to Ashes: Hercules Goes West
from her forthcoming book 'The
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
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:
green and ashwood brown
Are fit for
a Queen with a golden crown.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.