Hades: Greek God and Archetype of the Underworld
Ferry Crossing the River Styx
Hades: Greek god Archetype of the Underworld, Ruler of Hades
Hades is the ruler of the dead in Greek Mythology, but he should not be thought of as the Devil or Satan. Hades is stern, grim, and his decisions are final. But he is not a tempter, evil, or an enemy of mankind. Hades presides over the darkest hours of life, depressions, anxieties, emotional dramas and grief. This least personified of the gods was both the God of the Underworld, and ruler over the domain called Hades.
A person becomes familiar with Hades when they descend into his world, a place which makes one feel cut off from reality, lonely, and depressed. Here there is no desire to feel the sunlight or closeness of other people. Death is what brings people to Hades, the death of a relationship, the death of a certain facet of personality, or the death of hope, purpose, and meaning in life. The inevitability of physical death is an experience that takes one to the Underworld. The realm of Hades is in the unconscious, both the personal and the collective unconscious. It is the place where much is repressed: memories, feelings, thoughts, everything too painful, shameful, or unacceptable to allow the visible world to see or know about these yearnings or dreams.
Psychology Means Psyche, Thanatos Means Death
In life, the same as in mythology, some people can descend and return, some can accompany and guide other souls, and some come to know Hade’s realm very well, because they reside there. Psychology’s original meaning came from the Greek word psyche or soul, and Thanatology, from Thanatos, the Greek god of death. Both of these fields are Hade’s domain. Psychotherapists need to be archetypically connected to Hermes, Persephone, Dionysus, or Hades to do any deep soul work.
These archetypes help them to be comfortable working with the unconscious and all the emotions there, including madness. These same archetypes help make working with the dying and death more meaningful. Carl Jung and Elizabeth Kubler-Ross became guides for others, because they had made these emotional descents themselves. Depression and near death experiences are the usual initiations into the realm of Hades. Once a person has experienced either, it is said they no longer fear death.
Hades was a son of Cronus and Rhea, who was swallowed at birth by Cronus, who feared his sons would become greater than he. Wise Metis helped Zeus to make a special concoction that caused Cronus to regurgitate the children he swallowed. When brothers Hades and Poseidon joined Zeus to fight against Cronus and the Titans, they won, and after the victory, drew lots to divide the world. Hade’s portion was the Underworld. Hades fathered no children, and spent all his time unseen in the Underworld, only leaving it twice. According to Homer, Heracles wounded Hades with an arrow, and he had to go to Mt. Olympus for aid. His more significant departure was when he abducted Persephone.
The Story of Hades and Persephone, Queen of the Underworld
The rape of Persephone is Hade’s central myth. He deeply wanted her to be his bride, so he kidnapped her with Zeus’s consent, while she was gathering flowers in a meadow with other maidens. She parted from them to pick a beautiful hundred flowered narcissus, created to lure her to Hades. When she reached out to pick it, the ground beneath her opened up, and Hades came out of a vent in the Earth in his chariot, pulled by strong, black horses. Hades seized the terrified Persephone, who screamed for Zeus, but he ignored her pleas. They descended deep into the Underworld, and the Earth closed up as if nothing had happened.
Persephone was very depressed in the Underworld, and her Mother Demeter was beside herself. Demeter raged and cried, but when she withdrew to her temple, no crops grew, no new babies were born, and no new life of any kind sprang up. Famine was a threat to the Earth and its inhabitants, so finally Zeus gave into Demeter’s demands and sent Hermes to bring Persephone back. Persephone was overjoyed that Hermes came to her rescue, and Demeter then allowed new life to spring about and bring greenness back to Earth. The situation could have ended there if Persephone did not eat anything while in the Underworld. But when Hades tricked her into eating pomegranate seeds, it sealed her fate to spend the winter months of the year as Hade’s consort, while the Earth lies fallow. Thus she became Queen of the Underworld.
