Excerpt from Marie Louise Von Franz, Golden Ass
This type of fairy tale—the Amor and Psyche motif—is very widespread. “Beauty and the Beast” would be another example. The story is to be found in Russia, Spain, Germany, Italy, Greece, and even in India and Africa. Typologically, it is the story of a young girl married to an unknown husband who appears either in an animal shape or in demonic form or who forbids her to call him by name or look at him in the light or in a mirror. Then she loses him by disobedience, and after a long, painful quest succeeds in finding him again and redeeming him. Usually he has been bewitched by a witch or wizard. Most philologists believe the story to be over two thousand years old.
We are dealing here with the typical motif of the marriage quaternio, a scheme which, according to Jung, lies at the heart of every transformation process based on love, namely: a real couple, a man and a woman, and the corresponding archetypal aspects of their anima and animus, which are involved in every essential situation of mutual individuation between the sexes. The marriage quaternity is a symbol of totality.
The idea of the god Eros went through a long development up to the late Greek-Roman culture, for originally he was a Boeotian god, and the Boeotians were looked upon as primitive, rustic, and uncouth. He was worshiped by them in the form of a big wooden or stone phallus or just as a stone; he was thought of as the creative chthonic god who effected the fertility of the cattle and the fields and protected the wells. He was attributed with the special ability of protecting the tribe and its freedom in wartime, as well as its love life, especially homosexual love. In ancient Sparta the groups in men’s societies were usually homoerotic and, thus united, became the protagonists for freedom and the protection of the country. Homosexuality formed a kind of bond which led to a heroic attitude and also to a strengthening of the inner political life. Thus Eros is very close to the Greek god Hermes, who was also worshipped as a phallus in stone or wood or as a man with an erect phallus. In earliest times Hermes and Eros were practically identical. In Plato’s writings, Eros is also considered the source of fertility and an inspiring force in all spiritual achievements. Later he became a literary figure and lost much of his original impressive power.
There are few large images of Eros left in antique art, but many little cut stones and gems on which he is represented as winged, sometimes as a winged being who shows his genitals, and frequently as a hermaphrodite. Or he is represented as a winged youth smelling flowers with a zither in his right hand, or as a winged phallus with a head on it or a small boy with a divine snake or a grown-up winged youth with a bow and arrow, as in Renaissance art. Or he is represented as a boy riding on Psyche as a butterfly, or sitting on the lap of his mother, the goddess of love, Aphrodite, or playing with her. Besides these representations the god Eros is also found in many Greek and Roman tombs as the protecting spirit of the dead or as the spirit of the deceased person. He is frequently shown holding a torch downward, the symbol of death. Again he is represented—and this comes closer to our fairy-tale motif—as holding a butterfly and sadistically burning it with his torch, which represents the idea that Eros, the god of love, is a great torturer of the human soul and at the same time its great purifier.
Love with its passion and pain becomes the urge toward individuation, which is why there is no real process of individuation without the experience of love, for love tortures and purifies the soul. Expressed differently, Eros presses the butterfly painfully against his chest, representing the soul being developed and tortured by the love god. On one beautiful gem the goddess Psyche, with her hands behind her back, is being tied by the god to a column which ends in a sphere. One could say that this image expresses in a beautiful way the process of individuation. Eros tying Psyche to the column surmounted by a sphere, the symbol of totality which is realized by suffering. Sometimes one would like to run away from the person to whom one is tied, in order to run away from the dependence, but Eros forces us to become conscious through this tie. Love makes us dare everything and leads us thus to ourselves. Therefore one of Eros’s main epithets, which he had in antiquity, was “purifier of the soul.”
Eros is very close to the alchemical Mercurius, who also has the arrow of passion and the torch, representing the torturing and painful aspect of love. At the entrance of the Aesculapian temple in Epidaurus, where the sick came to be healed of psychological or physical diseases, were the pictures of the two healing principles of Eros and Methē (drunkenness). Love and drunkenness are the great healing forces for soul and body. The drunkenness referred to here is not that obtained through alcohol, though this vulgar aspect is in it, for in drunkenness you are out of your narrow ego confines and are lifted ecstatically to another world beyond the worries of everyday life. This experience of elevation and of eternity links us again with the archetypal basis of the psyche and has a healing and transforming effect.
