Hail Hephaistos, preeminent craftsman;
Artful his style, bold his creation.
CHAPTER IX: THE HERMIT
Hephaistos, God of the Forge, is the personification of subterranean and
terrestrial fire, including human lustiness. The instinctive, libidinous
"fire down below" is echoed by the Tarot attribution of the spermatazoic
Yod, which means "hand" but represents the 'point' of the
phallus, particularly the sperm which projects from it. It represents
the longing for soul completion, or union through the sexual act.
This is reflected in the mythic versions where cuckolded Hephaestos is
married to Aphrodite. He also attempts the rape of Athena, but his
seed falls to the earth depotentiated. Thus he embodies the betrayed
and/or rejected lover. The Hermit is solitary, but not lonely. When
he seeks the antidote for isolation, he wants to seen, touched, reacted
to, to be intimately close to another human being. Even that partner
cannot walk his path with him, for we can only become self-realized alone.
His worship is probably derived from the Vedic god, Agni. His dominion
over primal fire ranges from the wild force of volcanic activity to the
harnessed fire of metallurgy. He is the archetypal mechanic or engineer.
Technological man has inherited his legacy, and his woundedness, and in
this regard Hephaestos shares something in common with Prometheus who stole
"fire" from the Gods. The boon carries a bane inherent within its
nature -- for one thing, he is preoccupied, even obsessed, with details.
We see this today in the obsessive loner techno-geek type.
Hephaistos was born of Hera alone. Some ancient authors say Hera
invented the legend of his virgin birth because he was conceived before
her marriage to Zeus. Others claim that he was conceived from Hera's
brooding over Zeus' creation of Athena. Since Hephaistos is credited
with striking the blow which released Athena from the cranium of Zeus,
this account seems confused. Yet, the mythic dimension is non-linear.
So when we compare accounts of exploits, there are discrepancies and variations
on the theme from different regions and times.
Whether Zeus fathered Hephaistos or not, he rejected him forthwith.
In one version, Hera abandoned him also, hurling her lame son into the
sea from Olympian heights. This rejection and abandonment led him
to judge himself as "imperfect" and his compensation was to achieve technological
perfection through his work.
Hephaistos was born with a birth defect; he was lame and twisted, and only
learned to walk with great difficulty. His appearance disgusted Hera,
and she tried to hide him from the Immortals. He was raised by sea
nymphs until the age of nine, when he made his existence known to the Olympians.
Already an artistically gifted inventor, Hephaistos sent Hera a beautiful
throne he made for her as a present. He was not only a craftsman,
but a crafty individual--the throne concealed a trap for his mother.
Hephaistos came back to Olympus on his own terms, demanding to know the
secret of his birth and seeking the beautiful Aphrodite as his bride.
Hera's heart softened when she saw her son, and she tempered her attitude
toward him. But Zeus never accepted him for how could he claim the
imperfect as his own creation? Hephaistos always took his mother's
side when they fought. Seeking to prevent Zeus from beating his mother,
another tale recounts how Zeus hurled Hephaistos down to earth. He
landed, half-dead, in the island of Lemnos where he was cared for by a
guild of dwarfish miners and metal-workers.
Here he took on his nature as the god of "earthy" fire. His name
is said to mean 'fire' or ruler of fire. Other than the metaphor
which associates him with lightning, he is distinguished from the celestial
fire of Zeus. Earthy fire promotes civilization by giving us the
ability to work metals. Hephaistos thus became the archetypal blacksmith,
characterized by his powerful upper body and the quality of his artistic
and mechanical creations. In ancient Greece it was customary for
lame men to become smiths.
Hephaistos kindles within us his own primordial desire. His creative
hand is "trying to grasp," both in the physiological and psychological
sense. He tries to grasp his mother's abandonment, his father's rejection,
and his own deformed nature. He represents man as the tool user,
equipped with an opposable thumb. It is the ability of the creative
hand to grasp which links Hephaistos with Trump IX, THE HERMIT, which corresponds
with the Hebrew letter Yod, which means "the hand," --specifically the
There are numerous ancient connections between Hephaistos and the pre-Olympian
Great Mother. Psychologically, this links the subterranean fire of
the smith-God with the dark, internal energies of the Mother's creativity.
He can't produce babies, so he copies the creativity of nature and produces
things carefully wrought by hand.
Some Jungians note that Hephaistian fire takes its light and energy from
the central fires which are at the heart of nature's creativity.
Therefore, Hephaistos is a split-off animus of the Great Mother.
He "mimics" the creative processes in the depths of the Mother and brings
his works of art to birth by technological means.
Even though he lacked physical symmetry and personal grace, his inventive
spirit found an area in which he could excel--the working of metals.
He is characteristically depicted as grasping his hammer and tongs in his
hands, ready to work and temper the raw metal. There was a STAR
TREK NG episode where the android Data has a vision of his creator,
Dr. Sung, forging a bird's wing. Data comes to realize that "he is
the bird," and his imagination takes flight as he claims another level
of his inheritance.
Hephaistos was a prolific artist, creating artifact after artifact of great
precision and beauty. Many appealed to him for his services.
Even the haughty Zeus came to him for help in punishing Prometheus and
men for the crime of stealing the celestial fire--consciousness.
Zeus commissioned Hephaistos to create the body of the first woman from
water and clay, taking care to make her a resplendent beauty. Zeus
breathed life into her. Pandora, a human-sized Great Mother with
her magic box of evils, misery, suffering, and disease was loosed on the
world. The woes of physical life come along with corporeal existence.
This myth about the origins of corporeal life coming from clay has been
confirmed by modern science. It is more than a metaphor. In
1985, NASA scientists showed that clay gives off life-promoting bursts
of ultraviolet radiation. It literally stimulates the growth of organic
molecules. Some clays respond likewise when exposed to gamma radiation.
This discovery led to the proposal of a new theory of human origins--that
we are the fruit of the soil. Other theories begin with "primordial
soup" or interstellar "seeding." Yet, ordinary clay acts like a chemical
factory by storing and transmitting energy. It can transform inorganic
raw materials into more complex molecules from which life arises.
In Genesis, Adam is formed of the "dust" of the earth.
Despite his own deformity and imperfection, or more likely because of it,
Hephaistos yearned for pleasures and aesthetic beauty. Therefore,
he sought and won the hand of Aphrodite. Their marriage symbolized
his addiction to pleasures of beauty, even though she cheated on him.
He also lusted after Athena, but again the pattern of his rejection prevailed,
revealing his faulty anima relationship.
As a result of his continual rejection, he is severely complexed.
He has an unconscious longing to reunite with his mother in an incestuous
relationship. This in is fact what cripples him -- his untransformed
desire to return to the comforting bosom of his Great Mother. Thus
he fluctuates radically between lust and guilt. He would give too
much to mother by serving her in a materialistic manner. He is too
pragmatic for his own good.
For her he rejects (as he was rejected) lofty abstractions and the impersonal
fantasy world of the spiritual father principle. He takes refuge
in the mother's realm of matter (mater=matter). Really, he seeks
the spiritual transformation both of his body, and by indirection, all
matter. He seeks what he didn't have--a father. As the projection
of Hera's inner masculinity, he embodies the process of change or psychic
transformation in his twisted, paradoxical body, which is half maimed,
He has the introverted personality of a cripple. His lame foot reflects
his mother-complexed soul and his spirit's structural damage. Unlike
the "handicapable," his spirit is where he is truly crippled. He
is a son with an absent, rejecting father. Therefore, he vows to
remain earthy, the very salt of the earth, with no celestial traits or
He must turn inward to hidden resources for comfort. In his introversion,
he is always willing to go to the depths of the unconscious (realm of the
Great Mother). He feels comfortable and "at home" in subterranean
depths of the subconscious. Since he had to be self-sustaining, he
learned to prefer solitude, and is somewhat withdrawn and remote.
