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Cerberus, Guard Dog Of The Underworld

nekeuomanteion Jul 27, 2017

Photo Credit: (Roman Statue)

By User Nabokov; "Photo by Tom Oates" - Detail einer römischen Marmorstatue um 180 n. Chr., Archäologisches Museum Iraklio, Kreta, CC BY-SA 3.0,


In a previous post, I discussed the site of the Sybil of Cumae.   The sybil was the primary oracle Priestess of Cumae in Italy. There in her mysterious oracle chamber she sat flanked on her stone throne by her two ferocious dogs. Many of the local coins of the region depict a three headed dog , now known mythically as Cerberus, and scholars believe that Cerberus must have been a very important magical icon in the region during ancient times. So what is the significance of this ferocious three headed beast commonly known as “Fluffy” in Harry Potter, and how did he come to be?
It has been my experience that mythology is a very elaborate cipher system and more often then not its’ lore refers to ancient stellar or celestial events.
The earliest known worship of a Canine deity was in Egypt and it originated with the cult of the Dog Star Sirius, also known as Sothis, which is yet another name for Isis originally. Robert Temple’s book, Sirius Mystery discusses some important clues that may have given us the Cerberus archetype, particularly in reference to the Sirius star system. The Dog star in fact has two orbiting stars, known as Sirius B and Sirius C which until very recently were never able to be seen by the naked eye. It was only until our modern astronomers had developed very advanced space viewing equipment that the discovery of these two orbiting stars around Sirius was made. How interesting then is it, that the Dogon tribe in the middle of the African jungle has known about the orbiting planets of Sirius for hundreds of years, including the knowledge in great detail of their elliptical orbits. Their knowledge was so intimate that this lore has become enshrined in the religious rites of the tribe for hundreds if not thousands of years. In fact the Dogon tribe claims to have ancestors originating from the Sirius Star System.
When I first contemplated the Sybil of Cumae and her oracle chamber I was puzzled at first. If, thought I, the Sybil’s totem was Cerberus and if Cerberus was in fact a three headed dog; why then did she only have two dog ties flanking her throne in the oracle chamber? It didn’t take me too long to figure out that the Sibyl herself makes the third and primary head of the dog. Sirius in Egyptian History let us remember was another name for Isis, the presiding Goddess of the culture and therefore associated with the Primary Dog Star. The Sybil Priestess was then the human representative of the Goddess Isis. The two dogs on either side of the Sybils’ throne then logically would be representative of Sirius B the Dwarf star, and Sirius C.
We must also bear in mind that as religious rites migrated to other parts of the world from Egypt they did change and adapt some. The Egyptian Goddess Isis later becomes Demeter in the Eleusinian Underworld Rites of Greece. And Persephone is her dark daughter of the underworld, Just as Nephethtys becomes Isis’s Underworld sister. In light of this migratory phenomena of religious symbolism it is not too large of a jump to see why later in Cumae Italy the Sibyl becomes the guide of souls to the neighboring volcanic Avernus Underworld Oracle of Persephone and Hades. Depending on who tells the story, Demeter and Persephone are oftentimes interchangeable as the same goddess. Demeter for example cloaks herself in a dark robe and hides in a dark cave to grieve through the winter, taking on all of the underworld death and darkness aspects that Persephone usually does. My researches to date have indicated that possibly the rites of Eleusis in Athens Greece which celebrated the Mysteries of Demeter and Persephone, were secretly connected to the rites of the Avernus Oracle (which I discusses a couple of issues ago), but possibly only for a very few select and elite group of chosen initiates.
Cerberus was also responsible in mythology for the creation of the aconite plant, also known appropriately as “wolfs bane” , and comprises one of the traditional witches baneful herbs. The aconite plant was seeded into the earth by Cerberus’s saliva. Some ancient accounts of a hero’s journey in reaching the underworld describe in great detail the aconite fields that must be navigated in order to reach the entrance to Hades. It is Cerberus’s job to guard the boundary of Hades, keeping those who are dead within its borders and those who are not out of Hades. Only initiates who are guided properly are allowed entrance into the underworld realm, and measures must be taken to “put the dog to sleep” so to speak in order to cross the threshold unharmed. This may have also been a very mysterious way of saying that initiates were probably drugged under very carefully controlled circumstances in order to experience the “other world” realms.

Cerberus would then have much in common with Mercury/the Ferryman who also guides souls to the other world. Mercury is associated with poison as well, and possessed many qualities similar to the underworld god himself, as well as that of a trickster and master of illusion.

