For the fourth test, Eurystheus imposed upon Heracles to bring him back alive the wild boar that had its lair on the massive Erymanthus and ravaged the lands below.
On his way, he was received by the Centaur Pholos who offered him roasted meats while he ate them raw. Heracles asked him for some wine. Pholos being afraid of opening the jar which belonged to all the centaurs, Heracles reassured him and opened it himself. Attracted by the aroma, the other Centaurs of Arcadia rushed to them, armed with rocks and trees. Heracles pushed them back with firebrands and killed some, while others went to the southern tip of the Peloponnese to Cape Malea where lived Chiron, the wisest of them all. The latter had taken refuge when he was driven out of Thessaly by Lapithae led by Pirithous and Theseus. (The other Centaurs driven out of Thessaly took refuge in Arcadia.)
Heracles returned to the Centaur’s home to find him dead. In fact, while the latter was contemplating one of the hero’s arrows which he had removed from the injury of one of his congeners, wondering how such a small thing could kill a Centaur, he had inadvertently dropped it on his foot and was killed immediately. Heracles gave him a magnificent funeral and then resumed the hunt for the wild boar, pursuing him in the deep snow. After capturing him, he brought him back alive to Mycenae.
Following the labour, Heracles still had some trouble with the Centaurs, particularly during the attempted rape of his second wife Deianira by the Centaur Nessus. Finally, in a last gallop, the Centaurs disappear into Eleusis where there was an access to Hades.
Some versions of the myth add that before all things, Heracles had first to rid the country of the robber Sauros “lizard”, symbol of the lukewarm, of inertia and of laziness. This half-hartedness or tepidity is castigated in all initiation schools because the seeker always has good reasons to feel sorry for himself or to postpone what he knows to be the right action.
If the boar’s symbolism is vast in ancient mythologies, the episode of the Centaurs associated with this labour leads us to consider that this boar hunt referred to the purification and control of the most archaic vital energies.
It should be noted that the hero has no mandate to kill the wild boar but only to bring it back alive to Mycenae. It is therefore more an awareness and a “control”, a first rejection, rather than an eradication work, which will be the subject of another famous adventure “the hunt for the wild boar of Calydon “led by Meleager son of Oeneus, “divine inebriation”. The latter continues this fourth labour of Heracles within the lineage of Iapetus and Protogenia (adventurers of the ascension of the planes of consciousness).
Here, the seeker should only hunt the wild boar in the deep snow, that is to say, isolate him in purity to limit his influence. Snow is also perhaps a sign of pacification of that energy.
Like all labours, this is a long process and the seeker will encounter throughout the quest the energies which, chased out of the mind, take refuge in the vital subconscious and from there even deeper, into the corporeal unconscious.
The boar, animal whose characteristic is to wallow in the mud, represents the manifestations of gross vital, primary, wild, brutal, insensitive energy which is not subjected to discernment, which the seeker will have to tackle when the time comes, when he has acquired sufficient spiritual strength. This energy was the support of the first steps of the vital ego which was being mentalised. It represents the animal impulses and its primary desires serving a stammering mental. It sticks in the subconscious memory: it may be that which wants to enjoy immediate and unhindered pleasure, the pleasure of destroying, the will to grab in the image of the voracity of the wild boar, etc. All humans are carriers of these memories and it is futile to expect them to be ignored.
However, the hunt for the boar cannot be frontal because the corresponding energies have been largely controlled by social rules during millennia of evolution. They are no longer visible in present humanity, or at least not in ordinary periods of peace.
When this boar hunt concerns advanced seekers, it joins the fights against the Centaurs. In fact the latter sometimes represent very advanced achievements obtained despite the persistence of a part of the vital that is not purified yet, and probably thanks to it. Chiron and some others describe its most evolved forms.
This vital power is illustrated by their food (raw meat), their fear of fire (incompatibility of their nature with the spiritual fire that purifies), and it is disrupted as a result of special circumstances (shown here with the wine) when it is no longer regulated.
The Centaurs are described as half-man, half-horse creatures. In the most ancient representations, they have a man’s body which is attached from the waist to the back of a horse (it is always the case with Chiron and almost always for Pholos while the other centaurs have become progressively more equine, with the forelimbs of a horse).
They can only be combated at an advanced stage of the path and that is why, at the beginning of the quest, they were just expelled from Thessaly. Heracles pursued them to Cape Malea in Laconia. Some say the surviving Centaurs disappeared during a last run to Eleusis through a passage leading into Hades (they took refuge in the corporeal unconscious).
Some Centaurs have a specific purpose:
Nessus “evolution of a powerful human consciousness” supported by the vital, who fled to Aetolia beside the river Euenos “vast evolution” where he played the role of passer “to another stage of evolution”. He attempted to rape Deianira (to get “detachment” by force) and was killed by Heracles.
