Labour 12: The Capture of the Red Cattle of Geryon
For his final labour, Hercules is asked to retrieve a herd of red cattle, unlawfully held by Geryon, the three-bodied monster, on the dark island of Erytheia, where illusion is enthroned. The herd is guarded by Eurytion, the shepherd, and his two-headed dog. Hercules follows the advice of his Teacher and, invoking the aid of Helios, the god of solar fire, receives a golden chalice in response to his prayers and meditations.
Hercules is able to travel in the chalice, across the seas, to Erytheia where he finds the cattle. He is attacked by Orthrus, the two-headed dog, whom he defeats with one decisive blow, the shepherd begs for mercy, and his life is spared. Taking the cattle, Hercules sets out for the Sacred City and soon finds Geryon, in mad pursuit, breathing fire from all his three heads. Hercules lets loose a single arrow, piercing all three of Geryon’s bodies at once and slaying him. With the cattle often straying and needing to be gathered together again, Hercules continues his journey. Along the way, wherever he finds that wrong has triumphed, he deals the powers of evil a deadly blow and rights the balance in favour of justice. Having overcome the human and put on the divine, Hercules finally leads the red cattle into the Sacred City and is rewarded by the gift of immortality.
Interpretation of the myth:
Having learned many lessons in his previous labours, in this richly symbolic final task, Hercules takes his place as a World Saviour, where his role now is the uplifting of the whole of humanity. We can already see something of this in the deliverance of the red cattle to the Sacred City, red being emblematic of the lower desires and desire ever being an outstanding characteristic of humanity. To accomplish his goal, Hercules must rescue these creatures from Geryon, the unenlightened lower self with its three united bodies. Not only must this be overcome, but so too must the psychic-emotional nature and the matter aspects, represented by the two-headed dog. The higher mind, however, must be preserved as the shepherd of spiritual energies.
None of this can be accomplished, or even embarked upon, without the aid of Helios, the soul’s essential radiance. In this culminating labour that we have pictured here, the challenge is to make it possible for the light, love and power of the indwelling Soul to shine forth in its full radiance, for, “In that light, shall we see light” and the world will be made anew.
Keynote of Pisces:
Personality Aspect: And the Word said, Go forth into matter.
Soul Aspect: I leave the Father’s home, and turning back, I save.