Article 2 - Labours of Hercules
The Labours of Hercules
University of Seven Rays Conference Presentation by Adrienne Barkla (Adelaide 1997) Published in "The Conference Papers'
Hercules is among the most celebrated heroes of Greek mythology. Hercules is his Roman name, the Greeks knew him as Herakles. His is a interesting story. Accounts differ, but he is generally known to have exhibited great strength and performed many amazing feats. He was semi divine having Zeus as his immortal Father and Alcemene, his earthly Mother (wife of Amphitryon). He was instructed by Zeus to submit himself for twelve years to the will of Eurystheus, the King of Argos, and told that if he fulfilled this duty, he would be translated to the Gods and become an immortal. It was at the bidding of Eurystheus that he performed the tasks known as the Twelve Labours. Of interest to us as astrologers, is that he performed each of them in one of the zodiacal signs. Classical writers have interpreted the myth of Hercules as representing the course of the sun through the twelve signs of the zodiac.
This paper is based on the astrological interpretation in "The Labours of Hercules". An Astrological Interpretation by Alice A. Bailey, and this takes us into the realm of Esoteric Astrology. The basic text is "Esoteric Astrology" also by Bailey. If you are interested in this area, I also recommend Alan Oken "Soul Centred Astrology".
What is esoteric astrology? As astrologers we are used to viewing the human being in an interactive world of energies operating under cyclic law. The chart maps the individual pattern. Fundamentally, our job is to help the client become aware of the dynamic interaction between impacting energies and the individual tendances, how to work with life opportunities and deal with the more difficult learning curves or life crises, to become more adept, more self-aware. Simply put, the esotericist embraces the transpersonal, viewing life in the context of an evolving consciousness. Life then becomes a spiritual journey. The premise is that we are essentially Divinity incarnated in form. There comes a point in the life where a Spiritual Path is consciously entered upon. The focus is then on the 'dual life' of the Personality, which is itself a triplicity of the physical, emotional and mental life, and the Soul. The effort is to blend these two and somewhat different astrological interpretations and modalities are used to facilitate this process. An individual leading a spiritual life is called an 'aspirant' or 'disciple', hence the term Path of Discipleship or 'The Way'. There are as many different paths as there are branches of astrology, but each have experiences in common and recognisable stages along the way. Just as the individual gradually unfolds the higher understanding through life experience, so does Humanity, as the collective, the 'World Disciple' become more enlightened. We can trace this development through the Precessional Ages, in two and a half thousand year cycles, just as we can trace aspects of generational changes through a study of Pluto's cycles through the signs. For example we are moving out of the Piscean era into Aquarius and we can see world thought changing.
Lets begin with a quote from the preface to the Labours, called "The Zodiac".
The Presiding One looked forth upon the sons of men, who are the Sons of God. He saw their light and where they stood upon the Way which leads back to the Heart of God. The Way sweeps in a circle through twelve great Gates, and, cycle after cycle, the Gates are opened and the Gates are shut. The Sons of God, who are the sons of men, march on. Dim is the light at first. Selfish the trend of human aspiration, and dark the deeds resultant. Slowly humankind learns and, in learning, passes between the pillar of the Gates time and time again ...
From out the mass of men, one stood forth in ancient days and caught the presiding Elder's watching eye...Who is that soul upon the Way of life, whose light can now be dimly seen?... Watch o'er his steps and, when he has an understanding heart, an eager mind and skilful hand, bring him to me.
Again the centuries passed. The great wheel turned and, in turning, carried all the sons of men, who were the Sons of God, upon their way... The watching Teacher saw a man emerge... mount the fixed Cross, demanding deeds to do, service to render unto God and man, and willingness to travel the Way... Obey the Teacher on the Way. Prepare for the last tests. Pass through each Gate and in the sphere which they reveal and guard, perform the labour which befits their sphere. Learn thus the lesson and begin with love to serve the men and women of earth. (Labours of Hercules pp. 1-2)
Hercules, a "Son of God and a Son of Man" represents the Soul in form. As he progresses round the wheel, he expresses the characteristics of each sign, achieves some fresh knowledge of himself, knowledge that enables the demonstration of the power of the sign and the gift that sign confers. In each, he surmounts his natural tendances, and becomes master of his destiny. Forever the stars incline, but do not control.
