracle at Pharai is based on a tantalizing paragraph in Pausanias, Description of Greece, 2 vols., trans. Arthur Shilleto (London: Bohn’s Classical Library, 1886), 2:46.

Robert Moss Pausanias Posted on behalf of and on Tuesday, July 6th, 2010 under Quotations.

Leave a Reply

You can embed videos and photos in your comments just by including the URL. Here's a list of supported websites and instructions.

You can use these HTML tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>