The labors of Hercules are a metaphor of our Preliminary Works, those to achieve the Universal Dissolvent. First: break the fixed raw matter, the Nemean Lion.
And allow the Secret Fire to come to light. The Lion is an alchemical symbol of fix-steady-firm-solid. Thus Heracles will encounter two fixed beasts in his tremendous preliminary tasks: a first one, a lion, to be opened and a last one, a dog, to be made. The first one is in analogy with our starting embodiment, raw matter, to be broken to let Spirit and Soul, as well as the Secret Fire within, to come out under the guise of an ineffable substance called Mercurius. The last one will represent fixed Mercurius.
So to get you to understand what we are talking about, see an Opus Magnum scheme. Roughly, preliminary works are performed to have raw salts to be volatilized during repeated operations to achieve Mercurius. The end of preliminary works is the fixation of this extremely volatile substance into Mercurius Philosophorum.
The alchemical meaning of all these operations is the extraction of Secret Fire/Mercurius from the raw matter/first embodiment and its fixation in a new alchemical body.
Jean Pierre Fabre, in his “Hercules Piochymicus” 1634, arbitrarily moved the Nemean Lion in third position. He gave a damn about the strict position stated by ancient greek mythology. Fabre needed a fixative beast after the mercurial volatility of the first two steps, so why to respect the order? It was not Fabre to try to decode the myth, but the myth to adapt to Fabre’s wants.
I mean to respect the traditional position of the Nemean Lion as first and will try to deduce alchemical keys and hints on the opening work of Hercules from ancient authors fragments. Additionally, I prefer the latin form of Heracles name, Hercules, since it is used in the traditional expression “Labors of Hercules”.
We already know the story: goddess Hera hates Heracles and managed to condemn him to twelve tasks that should ” immolate” the hero. But our hero will survive and immolate in his turn, all his “sacrificers” instead.
In this myth, Heracles represents the daring alchemist who braves to destroy all the creatures born by the great goddess of the Sky, Hera. And not because of a destructive fit , but to bring to light the Secret Fire. In this myth Hera is the exemplification of the great mercurial mother, as, like everything under the Sun, every Mercurius is definitely being born by our great mother Mercurius.
The weapons with which the hero will fulfill his tasks, either bare hands ( like in this first struggle) or fabricated, are all alchemical tools. Alchemy in the flesh, disguised as a mythological hero, will go from lion to a final lion, which is beyond the preliminary works, in fact Hercules will end his hardships with a dog.
Λεον Νεμειος, or Leon Nemeios, the Lion of Nemea is a gigantic animal son of the Moon, Artemis. Other authors mention Selene instead. But all these goddesses are here different cases of the same Hera. In fact who better than the Moon itself can represent our mercurial mother? No matter what the mother’s name is, since she, horrified by the lion ugliness, lets her newborn falling to ground. Where he took refuge into a cave. The poor nemean Lion is just raw matter/Materia Tertia. Of course a wonder of the creation, but imperfect, in this sense ugly. His taking refuge into a cave does point where to look for alchemical raw matters. In the deep of the earth. In fact we need a raw matter with huge quantities of Secret Fire inside, and, as strange as it may seem, in the deep of the earth the Secret Fire lies and dwells.
Hercules/alchemist is sent to kill the lion, just to extract what is inside him. Eventually Hercules manages to strangle and crush him. During the struggle Heracles loses a finger. Then he skinned the Nemean Lion, using a lion’s claw, to make a lion-skin cape, which will become one of his most distinctive attributes. Hera afterwards placed the lion among the stars as the constellation Leo. But let’s see what ancient authors say on this Heracles first labor, and discover on the features of this first part of our preliminary operations:
The Lion origins