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The Twelve Labours of Hercules – A Living Mythology

The twelve Labours of Hercules are a set of principles, a way of life, that lead us to ourselves. They are a series of ‘lessons’ or truths that are universal, for they come from the Universe itself.

So, who was this mythological Hercules? What is the significance of the twelve? And how can we as human beings learn from, or incorporate these teachings into our lives?

We have inherited the stories of Hercules through the ancient Greeks, although they also had received these stories via the mythological teachings of earlier peoples. In fact, the body of wisdom that we know today as The Twelve Labours of Hercules has its origin within us all, for it simply expresses what we all know within anyway.

It was Hercules, or as he was known by the Greeks, Heracles, who first earthed these teachings through his living way.

Heracles showed us that we can all indeed master the fundamental challenges of the human being, and by doing so can find our way back to our true selves. This is essentially what our evolution is. Evolution, or the process of arising our energetic awareness, is a series of inner and outer experiences that we either choose to embrace or not. But of course, sooner or later, we cannot but ‘confront our demons’ and take the lesson. For this is our only way forward, back to our true selves.

Modern psychology shows us that life must be lived, it cannot ever purely be an intellectual exercise. Our relationships with everyone and everything around us are as important as our relationship with ourselves. In the stories of the twelve Labours of Hercules, we find the central character placed in dilemmas and conundrums that force him to connect. He must be connected to himself, to his own heart and head as one, and he must also be fully present with what he is doing and observing what is going on around him. Heracles is a man of the world, a traveller, a seeker, a man who asks why, and a man who not only must find the truth, but must also live and breathe it. Each labour that he works through, that he lives, shows him a different aspect of himself that once mastered leads him to greater awareness and greater wisdom. This is learned through exploring different qualities and strengths that each of us has within. For if there is one fundamental piece of wisdom to be found in these teachings, it is that we can all, each and every one of us, make the same choices that Heracles made and let go of that which holds us back, and instead step up to our next lesson and embrace our true evolution. This means leaving behind what is comfortable and arising to the call of the ‘next x', initiating ourselves onward, ever onward, to ourselves and in fact to everyone.

Twelve is a significant number, as anyone who has ever purchased eggs from the store knows, or has looked at a calendar. Twelve is found throughout human mythologies, within our councils, our societies, our measuring systems, our sciences and our arts. It is in fact a very beautiful number, both algebraically and geometrically. Divisible by three and by four, as well as six and of course two, it lends itself to pattern and process. And numerologically it is a ‘one’ and a ‘two’, which in turn makes a ‘three’ – how beautifully simple is that: 1, 2, 3. The ‘three’ expresses the light that results from the initiatory value of one and two. So… what is the significance of this number when it comes to the Twelve Labours of Hercules?

We live on planet Earth, which circles the Sun – one circuit equals one year. The moon orbits us, which gives us the month. So when we bring the Sun and the Moon together (perhaps this is the one and the two), we find ourselves with a year made of twelve months. Each month, of around thirty days, offers each of us a tangible package of time to work with in our daily lives. A month has the rhythm and flow of the moon at its essence, giving us the ebb and flow that is so intrinsic within our makeup, reflecting the fact that we are all both masculine and feminine within. Another way of saying this is that each has the energies of motion and of repose at our fingertips to work with and honour in our daily lives.

There are times of building, of developing, expanding and moving all that is in and around us, as there are times of consolidating and allowing what is there to be fully appreciated and felt for what it truly is and offers in reflection. And so we have the twelve, which encompasses this beautifully divine balance within and offers evolution through action and through contemplation.

And then we also have the twelve constellations of the zodiac.

These are composed of stars in far-off reaches of the Universe and can be found completely encircling not only our Earth, but in fact our Solar system. The twelve constellations of the zodiac, through which we observe our Sun, the Moon and all the planets of this Solar system move, are twelve huge mansions in the sky. These twelve sections of the ecliptic, the path of the heavenly bodies, are like the stellar equivalent to the twelve months of the year. Each equally offering us a bite-size piece of evolution in which to explore. It is like each of these Constellations reflects a lesson or lessons that Heracles himself delved into.

And so today, as it has been since antiquity, we can find these twelve constellations within ourselves. For indeed, we have all twelve within. And indeed we are offered the teachings of all twelve as we live our lives, as was Heracles.

Aries, the great constellation of the Ram, reflects that we are all, in one way or another, initiators and leaders of our own destiny. In other words, when we connect with Aries within (as we all can) we find our ability to truly be ourselves, to observe ourselves and see the essence of truth within. We then adjust how we are living to better reflect this, we adapt and respond, and we appreciate our richness. These qualities may be strong for us, in which case Aries is one of our more developed zodiacal qualities. Or this may be an area that we expand into when we are feeling ready to embrace those more uncharted aspects of ourselves. Either way, just like Heracles, we can find the lessons of Aries presenting themselves in a myriad of ways as we walk through life.

It is interesting how we find Aries at the beginning of the Zodiac, as the essence of this Constellation is about returning to our beginnings, to our Soul. This is something that, ultimately, we all must do.

This truth lies within us all and it is encapsulated within the Labour of Aries. Aries asks of us to honour and obey the call to return to our essence, to our beginning, to the One Life. When we bring this teaching into our lives, and live our lives with this teaching held within, we find our lives enriched and expanded. Life has purpose and life’s problems no longer ‘get in the way’ but are seen merely as part of the process of living. We adjust and move in accordance to what comes our way without losing our power, and life takes on a fresh and brisk momentum.

The twelve labours of Hercules and the twelve Constellations of the Zodiac are one in the same.

“As above, so it is Below” was given to humanity by the great prophet Hermes, and it was gifted to us all by Heracles when he lived each of the Constellations, conquering the inner and outer challenges of each. Aries is but the beginning and the end, with each of the twelve offering an equal and unique teaching. As we embrace these lessons, sensing each of the twelve constellations within our lives, then we begin to truly evolve. Evolution is simply, and very profoundly, our return to Soul. But we must take all of ourselves to this; we cannot evolve some aspects and not others. Evolution is a process of wholeness, of completeness and an all-encompassing self-less-ness – it connects us to Oneness. Within the One is the Twelve. When we truly can see and feel each of the twelve constellations in ourselves and our lives, then we can evolve ourselves back to where we are from… the Stars and Constellations themselves.

Thank you Heracles for your gift of the Twelve – we shall all return with you and once again be as the One.

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    By Paul O'Hara, BSc (Zoology , Biology), DipSecTchg(Science)

    I run my own organic store and café in the beautiful town of Wanaka, New Zealand. I have love of all things in the natural world and the heavens above.

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    Photography: Geraldine Burrell