One of the primeval gods of antiquity was Hermes, the Syro-Egyptian Thoth, and the Roman Mercury. Kircher identifies him also with the god Terminus. This is doubtless true, as Hermes was a god of boundaries, and appears, as Dulaure has well shown, to have presided over the national frontiers. The meaning of the word Thoth, erecting, associates it with this fact. The peculiar primitive form of Mercury, or Hermes, was "a large stone, frequently square, and without either hands or feet. Sometimes the triangular shape was preferred, sometimes an upright pillar, and sometimes a heap of rude stones." 54 The pillars were called by the Greeks Hermae, and the heaps were known as Hermean heaps--the latter being accumulated "by the custom of each passenger throwing a stone to the daily increasing mass, in honor of the god. Sometimes the pillar was represented with the attributes of Priapus. 55
The identification of Hermes or Mercury with Priapus is confirmed by the offices which the latter deity fulfilled. One of the most important was that of protector of gardens and orchards, and probably this was the original office performed by Hermes in his character of a "god of the country." 56 Figures set up as charms to protect the produce of the ground would, in course of time, be used not only for this purpose, but also to mark the boundaries of the land protected, and these offices being divided, two deities would finally be formed out of one. The Greek Hermes was connected also with the Egyptian Khem, and no less, if we may judge from the symbols used in his worship, with the Hebrew EIoah. This, in the history of the Hebrew patriarchs, we are told that when Jacob entered into a covenant with his father-in-law Laban, a pillar was set up, and a heap of stones made, 57 and Laban said to Jacob, "Behold this heap and behold this pillar, which I have cast betwixt me and thee; this heap be witness, and this pillar be witness, that I will not pass over this heap to thee, and that thou shall not pass over this heap and this pillar unto me for harm." We have here the Hermae and Hermean heap, used by the Greeks as landmarks, and placed by them on the public roads.
In the Iinga of India we have another instance of the use of the pillar-symbol. The form of this symbol is sufficiently expressive of the idea which it embodies--an idea which is more explicitly shown when the Linga and the Yoni are, as is usually the case among the worshippers of the Hindu Siva, combined to form the Lingam. The stone figure is not, however, itself a god, but only representative of a spirit 58 who is thought to be able to satisfy the yearning for children so characteristic of many primitive peoples this probably having been its original object, and the source of its use as an amulet for the protection of children against the influence of the evil eye. In course of time, however, when other property came to be coveted equally with offspring, the power to give this property would naturally be referred to the primitive phallic spirit, and hence he became, not merely the protector, as we have seen, of the produce of the fields and the guardian of boundaries, but also the god of wealth and traffic, and even the patron of thieves, as was the case with the Mercury of the Romans.
The Hebrew patriarchs desired large flocks as well as numerous descendants, and hence the symbolical pillar was peculiarly fitted for their religious rites. It is related even of Abraham, the traditional founder of the Hebrew people, that he "planted a grove (eshel) 59 in Beersheba, and called there on the name of Jehovah, the everlasting Elohim." 60 From the phallic character of the "grove" (ashera,) said to have been in the House of Jehovah, and from the evident connection between the two words, we must suppose that the eshel of Abraham also had a phallic reference. 61 Most probably the so-called "grove " of the earlier patriarch, though it may have been of wood, and the stone "bethel" of Jacob, had the same form, and were simply the betylus, 62 the primitive symbol of deity among all Semitic and many Hamitic peoples.
The participation of the Hebrew patriarchs in the rites connected with the "pillar-worship" of the ancient world, renders it extremely probable that they were not strangers to the later planetary worship. Many of the old phallic symbols were associated with the new superstition; and Abraham, being a Chaldean, it is natural to suppose that he was one of its adherents. Tradition, indeed, affirms that Abraham was a great astronomer, and, at one time at least, a worshipper of the heavenly bodies--and that he and the other patriarchs continued to be affected by this superstition is shown by various incidents related in the Pentateuch. Thus, in the description given of the sacrificial covenant between Abraham and Jehovah, it is said that, after Abraham had divided the sacrificial animals, a deep sleep fell upon him as the sun was going down, and Jehovah spoke with him. "Then, when the sun went down, and it was dark, behold a smoking furnace and a burning lamp that passed between those pieces." The happening of this event at the moment of the sun's setting reminds us of the Sabaean custom of praying to the setting sun, still practiced, according to Palgrave, among the nomads of Central Arabia.