Eros, one of the healing gods in ancient Greece, is also the “divine child” in some of its mystery cults. In the Eleusinian mysteries there took place the birth of a mystical divine child sometimes called Plutus, Iacchos, or Triptolemos and also sometimes called Eros. The central archetypal idea is that the divine earth mother gives birth to a divine boy, who is at the same time redeemer and god of fertility. He corresponds to the Mercurius in alchemy. All the later associations and ideas about love in medieval times absolutely coincide with what was said of Eros in earlier antiquity, and he is therefore a symbol of the Self. In the symbolism of alchemy there is always the divine couple: a god and a goddess, or a king and a queen, who represent the transcendental personalities, and a cock and a hen as the empirical personalities. Psyche would be the divine feminine partner of Eros, but in our fairy tale she is an ordinary human being, though in some other instances she is looked upon as half-divine, like Eros himself.
Psyche appears less as a divinity in late antiquity. She is nearly always represented together with Eros, sometimes without wings when she corresponds more to our figure in the story and is more in contrast to the immortal god, Eros. More frequently, however, she has wings, with the typical points or dots or circles which characterize butterfly wings. Then she is more a figure of the type of the divine young girl, Kore, the central figure of the Eleusinian mysteries. In the Eleusinian mysteries, which, according to Jung, are mainly mysteries of the feminine psyche, the main theme is the story of Demeter, whose daughter, Kore (the divine maiden), was abducted by Hades-Pluto, the god of the dead and of the underworld. Finally, through the mediation of Zeus, she is allowed to have her daughter back from time to time. But this is only one aspect of the story. There must have been many more components of the mysteries which we do not know. But we do know that Kore gives birth to a mystical child, generally called Iacchus or Brimos (“the strong one”) and in some late texts also Triptolemus or Eros. That was the great event of the night of initiation into the Eleusinian mysteries.
Exactly what the mysteries were has never been betrayed, and we know them only through certain allusions by the Church Fathers who were initiated before their conversion to Christianity. But even after becoming Christian, they seem either not to have had the courage or to have had too much respect for the mystical content of the mysteries to give away what actually happened. They sometimes merely made some allusion to them, so we have to reconstruct what really happened. We know that, after long fasting and many rituals, those elected to be initiated were called at midnight to a central part of the temple and a priest carrying an ear of corn said, “I announce the good tidings: Brimo has given birth to the divine child Brimos” (or, according to another text, Iacchus). In the museum at Athens there is the famous relief of Triptolemus—Triptolemus is another name for the same god. It shows Demeter, with her hand on the head of a youth of about fifteen who is standing in front of her, while Kore stands on the other side. As mentioned already, we do not really know enough about these mysteries, but we do know that they had to do with the mother and daughter mystery and the birth of a son-divinity. Ovid gave to Iacchus, the divine child, the festive name puer aetemus.
On later gems Psyche is usually identical with Kore; she would be therefore the mother of Eros. But it is typical of mythological relationships that the woman is always the mother, sister, wife, daughter of her husband, father, and so on. It is also the typical relationship all gods had to each other, for instance, Isis and Osiris.
On his part, Eros was also a central figure in the Orphic mysteries, but this leads to difficult, controversial ground, for in antiquity there was an early Orphism and a later Orphism. The early Orphism was influenced by Egyptian religion. According to their cosmogony the world came into being from an egg whose upper half was gold and lower part silver. The egg burst apart and out of it came a god called Phanes-Eros. Phanes was a divine youth and a creator god of the world. Similarly, in Egypt, Osiris was characterized as “the seed of the noble and magnificent egg.” There is a question as to whether and how far the old Boeotian god, who was worshipped in rural countries as a stone phallus, played a role in the early Orphic mysteries, or whether there was only a later connection between the two principles. Certainly in the time of Apuleius, Eros was worshipped as a world-creating principle par excellence; he also played a role in the Mithraic mysteries, where he appears as partner and redeemer of the goddess Psyche.
