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The Labors of Hercules - Elaboration of the Myth

"Number eight is the circle which we have already found to be the container of all the potencies out of which the Light shall bring Perfection, but now twisted or turned upon itself. The serpent no longer swallows its tail, thus completing its cycle, but writhes and twists in space and out of the contortions of its writings it brings forth a perverted image of itself ... But in eighteen we have the vision of the Straight and Narrow Path: the Dot has unfolded into the one and become the axis around which our life turns. At this step the Initiate has faced this one divine truth and felt the mighty urge of the One Life. Henceforth he strives to make the twisted line subservient to the straight line" (The Key of Destiny, H. A. and F. H. Curtiss. pp. 246-247).

It is interesting to note also that we are told in the Kabalah:

"The eighteenth path is called the House of Influence ... and from the midst of the investigation the arcana and hidden sense are drawn forth which dwell in its shade and which cling to it from the cause of all causes." (Sepher Yetzira, No. 30).

This is what Hercules, at the age of eighteen, is setting out to do. He must tread the Path whereon all the hidden things can be brought forth into the light; he has reached the point where he can achieve knowledge of himself and can begin to investigate the hidden forces of nature. This is the problem of all disciples.

The next episode in his career is his marriage and the birth of three children, a symbolic way of expressing the truth that he made at-one-ment with Psyche, the soul. From that union [22] the three aspects of the soul were born or began to manifest themselves. He began to know the nature of the spiritual will and to use it in the directing of his life. He experienced the workings of spiritual love and became conscious of the need to serve. Spiritual mind began to reveal truth to him and he saw the underlying purpose. These are the higher correspondences of the three aspects of the personality, his mind, his emotional nature, and his physical body.

We now discover him going through a very peculiar stage. We read in the ancient story that Hera (Psyche, or the soul) drove him mad. She drove him mad through jealousy and, whilst in that curious state, we read that he slew his children and his friends and everyone connected with him. May it not be suggested in this connection that he passed through that unwholesome state common to all beginners on the Path of Discipleship, in which a morbid conscientiousness sacrifices everybody and everything to individual soul unfoldment? This is a most common fault with aspirants. Their sense of proportion is frequently at fault and their sense of values distorted. The balanced and sane life, which is the ideal for a son of God, is subordinated to a fanatical determination to make spiritual progress. Spiritual ambition sways the aspirant and he becomes destructive, unbalanced and, usually, exceedingly difficult to live with. There is much sound counsel in the Biblical injunction, "Be not righteous overmuch, why shouldst thou die?" This stage is curiously exemplified for us on a large scale in the fanatical sacrifices made in the Orient, and under the Inquisition and the Protestant Covenanters, of all who interpreted truth contrary to the conviction of a particular group of believers.

When Hercules had recovered from his insanity, as he fortunately did, we are told that a new name was given to him, that a new abode was assigned to him and that the twelve labors were laid upon him for fulfilment. We are told that these words were spoken to him: "From this day forth thy [23] name shall no more be Alkeides, but Herakles. In Tirjus shall thou make thy abode, and there, serving, thou shalt accomplish thy labors. When this shall be accomplished then thou shalt become one of the Immortals." (Greek and Roman Mythology, Vol. I, Fox.) Having recovered his sanity, the focus of his life was changed. He no longer lived down where he lived before. The name of the soul became his name, and he was constantly reminded thereby that to express the glory of the soul was his mission. The twelve great labors that were to set the seal of accomplishment upon his life, and which would indicate his right to join the great group of Immortals, were outlined to him and he entered upon the Way.

We are told that in his person he symbolized the Fixed Cross in the heavens, formed by the four constellations Taurus, Leo, Scorpio and Aquarius. Tradition tells us that he was physically bullnecked, as well as psychologically stubborn and ready to attack any problem and to rush blindly into any undertaking. Nothing could turn him from his purpose, and we shall see when we study the labors that he rushed headlong into them. Nothing deterred him, nothing frightened him, and  one-pointedly he went his way. The ancient motto that has governed the activities of all active disciples became his and his soul enjoined upon him the need of "the power to do, the power to dare, the power to be silent, and the power to know." "The power to do" is the motto of Taurus, and this he exemplified in his twelve labors. He symbolized Leo, because he always wore the lion's skin as a proof of his courage, and the motto of that sign being "the power to dare," no danger affrighted him and no difficulty turned him back.