'The twelve great Gates' are the zodiacal signs and 'The Crosses' referred to are the Mutable, Fixed and Cardinal Crosses, made up of the four signs of each mode and representing stages in consciousness.
The Mutable Cross is a cross of flux and change, of adaptation to the environment and circumstance, it represents the development of the Personality life - the cross of Humanity.
The Fixed Cross (pictured as the Bull/Taurus, Eagle/Scorpio, Lion/Leo and Man/Aquarius) is the cross of the Disciple and comes into play when the life responds to spiritual impulse, become sensitive to larger issues and deeper concerns. 'Mounting the fixed cross' refers to the reorientation to the soul life, the taking on of a spiritual discipline. This is the period of testing as to our determination, and the period covering the Labours. This is the cross that Hercules symbolically mounts.
The Cardinal Cross is the cross of the Spirit or the Initiate, a highly evolved state of consciousness. The three crosses represent the three aspects: Body, Soul, Spirit or Appearance, Consciousness and Life.
Esoteric Rulerships: There is an esoteric ruler for each sign. The esoteric ruler is like a higher note for the sign, and becomes effective in the life when the soul quality begins to be expressed. For example the Aries traditional ruler is Mars, is esoterically ruled by Mercury. So, if you had an Aries Sun, Moon or Ascendant, you would give added weight to Mercury placement in the chart, any transits to it and in particular to any relationships between the rulers.
Mantrams: Also each sign has mantrams associated with it, one expressive of the form-life and one from the angle of the soul.
The Labours: Hercules as 'the candidate' stands before the Teacher who asks his name. Herakles, meaning 'Heras glory.' Hera stands for Psyche or soul, which he is yet to reveal. What is the soul? he asks his Teacher, who replies 'this you will discover as you do your task'. He is asked his parentage. 'My father is divine I know him not, but I know I am his son. My mother I know well she made me what I am.' He adds that he is a twin, he has another self. So, here he states the underlying theme of apparent dualism that is the human condition, our strength and our dilemma - how to reconcile the spiritual and the earthly, the immortal and mortal brothers, Castor and Pollux, Romulus and Remus, Cain and Abel... the seemingly eternal dualism represented by the bound fishes of Pisces.
Hercules is learned in all the arts and sciences, skilled and proficient in the ways of the world - a high grade personality. He confesses that he has slain all his past teachers, he stands free and self determining. He boasts of his feats and wears the skin of the lion he slew at eighteen. The Teacher warns 'Again in Leo, you will meet the lion. Again in Gemini, the teachers whom you slew will cross your path. Again in Scorpio, will you wrestle with desire', for he has yet to prove himself.
The Gods knowing the hard road ahead bring him gifts. Minerva, a robe - symbol of vocation; Vulcan, a golden breastplate, to 'guard the heart' - symbol of spiritual energy; Neptune, two horses - symbolic of the mastery of needed sensitivity without being carried away by thought or emotion; Mercury, a sword - symbol of the mind, of mental analysis and discrimination; and the Sun god, Apollo - a bow of light, giving one pointed goal fitness, the 'flame of illumination'. So well equipped he stands ready, but Hercules goes to the forest and fashions a wooden club, 'This is mine, I've made it myself' and with this crude weapon, he passes through the first gate.
Aries: The capture of the Man-Eating Mares: Diomedes, son of Mars, possessed a large number of brood mares, running wild and devastating the countryside, living on human flesh, creating terror. The were breeding great numbers of war horses and couldn't be caught. Eurystheus ordered Hercules to capture them. He took his friend Abderis with him and together they rounded them up. Jubilant, Hercules gave them to Abderis to hold while he went to tell the King. Abderis couldn't hold them and was trampled to death. Hercules finally managed to recapture the mares, but grieved for the loss of his friend. So the first labour was a partial failure.
Aries is the sign of commencement, the out-going power that begins the cycle, the urge to create. Hercules rushes in full of bravado and initiative and spiritual impulse. The mares represent the destructive nature of an unbridled mind, the powerfull feminine side of the mental nature which gives birth to ideas and concepts, but which let loose on the world without the guidance of mental control lead to ill-judged actions, wrongly spoken words and disaster. He gives control of the wild horses to Abderis, who symbolises the lower personal self, but it takes Hercules as the soul or higher nature and Abderis as personality working together to hold the horses.