Commentary on the Story
The fairy tale of Eros-Amor and Psyche begins with the story of a king and a queen who have three daughters. The youngest is so beautiful that she attracts all the collective admiration, and a rumor spreads that she is an incarnation of the goddess Venus. The people begin to prefer this concrete incarnation to the rather abstract Olympian goddess and begin to worship her, which raises her to the status of a goddess, thus making her lonely and making it impossible for her to find a husband. She also attracts the jealousy and hatred of her less beautiful sisters and of Venus, who discovers that her temples and cult are deserted. The people’s idea that this beautiful girl, Psyche, could be a human incarnation of Venus is not just a naive opinion. We will see that this corresponds to some extent to the reality, which is why Venus gets so angry with her.
Psychologically, Venus would represent the archetype of the mother-anima figure. From Jung’s point of view11 the anima figure in man is a derivative of the mother figure, which is the first feminine figure to impress the young male child. She means his first encounter with the feminine, which, so to speak, shapes his disposition for reactions toward women and gives his anima certain characteristics. Thus, in an undeveloped state, the mother and the anima figure are more or less one in the man’s unconscious. Hence, one could say that Venus embodies the mother-anima archetype per se. Every man has by nature a predisposition to live such an experience, since its structure exists latent in the collective unconscious, somewhere “in Olympus,” to use the language of Apuleius. There is no primary connection with that structure until it becomes visible by a human drama: the anima experience of a man begins, for instance, when he is interested for the first time in a woman. The feeling which he experiences thereby does not involve his personal conscious memories only; rather the whole mother-anima archetype comes into play and leads him to the love experience, with all the richness of the relationship to the other sex, as well as its difficulties and complications. Later still, it can lead to the realization of an inner psychic factor, independent of the outer woman: to one’s own anima. For a human being, the experience of this realm of the psyche brings a fertile widening of the personality, which is why it has a healing effect. Here lies also the reason why Eros and Methē in Epidaurus were worshipped as healer gods. Psychological healing always entails a widening of the personality. It brings more life and more aspects of the personality into activity. One can say that the greater part of neurotic disturbances is due to the fact that the ego has its shutters too closed against those realities of life which want to enter. Therefore, healing coincides with a widening of consciousness. To the human being this means an access to religious experience, a discovery of the deeper meaning of life and of healing emotions. But in the mirror process it also means pulling down a brilliant omnipotent god into the miserable narrowness of human existence. A concept of the Christian theology illustrates this: the process of kenosis (from the Greek, “to empty oneself,” “to dispose”). It means that Christ (when he was still with the Father, before his incarnation, as the Logos, the Johannine Logos) had the plenitude of the Father, the all-pervading oneness with the divine world, without definiteness. After that he emptied himself—“ekénose heautón,”—as Saint Paul writes—which means he emptied himself of his all-embracing plenitude and oneness in order to become a mortal. Man is heightened through the realization of the inner Christ (for instance, by getting Christian teaching), and Christ is lowered by his descent into the human world. This is also expressed by his birth in the stable.
What Christian theology says about Christ’s kenosis is really a specific representation of a general archetypal event. Whenever a god incarnates, there takes place for him this process of kenosis, of narrowing, while at the same time human consciousness widens.
The problem of the incarnation of Venus is still pendent: a modern English writer, John Erskine, wrote a book about it entitled The Lonely Venus. Erskine is very amusing and must know a bit about feminine psychology, or must have become a bit conscious of his anima. He wrote another most amusing book called The Private Life of Helen of Troy. It is the story of Troy after conquest. Menelaus is furious and is forced by convention to kill his unfaithful wife, who by running away had started the whole war. Blazing with fury and conformist indignation, he storms after Helen, but the latter meets him with her natural charm and first makes a gesture of devotion, showing her beautiful breasts, and saying that she completely deserves it and he should please kill her. In a bitchy way, she slowly reconquers the whole situation. She comes home, where the old servants are indignant and treat her as a prostitute. But Helen, humble, friendly, and typically feminine, modestly and slowly takes the reins in her hands, and at the end of the book she rules Menelaus and the household, and people begin even to think that it must all have been Menelaus’s fault.
