In Greek myth, Hades is not only the personification of the Underworld god Pluto, but also refers to his extensive Underworld kingdom. Mythological tradition and epic clearly differentiate the Underworld and the god Hades, who is regent of this place. The topography and atmosphere of this mythological nether world is symbolic of the sphere we are drawn into during a transit of Pluto and provides a context for the textures and shades of subterranean feelings experienced during this time.
Descent into the Underworld, or catabasis, is a common motif in myth, and this journey is undertaken for a variety of reasons. The journey to the Underworld crosses the crucial threshold between this world and the “other world” into the dark domicile of Hades. This classical theme is relevant to modern psychoanalysis, because this heroic pilgrimage is a vivid metaphor for the therapeutic descent into the repressed, taboo, and unknown aspects of self. Carl Jung suggested that the journey into the self was akin to this mythic descent to Hades,2 a journey he personally described in his autobiography. At the age of 38, Jung experienced his own descent. He wrote that
“the ground literally gave way beneath my feet and I plunged down into the dark depths.”3
A historian recently conducted a survey of 2,500 years of attitudes towards melancholia and depression; he concluded that two images consistently recurred in these states: “being in a state of darkness and being weighed down”4 — in other words, the descent into Hades. Jung’s descent into this “empty space” followed his acrimonious break with Freud and the eruption of turbulent feelings in his marriage fueled by his affair with Toni Wolff. Later he would describe this episode in his life as his Nekyia, the ritual in which Odysseus summoned the shades (the souls of the departed) from the Underworld to receive guidance about the next phase of his journey. […]
Familiarizing ourselves with the terrain of Hades helps us to psychologically appreciate the realm we are drawn into during periods of depression, disillusionment, existential doubt, or major life transitions. For astrologers, this amplifies our understanding of Pluto and the cyclical process, which takes place during Pluto transits.
When Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades defeated the Titans, the three brothers drew lots to divide the various spheres of the world, once governed by their Titan father Cronus. It was not chance, but the hand of fate that oversaw the choice of their inherited dominions. Poseidon, speaking through the voice of the poet Homer in The Iliad, tells us how this happened:
I when the lots were shaken drew the gray sea to live in
forever; Hades drew the lot of the mists and the darkness,
and Zeus was allotted the wide sky, in the cloud and the bright air.
But earth and high Olympos are common to all three.”5
The three brothers are each allotted a section of the world, dividing the Earth amongst themselves. Hades’ portion is the realm of darkness and the domain of the shades underground. As the lord of death and rebirth, he is the silent and invisible brother who removes himself from the affairs of the Olympian family yet senses the life of the family at its deepest levels.
As the guardian of shades, Hades is given the care-taking role for what remains repressed in both the individual and the family: secrets, shame, buried passions, unexpressed grief and loss, severed attachments, unresolved endings, negative and toxic feelings. He is the custodian of what is buried alive that becomes the inherited complexes and patterns for successive generations. Unlike his brothers, he wants only one partner; with Zeus’s blessing, he abducts Kore6 into his Underworld palace. Even though Hades is to share “high Olympos,” he ventures there only once, perhaps twice, choosing to remain in the Underworld.7 After Hades drew his lot, claiming rulership of the Underworld, he relinquished his place in the Olympian pantheon for the world below.
Hades was devoured by Cronus and spent his formative years “in the belly” of his terrible father. Cronus was aware of the cycle of fate and feared that his own progeny would oust him, as he had done to his father, Uranus. Unlike Zeus, who escaped this fate of being devoured, Hades became accustomed to the interior of his father’s womb, familiar with the sense of being internal and invisible. His mythic realms are also interior and introverted; few images or altars survive to remind us of his worship or importance in cult. […]
Before Homer, the gods of the deep and dark were honoured within the community, for they were recognised as an essential part of the cycle of life and “amongst the oldest possessions of […] religious faith.”11 However, by the Homeric period, the Underworld had been “sidelined” from the experience of everyday life and had become a gloomy land of shades, a depository for souls cast off from earthly life. […] Even before Homeric times, Hades was underhand, below the ground. As he became banished farther away from consciousness, he also became correspondingly more underhanded, less trustworthy. (Ironically, strongly Plutonian individuals often constellate potent Underworld feelings of envy, resentment, or intimidation in others; yet, at their core, these are trustworthy people whom you would count on in life-or-death situations.)
