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Ashes to Ashes: Hercules Goes West


Penny Allen


an extract from her forthcoming book 'The Fertile Imagination'


The last task of Herakles was to fetch the golden apples from the Garden of the Hesperides. The apples grew on a tree that had been given to Hera on her wedding to Zeus, the king of the gods, by Gaia, Mother Earth. The tree had originally been situated at the centre of the earth but had been moved to the western horizon for its protection after it had been raided for its apples.

It was now set in a garden, bordered by a high wall, and was guarded not only by the Hesperides, the Western Ones, the daughters of Night, but also by the snake, Ladon, who had a hundred heads, spoke with diverse tongues and slept curled round the base of the tree.

The West, as the place where the sun sets daily and where annually it enters the sign of Libra at the autumnal equinox and sinks towards the winter solstice, is the point of balance between the two hemispheres of earth and the two halves of the year, the place where the soul leaves the body, a place of bliss or paradise where the elixir of immortality is to be found.

In Egyptian myth it is at the Western Mountain that the sun reaches the end of its visible journey, encounters Apopos, the snake, and embarks on the dangerous night crossing accompanied by his entourage of deities. In Chinese myth, the Western Paradise is the place where souls depart for the Blessed Isles. The West is the corner stone of life where, in Greek myth, the Titan, Atlas, supports the globe of sky or earth, his punishment ordered by Zeus for his part in the war of the Titans against the gods at the beginning of the world.

The sphere that Atlas holds is both celestial and terrestrial and it is also the globe of the human head. The atlas bone is the uppermost of the seven cervical vertebrae in the neck, the seven steps to heaven, known to the Chinese as ‘the Heavenly Staircase’. In European languages, words like ‘cerebral’ refer both to the brain and to the heavens and the head abounds with imagery from various spiritual traditions. The skull itself is called a ‘vault’, so referring to both the dome of the heavens and the sacred space within a religious building; and is also known as a ‘calvarium’ referring to the burial place of Christ, ‘the place of the skull’, Golgotha.

The second to top bone of the ‘Staircase’ is the axis, the bone which allows the head to rotate and tilt and which, extended into the sky, links us to the Pole star, the fixed point around which the constellations of the northern hemisphere turn, among them Herakles himself.


Atlas performs his gruelling task on the mountains to which he gives his name in North Africa, called by Herodotus, ‘the Pillar of Heaven’. Behind them lies only the great ocean which also takes its name from the Titan, the Atlantic. The vertebra which is called after the Titan is, like him, situated in the West. The back part of the head is known as the ‘occiput’ meaning ‘west’ and the flat bone at the back of the head supported by the atlas is the ‘occipital’ while the lobe it protects carries the same name. Like the Garden of the Hesperides, the occiput houses a sacred tree. The occipital lobe, the cerebellum, is also known as the ‘arbor vitae’, the tree of life. It looks exactly like a miniature tree, the central lobe forming the trunk with its branches circling all round it.

In animals, the back part of the brain, the cerebellum, is by far the larger and, though, in humans, it is now reduced to little more than one eighth of the total brain, in days of yore it also formed the largest portion of our brains.

In myth, the tree of life is often located within a garden, protected by three women and guarded by a snake and is also associated with a spring. Its fruit or elixir is the food of the gods and is heavily protected from humanity.


Tree imagery is not limited to the cerebellum but extends throughout the cerebral cortex as well. ‘Cortex’, in fact, means ‘bark’ so the cerebral cortex or cerebrum is a ‘heavenly bark’. ‘Medulla’, the inner substance of the spinal cord, means ‘pith’ or ‘marrow’. The folds of the brain are known as ‘folia’ or ‘leaves’ and the nerves that run criss-crossing through it are called

‘dendrites’, a word that is also used to describe the twigs of trees. ‘Axis’ means ‘the stem of a plant’ and ‘the trunk of a tree’, as well as ‘the central pivot of a wheel’. Within the brain can be found an almond, a pine and an olive, while lodged in the larynx is the Adam’s apple.

