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Labour 9: Killing the Stymphalian Birds



In this labour, Hercules is instructed to find the marsh of Stymphalus and to discover the way to flush out the ferocious, man-eating birds who, with iron beaks, talons sharpened like swords and feathers like steel shafts, wreak havoc among the people of Arcadia.


For long Hercules searches, until he comes to the fetid marsh of Stymphalus. On his approach, the birds screech in a raucous chorus, menacing and dissonant. Three of the birds, seeing Hercules, swoop down to attack him, but standing his ground, he wards them off with his heavy club. Standing before the marsh, wondering how he would rid the place of these birds of prey, he remembers the words of his Teacher: “The flame that gleams beyond the mind reveals direction sure.”


At twilight, when the marsh is dense with countless birds, Hercules strikes repeatedly on two large and brazen cymbals. Bewildered and disturbed by so monstrous a noise, the birds, with wings wildly flapping, never to return again.


Interpretation of the myth:

The symbol of Sagittarius is sometimes depicted as an archer on a white horse: the white horse denoting the purified and developed personality, whilst the archer represents the one-pointed disciple, moving, straight as an arrow, towards the goal.


Hercules, triumphant and freed from illusion in Scorpio, recognised that he still had an emotional nature, and found that the birds of Stymphalus, especially three of them, had to be raised out of the marshes into the clear light of day, before he could move on to a greater vision.


The three birds represent wrong thought and speech. Hercules realised that the lesson of this labour was the restraint of speech through the control of thought. As long as his thoughts were separative and a reflection of his lower nature, he would not be able to move further on the lighted way. By striking the cymbals Hercules managed to raise the birds into the clear air where they could be seen and conquered.


The underlying theme of Sagittarius is that of direction or movement towards an identified goal. It has been observed that there is no direction apart from thought, and that thought is power. In the life of the Sagittarian server, these ideas reflect an awakening of consciousness to the ordered direction of God’s thought and the development of a deeper understanding of the divine Plan unfolding.


Keynote of Sagittarius:

Personality Aspect: And the Word said: Let food be sought.

Soul Aspect: I see the goal. I reach that goal and then I see another.