Friday, February 27, 2015

Name Your Poison: Hydra in the Chiron Myth

Article © 2015 by Joyce Mason

According to WiseGEEK, the Hydra or Lernaean Hydra was a many headed monster in Greek mythology. Hydra terrorized visitors near the Lake of Lerna in classic Greece. This region of springs and a former lake was located near the east cost of the Peloponnesus, and its site became the famous lair of the horrendous water snake. It was an arrow dipped with her poison blood that led to Chiron’s incurable wound. Everything in a mythical story is symbolic, and I had a light bulb moment about Hydra’s meaning that made me want to explore her further and share it with you.

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


LB said...

Great post, Joyce.:) Don't you love it when those light bulbs start turning on? Since I just left a comment on another astrological site about a dream I had that (indirectly) relates to this, I'll go out on a limb and take a stab at it.

Hydra protected the entrance to the underworld, representing the deep, metaphorical place where all our personal and collective shadows dwell.

As you've already pointed out, those repressed, unconscious and unintegrated emotions can become toxic. What we repress, we're more likely to project, harming both ourselves and others in the process ~ it's easier to fight an outer demon than it is to acknowledge and heal our inner ones, easier to attack an outside enemy than it is to get to the root of our pain so we can surrender our bitterness and forgive.

The only way to render the serpent vulnerable was to leave it with ONE head, possibly symbolizing the wholeness that comes with an integration of inner forces and acceptance of our own (shared) vulnerability.

Fire, (which Jung said symbolized psychological transformation) was used to purify and cauterize the wounds so they could heal rather than grow again.

The serpent is a universal symbol, used throughout time to guard sacred spaces. It can represent our lower temptations, the toxic poisons we store up and spew out, as well as our inner wisdom, the compassionate medicine that heals.

One last thought is this. There are parallels here to another story, that of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane as he was about to be taken prisoner, later to be crucified:

"And behold, one of those who were with Jesus reached and drew out his sword, and struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, 'Put your sword back into its place; for all those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword." Matthew 26:51-52

Luke 22:49-51 takes it a step further, saying Jesus also *healed* the soldier's ear:

"When they which were about him saw what would follow, they said unto him, 'Lord, shall we smite with the sword?' And one of them smote the servant of the high priest, and cut off his right ear. And Jesus answered and said, Suffer ye thus far. And he touched his ear, and healed him."

Difficult as it is, when we learn to return kindness for unkindness, we heal others and ourselves ~ which doesn't preclude the value in doing the hard inner work to develop our inner wisdom so we make healthier and more *conscious* choices.:)

LB said...

Except for maybe the last part, I do realize I only elaborated on what you already said, Joyce.:)

Joyce Mason said...

Thanks for expounding on this topic crucial to all healing, LB. I really appreciate what you've added to the discussion. There is no human being immune to "the poison of the Hydra." I'm so glad I finally was able to connect the dots about why this was Chiron's poison. Thanks, especially, for one more parallel between the lives of Jesus and Chiron. There are many common threads in various myths from multiple traditions about a savior, teacher, death/resurrection and healing. Core truths seem to continue in the collective psyche regardless of culture or time.

LB said...

Joyce ~ Your post must've stirred something up because I dreamed of a snake this morning, a huge green serpent that wrapped itself around my right arm. It looked me in the eye, then uncoiled itself and slithered away.:)