The Twelve Labors of Hercules
The Capture of the Man-eating Mares
(Aries, March 21st - April 20th)The Myth
The first great Gate stood open wide. A voice came through that portal: "Hercules, my son, go forth. Pass through the First
Gate and enter on the Way. Perform thy labor and return to me, reporting on the deed."
With shouts of triumph Hercules rushed forth, running between the pillars of the Gate with over-weening confidence and
surety of power. And thus the Labor started and the first great act of service was begun. The story that they tell carries
instruction for the sons of men, who are the sons of God.
The son of Mars, Diomedes of fiery fame, ruled in the land beyond the Gate, and there he raised the horses and the mares
of war, upon the marshes of his land. Wild were these horses and fierce the mares and all men trembled at their sound, for
they ravaged up and down the land, wreaking great damage, killing all the sons of men who crossed their path, and breeding
steadily most wild and evil horses.
"Capture these mares, and stop these evil deeds," was the command which fell upon the ears of Hercules. "Go, rescue this
far land and those who live upon it."
"Abderis," cried Hercules, "come forth and aid me with this task," calling the friend he greatly loved and who ever followed
in his steps as he went from place to place. And Abderis came forth and took his stand beside his friend and with him faced
the task. Laying all plans with care, these two followed the horses as they ranged the meadows and the marshes of that land.
Finally, he cornered these wild mares within a field wherein there was no further place to move, and there he caught and tethered
them. He yelled with joy at the success achieved.
So great was his delight in the prowess thus displayed that he deemed it 'neath his dignity to hold the mares or drive
them on the Way to Diomedes. He called his friend, saying: "Abderis, come hither and drive these horses through the
And then he turned his back and pridefully marched forward. But Abderis was weak and feared the task. He could not hold
the mares, or harness them or drive them through the Gate in the footsteps of his friend. They turned on him; they rent and
trod him underfoot; they killed him and escaped into the wilder lands of Diomedes.
Wiser, grief-stricken, humble and discouraged, Hercules returned unto his task. He sought the mares again from place to
place, leaving his friend, dying upon the ground. Again he caught the horses, and drove them through the Gate himself. But
Abderis lay dead.
The Teacher looked him o'er with care and sent the horses to the place of peace, there to he tamed and broken to their
tasks. The people of that land, released from fear, welcomed the deliverer, acclaiming Hercules as savior of the land. But
Abderis lay dead. The Teacher turned to Hercules and said: "Labor the first is ended; the task is done, but badly done. Learn
the true lesson of this task and then pass on to further service to your fellowmen. Go forth into the country guarded by the
second Gate and find and take the sacred Bull into the Holy Place."
The Meaning of the Myth
In combining this astrological and symbolic story with the everyday life and tests of modern discipleship, we shall tell
the story of the task which Hercules undertook, and the test to which King Eurystheus subjected him; and then we shall study
the significance of the sign in which it took place, for there is a close link between the two, and the labor only became
possible because of the characteristics conferred upon Hercules in that particular sign. Each sign subjects the man who is
working in it to the influence of certain distinctive forces, and provides him with certain tendencies. These we must understand
if the meaning of the test is to emerge.
In studying the twelve labors, we follow the career of Hercules as he passes around the Zodiac from the sign Aries, which
is the sign of commencement, through Taurus, Gemini, etc. (anti-clockwise) to Pisces, the sign of death and of consummation.
This will be in the reverse manner to that of the apparent path of the sun (clockwise) which is begun in Aries and appears
then to retrograde through the signs, passing into Pisces, and then to Aquarius, and so on through all the intervening signs,
back again to Aries. The man who is immersed in form and is living under the influence of the matter aspect follows necessarily
the path of illusion and of appearances; but Hercules, the soul, follows the true Way, reverses the usual procedure and, figuratively
speaking, goes against the tide.
Hercules, the awakened soul, is realizing the day of opportunity. He has received his instructions to undertake the twelve
labors and demonstrate his capacities, and has been promised that if he fulfils the requirements he will be translated into
the kingdom of the gods. He has been equipped with all divine powers, though, as yet, he does not know how to use them, and
he has hewn out for himself the club of his own endeavor, and with these he symbolically mounts the cross: the fixed cross
of the heavens, upon which he remains in spirit until the last labor has been accomplished.
