The Labours of Hercules

April -The Cretan Bull

The Mythos:

Eurystheus bids Hercules capture the mad bull which laid to waste the Island of Crete.

Minos, the King of Crete, wishing to offer a sacrifice to Zeus, prayed that a bull might be sent up from the sea for this purpose.      

Poseidon, God of the Sea, heard the prayer, and forthwith a beautiful white bull emerged from the waves. Minos, charmed by its beauty, coveted it, and substituted another bull from his herds, for the sacrifice; whereupon Poseidon punished Minos by causing the white bull to become mad and to ravage the island.

Hercules landed in Crete, and Minos allowed him to capture the bull. Hercules, taking it, carried it on his shoulders to the sea-shore, crossed the sea on the animalís back; upon landing, he tossed the bull over his neck and set it free in Greece.

It again ravaged the land, but was eventually caught and slain by Theseus, who then sacrificed to Apollo.

The Clavis:

Poseidon (Greek), or Neptune (Roman), is the God of the Sea of Generation, that is to say, he is Ruler of the Soul while it is active in the Mundane World, wherein the Twelve Labours are to be accomplished. He is Lord of all things merged in generation, the fluctuating nature of which is likened to a great sea.

Minos, King of Crete, is grandson of Minos the famous Law-Giver; analogically he may be regarded as a symbol of the elective power of the Soul, which may, or may not, choose to conform to the Divine Power, and in this sense is itself a law-giver in relation to the Soulís other faculties.

The Bull has many meanings, but in this mythos perhaps is best considered as denoting that generative essence which is active in the springtime (i.e. when the Sun is in the sign of Taurus). As such, it has an intimate connection with the physical body or the earthy nature generally.

It is sent forth pure and white into a sea of generation, and constitutes the stable and basic essence of all beautiful forms and bodies.

In its higher aspects, the Bull symbolizes Divine Essence. According to some of the Ancient Mysteries, a bull was slain at certain times, this having a mystical relation with the involution of spiritual essence, which produces Generation, as well as with process whereby, through sacrifice, Generation is changed into Regeneration.

Crete means "chalk", and thus has a symbolical association with pure essence. The Island was famous for the Laws of Minos, but its people became degenerate, hence the pure essence loses its stable character through human inordinations.

Theseus means "Son of God".

Taurus, "The Bull", is the Zodiacal Sign of Stable Protective Essence.

Some inverted Taurian tendencies, which the hero-soul must conquer, are such as pertain to obstinacy, indifference, offensiveness, disobedience, ego-centric or self-centred attitudes, all of which prevent the normal operation of the laws governing the proper relations of the underlying Essence with the inherent Formative principle. On the other hand, the pure characteristics of Taurus are firmness, stability, sameness, persistence, industry, obedience, practicalness, and steadfastness, all of which naturally, although perhaps unconsciously, lead to symmetry and beauty. It is a significant fact that Venus is usually regarded as the Ruler of Taurus; although, according to some authorities, Vesta is the mystical planetary ruler; both, however, are appropriate.


The Exegesis:

The task of Hercules (i.e. the Soul) in the mythos may be interpreted as that of gaining mastery over the generative essences of the earthy elements, so that the natural qualities of the body may enter into right relationships with the beautiful forms latent within it, which are called forth by aspiration and devotion to the Ideal.

The Soul, when energizing according to its pure essence, spontaneously turns to the Divine in worship. Thus, even while dwelling under the rule of Poseidon in the Sea of Generation, the self-active elective power (Minos) naturally follows its innate promptings, and petitions deity for some token whereby to demonstrate its pious intentions of conforming with the Divine Will.

However, no sooner does it receive the Gift of the Lord of Generation, than the selfish personal will at once intervenes, and the beautiful body (white bull), instead of being dedicated to the service of God, is taken possession of for other purposes. But every wrong use of the human freewill brings its own consequences; therefore, the earthy body, which should have been a holy temple of the Divine Essence, becomes a ravaging bull, no longer subservient to the law-giver (Minos), but even preventing the continued free use of the elective power. Thus it is that, oftentimes, man becomes the slave of his own body, and can no longer exercise his potential freedom.

All the strength of the heroic-soul (Hercules) is needed to regain this lost mastery of the body. When this strength is exercised, which the coming of Hercules to Crete symbolizes, it over-rules the selfish personal will; for Minos does not oppose Hercules, but allows him freedom to capture the bull.

The Soul (Hercules) therefore leads forth the earthy nature (the bull) from out of its perverted condition (inordinate Crete), utilises this nature as a body or vehicle over the sea of Generation, and conducts it to the shore of the homeland (Greece). This is all the Soul can accomplish by its own strength; another power is necessary before the earthy elements of the body can be transformed and restored to their divine purpose and destiny.  The human Soul, alone, can never work out its own redemption unaided, for, although it may appear to master completely its lower principles on one plane or in one sphere of activity, yet when these functions begin to energize on other planes (as when the bull lands in Greece), then they may again exert a disintegrative influence, unless the obstinate, indifferent, and belligerent attitudes are wholly transmuted into inner stability, industry, and obedience.  For there is an "earthy" mind as well as an earthy body, which causes the whole character to become earthy, instead of heavenly, and immeasurably more difficult to overcome.

This other power is the Son of God (Theseus), who consummates the mystical purification of earth, which the Soul (Hercules) has begun. Then the earthy nature is wholly changed, and the body becomes a glorified temple of the Inner Light; this being signified by the sacrifice of the white bull to Apollo, the Lord of Light.

 

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from Sacred Mythoi of Demigods and Heroes © The Shrine of Wisdom 1999