Though the tree of life is sometimes depicted as an apple, it is more often described as an ash with the nymphs that guard both apple and ash sharing the same name, the Meliae. The grey matter that makes up a large part of the brain is called the ‘tuber cineraria’ meaning, ‘root of the ash’.

While the back of the brain, the occiput, contains a tree protected by the high wall of the occipital bone, the front is the place of individuation and orientation. It is in the East that the sun comes up each day and that it enters the sign of Aries at the vernal equinox and so begins a new year. The Orient is the place of beginnings to which we must continually refer to keep ourselves firmly located in time and space and in tune with the future. Bowing towards the East at given times of the day is a way of realigning ourselves with ‘the Becoming One’, as the Egyptians called the scarab beetle, their image for the rising sun.

If the head can be compared to a building, as it has been over the centuries, then the face is the eastern elevation, the main entrance, the boundary between inner and outer, the facade. On the front or forehead is located the third or single eye, the subtle organ that allows us to see into the future and to penetrate the truth behind the image or illusion that makes up our world.

In order to fetch the golden apples in the West, Herakles had first to travel East to consult the father of mankind, Prometheus, who, as a punishment for having stolen fire from the gods, had been bound by Zeus to a column in the Caucasian Mountains at the eastern extremity of the Greek world.

So, while the Titan, Atlas, watches the sun go down at the end of each long day, his brother, Prometheus, watches it come up with dread. All day an eagle, the solar bird and emblem of Zeus, will peck at his liver which, to the Chinese, is the seat of the soul, organ of darkness associated with the moon. At night, in its own element, the liver will grow back only to be attacked again the following day.

Prometheus, whose name means ‘forethought’, is the champion of humanity prepared to confront even the king of the gods on our behalf. Set in the East, facing the Becoming One and witnessing what is coming into being, he belongs to the frontal lobes of the cerebral cortex, the place of clear, individual thinking and the planning that comes from projecting into the future, the place where the memory lobes situated at the forehead give the means to learn from experience in order to aid an understanding of the future. Prometheus, bound like a figurehead to the prow of a ship, is a sacrificial victim perpetually offered to the sun. He is always in the front line receiving the first blows from the full blast of energy coming from the East.

It is a fitting punishment since it was Prometheus’ refusal to sacrifice to Zeus that caused the king of the gods to withhold fire from mankind. When Zeus demanded that a bull that had been sacrificed be divided and one portion offered to him while the other went to humanity, Prometheus tricked him into accepting the portion containing the bones and other inedible parts by covering it in a coating of delicious looking fat. In his anger, Zeus refused to allow Prometheus’ creation, mankind, to obtain fire.

He would not ‘give it to the ash trees’ (Hesiod) and the ash trees were the source from which fire was derived. The ash, as its name in many European languages implies, is inseparable from fire and is considered the best wood for the hearth. As the old verse goes:

‘Ashwood green and ashwood brown

Are fit for a Queen with a golden crown.

‘Ashwood wet and ashwood dry

A king may warm his slippers by.’

By withholding fire, Zeus prevented man from cooking meat, leaving him no better than an animal. Without fire, progress is limited, burnt offerings cannot be made, the gods, therefore, cannot be appeased, and, most importantly of all, alchemy cannot take place. Alchemy is the transmutation of one state into another achieved through fire. The mythology associated with the brain suggests that alchemy is a fundamental process in conscIousness.


Prometheus created mankind as a pastime. Instructed by his good friend, Athene, the goddess of arts, crafts and civilisation in general, he had learned to shape clay and, like the Egyptian god, Ptah, made the first men from this mixture of the two ‘feminine’ elements of earth and water. Athene was delighted with his creations and breathed life into them, so bestowing on them the element of air. Only fire was lacking and Prometheus set out to steal it (either from Mount Olympus or from the sun itself) in order to invigorate his figures and to stimulate the process of evolution, growth and development on both an outer and an inner level. It could be said that the material that Prometheus worked with in order to form his human beings was the substance ‘pituita’, the hormone secreted by the pituitary gland, the major endocrine gland situated towards the front of the head. The pituitary controls all the other endocrine glands and is essential to virtually all bodily functions.

