Images of the Divine Child

From Amplification of Symbols by Harry Prochaska

Mythologies are stories of the birth and childhood of gods, of the exploits and encounters with each other and their excursions in the human world. Even when these stories center around a single god or goddess, they do not comprise a biography; they are not chronological narrative. Instead they relate a manifestation of a god and his interactions with other beings of the cosmos. Carl Kerényi writes: "The gods are so 'original' that a new world is always born with a new god -- a new epoch or a new aspect of the world. They are 'there,' not only in the beginning when they themselves originated, and not only in the periodic repetitions of that first origination, i.e., cosmic reappearances and representations on festal occasions. Though they are present all the time, the mythologems which unfold in narrative form what is contained in the figures of the gods are always set in a primordial time. This return to the origins and to primordiality is a basic feature of every mythology."1
A particular aspect of this "primordiality" becomes concentrated in the appearance of the god as divine child and since this is a psychic genesis, everything must happen non-empirically, e.g. by a virgin birth, a miraculous conception or birth from unnatural organs. "The motives of 'insignificance,' exposure, abandonment, danger, etc., try to show how precarious is the possibility of psychic wholeness, that is, the enormous difficulty to be met with in attaining this 'highest good.'"2 These stories show the god in the "full perfection of his power and outward form."3
The stories of the birth of Hermes and his exploits as a child serve as fine examples of the essence of the god (or a particular power) at his beginning to be retold many times over in many other situations. Maia and Zeus conceived Hermes, in the deepest night when heavy sleep had overtaken Hera protecting them from her jealousy. Hermes was born at dawn, and by evening had stolen the herd of cattle which belonged to his brother, Apollo.
The mythical birth of the divine child takes place in many different places under many different conditions. The boundless waters are one such place for water is the primordial source of all things. Eros and Dionysus are often seen riding astride a dolphin (Figures 1, 2 and 3), [Dolphins are so named because of their uterine shape.]

[aras-image:3Pa.046,,8,,,Figure 1 Eros with whip in chariot drawn by dolphins.] [aras-image:5Gb.100,,10,,,Figure 2 A Boy on a Dolphin Playing the Violin.] [aras-image:5Hc.005,,9,,,Figure 3 Putto with a Dolphin.]