But sometimes the finger, itself, is worth looking at.
Hermes has some wonderful epithets. He's the Thief, the Watcher, the Whisperer. (An epithet is a descriptive phrase that can substitute for a name. In the US these days, only wrestlers and career criminals have epithets, and each usually has only one for branding purposes. But back in the old days, gods could have several epithets and if you were too foolish to figure out that the Whisperer was also the Thief, well, whoosh! there went your lunch money.) My personal favorite is Polutropos.
Polutropos \pol-'ew-tro-pos\ Many-turned, much traveled, versatile, wily, manifold.
Polutropos often means “well-traveled,” and if you've ever had the joy of going on a long trip, you'll know this meaning well. Every unexpected set-back leads to either the most amazing memory you'll keep or total disaster. To deal with the kinds of twists that happen while traveling, one must become versatile, able to do a little of this or that as necessary depending on what fate has done to the trains. This kind of versatility can make one wily. You begin to see the next twist before you’ve reached the border patrol and are already working out exactly what to omit from your reason for entering the country.
The part of polutropos that holds all this together is that final entry: manifold. With many folds.
In Ancient Greek, some interesting things could be manifold: vicissitudes, actions, fate, desires, sacred rites and, um, kaka. (Kaka is Greek for “bad things”-and you thought it was just a childish word for crap.)
Our desires are what bring us vicissitudes. We can work with our desires through sacred rites (ritual becomes sacred when you want it to) to realize the connection between our actions and our fates and thus begin to lessen the kaka inherent in desire.
It’s nice to see this collection of intangible things as a family, all clearly sharing some essence while each is distinct and sometimes wildly different from the others at least on the surface. It’s also important to see that the shared resemblance, the secret mark that proves each one has a right to attend family reunions, is the nature of having many folds, seemingly random turns, switchbacks, loopdeloops. How quickly one’s desires turn into a source of sorrow. How often do we seek to rid ourselves of some trouble only to have our bane reveal itself in the next act to be our heart’s desire? This is the polutropos shape of the universe. It is the way the Laws work when they aren’t merely hanging around being theoretical, the form they take the moment we step onto the path and begin our travels.
Hermes Polutropos is that part of divine wisdom that is well-travelled. He’s the part of g*d (whatever that is) who knows that whether it’s rainy or sunny, he’s gonna need a hat.