The Dew of Hermon: Symbolism, Myth, History
By Kerry A. Shirts M.M.
Eagle Rock Lodge #19
Idaho Falls, Idaho
A startling little ditty about this theme caught my eye the other night in my reading in Masonry. Thomas M. Stewart’s little book “Symbolic Teachings or Masonry and its Message,” gave me a nifty little insight I will share with the rest of you.
“The dew of Hermon (the Holy Spirit) descended upon the mountains of Zion – for there Iao commanded the blessing – life for evermore, Ps. 133.
This dew was also Hermes, the 6th messenger or Teacher of Truth and Morality to men.
The ancient significance of ‘dew’ is that of teaching or instruction. This idea is represented in the hieroglyphs of the Egyptians by wavy lines in the form of a double arch. In Hebrew the word (ire) signifies
drops of water and likewise to teach. The idea in a symbolic sense is that of instruction which prepares man for the gaining of wisdom, and rain which prepares the earth for bearing crops.
This same symbolism runs back through the ages and shows again the link connecting all the religions with a Secret teaching given to each messenger and he in turn transmits it to the people of his generation in a manner best suited for their intellectual development.”
The dew was Hermes? The dew was the Holy Spirit? The dew was a teaching, or even teaching/instruction in general? Well which one is it? The beauty, power, and difficulty of symbolism and studying it comes up with this concept of the “Dew of Hermon.”
Exploring from both the ancient Jewish and Roman ideas, we gain an appreciation for this theme in our own Masonic lore and teachings. The Roman ‘Sparsio,’ the throwing of gifts out to the crowd from the Emperor’s benevolent hands from his balcony was investigated by Hugh Nibley, and he showed there was a solid sparsio (nuts, fruits, grain, chick-peas, beans, birds, etc.), as well as a liquid Sparsio (water, wine, perfume, oil, meal, blood and ashes, etc.). The concept behind the throwing out of these gifts to the crowd was the recognition that these “symbols” (figs, nuts, flowers, meal, and so forth) “were well known symbols of fertility, possessing in the ‘sparsio’ the broader signification of a ‘general blessing.’”
From Jewish mythology, we learn the startling news that dew is used specifically of God to enact the resurrection from the dead! Howard Schwartz give us insight into this “general blessing” of God to mankind: “From where does the dew of resurrection descend? From the head of God, as it is said, ‘For my head is drenched with dew, My locks with the damp of night’ (Song of Songs 5:2) When the time comes to resurrect the dead, God will shake his locks and bring down the dew of resurrection, and by means of that dew, all the righteous dead will rise from the dust.”
The Biblical scholar Marvin Pope taught that Song of Songs 5:1-2, can be translated as: (5:1c,d) – “I ate my honeycomb with my honey; I drank my wine with my milk.” And translated S of S 5:2e,f as: “For my head is drenched with dew, My locks with the night mist.” The interesting thing about these lines is the fertility motif, the evidence of abundance. Pope notes “The common word for honey in several Semitic dialects, Akkadian ‘dispu,’ Arabic ‘dibs,’ Hebrew-Aramaic ‘debash<dibsh. In line 1d, wine with… milk. Greek ‘oinogala’ which Chloe presents to Daphnis (Longus I 23, ca. 2nd century B.C.). Milk and honey, oil and wine were the gifts of a fertile land and among the elements of fertility worship. When Baal returns to life, after his demise at the hands of Mot, ‘The skies rain oil, The wadies run honey.’ When Dionysius appears in the land, the characteristic effects, according to Euripides (Bacchae 136ff) are that ‘The ground flows with milk, flows with wine, flows with the nectar of the bees.’
The keynote of these symbols, the actions of the Roman Sparsio, and the symbols the scripture uses, such as dew, wine, oil, honey, is “abundance – abundance of everything good, the ‘plouthygeia’ of the Greek sparsio, as it appears in the gifts of the Hygeia, Thalysia, Panspermia, Thargelos, and so forth, when mixtures of grain and fruits were scattered over the heads of the recipients to impart all the blessings of life, and life itself.” In Jewish mythology, when Israel was on the mount of Sinai and God opened the very portals of heaven and shone in his glory, and they heard ‘I the Lord am you God’ (Exo 20:2), “they fell down in fear and their souls departed. Then God caused the dew of the resurrection, which will revive the souls of the righteous at the End of Days, to fall upon them. And every one of them was revived.” Both the solid and liquid forms of the ‘Zeugungskraft’ were strewn over the people in the form of various liquids, of which the ‘dew of Hermon’ rightly takes its place along side the Roman Sparsio. The ‘Zeugungskraft’ is ‘the reproductive power.’ The interesting conjectural emendation of Dr. Geddes of Song of Songs 5:1 is interesting in this regard: “Eat, O my friend! Drink, yea, drink abundantly, O my beloved!”
