Hephaestus symbolizes a person whose attributes are not valued in a patriarchal society, so he has a rough time achieving success. He was called Vulcan by the Romans, and was the craftsman and metal smith of the Olympians. There are two stories regarding the origins of Hephaestus. Since Zeus gave birth to Athena by himself, Hera wanted to get even, so she gave birth to Hephaestus as his sole parent.
Unfortunately, he was born with a clubfoot, and this humiliated Hera. She rejected the child as her son and threw him from the top of Mount Olympus. In the other version, Zeus was angry with young Hephaestus for siding with Hera in a family argument, and hurled him from the top of Mount Olympus, crippling Hephaestus as he fell to the ground on the island of Lemnos. This outcast son was rescued by two sea nymphs, Thetis and Eurynome, and they nurtured and raised him for nine years. Hephaestus adored his two adopted mothers, and learned to be a fine craftsman while in their care, making them all kinds of beautiful jewelry
Hephaestus was portrayed as a burly, muscular man, with a thick neck and hairy chest. His clubfoot caused a pronounced limp or rolling gait, making him the target of mockery from the other, perfect Olympians. He was the least happy and blessed of the gods since he had a deformity, was unsure of his parentage, and was unlucky in love.
But Hephaestus was a creative and artistic genius, also the only god who ever worked! He once created a beautiful, golden throne for Hera. She was thrilled to receive it. But the gift was a well thought out trap, and when Hera sat down, she was tied to the throne by invisible bonds, and it began to levitate in the air. Hephaestus wanted to humiliate her since she would not tell him the truth about his birth.
In other versions, he demanded the right to marry Aphrodite or Athena before he would let Hera off the throne. Nobody except Hephaestus could release Hera, and he left her suspended in air to return to the sea, where he lived with his adoptive Mothers. Ares came down to try to retrieve him, but Hephaestus got rid of him by throwing fire at him. Finally, Dionysus, the god of Wine and Ecstasy, succeeded in getting Hephaestus drunk for the first time, and dragged his brother back to Mount Olympus by draping his drunken body over a donkey.
Hephaestus is also credited with creating Pandora as an instrument of Zeus’s revenge. In Hesiod’s Theogony, humanity was made up of only men, and Zeus did not give them any fire. So Prometheus stole a spark of fire and gave it to them. Zeus parried by asking Hephaestus to create a woman as beautiful as any of the immortal goddesses, to bring misery and confusion to men. She was dressed in elegant clothes, taught to be deceitful and shameless, given lots of sex appeal, and given a box to open. This well known “box” is the one which released suffering, evil and disease into the world.
Hephaestus was able to take out much of his anger and frustration by building and making beautiful objects in his forge below the Earth. He built palaces for the Olympians, created Zeus’ thunderbolts and scepter, and built Apollo’s golden chariot, so he could use it to travel through the sky. Hephaestus generously made arrows for Apollo and Artemis, a sickle for Demeter, weapons for Athena, armor for Achilles, and a necklace for Harmonia to wear to her wedding. Hephaestus made himself golden maid servants who looked like real, beautiful women. They could wait on him, speak to him, and do anything he ordered with skill.
Hephaestus was the husband of Aphrodite, although she had affairs with both gods and other men. He suspected that she conducted her liaisons while he was working at the forge, and set up an elaborate trap to catch her in the act. Hephaestus draped invisible nets across the posts of their marriage bed by suspending them from the rafters on the ceiling.
He summoned the other gods to witness her infidelity, but when she was caught in bed with another lover, they laughed at the sight instead of sympathizing with Hephaestus. He also fell in love with Athena, the virgin goddess of wisdom, and in a passionate moment, tried to make love to her. She pushed him away as he tried to impregnate her, and his semen fell to the Earth and instead fertilized Gaia—Mother Earth. The real life child that resulted from this episode was Erichthonius, founder of the royal house of Athens, and was raised by Athena.
In a culture that values heroic, intellectual, powerful people who have lofty values, or a “sky god culture”, a god like Hephaestus was devalued and oppressed. His archetype was not understood, and so he was rejected when he was thrown out of Olympus.
But Hephaestus was an “earthy” person, who exhibited passionate feelings, good instincts, liked both women and men, and liked to use his body. When he had to interact with the other Olympians, they treated him cruelly, and were unsympathetic to him, even when they saw how Aphrodite disrespected their marriage. But when Hephaestus was at work at his forge and in his own element, his skillful use of fire made him a master craftsman and he could transform raw materials into beautiful objects.
His life work emerged out of the volcanic fire of the forge, work that redeemed and expressed this wounded creator. When this archetype is present, expressiveness and beauty which would otherwise remain buried inside can be let out through work which gives form to these creative aspects of the self. The archetype of Hephaestus is a part of a man or a woman who deeply feels what he or she cannot articulate, so the person gives form to something and creates a thing of beauty.