Eurytion, who combines “a powerful mental development” to the vital was killed by the hero in the sixth labour.
Pholos is described as a shy Centaur Heracles should reassure, that is to say a symbol of a withdrawal of the action. At an advanced stage of the yoga, what seems to be some little insincerity, a desire or a trivial and insignificant attachment (the poisoned arrow) can cause immense damage to the spiritual progress and even stop “the penetration of consciousness in order to obtain liberation” (killing Pholos, Φ + Λ, when the arrow fell on his foot).
Chiron the Centaur, who represents the highest achievement of mastery over the vital without however a thorough purification and full integration of the dualities is discussed in a later chapter.
The final victory over the most archaic animal behaviour (the wild boar) is obtained when a perfect equanimity or equality of the mind is established. The first victories on this path are won in the hunt of the Calydonian boar in which the confrontation is direct and merciless.
We will discuss the lineage of the Centaurs in detail in a later chapter, while studying the war that led the Lapithae against them with Pirithous at their head, the friend of Theseus. One of Homer’s heroes say that he never saw fighters as valiant as the Lapithae, those who faced “wild beasts from the great heights”.
It is said that the Centaurs were born from a “cloud” of Hera and therefore are symbols of seekers inclined to spiritual delusion, those believing to be very “advanced” although the vital purification is not completed. The name Centaur could mean “one who is guided by the fire”.
Hereunder is a text of Sri Aurobindo (in “Letters on Yoga”) who seems to best describe the hunt for the wild boar of Erymanthus. The latter had noticed that this lower vital opposition awoke within the disciples, regardless of their accomplishments and aspirations in the higher planes of the being.
“The capital defect, one that has always been an obstacle in the way, and is now detaching so obviously, lies or is at least concentrated in the lower vital. I mean that part of the physical-vital nature and its little stubborn selfishness that moves the outer human personality, which supports its surface thoughts and dominates its habitual way of feeling, his character, and his actions. (…) Everything that can exist in the upper parts: aspiration to truth, devotion or the will to overcome obstacles and defeat hostile forces, cannot become full, cannot remain pure (unmixed) and or intact nor remain effective as long as the lower vital and the external personality have not accepted the Light and consented to change.
(…) The difficulty of the lower vital being is that it is still allied to its old self and is in revolt against the light;
(…) Nothing we could acquire before, no inner light, no experience, no power, no Ananda (joy) has value if its transformation does not happen.
(…) The lower vital is based on a constantly renewed affirmation of the old personality and past forms of the lower nature. (…) It tacitly or explicitly claims the right to obey its nature – its unregenerate human nature – its right to be itself, its original self, natural and unchanged, with all the lies, ignorance and inconsistency that characterize this part of the being
(…) It is therefore necessary to describe some of these forms because they are frequent enough to a greater or lesser extent depending on the person to require being unmasked with force and clarity.
1. A certain vanity, arrogance, a rajasic (active) vehemence in the manner of being assertive. (…) This is accompanied by excessive self-love. (…) To a lesser extent, these defects – vanity, arrogance, rajasic violence – are found in most human natures. They can take other forms but are nonetheless a great obstacle to any genuine spiritual change.
2. Disobedience and indiscipline. This lower part of the being is always capricious, stubborn, authoritarian and unwilling to accept that an order or discipline contrary to his idea or his impulses be imposed upon him. (…) This (the discipline) seems to be an immediate reflex, irresistible, instinctive …
3. Concealment and falsehood in words; (…) Very often, what appears in the sadhak (seeker) is not simply an exaggeration or an abuse of imagination embroidering around the real truth, but also a refusal and an alteration of the facts as much as a dissimulation which distorts them…
4. A dangerous habit of constantly justifying oneself …
This yoga can only be done by those who are prepared to commit fully to it and to abolish their little human ego and its demands in order to find themselves in the Divine. It cannot be done in a spirit of levity or laxity … it cannot be done if the human mind asserts itself or if we let ourselves be deliberately led by the requirements, instincts and pretensions of the Lowest part of the being that is generally justified under the label of human nature … It cannot be done if you claim “freedom” for your human mind and vital ego.
All parts of the human being have the right to speak and to satisfy themselves as they wish, at their own risks and perils, if such is the choice of the man as he leads the ordinary life. But taking the path of yoga, whose sole purpose is to replace these human things with the law and power of a greater Truth, and whose method is essentially a submission to the divine Shakti (the divine power of realisation of the Divine), and continuing at the same time to claim this alleged freedom is nothing but being a slave to certain ignorant cosmic forces; it is to indulge in a blind contradiction and claim the right to lead a double life.”