The rain from the heavens are considered part of the “Treasures of Heaven.” Nibley explained that “the Treasures in the Heavens were not allegorical but real.” And they signified life and abundance, because that’s what the rains and snows literally bring, is new life. “The miracle of the bounties of heaven literally pouring from ‘the treasure-houses of the snow… the terrible storehouses’ is an awesome sight and a joyous one…when one speaks of treasures in the heavens, one means not only the vast secret chambers of the rain, snow, and hail, but also the deep hidden wisdom and the power necessary to control them; God’s treasury is a source not only of the elements that sustain life but also of the light and knowledge that endow them with that power.” This is beautifully reflected in the Jewish mythology of the Seven heavens. “In the sixth heaven are stored the treasuries of snow and hail, and the lofts of dews and raindrops, the chamber of whirlwind and storm, the cave of vapor and the doors of fire. The seventh is the highest heaven, ‘Aravot,’ where are found the treasuries of peace and blessing, the souls of the righteous and the souls not yet created, as well as the dew with which God will revive the dead.” The moisture of the dew is vital, as the Hebrew analysis in Song of Songs 5:2 also shows. The רְסִיסֵי לָיְלָה “resisey laylah,” the “drops of the night,” are arrived at from the Hebrew root ‘rss,’ meaning “to moisten, sprinkle,” (Ezekiel 46:14) and compares with the Arabic ‘rshsh’ meaning ‘to spray, rain lightly.’ “The word is a likely poetic synonym for ‘dew.’”
The many treasuries of rain, snow, hail, wind, clouds, peace, etc., are where the dews of resurrection are also found. Partaking of the treasure of Heaven is also advocated in the Song of Songs where we read “Eat, O friends and drink: drink deeply O lovers!” The different Bible versions, the LXX (Septuagint, the Greek Old Testament), Syriac and the savants Rashbam, Ibn Ezra, Rashi, and many moderns take the Hebrew word “dodim” to be synonymous with the”re’um,” “friends.” Love, feasting, eating, and drinking, are all the blessings we receive from the “dew of Hermon,” which is from the “Treasuries of Heaven.”
But why Hermes as a symbol of the “Dew of Hermon” also? I would propose, because obviously this winged footed messenger of the gods, also carries the caduceus, the staff of two intertwined spiraling serpents, symbol of life. He, like the ancient kings in the Roman Sparsio, which dramatized the begetting of the race on the day of creation, the New Year, like Janus, Saturn, Semo-Sancus, Cereus, Lupercus, Faunus, and the Hero-Kings of old, was an emblem of “the giver of all good things.” “The herald of Zeus goes forth to summon his subjects, armed with the golden wand that subdues all creatures with its touch. Hermes got this staff originally from Apollo, who brought it with him as an arrow from the land of the Hyperboreans, somewhere in the northern steppe. Hermes specialty is rushing through the air by means of his messenger-staff, the caduceus, which is winged at one end like an arrow, and pointed at the other; holding to this the god is able to fly through space, to the upper and lower worlds, if need be, exactly as Abaris, the Hyperborean shaman, flies over all the earth as Apollo’s emissary when he grasps the arrow that the god has given him as a sign of his authority.” It is fascinating that the Gnostics “worshipped the serpent hung on a cross, rod, or Tree of Life, calling it Christ the Savior, also a title of Hermes the Wise Serpent represented by his own holy caduceus, the scepter of two serpents… The usual mythological association of the serpent is not, as in the Bible, with corruption, but with physical and spiritual health, as in the Greek caduceus. To Sumerians it was an emblem of life…in Pre-Hellenic Greece the caduceus was displayed on healing temples like those of Asclepius, Hygeia, and Panacea, which is why it is still an international symbol of the medical profession.”
The Dew of Hermon, then, is an important part of Masonic ritual precisely because it has everything to do with resurrection, eternal life, and instruction for how to obtain these marvelous gifts from the “Treasuries in the Heavens.”
1. Thomas M. Stewart, “Symbolic Teachings or Masonry and its Message,” Stewart & Kidd Co., 1915: 100.
2. Hugh Nibley, “Sparsiones,” in “The Ancient State,” Vol. 1 of the Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, Deseret Book/Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1991: 148-149.
3. Howard Schwartz, “Tree of Souls: The Mythology of Judaism,” Oxford University Press, 2004: 504.
4. Marvin Pope, “Song of Songs: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary,” The Anchor Bible, Doubleday and Co., 1977: 505-506. Cf. commentary of Othmar Keel, “The Song of Songs: A Continental Commentary,” Fortress Press, 1994: 182-184.
5. Nibley, “Ibid.,” p. 149.
6. Schwartz, “Ibid.,” p. 261.
7. Nibley, “Ibid.,” p. 149.
8. Christian D. Ginsburg, “The Song of Songs and Qoheleth (Commonly Called the Book of Ecclesiastes), Translated from the Original Hebrew with a Commentary, Historical and Critical,” KTAV Publishing, 1970: 163, note #1.
9. Hugh Nibley, “Treasures in the Heavens,” in “Nibley on the Timely and the Timeless: Classic Essays of Hugh W. Nibley,” edited by Truman G. Madsen, Vol. 1 in the Religious Studies Monograph Series, BYU Religious Studies Center, 1978: 50.
10. Nibley, “Treasures in the Heavens,” p. 50.
11. Schwartz, “Ibid.,” p. 185.
12. Ariel Bloch, Chana Bloch, “The Song of Songs: A New Translation with an Introduction and Commentary,” Random House, 1995: 180-181.
13. Schwartz, “Ibid.,” p. 166.
14. Pope, “Ibid.,” p. 508.
15. Nibley, “Sparsiones,” p. 151.
16. Hugh W. Nibley, “The Arrow, the Hunter, and the State,” in “The Ancient State,” Vol. 1 of the Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, Deseret Book/Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1991: 4-5.
17. Barbara Walker, “The Woman’s
Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets,” Harper & Row, 1983:131.