His underground fire smolders with unresolved resentments.
So, as well as the physical representations like mechanics and technology,
Hephaistos is with us in such expressions as introversion, depression,
union activity, and Marxist philosophy. Perhaps, most psychologically
interesting, he is the motivating force behind the transformative processes
of alchemy, which are steeped in cryptic protocols.
Hephaistos, like THE HERMIT, seeks his illumination from within.
The secret impulse emerges as a vision which he holds to its manifestation
in reality. It is a practical philosophy based on what works.
His is one archetypal means of executing one's Will. Wisdom, prudence,
and circumspection guide the will. He is fertile in his own particular
way, which in its ultimate sense manifests as the fulfillment of THE GREAT
WORK. He shares the alchemical world (the mysteries of life) and
goals with Mercury, or Hermes.
Prometheus stole fire from the gods -- the fire of technological or scientific
knowledge. For this infraction he was chained to a mountain and his
liver was pecked at for a seeming eternity. We see it in the growing
pangs of the digital revolution: "We will create a civilization
of the Mind in Cyberspace. May it be more humane and fair than the world
your governments have made before. . . ." (John Perry Barlow). "One
of the digital world's most valuable commodities is the luxury of being
nobody - not somebody different, but nobody in particular" (Nicholas
Wired Magazine, Oct. '98).
As primal fire, we find the expression of Hephaistos not only within the
suppressed fires of volcanoes, but also within petroleum and its result,
the greenhouse effect. The unleashed fires of technologically created
nuclear energy reflect his split nature. Hephaistos turns a blind
eye to the toxic shadow-nature of his creations. These unforeseen
or ignored consequences are his pathologies played out in matter.
He is the evolutionary anomaly, technological man. Just as the Great
Mother prevents spiritual possibilities from emerging, so has our cultural
bias for technology at any price banished the philosopher from certain
areas of knowledge. Hephaistos seeks to proliferate, creating more
and more artifacts and innovations, rather than unifying information into
a coherent whole, and taking responsible action.
By encouraging specialization, Westerners have become mentally crippled--taught
to think in a narrow and restricted manner. Our experts are really
over-specialized professional corporate robots. Hephaistos rejects
his expansive father's philosophical worldview for a pragmatic materialism.
But technological man has a secret spiritual goal--to transform science
and thereby transform himself.
Hephaistos, the master technologist, is adroit at imitating the natural
creative process of his mother, nature; the forge emulates the fiery womb.
His artistic creative nature, apes or mimics the generative force of life.
He seeks his own way of fathering offspring on the mother (matter).
A couple of examples will make this assertion more clear. First,
this Hephaistian imperative has culminated historically in the military-industrial
complex. This is his creative effort channeled into producing the
deadly machinery of war, though he tends to shy away from conflict, unlike
his brother Ares. Hephaistos forms a politico-economic conspiracy
with Hera, and his combative brother Ares, and Hera's overachieving hero,
Hercules. They seek to dominate through force, inadvertently serving
yet succumbing to the patriarchy of Zeus.
Technological man has extracted the secret of atomic bonds from matter.
When a nuclear bomb explodes, the energy (E) locked in the mass (m) radiates
at enormous speed (C2). Conventional war has traditionally been considered
"good" for business, but this is obviously not the case with nuclear war.
But for years the "nuclear threat" has been big business--the so-called
defense business, (offense business).
Another toxic example of the Hephaistian shadow is the greenhouse effect,
the result of the burning of fossil fuel. Pollution ranges from the
drilling site to the refinery, to the milling of steel for cars, which
create 20% of the excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. This canopy
traps heat. Carbon dioxide molecules trap infrared waves which would
otherwise radiate back into space from the earth.
Other graphic cases of Hephaestian mimicry may be found in the fields of
biology, biochemistry, and molecular biology. Fundamental to all
these is the science of chemistry which is directly descended from the
psycho-physical science of alchemy. If the physical archetype for
Hera is the principle of molecular bonding, the Hephaestian chemist seeks
to delve into his mother's deepest secrets. At the same time he seeks
spiritual fathering by seeking recognition for his work. The biochemist
literally imitates his mother by aping nature's creative process in research
on recombinate DNA.
In ancient times, Hephaestos's creations were praised for being so "life-like."
Today, biopolymers like DNA (genetic substance) can be synthesized by these
scientists at will. They may be manipulated in many ways for the
desired result. We are on the verge of hybridizing our vegetables
with fish genes, and other weird genetic amalgamations. Thus, the
biochemist produces his offspring as a single-parent, through a "virgin"
birth, much as Hera conceived Hephaestos.
Through a process known as parthenogenesis, a female may produce offspring
alone, but this child is invariably female. This shows the self-generating
power of the Great Mother. Physically, this power is represented
in our human bodies by plasmids. Plasmids are bits of genetic substance
which float freely outside of the main genetic repository. They are
transmitted to any one individual through the mother only. They are
donated strictly from the egg. Thus, plasmids come only through the
matrilinear line of descent.
In unisex reproduction, exactly the same genetic information is passed
to each daughter cell, or clone. No fresh characteristics can be
inherited. Through technology, almost any gene--from a virus to a
frog to a man--could be spliced into a plasmid. It is then inserted
into an E. coli bacterium, and the transplanted DNA is copied down to the
minutest detail. Any product ordered by the inserted genes will occur
in the offspring. Thus bacterium are created, such as interferon,
and oil-digesting enzymes.
Recently fertility hormones have been cloned, also. Recombinant DNA
has produced two human fertility hormones. The hormones are polypeptide
chains which must have sugars added to them in order for the hormone to
be biologically active. Bacteria can't produce these, so molecular
biologists have "grown" them in mammalian cells. These clones tend
to be unstable, creating defects in replication, forming an archetype of
Another echo of Hephaistos in science is the newest advanced weapons system
being created around super ceramics. Remember how he created Pandora
of water and clay? Well, ceramics are neither organic substances
nor metals. They are formed of many materials, 90% of which comes
from the earth's crust. They are even stronger than metals in many
cases, because of unique bonding at the atomic level.
Other unique inventions include a new class of metals with the structure
of glass, known as "metallic glasses." Even more amazing are the
biochip implants being developed known as nanochips. These are biologically-based
computer chips formed of living tissues which would be infinitely faster
than today's silicon chips.
Nanotechnology is a new area being developed which makes use of extremely
small robotic assemblers, small enough to manipulate not only molecules,
but atoms. This is opening up an entire new era in engineering at
the subatomic level. The current goal is to build "nanites" which
can reproduce themselves--assemblers of assemblers. In ENGINES
OF CREATION, Drexler outlines many of the possible implications of
this fantastic scientific horizon, in health care, weapons, communications,
space travel, etc.
Technology is also working at creating a world of its own--VIRTUAL REALITY.
These computer-generated simulations, much like the Holodeck on Startrek,
create a universe where the programmer is essentially a god within that
world, as far as executing wishes which would be unattainable in consensus
reality. Uses range from a simple extrapolation of video games to
therapeutic application, to virtual sex. Controversy already exists
about the possible addictive quality of cyberspace over consensus reality.