Hades and Persephone
Hades the Man, Hades the Underworld Place
There are differences to be noted regarding the two archetypes of Hades. Hades as a god wore a cap of invisibility, so was an unseen presence. He rarely went out of the Underworld, so had no interest in what was happening in the world of mortals, or the gods on Mt. Olympus. Hades lived in his own realm with shades, or shadowy images, reminiscent of colorless holograms. Hades did have riches however, as he was a great source of unconscious knowledge. A person who withdraws into seclusion, not caring or knowing what is going on in the world, is leading a Hades existence. He may have lost whatever had meaning for him in the world, and now just goes through the motions, depressed and lacking vitality. He may become paranoid because of his isolation.
Example of a Secluded Life
An example of this would be Howard Hughes, the billionaire who occupied a whole floor of his own hotel in Las Vegas. He did not allow anyone to enter, and surrounded himself with bodyguards—a virtual prisoner in his own realm. He once headed a major movie studio, ran an airline, built airplanes, and dated the most beautiful women. Later, he had trouble answering the simple question, “What do you do?” A person who cannot answer that question is one without a persona, invisible in the world of men. If he has no family, he may live alone in a transient hotel in a poor part of a city, or hang out with the homeless and drug dealers. If a man has no choice but to live like Hades, it seems very sad. But if he is physically safe and has the basic necessities, he may feel quite content with his lot in life. He could also have mental issues such as a bi-polar personality, and be off of his medications. A Hades prefers to be alone and does not like to be noticed or bothered.
Some People Live in an Inner World
A different type of hermetic Hades may have lived for a time in the outer world, but decided he preferred the richness of his inner world. We live in an extraverted culture which encourages productivity, and people are not supposed to be spending time alone, doing “nothing.” So an introverted recluse is judged peculiar, as Hades, or Pluto, the archetype of the rich one. This part of Hades is a missing part of many people, who do not value opportunities to be alone with their thoughts. Introverts can live good lives in touch with their own subjective reactions to outer experiences. In Jung’s language, introverts may experience valuable inner dialogues, visions, or bodily sensations. It can be very enriching to have Hades as part of your psychological nature. He is a great source of creativity which can be expressed through the arts. Such people often experience waking dreams or visions. When Hades does not have access to Zeus’s objective view of reality, or Poseidon’s emotional capacity, he is in definite danger of withdrawing to become isolated in a world all his own.
Underworld Souls go to Hades After Death
Hades was also a place, the Underworld realm where souls go after death, a place from which some gods or mortals could visit and return. Here the souls went to exist as ghostly shades forever, or they might drink from the river of forgetfulness, Lethe, and be born again, with no prior memory of their previous life. Hades is thus the Afterworld, a concept which assumes that souls exist after death. Mediums, psychics, and hospice workers believe they are in touch with the dead at times, and many choose to work with those who are dying. Such people have spiritual practices based on the belief that the soul needs help to make the transition to the Afterlife, and function like Hermes the Messenger god.
He could move between the levels and guide souls to Hades. The Underworld also symbolizes both the personal and collective unconscious. Everything a person ever knew is in their personal unconscious. Certain memories only need a little nudge to be recalled, but more painful memories of bad experiences may be repressed or buried. The collective unconscious is the realm of archetypes, or universal behavior patterns that have existed all through time, lived out by people who have passed on, but exist as “shades”—or archetypes that are born again in other incarnations.
Hades and the Cerberus
Hades: Introverted god of Greek Mythology
How can a Hades person adapt to the outer world and still be true to himself? He will be an introverted child without a strong will. He prefers to sit back and take in experiences rather than to reach out for them. He will become more serious and withdrawn as he gets older. This reserved nature makes him stand out in a negative way, so development of his self esteem is hampered unless his parents are people who can deal with a child who is deemed “different.” The Hades personality is sometimes on the autistic scale, and he may become over stimulated in situations that are loud or large gatherings of people. The father-son relationship can be particularly difficult if the father is a macho type and thinks a quiet, bookish, and sensitive boy who likes to read, has musical or artistic talent, or dislikes sports is a “wimp.”
Hades Has Psychic Powers and Can See Auras
Parents who expect their children to live up to their expectations of what they want the child to be, instead of what he is, have some maturing to do themselves. So the Hades boy may feel unwanted and take refuge in an inner world, perhaps having an imaginary friend, as he truly enjoys his own company. He does best with parents who respect his individuality, and can understand that there is nothing wrong with enjoying solitude. A Hades is a very sensitive and psychic child who sees auras around other people, and associates the colors around them with knowing this person is either “good” or “bad.” He can feel psychic sensations in his chakras and has to learn how to perceive, manage and interpret these unusual feelings.