Perhaps his outstanding achievement was what he accomplished in the sign Scorpio; for the great work was to overcome illusion. It was consummated and carried to completion in the sign Scorpio. The motto of that sign is silence. In Capricorn he becomes the Initiate, and this stage is always impossible until illusion has been overcome and the power of silence has been [24] achieved. Therefore, when an infant in the cradle, unable to speak, he symbolized the high water mark of his achievement by strangling the two serpents. Then, at his maturity, he symbolized in himself Aquarius the Man, whose motto is "to know". He had a mind and used his intellect in active work and service. So, doing and daring, in silence and with knowledge, he overcame all obstacles and passed undeterred from Aries to Pisces; starting in Aries as the humble aspirant and ending in Pisces as the all-knowing, victorious World Savior.

One point might be made here. In the history of Hercules we are told nothing of what he ever said; we are only told of what he did. Through his deeds, he earned the right to speak. In the story of that greater Son of God, Jesus the Christ, we are told not only what he did but also what he said. In the silence of Hercules and in his steady accomplishment, no matter by what failure and difficulty he might be faced, and in his power of endurance, we have shown to us the characteristics of the disciple. In the story of Jesus the Christ, through the demonstration of his powers and by the words he spoke, we have the proofs of the Initiate.

And now having reached maturity, having evolved the characteristics necessary for his mission, we read that the gods and goddesses did their utmost to equip him for the work that he had to do. He had received all that the world could give him; now the powers of the soul were conferred upon him, and he had to learn how to use them. We read that Minerva gave him a beautiful robe but, as we never read of his wearing it, we can infer that something symbolic is intended. There are many cases in history where a robe is given: Joseph received a many-colored garment from his father; the mantle of Elijah descended upon Elisha, and the robe of Christ was divided up and quarrelled over by the soldiers at the crucifixion. It is the general opinion that the robe is the symbol of vocation. The vocation of Elijah had passed on to Elisha; the vocation of the Christ, the World Savior, came to an end at the crucifixion [25] when he entered upon greater and more important work.

The wisdom that was now realized by Hercules because he had made the at-one-ment with the soul, impressed upon him a sense of vocation. He was pledged to the spiritual life and nothing could deter him. Vulcan gave him a golden breastplate, magnetic and protective, the symbol of energy, emanating from high sources of spiritual power, which will enable the aspirant to undertake the twelve labors and go forward unafraid. From Neptune, the god of the waters, he received horses. The symbology underlying this gift is very interesting. Horses, as well as Neptune, the god of the waters and the deity of the watery, emotional nature, stand for the capacity to be carried away by either a line of thought or an emotional reaction. This emotional, fluidic nature, with its sensitivity and its power to feel, when rightly used and subordinated to godlike purposes, is one of the greatest assets that the disciple possesses. With the aid of Neptune and the rapid steeds, Hercules could be en rapport with the most distant sphere in which his labors could be cast. Through emotional sensitivity and response, we, too, can be en rapport with the world in which our labors are cast. Equipped, therefore, with vocation, spiritual energy and sensitivity, the gift of a sword that came from Mercury, the messenger of the gods, is of profound significance, for the sword is the symbol of the mind which divides asunder, separates and cuts off. Through its use, Mercury added to the other gifts bestowed upon Hercules that of mental analysis and discrimination. We are told that Apollo, the Sun God himself, became interested in Hercules and pondered what he could give him that would serve him. Finally he gave him a bow and arrow, symbolizing the capacity to go straight to the goal; symbol, too, of that piercing illumination, that shaft of Light which could irradiate the darkness of his path, when needed.

Thus equipped, Hercules stands ready for the great endeavor. And when all the gifts had been bestowed and he stood with his divine equipment, we read of a most intriguing little detail: [26] he went out and cut for himself a club. All these divine gifts were very lovely and wonderful, but as yet he did not know how to use them. He sensed his vocation, he believed in spiritual energy, he was told that he possessed the horses of contact and that, if he would, the bow and arrow of illumination were his; but he liked the familiar club of his own fashioning. He would rather bludgeon his way through with what he knew he could use than use the unfamiliar tools which had been given him. So he clutched his wooden club and set out upon his labors. [27]

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