THE MYTH OF PSYCHE & EROS AND THE PERILS FOR THE AWAKENING SOUL. By Hilary Bond PhD © Copyright. All Rights Reserved.
Many stories and myths tell of the hero or heroine’s quest to find wholeness. The hero’s journey is the quest of Apollo: our Sun cycle. My last article told of Ariadne’s awakening. The myth of Persephone indicates the death of her maidenhood and her awareness of her mature core self. Astrologers talk about age 28 as our first Saturn Return, where we are supposed to be mature and they say there is another peak of maturation around the age 40 to 42 where we are shocked into an awakening. Bilbo Baggins held his 33rd birthday party before he went off on his long quest. Barbara Hand Clow alludes to our Chiron return around the age of 50 as a spiritual awakening. And of course we have all read Women Who Run With the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes, which is primarily about women’s quest for wholeness.
If we believe in past lives, some authors claim that we may not mature for many life times. Michael Newton, in his “Destiny of Souls” hypnotherapy series of books, believes it takes many life times of evolutionary soul growth to mature to a stage of humility and maturity where we are balanced, mentally, physically and spiritually strong. In fact in Greek mythology various people are punished and their families are cursed for hubris or lack of appropriate humility to the gods, so family members devolve. The Bible claims a similar process with seven generation being the appropriate time for curses to clear. Roger Woolger says we can mature through a deep process of regressions into past lives too. All of this maturation relates to time and Saturn-Cronos is the God of time, the senex and the deity of maturity, organisation and responsibility. Shamanic Soul Retrievals and Extractions can bring soul pieces back that have fled during trauma in ancestral lives, this life, gestation, and past lives and sometimes in this shamanic process our guides give us gifts so we function better and evolve quickly. For some White Buffalo Calf Woman calls us to cross the Rainbow Bridge with her.
But what about love? Does this mature our soul or are we searching for passion outside ourself. In my conclusion to my last article on Ariadne, I suggest that, “In astrology Ariadne represents abandonment as an archetypal process that strips away the mind’s illusions in order to hear the calling of the true self. Confronted by the painful reality of being left the individual is forced to relinquish their hopes and fantasies in order to awaken to the authentic path of the heart. Ariadne embodies the soul in relationship that must first experience the painful course of the labyrinth before a divine connection can be realized.”
So how does love redeem Psyche? Let’s find out shall we?
THE STORY OF PSYCH AND EROS.
In this myth, and psychological journey to awakening, we see the archetype “Eros” as one of the first divinities ever, rather that the more modern version, who was the mischievous god of love, a minion and constant companion of the goddess Aphrodite. The poet Hesiod represents Eros as a cosmic force who emerged self-born at the beginning of time to spur procreation. First, says Hesiod (Theogony, p. 120, &c.) there was Chaos, then came Ge (Gaia), Tartarus, and Eros, the fairest among the gods, who rules over the minds and the council of gods and men. Hesiod sees Eros as one of the fundamental causes in the formation of the world, inasmuch as he was the uniting power of love, which brought order and harmony among the conflicting elements of which Chaos consisted.
THE TERM PSYCHE MEANS “breath” or “the soul.” In later times of antiquity, Psyche becomes a personification of the human soul, and Apuleius (Met. iv. 28 &c.) relates about her the following beautiful allegoric story. Psyche was the goddess of the soul, wife of Eros god of love. She was once a mortal princess whose astonishing beauty earned the indignation and rage of Aphrodite when men foolishly turned their worship from the goddess of love to Psyche. Aphrodite demanded that Eros force Psyche to fall in love with the most hideous of men, but the god himself fell in love with her and carried her away to his secret palace. Eros concealed his true identity, and instructed Psyche to avoid gazing upon his face. However, Psyche was eventually tricked by her jealous sisters into gazing upon the face of god, and he abandoned her. Desperately Psyche searched throughout the world for her lost love, and eventually came into the service of Aphrodite. The goddess commanded her perform a series of seemingly impossible tasks which culminated in a journey to the Underworld. In the end Psyche was reunited with Eros and the couple wed in a ceremony attended by the gods.
TASK ONE Aphrodite (Venus) she flew at Psyche, ripped her dress to shreds, tore her hair, made her brains rattle, and pummelled her severely. She then brought some wheat, barley, millet, poppy seed, chickpeas, lentils and beans. She mingled them together in an indiscriminate heap, and said to Psyche: ‘You are such an ugly maidservant that I think the only way you win your lovers is by devoted attendance, so I’ll see myself how good you are. Separate out this mixed heap of seeds, and arrange the different kinds in their proper piles. Finish the work before tonight, and show it to me to my satisfaction.’ Having set before her this enormous pile of seeds, Venus went off to a wedding-dinner.
