Character Archetypes – H for Herald (and Hermes)

A double-up on archetypes – The Herald arrives from The Hero’s Journey, and Hermes is the Ancient Greek God, charged as Divine Herald amongst many other archetypal elements.

The Herald

“Announcing…a new challenge!” ~ Herald motto.

Herald-trumpetThe Herald is one of the eight archetypes described by Christopher Vogler, originating from Joseph Campbell’s ‘The Hero’s Journey’.

The Herald, whether a character, object or force of nature, has one job – to announce the arrival of an important event or occurrence (often the inciting incident) which will send the hero off into a new world. This is the hero’s call to adventure, the motivation to change and move. Often, but not always, the Herald is an agent of change for the protagonist.

Signs of the Herald

  • The Herald could be anything, any type of character, or shared as a role by another archetypal character such as a shape-shifter, the main or a secondary antagonist, a friend or sidekick to the protagonist, a static bit-player in the story, anyone.
  • Or even an inanimate object, weather system, internal psychological or medical change, lucky arrival or changed situation like, say, a freak accident. Newspapers and billboards can carry news which acts as a herald. In fact, many real life newspapers contain the name “Herald” in their mastheads.
  • They are recognised by Where they appear in the story, rather than what they appear as. An archetypal herald appears in the first act or portion of a hero’s journey – accompanying or simply as an inciting incident. They may provide dialogue or simply some symbolisation towards an invite issued for the hero to take up a call for change or adventure.
  • Heralds can appear elsewhere in the plot, signifying major changes of direction for the protagonist. Structurally this is likely to be at the midpoint, and leading into the final climax.
  • In terms of the herald as character archetype, this person would typically orally invite or call for the hero to help, change, or move into adventure.
  • The Herald as person or object, can be neutral, positive or negative. A character as herald could as easily have villainous intentions as positive towards the protagonist.
  • Although usually an agent of change and motivation for the protagonist to move from the static everyday world of their life, there are exceptions. In James Bond, for instance, M is a herald of another adventure or mission for Bond, but because James is a very static hero character there is no change.

Examples of the Herald

effie trinketFiction: Efie from The Hunger Games; M from James Bond, R2D2 and later Old Ben Konobi are heralds to Luke Skywalker, Star Wars; a contest announcement and later, the golden ticket, are herald to Charlie Bucket of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory fame; magical letters announce something magical, while Hagrid’s arrival seals the deal for Harry Potter.

Real Life: Heralds are found in real life, with announcers of celebrity or political arrivals.

 Hermes

“As above, so below” ~ 15th Century Europe Hermes motto.

“I will help, provided it’s fun” ~ possible modern Hermes motto.

HermesAs God of messengers, Hermes makes a good fit to round out this post. However, he’s much more than that, he’s the God of Travellers, Liars, Thievery and many more. Making Hermes (or Roman equivalent, Mercury) the best kind of herald and ancient trickster archetype.

A Little Hermes History

The son of Zeus and a star-goddess named Maia, Hermes was precocious from the day he was born. His first act as a newborn was to invent the lyre by fastening strings across a tortoise’s back. His big tale is when, again, only a newborn, he snuck out of his birth cave and stole some cattle from his half brother, Apollo. The story goes that he cooked and ate the cattle, gave away some to bribe a witness to his crime, and invented animal sacrifices to the deities to appease all of them.

Apollo, having the power of prophesy, saw through the thievery, and Hermes was sent to be trialled at court by father Zeus. However, as Apollo was also the God of music, he was intrigued by his half-brother’s newly invented lyre, and held off.

Zeus, too, was fond of his son’s skill, athleticism and speed, appointing Hermes to be his divine messenger between himself and other Gods. Eventually Hermes would also become the God who shepherded souls to Hades and the underworld; and dreams to sleeping humans. When appointed as Divine Herald, Hermes was gifted by Zeus the winged sandals and helmet, and winged staff known as the Caduceus.

These objects are symbolic icons to this day.  The winged sandals or Herme’s full image appear as the icon for a world-wide florist, and the Caduceus was erroneously taken up as the symbol for medical practitioners (it was actually meant to be a similarly designed but smaller staff held by the God of Medicine, Asclepius). The helmet made an appearance as part of the first costumes for Marvel’s superhero speedster, The Flash.

As a traveller, Hermes is symbolised by the messenger bag – which he needed, as he was constantly on the roads and never settled down (although managed to father many children such as the God, Pan). As Messenger or Herald God, Herme’s image is used by the Greek Post Office. As God of business,trade and commerce, Hermes also has another little symbol bag – a money bag.

Hermes’s creativity, ingenuity, friendliness, and mental and physical speed made him a popular and helpful God, despite his sometimes lack of honesty. He appears as a helper God in many Ancient Greek Myths, making arrangements for – and fixing – Zeus’s many love affairs, saving reborn God Dionysus from another death, liberating Io from Hera’s wrath, and creating the peacock plumage, helping Perseus to slay Medusa, freeing Odysseus from Calypso, and many more.

