August 26, 2010


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Identity: Hound of Hell

Description: Three-headed dog that guards the gates of Hades.

Symbol: The watchdog

The Greek Myth

According to one legend, Cerberus, the mighty watchdog who guarded the gates of Hades, was possessed of fifty heads and a voice of bronze. His parents were Typhoeus and Echidna. More generally, he was portrayed with three heads bristling with serpents. Either way, he was a pretty terrifying sort of character, and once inside his gates there was little chance of escape. The gentle Orpheus managed to subdue him, however, with sweet music and song, which was probably the early Greeks’ way of telling us that the energies from our primordial past, which sometimes surface through our subconscious minds, are best tamed by gentleness and harmony.

Hercules’ twelfth Labour consisted of fetching Cerberus from his subterranean portal to the world above and bringing him to the palace of Eurytheus as evidence of the fulfilment of his task, after which the hound was allowed to return to its own chthonic domains. The Hero prepared for this perilous feat by presenting himself for initiation into the Eleusinian Mysteries and seeking the aid of Hermes, divine patron of travellers. In other words, the myth is telling us that we sometimes need to prepare mentally for life’s most arduous tasks, a healthy body alone being insufficient to guarantee us safe conduct through the darker regions of the mind.

Upright Meanings

A challenge. Sub-conscious protection. Resourcefulness. An obstacle to be overcome. The key to those hidden compartments of the mind that communicate through the symbolic language of dreams.

Reversed Meanings

Letting oneself down. Being caught napping. Sub-merged frustrations. The inability to pass beyond a certain point in life. Recurring problems.

Psychological Comment

On the positive side, Cerberus can be a person’s best friend – providing they handle him correctly, and the best way to do that is through understanding and kindness. This, of course, applies to the handling of the Self, which should be undertaken with gentle but firm discipline. Anything less encourages the sort of difficulties that cause the doors to the next step in life’s development to seem permanently closed.

In order to find the solution to recurring problems – especially those that surface in our dreams – it is sometimes necessary for us to look beyond the purely obvious or logical. This is where mental resourcefulness enters the scene; the three heads of Cerberus represent the instinctive, the rational and the intuitive aspects of the psyche which, if in balance, can provide the key that opens the right door.

~ Words Murry Hope, Olympus: An experience in self-discovery, 1991.

 Coming Attraction: Wagging the Dog


One comment

  1. Looks to me like one of Cerberus’ heads is made of coffee?

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