Erskine had certainly got a whiff of certain problems, and is very well orientated in antiquity. The Lonely Venus, Erskine’s other work, is the story of the love affair of Venus, who is unfaithful to her crippled husband, Hephaestus, and falls in love with the war god, Ares. In this way she gets mixed up with human affairs. In the Trojan war, in contrast to what Apuleius writes about the Olympic gods, the gods were very much involved. Zeus and the other gods tried to keep out of human dirt, but Ares went to fight on the side of the Trojans, and through that Venus got pulled into it. In the end there is a regressive restitution of the persona of the Olympic gods. After the burning of Troy on earth, the gods retire and become aloof again. The end scene has Zeus and the other Olympic gods looking down from a kind of balcony in the Beyond onto the burning city with all its dead and the destruction of war. Only Venus, by having fallen in love with Ares and having therefore been more deeply involved with human affairs, is unhappy and restless and cannot make peace with the aloof attitude of the Olympic gods. In the last sentence of the novel she suggests that the gods should really become man—an allusion to later Christian development.
Looked at broadly, what happened then was that at the end of antiquity the Olympic gods had worn themselves out in their aloofness and inhumanity and had become obsolete, and then came the great new myth of god becoming man. Historically, the masculine godhead has become a man, Christ. Incarnation has taken place on the masculine, not the feminine, side of development. But actually there was a germ or beginning of the development in late antiquity by which the feminine goddess should become a woman, and incarnation should not be only on the masculine side, but on the feminine side as well. Erskine, interestingly enough, has projected that into the love stories of Venus. In Virgil’s story of Dido, Venus, more than the other Olympic gods, again gets involved in human affairs and, so to speak, elects a woman to act out her plans. Venus is the mother of Aeneas the Trojan, and in order to have him well received in Carthage she arranges that Dido, the queen of Carthage, should fall in love with him. Later, because politics advise otherwise, the love affair is ended, Dido is deserted, and she commits suicide. So one could say that Venus always has a tendency to get involved in human affairs, but generally the women she uses for her purposes get destroyed or are deeply unhappy. These tendencies toward an incarnation, or a linking of the feminine goddess with a human woman, therefore remained scattered attempts and did not lead to a great new religious, mythological event, as in the birth of Christ.
One can say that the incarnation of the feminine principle in a woman is still on the program for the coming centuries, and is beginning to become urgent today. Seen in this context, the fact that the people wanted to worship a human Venus in the form of this girl Psyche, a king’s daughter, is most meaningful. For it expresses the wish of the people that Venus should also become human and change in that way. If we look at the process of the incarnation of a godhead in psychological terms, then it is the mirror effect of a realization by man, or the archetypal background of a psychological realization. We think generally of modern man having an ego, then a threshold of consciousness, with the unconscious below. In dreams we distinguish the personal unconscious from a structure underneath (that which we call the collective unconscious), the energetic nuclei of which would be the archetypes. Normal man has no idea of this reality and experiences it therefore in projection. Through modern Freudian and Jungian analysis one has begun to discover this substructure of the human psyche and to see that the motivations behind our fate stem from there, and, coming through the filter of the personal unconscious, modify and influence consciousness. In the analytical process we use the word integration for what happens, meaning that the ego relates to these contents, has an Auseinandersetzung, a confrontation, with them, recognizing them as the deeper part of its own psychic substructure. Now, what happens, actually, if you take a mirrored, symmetrical standpoint and look at the thing from the side of the archetypes? The archetypes are the gods of polytheistic paganism. The Greek gods are the archetypes in the collective Greek psyche. What happens to the gods if this process of integration takes place? A relationship is never only a one-way thing, so the gods get pulled into the human realm and, in the countermovement, the ego expands its conscious awareness. That is the process of the incarnation of a god. Actually, the beginning of this process is not here. We very often see in the impulse toward individuation and integration it is the god who wants to incarnate. Only secondarily is the ego touched and pulled into the process. This explains why initial dreams in analysis frequently are not that the ego meets divine figures, but that the god has decided to incarnate. The ego has no idea of this but is looking somewhere else, has had money or marital troubles, and does not know yet what is being played out on the other side. Very often the creative initiative of the process of individuation comes from the other side.