The Hephaestus archetype predisposes a person to not talk about feelings, but to keep them bottled up inside. He prefers to go off on his own and work in solitude. Then he can either sublimate his feelings or express them through his work. The forge is wherever he does the work of transforming what he feels so deeply into something outside himself. Many artist’s or writer’s studios are merely places where people go to be alone.
Unconsummated love, an unobtainable lover or unrequited love can fuel the fire of the forge when Hephaestus is an active archetype. The fire of the forge is the unexpressed passion that inspires the creativity. Hephaestus’ physical deformity cannot be separated from the emotional wounding caused by his parents. He became the god of the forge as a result of his crippling and rejection. His work was a means to evolve and heal his emotional wounds. Hephaestus is the archetype of the crippled craftsman or wounded creator, whose creativity is inseparable from his emotional wounds.
This is a craftsman very much like a wounded healer whose goal to heal comes from him or herself being so wounded, and his wound heals as he begins to heal others. He can’t be beautiful, so he creates beauty, his foot didn’t work right, so he made creations that worked perfectly. Through his work, Hephaestus and those like him can see themselves intact and well functioning, and through this reflection flows self-respect and the respect and esteem of others.
So the wounds that motivate the work are healed in this way. When the Hephaestus archetype is the major one in a person, he may follow the pattern of the crippled craftsman. But this can only happen if he is lucky enough to have received nurturing and the medium to develop skills that let him express his creativity. Hephaestus found this when his two foster mothers saved him.
A man like Hephaestus seeks a partnership with a woman like Aphrodite because he is drawn to beauty and love, which he is denied, yet still wants to have. The deep passions he has can be stirred by a beautiful woman like Aphrodite in her intensity and sensuality. She can inspire his creative work and set his feelings afire.
Athena fostered the child whom Hephaestus fathered, and represents the intellect that knows how to get things done. Her wisdom is strategic, much like a weaver who must plan ahead to make a design, or a general who must make battle plans. The union of a Hephaestus and Athena within a man’s psyche enables him to understand how to get people out in the world to notice his work. The task of fostering her husband’s artwork or finding ways to make money from it can be aided by such a woman if Hephaestus does not have these qualities in himself.
In order to cultivate this creative and loner archetype, one must withdraw from the world for awhile and get absorbed making something with the hands, something that expresses and transforms feelings that have been pent up for too long. It is sometimes wise to try to get extraverted children to develop introversion because they can’t always depend on others to entertain them all the time. Parents can express the importance of quiet times, building with blocks and clay, and encouraging other creative projects. It is vital to convey there is value in time spent quietly, even if in parallel, quiet activities with the parents.
A Hephaestus man is an intensely focused and introverted person. It’s hard for others to know what is going on inside him, and it’s hard for him to directly express his feelings. He can be an emotional cripple, smoldering volcano, or a highly productive creative man. If as a young man he has discovered ways to be creative and has had his talent nurtured by craftsmen or parents who recognized his potential, he may enter a whole new world.
He can find a niche in a city arts school, and then express himself and become friends with others. Now is the time for him to seek his “real” parentage, as sometimes we don’t feel we belong in the family we have, and seek out others that understand us. What saves a rejected Hephaestus from serious depression is hard, physical work. He may discover relief while working on his car, or finding another absorbing craft. Rewarding work helps him grow and using creativity and psychological energy helps control his anger.
Hephaestus was the only god who worked. His forge was his studio, lab, or workshop. No man is as absorbed and dedicated to his work as a Hephaestus man who has found his life work. They can be in any field: doctors who have the stamina to work a 24 hour shift at the hospital, heart surgeons who do operations that take 20 hours. Anyone who could make the life like Pandora and the golden maid servants is a highly developed artisan.
Such men are inwardly intense, with few social or political skills, he receives recognition that is meaningful to him only because of work. Apollo was the brother who had the ability to wend his way through the medical hierarchy, but the intensity of Hephaestus, with his skill and passion, is what brings the expression of the operation to its fullness. Painters, architects, and metal sculptors are all examples of meaningful careers for creative and passionate people.
The Hephaestus man knows he needs to fulfill his life’s work, but he isn’t only looking for a job. His work must challenge him, and give him pleasure whenever he completes something he made. Many Hephaestus men do go through life depressed, and they first must find work they love, and if they do not have the opportunity to develop those skills, the corporate world will not be satisfying. He works best as a loner, motivated because his work speaks for itself.
Women are very important to a Hephaestus man. Significant people in his life may often have been women, his mother, teachers, gallery owners, or bosses. He has true admiration for women, especially if they are intelligent, assertive, and beautiful. If a woman understands his depth and sensitivity, she can be a major influence in his life. Even if the relationship is a short one, it will live on forever in his mind. This man does work that comes from the inner depths of his life, and he draws images from the collective unconscious of humanity.
Hephaestus is not the frat boy kind of guy. He is repelled by superficial camaraderie, and feels he is nothing like that. Relationships with men who are together for business reasons don’t work for him either. He loathes cocktail parties and has no idea what to say. He often has issues with authority figures, or anyone who tries to shape him into a mold that does not fit him. Hephaestus men are not motivated by outer demands to conform or live up to other people’s standards. He is very inner directed, and if he feels he is being judged, this will evoke anger, which he will then bottle up.
