This god is quite predictably presented as the opposite of his brother Ares, and is a creator of mental forms. If the masters of wisdom have made Hephaestus a blacksmith and not a carpenter it is because his particularity as a builder of forms is to melt and weld them in the fire of his forge. Hephaestus is not only the one to mold mental forms, as does Daedalus who builds forms which only hold the ‘appearance’ of life, for he is the one who shapes through the use of fire and makes appear ‘true’ forms purified by the fire of the spirit.
Similarly to the way in which Ares carries out his destruction, Hephaestus’ creations only concern the mental forms generated for the yoga within the frame of a spiritual progression.
But Hephaestus is a crippled god; he is lame. Homer gives two different versions of the cause of his infirmity.
In the first, he was lame from birth. Ashamed of his infirmity, his mother Hera had thrown him from the heights of Olympus. He was taken in by Thetis, one of the daughters of Nereus “the old man of the sea” and Eurynome, an Oceanid who sheltered him in a cave on the seafloor for nine years. As a token of his gratitude, Hephaestus carved magnificent jewels for the two goddesses.
According to the second version “he was rendered lame during a quarrel between his parents. When he took the part of his mother Hera, Zeus inflicted him with the same punishment as had done Hera in the other version of the story. After a fall that lasted for an entire day he landed on the island of Lemnos, where he was received by the Sintians.
According to Hesiod he was conceived by Hera alone, who sought vengeance for the birth of Athena.
In both of these versions it is either the power of limitation, Hera, or the force of expansion of the mind at the highest level of the overmind, Zeus, who refuse to consider the forms created by the inferior mental planes (those produced by Hephaestus).
This possibility of the creation of purified mental forms manifests itself from the appearance of the mental-vital in man (the cave on the seafloor), but must undergo a long period of gestation (nine years) under the supervision of the two goddesses, Eurynome, ‘vast order, divine harmony’, and Thetis, ‘the highest inner consciousness working at the roots of life’. The seeker will later have to give his thanks to the divine powers which have permitted him to develop his creative capacities: Hephaestus offers jewels to the goddesses.
Hesiod does not make him the son of Zeus, probably to avoid an association between the effects of the limitations of the mind and the latter’s force of expansion.
Irrespective of which version is followed, the important point to remember is that Hephaestus is a ‘fallen’ god deprived of his physical integrity, for he is lame. This is to say that he can only fully utilise one of his supports of power, symbolised by the leg. Homer describes him as an enormous being with spindly legs: man gives his mental creations a disproportionate importance but they completely lack foundations, and therefore incarnation.
His fragility, and especially his lameness, are the effects of an alternation of the influence of the energies of fusion and separation which manifest themselves in the mind through what we call intuition and reason. This is why Hesiod affirms that he was conceived by Hera alone in retaliation to Athena’s birth. In fact, at the level of Zeus, forms translate an equilibrium of these two forces, while Hera ensures that the right movement, and therefore their alternation, is respected.
This alternation produces a succession of historical phases which we call ‘humanistic periods’ in which man is at the centre of the world, and ‘Middle Ages’ in which it is the Supreme that is at the center. This phenomenon is comparable to the cycle of night and day as a continuous process. ‘Night and Day draw near and greet one another as they pass the great threshold of bronze. And while the one is about to go down into the house, the other comes out at the door. And the house never holds them both within; but always one is without the house passing over the earth, while the other stays at home and waits until the time for her journeying come; and the one holds all-seeing light for them on earth, but the other holds in her arms Sleep the brother of Death, even evil Night, wrapped in a vaporous cloud.’ (Hesiod, Theogony 744.)
During one half of each cycle, Hephaestus lacks a second support, symbolised by his lameness. The forms induced by the cycles link to each other automatically, pulling us into their motion. This enslavement will last as long as man remains a prisoner of the inferior levels of the mind, and will only disappear completely when mind and vital had swear allegiance to his soul.
As we have previously seen, this alternation of movements of fusion and fission are at the origin of all the phenomena of the created universe. This is illustrated by the end of the myth of Prometheus, whose liver was devoured by the eagle of Zeus during the day and regenerated itself during the night. In fact, on the plane of the mind formed in humanity for tens of thousands of years, these two movements seem contradictory as there is little aptitude for a simultaneous action. They therefore act in alternation, generating cyclical phenomena.
