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Psyche and Eros, What I’ve learned, so far

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Part 1, the hero loses her innocenceImage

Note: to hear the story of Psyche and Eros, go here. This essay covers Part 1 of the story.

Psyche is a dream that is born on the material plain. She is what we desire, yet fear keeps us from her. Psyche, the Soul, is our most deepest, most beautiful self. It is that part of us that remains guilty of innocence if we don’t test it or allow it to suffer. If Psyche doesn’t fall from her grace, we never experience the fullness of life.

Aphrodite is the goddess of love and procreation, making her a material god. When this goddess is dreamed up in the minds of man way back when, she is a necessary ingredient to keep humanity alive and growing in numbers. She is, I suggest, a part of the nature worship of the time since she is all about sex and procreation.

That’s the important point here. We 21st century moderns think of her as the goddess of love only. She is not. Before the Greeks became civilized, small, crude statues of fertility goddesses graced the hearths of several primitive societies. As humanity developed itself, they improved their gods. Aphrodite morphed, from that chunky hearth goddess into the elegant lady of the Classical world. She becomes the love goddess. This aspect of her is important if civilization is to be refined.

Aphrodite gives birth to a son, Eros, which is a Greek word for sexual or erotic love. Thus sex too evolves; the caveman with his club gives way to the urbane lover seeking passion and pleasure; procreation is hidden away in the heat of a moment of love.

With Eros, human beings now have an excuse for sex divorced from procreation. Civilized human beings fall in love. This adds a dimension to their married life. While children are still the bedrock of marriages, they take a backseat to the pleasure principle. An example of this is the story of Jacob and his two wives, Leah and Rachael. Jacob was tricked into Leah so that he could get Rachael.  It doesn’t matter if Rachael is barren for many years. Her lack of fecundity doesn’t stop Jacob from loving her. When she does give birth, her children are very favored by their father because they are the product of loving sex.

Psyche first appears in a story that  takes place in ancient Sicily. We are introduced to her as a child of extraordinary beauty. She is so gorgeous that she stops people in the streets.  The gossip of just how beautiful the young Psyche is spreads throughout the region until others come to stare at her.  There is an unpleasant side to this and it’s twofold: Psyche is so beautiful no one will marry her, and people begin to worship her as they would a goddess, thus neglecting the real deity.

What does it mean to be so beautiful yet so untouchable? In my telling of the story, I have the Oracle or Sage say that no one will marry Psyche because they think she is perfection. No one wants to disturb perfection. Perfection is downright scary. Who can live up to it? What human being can attain perfection? What human can marry it?

No one. Thus no one will unite with it for it is impossible. Psyche cannot be married to any human being.

While her parents attempt to find Psyche a husband, the people continue their neglect of Aphrodite. When the goddess discovers she is being ignored, she returns to her primitive and natural roots. She withholds procreation on Sicily. All erotica ceases among humans, and all mating ceases among animals, insects and plants. The island begins to die. Humanity may now have beauty, but it is useless without life. The world is out of balance.

Psyche, aware that she, without trying, has unbalanced nature, seeks to remedy the situation. The Sage has already predicted that a husband awaits Psyche on top of Mount Aetna, but the mountain has a reputation for monsters roaming its peak. Nonetheless, Psyche decides to please the goddess who has said she must go meet her fate up on the mountain.

Unlike other heroes of mythology, Psyche has been too protected, too adored without commitment. While it may seem silly to say so, she has been neglected by those who think they are in love with her.  Psyche lived the life of a woman who is forever dated yet never purposed to. Her sisters marry. They will live ordinary lives. Not Psyche. Is it risky to suggest she might be a little hurt or bored with her circumstances? Add into that mix that through no fault of her own, yet because of her, Sicily is dying. For the blameless girl, this could be a crisis worth exploiting. What others see as a condemnation by the goddess she sees as a release. Regular life is not for her. Why not embrace that?

Here is where Psyche’s life becomes the typical mythological hero story. She takes up the challenge, she will go up that mountain. A modern analogy is the young person leaving home to go into the army during a war. She hasn’t been drafted. She volunteers. Her parents are beside themselves with worry and sorrow but they don’t stop her. Her country needs her. So does she. Psyche leaves her life and everyone and everything behind her. It is the first step of fulfillment

In part 1, the process of stripping away Psyche’s innocence begins. The first layer was removed when no one would marry her, thus allowing her to see how little and petty people could be. She lost another layer of innocence when she learned of the vindictiveness of the goddess, who reverted to type when threatened. A third layer came away when no one would take up her cause, no one would lead the people to reestablish the worship of Aphrodite thereby relieving Psyche.

It was left to Psyche to become the leader, to become her own hero. Her trek up Mount Aetna, then, is the beginning of her hero’s journey.

Written by lcrockett

July 2, 2013 at 4:52 pm