He will be afraid that he is sick when he first sees and feels these things, and quickly understand that other people, even his parents, may think he is weird if he admits he has these abilities. Some of these characteristics fit the description of an Indigo child. His parents can help by being patient and encouraging, and he really needs their love and support to feel safe and competent in the world. If he is teased about his emotional responses or psychic abilities, he will just withdraw more. Those around him must educate themselves about people with psychic gifts and talents, or whatever special abilities the child has.
Hades Hears the Beat of a Different Drummer
As an adolescent, a Hades follows the beat of a different drummer. He does not like to conform, so hopefully he has developed enough to be a little outgoing, even though he does not care for fads or really like to go to parties. By now he has a distinct personality, has tested the social waters, and concluded that he prefers being alone to being with others. A key to connecting inner and outer worlds for a Hades person can often be found in their occupation. This provides an identity, and an opportunity to make a living by doing something meaningful to him.
If a young Hades man has a bit of Hermes in him, this will greatly aid his communication abilities and bring him up to the depth level so that he has some interactions with the upper world, not only the Underworld. These two archetypes together could work well in movie making, psychology, literature, hospice work with the dying, and provide an outlet for his special gifts to do work that is meaningful to him. A Hades man in a Zeus world is treated as inferior and undervalued. Hard work, objectivity and logical thinking are important in the Western Patriarchal world, the ability to compete for status and power is rewarded. So a Hades is likely to feel inferior and lack confidence, since he is different than that standard of what a man “should” be.
Some People Prefer Solitude
A Hades man is not interested in whatever is happening in the world, so is not up on sports, politics, fads, or gossip about others. He is very uncomfortable at parties or other social gatherings, and people think he is odd, so he has learned to be quiet and invisible. Hades men either lack experience with women, or have experienced rejections from them. A Hades man can have a soul connection or be deeply moved by a woman if he finds someone who knows how to share the riches of an inner world.
In rare circumstances, fate will draw these two souls together, because it seems almost impossible that either party set out to intentionally meet a member of the opposite sex. Hades is just predisposed to being a loner. There is a barren, emotionless quality to his life, a lack of relationships and emotional spontaneity. People usually leave him alone, as he gives off a “don’t bother me” sort of vibration.
How Does a Recluse Function in Today's Society
But there are some issues with the sexual history of Hades. He abducted and raped Persephone. He lusted after Minthe, but she was transformed into a mint plant before Hades could make an amorous advance. A similar situation occurred with Leuce, who became the white poplar tree. So Hade’s only sexual relationship was with Persephone, whom he abducted but finally married. Both Zeus and Poseidon also raped women, but Hades seems to have taken the bad rap for it. Sometimes life follows myth, as marital and date rape, incest, and sexual harassment by powerful men is unfortunately common. But when a Hades man behaves in this way, he is often unfairly labeled.
He does not feel powerful, and his actions may come from his rich fantasy life, where he mistakenly believes a woman is more interested in him than she really is. If Hades does find a woman who he loves, he will marry her, as he would like to establish a household, to have order and stability. Marriage could save him from becoming such a loner, and give him a life as part of a family and community. His wife could be the mediator between Hades and the outside world, as he will still be somewhat inaccessible to friends and his own children. Hades men also do well in cultures that have traditionally large families and arranged marriages. This way he would be paired with a young and inexperienced woman, and she will be “abducted” into a marriage after a short courtship she is not at liberty to resist.
A Modern Hermit
Midlife for the Childless Hades Man
There are several ways the middle years of a Hades man can work out. One who is reclusive, has no family and does not do well in the outer world may just stay in his own Underworld all of the time. He can be a recluse living in cheap housing, or a mental patient who has completely withdrawn from society. He could do well as a Monk or a brother in a religious order who maintains silence.