For technology, "everything is made of materials;" matter or atoms or living
tissues have just become building blocks or components for technological
man. We can synthesize most of what Mother nature has made, and are
now attempting to create organic computers which could not only plug into
the brain, but also copy it. Organic polymers are carbon-based conductors
of electricity which could create the "Holy Grail" of science, the ultimate
chip. But despite all the efforts to instill life into these units,
will they be anymore than soulless robots?
Science has a rigid, though paradoxical, profile. Technological man
is obsessed with time, work, order, limits, learning, history, continuity,
survival and endurance. But at the same time he has a phallic drive
to inquire, quest, chase, search, and transgress all of nature's limits.
This is his pathos, his yearning for that which can never be fully recovered.
According to R. Buckminster Fuller, technology models principles from science.
A scientific principle becomes technology when someone invents a use for
it. Therefore, technology is the popularization of science.
It creates gadgets which bring mysterious principles into everyday experience.
Hephaestus can also be imagined in the discarded tissues of stem cell research.
The promise and perils of stem cell research have become one of medicine's
great hopes, and one of science's greatest political and ethical
dilemmas. But often lost underneath the arguments over the promise and
peril of stem cell research are nuances that don't fit with all the drama.
Despite a growing body of research, no one is sure whether these cells,
once taken out of the lab and turned into medical treatments, will
Stem cells, in their ability to morph into hundreds of different body tissues,
have challenged a central truism of medicine: Organs can't regenerate themselves.
A growing body of research supports the tantalizing potential of these
cells to create tissue and build organs. Recent studies have found
the ability for the cells to form everything from new blood vessels to
brain tissue. All 75 trillion cells in the human body originate from stem
cells -- unspecialized master cells that mature into specialized cells,
or renew cells that die or become damaged.
If these cells could be harnessed in the lab, perhaps they could
be employed to help repair the body by renewing damaged tissues in severe
disease and injury. Kinds of stem cells include embryonic stem cells, and
adult stem cells. Startling progress in using embryonic stem cells
has been used to create blood vessels, blood-forming cells, brain cells,
pancreatic cells, spinal tissue; adult cells have created heart muscle
tissue and blood vessels. Other hurdles are yet to be overcome. Scientists
still need to learn how cells make their choices to become a specific organ
or piece of tissue.
In "A Dim View of a `Posthuman Future" By Nicholas Wade, (2002), the human
mind and body are shaped by a bunch of genes, as the decoding of the human
genome seems to underscore. Biotechnologists will one day be able
to change both and perhaps, in seeking to refine the imperfect human clay,
will alter human nature. That prospect should be worrying a lot more
people, in the view of the political theorist Francis Fukuyama, because
history's central question "that of what kind of society best suits human
needs" has been settled only if human nature remains as it is, warts and
Dr. Fukuyama, now at the Washington campus of Johns Hopkins University,
is known for his widely discussed book "The End of History and the Last
Man," published in 1992, a few years after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
In it he argued that with the demise of communism, liberal democracy had
emerged without rival as a political system with universal appeal. The
challengers of this tempting thesis included Samuel P. Huntington of Harvard,
who argued that struggles between the world's major cultural groups would
predominate in a post-Communist world.
In his book, "Our Posthuman Future," he explores the ways in which
biotechnology may change the human essence. Despite his title, Dr. Fukuyama
has no taste for a rerun of history and believes a posthuman future is
one to avoid. The danger is the greater because those closest to
the action, scientists and bioethicists, cannot in his view be trusted
to raise the alarm. Scientists are interested in conquering nature while
many bioethicists, Dr. Fukuyama contends, "have become nothing more than
sophisticated and sophistic justifiers of whatever it is the scientific
community wants to do." His views are not academic; he has an official
voice on such matters as a member of the White House's Council on Bioethics.
Genetic engineering of the human germline, making permanent changes to
the genes in the egg or sperm, would pose the most direct threat to human
nature but other techniques bear watching, in his view. Mood changing drugs
could change society if taken widely enough, and Dr. Fukuyama says he wonders
whether Caesar or Napoleon would have felt the need to conquer Europe if
either had been able to pop a Prozac tablet occasionally.
Major increases in human longevity could also be disruptive, he fears,
because "life extension will wreak havoc with most existing age-graded
hierarchies," postponing social change in countries with aging dictators
and thwarting innovation in others. But the most serious threat to
the stability of human societies is genetic engineering that may alter,
by design or inadvertence, the special balance of contrarieties of human
nature. Human nature, Dr. Fukuyama argues, "is fundamental to our
notions of justice, morality and the good life."
By messing with the human genome in order to enhance intelligence or physique
or other desirable qualities, biotechnology may cause us "to lose our humanity”
that is, some essential quality that has always underpinned our sense of
who we are and where we are going," he writes. Science has had many critics,
but Dr. Fukuyama's warnings come from an unusual direction. His father,
Yoshio, a sociologist of religion, was an American of Japanese descent
who escaped internment in World War II, unlike several other members of
his family. Francis grew up in New York, not much exposed to Japanese culture,
studying classics at Cornell and political science at Harvard.
He spent the first part of his career as a Sovietologist at RAND Corporation,
the research group, and in between stints at RAND, he worked at the State
Department. It was in listening to a speech by Soviet President Mikhail
Gorbachev that Dr. Fukuyama had the idea for his first book. Hegel,
the 19th-century German philosopher, believed history would culminate in
a constitutional state or, in modern terms, a liberal democracy, whereas
Marx saw a communist state as the likely end point. Hearing Mr. Gorbachev
declare surprisingly in a speech one day that the essence of socialism
was competition, Dr. Fukuyama recalled in an interview, "I called up a
friend and said if Gorbachev was saying that, this is the end of history,"
meaning that Hegel's prediction had triumphed over Marx's.
Dr. Fukuyama's only expectation of the book he then wrote was that "my
political theorist friends would be vaguely amused." But "The End of
History" was too powerful and hopeful a guide to the post-Communist
world to be ignored. He argued that history was not a meaningless
cycle but had a direction imposed on it by the logic of modern science,
a direction that "would seem to dictate a universal evolution in the direction
of capitalism." Though the advanced industrialization made possible by
science and technology does not necessarily lead to political liberty,
Dr. Fukuyama wrote, the human desire for recognition, cited by Hegel as
the driving force of history, is best satisfied in a liberal democracy.
Though religion and culture can impede modernization, Dr. Fukuyama sees
no reason to suppose that the Islamic and other civilizations will not
in time adopt their own versions of liberal democracy. "The basic structure
of world politics continues to be the juggernaut of modernization as pioneered
by the West," he says. The optimism about science that imbues "The
End of History" is strikingly absent from "Our Posthuman Future."
Scientists' responsible record of self-regulation is now too undermined
by commercial ties to biotechnology companies for the same disinterested
behavior to be counted on.
Science and technology gave history its forward direction for the last
500 years, he says, but it is much less certain that biotechnology will
be handled with the same wisdom as previous innovations. Dr. Fukuyama
says he believes some things should be banned outright, like cloning people,
which he regards as immoral in itself and as the opener for worse things,
like enhancing human qualities by germline genetic engineering. Dr.
Fukuyama plans to devote the next few years to studying how biotechnology
should be regulated.
