Labour 10: The Slaying of Cerberus, Guardian of Hades
The opening words of this myth reflect the gravity of Hercules’s labour in Capricorn: “The light of life must now shine forth within a world of dark.” He is commended by his Teacher for having braved “a thousand dangers”, whilst achieving much and gaining wisdom and strength in the process. He is now asked to make use of them, to rescue one in agony who is prey to vast and unremitting suffering.
A vision then appears before Hercules’ inner eye: he sees Prometheus in Hades, shackled to a rock and groaning as if his heart would break. A fierce vulture pecks continually at his liver, but his cries for help echo in vain in the desolation, to be swallowed up by the wind. Prometheus stole fire from heaven but, being immortal, cannot die from this punishment. Hercules is asked to rescue him from his plight.
Downward into the binding worlds of form and darkness Hercules travels, at last entering Hades and finding his way through labyrinthine paths to the king of the underworld who demands to know what a living mortal is doing in his realms. When he learns that Hercules seeks to free Prometheus, the king warns that the way is guarded by Cerberus, a monstrous dog with three great heads, each coiled about with serpents. If, however, he can conquer it with his bare hands, he may unbind Prometheus. The triple-headed dog, with its piercing bark, quickly attacks Hercules, and, grasping its primary throat, he holds it in his vice-like grip until its strength subsides. He then breaks Prometheus’ chains and sets him free.
Interpretation of the myth:
Capricorn is one of the most difficult and mysterious signs to interpret. Why this is so is not readily apparent, but perhaps it has to do with the story of the triumphant initiate - the ‘unicorn of God’. In an old nursery rhyme about “the lion and the unicorn going up to town”, the mystery of initiation is preserved. It depicts for us the emergence of the white and one-pointed consciousness of the initiate and the defeat of the king of beasts, the personality, leading to the triumph of group-consciousness, selflessness and illumination over self-consciousness and selfishness.
In the myth, Hercules descends into Hell in order to release light into the darkest regions of earth. In this we can see the lifting of humanity into a clearer awareness of spiritual reality as well as Christ’s descent into hell - “carrying release for those to be found there”. Paradoxically, Capricorn is predominantly associated with the mountaintop experience. At the foot of the mountain, the goat, the materialist finds nourishment in arid places. On the way up the mountain, the scapegoat searches for the flowers of attained desire, each with its own thorn of satiety and disillusionment. At the summit, the sacred goat beholds the vision and the initiate appears.
In previous labours, Hercules’ tasks have been focused mainly upon individual development and liberation from the thraldom of matter but, from Capricorn onward, his work takes on a universal perspective, embracing the idea of service to the Whole, and culminating in the World Saviour in Pisces. He descends the mountaintop to join a needy humanity again, bringing them light and release.
Keynote of Capricorn:
Personality Aspect: And the Word said: Let ambition rule and the door stand wide.
Soul Aspect: Lost am I in light supernal, yet on that light I turn my back.