‘Pituita’ means ‘slime’, a mixture of earth and water. The corresponding gland situated towards the back of the head is the pineal. While the pituitary has a marked correspondence with the moon and its phases (among its many functions, it controls the menstrual cycle as well as conception, pregnancy and birth), the pineal has a similar association with the sun. It is sometimes described as an inner clock, responding to day and night and to the seasons and releasing the hormone melatonin to tan the skin and protect it from the sun’s rays. While the pituitary is associated with the downward pulling, ‘feminine’ elements of earth and water, the pineal has a link with the rising, ‘masculine’ elements of fire and air.

Zeus was content to tolerate the clay people of Prometheus as long as they did not threaten his power and attempt to become immortal. But, in stealing fire from the gods, Prometheus bestowed on humanity the means of transmutation, the possibility of making gold from the dung, clay or slime that is the basis of the human form, and gave them a miniature replica of the golden sun, the pineal gland, which, like the liver, is also the seat of the soul.


Before he can go to the West and retrieve the golden apples, Herakles has first to go East to ask Prometheus where to find the apples and how to collect them. Herakles and Prometheus have much in common. They are both caught somewhere between immortality and mortality and each has a twin brother whose behaviour sets their own in relief. The twin of Herakles takes fright at the snakes that are thrown into their cot and so proves that he is not immortal. The twin of Prometheus is his polar opposite, Epimetheus, whose name means ‘after-thought’, and who, against the advice of far-sighted Prometheus, accepts the first woman, Pandora, as a gift from Zeus and so becomes implicated in the release of all the evils into the world. In contrast to their twins, Herakles displays heroism and Prometheus, caution.

Herakles started life proving his immortality by strangling snakes. Now, as his final task, he will not rely on physical strength and courage to deal with the snake, Ladon, but will plan ahead and use cunning.

He has, then, to go to the forehead, the place of foresight where the pineal gives information regarding the future, the frontal lobes provide the possibility of gaining wisdom from experience and the cerebral cortex applies itself to thought.

While visiting Prometheus, Herakles takes on the seemingly impossible task of releasing him from his perpetual torture by shooting the eagle of Zeus and by persuading Zeus to allow Chiron to replace Prometheus at his post. Chiron, the healer, has been wounded by Herakles himself in a fashion that foreshadows Herakles’ own death. Chiron’s wound is untreatable because it has come from an arrow that Herakles had dipped in the blood of the Hydra, the watery, multi-headed beast related to the sign of Cancer, that lies stretched below the equator in the sky.

The image of Prometheus bound to his column facing the sunrise bears a resemblance to that of Christ on the cross (a scene described in the Bible with continual reference to the crowing of the cock and the angelus, the hours of the day) and Prometheus, mediator between the gods and humanity, prepared to sacrifice himself for the sake of man, is a Christ-like figure.

He can also be pictured spread-eagled, wrists and ankles bound, as if forming the spokes of a wheel, pointing to the fixed signs of the zodiac, the signs that in Christian mythology relate to the evangelists, eagle, lion, man and bull, all of which feature in the tasks of Herakles. Myths from the Caucasian Mountains, echoing the story of Ixion who was tied to a wheel that never stopped turning, tell of a giant chained to the mountain beside a wheel that turns day and night. The giant cannot keep his eyes off the wheel because when it stops he will be released.

While Atlas bears an obvious comparison to the bone in the vertebral column that bears his name, Prometheus can be identified with the axis bone (and the name of one of his wives is ‘Axiothea’). The word ‘axis’ when applied to the central pivot of a wheel has replaced the older word, ‘axle-tree’ with its suggestion of a crucifix. If, instead of following the vertebral column up through the top of the head to the Pole Star, a line is projected from the cervical vertebrae over the top of the head along the central longitudinal fissure that, corresponding to the equator, divides the hemispheres, it arrives at the pineal, the chakra that can be depicted as a wheel, its spokes pointing to the fixed stars of the zodiac.