It was believed that the Sibyl of Cumae upon bringing the initiate to the entrance of the underworld and ushering him down into the dark corridors of the Avernus temple, would then hand offerings of honey cakes to the dogs which guarded the entrance. The cakes may have been drugged, and may have tranquilized the creatures, or it would have simply been a form of recognition such as a mailman might throw a dog a biscuit to gain his trust and get past him.

Whatever the case, a specific measure had to be taken to symbolically ensure the candidate for initiation was able to pass by the dogs and the border between worlds without being attacked. This would have been literally in the presence of an actual guard dog. Or symbolically in the act of informed or uninformed drugging of the candidate through careful preparation by the priesthood. And only the Sibyl or other of the Priest inhabitants would have known how to get by the dogs at the temple of Avernus or would have known the chemical formulas and dosages for the drugs (very possibly aconite in the traditional ancient times in that local) which may have been administered to the candidates . For a candidate to have tried on his own to negotiate the guard dogs without a guide to keep them at bay, would have been folly.

It goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway to cover my backside, that I do not recommend anyone EVER try taking aconite to experience the journey and resurrection through the underworld.  For one, this is merely speculation on my part on a potential ancient practice.  Secondly you will probably become one of the underworlds' inhabitants permanently and it is doubtful there will be a resurrection if you are foolish enough to try ingesting it.
Aconite is deadly and you will die a miserable death if you take it, as are all other traditional witches “baneful” herbs. Modern practitioners of the craft who know very little about herbs or their proper preparation or leeching processes should leave them well enough alone.
The only use that is ever recommended for aconite in modern times is by a qualified homeopathic doctor who has access to tinctures which are so diluted, and the doses so incredibly minute as to be relatively harmless. But it is used only for very specific ailments and only under medical supervision.

Since the dog in many cultures is associated with the underworld and of guiding souls through the land of the dead, it is only fitting to look to the cult of the ancient Dog Star Sirius to understand Cerberus and all of his cross cultural counterparts. Study of the Egyptian Book of the Dead must be undertaken to really see how the religion progressed. The book of the Dead is a detailed account of the Egyptian rites that candidates for initiation had to go successfully experience by descending into Amenti (The Egyptian underworld) and back again a newly arisen Osiris. In Egypt, Anubis would have been the predecessor to the Greek/Roman Cerberus who developed later. In fact Anubis is the Greek translation of his name. His name in Egyptian is “Anpu” and his duties were two fold. One, guide to the souls through the underworld. Two, he presides over the rites of mummification which was a very important part of the rites because it was mummification that preserved the spirit so that it could be successfully resurrected again into a new spiritual life and to become Osiris the newly risen spiritual man. Thus in the resurrection of Osiris we see the cross over of the resurrection of Persephone in the Eleusinian Rites when she comes back up from the underworld again in Spring after her descent into Hades in the Fall. We also see the origin of the Crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus in Christian Mythology from much more ancient times. Christianity remember is only 2000 years old. The Rites of the Cult of the dog Star are closer to six or seven thousand years old. New religions are not typically invented with political conquests. Old religions are simply reformed and modified to become the new presiding religions and with it, the creation of new propaganda.
The rise and descent of this underworld journey/resurrection process was originally intimately tied to the placement of Sothis/Sirius in the Sky. In Egypt the Heliacal rising (meaning the time you could see the star rising on the horizon) of the Dog Star on the Egyptian horizon coincided with the flood of the Nile and was therefore associated with the rebirth of Osiris and the agricultural fertility it brought to the desert lands at the time of the summer solstice. These were known as the “dog days” which were associated with the hot summer sweltering weather of the Egyptian desert, and this is where the term “dog days” has its origin. For 70 or so days when the star could not be seen physically in the sky it was said that Osiris was in the underworld. In the summer when the star was visible, Osiris was the reborn and arisen man/god.

When the underworld mystery rites migrated to Greece, they probably had to make adaptations to their seasonal associations by virtue of climate differences and agricultural cycles peculiar to that local. The Eleusinian rites were not oriented to the Solstices, as they were in Egypt. They did not after all have a Nile river that was an integral part of their agricultural cycle. Rather the rites were adapted to the Spring and Fall equinoxes in Greece, instead and thereby became the more commonly known myth for the changing of the seasons. When Demeter grieves over her lost daughter in the underworld she is said to threaten the existence of life on earth by refusing to make things on the planet to the grow. Persephone is kidnapped to the underworld typically in the Fall when the leaves of the plants begin to fall at the Equinox. Upon Persephone’s return in spring, the plants then bloom again and life thrives in accordance to Demeter’s joy of being reunited with her daughter once again.

I look forward to continuing research on the mythology of the dog star and being able to surmise other possible connections with regard to the Dog Star which may be very relevant to the Mystery Traditions. 

Monique Lockhart

Copyright 2007

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