While the action of the forces of fusion and separation is easily observable in the domain of matter and life in atomic fusion/fission, the expansion and contraction of the universe, biological cycles, etc., it is less perceptible on the mental plane. It is however on the certainty of the existence of such cycles resulting from an inner experience that many myths were constructed. This phenomenon was thus described by Plato: ‘God at times himself directs the movement of this universe in which we are, and at times lets it go…’.
Empedocles, a Greek scientist of the 4th century B.C., refers to this as an alternation of two complementary and contradictory forces: a force of integration which he calls ‘friendship’, and a force of disintegration which he calls ‘discord’.
In the light of current brain research, it would seem that humanity is progressively and alternatively under the influence of one or the other of the hemispheres of the brain. At times it is the right non linear (intuitive) side of the brain which is at the forefront, and mankind then lives a golden age in which he is close to the gods, while at other times it is the left brain (linear), the one which is to lead man towards his freedom, which dominates.
The mind seems to therefore be under the influence of two cycles of differing duration, or rather under the influence of a major cycle which is divided into twelve sub-cycles of the same nature.
The major cycle seems to extend over a period of twenty-six thousand years, which is difficult to observe.
The sub-cycles, each of 2160 years, correspond to the zodiac signs (Aries, Taurus, Gemini, etc.), the symbolism of which impregnates most civilisations. At that level the succession of the two periods becomes sensitive, with the alternation of so-called Middle-Age periods and humanistic periods characterised by an alternating predominance of faith and reason respectively. Plato has even described political forms which succeed one another in a certain part of the curve: feudalism, kingships, despotism, republics and empires. The author of this work has written a yet unpublished book on this subject titled The Cycles of the Mind in Human History.
One must perceive this mental rhythm as one understands the succession of day and night, as a slow undulation during which energies evolve and inverse themselves without our being aware of it. The major obstacle to this perception is the belief that our mental activity has always followed the same patterns, while it is in fact impossible for us to feel the vibrations of a given period.
For example, during the current period in which dominates the separative influence in affinity with the energies of day we ignore and reject the energies of the night, and consequently those of death as well. This is not night in the sense of unconsciousness and sleep, but rather the aspect of night which brings about sharing, the meeting of souls, the annihilation of the ego identity and the development of the imaginary world. This kind of night which leads one to forget the desire for progress and external change, which tends towards silence, communion and immutability. It incites internalisation and fusion, which is a receptivity that melts everything in its indistinct goodness.
For all those who are receptive this period of fusion facilitates knowledge through identity, and therefore a knowledge of nature such as the power of healing through the use of plants. In this state the perception of the spirits of nature also seems to be easier, as well as of the “forces of darkness” which oppose evolution. The humanist periods which do not give these any credence are at their mercy to an even greater extent.
The essential characteristic of a period of fusion is the primacy of what is “sacred” and its force. It impregnates all aspects of daily life, and brings one into contact with the unknown in an awed and respectful dread. The unquiet heart that bows down before what it does not understand succeeds the dry and arrogant intelligence of the periods of separation. Marveling and enchantment accompany daily experiences, and the dominating feeling is that of the crypt, of the supernatural and of a gathering inwards. Time loses importance. There is no more desire for great human projects, but only temples for adoring divinity. Becoming is replaced by being. These are the periods of faith. Such is the atmosphere reigning over the middle ages.
In contrast the period of separation originates from an energy comparable to that of day, which pushes each individual form towards its complete expression and the realisation of its potentialities (by ‘form’, we mean ideas, social systems and civilisation as well as men). While man experiences himself as the centre of the world, the will for progress is everywhere present. In the present stage of evolution, the dominant consciousness is that of the predator which progressively replaces the spirit of oblation and sacrifice of the preceding period, and the prevalent impulses are covetousness and the quest for power. It is the period of reason, doubt and the negation of the Divine.
In a visual representation it could be said that the centre of consciousness oscillates between these two poles in an extremely slow rhythm, bringing to the forefront reason and intuition alternatively. When one of the two poles is in the lead, the other withdraws to the background without however disappearing entirely. Thus intuition, which is the faculty of entering into resonance in accordance to the principle of unity in all things is not completely absent from the period of separation which we currently live in. (In a remarkable thesis on the psychic workings in the old times, Julian Jaynes describes this weakening of intuition over the course of centuries until the complete cessation of prophecy in 363 BCE when, through the lips of the last priestess of Delphi, Apollo announced that he would not make any more prophecies. For further reference see The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind by Julian Jaynes.)