Occupations associated with Hephaistos include the following:
Hephaistos, God of the Forge, is the personification of subterranean and
terrestrial fire, including human lustiness. The 'volcanic' psychological
types combines the functions of sensation and feeling. A graphic
example of this primal combination of the fiery furnace and testosterone
happened to an art historian friend of mine in Malta when he inadvertently
found himself caught in what I have come to call an "archetypal storm,"
showing how primal these emotions can be. This scene in its primitive
setting is essentially unchanged from that of 1000 B.C. In the heat,
the sweat, the dirt, and the fire blatantly Hephaistos reveals his primitive
"It reminded me of the experience I had a few months ago while talking
technical matters over with a Maltese forger (bronze casting), a not unhandsome
fellow with a torn trouser leg which gave a clear view of his tightly fitting
jockey shorts. Behind him stood his Arab (?) assistant wrapped in
cloths that would have made Charles Dickens falter at describing a shirt
taken from a Caravaggio regatzzo (sp?) and a sort of wrap around trouser
skirt held together with the largest safety pin I've seen outside the circus.
He sat behind the Maestro while listening to the conversation which had
to be translated to him.
"I haven't the slightest idea of the origin of the behavior, even though
I am a psychologist (of sorts) but the fellow started playing with himself
and actually succeeded in "coming off" twice in thirty minutes while never
taking his eyes off me. I don't know whether the Maestro knew what was
going on or not, but in true well-bred Boston fashion I made out that nothing
was "going on". The odor of this Ishmaelic semen reached me at three yards
so I can only assume that Maestro was aware....which in true psychoanalytic
fashion verified the reports I've frequently heard that iron and other
metal mongers are notoriously virile. Well, this need for a non-participating,
Clinton-like audience for one's sexual display is a metaphor for Bob's
literary style." (Henrickson, 2002).
Earthy Hephaistos is the god of the pragmatic working-class man.
As such, he promotes the work ethic and unions. As god of the proletariat,
he exemplifies the theme, "local boy makes good." He is the archetypal
self-made man. He also inhabits the now-outworn myth of the Marxist
world, which tried to make a philosophy of materialism. The postmodern
version of the proletariat society is cyberculture.
Emotionally, he is introverted, even emotionally crippled from rejection.
He is a slow, steady, internal rhythm which allows attention to turn in
to subjective states of consciousness. He can be asocial and prefers
solitude, being somewhat of a hermit. He doesn't handle interpersonal
relationships well, so he throws himself into him work. He appears
gauche, childish, or awkward in social situations. He can be uncommunicative
or display his anxiety neurosis and over-sensitivity. His overwork
produces chronic fatigue. Rage turned inward may lead to depression
or numbing out. Reparenting can help.
Hephaistos' introversion doesn't necessarily mean he is shy, but he is
definitely introspective. This introspective quality is intimately
related to his ability to visualize his artistic inspiration. He
must be self-sustaining and tends to get creative rather than bored.
The Hephaistian temperament is found in artists and craftsmen, those who
live on income from their beautiful productions, and those who live by
utilitarian trades such as mechanics, machinists, and welders. Those
who are preoccupied in work with their hands, with earthy, concrete manifestations
are also under him. Occupational therapy and practical, empirical,
functional-art producers of all sorts are under his patronage.
Hephaistos is not a slender, effeminate artiste, though. He is a
robust specimen of his gender, epitomized as the stereotypical hardhat
worker. As patron of the bluecollar class, he embodies the restless
volcanic spirit which leads workers to strike against the tyrannical rule
of their employers. In an industrial society, Hephaistos is embodied
in the solidarity of unions.
If hardhats can be characterized as "hardworking and hard-drinking" we
might remember the close affinity between Hepaistos and Dionysus, god of
intoxication. Dionysus and his wine brings the relief and solace
of drunkenness to Hephaistos, freeing him from his normal inhibitions.
But he cannot hold his liquor. His fires are loosed as he seeks incestuous
union with both the creative and destructive energies of the Great Mother.
Thus intoxication can be healing or poisonous to the Hephaestian temperament.
He may regressively seek to dissolve in the unconscious depths, annulling
his rejection and abandonment by his parents.
Technology is also planning a carefully orchestrated intervention here,
giving new meanings to "intoxication." Soon science will be able
to alter genes through genetic engineering to change human behavior.
But, it will remain difficult for genetic intervention to reach a degree
of sophistication where it can produce results as expected. Since
every individual is unique, this tampering with embryos contains a great
deal of uncertainty.
The more likely route is that more mood- and behavior-altering drugs will
be tailored by pharmaceutical manufacturers. It is easier and more
reliable to intervene with drug therapy than genetic manipulation of embryos.
This is an extremely controversial area of genetic engineering. This
research verges on being seen by some as a contemporary taboo.
Technology is in the process of developing new drugs which will have psycho-social
uses, for example enhancing personality in such areas as sociability, kindness,
sensitivity, cleverness, etc. To gain any wide acceptance, these
drugs will have to be free of alarming side effects, such as those associated
with today's black-market drugs.
So, any mass-brainwashing through genetic manipulation is unlikely, but
populations may also be controlled through emotions by programming and
doctrinaire philosophies, such as that of Marx. The Marxist myth
was based on its own archetypal perspective of life, which held the vision
of a paradisical future. Marx, himself, was heavily influenced by
the German philosopher, Hegel. Hegel's concept of "thesis, antithesis,
and synthesis" carries on in the tradition of the Christian Trinity, which
echoed Plato's and Pythagoras's thought on the "three-in-one."
Marx felt that human history transformed through this process. Projecting
this idea into the future of mankind, Marx came up with a vision strikingly
similar to the Christian version. Its major theme states that after
an apocalyptic revolution (antithesis), world citizens inhabit a worker's
paradise free of oppression by a powerful elite. The workers are
the "chosen people," forming an ideal, classless society. In practice
this was hardly accurate.
How a new social order arises on the ruins of the old is a recurrent Biblical
theme, where the Jews, or the "saved" are the chosen who will inhabit the
utopian world (synthesis). Thus the proletariat and the "reborn"
have dreams with a common theme. Both share a fundamentalist work
ethic; both seek to overcome that which they consider "evil." History
has shown that Marxists can be as orthodox in their stance as any religious
individual. The shared apocalyptic element of the vision of the world's
superpowers was a frightening omen, which has hopefully been averted.
Maybe this subconscious realization underlies the epidemic use of alcohol
prevalent in both countries.
Keywords associated with Hephaistos include the following:
blow off steam
engine (internal combustion)
The mythical stories of Hephaistos include three principle themes:
1) his unusual birth, including his abandonment and adoption as a
2) his lameness; and
3) his creative genius, which is embodied in the concept of industry, or
intensification of production.
Even though Hephaistos is mother-complexed by his mother's rejection and
desertion of him, he makes the best of his adversity. Even after
he tried to help Hera defend herself against the onslaughts of Zeus, she
still tried to do away with her deformed son. She despised him, perhaps
because he reminded her of her secret inner imperfections, which he embodied
When spirit becomes "grounded" after falling to the earth, it is impelled
to drag itself around by limping. But laming can be an advantage
or foreshadow achievement and transformation, as it does for shamans in
primal cultures. This tribal theme is re-emerging in technological
society as we seek to heal our wounded souls. Hephaistos learns things
from his inner self, and develops an interior strength and self-reliance.
By exploring his heart and mind he contacts that spirit which is uniquely
his own. He gets pleasure from this inner life. He gains inspiration
from being alone in nature.