The sun rising each day, the liver renewed each night, refer not only to the twenty-four hour day but to other cycles too. Prometheus’ ordeal, tied to what can be seen as the Axis Mundi, or World Axis, points to the cycles of incarnations, the wheel of suffering that humanity is tied to. His release represents the final ascendancy when the mortal who has become wise and who has perfected himself achieves the bliss that comes from leaving the human state for good.

In visiting Prometheus, Herakles pays homage to the father of mankind while at the same time humbly seeking and accepting advice from him, and, in releasing him from the pain of his sacrifice, he achieves what has appeared impossible, allowing the immortal Prometheus to die, that is to say, he completes the fate of the father of mankind by allowing him to become as one of us, mortal.

By replacing Prometheus with Chiron, set on the Heavenly Pillar, projecting East, facing the future, Herakles brings healing to the world. Prometheus’ ordeal was to endure the suffering of successive incarnations, daily rebirths and deaths. Chiron, too, suffers physically but he has the capacity to heal others and is also a renowned teacher of the healing arts. Prometheus has brought an intelligent mind, and, with it, arts, crafts, agriculture and civilisation to humanity; but Chiron brings healing, redemption and wisdom.


Setting out from the East to head for the golden apples, Herakles follows the path of the sun, just north of the equator, blazing a trail in his lion’s skin as he travels from the place of birth to that of death, from the entrance of the soul into life to its exit, from the vernal equinox and the sun’s birth to its decline at the autumnal equinox, to the place where the soul departs for the Blessed Isles. At this moment of outset his lion skin could be seen as the vernal colour, green, and Herakles himself as the green lion, the initiator of the alchemical process.

Having relieved Prometheus of his post in the East, Herakles goes on to remove Atlas from his fixture in the West – but only temporarily. He has no intention of relieving Atlas of his punishment but he is prepared to take the entire weight of the globe on his shoulders and to take the risk that Atlas will not fall for his ruse and he, Herakles, will be left holding up the sky for eternity.

Herakles has learned trust, humility and self-sacrifice. It is as if, in releasing Prometheus from the wheel of suffering, he has also released himself from the cycles of incarnation. He is free now to depart for the Blessed Isles. This is the point at which, in Buddhist thought, those who have reached perfection can choose either to leave the incarnate world for good or to become a bodhisattva and make the commitment to return again and again to the world to assist in helping all sentient beings to reach enlightenment. In voluntarily taking on the burden of the world on his arrival at the place of immortality, Herakles shows his willingness to become a bodhisattva.

By following the advice of Prometheus and asking Atlas to fetch the apples from the Garden, he avoids the necessity of killing the snake or of bribing or cajoling the daughters of Night. And by appearing to assent willingly to Atlas’s request that he continue to hold the globe for eternity, Herakles demonstrates that he has learned patience, acquiescence and foresight. His only hope now of finishing his task and delivering the apples back to Eurystheus is to act with cunning and meekly ask Atlas to hold the globe while he gets himself comfortable for the job. Unlike his brother Prometheus, Atlas has little foresight or wit and is foolish enough to take back the globe while Herakles bounds away with the apples.

The instruction given by Prometheus has allowed Herakles to achieve immortality. Herakles may not have the power to change the orientation of the globe of sky, earth and head but he does alter its foundation stones. In replacing Prometheus with Chiron, it is as if Herakles has changed the rising sign of the zodiac, involving himself, perhaps, in the business of precession when the sun and the entire solar system move every two thousand years from one sign to the next.

In removing both Prometheus/Axis and Atlas, it is as if Herakles has readjusted the two upper bones of the cervical column. When the seven cervical vertebrae are linked to the seven traditional planets, Atlas becomes the sun and Axis, the moon. Sun and moon can also be related to the pineal and pituitary glands and, through them, to the eyes, the pineal having a connection to the right eye and the pituitary to the left.