Neither movement is of a higher value than the other. The movement of separation is absolutely necessary for individuation and for the realisation by all forms of life of what constitutes their specificity. But it cannot continue indefinitely without becoming fixed in a universe frozen by extreme solitude and in which all things are immutably distinct, without any contact one with the other. At each extremity of the cycle appears a seed of the opposite movement, hence the aspiration for a more humane world of greater solidarity which appears when humanist peace falls into decadence, as occurred at the end of the pax romana and as seems to be the case in our current period.
The movement of separation progressively evolves towards a movement of regained union, towards a consciousness of solidarity and unity. Then there also reappears the aspiration for the realisation of unity with the Absolute, and therefore faith resurfaces as well. Then, progressively, there is a swing in the predominance of influences. In its turn the movement of fusion cannot grow indefinitely without entangling itself in a formless and suffocating mass in which man can no longer breathe. Hence the intense aspiration for a ‘new air’ which mark the end of the Middle Ages (the Egyptian Middle Ages of the Thinite period, the Greek Dark Ages and the Middle Ages of western Europe).
This alternation during which we neither think nor feel in the same way in each of the phases will maintain its hold as long as man will remain unable to elevate himself above the mind.
Creation seems to therefore be submitted to thousands of rhythmical forces of separation and fusion which govern all human physical, vital and mental processes. There is however not an alarming determinism, for rhythm does not exclude freedom. Thus the alternation of day and night does not pose any obstacle to life.
But on the mental plane man has some difficulty in admitting that he is not the sole writer of his thoughts, and that the latter can depend on numerous rhythms. For instance, the forms of social organisation – which pass successively through democracy, empire, disintegration, chivalrous and theocratic societal forms, kingships, absolute or tyrannical monarchies, humanist renaissance periods and the birth of republics – all depend on the positioning of consciousness in the human mind. They therefore follow a cycle which depends on much higher forces than those that ordinary man can mobilise to counteract either. This cycle is easily observable in the Greek and Roman civilisation, with an apogee of the separative phase around 130 years BCE. While the Egyptian civilisation has always maintained the same social structure one can notice this same rhythm, with the culminating point of the period of separation situated at the end of the Old Kingdom around 2290 BCE.
Even if we lack the necessary information to support the theory of a major cycle, we can nonetheless understand that the ancient masters intuited it, situating it at the beginning of the phase of separation of the cycle about thirteen thousand years before our era, and situating the entry into the ‘renaissance’ period around six thousand years ago, when wisdom still supported itself on the faculties of intuition. This is the Vedic period of intuition of which Sri Aurobindo speaks, rather than the logical, separative mind which dominates today’s world.
But the initiates of that period were also aware that humankind, swept up into the movement of the cycles, would sink progressively into several millennia of domination by the separative movement. Even then, it must have seemed obvious that all spiritual knowledge which had been directly accessible to intuition would progressively disappear, and the dark ages would subsequently dominate the world for several thousands of years.
From then on we understand much better that the appearance of mental forms follow a movement of alternation, and that Hephaestus, the one who ‘shapes into forms’, is obliged to use alternatively the energies of fusion and separation at his disposal. This is the symbolic cause of his lameness.
Mythology also describes an episode during which this god manifested a violent desire for Athena. When she rejected him, his sperm fell on the leg of the goddess. It was wiped away with a woolen cloth then thrown on the earth, where it gave birth to one of the first Athenian kings, Erichthonius, the forefather of Theseus. For the part of the myth described here let us only note that the goddess who leads towards the psychic being cannot depend on the fire manifesting itself through a single of its components in the cycle which governs the growth of the mind (either the logical mind or intuition), irrespective of the intensity of the corresponding aspiration.
Ordinarily, the seeker has difficulties in comprehending that the mind could be an indispensable tool for the quest (Athena’s rejection), but in the end he will have to realise that what directs this quest (the kings of Athens) originates from a fertilisation of existence (Gaia) by the form-creating mind, or in other words by the ‘process of incarnation’.
According to Homer, Hephaestus’ forge is located on Mount Olympus. His location on Mount Etna was introduced later on to justify the existence of the natural fire there.
Some later authors say that the Cyclopes helped him in his work, bringing the ‘exact vision’ of forms which he was to mould in his forge.
