Posted on | January 4, 2011 | No Comments
I actually doubt Hirano meant to attach much symbolism to Hellsing but his decision to associate Alucard with the Bird of Hermes is one of my favorite aspects of the character and provides food for thought especially when alchemical symbolism is such a complex subject. Considering that alchemy and vampirism are not frequently associated with each other, I do have to wonder what inspired Hirano to pick a line from the Ripley scroll, an ancient alchemical recipe for making the Philosopher’s stone or the Elixir of Life, to describe Alucard. Perhaps he drew from the fact that Dracula in the Bram Stoker novel was expert in alchemy and some sort of sorcerer.
While the ‘Bird of Hermes’ is essentially an alchemical term from what I’ve read, it seems to allude to the Greek god, Hermes, who interestingly was a conductor of souls to the underworld (among his many tasks) and a messenger of the Gods. As a messenger to the mortals he therefore served as a link between the living and the immortal. While Alucard is certainly not a guide for the dead, despite the fact that he carries thousands of souls with his existence, like Hermes, he is strictly subservient to, in this case, a religious organization and never acts on his own decisions.
Hermes is also the god of boundaries as he often crossed them, and his counterpart in Roman mythology is Mercury, which leads us to the metal itself. In alchemy, mercury was seen as an element that transcended the solid and liquid phases, heaven and earth, life and death. In this sense, mercury seems to describe the way Alucard himself transcends life and death by his existence as a vampire and the way he transcends form as he can assume the appearance of anything from a girl to a pool of eyes. Alucard’s shape and power did not seem to have its limits.
More specifically, the ‘Bird of Hermes’ is another name for philosophical mercury or Mercurius, which is the prima materia, the beginning and the end, the being that exists as both opposites simultaneously, the circular system that is the Ouroboros, and the sentence “the bird of Hermes is my name eating my wings to make me tame” has been interpreted as the stabilizing act of this chaotic mercury, a break to the cycle. This seems very much in line with Alucard’s intention and journey in Hellsing.
Going by Alucard’s backstory in Hellsing, Alucard has already gone through two ‘repeats’ of a cycle of life and resurrection: the first as Vlad the Impaler where he devotes himself to a faith and kingdom only to lose both in the end; the second as Count Dracula where he devotes himself to a castle and a woman only to again lose both in the end. It is in his third ‘life’ so to speak as Alucard that he becomes the ‘Bird of Hermes,’ his existence now a soup of souls encompassing everything from his life as Vlad to his current incarnation in one chaotic container. And in an attempt to perhaps break free of the vicious cycle and stabilize himself, he ‘eats his wings’ which can be seen as the stripping away of his own freedom, as he voluntarily becomes subservient to Hellsing/Integra, and the restraining of his insane power.
The magnum opus or Great Work in alchemy is the successful creation of the Philosopher’s Stone, one which involves nigredo (blackening, corruption), albedo (whitening, purification) and a final stage of enlightenment. Taken in a more spiritual sense, Eliphas Levi stated that:
The Great Work is, before all things, the creation of man by himself, that is to say, the full and entire conquest of his faculties and his future; it is especially the perfect emancipation of his will.
In the last chapter of Hellsing, Alucard returns after having removed all the souls that he absorbed over the few hundred years of his life. In a sense, he has eliminated all the lives that have polluted his existence since the day of his downfall when he abandoned his faith and is now a singular existence. Although I wouldn’t say Alucard is anywhere near a state of enlightenment, he is now his own man which, I would think, feels rather liberating.