Psyche did not lay a finger on this confused heap, which was impossible to separate. She was dismayed by this massive task imposed on her, and stood in stupefied silence. Then the little country-ant heard about Psyche’s great problem. It took pity on the great god’s consort, and cursed the vindictive behaviour of her mother-in-law. Then it scurried about, energetically summoning and assembling a whole army of resident ants. It told them: “Have pity, noble protégées of Terra (Earth), our universal mother; have pity, and with eager haste lend your aid to this refined girl, who is Amor’s [Eros’] wife.’ Wave after wave of the ant tribe swept in; with the utmost enthusiasm each and all divided out the heap grain by grain, and when they had sorted them into their different kinds, they swiftly vanished from sight.
It is Eros who calls an army of ants, symbolic of Psyche’s own mental faculty, to arrive and help her do this. They teach Psyche how, in the middle of confusion, to differentiate, evaluate, select and so, to bring order. The ants are representative of a primitive and a still, inner masculinity, a discriminating quality of sorting seeds, which she had to learn for accomplishing the first task.
TASK TWO : Psyche’s next task is to gather wool from a special herd of golden rams. When Aurora’s [Eos the Dawn’s] chariot appeared, Aphrodite (Venus) called Psyche, and shouted: ‘Do you see that grove next to the river. The river’s banks extend into the distance and its low-lying bushes are next to the stream? There are sheep wandering and grazing unguarded, and their fleece has the glory of pure gold! Go there ate once, and get a tuft of wool from the precious fleece for me!’
Psyche did not want to do this task. She preferred to throw herself off a cliff above the river. But one of the green reeds there which create sweet music was divinely inspired by the gentle sound of a caressing breeze, and uttered this prophecy: ‘Psyche, even though you are depressed by great trials, so do not contaminate my waters by your shameful death. You must not approach the fearsome sheep at this hour of the say, when they tend to be fired by the burning heat of the sun and charge about in ferocious rage; with their sharp horns, their rock-hard heads, and sometimes their poisonous bites. They could kill you. In the afternoon the sun’s heat is less, and the flocks have quieted down under the calming influence of the river-breeze, so you will be able to hide under that very tall plane-tree, which sucks in the river-water. Then, as soon as the sheep relax their fury and they become gentle, you must shake the foliage in the neighbouring grove, and you will find golden wool clinging here and there to the curved stems.” So the kind and open reed told Psyche in her great fear how to gain safety. So Psyche followed out every detail, and the theft was easily accomplished. She gathered the soft substance of yellow gold in her dress, and brought it back to Venus.
The symbolism here is that of the Logos, the power of the spiritual impulse, a characteristic of the masculine consciousness. With the wise counsel of the kind reed Psyche can avoiding direct confrontation with pure masculine aggressive, destructive form. Psyche can now embody masculine power without becoming aggressive (falling prey to fight or flight adrenal overload.) Psyche is gaining an understanding of Eros’ nature, even though he is not there, and to understand him from within, by contacting her inner animus. She is accepting the potential of her inner masculinity, without losing her femininity. This process is now giving her inner strengths, courage, integration and wholeness.
APRODITE’S THIRD TASK FOR PSYCHE: Venus cruelly hissed: ” I shall try you out in earnest, to see if you are indeed endowed with brave spirit and unique circumspection. Do you see that lofty mountain-peak, perched above a dizzily high cliff, from where the livid waters of a dark spring come tumbling down, and when enclosed in the basin of he neighbouring valley, water the marshes of the Styx and feed the hoarse streams of the Cocytus? I want you to hurry and bring me back in this small jug some icy water drawn from the stream’s highest point, where it gushes out from within.”
The river Styx is a symbolically powerful current of psychic energy (the unconscious), cascading down from an incredible height. The waters themselves formed an additional defence, for they had the power of speech, and they shouted and seethed: “Clear off!”, “‘What are you doing stupid! “, or ‘What the hell do you think you are doing ! You’ve failed, you fool!’, or “ Why don’t you give up!” “You’re good at procrastinating because you know you will fail.” “We hate you and so does Eros!” “Everyone hates you. We can hear your family laughing at you!” The hopelessness of the situation turned Psyche to stone. She was physically present, but her senses deserted her. She was weighed down by inescapable danger and she could not even cry. To help her Ganymede, an eagle sacred to Zeus flew in. Zeus’s eagle symbolises elevated spiritual intuition. The eagle a cup of the precious water. Emblematically, Psyche dips only a small amount, just a cup, from the river of libido, and therefore her fragile ego is not shattered. Contacting her unconscious depths through an intuitive vision gave her right of entry to her creativity and a solution. The archetypal raging waters of the river symbolize the unconscious, and Psyche needs to bring just a few drops of the sacred water. That one cup contains the whole and is sufficient. Psyche has now completed three tasks, and has assimilated the masculine traits of discernment, of ordering and sorting, of knowledge and power into her feminine nature.
