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The Labors of Hercules - Labor III - Part 1
The Nature of the Test

We come now to the third labor, in the sign Gemini, concerning predominantly the active work of the aspirant on the physical plane as he comes to an understanding of himself. Before this active work becomes possible there must be a cycle of interior thought and mystical longing; the striving after the vision and a subjective process carried on, perhaps for a very long time, before the man on the physical plane really begins the labor of unifying soul and body. This is the theme of this labor. It is in this physical plane achievement, and in the work of gaining the golden apples of wisdom, that the real test of the sincerity of the aspirant takes place. A longing to be good, a deep desire to ascertain the facts of the spiritual life, spasmodic efforts at self-discipline, at prayer and meditation, precede, almost inevitably, this real and steady effort.

The visionary must become a man of action: desire has to be carried forward into the world of completion, and herein lies the test in Gemini. The physical plane is the place where experience is gained and where the causes, initiated in the world of mental effort, must manifest and achieve objectivity. It is the place also where the mechanism of contact is developed, where, little by little, the five senses open up to the human being new fields of awareness and present to him fresh spheres for conquest and achievement. It is the place, therefore, where knowledge is gained, and where that knowledge must be transmuted into wisdom. Knowledge, we know, is the quest of sense, whilst wisdom is the omniscience of the synthetic knowledge of the soul. Without understanding in the application of knowledge, however, we perish; for understanding is the application of knowledge in the light of wisdom to the problems of life, and to the attainment of the goal. In this labor, Hercules is faced with the tremendous task of bringing together the two poles of his being and of coordinating, or at-one-ing, soul and body, so that duality gives place to unity and the pairs of opposites are blended. [61]

The Symbols

Eurystheus, having watched Hercules achieve mental control and then ride the bull of desire over into the Temple of the Soul, now sets him the task of fetching the golden apples from the garden of the Hesperides. The apple has long figured in mythology and in symbology. In the garden of Eden, as we know, the serpent gave the apple to Eve; and with the giving of that apple, and with its acceptance came the knowledge of good and of evil. This is a symbolic method of telling us the story of the appearance of mind, and of how it began to function in that early creature, which was neither animal nor strictly human. With the coming of mind came also the knowledge of duality, of the pull of the pairs of opposites, of the nature of the soul, which is good, and of the nature of the form, which is evil if it holds the soul and hinders it from full expression. It is not evil per se.

It is to be noted that in the garden of Eden one single apple was given to the human being, the symbol of separateness, isolation. Hercules had to hunt for the golden apples in another garden, and in the garden of the Hesperides the apples were the symbol of plurality, of synthesis, and of the many, nourished by the one tree of Life.

Hercules was told only three facts: that there was a garden containing a tree whereon grew the golden apples; that the tree was guarded by the hundred-headed serpent; that, when he found it, he would find there these three beautiful maidens. But in what direction lay the garden, and how to find it, he was not told. This time he was not confined to the wild lands, up and down which the man-eating mares ravaged; nor was he confined to the little island of Crete. The whole planet had to be searched, and he went up and down from north to south and from east to west, until at last he met Nereus, who was skilled in all wisdom and in all forms of speech. He is called in some of the classics, "the ancient of the sea". He was not only wise, but very elusive, assuming many forms, and refused ever [62] to give to Hercules a direct answer. Finally, he hinted as to the direction in which the apples should be sought, sending him on his way alone and somewhat discouraged, with only a vague idea as to what he would have to do and where he would have to go. All he knew was that he had to turn south; a symbol of going back into the world, the opposite pole of spirit.

He had no sooner done so than he met the serpent with whom he had to wrestle. [Known in mythology also as the giant, Antaeus, the son of Poseidon, god of waters, and Gea, the earth. Hence when in touch with the earth, his mother, he was invincible.] In his search for the golden apples on the physical plane, Hercules had to conquer, as do all disciples, glamor and illusion; for in the carrying forward of spiritual aspiration, the disciple is very apt to be taken in by astralism and lower psychism in one form or another. As Hercules wrestled with the serpent, he found he could not overcome it until he discovered that it was invincible only so long as it was in contact with the earth. just as soon as Hercules lifted the serpent (Antaeus) high into the air, it became utterly weak and unable to defeat him.

Gemini is an air sign, a mutable or common sign. Glamor is ever changing, ever taking one form or another. It concerns appearance and not reality, and the earth stands for appearances.

Having vanquished the serpent that stood in his way, Hercules passed on in his search. His next encounter was with glamor in another form. Busiris was a son of Poseidon, the god of the waters, but his mother was a mere mortal. He claimed to be a great teacher. He was fluent in speech and captivating in what he said. He made great claims for himself, leading Hercules to believe that he could show him the way, that he could lead him out into the light, and that he was the custodian of truth. Hercules was completely deceived. Little by little he fell under the power and spell of Busiris; little by [63] little he yielded up his will and his mind and accepted him as his teacher and guide. Finally, when Busiris had Hercules entirely under his control, he bound him to the altar of sacrifice and forced him to forget Nereus. The myth tells that Hercules eventually freed himself and resumed his search, binding Busiris to the altar whereon he himself had lain. Again we find discouragement, delay, failure and deceit characterizing this part of the test.

Still searching up and down, he found Prometheus bound to a rock with the vultures tearing at his liver. The sight of such suffering was more than Hercules could bear and he turned aside from his search to release Prometheus, thus putting him in a position to drive away the vultures.

We come now to the crucial point of the Labor and to that which constituted the real test. Hercules finds Atlas bearing the load of the world on his shoulders, and staggering under the weight of the task he had undertaken. Hercules is so overcome by the stupendous enterprise of Atlas, and so concerned over his sufferings as he seeks to carry the weight of the world, that he gives up his search for the golden apples. He forgets what he himself has set out to do and, in pity, takes the load off the shoulders of Atlas and bears it himself. Then we are told in the wonderful consummation of the story, that Atlas, freed from his burden, goes to the garden of the Hesperides, plucks the golden apples without any let or hindrance from the hundred-headed serpent, with the enthusiastic help of the three beautiful maidens, and brings the apples to Hercules, who now also stands free, in spite of all the obstacles and hindrances, the deviations due to glamor and illusion. Despite failures and the length of time it has taken him to arrive at wisdom, Hercules does obtain the golden apples. Note that the opposite, or consummating sign, of Gemini is that of Sagittarius, the Archer, who shoots straight and rides unhindered to the goal. no deviations, no failure! There is only a steady going forward. [64]

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