Each community in Europe has a slightly different story about who brings gifts to children at Christmas time.   Let’s not review them when David Sedaris has done such a brilliant job. If you haven’t listened to “Six to Eight Black Men” go do that now. Seriously. Pause this.  Actually, no.  Don’t.  His work’s a lot more interesting than this, so it will make this sound terrible.  Listen to this first.

Stories have power in Mythic Europe, because they attract faeries.  Powerful stories allow faeries to affect whole communities. Being invited in makes communities even more vulnerable to the fae.  Dozens of little kiddies leaving out milk for a jolly old elf is a ridiculously bad idea, unless it has been so tied up in a safe story that it can’t do any harm.

The problem is that medieval people are terrible to their kids. Mythic Europe is full of mystical guys who hurt kids on the naughty list. Some steal naughty children. God Himself has some children torn limb from limb by bears for sassing a bald prophet, in the Bible. So: it’s important to have a consistent, safe story.  This is the story of Black-Faced Hermes.

Blackface is, for American gamers, a particularly problematic idea. Black-faced Hermes isn’t in blackface: he’s the ancient Greek god who steals children, particularly weird, wicked children, often by coming down the chimney and getting covered in soot. To get rid of the problematic term, you might prefer to call him Hermes Harpyios which means “Hermes who snatches away”.

So, apprentices leave out items for this faerie: because he is the faerie who steals Gifted children and leaves them on the doorstep of covenants. He really likes chicken. They are encouraged to place their gifts for him outside the Aegis. As a patron of games and sports, he is best propitiated in spaces where these are played.

Similarly, children receive whatever is left behind for them outside the covenant’s mystical defences. As the spirit of sport, games and mystical initiations, the treasure hunts he leaves may become complex little puzzles, which the apprentices need to work together to complete. As the patron of commerce he can leave valuable gifts.

He’s also thoroughly and childishly amoral, and is the patron of thieves. Like all faeries, he feeds on raw emotional expression. His gifts can, therefore, be mixed blessings.

Hermes Photo credit: Infollatus via Foter.com / CC BY-SA
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