If Hades has the support and love of a family, he can be the strong Patriarch. If he has developed an intellectual life, he may be a teacher or research scientist, absorbed by a deep interest in his chosen field. If Hades has developed several other archetypes through significant relationships and work, then he may have entered the emotional realm, the realm of the mind, as well as the interior realm.
Without Hades as a primary or minor archetype, many men will not experience the inner realm of life long enough to become familiar with it. So a Hades man who has learned to adapt to an outer life is often in a better place at mid-life than a man who had an easier time with outer world tasks, and will actually be more integrated in all three spheres than most men.
Hades was the only deity who did not have children, but a Hades man can become a biological father. He will be stern and not emotionally expressive, expecting order and duty from his children. If he was loved himself as a child, he may be able to communicate better with his offspring and share his rich, inner life, helping to encourage imagination in his children. He is most likely to get along better with children on a one on one basis, in a companionable silence. An outgoing child will do the talking to a receptive Hades father.
Every Person Wears a Mask
A persona is the mask or face that we show to the world. A Hades man must consciously build himself a persona by putting some thought into the way he presents himself in a social context. He must learn to make some small talk to put others at ease, and put in some effort into putting a wardrobe together. Hades must learn to do these things to make himself approachable and visible. He can draw some traits of Hermes by learning to put his ideas into words. All his years of schooling can help him to think objectively like Zeus, being more scientific, and having more rational thought.
If he has been loved by anyone, the realm of emotions can also become a place where he grows. Some Hades men will recognize themselves in these descriptions and realize their families were very dysfunctional, so they withdrew into themselves. The most common causes of dysfunctional families are alcoholism and drug addictions. It takes courage, but he can go to meetings at AA or NA, and find that others share many of the same experiences Hades has been through. He can learn to reach out to other people more and make overtures to them. He could also seek a therapist, who can help him find interests or help him structure more time doing things in the outer world.
We All Transition from this World to the Next
Whatever pattern a Hades man has established by midlife will most likely continue throughout the rest of his life. His familiarity with dreams and images and his connection with the unconscious make it so he does not fear death. When people begin to die over a period of time, they disengage gradually from the outer world. They loosen their ties to things and people, and go inward. Hades is already detached and at home in the Underworld more than the outer world. Is this the process that people go through when they are ready to pass on? Are they in the inner world, watching and sensing things less and less as they move toward the light? Or perhaps they are already meeting “shades”, or the loved ones who preceded them in death, as so many people who have near death experiences report.
Jungian analyst Jane H. Wheelwright wrote an analysis of a dying person theorizing that the dreaming psyche does not fear death, and shows the value of intensive psychological work based on dreams as one faces death. Many of my own studies, observations, and classes have led me to believe that physical death is only a transition into a different stage of life experience on a higher level of existence. Hades the person knows the answers to these questions, and lives in the place where souls begin their journey to the other side.
Bolen, Jean Shinoda, M.D. 1989 Gods in Everyman A New Psychology Of Men's Lives and Loves Publisher Harper Collins New York Part Two Chapter 5 Hades, God of the Underworld--The Realm of Souls and the Unconscious pgs. 98-124
Jung, Carl G. 1964 Man and His Symbols Publisher Dell Publishing New York Approaching the Unconscious The Importance of Dreams pgs. 3-16 The Archetype in Dream Symbolism pgs. 56-71 Ancient Myths and Modern Man pgs. 97-119
Campbell, Joseph 1949 The Hero of A Thousand Faces New World Library Novato, CA The Function of Myth, Cult, and Meditation pgs. 329-331
Questions & Answers
How does Hades communicate?
He communicates with you through dreams, or from your unconscious mind. Sometimes you are hearing him when you feel you are in a dark place, but work through it in a creative way. Or when you need "quiet time" to reflect on your life or issues, you are hearing Hades. These are archetypes, they aren't real people.
Why are Hades and many other characters in Greek myths evil?
An archetype is not a real person; he is a character with certain traits. Hades does not represent evil; he represents Death or the quiet place we go to when we want to be alone to do creative work. You probably know real people with traits like some of the Greek gods.
Also, supposedly these gods and goddesses were immortal, so they had a certain sense of entitlement.
© 2011 Jean Bakula