Book of Knowings: Hermes and the Gift of Writing

Aksamitova_brána,_v_mlze-fog.jpg                   Photo by Juandev (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons                    (Faded out for effect)

She sat staring at the flame, as had her mother before her, and her grandmother and their mothers and grandmothers for countless generations before them. Each flame was different and she wondered what this one would bring. Her eyes softened their vision and she reached out to cup her hands around the candle itself. Cool, it was, cool and smooth, like precious white stone, only softer. The flame flickered then flared and dipped to the right, calling her attention back. As she stared, the flame grew more intense, expanding its light now until the corona filled the entire cave. Ah, yes, it was happening, that old familiar floating sensation. She allowed her eyes to grow softer still and then she saw it, the dark tunnel that brought the Visions.

Fog, there was fog all around me. Had I become lost in this land of ever-being? Stumbling, I move forward. Searching…searching….why had I been sent here?


The fog swirled and then resolved into shapes. In the distance I saw a tree rough but welcome. I grabbed at it and held on, trying as best I could to anchor myself in this reality—wherever it was.

Below me in the valley, a man passed by. He wore ragged furs about his waist; he was not imposing but rather cautious and timid. Was he, too, lost in this dismal mist-shrouded land? I followed him, keeping my distance lest he see me. For I knew not of what moral code he was made nor what psychic talents he might have.

He came to a rough dwelling of sorts, a cave that smelled of human life crudely lived. There were others with the same tattered furs, matted hair, and callused knurled feet wrapped in a mud-caked imitation of shoes.

One woman knelt by a cooking fire. She snorted, nodded, and the man sat beside her. He tore a joint from the roasting carcass on the spit, the grease dripping down his fingers and hands. She did the same and with dirty fingers, tore off a small piece of the dripping flesh. She shoved it into the mouth of a small naked child huddled next to her.

Why this thought came to me, I do not know, but as I watched the grease running down her fingers, I thought she would have no need of hand cream. She wiped her filthy hands on her protruding belly.

I heard a voice beside me. “What would happen if I gave them writing?”

Fleet-footed Hermes stood beside me.

“Do they even have language?” I asked, for all I had heard were grunts and nods.

“After a fashion,” he replied eyeing me with his usual grin. “But, they have less than 100 words among them all. And that includes their names. So, what would happen if suddenly they had writing?”

“Well, if only a small number of them had writing, I suppose they would be as gods, as goddesses, as wizards. Their secret marks would not be understood by the others. It would seem like magic. Like using magic symbols.”

I thought for another minute. “Or those who knew the secret marks would engender suspicion. Devil marks. Writing might be seen as devil marks. Then there would be fear. We often destroy what we do not understand and it might be the same with this new secret of communication.”

“But what if I gave then ALL writing?”

“ALL of them? Some would not know the gift you gave, for they have need of the lesson of hardship and the ever grinding out of a day-to-day existence.

“But some of them? It would change their lives, I think. They would no longer be content to live this minimal reality. Writing would open up something more for them.

“I cannot imagine a world without writing. It gives us ideas, concepts, an impetus to THINK. And the distances our thoughts can travel when we have writing. Think how far forward our thoughts can go—and how far back we can know the thoughts of others. Think what we can convey to others who live far, far away.

“With writing they would know so much more than the dismal lands through which I have traveled. And they would ban together in a different way, spend their time pursuing ideas and…well, culture. Something more….civilized,” I said. “They would not be content to rip meat at an open fire and shove it into their open mouths. And then they would have need of other things—like hand cream,” I said smiling at my own joke.

“Watch,” Hermes replied.

Just then man ran into camp, calling out in guttural speech. Six other men gathered around as the runner pointed to the woods from which he had just emerged. He made a fierce gesture and a loud snarling sound. The women cringed back in fear. Then he made a wide gesture with his hands.

“They only know two words for counting,” Hermes explained. “’One’ and ‘many’ which means two or more. But to know how many enemies is a crucial question. Two they can go out and defeat. But if there are ten, then they are outnumbered and need to defend themselves from a safer place.”

There was much gesturing and grunting for the men did not have the words to convey the information needed. Then one of the men, an elder, picked up a stick and pointed to each man in their small group, making a line in the dirt as he moved from man to man. After that he drew the figure of a man.

The man who had raised the alarm then took the stick and drew four lines in the dirt, one for each man he had seen. He then drew a stick figure of a man holding a club. As an after thought, he drew the other weapons the enemy carried.

“When they creep up on their enemy, they will have another advantage,” Hermes told me. “Instead of grunting their strategy at the risk being heard, they will write it with crude signs in the dirt.

“Soon they will learn to leave signs for each other to convey important information, where they have gone and what they are doing. The elders will write of their triumphs, not with pictures, but with more efficient symbols that will be passed on through time.

“It will be millennia, but one day I will teach them to make symbols for sounds and then writing will become even more efficient. The world will change. There will be scribes of high status and their hands will be soft and delicate, I think. But it will not be from the dripping grease of a roasting boar.”

With that, Hermes faded, as did the scene before me and I was back staring at my candle.








Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s