The exoteric ruler is Mars and Hercules takes his stand as the warrior, the pioneering spirit characteristic of the sign. Aries rules the head. It is a potent mental sign. Everything originates from thought. You could say that the universe began in the mind of the Cosmic Thinker. The soul is referred to as the Thinker. The word 'man' comes from the Sanskrit root 'manas' to think.
The esoteric ruler is Mercury and here we see the tarot card of The Magician assigned to Mercury. As Messenger of the Gods he bridges that which is below and that which is above - representing all levels of the mind, not so much the concrete levels of mind but more the reasoning, abstract side. At the highest levels, it is the intuition, straight knowledge or 'pure reason'. Before him stand the symbols of the elements over which he has mastery with hand raised aloft he draws down illumination from the higher nature.
The Mantram: And the Word said: Let from again be sought or I come forth from the plane of mind, I rule. Chastened, Hercules proceeds to the second gate.
Taurus: The Capture of the Cretan Bull: A thought impulse must be clothed with desire in order to manifest. This second labour deals with the potency of desire.
King Minos of Crete kept a sacred bull on the island of Crete. Hercules was set the task of capturing the bull and returning it to the mainland. He travelled to Crete and searched the island, at last cornering the bull. He mounted on its back and rode it across the waters back to the mainland to the city of the Cyclops, one-eyed giants. The Seven Sisters of The Pleiades sang around him as he rode. He delivered the bull into the care of the three ruling cyclops Brontes, meaning thunder, Steropes, lightening and Arges, meaning whirling activity. This threesome represent the three aspects - body, soul & spirit. This theme is repeated throughout.
The key to Taurus is the right understanding of the Law of Attraction, the magnetic pull of desire. It is attraction that draws male and female together, attraction that draws the spirit to incarnate in form. Taurus' ruler Venus symbolises both earthly and heavenly love, spiritual aspiration and fleshly desire. She is love, and the creator of beauty, harmony and unity. When the allure of form, the 'thraldom of matter' is too strong, we are enslaved to 'Maya' or the great illusion. This raises the issue of sexual desire, which works in the extremes of celibacy and sex magic. In myth riding an animal signifies its mastery. Hercules returns the bull of desire to the Temple.
The Mantram: Let struggle be undismayed or I see and when the Eye is opened, all is light.
Let the soul ride the form, controlling and mastering it. Through right use of the form, right understanding of purpose and right use of spiritual energy, the soul will act as controlling factor and the body be full of light'. (Labours of Hercules p.52) Vulcan is the esoteric ruler, the blacksmith of the Heavens, who fashions forms for the use of the soul. He represents the quality of persistent will and is a great refining force. Vulcan is an undiscovered planet existing on etheric levels found within 8 degrees either side of the Sun position in the chart. There is an ephemeris available.
The single eye is a reference to the Ajna centre, the organ of spiritual perception and inner sight. In the myth we are told that Hercules found his way across the water guided by the light streaming from the forehead of the bull. Although the cyclops are usually presented in movie epics as primitive stupid creatures, they were in fact the initiates of ancient times, the single eye signifying their evolutionary status. They signify higher consciousness, in delivering the bull to their care Hercules symbolises transmuted desire. Taurus is closely associated with the Ajna centre as is Venus. The magnificent fixed star Aldebaran, the 'eye of the bull' is found in the Pleiades in Taurus. And Alcyone, the star around which our sun revolves.
Gemini: Gathering the Golden Apples of the Hesperides: The third task was to seek out the golden apples of the Hesperides which grew on the tree of wisdom. All seekers of spiritual knowledge desired them. Hercules is told only that the apples are guarded by three beautiful maidens and a dragon of a thousand heads. He was also told that he faced five tests on the way which would teach him much, but which he would probably fail to recognise.
Hercules headed northward but was unable to find the tree. He questioned everyone he met, wandered far, often returning to the gate discouraged. The Teacher sent Nereus (representing the guidance of the soul) who appeared to Hercules in varying forms, offering hints, a word of wisdom, but Hercules didn't recognise him and so failed the first test. Turning south, he met the serpent Antaeus who opposed him at every turn. They wrestled, but Hercules couldn't overpower him until he lifted him into the air. Vanquished, the serpent warned that he will come again at the eighth gate (Scorpio) - again they would wrestle. Second test passed. Continuing to the west, he met Busiris, the arch-deceiver, son of the waters and kin to Poseidon, who deludes through apparent wisdom - the 'I am the teacher, only my truth is right' mentality. Hercules stayed with Busiris, and eventually his beloved teacher bound him to an altar for a year. Whilst lying bound, Hercules recalled Nereus' words 'Truth lies within yourself, evoke the strength within' and he struggled free, binding his false teacher in his place, and left him there to learn. Wiser for his year bound, he continued the search. Third great test is passed. Nereus had not failed.
