The role of Mercury as an element of mediation between instinct and reason

Published in: Riza Psicosomatica no. 67 September 1986

Italian version

Giambologna (1529-1608) – A large Italian bronze model of Mercury – Private collection

Even astrology suffers from a reductive interpretation like other branches of modern knowledge. As such, we solely would like to attribute headaches, head pains, and migraines to debilitated planets (particularly the Sun, Mercury and Mars) in Aries.

Observing the birth chart from an integrated perspective, one soon realises that an organic boundary line restricted to Aries (which, regarding bodily structure, rules the head) is irrelevant in cephalalgic individuals’ horoscopes; statistical examination confirms it. The same presence of planets in critical aspects in the so-called “houses of health” (1st, 6th and 12th House) is rarely significant, even in the case of symptomatic headaches or in some way attributable to organic causes.

If, on the one hand, this astrology “principle of indeterminacy” makes the localisation of a symptom questionable – in the absence of a specific reference grid – it, on the other hand,

goes in the direction of a holistic integration of the psychosome. Here, we see the disease as a deviation that appears symbolically – the organ as the site of a particular state of consciousness – and again, by means of a symbol, finds its objective reference – the reactive interaction with a triggering social experience.

In the psychosomatic concept, headache is symptomatic of a solid emotional contracture. The head’s pain makes us participate in a psychological jam channelled in an abstract, rational, therefore not vital form. At the base, there is the presence of an unsatisfied Moon: the formative principle expressed in the horoscope by the terrestrial satellite, archetype of the Great Mother and the vegetative, receptive, sensitive instances is not integrated into the conscious solar will. The Moon assumes connotations that, in the light of the everyday organisation, appear to be the legacy of a prelogical, childish world, totally devoid of that ethical dimension distinguishing the social life.

The Sun is originally the archetype of conscious individuation, becoming the image of an absolute super-ego, a prelude to authoritarian and moralistic parental figures’ neurotic detachment. In the Jungian sense, the lack of integration of the lunisolar dynamics represents the Animus-Anima dispute; here, the solar symbol becomes the revealer of the repressed instinct, of that Shadow which can only arise into conscious attention by transmuting itself into pain.

After all, symptomatic manifestations such as photophobia, hypersomnia, and dizziness are somatic attempts to recover the link with the cenesthetic life through the loss of consciousness or the decrease in the attention threshold. In some cases, cephalalgic individuals implement authentic symbolic therapies, such as when seeking relief from pain in the intake of large quantities of liquids, in prolonged immersion in water, in fetal positioning. In this way, they try to restore the right degree of “humidity”, that is, to re-live through the symbols of water and amniotic life, the emotional condition that they are not free to express.

Alongside the Sun and Moon, astrological indicators of the formative principles of consciousness, it is necessary to recognise an element of mediation between the functions of higher thought or creativity and the vegetative and instinctual somatic parts. This element is represented by Mercury, the integrating principle of lunisolar consciousness. We often relegate the role of Mercury in the horoscope to a symbol of the human intellectual faculty understood as a category that thought imposes a priori on experience. Therefore, the planet passes to signify the capacities of logical and analytical deciphering, the alternating movement, inter-human communication, verbalisation, in a broad sense, the ordering network of conscious expression.

In Greek mythology, Mercury-Hermes is the son of Zeus and the nymph Maya. While still an infant, he distinguishes himself in dexterity by stealing the divine heifers guarded by his half-brother Apollo, who angrily threatens to kill him. To soothe him, Mercury kills a turtle and, with its shell, builds a lyre that enchants Apollo with its sweet song. The two brothers reconcile themselves, and Apollo gives Mercury his magical shepherd’s rod, which bears him wealth and sovereignty, providing him with the office of divine messenger to the underworld (Hermes psychopomp). Already by this brief mythological tale, it is clear that Mercury is not at all trapped by intellectual lures. On the contrary, he makes fun of gods and men through a wise and easy-going attitude; he is genuinely irrational and acts not based on artificial schemes but with an accurate perception of reality. Mercury integrates his human and divine genesis in the image of the puer æternus (forever young) by the creativity freed in harmony with the integrated dimension of reality.

In his specific identity as a messenger of the gods, Mercury-Hermes wears a further aspect that completes his childish image of thief and deceiver. He is the figure of Mercury Senex (The old man), possessing the Caduceus, the sacred rod wrapped in two snakes and surmounted by a pair of wings. The erratic and spring movement of Mercury Puer, whose shepherd’s rod with three leaves is the principle of a natural acquisition, is integrated into an image of balance and stability through the Caduceus. This last polarises the primordial Chaos by ordering the forces opposites of good and evil, instinct and reason, human and divine. Mercury puer is the ruler of the sign of Gemini, a symbol of nervous and alternating movement; Mercury Senex governs the sign of Virgo, the organisation of the chthonic and undifferentiated force through the Logos, as the sheer symbolism of the sign – Mother or human Matrix containing the divine seed – signifies.

This passage marked by an increased awareness is interpreted in the myth by Hermes’ union with Aphrodite, from which Hermaphroditus will be born, an epiphany of the masculine and feminine reconciliation. Mercury’s glyph – a circle above a cross and surmounted by a crescent – also represents the integrated being between heaven and earth, the archetype of humanity in its development towards the reconciliation of opposites.

From the anatomical point of view, Mercury functions as the coordination organs between the telencephalon and cerebellum functions (attributed respectively to the Sun and the Moon): hypothalamus, midbrain, and spinal bulb. It still governs the internal-external exchange through the respiratory process. In the horoscopes of headache sufferers, a predisposing situation is the critical Sun-Moon aspect, as an indicator of a disharmonious comparison between conscious and subconscious instances. But the headache is above all a Mercury puer enchanted by his movement, able to stay on the surface of events but not very available for an engaging, emotional deepening. In such charts, we frequently find Mercury in Air signs (Gemini, Libra, Aquarius), managing the subtle body by regulating mental and relational exchange. Therefore the natural libidinal charge – the sacred rod of Mercury puer – finds less resistance in the cognitive-telencephalic expression than on an emotional-sensitive level. The vasomotor headache gives a somatic counter-test. The first phase of vasoconstriction of the cranial arteries (the outflow of blood/emotion) is followed by vasodilation, the painful return of the forgotten pole. Mercury offers cephalalgia sufferers, sick with too much thinking, the possibility of integrating the Puer with the Senex, exploiting the Caduceus’s powers to become Psychopomp, conductor of their souls in that underground world that a particular type of religion and progress has relegated to an obnoxious place.