As Fulcanelli (in Le Mystere Des Cathedrals) says:
“If, moved by curiosity or simply wishing to give some purpose to a summer stroll, you climb the spiral staircase leading to the high parts of the building, you should make you way slowly along the path, hollowed out like a channel at the top of the second gallery. Once you are in the vicinity of the main axis of the majestic building, at the reentrant angle of the North Tower, you will see in the middle of the procession of monsters, a large and striking stone relief of an old man. This is he – the alchemist of Notre Dame.”
This character, to Fulcanelli, is the wise old man of the Hermetic tradition, Hermes Trismegistus, the Thrice Great. He is turn looks back/aside to the Greek god Hermes, of endlessly rich and subtly wise character.
Karl Kerényi, speaking of the Greek Hermes, saw the Hermetic as a third configuration, an alternative to the dualism of the Apollonian versus the Dionysian. (This dualism was originally Nietzsche’s construct.)
The Hermetic way can be a third way, an alternative and powerful course of inner inquiry for the contemporary soul.
“Hermes, my Favourite Divinity.”
… So wrote Kerényi, a great investigator of the Greek gods, in a letter to Thomas Mann.
As an addendum (March 2019) he’s an image of the Alchemist with Notre Dame burning. A one level, for me, there’s a shock that this could happen to such a wonderful Gothic treasure. And at another level, there’s a question of synchronicity: what is going on here?
I’m thinking of the parlous state of the institution “in charge” of this monument to another way of living (sexual abuse in the church); of how the feminine is so deeply marginalised and oppressed in our society; of how she (notre dame) can resist, can burn, can become the black Madonna, the Sophia that is fallen and can rise again (as described so particularly in the Gnostic Pistis Sophia); how Hermes valiantly watches, attendant as always, while the Mother burns; how he ventured into the underworld to bring Persephone back to Demeter.