Like Zeus, the God of the Old Testament is threatened by the idea that mortals might gain access to the immortality reserved for himself. As long as the first couple are confined to the sense of hearing, they are no threat but once they eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and ‘their eyes are opened’ it is imperative for God to expel them from the Garden to ensure that they do not eat the fruit of the tree of life and live forever.

The expulsion of Adam and Eve represents the movement away from the Garden at the back of the brain, where their lives have been unconscious and innocent, to the cerebral cortex where they will have to think for themselves, gain experience and learn from it. Or, to conflate the Old Testament with Greek myth, the stealing of the apples from the tree in the centre of the Garden necessitates the removal of the apple tree to the West. That is to say, the cerebellum or arbor vitae decreases in size and is shifted to the back of the head, allowing the cerebrum or tree of knowledge to take the central place.

Until this time, Adam and Eve have needed few senses. They have only heard God in the Garden and, in fact, are destined never to see him, since once their eyes are opened and they gain consciousness, they are expelled from God’s presence. As they become conscious, they gain awareness of themselves, of each other and of their differences. This new self-consciousness or sight provokes the need for clothes and the first thing they do is reach for the fig leaves.

Sight, which registers at the back of the brain, takes place through a series of reversals, the image goes from upside-down to right way up, the image from the left eye is transferred to the right side and vice versa; it is dependent on duality, the mutual relationship of positive and negative. A diagram of the movement from the two eyes at the front of the head to the optical thalamus at the back looks similar to one of the sun and moon crossing paths along the line of the ecliptic.

The first duality has already occurred when Eve was formed from the rib of Adam. If Adam, whose name means ‘first man’ can be identified with the northern hemisphere from equator to Arctic, then Eve, emerging from his widest part, the seventh rib (on which are situated the liver and spleen chakras), becomes the southern hemisphere stretching from the equator to the Antarctic or Anti-Arctic. (As a reflection of the north, the southern hemisphere is described in negative terms). So, while Adam is the left hemisphere of the brain, the side more concerned with logical thought, Eve is the right, more concerned with spatial understanding and intuition.

Expelled from the Garden, Adam and Eve are condemned by God, Adam to plough the land with the sweat of his brow and Eve to bring forth children in pain.

Adam, who can be identified with the constellation Bootes, the ploughman, in the northern sky, has his plough not only in the heavens where it circles the Pole Star spanning most of the sky between the Frigid Zone and the equator but also in the head. Latin for ‘plough’ is ‘vomer’ and the vomer in the head is the nasal septum, the plough-shaped hollow in the mid-line of the skull in which the nose is located allowing air to be brought into the brain, aerating the soil, the mixture of earth and water which, in Christian as well as Greek and Egyptian myth, is the basis of human life, and preparing it for the seeds of thought to be planted.

The territory that Adam has to plough is the cerebral cortex and he goes at it with vigour, creating the complex mass of sulci and gyri that form the inundations and mounds of the twisted mass of the brain. ‘Gyrus’ means ‘twist’ while ‘sulcus’ means ‘furrow made by a plough’. The sulci and gyri are thought these days to make a large contribution to consciousness and thought. It would seem from mythological symbolism that they provide the ground from which everything else can grow.

The furrowed ground of the brain, divided into lobes which are also known as ‘pods’ or ‘legula’, is like the head of the Green Man, a version of Adam, a cornucopia of vegetation.


The three women who guard the sacred ash tree of Norse myth, Ygdrasil, are known as the Norns while the three guardians of the Greek tree of life, also an ash, are the Moirae. The Moirae are known, too, as the ‘Cinererous’ or ‘Grey Ones’, a reference to ashes, and the name for both the Norns and the Moirae can be translated as ‘the Fates’.

I tis the task of the Fates to weave the destiny of each individual. The three Moirae each has her own responsibility: Clotho draws the thread from her distaff, Lachesis measures and spins it and Atropos, ‘she who cannot be turned or avoided’, cuts it. Death is woven into their material: all three of their names refer to mortality, Lachesis and Clotho being poisonous snakes and Atropos, deadly nightshade or belladonna. Collectively, they are known as ‘the Clothes’; they are both the spinners of the cloth and the cloth itself, the carriers of fate and its implementation.

