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The Labors of Hercules - Labor IX

Killing the Stymphalian Birds
(Sagittarius, November 22nd - December 21st)

The Myth

Within the place of peace the Teacher stood, and spoke to Hercules. "O son of God who art also a son of man," the Teacher said, "the time has come to tread another way. At Gate the ninth you stand. Pass through and find the marsh of Stymphalus where dwell the birds that havoc wreak. Discover, then, the way to flush them from their long secure abode."
He paused a moment. "The flame that gleams beyond the mind reveals direction sure." he added. "The task awaits. Through Gate the ninth you now must go."
Forward, then, went Hercules, the son of man who was also the son of God.
For long he searched until he came to Stymphalus. Before him lay the fetid marsh. A multitude of birds cawed raucously, a chorus menacing and dissonant, as he approached.
At nearer view he saw the birds. Large and fierce and hideous they were. Each had an iron beak that was sharpened like a sword. The feathers, too, seemed like steel shafts and, falling, could cleave in twain the pates of weary travellers. Their talons matched their beaks in sharpness and in strength.
Three birds, perceiving Hercules, swooped down upon him. He stood his ground, and warded off attacks with the heavy club he bore. One bird he struck resoundingly upon the back; two feathers plummeted to earth and quivered as they plunged into yielding ground. At length the birds withdrew.
Before the marsh stood Hercules, and pondered how he might achieve the task assigned, how rid the place of these predacious birds. [156]

By many means he sought to find a way. At first he tried to kill them with a quiverful of arrows. The few he slew were but a fraction of the many that remained. They rose in clouds so thick they hid the sun.
He thought of setting traps within the marsh. Nor boat nor human feet could traverse the bog. Hercules paused. The words he then recalled of counsel given. "The flame that gleams beyond the mind reveals direction sure." Reflecting long, a method came to mind.
Two cymbals had he, large and brazen, that gave forth an unearthly screeching sound; a sound so piercing and so harsh it could affright the dead. To Hercules himself the sound was so intolerable, he covered both his ears with pads.
At twilight when the marsh was dense with countless birds, Hercules returned. The cymbals then he sharply clashed, again and yet again. A clangor and a din so strident then ensued that he himself could scarce endure the sound. Such ear-assaulting dissonance had not been heard in Stymphalus before.
Bewildered and disturbed by such a monstrous noise, the predatory birds rose in the air with wildly flapping brazen wings, and screeched in hoarse dismay. Utterly confused, the vast cloud of birds fled in frantic haste, never to return. Silence spread across the marsh. The horrid birds had disappeared. The soft gleam of a westering sun was seen as it flickered on the darkening landscape.
When Hercules returned, the Teacher greeted him: "The birds of slaughter have been driven off. The labor is achieved."


Interpretation of the Labor
(Edited Lecture by A.A.B., 1937)

Sagittarius is to my mind most interesting because it has such a peculiar application to each one of us answering to the name "aspirant". [157]
There are two words I want to see ruled out of the vocabulary of the occultist, "initiate" and "master". "Initiate" is delightfully separative, it is a pedestal word. "Master" has bred in the consciousness of people the feeling that there exist superhuman men who assume the attitude of directors or masters over their disciples; who tell them what to do and how to do it. No real adept has ever been known to do that.

I like the words aspirant" and "disciple". Aspirant is a blanket word that covers us at every stage of our development. If you want a more technical word, use disciple; it is a hiding word, because an aspirant of the lowest degree is a disciple. The Christ himself is also a disciple. It does away with grades and classes and degrees and varied stages of evolution.

Where we stand on the ladder of evolution is our own private affair. The world will know what we are, when we have done the work that is outlined for us in this labor of Sagittarius.

We have already dealt with the stupendous sign Scorpio, in which Hercules demonstrated to himself the fact that he could no longer be taken in by the serpent of illusion. He was free from fear and glamor, from all that could beguile him. The vision could be seen.

Because Sagittarius is such a tremendously important sign I want to give you a brief resumé of what has happened up to he present time; it covers what lies behind us. I am assuming that each one of us is the one-pointed aspirant, the archer on the horse, going straight as an arrow to his goal.

It is interesting that the United States' standard shows the arrows of Sagittarius in the talons of an eagle, because Aquila is interchangeable astrologically with Sagittarius and is the symbol of the spirit manifesting through the soul, which the aspirant on the physical plane is one-pointedly seeking. There is prophecy in the United States standard, of the goal of this race when it is grown up, for it is within this race that there will emerge that group of aspirants, merging in their turn into a [158] group of disciples, who will demonstrate to the planet the fact of the subjective world. That is the destiny of this race. It will be the achievement of all the races gathered together in the United States.

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