He next met Prometheus chained upon a rock, in agony, vultures picking at his liver. He freed him, and tended him until he recovered and with much time lost went again on his way. Fourth test passed. For the first time, the Teacher spoke to Hercules 'There has been no delay...Learn to serve is the rule which hastens success'. He hears a rumour, and turning to the mountains in the east, at last he glimpsed the tree. Jubilant, he rushes forward, but is confronted with Atlas, burdened under the weight of the world he carried upon his shoulders. Filled with compassion, he forgot his search and lifted Atlas's load, taking it upon himself. Suddenly the load was gone, Hercules was free and Atlas handed him the golden apples. Search over. The three maidens appeared (Aegle, the setting sun representing the physical life; Erytheia, the soul life; Hespiris, the evening star representing mind) giving him three more apples. Hercules handed back the apples for those who follow.
Hercules arrives at wisdom and obtains the apples. Nereus is a symbol for the higher self, whose subtle hints, intuitive flashes are not easily registered at first. Hercules did not know enough to stay with him. Antaeus is the serpent of astral glamour and of lower psychism. Busiris, the false teacher to whom Hercules yielded his will and mind. Prometheus' release symbolised Hercules' own release from the 'vultures of desire' that had tormented him and freed him to serve.
Gemini is a sign of the intellect with Mercury, the interpreter, as ruler. It is a sign of communication, interchange and education. The duality of the sign is shown by the higher teacher Nereus and the psychic teacher Busiris, between which we must learn to discriminate. There is a plethora of spiritual approaches available to the earnest seeker today. The spiritual aspirant seeks knowledge but it must be transmuted into wisdom. Venus is the esoteric ruler is the loving mind, filled with the light of the soul. What lurks in the heart of the philanthropist, self interest or desire for good, perhaps a little of both? Spiritual ambition can be very selfish. The truly wise are useful, they serve.
Mantram: Let instability do its work or I recognise my other self and in the waning of that other self I grow and glow.
Cancer: The Capture of the Doe or Hind: The capture of the elusive doe symbolises the transmutation of intellect into intuition, that higher form of knowing that characterises the spiritual aware. This labour teaches the distinction between the three states of consciousness - instinct, intellect and intuition.
Hercules looks through the gate to the temple of the Sun God Apollo and sees the doe standing on a hill nearby.He must capture it and return it to the safety of the temple. The doe was sacred to Artemis, the moon, who rules the form, and she claimed it as hers. This relates to the instinctual responses we share with the animal kingdom. Diana, the Huntress, daughter of the sun, also claimed the doe. She represents the intellect, which man as the seeker hunts. It took Hercules a year (symbolically a lifetime) and much persistence to catch the doe and the two goddess claimants foiled and deceived him at every turn. During the capture he wounded the doe with an arrow and carried it in his arms to the temple whereon he too tried to claim it his own. The doe was rightfully Apollo's who recognised it as the spiritual intuition.
Here are identified the three levels of consciousness represented by the sensitive sign Cancer. Instinct is the mode of consciousness of the form, of the cell life, of nuturance and emotional response. Intellect relates us to the world of human ideas and research. These capacities must be developed or 'carried into the Temple' and the intuition awakened which brings us into touch with the world of spiritual realities. Returning to the gate Hercules is instructed to look back and he sees the doe once again upon the hill outside the temple for 'again and again humanity must recapture these realities'. When we develop the awareness that we are human beings in relationship with other human beings, we begin to be intuitive, not psychic. The traditional ruler is the Moon representative of our instinctual nature, mother and form. The esoteric ruler is Neptune, representing sensitivity, rapport, the intuition, spiritual love and Oneness with all.
Mantram: Let isolation be the rule and yet the crowd exists or I build a lighted house and therein dwell. What house are we building? What forms have we created for the soul? Forms can be organisations and institutions - do they serve the common good?
Leo: The Killing of the Nemean Lion: This fifth labour is the best known. Eurystheus sends Hercules to slay the Nemean lion which was devastating the countryside. He chased it in ever decreasing circles and cornered it in a cave. On discovering the cave had two openings, he blocked one and entering in via the other, in the darkness of the cave he strangled it with his bare hands.