The guardians of the tree of life in the cerebellum are the three ‘maters’, the meninges or membranes which carry fluid to all areas of the brain. The outer membrane, the dura mater, is ‘the hard, old mother’; the arachnoid, the delicate central web, is ‘the spider mother’; and the pia, the fine inner lining, is ‘the young and slender mother’. If the Fates are taken as the Maters and the clothes they spin are seen as the membranes of tissue and light water surrounding and infiltrating the brain, then our consciousness can be said to be perpetually pervaded by our destiny and our thinking is inseparable from and determined by our fate.

The back part of the brain can be understood in relation to the children of Night who include not only the Hesperides, the Moirae and ‘Nemesis of the rain-making ash tree’, but also Morphos, god of dreams, and Hypnos, god of sleep. This is the part of the brain that allows consciousness to leave the body when the body itself becomes inactive, atrophied by the Fates. Belladonna was, in fact, one of the ingredients used in potions for astral projection and the wood of the ash is not only ideal for making spindles and spinning wheels but also for making broomsticks. It is here, too, at the back of the brain that the silver cord mentioned in the Bible is said to be cut at death. The cerebellum not only provides the wood for the construction of the spinning wheels and distaffs used by the Fates to clothe the new human being, it also provides the thread. It is not only a tree, it is also a winged insect: Gray, in his ‘Anatomy’, states categorically, ‘This is an insect, the central portion or lobe being the Worm, the hemispheres, the wings’. The central lobe, the ‘vermis’ or worm, is flanked by two lobes called the ‘flocculus’, giving us words like ‘flock’, referring not only to a group of sheep or Christians but to the tuft of a lamb’s tail and the crown of feathers on a bird, and ‘floss’, meaning the soft substance that lines the cob of maize and the pod of beans as well as the fine thread used in embroidery and crewel work.

When Adam and Eve listened to the snake and ate of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil everything suddenly changed. Their eyes were opened and they became conscious and, therefore, self-conscious. They received a death sentence and were expelled from the Garden of Eden. No longer naked and innocent, they were in urgent need of clothes. Clothes are not only a covering for the body but are also an identity. They are woven by the deadly Fates with the wood of the ash as their spindle and the floss of the worm as their silk. Fate and mortality go hand in glove and Adam and Eve, exiled from the Garden with its tree of life and with no hope of immortality , must make their own way in the two hemispheres of the world and of the cerebral cortex.


If the western extremity, transferred to the brain, can be regarded as the cerebellum and the east as the forehead and frontal brain, then the centre of the earth, the Mediterranean, is the mid-brain. Deep in the mid-brain is the thalamus which shares its name with sheepfolds, receptacles or wombs of flowers, the belly of ships, bee-hives, marriage chambers and ‘women’s rooms’, the inner part of the house inaccessible to men. Symbolically, it is the place of the unconscious which remains permanently inaccessible to the conscious mind. As womb and marriage chamber, the thalamus belongs to the goddess, Hera.

Brain researchers often describe the thalamus as a ‘central exchange’ and say that, though it appears to produce no information itself, nothing can become conscious unless it first goes through the thalamus. The image of a torch shining in darkness is sometimes used to suggest the lighting up of consciousness within the depths of the thalamus.

Hera’s apple tree originally stood in the centre of the earth and at one time the cerebellum took up far more space in the head than it does now. (In fish it still makes up eighty per cent of the brain.) At that time, the whole of earth was paradise and the tree of life was its centre. But, after the fruit was stolen and the centre of earth was no longer innocent, the tree was moved to the West for its protection.

Similarly, when Adam and Eve eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and are expelled from the Garden, the tree of life which has been situated ‘Eastwards in Eden’ appears to move to the West while protective Cherubims are placed at the East with ‘a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the Tree of Life’. It could be said that the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, the conscious part of the brain, has been developed at the expense of the tree of life, the deep, primitive or reptilian brain.

