Wounded healers, Part II: Chiron

So yesterday I held forth a bit on the connection I perceive that links the astrological province of Chiron, the “centaur” (sort of a comet/asteroid hybrid), with the shamanistic procedure called soul retrieval.  Dealing with Chiron-centric issues and going through soul retrieval both involve searching out our deepest, most spiritual wounds, and then attempting to work toward healing them…and then possibly even going on to heal others who may be afflicted with similar soul-hurts.  This is all highly benevolent stuff, and well worth some serious contemplation (in my book, anyway…).

A Mongolian shaman.  Are shamans Chironic?  Is Chiron shamanic?  Yes to both questions, is how I tend to see it...
A Mongolian shaman. Are shamans Chironic? Is Chiron shamanic? Yes to both questions, is how I tend to see it…

But it also occurred to me that it might not be of optimal utility to readers here for me to just assume that everyone knows the full story of Chiron, a noble figure out of Greek Mythology, so today’s post is aimed at providing some background info (and hey, really, any excuse to wax rhapsodic about Greek lore here…).

For those not in the know, Chiron was what we call a Centaur — in this case, though, we’re not talking about a comet/asteroid hybrid, like the aforementioned gargantuan chunk of rock in our solar system whose orbit kind of sends it wandering to and fro between Saturn and Uranus.  That “centaur” does take its name from the fabled Greek character Chiron, but in the case of the mythological Chiron, “Centaur” means a hybrid not of comet and asteroid, but of human and horse.  You’ve likely seen plenty of artistic renderings of Centaurs, even if you didn’t know that that’s what they’re called…

A Centaur expressing grave disapproval toward some fearsome party or other, as depicted by *sandara, on deviantART
A Centaur expressing grave disapproval toward some fearsome party or other, as depicted by *sandara, on deviantART

There are two major distinctions that differentiate Chiron from virtually all other Centaurs that populate Greek Mythology…

For one thing, Centaurs were, almost without exception, rude, crude, coarse, callous, obnoxious beings, likely to be found drunken and disorderly at any time of day, any day of the week, any week of a given season, any season of the year…and the smart money would pretty much always be on them exuberantly performing any activities that would raise the local quotients of things like minor destruction, vandalism, bullying, defilement, and even assault, battery, and rape.  Centaurs may look plenty cool, but you generally wouldn’t come away too thrilled with the results if your path and theirs happened to converge.  Chiron was the exception that proves the rule, the great anomaly, about which, more in a moment…

The other distinction that separates Chiron from the rest of the Centauroid kind would be the circumstances of their respective lineages: they came from different parents.  In brief, most of the Centaurs were descended from early sinner Ixion, whose tale could carry a blog post of its own — think of him as a big repeat offender who first murdered a family member, which is a horrific no-no in the early Greek worldview, and then compounded his karmic failings by openly lusting after Hera, the Queen of the Olympian Deities…the married Queen of the Olympian Deities…  Ixion was tricked into coupling with Nephele, who was actually a raincloud fashioned into Hera’s likeness by Hera’s husband, Zeus, and the Centaurs were the offspring that issued forth from this unlikely union (and sidenote: things got even more calamitous for Ixion once he died and reached the Underworld…).

Ixion -- father to the race of Centaurs -- ends up bound, for his sins, to a flaming wheel in Tartarus for all eternity (artwork by Amy Cruse, 1925)...
Ixion — father to the race of Centaurs — ends up bound, for his sins, to a flaming wheel in Tartarus for all eternity (artwork by Amy Cruse, 1925)…

But so the point is that Chiron may have been different from other Centaurs at least in part due to his differing parentage: Chiron was descended not from Ixion, but from Cronus — Zeus’ father, who was for a time the King of Creation, before Zeus and the Olympians rose up to topple Cronus’ regime — and a nymph named Philyra.  It’s also said that in his youth, Chiron was befriended and schooled by the luminous Olympian twins, Artemis and Apollo, which is another factor that may have rendered him different from the bulk of Centaur-kind.