The sign of Leo has much to do with Identification. Leo in some respects stands for the self aware individual. The Nemean lion is the co-ordinated, dominant personality. Hercules was such an individual, remembering that he already symbolically wore a lion's skin. Such a highly evolved personality uses the mind, has controlled emotions, is self confident and assured, individualistic and can be somewhat difficult and even 'devastating' to those in his or her environment. The spiritual aspirant must 'slay what he or she has created' in order to reidentify with the Higher Self. An ancient Sanskrit prayer, the Gayatri, speaks of the 'unveiling of the true face of the Sun, hidden behind a golden disc', referring to Sun's symbolic triplicity - the physical sun, the Heart of the Sun and the Spiritual Sun, or the planes of consciousness we contact as we become more inclusive. Leo is ruled by the Sun both traditionally and esoterically, but the reference is to the deeper levels of reality.
Symbolically significant inner events are frequently linked to the cave or the mountain. We speak of 'the cave of the heart' for example. There is also a 'cave in the head' to which this reference is thought to allude to, a bony structure which surrounds the pituitary gland, which has two lobes signified by the two openings. The pituitary has to do with the functioning, developed personality. This takes us to the study of the chakras or force centres in the body and is a fascinating line of research. So Hercules wrestled with the lesser lion of Personality and emerged from the cave identified with the broader Life.
Mantram: Let other forms exist, I rule. Individual personality identification, or I am That and That am I. Identification with the Whole
Summary of the First 5 Signs: These five labours can be considered as the completion of the first stage of the Journey . The next stage sees its consummation in the tenth sign of Capricorn. What has been gained? In Aries - a measure of thought control. In Taurus - some power to transmute desire. In Gemini - the apples of wisdom were gathered and the distinction between knowledge and wisdom learned. In Cancer - the need to transmute instinct and intellect into wisdom is realised.
Virgo: Seizing the Girdle of Hippolyte: This second stage also begins with a partial failure. In this, the sixth labour, Hercules is sent to collect the girdle of Hippolyte, Queen of the Amazons and of all women. The girdle a gift from Venus, was a symbol of 'unity achieved through struggle', and a symbol of motherhood. Unknown to our hero, Hippolyte had been informed of Hercules' task and had deliberated with her female warriors as to whether to surrender the girdle or not. Hercules arrived and with no regard for her words, fought with her, and in his efforts toseize the girdle held in her outstretched hands as a gift, he killed her.'Why slay that which is needed, close and dear? Why kill the one you love, he giver of good gifts...Why kill the mother of the sacred Child? Again you have not understood. Redeem this moment, e'er again you seek my face' rebukes the Teacher. On the way home, despairing, Hercules saves the maiden Hesione from a sea monster balancing the previous death. The sixth labour over.
We need the human form, the Mother aspect through which we experience, in order to develop higher consciousness, termed the Christ consciousness. Hence Virgo, is the sign which esoterically considered veils the hidden spiritual reality. Lilith or Isis, Eve and Mary, all Mothers of the World, are associated with this sign. It was Isis who said 'No mortal man hath ever me unveiled'. (Coincidentally, Isis was instructed in the mysteries by Mercury, traditional ruler of the sign). Implicit in the Labour of Virgo is the truth that 'the body should be attuned to the soul and bring its beauty into manifestation, (and) redeem it'. Too often the response to the body has been either to flagellate or ignore it, rather than treat it as the vehicle for the indwelling soul, or as Buddhist philosophy calls it 'this precious hunan rebirth'. Implicit in this confrontation inherent in this lesson is the ancient battle between the sexes still being waged in the human family.
Mercury, traditional ruler, represents the discriminative mind, and the mediator between matter and spirit. The Moon which rules form, veils Vulcan as esoteric ruler and as in Taurus, is the refiner of the form, bringing confirmation to higher purpose, perhaps the higher reflection of Virgo's preoccupation with perfection.
Mantram: Let matter reign or I am the Mother and the Child. I, God, I , matter am.
