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The Labors of Hercules - Elaboration of the Myth
Elaboration of the Myth

We come now to a consideration of Hercules himself. It is a most interesting story, and one that has been treated by many writers. Discussion as to the details of his life, and argument as to the sequence of events, are not any part of our objective. The various accounts differ in detail, according to the bias of the historian, and can be studied in the many classical histories [17] and dictionaries. We will deal here only with the twelve famous labors, and of them we read:

"Hercules, by the will of Jupiter, was subjected to the power of Eurystheus, and obliged to obey him in every demand. He consulted the oracle of Apollo and was told that he must be subservient for twelve years to the will of Eurystheus, in compliance with the commands of Jupiter; and that, after he had achieved the most celebrated labors, he should be translated to the gods."

So he started off upon his career and, as the disciple under command of his soul, undertook the twelve labors, performing each of them in one of the zodiacal signs. He, therefore, represents every disciple who seeks to tread the path and demonstrate his control over the forces of his nature, and he likewise represents the point at which humanity now finds itself.

His early name was Alkeides, which was changed to Hercules after he had undergone a strange experience, and before he started forth upon his labors. The name Hercules was originally Herakles, which signifies "the glory of Hera". Hera represents Psyche, or the soul, so his name embodied his mission, which was to manifest forth in active work on the physical plane the glory and the power of his innate divinity.

One of the ancient scriptures of India says: "By mastery of the binding life comes radiance," and it was this mastery of the imprisoning form which was the glorious consummation of all the undertakings of Hercules. We are told that he had a divine father and an earthly mother and so, as with all sons of God, we find the same basic symbology emerging. They typify in their persons the essential duality of God in manifestation, of life in form, of soul in body, and of spirit and matter. This duality is the glory of humanity and also constitutes the problem which every human being has to solve. Father-Spirit and Mother-Matter meet together in man, and the work of the disciple is to withdraw himself from the bonds of the mother and thus respond to the love of the Father. [18]

This duality is also brought out in the fact that he was one of twins. We read that one twin was born of an earthly father, and that the other was the son of Zeus. This is the great realization that comes to every developed and self-aware human being. He finds himself conscious of two aspects which meet in his nature. There is the well developed and highly organized personality through which he habitually expresses himself (mental, emotional and physical), with all three parts coordinated into an integrated unit. Then there is the spiritual nature, with its impulses and intuitions, its constant pull towards things vital and divine, and the consequent inner warfare which grows out of this realized duality. Hercules was the disciple, living in a physical body, but capable at times, like St. Paul, of being "caught up to the third heaven," and having intercourse with divine beings. In this condition, he visioned the Plan, knew what he had to do and perceived the reality of the spiritual life.

There is also one interesting little fact in the story of his life which has a bearing on this same truth. Whilst still an infant, we are told that Hercules killed his twin. He was no longer a divided entity, no longer a duality, but soul and body formed one unity. This indicates always the stage of the disciple. He has made the at-one-ment and knows himself to be soul in body and not soul and body, and this realization has now to color all his actions. Whilst in the cradle, history relates, the lusty infant killed two serpents, again emphasizing duality. In this act he forecast the future in which he demonstrated that the physical nature no longer controlled, but that he could strangle the serpent of matter and that the great illusion no longer had him imprisoned. He slew the serpent of matter and the serpent of illusion. If the serpent symbology is studied, we shall find that three serpents are depicted: one standing for the serpent of matter, another for the serpent of illusion, and the third for the serpent of wisdom. This last serpent is only discovered when the other two have been slain. [19]

This sense of duality is the first stage of the spiritual experience and colors the thoughts of all the great aspirants and mystics of the world. Note how St. Paul cries out as he wrestles with the problem:

"I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me.
"For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.
"I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin." (Romans, VII, 21-25).

As Hercules grew up, we are told, great care was given to his education. He was trained in all possible accomplishments, and every faculty that he had was developed and organized. What is the lesson to be learned from this? It is the need to realize that every disciple, if he truly merits that name, must necessarily be a highly developed member of the human family. All three parts of his nature have to be unfolded; his mind must be well-stocked and functioning, and he must know how to use it; his sensitive emotional nature must be responsive to every type of contact; his physical body must be a fit medium of expression for the indwelling soul and equipped to undertake the tasks to which the man has pledged himself.

There has been amongst aspirants for many centuries a tendency to decry and belittle the mind. They are apt to say glibly, "The mind is the slayer of the real," and, through an unrecognized mental inertia and laziness, to feel that the important thing is to have the heart nature developed. They regard the mind, with its capacity to analyze and discriminate, as a snare and a delusion. But this surely is an error. Knowledge of God is as necessary and as important as love of God; and this the new age, with its new type of aspirant, will most assuredly demonstrate. Saintliness, sweetness and a pleasing, loving disposition have their place in the sumtotal of the characteristics [20] of the aspirant, but when linked to stupidity and an undeveloped mentality, they fail to be as useful as they could be when coupled to intelligence. When linked to a high grade intellect and with mental powers oriented to divine knowledge, they will produce that knower of God whose influence becomes worldwide and who can both love and teach his fellowmen.

So Hercules was trained in all accomplishments and could take his place with the thinkers of his time. We are told also that his height was four cubits, a symbolic way of expressing the fact that he had achieved his full growth in all departments of his fourfold personality, Man, we are told, is the cube, "the city that stands foursquare". Physically, emotionally and mentally, he was developed and to these three factors is added a fourth, a soul in conscious possession of its mechanism, the developed personality.

Having achieved his growth and having been trained in all that the world could give him, we are told next that he proceeded to slay his teachers. He killed them all and got rid of them. Why? Because he had reached the point where he could stand on his own feet, forming his own conclusions, guiding his own life, and handling his own affairs. It was necessary, therefore, to rid himself of all those who sought to supervise him; he had to break away from authority and set out to find his own way and make his own contacts with life. This is where many aspirants stand at this time. They are in possession of much theory, they have a relatively wide technical knowledge of the nature of the Path and of what they should do upon it, but they do not as yet stand on their own feet and tread that Path, alone and unsupported. They need props, and look for people to tell them what to do and what they should believe. We shall find in the third labor which Hercules performed, in the sign Gemini, that he was tested on this point and had to prove that he was justified in taking this step. He then makes the interesting discovery that he is not nearly so free nor so strong as, in his youthful enthusiasm, he fancied himself to be. [21]

When he reached the age of eighteen years, we are told, he slew a lion which was devastating the countryside and that he began to perform other public services, so that, little by little, his name came before the people. Eighteen is always a significant number. In it we have the number ten, which is the number of personality perfection, plus the number eight, which, we are told by some numerologists, is the number of the Christ force. It is the Christ force, in the new cycle of discipleship, seeking to express itself, which produces the condition of turmoil and the difficulties which characterize that stage. It is of value perhaps to note the following:

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