PSYCHE’S FOURTH AND MOST DIFFICULT TASK: The fourth task is one that she needs to accomplish on her own. In this task she must go to the underworld and bring back a box of magic beauty ointment from Persephone ( the Queen of underworld) for Aphrodite. The beauty ointment represents Psyche’s own struggle with her own sexuality and femininity. An inner voice now guides her and gives precise instructions on how to go to Persephone in underworld and then bring back the box, with the specific caution that she is not to gaze into the box under any condition. Psyche follows the instructions to the letter and she is given the box by Persephone, the queen of underworld and the wife of Hades the god of underworld, but on her way back from underworld, she cannot resist the temptation, to use the ointment on her own face and become even more beautiful in the eyes of Eros. So, Psyche opens the magic box of beauty and falls immediately into an unconscious sleep. Howver, Eros has been watching her, aware of her movements. He leaves his mother to go immediately to Psyche’s side and awakens her. Opening the box with the ointment was a necessary part of her individuation. Returning from the unconsciousness and opening her eyes into love, would let Psyche to see that love has always been with her side and has never abandoned her. Psyche has now accomplished and individuated the four tasks into herself, and has surrendered back into her femininity and humanness.
In the final task we saw that Psyche had to have someone to teach and guide her. Examples of this quest toward becoming more aware or conscious may include yoga, mysticism, shamanic journeys, and therapies that lead to individuation. It is a process with ancient roots, going back to the shaman initiating a disciple into the unconscious or the underworld to open up potentialities and to lead to enlightenment. The process frees us from our illusions about our Self and the world though it is a task requiring colossal energy and all our resources and groundedness. It is a quest that once started, must be completed.
The tasks that Psyche endured and accomplished were done for love of Eros, and because of this act of love, Psyche was accepted. She was brought to the heavens by Hermes and where she was given an immortal place by the side of Eros and made divine. The myth of Psyche and Eros can be perceived as a quest for Soul awakening. On an archetypal level, we see that this awakening occurs as a result of our beloved calling us. The love of Eros for Psyche awakens her to the animus (the male within her soul) as a bridge to the divine. Psyche is transformed from her own mortal and human condition to a transcendental awareness of the immortality of her soul. Strangely, most of the ancient depictions of Psyche have butterfly wings, so the other meaning of Psyche is “butterfly” and butterflies are nothing like their original caterpillar form. They have transformed.
The story of Eros and Psyche illustrates the alchemical process of marrying soul and love so that life can be lived with more joy, meaning, and a tangible sense of divine wisdom. The tale has great psychological value since it reveals the development of the initiate’s relationship with his anima as a result of the initiatory process.
Elements of this tale have come down in fairy tales such as Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast. In The Uses of Enchantment (1975), Freudian analyst Bruno Bettelheim interprets the “Cupid and Psyche” myth as a story about a the development of mature consciousness, the difficulty of joining wisdom and sexuality. When Psyche breaks the taboo by using the lamp to see Eros in the darkness, Bettelheim understands this as an attempt to expand her consciousness before she is ready for it. The story warns that trying to reach for consciousness before one is mature enough for it or through short-cuts has far reaching consequences; consciousness cannot be gained in one fell swoop.
But myth, its archetypes and symbols can help us understand our developing consciousness. As Jean Shinola Bolen states: “Myths and symbols are in the language of the soul. A myth helps us to take a situation to heart and know what we must do: if it is to see the truth and act upon it, then the image of Psyche with her sword provides a magic perspective. A symbolic object can then be a talisman that helps us to do what we need to do. Like passing a literal torch, these are rituals that empower us by infusing an act with a deeper meaning. To think and act this way is magical, metaphoric thinking that can call forth the qualities we need from within ourselves and may also tap into sources of help that lie beyond us.” (pp.8-9.)
I hope you have enjoyed this and have thought about this myth in relation to your life. I’d love to hear from you after you read this and tell me how this tale effects you. Have a wonderful day ~ Starcounsell.
Ai Gvhai Waya (1992. ) Soul Recovery and Extraction. Cottonwod , Arizona.
Apuleius, (Metamorphoses ). The Golden Ass 4. 28 – 6. 24 (Roman novel C2nd A.D.)
Bolen, J. S. (1989.) Goddesses in Everywoman: Archetypes that shape women’s lives. NY: Quill.
Bruno Bettelheim (1975.) Uses of Enchantment.
Cotterell, A. & Storm, R. (2005.) The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Mythology: An A-Z guide to the myths and legends of the ancient world. London: Heremes House.
Hesiod. The Theogeny of Hesiod. Translated by H. G. Evelyn-White. . (ll. 1-25)
Ingerman, S. ( 1991.) Soul Retrieval: Mending the Fragmented Self. New York: Harper.
E.J. Kenney (1990.) , Apuleius: Cupid and Psyche. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Martin Lowenthal (2004.) Alchemy of the Soul: The Eros and Psyche Myth As a Guide to Transformation. Ibis Press: Nicolas Hays.
Michael Newton (2008. ) Destiny of Souls: New Case Studies of Life Between Lives. Minesota: Llewellyn.
Roger Woolger ( 2010.) Healing Your Past Lives : Exploring the Many Lives of the Soul.