For the tenth labour, Eurystheus commanded Heracles to go to the «misty» island of Erythia located on the edge of the ocean (or beyond) in the far-West and to bring back the Cattle of Geryon. The latter was a monster made of three men joined at the waist.The object of this tenth labour of Héraclès symbolize the powers of life obtained after the transcendence of the modes of nature or gunas.
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Heracles fighting Geryon – Louvre Museum
In some old sources and on some ceramics, Geryon had one pair of wings on one of his bodies.
For some, Heracles began his journey at the eastern ends of the world. Some say that on his way, he killed many wild beasts «to prepare the roads of the future».
Then, exasperated by the heat, he threatened Helios with his bow. Impressed, the latter suggested to the hero to use his cup to cross the ocean. According to others, the hero fetched the cup from Nereus or even from Oceanos.
He then built «the pillars of Heracles» (the Columns of Hercules) in Tartessos which mark at the West the borders of the inhabited land.
Then he embarked on the cup and crossed «Oceanos’ passage » until the island of Erythia. During the journey, Oceanos tested him by raising high waves. But the hero threatened the god who calmed down, frightened.
At the end of his journey, Heracles waited for a favourable opportunity, then killed successively the dog Orthos (or Orthros) and the herdsman Eurytion. Geryon, warned by Menoetes who was keeping Hades’ cattle not far away, came to fight Heracles and did not survive.
The hero then seized the cattle, of which the beasts were purple.
According to Apollodorus, on the way back, Hera sent horseflies against the cattle in order to disperse it. The hero had a hard time gathering the cattle and bringing it to Eurystheus, who promptly sacrificed it to the goddess.
Geryon is a grandson of Medusa through Chrysaor (who sprang from the Gorgo’s neck when it was cut by Perseus). Thus he belongs to the Phorcys-Ceto couple’s progeny, in Pontos’ lineage. He represents some energies of the vital world that came into play during the constitution of the animal «I» (animal ego). That is why he lives in the Far-West, place of the memories of the animal humanity’s archaic functioning.
See Family Tree 2
Erythia is «reddening» as it is the land of the setting sun – of humanity’s past – where the vital reigns supreme. In mythology, the East is indeed always related to the New and the West to the old. The sun therefore always completes its course from the new to the old: any new light must illuminate the unconsciousness that is at the basis of evolution.
And if this land is misty, it is because our present consciousness has difficulties grasping the functioning of this archaic mental consciousness and because the path of yoga in these depths is not laid out.
Some even say that Hades’ cattle was grazing close by: the wealth of the body unconscious is close to that of the vital archaic consciousness.
Geryon is one of Chrysaor’s sons «he who has a golden sword» who appeared from Medusa the Gorgo’s severed neck. In a previous chapter, we associated Medusa with fear and vital lust (the movement of appropriation) which comes from separative ignorance. When fear disappears, pure will can manifest, that which is under the guidance of the psychic and not mixed with the ego’s will, subjected to desire. In turn, this pure will reveals life’s gifts and their guardians: Orthros, Eurytion and Geryon.
Heracles must then confront forces that reveal themselves openly (in consciousness) when fear and the appropriation movement cease at the root of the ego. Formerly, they existed all the same but their expression was veiled by these elements, and the seeker did not have the possibility to clearly identify them or act in an impeccably right manner (Chrysaor «he who has a golden sword»).
Nevertheless, the sole awareness of it is insufficient, and to defeat them, the seeker must accomplish «Equality». That is why this Labour finds itself in continuity with that of the Amazon queen’s belt and continues the process of Nature’s liberation, of subjection to its laws.
Taking into consideration this labour’s place in the progression of the yoga and Geryon’s characteristics (a monster with three heads and three bodies of which one with a pair of wings), one can associate without too much risk of error these three bodies to the three gunas, the winged body being related to sattva.
In the Indian tradition, these gunas are the fundamental modes of nature. They are inextricably linked and interact continuously with each other.
Sri Aurobindo provides an extensive description of them in The Synthesis of Yogas, of which we are only quoting the main elements here:
The first mode, tamas, the principle of unconsciousness, of obscurity and inertia, is especially powerful in the material nature and in our physical being. It tends towards inaction, laziness or to mechanical and routine action. It is the cause of many imperfections, such as maintaining ignorance, inertia, weakness and incapacity, repetitive thoughts and the tenacious refusal of their widening, lack of faith, insensitivity, indifference, etc., but it also allows to balance the two other modes.
The second mode, Rajas, is the dynamic motor of action, the principle of effort, of passion, of fight and of initiative. Its favourite field of action is the vital. In the non-purified nature, it supports the desire and the will to possess. Unmoderated by the other gunas, it generates selfishness, violence, arrogance, ambition, vices and passions, the excess of sensitivity, the morbidity and the perversions of the vital being, etc. Subjecting the mind, it brings prejudices and preferences up to fanatism. But it is also the motor of the man of action, of the warrior and the leader.