In our fairy tale, then, we can understand that Venus does not like to incarnate in a human being and resents being robbed of her all-encompassing divinity. She feels a typically feminine and rightful jealousy toward the girl Psyche. Reinhold Merkelbach has taken great trouble to find out, step by step, the analogy between Isis and Psyche. He is convincing to a certain extent, but he stumbles over the fact that Psyche as well as Venus can be looked at as identical with Isis. That Venus is a parallel to Isis is clear, but that would mean that Isis fights Isis! We are dealing here with a split within the symbolic figure. A fight arises between one part of the archetype which wants to remain in its original form, in its inertia, and the other part which wants to incarnate into human form. The conflict is represented in a projected form as jealousy, when Venus says indignantly, “And now a mortal girl, who will die, walks about in my shape,” which very clearly expresses her feeling. She protests against the narrowing of her immortal omnipotence.
Venus then orders her son, Eros, to make the girl fall in love with the lowest of all human beings, but Eros, on seeing his victim, elects to be that lowest human being himself. Then it is arranged that the king, because his daughter has not married yet, is told by the Delphic oracle that she will never marry but is destined for a terrible dragon, or monstrous thing, and that, therefore, she should be exposed on the top of a mountain. This is a typical Greek version of the fairy tale.
In all the more modern folklore stories it is the girl who brings this fate upon herself. Some versions run: A father or a king has three daughters. He goes for a journey and asks them what he should bring back. One wants clothes, the other money or jewels, but the youngest girl asks for something nonexistent, something fantastic. For instance, she wishes “ein singendes, springendes Löweneckerchen” (“a singing, springing lion’s lark”), or a squirrel called Sorrow, or a white bear named Valemon, or a white dog from the mountains, or some such apparently whimsical thing. And when the father finds it—the lion’s lark or white bear or wolf or a squirrel called Sorrow—it says, “All right, you can have me, but in return your daughter must marry me.” So, by a kind of wishful fantasy, the girl brings this fate upon herself. Here it is replaced by the Delphic oracle, which is not much different if one realizes that the oracle was simply the place where people asked, with the help of a medium, for an explanation of the present constellation of the collective unconscious. Even before the greatest military and political enterprises, the Greeks never omitted first consulting the collective unconscious constellation to find out whether it was favorable for a war or not. That was very wise and corresponds to the fact that until the First World War the Japanese parliament still officially consulted the I Ching before great actions, and I think if they had consulted it before the Second World War they would perhaps have been better off. There they were already “enlightened” by our not doing so.
One could therefore say that something from the collective unconscious voices the wish for a union of Eros and Psyche and for an incarnation of Venus. It is the wish for a divine marriage between the masculine and the feminine principles. Because Venus is the mother of Eros, and Psyche is Venus, we are dealing here with the famous mythological hieros gamos (“sacred marriage”) between the mother-daughter-sister and her own son, but this time in a partly incarnate form, since it is not only that an archetypal image of Venus is approaching the human realm, but also that the whole image of the sacred marriage is coming down onto earth.
The girl is exposed on the mountain and left there for a death marriage. The hieros gamos is often mythologically identical with the death experience, so this is not only a play on the words of Apuleius, for Psyche goes through a kind of anticipation of a death experience. This has also been pointed out by Merkelbach, who says that this first part of the love affair of Eros and Psyche is really something which happens in the Beyond, in the underworld of death, though in its blissful aspect. It is so, because Psyche is carried away by the wind into a kind of unreal, beyondish, magical situation, far away from all human experience and existence, where she is served by invisible servants and united with an invisible partner.
