Mercury’s patronage of doctors…may seem a little odd, but until recently most medicine consisted almost entirely of charlatanism, quackery, placebos, convoluted explanations and excuses, huge bills and rapid exits. A fair bit of it stil does, both in its conventional and alternative modes.
The connections between Mercury and opportunism of all sorts is real enough, but this way of connecting them to medicine over-emphasizes them. There is a lot more than opportunism and trickery to Mercury. Digging into the quote just a little, there are two points I want to address: one is a matter of tone, the other of substance.
First, tone: there is a dismissive tone to the way all of these elements are intermingled. Placebo and trickery is made nearly identical with charlatanism and quackery. That seems to miss something important–while comingled under Mercury, we also find in Mercury the differentiation of them. We find outright lies, sure, but we also find mysteriously potent lies, lies that can act like truths. We find tricks that heal.
I was reminded of this a few months ago while reading Singing to the Plants: you get these neat stories about shamans/medicine men/choose-your term who know that their magical operations are ‘just’ tricks but that they nonetheless work. The placebo zone is interesting because it is a fake treatment that nonetheless provides some therapeutic effect.
The testing for the placebo effect isn’t a denial of its efficacy, but a demand that what we call medicine exceed the efficacy of such things.
Second, by identifying the medical dimensions of Mercury with trickery, you elide Mercury’s effective intellectual contributions. Mercury isn’t just tricks that can work. Mercury is the experimenter, the scientist, who tries a hundred things to find one that is interesting and potent. Mercury is also the potency under which that one thing is distilled and transformed.
Which puts me in mind of a book that I just dipped into, Esalen (speaking of ‘California stank’). While that sort of environment can be a bit of a hot mess, it can also be quite fertile, in this case providing a crossroads along which several strands of spiritual practices and concepts intersected.
Geomantic associations are useful here. Albus and Conjunctio are both figures of Mercury. Albus is white and slow in part because it refers to efforts that take time before coming to fruition. In it, we can see in Mercury the capacity for diligence; finding and refining. Conjunctio helps us get at the sorts of opportunism Mercury favors–the sort that produces and exploits sudden changes, specifically those that look dramatic.
Extracting the triplicity from Mercury’s signs provides us with an ever-present risk in the sign–an unstable Rubeus that appears stable only to quickly give way to new agitation. Medicine and the endless battle of side-effects, yes, but also a lot of the results-based magic that have come out of Carroll’s own chaos magic and the distinctive California spiritual eclecticism. I wouldn’t want to dismiss any of those outright.