The third mode, sattva, is the principle of assimilation, balance and harmony. It is particularly dominant within the mind, the intelligence and the reasoned will. It brings clarity of intelligence, self-control, and equality.
It is said that man must first become sattvic (ethical), then rise beyond until the light, the extent and the power of spiritual nature where he escapes from dualities’ clasp.
If it produces higher beings as for refinement, sensitivity and wisdom, sattva cannot approach the infinite, since it is, like the two others modes, created by the outer nature and then associated to a limited mental light. Furthermore, it depends on rajas for action. Thus an egoistic sattvic also exists.
In our nature generated by separating ignorance, these modes generate discord, division and fights between contraries, which we can gather using the term «dualities». If unity has been achieved in the worlds of the spirit, it must also be achieved in the game of nature, not by annihilation of these gunas, which is impossible without withdrawing from life, but by transcending them.
If this work concerns the advanced seekers, it is because the forces necessary to surpass these modes of nature, which support all action, are not sufficiently developed in the ordinary seeker, who is subjected to them.
Our outer being is under their control. Their play determines personality and surface temperament. They constantly operate in a mixed way within our nature where they are alternately preponderant. Tamas moderates the excesses of Rajas, sattva calls Rajas to the rescue to act, etc. which explains that Geryon’s three bodies are joined. The one with wings is sattva, since it expresses itself preferably in the intellectual mental nature related to air. Rajas would be more related to water and tamas to the earth element.
The transcendence of the gunas was traditionally considered impossible. Indeed, according to the elders, all action belonged to the play of the gunas and their perfect balance would automatically lead the seeker to the cessation of action and the immobility of the soul. A quiet liberation could be obtained by imposing an “illuminated Tamas” onto the outer nature.
But Sri Aurobindo stated that this transcendence was realisable, since these three gunas, as we saw before, are in reality divine powers. To find the divine mode of these three powers in the outer nature again is one of the advanced goals of the integral yoga, and according to our understanding, that of Heracles in this Tenth Labour. Indeed, this integral liberation prepares the work of «perfection». In the light of this goal, to withdraw from life and action, that is to say to place oneself in a plane where these modes are inactive, would only be a partial liberation.
The transcendence of the gunas passes through a perfect equality, a prerequisite condition to integral liberation, and supposes a complete detachment, meaning until one is detached from the fundamental attractions and repugnances, as well as the rejection of dualities.
According to some, the hero’s journey began at the eastern borders of the world and ended in the Far West: The seeker must explore the entirety of human consciousness, from the most advanced point in today’s humanity (the Far East, which can be associated with the overmind) until the limits of life, where this consciousness is born. Indeed, nobody can pretend to have descended into the roots of evolution before having first acquired the corresponding spirit forces.
That is why various elements indicate that only divine envoys (or maybe rare initiates) could attain this stage.
First of all, Heracles killed many wild beasts (violent archaic vital forces or forces of the subtle worlds opposing all transformation) «to prepare the roads of the future», that is to say humanity’s future evolution, more particularly to facilitate the path for those who will follow the steps of these adventurers of consciousness. Indeed, one could consider that the individual yoga ends with the fight against the Amazons and that is where the yoga for humanity begins.
Then, the seeker must experience the first manifestations of the supramental energy (Heracles was bothered by Helios’ heat), which are difficult to bear for today’s human nature.
Then, by building the Pillars of Heracles in Tartessos (Heracles’ Columns) which indicate the western limits of inhabited land, on the edge of Libya and Europe, the hero sets the extreme limits that no seeker could claim passing according to the elders. Here we are talking about the limits of the liberation process in the incarnation (Libya) and the expansion of consciousness (Europe) of he who has become a «seer »; passing Heracles’ Columns is to surpass the states of wisdom and sanctity.
Diodorus of Sicily, historian of the Ist century BC (and thus a relatively late source for us) evokes the famous columns in these terms (4.18.5): « It is said that, to leave an immortal memory of his expedition, Heracles brought the extremities of both continents, which were very distant before, closer to each other through a dyke leaving only a narrow passage to the sea water, thus preventing the ocean’s cetaceans to enter the inner sea: this colossal work perpetuated Heracles’ memory. Some claim that, on the contrary, both continents being sealed, Heracles opened the isthmus, thus creating the straits which connects today the Ocean and our sea. Everyone is free to adopt one or the other of these two views».
In this passage, two opposing realisations are being reported, which could be attributed to the avatars as part of their mission to help humanity in key moments of its evolution.
It is thus possible to consider them simultaneously on an individual and collective plane.
First of all, the impossibility for some vital forces to penetrate the being, the realised purity (or the union with the divine) constituting an impassable barrier (the Ocean’s cetaceans can no longer enter the inner sea). This halt would be the consequence of the rapprochement between spirit and matter (two continents which were formerly far apart from each other).
On the collective plane, this could be a definitive end to the action of some forces which must leave the manifestation, since they are no longer useful for its