Strong-armed Herakles, mega-mighty brave Titan,
Competitive, adamantine, strong-minded, enlightened,
Shape-changing Time Father, eternal and kind,
Much entreated with prayers from all of mankind:
All know your story, yet your essence is ineffable;
Your wild spirit untamed and forever unquenchable.
All-dynastic ruler who reigns from the heart,
Archer and augur who never misses the mark,
All-devouring pangenitor, adored protector and lover,
Highest and strongest, bravest child and brother,
For the good of all people, you tame savage yearning,
Firstborn spear thrower, your heart’s ever burning,
With passion and energy, O daemon great-named,
You wear a crown of night’s blackness tipped in starflame,
You bested twelve trials, from the east to the west,
Much-tested hero, ever holy and blest.
Immortal and immovable, immaculate and immense,
Both blessing and healing are yours to dispense.
Come shaking your club to exorcise evil,
Banish even foul death with your weapons primeval.
Herakles is the archetypal superhero of ancient Greece. Like all heroes, he began life as a mortal. He was, in life, called Alcides or Alcaeus (Ἀλκαῖος), from the root Ἁλκή, which means “strength of body” or “physical force”. In life, he accomplished great deeds, including his famous twelve labors. He then ascended to the ranks of the Mighty Dead or “heroes” (ἥρως) after his death, acquiring the name Ἑρακλης or Ἡρακλῆς. Many people interpret that name as “Hera’s glory”; it may be more simply “the hero’s glory”. What is unquestionable, however, is that Herakles’s story is wrapped up in Hera’s, and that his glory is wrested from her.
As the paragon of heroes, Herakles ascended even further, and took his place among the gods. In this way, he dwells in both the Underworld, among the Ancestors, and in the Upperworld, among the gods. While this appears to be problematic to many commentators, it is very much in keeping with modern folk practices surrounding the Mighty Dead all around the world. Even in antiquity, some consternation surrounded him being in both places. Odysseus, recounting a νέκυια (necromantic ritual), says “And next I caught a glimpse of powerful Heracles—His ghost I mean: the man himself delights in the grand feasts of the deathless gods on high…”
No tomb-shrine has been found that can be identified as belonging to Herakles. I believe this is intentional, and underscores that Herakles, unlike other, more localized cults, is a hero for all of Greece, and all of her cultural inheritors (like us!). Similarly, it is hard to know when the veneration of Herakles began. It is attested to as early as the 6th century BCE but was already widespread at that point.
While questing with the Argonauts, Herakles meets the princess Iole, who has pledged to marry any man who could best her in archery. When Herakles competes, even though he wins, Iole and her father refuse marriage to him. “After all,” they say reasonably, “he murdered his previous family!”
Enraged, Herakles murders the king and his sons, all except Iphitus, who has become Herakles’s lover (the consensuality of this relationship varies, depending who is telling the tale). After murdering her family, he abducts Iole and takes her home as his sex-slave, against both her will and that of his then-current wife, Deianira. Iphitus accompanies them. Time passes, and once again Herakles “goes mad” and murders his lover Iphitus. Seeking absolution, Herakles then spends three years as the slave of Omphale, queen of Lydia, the wielder of the famed axe of power.
The consummate dominatrix, Omphale tames Herakles, and frees him from his madness. After that, she releases him from his slavery, and they marry. However, Deianira and Iole, yet unavenged, send him a poisoned shirt as a wedding gift, which melts the flesh from his bones, and causes such agony that he voluntarily lays down on his funeral pyre. His mortal portion burns, but his immortal half flees, ascending to Olympus, where he marries Hebe, whose name means “innocence”.
In later myth, Hebe is understood as a goddess of youth. However, in the Peloponnese where she originates, she was worshipped as a goddess of forgiveness and absolution. For example, freed prisoners, who had atoned for their crimes, hung their broken chains on her sacred trees. I choose to understand this to mean that heavenly Herakles has finally overcome his madness, which we might today call “toxicity”, and has been truly absolved. Thus, celestial Herakles is free from the stain of rape and murder, for which chthonic Herakles still atones in Hades. In penance, Herakles is a strong protector of women and children, and can be called upon in any work that smashes Patriarchy.
A Spell to Defend Women, Children, or
Others Vulnerable to Patriarchal Violence
You Will Need
· Paper. A brown paper grocery bag is ideal.
· pen or pencil
· matches or a lighter
· a toilet
· about 8 minutes of fully suspended disbelief
Things It's Nice to Have
· A printout of the Herakles ikon
· a red pen
· a picture of the abuser
· a red candle, and a way to light it
· a toilet
· about 30 minutes of fully suspended disbelief on a Tuesday after dark
Things to Make it Fancy
· A Herakles ikon you colored while focusing on the work
· dragon's-blood ink and a steel-nibbed pen
· the abuser's hair or other body part/fluid
· a oil lamp burning chili oil
· a swamp
· fully suspended belief in the last hour of Saturn on the day of Mars
What to Do
Begin by calming your mental chatter and suspending your disbelief.
Write the victim’s name behind Herakles (either on the back of the ikon, or else just write the victim’s name, and then write Herakles’ name (in English and Greek) over the top.
Write the abuser’s name on the back of their photo (or just write it nine times on a piece of paper). Think clearly and in detail about how they hurt you, and how you fear they might hurt you in the future. Put your pain into the paper. Put your fear into the paper. Put all of your feelings into the paper. Put all that you can of your abuser into the paper.
Read the Orphic hymn to Herakles, preferably out loud, and then address Herakles directly. Speak from your heart in your own words, saying something like:
“Herakles, you were an abuser, but you labor to make that right. As a condition of your labors, I call you to defend me!”
Repeat “I call you to defend me!” over and over until either your voice or your ability to suspend disbelief fails.
Burn the piece of paper over the toilet, and flush away the ashes.
As soon as possible, and before you go to sleep, wash yourself carefully from head to toe. Finish by pouring salt water over your head.
 As we discussed in the introduction, the hymn more literally says “for the good of civilized men, you put down the savages” but fuck that noise.
 This is an allusion to the zodiac, which is mythologically connected to the story of Herakles’s labors.
 Odyssey, 11:690-693. Translated by Robert Fagles
 Herakles enjoys many stellar myths, including those of his twelve labors, traditionally associated with the zodiac.
 His wife at the time is Megara, whom you know from the Disney movie.