The Golden Apples of the Hesperides

“There are persons, who, without ever having any external signs of selfishness, are intensely selfish in their spiritual aspirations.The Labours of Hercules by Alice A Bailey.

Those on the spiritual path may find the esoteric study of The Labours of Hercules by Alice Bailey interesting. It carries a lot of wisdom and my favourite Labour is Gathering the Golden Apples of the Hesperides.


Hercules is sent to find the Golden Apples from the sacred tree of wisdom, growing in a distant land and well-guarded by three maidens and a dragon. Naturally, Hercules wants to take the quickest route. He’s in a hurry. Having no clue as to the whereabouts of this wonderful but elusive tree, he searches far and wide and eventually becomes despondent.

He is sent help in the form of Nereus who drops subtle hints – signposts – but Hercules does not recognise them for what they are. He then meets Busiris – a teacher – who claims knowledge and wisdom will be attained through him and it takes Hercules a long time to realise he has been duped. Time wasted. The teacher is not getting him any closer to finding what he seeks.

Next he meets Prometheus chained to a rock, vultures eating his liver, slowly killing him. Hercules sees Prometheus suffering, helps to set him free and stays with him until he is well before continuing his search for the Golden Apples.

Just as he believes he is close to finding the sacred tree he comes across Atlas carrying atlas-2433967__340the burden of the world on his shoulders. Seeing the intense suffering of Atlas he forgets his own ambitions and assists Atlas in releasing the burden of his load. Time is lost but because he has put Atlas before himself he is immediately handed the Golden Apples. 

He has found what he is seeking; he has passed the tests.

There is so much in this Labour to think about. The first is that despondency on the spiritual path is common to almost every aspirant, if not all. Enlightenment is elusive but then it would be wouldn’t it? We all know we are not going to be handed such a precious pearl without a lot of hard work.

And this is where the signposts come in. They are everywhere apparently but so subtle that they are frequently missed – even by Hercules! The seeker must be ever vigilant in case an opportunity is missed. 

Then we come to the teacher. The guru. Practically every serious seeker wants a guru. Someone to guide them along the path. Show them the shortest and quickest route. Who wouldn’t? But like Hercules, sometimes it distracts the seeker from finding his own way and the search becomes even more arduous; despondency ever greater.

It is only when Hercules encounters intense suffering, suffering he cannot ignore, that he puts aside his own ambitions and selfish desires and helps Prometheus and Atlas. This was all that was required of him. To put the needs of those suffering before his desire to find the tree.

Now back to the quote at the top of the page. We see many around us who give, apparently selflessly, to others in need. But do we know their motives? For many it will be pure and they will, hopefully, be handed the Golden Apples. The pearls.

According to this Labour help offered must come from the heart, not as a way of earning brownie points, thinking ‘Well, if I mow the lawn for the miserable old git next door who never says thank you then at least I’m helping myself into the good books of heaven.’ 

It is not enough to do good deeds with the view to self-enhancement.

Each time I read this particular Labour of Hercules I see more and more of what is required on the spiritual path and it is sometimes painful to reflect and uncover the motives for doing what I do. Am I annoyed when I do something for someone – even as simple as opening a door of a shop – and not get a thank you? Yes! All the time!  I try not to be irritated but deep down I often am. 

Some time ago we had an elderly, sick aunt staying with us and I remember the frustration I felt every time my meditation practise was interrupted by her calling out for something or other. I felt it so important that I completed the exercises if I wanted to achieve my spiritual goals and I got cross with her for preventing me. I didn’t see how I could progress on the path if I didn’t dedicate some of my time to spiritual practise.

I see now that I would probably have moved further along the path if I had put my aunt before my spiritual practice. Helping others – and I’m not talking about flying off to South Sudan or anything like that – is spiritual practice in itself. Spending the hour I would have meditated, reading instead to a crabby aunt, would have been better for both of us.

The three sisters guarding the tree, when they hand over the Golden Apples to Hercules tell him: “The way to us is always marked by service. Deeds of love are signposts on the way.”

So, if you have a difficult spouse, troublesome children, irascible relatives or neighbours – they are probably your tests. 

There are opportunities all around, in the every day. See them for what they are!