The underworld, which is identical with the unconscious, here shows its paradisiacal, fairylike, alluring, and soporific beauty, and Psyche is caught into its magic realm. Whenever a deeper love experience between a man and a woman takes place, there has opened up another dimension of reality; a divine dimension breaks into the psyche and washes away its egocentric pettiness. There is an element of romantic unreality about it which every passionate love experience also generally contains, at least in its beginning stages, a kind of Olympic spring blossoming where everything is divine and somehow uncannily real. That is why people in love are laughed at by those around them. If they are wise they disappear out of human society, they fall out of it, because they are now in the realm of the gods. In spite of its divine beauty, there is also an uncanny feeling of having lost something which essentially belongs to the human realm—the pettiness, the jealousy, the narrow-minded cynicism, and all the other not-so-nice qualities of the higher mammals. This condition brings up the jealousy of Psyche’s sisters.
The classical philologist C. S. Lewis has written a famous novel, Till We Have Faces, in which he created very aptly a kind of modern paraphrase of this story of the jealous sisters. He interprets them as the shadow figure of Psyche. It is a little dangerous to use the word shadow in this respect, because if Psyche is a daimon, she is not a human being. Does a daimon also have a shadow? We can say yes, but then it is a slightly different use of the word. Cum grano salis, these sisters are the shadow of Psyche, the other aspect of the humanization of the goddess, namely, of being pulled into the human, the all-too-human, realm.
Young people generally do not see this realistic and cynical side of love. Only in later life, when one has experienced the true and divine aspect, can one become immune to the cynical, inferior side of human relationships. If the ideal side of love prevails too much, the dark side is blotted out or repressed, and then it naturally develops into a dangerous outside factor. No grown-up person can be only romantic; one has had too much experience of life not to know that there is an all-too-human aspect of love. This aspect is embodied in the sisters. Here they instill distrust into Psyche’s ear and heart, and make her disregard what Eros has demanded of her. The main figure in C. S. Lewis’s novel is, characteristically, one of the jealous sisters, and he tries to show that it was she who destroyed the first relationship of Eros and Psyche. She personifies the woman who refuses the love of the god.
Psyche herself could best be compared to all the young mythological daughters of the great mother goddess. From Kerényi’s paper on the Kore myth, and Jung’s commentary on it, in Essays on a Science of Mythology, we find out more about these two figures. One could take Psyche as a variant of the Greek goddess Kore. Besides the mature woman there is the young girl who simply represents the mother goddess in her rejuvenated form. Mother and daughter are one, in the same way as the Father and the Son in the Christian religion. We have to ask, however, what the difference is between the mother and the daughter goddess, and in general we can say, looked at mutatis mutandis, that the daughter goddess is closer to the human than the mother goddess, just as God the Father is more removed from man than Christ. The same difference is true in regard to Kore. The girl goddess is closer to humanity, being a more incarnated form of the mother goddess, and Psyche would correspond to a more humanized form of the Great Mother, a form which has almost completely reached the human level. Only her name still implies that she is divine. In the great Demeter- Kore myth, Kore sometimes has to live with her mother in the upper world, and sometimes with Pluto in the lower world. Psyche, too, is connected with the underworld through a daimon who seems to be a god of death. Only at the end is she redeemed and taken up to Olympus. So one sees that her fate is a new variation of the old Demeter-Kore myth, and that she herself is an incarnated form of the Great Mother. In a man’s psychology this myth represents the problem of making himself conscious of and integrating his anima.
If a man is capable of integrating the anima, of establishing human contact with his anima, then he brings something archetypal into the realm of his humanity. From the man’s side this would be making the anima conscious, but seen from the side of the unconscious itself it means that the archetype incarnates. As Apuleius believed, the gods are removed from man and cannot be contacted directly. When the archetype appears as a synchronistic phenomenon you cannot do anything with it. You can see a meaning in it but you cannot influence it. Gods are, so to speak, the archetypes among themselves, and among them is the mother archetype—the great queen of heaven. Closer to man comes Kore-Psyche, the archetypal image entering the personal field of a man’s ego. I would like to illustrate this with an example.
