Second labor - Lernaean Hydra submitted by Arch
- By Saturn Celeste
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Second labor - Lernaean Hydra:
In the story of the Hydra, Hercules must again kill a beast that is seemingly invulnerable.
It doesn't have a skin that can not be pierced like the Nemian lion.
Instead the Hydra regenerates it's heads, not only that, but it grows more back for each cut off.
In that way, it becomes more dangerous the more one injure it.
Hercules as always attack with his great might,
yet the Hydra quickly gets so many heads that even Hercules becomes overwhelmed.
This is where his companion Iolaus comes with a bright idea, given to him by Athena,
of cauterizing the wounds to prevent the heads growing back.
So from the perspective of Tarot, what has happened in this story?
Now this is a really tricky issue, because the way traditional Tarot interprets the elemental associations.
Hercules is using his might through his club.
As we remember from the last article about the Nemian lion,
his might was linked to the Chariot and the ability to master his life energy.
Yet when he pours on the energy in this instance, it does not help at all,
actually it makes things worse for Hercules.
If we look at the Tarot in terms of areas of focus,
one way to interpret it, is that Hercules is focusing his might on the earthly plane.
He is attacking the Hydra head on in the realm of Pentacles, the domain of earth.
Yet the club is wood and should be fire in Tarot, so what is going on there?
I think it is important to take a step back and clear up a few things.
Firstly the elemental associations is a point of view, and it is one that not everyone share.
Some people associate the wands to air not fire and swords to fire not air, so when we look at elements and symbols others use,
we got to keep in mind that they might not have the same interpretation as us.
Two examples of cards with a different interpretation:
Looking at it from that point of view, it becomes up to the reader to figure out what archetypal content
that is hiding behind the symbols of the elements and artifacts that are used.
To me Hercules club represents earth, as it is used in an earthly way to directly smash what he encounters,
not like the usual thing fire and the intuitive realm would go about things in traditional Tarot.
Yet everyone is of course free to form their own opinion on this.
Anyway it is only when Iolaus uses wisdom gained from fire that he got from Athena, that they get anywhere.
The wisdom cauterizes the wounds, and prevents more heads.
Yet again what is this fire that Athena represents?
Is it really wands or is it something else?
When the heads are cut off the Hydra, it is hardly over, as the last golden head is truly immortal and invulnerable.
Hercules has to use a special sword for the task of cutting it off, given to him by Athena.
Here we have a sword from Athena, which gives her a cutting quality.
Not what we would expect from someone representing the traditional fire of the wands.
Which makes me suspect that Athena is actually representing the swords, and would be wind in traditional tarot.
Regardless even after cutting off the head, he has to bury the still living head under a big rock, as it just won't die.
He just has to dip his arrows first in the poison of its blood to create a great weapon for later labors.
This is where things get a little tricky, as it isn't really clear what all these actions mean.
Yet Athena being the Goddess of strategy and wisdom, is clearly the source of his victory here.
Her cold cutting logic has put an end to the beast temporarily through analysis.
Yet of course one could say that Athena is wands since she is fire,
however in the next labor, it becomes clear that Hercules does not possess air at all,
as that is a property he needs to face in his third labor.
Which makes me at least think the Tarot way of assigning elements, does not match the ancient Greek one.
The archetypes are the same, but the superficial signifiers have changed.
Back to Hercules though.
Despite this help from the realm of reason, the beast still won't die.
It has to be hidden away, and hence it is always a possibility that it will emerge again.
It also carries the seeds of it's evil ways on the arrows of Hercules.
By fighting the beast it has infected Hercules and made sure that it will go on in another form,
by the very methods he now will choose to fight.
We can then say that the Hydra is the face of evil, evil that no matter how we deal with it refuse to die.
It is not like the Death card in Tarot, as that is all about endings.
It is about Judgement and how things transform into something else.
Usually Judgement is about positive transformations, but as a symbol this transformation is also accessible to evil.
So what is the essence of this evil?
We see that Hercules has used his worldly might from the earth of the Pentacles.
The only element he himself has access to.
He has used the wisdom of swords symbolized by fire via Iolaus.
Which shows itself in the cutting qualities of the sword given by Athena, which chops off the last head.
So what is on the other side?
Symbolically the opposites of fire and earth, is air and water.
In this instance the water aspect is precisely the aspect that the Hydra embodies,
and this I think is why fire is such a direct counter, as it temporarily is able to suppress it.
Even though this just prolongs the archetypal conflict, between the King and the Empress.
Where does he find the Hydra?
In the swamps!
Festering stagnant water, that hasn't been used by anyone for a long time.
The Hydra represents the evil that flows from feelings when neglected.
It is the evil that will not die, because we try to use the opposite of feeling to deal with it.
The might of earth and the sharpness of reason, is useless except as tools to temporarily gain a seeming victory.
At best it can contain it by sweeping it under the rug and repressing it for some other time.
Yet it will not go away, because the Hydra itself is just a symptom of the swamp.
The festering swamp is the problem, and it will over time just manifest new Hydras.
We have to remember that the one who was pulling the strings of this the whole time is Hera,
the neglected Empress, which with her feminine character has a direct archetypal connection to feeling.
She directed the ego namely Eurystheus to give out the challenges.
She even sent a giant crab to try to even the odds when Hercules started winning over the Hydra.
The crab is a symbol of inner protection, of putting up shields towards the world.
It is perhaps symbolized best by the four of cups.
Notice how in the card I've chosen to represent it, the person has a crab on his bandana.
It is the walls that feeling put up to protect itself from the world.
Four is a number of structure, and feelings structured, tend to be standoffish and withdrawn.
Trying to protect what they value, in this case, it was Hera trying to protect her relationship with Zeus.
Having lost a balanced relationship with him like in the lovers.
When the emperor takes a dominant position in the number four, feelings can only run and hide.
The emperor creates, but he also suppresses whatever does not align with his system.
What is suppressed will eventually fester and rot, and be the breeding ground for monsters.
Monsters taking orders from the feeling that is marginalized in the unconscious.
Giving a deeper meaning to five of cups, the one that follows the repression in the four of cups.
The sea of the unconscious gives back what it receives, and it will spit out disgruntled sea-serpents,
if it does not like the input, serpents that in many ways are immortal.
In fact Hercules never gets rid of the monster, he actually even takes on aspects of the monster,
because now he has the arrows dipped in its poison, carrying them around.
So not only is the real problem not solved, but the problem has spread in a quite subtle way into other areas.
Hercules has become a little more evil, by dealing with the symptoms and repressing the real problem.
In the end ironically it was this poison that killed Hercules in a twisted and indirect way.
Hercules also failed this test, a subtle hint that all was not well with his methods.
Hercules is what Jung called one-sided, he has still not learned to use any of his other sides.
He can at best use his one side in a constructive noble direction, trying to do some good with it.
The other side employed in this battle has its source in someone else.
This one-sidedness has a cost, and he is paying for it in full by having committed unspeakable crimes,
and now being sent on a path of penance to make up for it.
He is as Jung pointed out a barbarian, but maybe less so having been exposed to the demand of the side of fire.
"Conscious capacity for one-sidedness is a sign of the highest culture.
But involuntary one-sidedness i.e inability to be anything but one-sided,
is a sign of barbarism."
Carl Jung - Psychological types