While Herakles was fetching the golden apples in the West, he took it upon himself to create the Mediterranean Sea by pushing the continent of Africa away from Europe at the tip of Spain, the place now called in his honour the ‘Pillars of Hercules’. The waters of the great river Oceanus that encircled the entire world rushed into the mid-earth basin and created the mid-earth Sea.

If the Pillars of Hercules, when applied to the head, are taken as the vertical muscles linking neck and head either side of the entrance of the medulla, the hollow just below the protrusion of the occipital bone, then the medulla itself, an etheric opening related to the medulla oblongata in the head, can be seen as the point of entrance of the waters of Oceanus, the light, clear, salt water that circulates throughout the entire central nervous system. In creating this opening between the hemispheres and allowing water to gush in to the thalamus, the cerebral equivalent of the Mediterranean, ‘Hera’s Glory’ (Herakles) gave the womb in the head its potency.

Like other gods and goddesses, Hera carries a thyrsus, a wand or staff, and on it is emblazoned an image of the cuckoo. Zeus takes many forms and is adept at shape shifting, but to Hera he is the cuckoo. Though a bird’s nest, the ‘nidus avis’, can be found in the cerebellum or arbor vitae, the cuckoo is not in the nest but is situated at the base of the spine where the four lowest vertebrae, fused into one, are known as the ‘coccyx’ or ‘cuckoo’.

Zeus and Hera, then, the archetypal married couple, blend their energies through the fluid that is located in the ventricles of the brain and circulates throughout the brain and spinal column forming the central nervous system that links together head and body and, through the chakras, the physical and subtle bodies.

When Adam and Eve are expelled from Eden, Adam is condemned to cultivate the land and Eve to bring forth children in pain. The head provides the earth and the plough for Adam’s work and also everything Eve needs to conceive, gestate and nourish her offspring.

The brain, like the womb, is entered through an opening known as the cervix (the cervical vertebrae). The thalamus, the seat of the goddess of marriage and childbirth, can be seen as the centre of the womb that carries the foetus that is the brain. From the roof of the thalamus sprouts the pineal gland, known since antiquity as a penis, and accompanied by the corpora quadrigemina, four bulges named the ‘nates’ or ‘buttocks’ and ‘testes’, ‘testicles’. Around the thalamus lie the ‘mamillary bodies’ or ‘breasts’ as well as the ‘fornix’ or ‘furnace’ (a word that also applies to the indentation of the vagina at the cervix) from which comes the word ‘fornication’ and ‘the Fornacalia’, the Roman festival during which the flat cake known as the ‘placenta’ was baked in the furnace.

The meninges or maters of the brain share their ancient names with those of the womb as well as with those of the eye. (The word ‘arachnoid’, for example, used to be applied to one of the membranes of the eye and has been replaced by ‘retina’, meaning ‘net’.) The prefix ‘men’ means ‘month’ and ‘mene’ means ‘moon’ while ‘meninges’ and ‘menstrual’ come from the same root, both relating to the measurement of time. The lining of the womb, the ‘endometrium’, takes its name from the mother of the Fates, the goddess of measurement and order, Metis.

The brain is not the only foetal shape in the head or body. The ear has been compared throughout time with a foetus and even contains an umbilicus, the ‘umbo’, the centre of the stretched membrane known as the ‘tympanum’ which means not only ‘the skin of a drum’ but also ‘the stretched belly of a pregnant woman’.

The eye brings sight and, by implication, consciousness into being as a direct result of the eating of the apple. But the apple is ‘a fruit to be desired’. Though it can carry poison and bring about the Fall, it is also the symbol of love and, as a member of the rose family, it is composed almost entirely of its thalamus, its receptacle or womb.

The golden apples, then, that Herakles finally brings back to Eurystheus are then returned to their rightful owner, Hera, at the centre of the earth who sends them back to the Western Garden. Herakles, as Zeus’ son and ‘Hera’s Glory’, is the apple of their eye, the devoted servant who achieves the seemingly impossible, who passes an entire cycle of time journeying from birth to death, dawn to dusk, spring to winter, East to West, but always returns to the Centre, the home of the Goddess. 



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