A young man who had a positive mother complex dreamed of a mother goddess, a huge green woman with huge green hanging breasts, who was quite terrifying. He ran away from her in many dreams, so I got him to do an active imagination on the dream, that is, to take up contact with her in a waking fantasy. He approached her in a little boat and tried to enter a conversation with her, but he could not get close to the figure, for she was too frightening. All the same he saw that the whole had to do with his mother complex and his romantic veneration for nature. Then in outer life he got into contact with a beautiful, hysterical woman who behaved as a nature demon would. I said that he should talk to this woman inside himself, and when he did this, she said, “I am the same as the green one with whom you could not talk.” This irrational, catty woman said she was immortal! He said that he did not accept that, but she answered that she was the beginning and the end, meaning that she was God. Then a long conversation started in which the whole of his Weltanschauung had to be rediscussed. He had to review his whole attitude to life, which she pulled to pieces bit by bit. The green woman on the first level would be practically unapproachable, and the next step would be the Kore figure, which had a personal connection with him and with whom he could make contact.
Ovid speaks of Eros as the puer aeternus. That is giving him the highest inner value. It has become a habit to speak of the puer aeternus, meaning by that a mother’s boy, as a bit homosexual, idealistic, and unadapted, someone likely to be artistic and to have megalomaniacal fantasies. But in labeling a man like this, we forget that we are using the name of a god. It is the name of the genius, Eros. Eros is the puer aeternus. He represents the phenomenon which we know mostly in its negative context. If a man is a mother’s boy and lives as though he were eternal, as if he did not need to adapt to reality and a real woman, if he lives in savior fantasies as the man who will one day save the world or be the greatest philosopher or poet, he is wrongly identified with the puer aeternus figure. He is identical with a god, and he has not yet detached his ego complex from it. It has not yet grown out of the archetypal background, and the puer is sheer destructiveness. Such boys, who are stuck in the mother complex, are absolutely unformed, and the collective scheme fits all the cases. When I lectured on the puer aeternus case, many people came up afterward and said that they knew who he was, and a lot of young men were named. However, I was lecturing on the case of a man who had never been in Zurich. It was just that the characteristics fitted an innumerable number of cases.
The positive mother complex in particular constellates the divine son-lover of the Great Mother. Both together play the role of goddess and god, as Jung describes it in the first chapter of Aion. For a young man it is a great temptation to stay with the eternal mother, and he joins in by being the eternal lover. They help each other to stay outside life and do not face the fact that they are ordinary human beings. The son cannot separate from the mother and prefers to live the myth and the role of the young god instead.
The image of the Self does not appear only as the puer but often also as the “wise old man,” but as puer it is eternally youthful and gives a creative impulse to man which enables him to see life from another angle. This can be felt especially in Goethe’s poems. In the “West-Eastern Divan,” for instance, the poet uses Islamic mysticism as the outer form: the tired old man calls a young slave to bring him wine, and he speaks to the youth with a slightly erotic tinge. That is an experience of the Self. The puer aeternus always conveys the feeling of eternal life, of life beyond death. On the other hand, where there is an identification with the puer one finds the neurosis of the provisional life; that means someday the boy hopes to become an important man. Such youths live in the wrong idea of immortality, missing the here and now, which has to be accepted because it is what makes the bridge to eternal life.
That is the negative aspect. If he grows up, however, and realizes that he has to adapt to reality and to leave the paradise of the mother, then the puer aeternus becomes what he always has been, something positive: an aspect of the Self.17 If he does not grow up, neither his ego nor the Self are pure, because everything is too contaminated. The ego is inflated, that is, it assumes the role of the archetype, and the archetype is not free either. Man assumes the role of a god, and the unfortunate thing for him is that he becomes unadapted, ill, and neurotic, and then the puer aeternus, in his aspect of the Self, is also infected and becomes poisoned from his contact with human nature.