And to now circle back to that earlier point about how most Centaurs were loud, boorish, violent brutes, yet Chiron was the exception…almost any reference would have it that Chiron was, in fact, nearly the polar opposite of most Centaurs: he was said to be kind, cultured, intelligent, compassionate, polite, considerate, and well-versed in a wide variety of important subjects, such as Astrology, music, and medicine.  Chiron became a celebrated teacher, and quite a number of Greek heroes studied with him before going on to perform their great deeds — numbered among these would be such exalted figures as Heracles (known more commonly in modern times by his Roman name, Hercules), Achilles (semi-invulnerable warrior remembered most for his part in the events of the Trojan War), and Jason (of “…and the Argonauts” and Golden Fleece fame).

Gentle Chiron schools the young Achilles...
Gentle Chiron schools the young Achilles…

All of which brings us to that point where the myth of Chiron, the human/horse hybrid, intersects with the astrological interpretation of Chiron, the comet/asteroid hybrid…

So as some of you may know, Heracles became quite the celebrated slayer of monsters in his time.  One beast that he put down on his adventures was the multi-headed dragon-thing called the Hydra.  After he’d employed both fire and blade to put an end to the Hydra’s great rampage, Heracles had the idea to soak some of the heads of his arrows in the slain creature’s blood, thereby coating them with a poison unmatched in all of existence at the time for its sheer toxicity (and gussied-up weaponry like this could then of course be utilized in further bouts of monster-slaying, is what Heracles was reasoning…).

The Hydra -- you can see how taking on poison from this thing might be no small predicament (artwork by ~velinov on deviantART)...
The Hydra — you can see how taking on poison from this thing might present no small challenge (artwork by ~velinov on deviantART)…

Now, details of the following encounter seem to vary from one telling to the next, but the key facts are that during a visit to Chiron, somehow one of Heracles’ Hydra-poisoned arrowheads ended up, through whatever mishap, scratching poor Chiron…  For most beings, this would have meant instant death.  Chiron, though, as mentioned above, had been sired by the Titan-God, Cronus, and a nymph, and he was therefore himself an immortal…so the Hydra-venom didn’t kill him.  It did, however, result in Chiron being assaulted with never-ending agony: he was too immortal and too partially Divine for the poison to kill him, yes, but on the other hand, the Hydra was also one of the mightiest and most malevolent beasts to ever slither upon the Earth, and its toxin was far too potent to ever falter.  The result was a sort of ongoing stalemate, in which Chiron survived, but always in excruciating pain…  It was incumbent upon the great healer, then, to rededicate himself to even greater mastery of the field of medicine, that he might come up with some way to ease his own undying anguish…

Unfortunately for poor Chiron, though, while he did indeed become arguably the greatest healer of his time, he never hit upon a way to minimize the extremity of his own condition.  He ultimately managed to sort of sidestep his state of living doom by bequeathing his own immortality to the fallen Titan, Prometheus, who — as punishment for having presumed to give fire to humanity against Zeus’ wishes — had been bound into a torment of his own until such time as another immortal might yield her- or himself up to fall in Prometheus’ stead.  Zeus, impressed with Chiron’s general nobility, agreed to the exchange, freeing Prometheus, and at last delivering Chiron from his pain.  The great Centaur was then transformed into a constellation by the King of the Olympians, and placed in the sky, to twinkle down upon us in benign splendor for all time…

Chiron now wills healing down upon us each night from his place among the stars...
Chiron now wills healing down upon us each night from his place among the stars…

So, when referencing Chiron, the astrologer and the mythologist would each discuss his epic battle against the one great wound of his own that he was unable to heal, as well as his eternal commitment to healing others.  I believe that the important thing to take from the myth of Chiron and from the fact that a fairly major body in Astrology bearing his name and associations now exists, is this: each of us carries within us a potential for perceiving and understanding our own greatest wounds…each of us might make headway toward easing our own pain and suffering by studying these wounds, and attempting to heal them…and through this process, each of us might even tap into some innate ability to heal others, especially if their own wounds are similar to ours.

So now that he’s ascended to the heavens, it may no longer be possible for us to learn directly from Chiron in the same way that Heracles and Achilles and Jason did…but we can still wring terrific learning from his example!

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