Mercury and the Death Card

A late post, apropos of Mercury retrograde. But this came with a lot of long thought as well…

Mercury/Hermes has long been a patron god of mine. Why he picked me, I’ll never know. But he shows up in dreams and trancework no matter what his disguise, eyes askew — like Thom Yorke of Radiohead or the late actor Marty Feldman — eyes that look into two worlds at once. It’s how I know it’s him when my dreams are riddled with weird people. He’s driven me over the Hoan Bridge in Milwaukee, flown me over the Haitian earthquake, and thrown me into Lake Michigan and forced me to float back up, knowing full well I can’t swim. He is a mighty teacher of a god and would make a crappy boyfriend — he never comes when he’s called, but always shows up when you aren’t expecting him. He’s been old man Trismegestis, a trenchcoat-and-hat-wearing redheaded stranger, a silhouette in the cemetery, a man in a tux with flowers at my door when I haven’t been ready… Yep.

He’s hard to love, but I do. Because for some godforsaken reason, he keeps saying he loves me. (Then he throws me in the lake.)

Mercury Retrograde? I don’t bother with him. He’s sleeping off a drunk for three weeks. There are other entities to ask for help… and yet he showed up this past weekend… inhabiting, of all people, my own sister…

People know of Hermes/Mercury as the god who rules travel, sales, communication, technology, commerce, speed and as the messenger of the gods to humankind; he’s a trickster, teacher, and sexy-as-hell pain in the ass. All the stuff that goes hinky during Mercury Retrograde is his wheelhouse.

What folks often forget is that another big job of his is to guide the souls of the dead from the Earth to the Underworld. He is a true psychopomp — from Heaven to Earth to the realm of the dead, he’s the guide of lost souls. (It’s clear he’s also now the god of gig work — he works for both his dad, Zeus, and his uncle, Hades.) I’m thinking the dead can keep him busy, but it likely isn’t a hard job: take the newly dead and walk them home. A couple times a year he gets Queen Persephone back to her ma… and once, when a very foolish Orpheus turned and looked just in time to see his bride fade away for good, Hermes/Mercury was there to take her hand and lead her back — probably knowing that resurrection wouldn’t happen, but maybe hoping it did…

So he is the mediator between the dead and the living, and the alchemical spark. He keeps the cycles from getting stuck. And because he literally has seen it all, there is no greater teacher of moving between realms to find spiritual wisdom. And boy, there is no greater cosmic dope-slap than the one he delivers…

I met my sister at the Red Rabbit restaurant where we hugged for the first time since lockdown. Newly and happily vaccinated, I told her of my new summer job (hours now cut because of the state, grumble)… and she filled me in on all the concerts she had lined up to attend… then as chatter turned to talk of the past — bound to happen during Mercury Retrograde — she asked if I’d remembered her dear college and beyond friend, Brent…

In the latest alumni rag of our college (my sis and I attended the same one), I had seen his name under “passings” and tried to recall who he was. She flashed a pic in her cell phone to me of the two of them in school, and the memories came rushing back. She was great friends with Brent and his twin brother during our halcyon undergraduate days — they were but peripherally in my circle, my sister and I made sure our social groups didn’t cross back in those days — but I recalled who they were.

Brent had died a few months ago unexpectedly while he was in Vietnam teaching English. I asked her how he died. She shrugged. Maybe COVID, but they’ll never be sure. His mother just wanted his remains home, so they skipped the autopsy. It didn’t matter, really — he was suddenly gone. I’m not handling this well, she said. I’m not handling it at all.

I’m so sorry, I said. You don’t have to handle it.

She spoke of all the wonderful times and talks, how they maintain their close friendship despite her then-husband’s jealousy, and of reaching out to him after she divorced her husband. And she said, I don’t know what to do with this… with why I waited. What was I waiting for?

She said this COVID year made her really aware that staying out of touch with old friends was just stupid. She’d reconnected with so many of her old college friends because, well, what was keeping her from doing it? Convenience? Comfort? Habit? Something stupid. But Brent was out of reach this year… and now he’s gone. His twin brother is beside himself with grief, and so is she.

I thought of my amazing college friendships — how I let them lapse because I divorced my longtime partner (he was their friend too), moved to the Cities, escaped my family damage, worked hard to start over. There comes a time when you wonder if connecting again is the right thing to do, or if your new life is making you happier — in a lot of ways, it is a happier one — but I admitted that my reticence to catch up with old college friends has been sheer embarrassment. I’m still working poor, not successful; I read of the lives and accomplishments of my old college mates while sitting in bankruptcy… my how’ve-you-been story would be one I just couldn’t keep telling over and over. So I avoided it and moved on. But I have to admit, my sister’s grief over losing her beloved Brent really shook me.

I told her about those dumb rationalizations for not reaching out to my old music/guitar nerd friends, to the other Pagan girls, the sci-fi misfits, and the art gang was just, well, me, and being embarrassed about my lot in life.

My sister is not an effusive person. But she put both hands on the restaurant table and looked me in the face and said, get over it.

Get over yourself. Call them. Reach out. There’s no reason not to. None. Do it.

I will, I said, I just have to acknowledge that I’m the only reason I haven’t. I don’t want to tell my damn story…

She cut me off. They won’t care, she said. Maybe five minutes will be, so what’s work like? The rest will be all the happy times and being grateful you’re talking again. Just do it. Call them even if it’s to say you missed them. Don’t live with the regret I’m living with right now.

I’m a Cancer, my sister a Scorpio. We both have crunchy shells, but pain runs deep, and I know how much she was hurting over losing Brent.

I told her how I lost two mentors recently and never got the chance to say thank you to them. I’ll reach out, I said. I’ll do it.

And there it was – Mercury/Hermes storming up from the underworld, drunk on retrograde wine, pounding at my door and hollering at me to communicate with my old demons and old friends from the past. It came in a painful flash across my sister’s eyes.

OK, grumpy god, go sleep off your drunk. I’ll do it.

And here I am, making a list of who I loved and missed, killing that what-can-I-tell-them demon, and wondering what I can say. Some of this is bringing tears to my eyes; some of it is making me laugh. It is the honest sharing of my sister’s pain that pushes me to reach out again. I won’t lie, it’s nerve-wracking… but I’m also excited. I’ve been told not to wait until the Retrograde Mercury has passed; communication will be clear during this transit if you’re looking to the past. My guiding god may not have snapped out of it yet, but he is there to point the way… another lesson, and another shove toward healing. The Retrograde ends around Summer Solstice, a week before my birthday… and maybe this will be a gift to myself…

All hail Hermes, mighty Mercury. You son of a bitch.

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