"So spake he [Zeus], and the messenger, Argeiphontes,
failed not to hearken. Straightway he bound beneath
his feet his beautiful sandals, immortal, golden,
which were wont to bear him over
the waters of the sea and over the boundless land
swift as the blasts of the wind."
~Homer, The Iliad Book 24, 339-342
In Greek mythology, sandals with or without wings have been related to Hermes (Mercury), the only god in the Greek pantheon who freely crosses boundaries. In the astrological language, Hermes’ crossing of thresholds reminds a lot the customary turn of the planet Mercury from direct to retrograde and the opposite.
In the last book of the Iliad, we read that Achilles had been abusing Hector’s body to revenge the death of his best friend Patroclus. After twelve days, Zeus decided that this must come to an end and he sends Hermes, disguised as a soldier to guide the father of Hektor, king Priam through the Greek camp to receive Hektor’s body. It’s really interesting that this crossing takes place at night—which symbolically reminds the time when Mercury enters the shadow face, before turning retrograde. As soon as Hermes hears Zeus’ orders, he ties his “immortal sandals” to slip through the enemy’s camp, because he wants to offer consolation and closure to half-finished issues; it’s the sandals that they are going to secure his safe, soundless and hidden passage, alternating his role from the Messenger to the Conductor of souls…alternating from direct to retrograde movement.
From this point, Hermes-Mercury takes upon an inward looking which is going to lead the mind to its own personal descent to the depths of the unconscious, so that to succeed in bringing to light what had remained hidden. Hermes in the story is dressing himself up the role that enables him to cross the boundaries between the Greek and the Trojan camps, the boundaries between the winners and the losers, the boundaries between the living king of Troy and his dead son. Complementary, planet Mercury ties his own sandals to carry our thoughts beyond our personal boundaries, during the retrograde time when by all appearances every action and communication has seized. Likewise, Hermes leads Priam through a river-boundary that separated the two camps, while the Greeks and the Trojans had agreed to an armistice. As we are called to cross our personal boundaries during the retrograde period and contemplate our past, Achilles is required to overcome his anger and grudge for his friend’s death, and let the dead body of Hektor to receive the customary rites. King Priam is also crossing his boundaries for, even a king he needs to find the courage and strength to meet the killer of his son and kiss his hand.
Hermes' sandals in this story and in general bear a special meaning which is related to the passage from one point/state to another. It was customary for the ancient Greeks to put in the graves of their beloved ones small clay boots, especially found in children’s tombs. It is not a coincidence that today in happy events we usually buy new shoes. In the ceremony of baptism, new shoes and clothes are presented to the one baptized to celebrate his/her admission to the Church. Even, when someone dies, he/she always has a pair of shoes on—maybe even a new one. So, probably there is a connection here with Hermes’ sandals and his crossing through boundaries. It is evident that shoes compliment symbolically a ceremonial act, but they also enable and provide crossing thresholds safely. Hey, even Hermes needed them!
So during this Mercury retrograde season, let’s tie our “mercurial sandals”, make our amendments and redefine our choices. This way, we can freely cross “over the waters of the sea and over the boundless land swift as the blasts of the wind”, just like Hermes did every time he put on his feet his beautiful immortal golden sandals.
Bibliography:~Cursaru, G., "Les sandales d'Hermès, I. Les καλὰ πέδιλα homériques d'Hermès," Rivista di Filologia e di Istruzione Classica 140. 1 (2012) 20-61
~Greene L. and Sasportas H., The Inner Planets: Building Blocks of Personal Reality (Seminars in Psychological Astrology) [Samual Weiser (1993)]
~Yalouris, Ν., "Πτερόεντα Πέδιλα," BCH 77 (1953) 293-321.