While Hephaistos is centered, he isn't necessarily stable. He tries
to compensate--but over-compensates--for his sense of rejection through
megalomania. Only alchemy represents "one-footedness" as an accomplishment.
But it doesn't feel like one to the individual stuck in this pattern--he
feels self-conscious of his hindrance. He tries to overcome his frustration
through his creativity, or inward-turning libido through fantasy.
Destiny has limited his mobility, but not his imagination. His immobility
binds him to the archetypal realm forever. His need for a crutch
seems to have provided him with "something to lean on." Laming also
symbolizes the weakness or helplessness of any new enterprise. Will
it stand or fall? Only time will tell. Initial difficulties
may be overcome through industry or hard work.
Looking for Hephaistos' pattern in a historical context, we find that in
the industrial revolution of the 1800s there was an epidemic of negligent
and deliberate infanticide due to crowded living conditions and severely
limited resources in cities. So many children were being abandoned
and left to die of exposure that the English Parliament set up foundling
hospitals with revolving boxes in the walls so the abandoning parents could
remain anonymous. Due to the financial burden this presented the
burgeoning industrial state, 80 - 90% of these children were allowed to
die before they were one year old, especially if they were crippled or
deformed, like the mythic role-model.
The standard of living didn't rise even when infant mortality rates dropped
in later years. Children were valued and helped to survive infancy
solely for the labor they could provide in factories, before they succumbed
to tuberculosis as adolescents. This era also gave rise to the philosophical
economic theories of Malthus and Marx, who may be characterized as obsessed
with the laws of reproduction and production. In every era prior
to the development of rudimentary birth control methods, an increase in
technological change also brought a period of rapid population growth which
kept the standard of living approximately the same from medieval to industrial
The fossil fuel revolution (remember, Hephaistos = petroleum) brought a
substantial increase in labor productivity in such areas as agriculture,
mining, and transport. The enormous supply of cheap energy extracted
from the inner resources of the earth brought an intensification of production
never seen before. But since coal and oil are stored, rather than
renewable resources, we now face depletion of reserves, declining efficiency,
and the threat of a lowered standard of living. Now it takes more
and more money to extract less and less fossil fuel. As profits decline,
we must seek alternative sources of energy. It has been calculated
that if the rest of the world used energy like the U.S., world reserves
would be exhausted in only 11 years. Therefore industry must move
in the direction of "making more from less" (as Fuller suggested decades
ago) to satisfy world markets.
Psychologically, on the individual level, a man dominated by the Hephaistian
pattern exhibits the moodiness of a social outcast. He has mood swings
which alternate between depression and ego inflation. He enjoys creativity
and the company of women, but his love affairs unfortunately end in disappointment
most of the time. Perhaps he doesn't know how to truly love a woman
because he was denied a warm relationship with his mother. Her desertion
remains his wound, and keeps him insecure about his personal worth.
He is mentally crippled by his anguish, but he compensates with an active
inner life of fantasy or career success.
In a woman's psychology, Hephaistos may be the motivation for substituting
art or work for a personal experience of the woman's mysteries of blood-kinship
and birth (or childrearing). This doesn't mean that every woman who
opts for employment rather than breeding is an emotional cripple, but she
does carry this as an active component of her personality. It may
manifest as a nagging criticism or guilt, in moments of introspection.
Her feminine naturalism may mourn for an unborn child, and is the perspective
which considers her productivity rather than reproductivity as monstrous
Cyberculture is an excellent example of the philosophy of the Hephaestus
point of view. In fact, it may represent the mythically abortive
rape attempt of Hephaestus on Athena -- now united in Cyber-culture.
The culture that has formed among those who use the Internet and other
networks to communicate through multimedia, and have formed social
groups which meet and interact online and may never meet in real life.
Cyberculture has its own customs, etiquette, mythology, and ethics.
It has its own science, expressed as semiotics, CTheory, and other buzz-words
of New Media.
Cyberculture is broad. It exists within and extends throughout the Internet,
the global, computer-based "network of networks" constructed in the 1960s
by the United States Department of Defense.(1) Although cyberculture is
made possible by the network's wires, cables, servers, and terminals, it
thrives where users meet within the wires and upon the interfaces. These
online social interactions, or what Allucquere Rosanne Stone calls "virtual
systems," are as broad as they are diverse and take place within basic
email, newsgroups, reflectors, and listserves, bulletin board systems (BBSs)
and Usenet, MOOs and MUDs, Internet Relay Chat (IRC), electronic
chat rooms, and interactive sites on the World Wide Web.
Cyberculture is deep. Although it can be as shallow as a single unanswered
email, it is often a product of complex and collaborative communicative
practices which take place over varying segments of time and "space." Indeed,
within a particularly healthy listserve thread or MOO space or collaborative
Website exists dynamic interactions, social constructions, political negotiations,
sexual posturing, and institutional histories. Like its in real life (IRL)
counterpart, cyberculture resembles a collection of mini-villages, replete
with the village idiot, the sage, the argumentative curmudgeon, the idealistic
student, and the den mother, not to mention the town hall, the playground,
the shopping mall, and back alley.
Cyberculture is in a constant state of flux. Of course, what we call cyberculture
today may not exist tomorrow. Like other new technologies, computer-mediated
communication technologies are evolving at an incredible rate. As mainstream
America, not to mention the world as a whole, continues to embrace and
integrate basic Internet technologies into their personal and business
lives, we can expect even more innovations. Thus, just as email and listservs
dominated the Net from its induction and through the 1980s, Gopher altered
organizational structures in the early 1990s, and Web browsers such as
Mosaic, Netscape, and Internet Explorer completely transformed the Net
from a text-based platform to one incorporating various types of media,
so too can we expect new and dynamic technological advances to redefine
what we call the Net. More importantly, we can expect original individual
and collective applications of those developments to reinvent what we think
of as cyberculture.
Cyberculture is broad, deep, and in a constant state of flux. Assuming
this is true what hopes can we hold for understanding
what cyberculture is, locating its boundaries, and determining its characteristics?
Before we get intimidated by such a daunting task, we must keep in mind
that in many ways these are the same questions facing other, more traditional
students of culture such as anthropologists and sociologists. After all,
all cultures are broad, deep, and in a constant state of flux.
Significantly, it is much easier to put forth a number of dimensions of
cyberculture than a single definition of it. Too often, the term is used
to describe contemporary cultures and/or cultural products that have some
relationship with technology. For example, in his book entitled Escape
Velocity: Cyberculture at the End of the Century, writer Mark Dery conflates
cyberculture with "computer-age subcultures."(2) Although Dery's book explores
interesting issues surrounding Internet identities and communities, it
also includes chapters on Mark Pauline and Survival Research Labs and tribal
tattoo artists. While the book is interesting, it is difficult to ascertain
what is cyber about tribal tattos.
Cyberculture is a collection of cultures and cultural products that exist
on and/or are made possible by the Internet, along with the stories told
about these cultures and cultural products. Thus, while Dery uses
cyberculture to mean computer-age subcultures, I use the term to refer
to culture and cultural products that are directly linked to not only computers
but, more specifically, the Internet.
One way to better understand cyberculture is to examine its many elements
individually. Some facets, including issues of electronic democracy, telecommuting,
and the perennial favorite, virtual sex, have become popular topics in
the popular media. Other elements such as cyberspace and race, online representations
of gender and sexuality, and the political economy of cyberculture are
beginning to be addressed by the popular media and within academic circles.