Hermes was known in the ancient world as amoral and the patron god of thieves, highwaymen, travellers, traders, and businessmen. Homer wrote Hermes as a merry and light-hearted trickster figure.

the-magicianIn 1947 Norman O Brown called Hermes a magician, due to his supernatural powers. This has some standing, as the ancient Greeks often mapped their own Gods on other ancient civilisations. In this case a figure of magic historically – Hermes Trismegistus, may have been a combination of  Egyptian deity, Thoth, and Hermes, both of whom were Gods of writing and magic. The Hermetic texts written by this “person” still form occultist practises and philosophy today. And the designs of some tarot “magician” cards have figures which often resemble Hermes, sometimes with wings, or a Caduceus-like staff. The magician tarot card is interpretted to mean (aside from the obvious magical elements) to be transformative, as the magician stands between earth and sky, or the two worlds.

Hermes is God of – trade, eloquence, patron and protector god of thieves, travellers, sports, athletes and border crossings, guide to the Underworld, god of weights and measures, literature, oratory, wit, shepherds and merchants, and possibly magic. He is also credited with inventing not only the lyre and panpipes (which his son Pan would use), but foot racing and boxing.

Hermes and Gods as Archetype

As Herald to the Gods and patron of roads and boundaries, the use of Hermes as an archetype means you will be dealing with not only his huge plethora of skills, but with transitions and communications. He is the symbolic archetype of transformation.

Hermes, as trickster, is often associated with the fool archetype. The fool is not necessarily naive, stupid, or innocent, and often plays a vital role in questioning the protagonist with just the right questions to give them information (or messages).

In her book, ‘Gods in Everyman’ Dr. Jean Shinoda Bolen speaks of the Hermes Archetype as being a composite of the messenger archetype, the trickster archetype, the younger sibling rival archetype, the guide archetype, and the rescuer archetype. That’s a pretty good summary of all that Hermes offers for a character.

Gods and Goddesses as Archetypes

Mythological ancient gods like Hermes provide a good archetypal basis for character (and real-life) development. The book referenced above, Gods in Everyman, by Dr Jean Shinoda Bolen has several books detailing female goddess counterparts including ‘Goddesses in Everywoman’ and ‘Artemis’ by the same author. Several websites provide archetypal details on ancient gods and goddesses also.

I personally have two characters based on Hermes, each divides up a few of the main themes for this god. Hermes seems one of the easier gods to change gender on. My female character is based on the Mercury Roman archetype – Mercury is the planet closest to the sun. If you consider your main protagonist as your sun, the Mercury character, as female, could be the girl-next-door archetype, circling the sun as messenger. Mine is exactly that.

Signs of Hermes

  • skilled in mental and physical quickness – cunning, creative and ingenious; with high athletic or sporting skills, fit and healthy
  • questionable morals regarding lies and trickery – resourcefulness
  • enjoys pranks and having raucous fun with others – extroverted
  • heralds and communicates changes and transitions – or transformations
  • helper and fixer for other people’s problems and issues – ready to serve, but independent so won’t be taken advantage of
  • never the actual hero – on the periphery of political decisions or actions and not fully authoritative or judgemental
  • popular and friendly, enchanting and seductive
  • good with animals
  • efficient, good head for money, punctual
  • a puer aeternus or eternal boy-man – won’t settle down, happy to just have fun, travel and explore
  • as fool, will ask a lot of informative or leading questions, just in the nick of time
  • naturally makes use of all his powers and skills to reach his ultimate level in life

Examples of Hermes

Because Hermes has domain over so many varied themes, as an archetype you can find elements of Hermes in many other character types. Some obvious ones found in fiction and cinema are –

flash3The Flash as superhero speedster – his original 1940s design had him wearing the Hermes helmet. In fact, not only does DC have the Flash, but also has Hermes as a superhero. In fact, both DC and Marvel have both Mercury and Hermes as heroes or villains.

Doctor Who (in several of his forms) needs a lot of cunning, wit, trickery and often athleticism. And he never dies. Dr Who has fought off an alien villain called ‘The Trickster’ and his arch nemesis – The Master or Missy, is a prime example of trickster villain. Wife, River Song is a trickster and often a herald to the Doctor’s own trickster side.

Merlin heralds and guides the transformation of Arthur into hero and king, but is also a very good trickster magician. Dumbledore provides a similar role with Harry Potter, and combines the herald with a little duplicity, as he doesn’t tell Harry of his fate.

Loki is the Nordic trickster god, another fascinatingly deep character as played by Tom Hiddleston. Other trickster Gods are Eshu (Africa), Coyote (Native American), Maui (Polynesian), Crow (Australian Aboriginal) and Set (Egypt). Other trickster villains with some superpowers – the Joker and Riddler as Batman nemeses and Wile Coyote to the Road Runner. Other not quite villainous tricksters – Briar Rabbit, Bart Simpson, Bugs Bunny, and The Pink Panther.

Hermes is also an example of the puer aeternus or eternis – the boy who never fully grows up. Peter Pan is the original modern form of this archetype. More modern renditions can be found in the swathe of movies featuring overgrown slackers.

Other Names and Associates

  • Associated Herald Archetypes – messenger, announcer
  • Associated Hermes Archetypes – herald, trickster, puer aeternus / eternal child, magician / shaman, athlete, joker, liar, thief / petty criminal, the fool
  • Others – explorer, adventurer, fixer, mediator, guide, commitment-phobe, super-villain, rescuer, sibling rival
  • Origins – The Hero’s Journey for herald, trickster and fool;  Jung for trickster and fool;  Greek Mythology for Hermes
  • Shadow – the trickster is shadow to a true shaman or magician

Hermes Character used in header image: Copyright: Malchev, Shutterstock

archetypes herald hermest


Part of 2016’s Character Archetype Series (A-Z) @ Hunter is Writing.

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