As regent over this once dark yet fertile place, Hades is now associated with the dark as dreadful, secretive, and taboo. Hades symbolises these darker aspects of psychic life, once accessible or underhand: Loss, rage, jealousy, grief, and death are his aspects of psyche.13 A Hades-denying culture banishes death, darkness, and negative feelings. When overly identified with ego, these repressed feelings surface as despair, loss of meaning, a sense of dislocation, or a feeling of being lost or invisible. […]
By the 8th century B.C.E., Homer has described Hades as “the most abhorrent” of all the gods.14 His face is now so terrible and frightening that we learn to speak of him euphemistically. Today, as students of astrology, we tend to remember the key word “transformation,” forgetting Pluto’s fearful face of death and all the negative emotions associated with this archetype. By idealizing the transformational qualities of Hades/Pluto, we remain ignorant of the dark feeling life, trying to avoid or overcome them rather than embracing them. […]
The Names of Hades
Pluto, the most common of [His] names, is derived from Plutus, meaning “wealth.”15 This title of the “rich man,” or the “wealthy one,” suggests the treasures beneath the Earth, a reminder of the rich internal psychic world. This epithet invokes the ancient link between the Underworld and the agricultural gods, suggesting transformative new possibilities underneath conscious experience. Pluto symbolises the immense resources hidden in the interior of the Earth or, metaphorically, in the Underworld of the psyche. These riches also refer to the abundant amount of shades and ghosts that populate Hades’ territory. Subjectivity is Pluto’s realm; when he is honoured, the richness of the interior world can be tapped through dreams, images, and symbols.
Dreams appear in the stillness of sleep when the extroverted world becomes invisible, and consciousness yields to unconsciousness. Hades’ world of shades and shadows is a resourceful place, the transformational aspect of the astrological Pluto. Facing what was previously invisible to us allows us to see the wealth buried or hidden to our conscious self. Resurrecting this hidden value and placing it back into conscious life […].
Ais (or Aides) was an epithet for Hades which meant “the invisible,” or “the unseen.” Hades was given a helmet of invisibility which, when worn, rendered him invisible. […] The helmet covers the head’s thoughts, ideas, and intentions, rendering our natural strategies helpless. When Hades surfaces above the Underworld, he is invisible; he cannot be recognized. In psychological terms, this refers to the absence of persona; there is “no thing” to mask this god. Hades does not hide behind images but confronts us with what lies below the mask of conscious personality and identity. A mask hides the depth; often during a major Pluto transit, the mask is ripped away to expose what lurks behind it. Hades appears from the shadows with no warning; therefore, there is no conscious mechanism to respond to what he unearths. Our normal defense mechanisms and masks are powerless in Hades’ realm. […]
Another epithet for Hades is Eubuleus,16 meaning “good counsel” or “benevolent counselor.” The epithet refers to Hades’ wise counsel: images and feelings that rise from deep inside — even though they may be labeled as irrational. Eubuleus in Greek myth was also an oracular swineherd who witnessed Hades’ abduction of Persephone. Hades’ realm is one of loss, especially the loss of our attachments. When he appears on the surface of our life, he demands a sacrifice: to let go of what is no longer destined to be part of our life. This epithet reminds us of Hades’ instinctual wisdom about the cyclical nature of life, the sense of “gut knowing,” being uncompromising and blatantly honest — all the qualities that Pluto evokes.
Sometimes, the god of the Underworld was referred to as Zeus Chthonios. Chthonios suggests “in the earth,” and this epithet refers to “Zeus of the lower world.” When Zeus became the bright god of Olympus, his dark shadow was projected upon Hades. Being brothers, these two symbolize the polarity of light and dark: Zeus is triumphant and heavenly; Hades is invisible and subterranean. This epithet reminds us that wisdom (Zeus/Jupiter’s sphere) embraces both realms. Hades had been devoured by his father, Cronus, whereas Zeus had not. Each brother accesses a different way of knowing. Zeus continued this legacy by swallowing Metis (a goddess of wisdom and instinctual understanding); his way of knowing is to conquer and to triumph. Hades is more familiar with not knowing, being engulfed in the darkness of uncertainty; Hades’ intelligence is instinctual and deeply intuitive.
With the epithet of Polydegmon, “the receiver of many guests,” Hades is remembered as the god who receives his guests into the Underworld. Guest friendship was an important custom in ancient Greece. (“Ghost” shares a common root with the words “guest,” “host,” “hospitality,” and “hospice.”)
Hades, as Polydegmon, reminds us to offer safe asylum to the ghosts of our past and the shades of the Underworld. When ghosts are banished, they transmute into aspects of soul that haunt us until they are recognised and acknowledged. […] This is the face of Hades who is willing to receive us yet demands that we abide by the customs of the Underworld. The Underworld has its own mores, and Hades requires us to be unmasked and exposed to the integrity of our deepest urges. If not, we risk becoming a shade of our former self, lost or imprisoned in the dark regions of the Underworld. When we are drawn into Hades’ realm, we must be prepared.
© 2001 Brian Clark – all rights reserved
Brian Clark is the co-founder of the Chiron Centre, a multidisciplinary centre in Melbourne, Australia, where he is one of the main tutors of a four-year program in applied astrology called Astro*Synthesis. He is the author of The Sibling Constellation: The Astrology and Psychology of Sisters and Brothers.