Eurystheus bids Hercules bring him the three-headed dog Cerberus which guarded the entrance to Hades, fawning upon all who entered therein, but attacking all who endeavoured to go out.
Cerberus, with a tail of a serpent and with serpents encircling his neck, occupied a den at a place where the Shades of the Departed entered the Underworld.
Hercules descended into Hades accompanied by Hermes and Pallas Athene. At the sight of Hercules, Cerberus fled and crouched behind the throne of Pluto; but the hero, being permitted by the King of the Dead to take the dog, provided he could do so without force, seized Cerberus and conveyed him to the light of day; having first released Theseus, whom he discovered near the entrance of Hades. Hercules then took Cerberus to the presence of Eurystheus, who allowed the dog to return to his sentinel duty in the netherworld.
Cerberus, with his three heads, is symbolical of the triple gnostic powers of the Soul – the opinionative, the rational, and the intuitive – which are individualized in every human being. They are established in the very deeps of the Soul, but when energized in the worlds of form and sense they are symbolically at the portals of Hades – that is, on the border line, as it were, between the known and the unknown, the realms of light and the domains of darkness. They are receptive and also retentive; ever ready to receive all that enters their sphere of consciousness, but unwilling to allow that which has entered to leave their range of activity.
While the Soul is bound to the mundane world of Generation these powers are characterized by the qualities of the all-pervading Astral Substance: this being denoted by the Serpents of Cerberus and the fact that he is the offspring of Typhon and Echidna.
Hades denotes the condition of the unawakened – it is the realm of darkness and night, the sphere of the unconscious, where Souls are “dead”, as it were, to Things Supernal.
Pluto, the King of the underworld, is symbolical of the divine Law and Justice operating in the realms where the soul is undergoing its purgation from the effects of ignorance and inordination while energizing in the mundane regions of form and sense.
Hermes is the Divine Intelligence, which guides and conducts the Soul throughout its mundane peregrinations.
Pallas Athene is Queen of the Upper Air – the Guardian Goddess of Wisdom and Virtue.
Theseus is the Servant of Zeus; his experiences denote, among other things, the processes whereby the human will gradually becomes conformable to the Divine Will.
Capricorn, “The Goat”, the Zodiacal Sign of Resistance and Adaptation, is associated with this labour. Some inverted aspects of Capricorn are arrogance, narrow-mindedness, cunning, servility, frigidity, mundane ambition, suspicion, and capriciousness.
The Pure Capricorn influences are attentiveness, concentration, vigilance, method, zeal, caution, reverence, and lack of ostentation.
This Labour of Hercules may be defined as that of gaining the power to withdraw the gnostic powers of the Soul from the limiting regions of form and sense, and to elevate them to a consciousness of the supernal realms.
It is symbolical of that initiation which dispels the darkness of oblivion and the night of ignorance resulting from the Soul’s attachment to the body, and introduces it to a vision of Reality.
It confers upon the hero-soul the power to pass into and out of the portals of objective life and death. As Porphyry affirms, there are two kinds of death: – one according to which the body gradually dissolves and is separated from the Soul, but the other – called the Philosophical or Mystical Death – according to which the Soul voluntarily and consciously separates itself from the bondage and attachment of the body. This is signified by the ability of Hercules to descend into the domains of darkness and death and again to come forth into the abode of light and life.
The gnostic powers of the Soul, while subject to the limitations of the Objective World, are like Cerberus with his vigilance and discrimination, his servility and cunning, his suspicion and narrowness, but at the same time his subjection to the rule of Pluto.
The hero-soul, without the use of external or objective force, by the simple exertion of its own inherent prepotency, uplifts these powers into the Kingdom of Light, and simultaneously releases the personal Will (Theseus) from the consequences of its wrong use.
But since the Soul’s mundane labours are not yet completed, the dog returns to its sentinel duty, which represents the normal emplacement of the objective consciousness.