Article © 2015 by Joyce Mason
Hydra was the epitome of the word diehard. Killing her was beyond challenging. Two heads grew back whenever one was cut off. Hercules, Chiron’s dearest student, got the idea of cauterizing the neck before new heads would have a chance to sprout. He ultimately defeated the monster as part of his tasks known as the Twelve Labors of Hercules.
The Hydra myth is as diehard as she was, and “hydra” is sometimes used to describe a challenge that gets bigger and harder to handle, no matter how hard someone tries to “behead” it. The monster is often described as a bouncer, of sorts, at the entrance to the underworld—very Plutonian. Hydra has been described as having anywhere from five to many heads, though nine is the most repeated number. According to Greek Mythology Wiki, it is generally said that eight of her heads were mortal and one immortal—the immortal head being the only one which could not be harmed by a weapon. She had poisonous breath and blood which compounded her treachery.
If myths express psychological patterns and are culturally ingrained teaching tools, why did the poison that couldn’t quite kill Chiron come from this strange beast?
Playing the Symbols
First, the Hydra is a water creature. She epitomizes feelings out of control. What we think about something determines how we feel about it. This was one pissed-off lady. If she had a shoulder, she’d have a chip on it. (Make that chips.) Feelings become poisonous when we don’t use our heads to control our impulses. The control of impulses what was the wise centaur Chiron was all about, because we have the wild centaurs as examples of what happens when half-men or humans don’t.
But, second, Hydra had way too many heads. And if she was fomenting things in all those “minds” that led to her extreme toxicity, she is an icon for “thoughts are things” at its worst.
Many of us are only too familiar with the poison of endless, negative thought loops. When we are wrong-headed, we can try to cut off our thoughts, but it seems that ten more heads full of monkey mind crop up to replace the original toxic mantra until we chop off and cauterize our own poisonous thinking.
Lastly, Hercules thought he had killed this beast, but he did not really let her go. He carried her with him. He harvested her poison for his own purposes, which backfired terribly in the arrow that went astray, wounding his beloved mentor Chiron. How many of us take the poison of past relationships and battles with us? I don’t think there’s a partner alive who hasn’t found him- or herself projecting onto their current mate the toxins of battles fought with people from the past. This is a cautionary tale about letting go completely.
In the end, we are wounded by rage and pain we don’t let go and often, inadvertently, by those who love us the most. Hydra seems hyperbolic as a choice of the poison that caused Chiron so much pain, but as we see in patterns of abuse of all kinds; the abuse lives on until someone cuts off and cauterizes all those heads and leaves the poison behind. Many innocents suffer the consequences until that happens.
These are my thoughts, so far, on Hydra and her part in the Chiron myth. I’d love to hear yours.
Photo Credit: Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons, Hercules – 1921 by John Singer Sargent