The name Hephaestus induces the concepts of brilliance (Φα) and rectitude (ΣΤ). It is for this reason that Hesiod assigned Aglaea, the youngest of the Muses representing radiating light, to be his wife. Hephaestus is perhaps the superlative of (Η)Φ(Α), which is to say ‘the greatest penetration of consciousness into the being’ or ‘that which shines the most’.
He was despised by the other gods and little honoured by the people, for in the phase of alternation of the separative mind in which humankind has been situated for the last thirteen thousand years forms can never attain perfection. However, mythology tells us that the forms of the future will be full of splendour. Through the cycles of the mind he prepares the ‘true’ forms; his spouse can therefore only be a symbol of Truth and Beauty. This is why in Hesiod’s texts she is Aglaea, ‘splendor’, one of the three Graces, and in Homer’s text Charis, ‘Grace or Joy’ (a name akin to the three Charites or Graces, divinities of beauty who number amongst the daughters of Zeus). According to the structuring characters Χ+Ρ, Charis evokes a ‘right or real movement at the core of the being’, indissociable with the growth of inner joy obtained in the fire of Hephaestus’ forge.
In the Iliad, this god intervenes by approaching Hera to reconcile her with Zeus, a necessary preamble for his harmonising action amongst the gods; nothing can be done if the seeker, at the higher levels of his being, does not bring about an equilibrium within himself between what strives to move forward (Zeus), and what curbs this movement to ensure that nothing is left behind (Hera). It is her limiting aspect, her excess of asceticism, which must lose some of its rigidity, ‘uttering tender words to Zeus’ so as to avoid great disorder on Mount Olympus. Then Hephaestus can serve the nectar to the gods, without minding their mockery of his awkwardness; as imperfect as may be the created mental forms they contribute to the growth of the other powers at work in the yogic process even if the latter despise them, just as long as the right balance (the reconciliation of Hera and Zeus) is first established.
Hephaestus is at the origin of three kinds of creations. As he is a god working within the frame of inner search his creations are all magnificent or astounding, although they are submitted to the influence of the cycles of the mind.
To begin with, he is an extraordinary architect to whom the gods entrust the construction of their brazen dwellings on Olympus, symbols of the establishment of solid and indestructible frames for spiritual progression.
He also takes care of the various elements associated with this construction, such as the stone doors of the palace of Zeus, which represent the capacities for the opening of consciousness, and the secret latches of Hera’s chamber, symbols of this goddess’ absolute governance over limitations.
In this function as an architect who forges by the inner fire the tools for the quest he is an essential part of the path.
The ambience of darkness, smoke and soot of the forge depicts the difficulty of the work on the path, and the necessity of descending into the depths of the being.
Secondarily he is a maker of extraordinary automatons which act by their own will.
In his home he is assisted by automatons of gold who have a voice and power, and who have been taught how to behave by the immortals; they are most probably images of mental formations that sustain the quest akin to mantric forms. (A mantra is a brief sacred formula which can be repeated during prayer, meditation, incantation, etc. Mantras are generally given by a master or received through inspirations or revelations.)
He also built the gods wheeled tripodal structures which he could order to come and go from the banquet hall. In this way, he gave the gods the possibility to be fed easily – and therefore to grow in man – by “means” which have access to the three inferior planes of the mind (physical mental, vital mental and intellect).
He also made a brazen dog to guard the palace of Alkinos, which is to say that a perfect vigilance is given to he who is gifted with a ‘powerful soul force’.
He also built most of the weapons, jewelry, attire and other essential objects of the gods and the great heroes. For instance, he designed the armor of Achilles, the scepter of Agamemnon, the sword of Peleus and the golden cup of Helios. These afford protection in view of the spiritual battles to come, and are emblems of the power of specific spiritual qualities or signs indicating mastery over certain planes.
Hephaestus also created Pandora under the order of Zeus. Hephaestus is often associated with Lycia, the country of the ‘dawning light’.
Hephaestus within us
Hephaestus is the mental force with always calls and shapes by the fire of our inner forge the most appropriate methods for our progress in accordance with our nature.
Through his marriage with Aphrodite he supports the growth of true and pure love. But reciprocity is not active in present-day humanity, for Aphrodite carries out a relationship with her lover Ares.
Hephaestus also incites us to use Truth as our most trusty armour.