Yet in a feeble attempt to impose a boundary (dare
I use the term "containment" with respect to a topic so utterly containless?),
I have decided to explore cyberculture in terms of four categories. These
categories include cyberculture in context, virtual communities, community
networks, and virtual identities. (1996-1997, David Silver).
When Cyberculture and globalization converge, we see again Hephaistos and
Athena. In Global Cyberculture Reconsidered: Cyberspace,
Identity, and the Global Informational City, Martin Irvine
Director, Communication, Culture, and Technology Program and Associate
Vice President for Technology Strategy , Georgetown University says:
Talking about cyberculture usually means rounding up the usual suspects:
adolescents of all ages living out Neuromancer fantasies; online identity
morphing in MUDs and chat spaces; virtual communities sustained by Net
communication; fascination with cyborg theory and cybersexualities on college
campuses and underground websites; magazines like Mondo 2000, Wired and
21.C; speculative and cyberpunk fiction with a finger on fast forward;
the global market for multimedia information and entertainment; and the
large group of artists, writers, and philosophers who find the Net environment
the most interesting place to play, live, think, and create.
Cyberculture has an array of recognized contexts and positions--utopian,
dystopian, ironic, postmodern, identity-political, and market-driven opportunist--but
these aren't the issues that interest me here. I'd like to disturb the
shared, consensual hallucination of cyberculture by thinking about the
material conditions of the matrix, specifically the function of imagined
communities and the underlying infrastructure of cyberspace in the global
informational city. Global cities are the spaces where infrastructure,
labor, capital, and information are concentrated; it's where cyberspace
happens. In many ways, cyberspacial culture is like the modern spatial
city with its segregation of spaces and internal contradictions, only more
so. And just as there are resistance movements to urban domination and
the multinational corporate culture located in cities, the Net embraces
a multitude of local and international anti-globalization movements that
use the global technology.
There are at least four ways that the notion of the globalization
of culture is used today:
The use of the Net to communicate local, ethnic, religious, and national
cultures to a worldwide and international audience. This could be called
optimistic multiculturalism on the Net where anyone with access can participate.
The worldwide diffusion of dominant cultures through the global marketplace
(Western and American cultures globalized through ownership of infrastructure
and production), reading "globalization"
as another case of hegemony, cultural imperialism, or Americanization.
The general homogenization or "internationalization" of culture, favoring
Western developed nations and their languages and values, accompanied by
an awareness of a resulting dilution or disappearance of local and minority
cultures. In the political economy of communications, the movement
toward worldwide access to communications technology and connectivity
across territorial boundaries. The goals of global access and ubiquity
of the Net require dealing with two forces, one toward technology development
and diffusion, the other toward governmental and institutional controls
over international interconnectivity. We are not attempting to describe
an object or phenomenon, but trying to track a nexus of relations in real
time, reflections on a few themes, rather than a developed argument:
The historical context for the imagined communities and identities in cyberculture
and popular myths of globalization. The movements of localized communities
and identities that seem to be a backlash to globalization in the networked
age (including the paradox of using the Net to promote local, ethnic, and
religious politics). Globalization, in one manifestation, is global localization:
political groups use the Net to promote local interests and identity politics
rooted in very historic place-governed issues like race, nation, territory,
and language. Globalization as urban concentration, or networks of
global "informational cities," the spaces of economic and political concentration
studied by Castells and Sassen. A more appropriate notion is the global
city or globalization of cities in a networked economy, rather than cyberspace
as an all-inclusive, homogeneous, worldwide, neutral, transnational occurrence.
Let's first consider the idea of cyberculture as contained in the idea
of virtual community. Cyberculture often assumes a global virtual
community like that described by Howard Rheingold, but the embedded history
of the notion of "community" used here is usually ignored in the glimmer
of utopia. In most uses, virtual community is based on an imagined, new
post-national community sustained by the Net and self-consciously deployed
Net applications. The term attempts to resist or ironize globalization
in the ordinary sense of international political and economic regimes.The
idea of the new, imagined virtual communities of the Net actually has some
interesting affinities with, as well as divergence from, the imagined communities
of modern nationalism that Benedict Anderson analyzed in his influential
study, Imagined Communities.
Imagined communities are not imaginary, fictive or unrelated to material,
real-world conditions. Quite the contrary: the shared identity of imagined
community expressed in a common language and medium of communication is
what holds nationalism together, authorizing and validating the political
and economic power of a state. Nationalisms were formed through the ability
to achieve identity across distances while accommodating internal diversity.
Nationalism, which Anderson sees as born with the sense of difference and
continuity in New World states, imagines the simultaneity of old and new
across geographical boundaries. The identity of difference created by the
new states of the Americas was sustained by the communications technologies
of the time:
The parallels to imagined global, cybercommunity are clear: as print helped
produce the imagined communities of nationalism, the Net generates a new
community imagined as post-national. Books and newspapers, formerly at
the nexus of national economies and identities, were the first mass market
commodities in capitalism. The convergence of computing and telecommunications
underlying the Net is the contemporary, international technology for global
identities. In the same way that the New World nations imagined themselves
as communities parallel and comparable to those in Europe, proponents of
the global community of cyberspace see themselves in a community parallel
and comparable to the old communities of nations, ethnicities, religions,
and geographical cities, but transcending the limitations of these communities
with a new technology that makes place, time, and local governments irrelevant.
The idea of a cyberspatial, virtual community was thus ready to be born
in the U.S., where mass media have long been used to support or create
"new" community identities structurally dependent on differences from older
communities of origin. The imagined post-national "nation of cyberspace,"
with people like John Perry Barlow leading its cessation, is in many ways
an extension of the logic of imagined communities. But as recent research
on globailzation has shown, the role of nation states isn't over. It takes
international cooperation to create globalization. We're entering a era
of globalized regional and urban economies (Castells, 1: 97-103). The virtual
community is this embedded in the political economy of the global informational
My second theme is the paradox of global localization. There is an important
counter-effect or internal contradiction in our global, Net-based information
society: simultaneously with the rise of global networked society there
is an increase in national, ethnic, and religious identity politics and
the resistances to globalization inherent in these movements. Many of the
identity groups represent themselves as explicit points of resistance to
a global system of any kind while simultaneously using the tools of globalization
(Net communications, Web presence, satellite communications). The trend
of global localization would be easy to write-off as a feature of the postmodern
condition, the movement from grand unifying ideologies to local politics
and identities, from macro to micro. But there's a deeper underlying logic
As Manuel Castells states, "our societies are increasingly structured around
a bipolar opposition between the Net and the Self" (1:3):
New information technologies are integrating
the world in global networks of
instrumentality. Computer-mediated communication
begets a vast array of virtual
communities. Yet the distinctive social and political
trend of the 1990s is the
construction of social action and politics around
primary identities, either ascribed,
rooted in history and geography, or newly built
in an anxious search for meaning
and spirituality. The first historical steps of
informational societies seem to
characterize them by the preeminence of
identity as their organizing principle.
Mixed in with the current global wave of technotopia and optimism about
the economic and political potential of the Internet, we have parallel
movements of political and economic fragmentation, isolationism, and a
proliferation of regionalisms.
The Web is now home to a proliferating array of self-defined communities
and subcultures who attempt to represent themselves as sites of resistance
to globalization. For example, the Intentional Communities website hosts
information for the communitarian movement, which has roots in 19th-century
utopian communities. The search engine for the site is hosted by gaia.org,
an eco-village service, whose "secretariat" is Gaia Villages, Denmark.