Life is the same as myth in the Hephaestus/Dionysus friend department. Only another intense outsider who makes an effort to understand Hephaestus can succeed, as drinking together is usually a bonding experience between men. Plus a Dionysus man appreciates beauty and understands pain, and is not afraid to show his feelings. So these two archetypes can build a friendship. A more extraverted Dionysus type can articulate, emote, or act out the emotions that Hephaestus hides.
As far as sexuality, Hephaestus is monogamous and faithful, and expects his partner to be as well. However, women in his life may feel neglected by his devotion to his work, and seek out other men for companionship. He makes love and it is a deep and sensual experience for him, but he may not be able to communicate this with his partner. But she is the source of his inner inspiration, and he does really treasure her.
He doesn’t always realize that an Aphrodite woman is drawn to his intensity and fascinated by his creativity. But when she has other lovers, he feels too betrayed by her. He will sublimate his sexual fire into his work and can go through long periods of celibacy, even in a relationship. As far as marriage, his well being in the outer world, as well as his private one, may depend on whom he marries. Traditionally, relationships are something the wife takes care of. She invites friends over, plans vacations, and keeps in touch with the relatives. She may also be the one who has established and maintains his work world and schedules. He is so wrapped up in his work in solitude he needs someone to be his agent. There are three examples of Hephaestus marriages.
With Hephaestus and Aphrodite, she was drawn to his intensity, he drawn to her beauty. They both had an “in the moment” kind of intensity. But he withdrew and took the relationship to an “inner” level, and she could not. Unless she channeled her own energies into work, she would not manage to stay faithful to him. If she had some of a Hera archetype in her, she may have had an affair while he was working to hold onto the marriage.
Athena had the clearest mind of all the Olympian goddesses. She could assess situations very well, and favored successful men. Hephaestus men appreciate a woman who can manage finances and do what he needs to help him succeed, and will view this type of woman as very mysterious. Andrew and Betsy Wyeth had this type of union. She was his business manager when his secret obsession of painting Helga was revealed. Betsy did not moan about how he betrayed her with his model. She was proud of the fact that the paintings were worth a cool ten million dollars!
When Hephaestus created Pandora, he resolved the problem of household chores too, since the golden maiden did all that sort of thing. Plus she spoke, used her limbs, had intelligence, and was trained in handwork. When an older Hephaestus marries a young woman who is receptive and compliant, he can mold her into whatever kind of wife he wants to have. Hephaestus often falls in love with the image of the woman he has created in his mind, assuming incorrectly that this is what she is. But with his tendency of intensity and monogamy, and yearning for intimacy, his mistake of thinking she is the person he has built up in his mind may make the marriage end in disaster.
Hephaestus men do not make good fathers. Children may find him very distant and brooding, as he will be irritated when they interrupt his work. He has anger and control issues. If he has daughters, he may expect them to be like his invented golden maid servants. He is really too much of an individual and too introverted to help his children move forward in the world.
A Hephaestus man needs to know himself and be able to look at his personality objectively. If there were traumatic or abusive situations in his life, psychotherapy is necessary. He needs catharsis, plus the empathy and perspective of another person. Hephaestus feels deeply and has strong reactions to others who affect him emotionally. He may feel like something happened one way, when it really happened another way and he misinterpreted it. Objectivity is important so he knows the reality of each situation he encounters.
If he stays in school through college, that means he developed some communications skills from Hermes. He will have needed more objectivity, which comes from Apollo. Strategic thinking comes from Athena. Hephaestus may even have ambition, which comes from Zeus. So he can call on any of these other archetypes and even may have some of them anyway. He must be sure that even if his work is very absorbing, he must make time for people in his life, and space for other facets of his own self. He needs to be more than just Hephaestus in order to grow.
Hephaestus was chosen as a husband by Aphrodite; he did not vie for her or court her. This was a gift from the goddess of Love and Beauty, she chose him because of his love for and ability to make beautiful things. Then however functional his invention is, it is married to beauty and love, manifested in shape, balance and material. To remain faithful and to have his work grow, he must honor the union. When his work comes through this Hephaestus/Aphrodite union, he feels touched by divinity when he creates.
Ultimately, Hephaestus needs to find and develop attitudes in himself which support and validate him and what he is doing. As he works at developing his creative talents, the promise in the myth of Hephaestus is that he will overcome adversity, handicaps, and any humiliations, and be respected for his works of beauty and precision.
Shinoda, Jean Bolen 1989 Gods In Everyman A New Psychology of Men’s Lives and Loves Harper & Row, NY Part 1 Gods in Everyman pgs. 3-16 Hephaestus, God of the Forge pgs. 131-160
Campbell, Joseph 1964 Occidental Mythology The Masks of God Penguin Books NY Hephaestus pg. 23, 151-154