Thus he sets out on his First Labor, little realizing the magnitude of his task, and unprepared for failure. The delightful
part of the story of Hercules is his impulsiveness and the fact that he was not always successful. He failed sometimes and
had to redo the labor until success followed on his efforts.
He is told that Diomedes, the son of Mars, the god of war, possesses a large number of brood mares. These were running
wild, devastating the countryside, doing much damage and subsisting on the flesh of human beings. No one was safe from them
and terror had settled down on the neighborhood. Besides this, these brood mares were breeding great numbers of war horses,
and Diomedes was very concerned with the outcome of the situation. Eurystheus, the King, ordered Hercules to capture them.
Many attempts had been made to do so, but always the mares had escaped after killing the horses and men sent against them.
But Hercules, having caught the horses, gave them to Abderis to hold, whilst he strutted on ahead, not realizing the strength
of the horses, nor their savagery. Before he could take steps to prevent it, the mares turned on Abderis and trampled him
to death, and again escaped and started  anew to ravage the countryside. So he had to start his labor all over again,
and after strenuous efforts he again succeeded in capturing the mares. This first labor, therefore, starts with a partial
failure, as is so often the case with the inexperienced and impetuous aspirant. Such is the story, brief, dramatic and encouraging.
What of the sign in which it was undertaken?
The sign Aries, which was the field of this first activity, is always spoken of as the first sign of the Zodiac. At this
sign the great wheel begins its cyclic turning. It is, therefore, the sign of commencement. Cosmically speaking, it is the
sign of creation, and this thought underlies the words in the Bible, "The Lamb slain from the foundation of the world," (Rev.
XIII, 8) for this sign is called the sign of the Ram or of the Lamb.
In the life of the human being it marks the beginning of the first subjective, latent consciousness of existence, and the
start of the human being upon the circle of experience.
In the life of the aspirant to discipleship it connotes the period of reorientation and of a renewed self-conscious effort,
and his start upon that final stage of the evolutionary path which will carry him out of the human kingdom and enable him
to make the transition into the kingdom of the gods. Such is the promise made to Hercules and such is the reward held out
to all disciples. This first labor marks the first step upon the "path of translation".
Aries is the sign of outgoing power, of the streaming forth of divine energy from the central deity, God, or from the human
being, a son of God. This energy streams forth in two directions (thus the point becomes the line, the One becomes the first):
it streams forth into the world of forms, and also into the world of being or of spirit. One stream of energy expresses the
path of return, of inward-going, and the two together constitute the two arcs of the great circle of existence. In this sign
starts the path on which form is taken and dominates; on it likewise begins the life of inner unfoldment and the domination
of the soul, or of subjective Being.
Reorganization, reorientation, repolarizing and regeneration, are the characteristics of this stage, and all of them are
expressions of the same life force. The two uses of this force are dependent upon the mental attention of the being, divine
and human, who is utilizing it. It is the same force, but used in two different ways, dependent upon whether the divine user
has focused his attention upon form-taking, or upon treading the path of liberation from form.
For aeons, this life force has been applied to selfish ends, to the purposes of self-gratification and to the satisfaction
of desire. Little by little form-life loses its attraction until, having passed around and around the zodiacal wheel, the
man finds himself back again in Aries, only this time with a new focus, a fresh interest and a different vision. He has had
held before him the promise that, having achieved certain objectives, he may cease from incarnating and attain the kingdom
of the gods; he has learned from experience something of his own essential duality and yearns to cease from satisfying the
lower aspect of that duality and to meet the need of the higher, and he is beginning to respond to impulses coming from the
world of souls, and to vision group ends and group objectives. Now he has to learn to use the life force with unselfish intent,
and not for the satisfaction of his personal greeds.The Three Initial Impulses in Aries
Three outstanding urges characterize this sign. There is, as we have seen, the urge to begin. This may express itself simply
as the urge to take form, to become involved in matter; or it may reverse the process and focus itself in the urge to achieve
liberation from form, and the emergence of the soul from the prison of the form nature. Then this urge is followed by the
consequent urge to create, that activity of the Deity which results in the formation of worlds of expression and satisfies
His desire to incarnate in a solar system, and to begin the great life cycle of the universe. It may be likewise the urge
to individual creation, of the soul to take a body, or of a human being to create something which shall be specially his own.