Libra: Capture of the Erymanthian Boar. Passage through the seventh Gate offers a further lesson in balance and judgement, this time performed well and with humour. It was a test of friendship and of courage. Hercules had been instructed to seek a boar and had been given was told to use Apollo's bow. Afraid of possibly killing again he left it behind, taking only his club. On the way he met two friends Pholos (bodily strength) and Cherion (good thoughts) both centaurs who enjoined him to share a cask of wine. Unknown to Hercules the wine belonged to all the centaurs who drawn by the noisy carousing, responded in anger. A fight broke out during which Hercules accidentally slew his friends. Eventually he trapped the boar in a snare high in the mountains, wrestled with and mastered it and forced it down the mountain held by its two hind legs like a wheelbarrow causing much laughter from all he met on the way.
The capture of the boar symbolises self mastery. The lesson of Libra is the attaining of equilibrium by the balancing of the opposites. This is a rather paradoxical labour, in the midst of conviviality, there is catastrophe and the well meaning Hercules again causes death. However he does not kill the boar, but demonstrates a rather incongruous solution to the task. Laughter is a very effective way of dissipating glamour and he makes the ferocious boar an object of ridicule. Bailey describes this scene as the' soul directing the ungainly body'. Venus rules this sign giving the desire for balance and longing for harmony, for a non-confrontational approach, the need for relationship and the desire for meditation that characterises Libra. Responding however to the vibration of Uranus, the esoteric ruler, gives the ability to break with the old order and instigate the new. This is a revolution done from within, the Libran re-makes him/herself first in order to re-make the world. The exoteric ruler of Libra's opposite sign Aries is Mars which is atoned with Venus, male and female - will and love. In many ways, Libra is an abstruse sign, as the man or woman is neither soul or body due to the state of achieved balance. We cannot control the desire nature by physical strength (Pholos) and thought (Cherion) alone. Hercules had to 'take the boar up the mountain' to do so, for it is symbolically on the mountain top or in our highest nature that revelation comes.
Mantram: Let choice be made or I choose the way which leads between the two great lines of force. Poised and balanced between the pairs of opposites at the point of equilibrium.
Scorpio: Destroying the Lernaean Hydra. The eighth Gate, where Hercules must again defeat the serpent. Hercules was dispatched to destroy the monstrous Hydra, a loathsome nine-headed beast of that lay in the swamps of Lerna in a stinking bog. One head was immortal, but when one head was cut off, two would grow. Hercules was counselled 'We rise by kneeling, we conquer by surrendering'. He had to shoot a flaming arrow into the creatures lair to make it come out. Attacking the monster only made it grow stronger. Remembering his instruction 'we rise by kneeling', throwing away his club, he grasped the Hydra and lifted it into the air (as he had done before in Gemini) and kneeling held it aloft in the light where its strength slowly failed. He cut off the nine heads, the immortal one appeared and was buried under a rock.
The monster represented all the accumulated evils, mistakes, and failures of his long past. This is the classic shadow experience so akin to Pluto as Scorpio's ruler. Pluto rules the underworld and inherent in this labour is a symbolic death experience often associated with this sign.He had to pierce the creatures lair with light to bring up out the hidden the unconscious and hidden debris into the light of day- into the air symbolic of the mind and expose them to the light of wisdom and the higher dimension. It takes humility to admit that these dark energies lie within us.
Bailey ascribes each of the nine heads to the problems that must be overcome in the achievement of self mastery. The first three are the appetites associated with sex, comfort and money; the passions of fear, hatred and desire for power; the vices of the unilluminated mind: pride, separateness and cruelty. These energies must be transmuted and redirected. Humanity, as the World Disciple, is ruled by Scorpio and it is these energies that we are seeking collectively to deal with. This Labour, dealing with the 'enemies of one's own household' is that which humanity is undergoing. We only need look at the evening news. The immortal head symbolises that every difficulty overcome, no matter how gross and protracted, becomes a 'jewel of value', demonstrating that all transmuted dross becomes gold. Here the work in Taurus, Scorpio's polar opposite, is completed, and the mire is cleared away, the disciple stands free from illusion.
Mantram: Let Maya flourish and let deception rule or Warrior am I and from the battle I emerge triumphant. Mars as esoteric ruler, the triumphant warrior.
Sagittarius: Killing the Stymphalian Birds. Hercules now stood at the ninth Gate and the task ahead was to find the marsh of Stymphalus and rid it of the birds that dwelled there wreaking havoc. He searched and at length came to the marsh and saw the huge screeching birds. They were hideous, large and fierce with iron beaks sharpened like swords, feathers like steel shafts and talons to match. When they rose they blocked out the sun. Hercules sought for a way to route them. He took two cymbals that sounded with a screeching unearthly sound, blocked his ears and waited til twilight when the birds were still. The dissonant clang and din of the cymbals disturbed the birds who rose wildly, confused and in disarray. They flew off, never to return. Silence returned.
