Eros and Psyche

 

There are two myths, that of Parsifal and Psyche which seem to be representative of two ways of being which epitomise two very basic and entirely complimentary, patterns of development of the masculine and the feminine. The astrological alphabet can be similarly divided, the fire and air signs (Aries, Leo, Sagittarius and Gemini, Libra and Aquarius) being more masculine in nature and the earth and water signs (Taurus, Virgo Capricorn and Cancer, Scorpio and Pisces) being more feminine. These terms can be taken as either meaning men and women, or as the development of the masculine and the feminine in both men and women. Robert Johnson describes the two ways of being as focused consciousness of the masculine and the diffuse awareness of the feminine. Their quests, as described by these myths, are very, very different.

In some ways it is possible to look at the sun in the horoscope and relate it to the mythic hero or heroine. Psyche is, in a sense, the sun in a woman's chart, has more to do with embodiment while Parsifal representing the sun in a man's is more about manifestation.
 
To begin the story, Psyche is a woman of unearthly beauty. As she grows up and this beauty is noticed more and more so that in time she begins to be worshipped as the most exquisite creature ever born, even more beautiful than the goddess Aphrodite herself. This makes Aphrodite not only very jealous but outraged that she should be compared to a mortal.
 
Aphrodite will only be appeased if Psyche is offered to a sea monster, so she is chained to a rock far from land to await her fate. Eros her son, is sent to oversee things and ensure that all goes to plan. Unfortunately in the process he manages to prick himself with one of his own love arrows and so falls helplessly in love with Psyche. Without telling his mother, Eros carries Psyche off as his bride.
 
These are common enough themes, perhaps suggestive of the feminine journey being one that  starts from some necessity that is taken on as a result of circumstances rather than choice. There is no judgement here and certainly no fault, it simply is so. Psyche is chained to a physical rock, but there are so many others in life. The most common rock traditionally being that of biology, but there are others.
 
As far as are tale goes they are for a time, blissfully happy. However as a god Eros has demanded one condition from his bride: she is not allowed to ever see his face or know his identity. Nonetheless she is treated with great love and they enjoy the physical  delights and sensual pleasures of their union.
 
Inevitably though Psyche become curious, the beginnings of consciousness begin stir within and her jealous sisters taunt her with questions and fill her with doubts about her husband claiming that she must be under an evil spell of some hideous monster, so one night she determines to see for herself. Taking a knife and an oil lamp, she creeps upon Eros one night as he is sleeping. For here one must have both a lamp (a symbol of illumination or consciousness that allows us to see the situation clearly) and a knife (the power to act decisively, to be able to sever bonds).
 
 
To her utter amazement, Psyche sees no beast at all, but the divinely beautiful god Eros. In her confusion she also pricks herself on one of the arrows in Eros' quiver, and falls even more in love with him. But with her trembling hand she also spills a drop of hot oil from her lamp on his shoulder.  The pain of the burn awakens him, so there they are confronting one another, she with her astonishing discovery of the real nature of her husband, he with the horrified realisation that she has found out his secret. So he leaves her, because as a god  he cannot be seen with a mortal.
 

Distraught, and even more desperately in love now she determines to find him, and so her quest begins.
 
Enter Aphrodite, the mother-in-law, who, still hating her human rival begins to set up a series of tasks to obstruct her. So it is that Psyche must undergo a series of labours, as does every heroic figure, male or female. At each step of the way the goddess tries to thwart her. Psyche nevertheless prays to Aphrodite for guidance.
 
In a sense these tasks represent what the feminine psyche must learn in order to grow. On completion of each of the four tasks, the woman who identifies with Psyche or the handless maiden has become competent psychologically in ways she was not before. Psyche's first test is that she is given an enormous heap of seeds of every conceivable size and shape, and she is told that she must sort them in a day. This is an inhuman task because there are so many millions of seeds. If she fails, then the goddess will kill her.
 
Despite beginning her task ,Psyche soon becomes distraught and despairing at the enormity of what she knows she can not do . She simply sits and weeps.  As she does so, ants come from deep within the earth and complete the task for her. By sunset Aphrodite finds the seeds are all neatly arranged in piles.
 
Similarly when she attends to the task of sorting a vast number of different seeds into separate mounds, a woman acquires the ability to sort out possibilities, to make order out of confusion, to learn that she has the psychological, intellectual, or intuitive means to sort out and make sense of what she faces when she is on her own.
 
Furious Aphrodite gives Psyche her second task which is to acquire some fleece from the golden rams of the sun, which are huge, aggressive man-eating rams that butt heads as they competitively fight for dominance.
 