In ancient Accadian days, this sign Aries was called that "wherein the sacrifice of righteousness was made," or the sign of
"the fallen angels". The sons of God, impelled by this basic urge, fell from their high estate, took form, and started upon
their individual round upon round of the Zodiac.
Thirdly, we find the urge to resurrection. In Aries, which has seen the beginning of form life and which has initiated
the creative work, there begins to be felt the urge to achieve freedom from the form, to roll away the stone from the door
of the sepulchre of the soul, and to stand in the liberty of the sons of God.
In Aries is found the impulse which leads to the building of the form, which for ages will constitute the prison house
of the soul. This reaches its mass form in Cancer, and its human form in Leo; the densest point of illusion in form is reached
in Scorpio, and in Pisces the form dies, only to be rebuilt again in the wearying round of form experience. But in this sign
the Way of Liberation is first sensed, and the building of the spiritual body is begun. This is the sign of germinal spiritual
activity, which later leads to the birth of the Christ child, in Virgo, to that of the world Savior, in Capricorn and in Pisces.
Physical commencement and spiritual commencement, physical creation and spiritual creation, physical emergence and spiritual
liberation: these are the initial impulses sensed in Aries.
It is the sign, therefore, of strong and potent impulses, and of violent fluctuations and exaggerated efforts; often a
sign of failure, but always of ultimate success. In its opposite sign, Libra, it reaches its consummation of balance and of
equilibrium, for the intervening experience and the lessons learned from the intermediate five labors bring about that poise
and balanced attitude which we shall note in Hercules when he captures the Boar, in Libra.
The Sign of the Mind
Aries governs the head. It is consequently the sign of the thinker and, therefore, a powerful mental sign. All beginnings
originate on the mental plane and in the mind of the creator, whether that creator is God or the soul of man. This universe
had its origin in the thought of God, the cosmic Thinker. The soul started its career in matter through the same process of
thought. The human family, the fourth kingdom in nature, came into being when mind emerged and differentiated man from the
animals. The aspirant begins his labors when he truly becomes the thinker, and in full awareness proceeds to function as the
arbiter of his own destiny.
It is apparent, consequently, that in Aries right direction and right orientation have their beginning, and Hercules,
the newly-thinking disciple, begins his work. The key to this labor and to the significance of the sign is to be found in
the words of an ancient Indian scripture: "Man does not rightly know the way to the heavenly world, but the horse does rightly
know it." In the very ancient days in India, the horse sacrifice was linked with the sun god, and, yearly, we are told, the
sun god, as the zodiacal horse, was supposed by the Vedic Aryans to die to save all flesh. The sun chariot of Apollo is depicted
as drawn by horses, and the "princely sign of the Ram" is closely connected with the horse symbology, a fact to which this
first labor bears witness.
Reference to books on symbology will show us that the horse stands for intellectual activity. The white horse symbolizes
the illumined mind of the spiritual man, and so we find in the Book of Revelations that Christ comes forth riding upon a white
horse. Black horses represent the lower mind, with its false ideas and erring human concepts. The brood mares, such as we
meet in this first labor, indicate the feminine aspect of the mind as it gives birth to ideas, to theories and to concepts.