In Aries, Hercules realises the need to control his thoughts. The lesson of Sagittarius is restraint of speech through control of thought. Sagittarius has been called 'the sign of silence'.. In the ancient mysteries, candidates for admittance would be required to keep silent until they understood right speech. The three birds that caused most harm were; cruel gossip, talk of self and casting of pearls before swine. The aspirant on the path is beginning to be powerful, when they aim, they 'they hit their mark', their thoughts and consequently their words have a more potent effect and so, as aspirants, we must practice harmlessness for ' to him who is harmless, all enmity ceases'. It is sobering to realise how many critical thoughts, self-pitying thoughts, gossip, words that should not be spoken come from us in the course of a day.
Sagittarius, the centaur, half human, half animal or half human and half divine is symbolised as the white horse - a symbol of divinity. It is a sign of one-pointedness and' we see truth when we can use the arrows of thought rightly' (Labours of Hercules p. 164). Sagittarius is the 'spirit of truth', and the sign of the truth seeker exemplified by Jupiter its ruler. It is the first of the universal signs, and is called the 'lesser gate' that leads to the Capricorn, the mountaintop where the arrow is aimed. Its esoteric ruler is the Earth itself and the earth point in a chart, found directly opposite the sun sign, indicates the physical location of a person's Path, and the place of service for the disciple is indicated by sign and house placement.
Mantram: Let food be sought or I see the goal, I reach that goal and then I see another. The one-pointed aspirant, the archer on the horse, going straight to the goal.
Capricorn: The Slaying of Cerberus, Guardian of Hades. The Teacher touched Hercules' forehead and he saw a vision of Prometheus chained and bound and suffering as before. Unable to die as he was immortal, he suffered thus as punishment for bringing fire to Humankind. This heavenly fire was the fire of mind, giving humankind the gift of self awareness. Hercules task was to give him release. Down into the underworld he descended, crossing the river Styx. He comes before Hades who permits him to release Prometheus if he can conquer Cerebus, the three headed dog, who guards the path, with his bare hands. Fulfilling this task, he sets the sufferer free from his bonds and returns to the land of the living.
Capricorn is the tenth Gate and the sign of the Initiate. In Capricorn is the mountaintop experience undergone. In a way this is the culmination of the Path of discipleship. Cerebus' three heads symbolise the three aspects of body, emotion and mind over which Hercules has now proved mastery. At the foot of the mountain the goat of materialism seeks gain and the realisation of worldly ambition. On the journey up the mountain of initiation, are experienced the hard lessons of all the signs learned and tests and trials undergone. At the summit, the goat of Capricorn is transformed into the unicorn of God.
An initiate is simply 'one who no longer identifies with the form side, but is identified with the spirit'. The two great gates of the zodiac are Cancer, the door into human life and Capricorn, the door into the spiritual kingdom. Through that door Hercules passed. No longer is he focused 'in the mind, or desires or physical body, but in the soul, that aspect of ourselves which is free from form'.
Mantram: Let ambition rule and let the door stand wide or Lost am I in light supernal, yet on that light I turn my back. All the previous signs have been to do with Hercules' own liberation. He moves into the impersonal and universal signs where the focus is on service to humanity. Here Hercules deals with world work, and the concept of group consciousness.
Aquarius: Cleansing the Augean Stables. 'Eleven times the wheel has turned, and now you stand before another Gate For long you have pursued the light which flickered first uncertainly, then waxed to a steady beacon, and now shines for you like a blazing sun. Turn now your back upon the brightness; reverse your steps; go back to those for whom the light is but a transient point, and help them make it grow.' (Labours of Hercules p.180)
For years King Augeus' stables had not been cleaned cattle dung from his stablesand the stink and fetid mess was a blight on the land. No crops would grow in thedespoiled earth. Unable to believe that hercules would clean his stables for no reward the King was distrustful of him. He promised a tenth of the herd to Hercules if he could clean the stables in one day, if he failed his life would belong to the King. Hercules completed the seeminglyimpossible task by diverting the waters of the nearby rivers, Alpheus and the Peneus form their natural courses and causing them to flow through the stables. the rushing waters soon washed away the accumulated filth of ages. Augeus was convinced it was a trick and banished Hercules.
