Nine Deadly Sins with Coffee, part 50 – Snakes Down Below


Water Snake HydraFlatAA

Nine Deadly Sins with Coffee, part 50 – Snakes Down Below


“Scary stuff!” said John, smiling at my carefully planned opening. I carried on using my twisting hand and wrist to greet him, as though both were parts of a snake.

“Okay…enough,” I said, feeling my wrist muscles start to ache, “And I know I’m eight of them short…”

“Need some hydration?” he asked, with a cheeky grin, passing me my latté.

I broke into a laugh at the play on words. “Funnier that it should have been,” I chuckled.

“So…” said John, wringing his hands in mock delight. “Tell me about the Hydra and what part it played in the spiritual education of Heracles.”

“Well, then…” I sipped my hot coffee, savouring Rose’s skills with the old Italian machine which chuntered in the corner near the entrance to the kitchen. “It’s quite a simple one: Heracles has to locate a nine-headed snake monster–the Hydra–and kill it… more killing…”

“Perhaps ‘slay’ might be better?”

“Slightly different meaning?” I queried. “More righteous, perhaps, less gratuitous?”

John nodded. “I think so. Less like cold-blooded or drunken murder?”

“Yes, that’s good…” I drank some more coffee and decided that ‘slaying’ felt better.

“And there are nine heads to the beast, so you’re on home ground?”

It was obvious what he meant–the Greeks’ choice of nine ‘heads’ mapped perfectly onto the enneagrams of personality. But the enneagram hadn’t been around back then, though a nine-sided figure called the enneagon was a known form.

“Is it that simple?” I asked.

“I think we are entitled to take that short cut.” he replied. “As serious students of the nine divisions of the human personality, we get a free ride on this one… Know any more Greek nines that might help us justify that stance?”

“Just the Nine Muses,” I said. “Inspiration for most of the creative activities, from poetry to song to dance to astronomy…”

“One for a different day, then,” John said, “But it all adds up to the fact that the Greek philosophers believed that there were nine facets, over many dimensions, to the human soul…” He drank some of his coffee, looking pensive. “So, where did he find the Hydra?”

“In a swamp,” I said; then realised my mistake as I noticed his smile. “In the lowest part of the psychic anatomy of himself…”

John inclined his head in agreement, “Much better,” he said, “and did he just stumble over the creature?”

I thought about that, seeing through the myth with the help of his prompting. “No, he had to send flaming arrows into the swamp to get the Hydra to reveal itself!” The imagery was suddenly startling, “So he had to shine light–consciousness down into the depths of his being…”

“Very good. And did the Hyrdra put up a fight?”

I thought about the image of Heracles wrestling a losing battle with the Hydra. “A hell of a fight… Every time Heracles cut off one of the heads, another two grew in its place.”

“Like attacking a weed that’s ready to drop its seeds!”

“Just like that,” I smiled. “And he only won the battle when he remembered some paradoxical advice that he should ‘kneel to grow’. “

“He knelt before the Hydra?” said John, looking horrified.

“Only so that he could pull the thing up by its roots, instead of attacking its weedy blossoms,” I said, flippantly.

“So he won by taking it from its source of energy?” asked John.

“Yes, by holding it up to the light – or fire in some versions – the heads died and the creature that was the Hydra perished; or rather; became a single immortal head that Heracles buried deep in the mud, in case he ever needed it…”

“And what would he use it for?” asked John, leaning forward.

“To use its vast energy in a ‘sober’ manner.” I said, replaying the dominant image from our last week’s conversation.

He smiled at me with warmth. “I’d say we could move on to slay something else now, wouldn’t you?”

(Image – composite by author. Underlying image of water snake from Wikipedia, used under Creative Commons licence:


Nine Deadly Sins with Coffee is usually published on Thursdays.


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