This movement seeks to build internally self-sustaining, localized communities.
Like similar utopian community movements in the late 19th century, the
current movements represent themselves as points of resistance to urban,
technological, and capitalist ways of living. The forces of the Net--the
globalized information economy--are deflected by the needs of the Self,
and the local takes only what it needs from the global, like the Lo-Techs
in Johnny Mnemonic.
Likewise, the Net now intersects with--and supports--a variety of local
language movements. Most notable are the regional linguistic movements
in Europe: the Gaelic dialects in Brittany and Ireland, Basque in Spain,
Frisian in the Netherlands. As transnational culture dominates, regional
ethic-linguistic identities emerge as counter movements (New York Times,
Sunday, Oct. 17, 1999, p.4).
The Web is also home to thousands of political activist groups, both local
and global. The vast majority of these activist and identity groups follow
Castells' description of "primary identity" groups rooted in history, geography,
race, and language. "Global cyberculture" as imagined by American cyberpunks
seems a precious fantasy in this context.
The Net works in collaboration with satellite and broadcast technologies
to support and promote ethnic and religious political movements that run
counter to mainstream nationalisms supportive of globalization. But these
efforts also instantiate globalization. My final theme is cyberspace as
an effect of the global, informational city. Globalization is actually
a networked urbanization, a reconcentration of capital, production,
and labor in cities as the nodes of the networked economy. Global cities
are the nodes of cyberspace, the space of flows embodying the simultaneous
concentration and decentralization of people, economic activity, technical
infrastructure, communications, and information.
What, then, is cyberpace? Cyberspace is an imagined network layer siting
on top of the physical infrastructure of cities. Cyberspace is an imagined
continuous, worldwide, networked city; the global city that never sleeps,
always experienced in real time. As Mike Davis, author of the wonderful
study of L.A., City of Quartz, states:
The contemporary city simulates or hallucinates
itself in at least two decisive
senses. First, in the age of electronic culture
and economy, the city redoubles itself
through the complex architecture of its information
and media networks... If so,
urban cyberspace - as the simulation of the city's
information order - will be
experienced as even more segregated, and devoid
of true public space, than the
traditional built city. Southcentral LA, for instance,
is a data and media black hole,
without local cable programming or links to major
data systems. Just as it became
a housing/jobs ghetto in the early twentieth century
industrial city, it is now evolving
into an electronic ghetto within the emerging
information city. (Davis, Urban
Dialogue, May 1997)
Cyberspace is not a disembodied fantasy but is embedded in the material
space of global economics and infrastructure. Cyberspatial culture in its
current form is a fantasy of a postmodern city, the LA, New York, Hong
Kong, and Tokyo of our dreams. Cyberspace is unthinkable today except as
networks of global, informational cities.
Cultural globalization, in the sense of the diffusion of cultural productions
on the Net, follows the logic of urban concentration in the global information
economy. Cyberpace is a segmented and segregated space, much like global
cities where IT infrastructure, capital, firms, labor, and services are
concentrated. Concentrated urban diversity and decentralized sources
of power and value seem to be producing a post-Net paranoia and re-localization.
Fantasies about local sustainable communities, like those of the post-Romantic
era over a century ago, happen only with city people.
There are two forces at work in globalization: the spread of the
Net internationally follows urban infrastructures, and nations around the
world are cooperating in the creation of a global network economy by creating
networks of globalized informational cities that require liberalized financial
and trade policies. We can interpret the concentration of Internet nodes
as a global economic indicator. The last survey of Internet hosts by Network
Wizards quantifies these trends: the growth of the Net is strongest in
countries with cities that function as network economy nodes.
Further reading on the nature of Hephaistos may be found in the following:
FACING THE GODS, "Hephaistos: A PAttern of Introversion," by Murray Stein
GODS IN EVERYMAN, Jean Shonoda Bolen, M.D.
THE TWELVE OLYMPIANS, Charles Seltman
CELTIC QUEST, John Layard
MYTH AND MODERN MAN, Raphael Patai, Prentice-Hall, Inc., Englewood Cliffs,
N.J., 1972; p. 95-104, "The Myth of the Marxist World."
CANNIBALS AND KINGS; THE ORIGINS OF CULTURE, Marvin Harris, Random House,
N.Y., 1977, p. 179-190, "The Industrial Bubble."
The spiritual myth of Hephaestos in our society is the triumph of technology
and modernization. But these are the most literal forms of its spiritual
essence. In arcane lore, Hephaistos is the archetypal metallurgist
or alchemist. Alchemy was the psycho-spiritual science which gave
birth to modern chemistry. Alchemy arose among tradesmen who held
guild secrets in common. Their silence and secrecy concerning their
art showed their prudence, and harks back to the association of this archetype
with Trump IX, THE HERMIT.
Alchemy is concerned primarily with the work of refinement, on both the
physical and spiritual level--in fact, both are synonymous. The central
problem in alchemy is expressed as the spiritual redemption of one's physical
body. The practice of the art of alchemy centers on the spiritual
redemption of matter and the body. Transforming lead to gold means
that there is a process of refinement which applies to mankind as well
as to the smelting of ores.
Purifying and tempering the spirit is known as sublimatio. This indicates
raising, ennobling, or channeling instinctual energies into creativity,
both outer (art objects or artifacts) and inner (refining personality,
soul-making). Physically, we are seeking to establish a relationship
with our bodies and nature which creates optimal health or well-being.
Alchemy is known as the Great Work, because that which "works" is that
which has the power to transform. Hephaistos sought to transform
himself into an idealized spiritual being devoid of imperfections, much
like his rather abstract "father," Zeus. Hephaistos seeks a personal
immortality, either through his works or through his Great Work.
His never-ending drive and energy comes from this internal motivating force.
As an alchemist he conducts several of his experiments on himself, striving
for a union of psyche and matter, or soul with substance.
Alchemy strives for the experience of spiritual rebirth via the union of
opposites, such as that represented by the marriage union of heavenly Aphrodite
and earthy Hephaistos. Alchemy requires resurrection of the soul
of body. The challenge we face as modern alchemists is to "see through"
to a unified vision of mundane physical processes with spiritual values.
The solution is to visualize the physical body as a metaphor for psychic
transformation, such as that described in Jungian psychology.
In alchemy the stages of psychological or spiritual transformation are
categorized as specific metals, which correspond with planetary powers.
Thus, Saturn=lead; Luna=silver; Sol=gold; Mercury=quicksilver; Venus=copper;
Mars=iron; and Jupiter=tin. The dynamic impulse of theoriginal alchemists,
modern chemists and physicists is the same. Namely, to find out how
God works, and imitate that process.
This Opus, or Work, is understood as taking place in a sealed retort vessel.
The nature of this vessel is the origin of the common term, "Hermetically
sealed" and it originally referred to the self-contained psyche.
This containment insures that none of the ingredients will be lost and
also provides a container in which the contents are slowly heated or cooked.
This process is called calcinatio. Remember, Hephaistos was a smoldering,
The initial material of the untransformed instincts (prima materia) goes
through several stages of refinement, defined as operations. These
are not always presented in the same sequence in different alchemical texts.
Most however include forms of calcinatio (heating); solutio (dissolving);
coagulatio (congealing); sublimatio (ennobling); mortification or nigredo
(blackening); ablutio (whitening); seperatio (seperating); and coniunctio
(uniting). There are also operations of circulating, multiplying,
The body is of vital importance in any alchemical operation. Alchemy
insists on the transformation of the instinctual and biophysical phenomena
into psychic experience, but it does not seek to "transcend." The
feet of Hephaistos are forever embedded in matter, distorting the purely
abstract patterning principle of spirituality.