As an initiate Hercules is pledged to unselfish service, group work and self sacrifice. These are not to be interpreted in the usual way, but esoterically. Imagine a group of selfless workers, 'so united on spiritual levels that the intuitional rapport between the minds of the members is perfect?' Thats not yet, and if it seems far fetched, consider the internet culture, a precursor perhaps on the more material level. We are moving into the Aquarian Age. Symbolically, Humanity as a whole is Augeus' cattle and the stables have not been cleaned for many years. Aquarian qualities of non-separateness, love, understanding, intelligence, freedom from authority, draw out the best in us. We are called on to break down the barriers of separateness as Hercules did and let the â€œwaters of light and loveâ€ flow through human consciousness from the Waterbearer's upturned pot. As this transitional age progresses we can see this happening on the world stage. In this most human of signs, the Initiate returns from the mount of Initiation to serve the world and Jupiter as esoteric ruler, representing the fusion of heart and mind, pours his unifying beneficence.
Mantram: Let desire in form be the rule or Water of Life am I, poured forth for thirsty men.
Pisces: The Capture of the Red Cattle of Geryon. The Server in Aquarius becomes the Saviour in Pisces. There are several versions of the myth of the final labour in which Hercules drives the Geryon's cattle which are unlawfully held, across land and water to the sacred city. Geryon is a monster with the body of three men merged into one. His cattle are guarded by a shepherd Eurytion and his two headed dog, Orthrus.
Whilst meditating in the Temple of Helius the god of fire, whose aid he had been told to invoke, a golden chalice fell down at Hercules' feet. Knowing this object would help him cross the seas, Hercules set out for Erythea. He subdues the dog guarding the herd, and spares the shepherd who begs for his life. Returning with the cattle Geryon comes against him. With one shot of his arrow Hercules manages to pierce all three of his bodies killing him at once. He drove the cattle towards the sacred city with difficulty as they kept straying and sailed them all back over the sea in the golden cup, returning them to Athena, goddess of Wisdom. Hercules work was now over.
'Welcome, O son of Go who is also a son of man,' he greeted the returning warrior. The jewel of immortality is yours. By these twelve labours have you overcome the human, and put on the divine. Home have you come, no more to leave. Upon the starry firmament your name shall be inscribed, a symbol to the struggling sons of men of their immortal destiny. The human labours ended, your cosmic tasks begin.'(Labours of H. p. 197)
Humanity is Geryon the three bodied monster (body, emotions, mind). The cattle are human desires, guarded by the shepherd, the mind which Hercules wisely spared. Thedog representing the material and psychic aspects were killed symbolically derived of power. The cup was the Holy Grail up into which the shepherd and the cattle were raised. All Saviours lift humanity. They appear through all the ages and by their living example set a higher pattern to follow, sounding the note that indicates the next step forward in consciousness.
Mantram: Go forth in matter or I leave my Father's home and turning back I save.
Summation: There is much in the Labours that cannot be expressed in a brief summation of the stories. For each sign there are certain fixed stars associated which add considerable richness to the symbolism. A deeper study reveals a synthetic picture of the experiences undergone by the aspirant progressing through Aries to Pisces - a journey that leads step by step to self-knowledge. I am reminded of the Delphic injunction 'Know thyself'. I close with two quotes from Bailey's work on the Labours which I have quoted throughout, which affirm the power of astrological energies operating upon the evolution of our consciousness.
'In this context, the Zodiac is the Path or Way. As we study this path... we are brought face to face with the concept of a steady and unceasing progression around this vast belt of constellations. The idea of eternal recurrence and of constant activity, bringing with it, we hope and believe, a constant development, gives a grasp of the magnitude of the One Life and a vision of an ever-emerging plan and purpose, which embodies the intelligent working out of God's thought.'
The second idea, which found such a strong response in the human mind that it constitutes the science of astrology and forms its basic premiseis that each of these signs , through which the sun and earth appear to pass, are embodiments of energies which have a potent effect upon all forms of life on our planet, and upon the world of ideas'. (Labours p. 218)
Just a brief point. Because you have a sun, moon or ascendant in a particular sign, it is not an indication that the associated Labour is necessarily potent in your life. It is dependant on other and more subtle factors. Best to consult a good astrologer!