This might be interpreted as the need to find a way of getting a symbol of power for herself without being trampled or destroyed in the effort. This is the same task a woman must do when she goes out into the competitive world and must fend for herself. She has to learn to acquire the golden solar power she needs without losing her soul and becoming tough, unrelated to others, and out of touch with her feelings and values.
 
Again Psyche is overwhelmed at what she must do and again gives way to her grief at the thought of her impending failure. Again help comes from an unlikely source in the form of the reeds whispering that they will collect the wool from the rams as they wander past and that Psyche can collect it from them at dusk. This she does and Aphrodite sets her  third task.
 
This requires that Psyche collect a vial of water from the River Styx. This is both deadly poison and confers immortality. But it's impossible to get water from this river, because it is surrounded by jagged rocks and full of torrential rapids. Over come and forlorn once more Psyche is about to cast herself from the rocks when an eagle suddenly appears and offers to collect the water in the vial by swooping down into the deep river gorge..
 
In a sense this task requires that Psyche gain the overview perspective of an eagle as well as the eagle's ability to discriminate and grasp what it wants. When a woman has learned this, she has gained the ability to see patterns and act decisively on her own behalf.
 
Note how when faced with each of these tasks, Psyche, unlike the typical male hero, doesn't do anything as such. She doesn’t go out and unseat any knights or rescue any damsels. She slays no monsters, wields no clubs, conquers no kingdoms and redeems no omens. Instead she remains in the well of her feeling self and gives vent to these feelings, and this seems always to invoke some instinctual life force which can aid her because it knows a solution she herself could not possibly come to. Psyche learns to rely on her own natural knowing self and her connection with nature and life itself. Throughout she maintains her relationship with the unseen forces of the world around her all in the quest for love and the god of love which so often underlay’s the journey of the feminine. Either as an image of the external pattern of relationship or of the internal pattern where a woman seeks union with her own creative spirit.
 
Aphrodite, furious at Psyche's survival, claims that the stress of caring for her son, made depressed and ill as a result of Psyche's lack of faith, has caused her to lose some of her beauty and that for her final task she must fetch for Aphrodite some of Persephone’s ointment which is said to confer beauty and immortality. To do this she must journey down to the very underworld itself. To succeed in this she is told to receive instructions from a tower, instructions that are very clear, she must pay her way, that is to say, she must pay the ferryman who takes across the river Styx, here she is told to pay no heed to the hands that cleave at her from the water. Then she must appease Cerebus the three headed dog who guards the entrance on the other side and on her return she must not open the bottle.
 
What she must do now is to descend into the very underworld itself. To face the darkness of her own immortality and the inner spaces of her soul, to bow herself before Hades alter and then return. Orpheus is the only other mortal to have succeeded in doing this. The image of the tower here is instructive. A tower is a man made edifice, a structure with foundations firmly anchored in the earth. An ancient tradition or pathway with a history that goes back deep in the past for this is depth work, not some weekend workshop.
 

 
Throughout this story Psyche displays an exceedingly curious mix of on the one hand passivity and on the other, utter commitment and determination and dreadful as her tasks might be it is only in attempting them that she can become a fitting companion for the divine. Remaining unconscious or asleep, living an unexamined life at the side of her partner is no longer an option. In order to grow, Psyche must learn to grow; each one seems impossible until helpers come to her aid,  ants, a reed, an eagle, and a talking tower (all symbols for qualities within
her).
 
Following the instructions etched into the edifice of that tower Psyche then, is able to enter the under world, that is her own inner depths, only because she is able to adhere to what she has been told, to pay her tolls, acknowledged and feed her instinctual self and say no to those who want her to help them. She gains the ability to do what every woman must learn to do. For on this occasion she is not to rescue people or do for them, on this committee or that, for the cost of doing so would trap her in fulfilling others needs and not her own, her growth becoming stunted, and she would become further removed from the possibility of becoming whole herself for there are times in out life when it is necessary to say no to others and attend to our own inner imperatives. Then there is the long and solitary pathway down to find her depths and the gods that dwell there.
 
At the end of her long and perilous journey she finally must  comes face to face with Hades Lord of Darkness himself, but Persephone takes pity on her and gifts her some of her precious ointment.  So begins the return, which as Joseph Campbell notes is the most perilous part of the journey. 
 
As one might well imagine she fails, right at the end when daylight appears on the long way up she pauses and opens the ointment thinking that she might make herself more beautiful for her beloved Eros.  The moment she touches the ointment, she sinks into a deep, deathlike sleep. Just as she is near death, Aphrodite relents and allows Eros to save her and the whole story is redeemed. Psyche is rescued and revived and brought to Olympus where she remains with Eros and raised to the stature of a goddess. So it is in the manner of such stories they live happily ever after.

 See also Parsifal and Myths for out Time

 

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