The thought-form making tendency of the mind is here symbolized, embodying the ideas conceived, and which are let loose upon
the world, devastating and destroying when emanating from the lower mind, but constructing and saving when coming from the
The exoteric ruler of this sign is Mars, the god of war, and so Hercules, acting under the right direction of thought and
beginning his work on the mental plane, takes his stand as the warrior. His outstanding characteristic in this sign is the
pioneering, militant spirit. The mares were in the possession of Diomedes, the son of Mars. Constellations in Aries
As is usual, there are three constellations connected with Aries. First, there is Cassiopeia, the Enthroned Queen, the
symbol always of matter. It is most interesting to note how in the circle of the Zodiac we come across three women. In connection
with Aries, the sign of commencement, we find Cassiopeia, the Dominant Woman. Woman and Child and as we shall later see, mother-matter
is the nurturer of the infant Christ, the Virgin Mary gives birth to Jesus. In Pisces, at the close of the great round, we
find Andromeda, the Chained Woman. First the woman enthroned and dominant, then the woman caring for the infant, Christ, and
then the woman, representing matter that has been dominated and controlled. Cassiopeia will be found seated on the Arctic
Circle, close to  Cepheus the King,or Lawgiver, whom we shall meet later as one of the three constellations in Pisces.
At the commencement, Law; at the close, Law; for Cepheus has a close relation with the first and the last sign of the Zodiac.
It is interesting to note that Mahomet, the founder of the most militant religion, was born in this sign, and legend says
that Moses also was born in it; Moses, the lawgiver, and Mahomet, the warrior.
The problem of Hercules, as he enters upon his labors, is to demonstrate his power over matter and form, and so he has
to recognize Cassiopeia from the very beginning, the hitherto enthroned queen.The Crux of the Test
The conquest of matter and the overcoming of illusion loomed large before Hercules and indicated from the very outset of
the twelve labors the nature of his final achievement. It has been said that the keynote of the sign Aries is hope and as
he faced his twelve labors, hope was all the guarantee that Hercules then had that he would achieve. Hope, his untried divine
equipment, his personal club, and much enthusiasm: so start all disciples.
The meaning of the test is now surely plain. Hercules had to begin in the world of thought to gain mental control. For
ages the brood mares of thought had been breeding war horses and, through wrong thought, wrong speech and erroneous ideas,
had been devastating the countryside. One of the first lessons that every beginner has to learn is the tremendous power that
he mentally wields, and the amount of harm that he can cause in his neighborhood and environment through the brood mares of
his mind. He has, therefore, to learn the right use of his mind, and the first thing that he has to do is capture this feminine
aspect of the mind and see to it that no more war horses are bred. Any would-be
Hercules can easily prove that he possesses these devastating brood mares, if for one entire day he pays close attention
to his thoughts and to the words he speaks, which are ever the result of thought. He will rapidly discover that selfishness,
unkindness, love of gossip, and criticism constitute a large part of his thought content and that the brood mares of his mind
are constantly being fertilized by selfishness and illusion. Instead of these brood mares giving birth to ideas and concepts
which have their origin in the kingdom of the soul, and instead of being fertilized from the spiritual realm, they become
the parents of error, falseness and cruelty, which have their origin in the lower aspects of man's nature.
Hercules realized the harm that the brood mares were doing. He rushed gallantly to the rescue of his neighborhood. He determined
to capture the brood mares, but he over-estimated himself. He did succeed in rounding them up and in capturing them, but he
failed to realize their potency and strength, so he gave them to Abderis, the symbol of the lower personal self, to hold.
But Hercules, the soul, and Abderis, the personality in unison were needed to guard these devastating horses. Abderis alone
was not strong enough, and what had been happening to the people in the neighborhood, happened to Abderis; they killed him.
This is an instance of the working of the great law that we pay the price in our own natures of wrongly spoken words and ill-judged
actions. Again the soul, in the person of Hercules, had to deal with the problem of wrong thought, and only, when he becomes
a one-pointed aspirant in the sign Sagittarius and in that sign kills the Man-Eating Birds, does he really attain complete
control of the thought processes of his nature.
The practical significance of the power of thought has been well expressed for us in the words of Thackeray: "Sow a thought,
and reap an action. Sow an action, and reap a habit. Sow a habit, and reap character. Sow character and reap destiny."
Thus for our purposes in this website, we summarize the First Labor of Hercules to mean that the first task of therapy
is to recognize the enormous power of erroneous thought upon our lives, and to bring illusory thought under control. Our symptoms
and suffering are archetypal symbolic expressions of our unrecognized spirituality.