In the division of the world between the three sons of Chronos, the rule over the "lower world," that is, the interiors of the earth and the kingdom of the dead, fell to Hades or Pluto, who is somewhat difficult of interpretation owing to the variety of aspects under which he may be considered.
His name, Hades, or more properly Aides, signifies "the invisible one," being derived from "a" not, and "eido," to see— referring either to his renowned helmet which conferred invisibility, or else to the invisible realm over which he ruled. The name Pluto is probably connected with the Greek word ploutos, meaning ''wealth,'' referring to the mineral riches hidden within the bowels of the earth.
As an individual, Pluto is represented with a majestic aspect like his brothers, but with a more stern and gloomy countenance, -—dark, heavily bearded, and with tightly closed lips. On his head he wears a peculiar crown on which is represented the crescent moon and under this an inverted crescent, with its horns pointing downward. In one hand he holds a key, and in the other a two-pronged sceptre. At his side is the helmet of invisibility, which on one occasion he lent to Minerva who again bestowed it upon Perseus when this hero went forth to slay the Gorgon. At his feet sits the three-headed dog, Cerberus. These symbols will be of assistance in the interpretation of Hades in his threefold aspects.
First, as the brother of Zeus and Poseidon, and as one of the three world-rulers, Pluto must represent one of the three universal degrees of Divine Truth in the Word of the Ancient Church. Now, if Zeus represents celestial Truth, or the celestial sense of the Ancient Word, and if Poseidon represents spiritual Truth, or the genuine sense within the natural sense, it follows that Pluto must represent the most ultimate degree of Divine Truth, the natural sensual degree, or the merely literal sense of the Word, the "letter which killeth," the dead letter.
As such we find Pluto as the god of the interiors of the earth, in which, as in the letter of the Word, there are inexhaustible mines of wealth, invisible on the surface but obtainable to those who ''dig,'' i. e., investigate. As such also we can understand the meaning of the key, the two-pronged sceptre, the composite crescent on his crown, and helmet of invisibility. The key here signifies the Word closed as to its inner meanings. The two-pronged sceptre,—each prong of which is a little flame,—seems to signify the power of the Word in the letter, with its twofold correspondences, ranging from opposite to opposite, each word having both a good and an evil significance. Compare in this connection the angel with the flaming sword, (or "sword of a flame"), guarding the way to the tree of life,—by which is signified the Word in the letter, which can be turned and twisted so as to confirm either truth or falsity. The double crescent signifies faith derived from the letter of the Word, which may turn upward to heaven or downward to hell. The helmet of invisibility also points to the literal sense which at times makes the spiritual sense invisible, that is, incomprehensible. Cerberus, in the best aspect, signifies the same letter, which acts as a guardian over the internal sense, preventing profaners from entering in.
Secondly, in his character of judge of the dead, Pluto not only represents the judgment which is passed upon every one after death, but also the World of Spirits or that intermediate world in which the judgment is effected, as well as the general state of spirits when first entering the other world,—a state of sensual appearances derived from nature and the literal sense of the Word.
Here again, we see the fitness of the composite crescent, turning upward and downward, and of the key which opens the gates of heaven and of hell. Cerberus, also, represents the guards which are set at the gates of heaven and of hell, preventing the unworthy from entering heaven or from passing out of that "bourn from which no traveller returneth." It is evident that in this aspect of Pluto, the Greeks borrowed liberally from the Egyptian conception of Osiris, the judge of the dead. In fact in later times, he was distinctly identified with the Graeco-Egyptian Divinity Serapis, (Osiris-apis), and the emperor Julian, (the "apostate"), states that an oracle informed him that Pluto and Serapis are the same divinity.
Thirdly, when, in the decadence of the Ancient Church, the love of the world made the idea of death a fearful and intolerable thought, the conception of Hades was perverted into a conception of hell and damnation. Pluto now became identified with another divinity, Plutus, the god of filthy lucre, the love of the world and of riches, for the sake of pleasure and dominion, and it is in this aspect that Pluto is referred to in the Writings of the New Church.
It may be suggested that the myth of the three brothers, Zeus, Poiseidon and Pluto, is a more or less indistinct echo of the ancient knowledge of the three sons of Noah,—Shem, Japheth and Ham. Shem represents the genuine, spiritual, and internal Church and seems to fit in with the idea of Zeus. Japheth represents the external Church among those who were in simple good, and corresponds well with Poseidon. And Ham, whose name means "black," and who represents the external Church corrupted by the love of the world, may well be identified with the black-visaged, forbidding figure of Pluto, in his evil aspect.