Our modern alchemies--chemistry and technology--have lost their spiritual
value, altogether. They have culminated in a system of production
intensification based on petrochemicals. Our greed for fossil-fuel
technology which drives the machinery of war may obliterate not only our
energy reserves but the biosphere itself through the greenhouse effect
or nuclear winter.
Myth recounts how Hephaistos created robots, beautiful golden-haired female
androids to substitute for human companionship (virtual and cyber-sex?),
as well as wheeled conveniences which functioned as servo-mechanisms much
like prototypical cars. But, he couldn't manufacture what he desired
most ardently--to be loved for himself, as he is. It makes us think
of Speilberg's A.I., Artificial Intelligence, and the promise
of ersatz "unconditional love" from biomechanoids.
Ptah (Egyptian, fire in the earth)
Agni (Hindu fire god)
Michaelangelo was stiffled or lamed in his free flow of creativity by remaining
under contract to church authorities who directed the course of his artistic
career. He was forced to direct his artistic efforts into commisioned
subjects. Even though he painted such masterpieces as the Sistine
Chapel, he didn't even like to paint, much preferring the earthier craft
Medieval alchemist and physician Paracelsus founded modern medicine.
He invented microchemistry, antisepsis, wound surgery, and homeopathy,
and occupational therapy. He combined the mystic and healing arts.
Leck Walesa, leader of Solidarity, was inhibited in his unionization efforts
by the Soviet "motherland" while strongly maintaining his link to the Catholic
Church, ( a variation of the Great Mother, as bride of Christ).
Hephaistos is any crippled or inhibited artist: the dancer who breaks her
foot, the sculptor with arthritis, the martial arts master with crushed
knees, all blind and maim artists who create with their feet, etc.
Hephaistos can be seen in the lives of such greats as Beethoven with his
deafness, and jazz great Charlie Mingus who died of ALS (Lou Geirig's disease).
birth defect, blow off steam, alloy, artifacts, bronze, androids, burly,
determination, hung up, creative, craftsman, iron, steel, foundling, foundry,
internal, lustiness, skillful, natural gas, petroleum, crude oil, robotics,
nanotechnology, refinement, industry, eruption, volcanic personality, ignition,
technological acumen, introversion, rejection, solidarity, "forge ahead,"
psychological materialism, craftsmanship, pragmatic, solitude, limp, club
foot, trade secrets, inhibition, internal combustion engine, hard hat,
abandonment, mother-complex, cripple, handicap.
DIALOGUE WITH HEPHAISTOS
Seek the aid of Hephaistos for understanding your frustrations, rejections,
and woundedness, either of the spirit or physical ailments. If you
are extremely extroverted, perhaps this god's extremely introverted nature
has been repressed and his voice drown out by louder drives. Or perhaps
he is expressing through symptoms in the body.
If there is a lamed-artist inner aspect of yourself, has the real or imagined
handicap thwarted your artistic expression or spurred you on to ever-renewed
effort to create? Through Hephaistos the great forms of nature image
themselves forth in art.
The well-springs of creativity, which are rooted in the depths of the Great
Mother, take a turn in Hephaistos from concrete child-bearing and body-centered
sexuality toward the realization of the cosmos as imagination and symbol.
The symbol of the furnace itself stands for an "artificial uterus."
The Hephaistian passion for creative works are deeply reflective of the
A Hephaistian man will experience certain characteristic problems and issues.
He may find himself an outcast from the conventional world of patriarchal
values. He may be moody and swing between grandiose fantasies and
deep depression. He looks and thinks of himself as unheroic.
He cleaves to the world of the feminine, in his thinking, creativity, and
lifestyle. He is fascinated by the mystery of creativity. His
inner images hold his soul in thrall to the projects of the moment in which
he can completely lose himself. A reductionistic viewpoint might
judge him as anima-possessed, or emotionally crippled. His emotions
jerk him around.
This pattern may be even more threatening to the feminine ego. Hephaestus
connects to her deepest feminine-maternal impulses, yet wants something
other than simple maternity. This animus represents a subtle undermining
threat to simple, natural feminine creativity, in that he tends toward
creating the symbol that mirrors the creative process of nature but produces
an artificial product which at once represents and substitutes for the
Hephaestian creativity can seem monstrous to the feminine psyche because
it goes against her natural feminine creativity by undermining or rechanneling
it. This affront to feminine naturalism may create a disharmony between
the mandates of feminine ego-consciousness and the dynamic of the Great
Mother for reproduction.
HEPHAESTOS IN YOUR LIFE
1. Have you ever felt rejected or abandoned by a parent-figure?
Describe this incident in your life.
2. Have you ever lusted after some aspect of intellectual endeavor
(mimicking the passion of Hephaistos for Athena) where your creative capacity
in this field was insufficient to realize your goal, and the urge "fell
short of the mark"?
3. Have your ever been a member of a trade guild or union?
What was the depth of your involvement, i.e. passive or active membership,
or did you seek some influential position of authority? What sorts
of feelings of loyalty to the cause did the union inspire in you, or not?
4. Have you ever experienced a particularly creative time in your
life as the result of a feeling of "woundedness"? How did this creativity
5. How do you feel about the high-tech revolution? Are you,
for example afraid of (phobic) or totally uninterested in computers, etc.
Do you feel they belong strictly to the new generations while you identify
with the old ways?
6. Do you allow yourself time for introversion and introspection
so that your creativity has an incubation phase which is allotted as much
"reverence" as the phase of manifestation? . . .or are you an extroverted
"do-demon" who must be constantly on the move or feeling guilty about it?
7. Do you ever notice your moods fluctuating back-and-forth between
depression and ego inflation or manic activity? In its extreme forms
ego inflation manifests as megalomania, in which the subject exalts himself
with grandiose fantasies. This is compensation for feelings of rejection
or inferiority in which one tends to magnify or exaggerate one's positive
capacities, either privately and inwardly, or externally to the world at
8. If the entire world used fossil fuel at the rate of the
U.S., world supply would be used within 11 years! Do you do your
share to use fossil-fuel technology economically and ecologically?
Conservative use of electricity also falls into this category, since some
forms of electricity come from the burning of fossil fuel. Are you
aware of the potential dangers of the Greenhouse Effect?
9. Nuclear weapons are a modern form of unleashed Hephaestian "fire,"
a more modern metaphor than volcanic or petroleum fire. How do you
feel about the issues of nuclear weapons and nuclear energy, in general,
including waste disposal? Many states want to pawn off their waste
on other states, much as Hephaistos was rejected and pawned off by his
10. There is a modern colloquial expression--"That is lame," or "That
person is really lame," as opposed to "cool" or "with it." Hephaistos
is the lame god, the working-class Joe with down-to-earth attitudes, and
the pragmatics of survival, even the "oppressed masses." Have you
ever been accused of being "lame," or called others "lame"? Can you
recall attitudes you've held to which you could apply the term? Did
this attitude stem from a sense of woundedness, rejection, oppression or
11. What are you doing with the time you have to yourself?
What are you looking for? Or what do you need to know? Who
can help you find out? What concerns about time do you have?
What do you need to keep silent about? What would be a prudent thing
to do? What do you need to complete?
File Created: 3/17/02
Last Updated: 7/20/02