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. Therefore, we would like to attribute headaches and migraines exclusively to debilitated planets (especially the Sun, Mercury and Mars) in Aries.

Looking at the birth chart from an integrated perspective, one soon realises that an organic boundary line restricted to Aries (which, as far as body structure is concerned, governs the head) is irrelevant in the horoscopes of headache individuals; the statistical examination confirms this. The very presence of planets with 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 astrological “principle of indeterminacy” makes the localisation of a symptom questionable – in the absence of a specific reference grid – on the other hand, it 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 seat of a particular state of consciousness – and again, through a symbol, finds its objective reference – the reactive interaction with a triggering social experience.

A headache is symptomatic of a solid emotional contracture in the psychosomatic concept. The pain in the head makes us participate in a psychological jam channelled in an abstract, rational, therefore, not vital form. At the base is an unsatisfied Moon: the formative principle expressed in the horoscope by the terrestrial satellite, the archetype of the Great Mother and the vegetative, receptive, sensitive instances are not integrated with the conscious solar will. The Moon takes on connotations that, in the light of daily organisation, appear to be the legacy of a prelogical, infantile world devoid of that ethical dimension that distinguishes social life.

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

After all, symptomatic manifestations such as photophobia, hypersomnia and dizziness are somatic attempts to recover the link with the coenesthetic life through the loss of consciousness or the decrease of the attention threshold. In some cases, individuals with headaches perform authentic symbolic therapies, such as when they seek pain relief by taking large amounts of fluid, prolonged immersion in water, or foetal positioning. In this way, they try to restore the right degree of “humidity”, that is, to relive, through the symbols of water and amniotic life, the emotional condition they are not free to express.

Alongside the Sun and the Moon, astrological indicators of the formative principles of consciousness, it is necessary to recognise an element of mediation between higher thought functions and the vegetative and instinctive somatic parts. This element is represented by Mercury, the integrative 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. The planet, therefore, passes to signify the capacities of logical and analytical deciphering, alternating movement, inter-human communication and 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 a child, he stands out for his skill by stealing the divine heifers guarded by his half-brother Apollo, who angrily threatens to kill him. To calm him down, Mercury kills a turtle and, with its shell, builds a lyre that enchants Apollo with its sweet song. The two brothers reconcile, and Apollo gives Mercury his magical shepherd’s rod, which brings him wealth and sovereignty, providing him with the office of divine messenger in the underworld (Hermes psychopomp). From this short mythological tale, it is clear that intellectual enticements do not entrap Mercury. On the contrary, he makes fun of gods and men with a wise and accommodating 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 released in harmony with the integrated dimension of reality.

In his specific identity as a messenger of the gods, Mercury-Hermes personifies a further aspect that completes his childish image as a thief and deceiver. It is the figure of Mercury Senex (the elderly), who possesses 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 three-leaved shepherd’s rod is the principle of a natural acquisition, is integrated into an image of balance and stability through the Caduceus. The latter polarises the primordial Chaos by ordering the opposing forces 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 rules the sign of Virgo, the organisation of the undifferentiated force through the Logos, as the pure symbolism of the sign – Mother or human Matrix containing the divine seed – represents.

This passage, marked by greater awareness, is interpreted in the myth by the union of Hermes with Aphrodite, the epiphany of male and female reconciliation from which Hermaphroditus will be born. Mercury’s glyph – a circle over a cross 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 acts as a coordination organ between the functions of the telencephalon and cerebellum (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 patients, a predisposing situation is the critical Sun-Moon aspect, an indicator of a disharmonious confrontation between conscious and subconscious instances. But the headache is a puer Mercury enchanted by his movement, able to stay on the surface of events but not available for an engaging, emotional deepening. In these birth charts, we often find Mercury in Air signs (Gemini, Libra, Aquarius), which manages 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. Vasomotor headache provides 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 those suffering from headaches, sick with too much thought, the possibility of integrating the Puer with the Senex, exploiting the powers of the Caduceus to become a Psychopomp, conductor of their souls in that underground world that a particular type of religion and progress has relegated to a hateful place.