Hero of Coins: Hercules
Hercules’s vigor for life is so strong that he wrestles the god Death to prevent him from taking away life. The life Hercules is fighting for is not even his own. Hercules ~ at least at this moment ~ is the quintessential hero, risking himself to protect another.
In this story, Hercules plunders into King Admetos’s home during the funeral of Queen Alcestis. The queen sacrificed herself to save her husband. Despite the rude interruption to such solemn proceedings, Admetos is kind to Hercules. This compounds Hercules’s sense of shame in his own audacity. To atone, Hercules intercepts Death from carrying Alcestis to Hades, winning her life by preventing her soul’s departure.
Hercules is supremely competent with his physical power. He fights for life and breath. To honor this spirit of the Hero of Coins, we don’t have to be the biggest or the strongest. We just have to appreciate the body we have and use our physical abilities such as they are.
If we can’t run, jog. If we can’t jog, walk. And if we can’t walk, move in any way we can. Deliberately and with appreciation.
Taking command of our physicality may be sitting up of our own accord after a long illness, or it may be completing a triathlon. It doesn’t matter, so long as we exert ourselves within our capacity.
The Hero of Coins symbolizes the thriver and the survivor. If we lose the battle, we love what is left to us and we’re proud that we love life enough to fight for it. This card is a celebration of life to the last and of everything that comes before.
In the Shadow
Hercules can overpower any challenge or enemy with brute force. He is a masterful leader and strategist, skillfully utilizing the resources at his disposal. But in the shadow of this competence, Hercules can be bereft of moral authority. Empathy and complex reasoning skills are lacking. He sees, he wants, he takes.
The perversion of the Hero of Coins is the “law of the jungle” and “might makes right.” In this sense, Hercules is not an ideal of humility or justice. He is a man with anger management issues. Throughout his adventures, he used strength and force to achieve his goals, and justice did not always play a central role.
As our authority and physical power grow, our responsibility and sense of humility must also increase. While we may be celebrated by those who benefit from our cruel victories, history will also record the laments of our victims.
This is the lesson the Pythia, priestess Oracle of Delphi, tried to teach Hercules. At one point, she refused to absolve him of murder (one of many). He responded with hubris and attempted to steal her sacred tripod throne.
On two other occasions, the Oracle at Delphi prescribed penance for murders he committed. She sent him into servitude, first to King Thespius who dictated the twelve famous labors of Hercules, and then to the Queen Omphale who made him live as a woman for a year.
These were meant to teach Hercules to serve and be humble, but met with mixed success, perhaps partly because his overseers used Hercules’s strength and abilities for their own gain and pleasure.