If we ascertain that this or that figure represents the Self, then this is a somewhat indefinite statement, for the Self has many facets. Eros would represent therein the aspects of creativity and vitality, as well as the capacity for being gripped by and feeling the meaning of life, for devoting oneself to the other sex and the search to find the right relationship, for being able to lift oneself beyond the boredom of life, to be moved religiously, to look for one’s own Weltanschauung, to support other people and to be able to help them. A person who meets someone in whom Eros is alive feels the mysterious inner nucleus behind his humble human ego, for he has creativity, life, and vitality. A man who has assimilated the puer will, when he deals with a problem, shape it anew. One knows from literature that people of genius have a way of discussing problems from entirely new angles. There is a source of creativity within them which is a specific manifestation of the Self.
In the case of a positive mother complex the young man identifies with the puer aeternus and must give up this identification. In the case of the negative mother complex the man refuses completely the identification with the puer aeternus quality. He tends to be cynical and not to trust his own feeling, or women. He is in a state of constant restraint. He cannot give himself to life and smells danger everywhere. One could say that in our novel, Milo symbolizes this kind of stinginess, he who does not risk anything and who always sees “the snake in the grass.” Therefore, in the man with the negative mother complex, the puer aeternus becomes a very positive inner figure which has to be assimilated so that he can progress out of his psychic narrowness and counterbalance his frozen attitude to life.
We know that Lucius wants to investigate the negative mother complex and therefore his big problem is the puer aeternus whom he must find. Contrary to Lucius, Eros himself has a positive mother complex. He has an incestuous dependency on Venus and therefore has some difficulty in marrying. His problem is exactly the opposite of Lucius’s.
Remember that at first Eros and Psyche live happily united in the darkness of a faraway castle. She is happy but does not know what her husband looks like. Her jealous sisters find out about this hidden happiness and instruct Psyche to take a knife and kill him, because, they say, he is a snake or a dragon. We have to think what the jealous sisters stand for inwardly in a man. Erich Neumann takes them as shadow figures of Psyche. If we take it as a problem of a woman, this is true; her shadow is then projected onto her sisters, who want to destroy her happy marriage with the man she loves. If we take it as an anima problem, the sisters would represent the negative aspect of the anima. Her outstanding characteristic is jealousy, which would cause the poisoning of the anima through the negative mother aspect. The feelings coming from the negative mother poison the inner experience of life. The negative sisters who ruin Psyche are both unhappily married, having married for money and power, and they obviously represent a destructive side of the power complex, which destroys every true feeling relationship. They symbolize the greedy, envious force, the jealousy, possessiveness, and miserliness of the soul which does not want to give itself to an inner or outer love experience, together with the inability to get away from the banal aspect of life.
The man with the positive mother complex does not know this, for in his conscious behavior he tends to trust women too much. But if one knows him better, one discovers that he has this distrustful jealousy somewhere in the background of his feeling. Where there is a negative mother complex, the man will be jealous, distrustful, possessive, and anxious in his behavior toward women, but in the unconscious behind that, he remains very naive and shy, only because he is afraid to expose his feelings too much.
I once analyzed a man with a negative mother complex who had lived with his aunt. She was a hysterical, horrible old woman. It was really a fairy-tale-like story. She imprisoned him to such an extent that he could not even leave the flat during the day. He had to make the beds and clean the floors, was never allowed to go out, and was even forced to live with her sexually. This was in 1940 in Switzerland! The man escaped his aunt, entered analysis, and spoke of all women as damned witches. After some time he decided to give up his homosexual leanings and intended to take up connections to young women. But one cannot escape such a problem by conscious decision, so he had to work a lot more. For some strange reason he trusted me completely from the first day, but in such an unreal way that my heart sank. He asked for the meaning of his dreams and believed everything I said. I was apprehensive because nothing is more depressing than to be trusted more than one deserves. He did not see that I was an ordinary human being, but took everything I said for gospel. The result was a miraculous cure: his symptoms disappeared in two months. It was uncanny to me and reached the borders of magic; then he fell too much into the optimistic puer aeternus attitude, the reverse of the negative mother complex. Fortunately, after much more analytical work he really came out of his troubles.
Since then I have learned to expect such a reaction, knowing that where there is a negative mother complex, suddenly the puer aeternus will come out in the divine form, a divine naiveté which is not up to life as it really is, or women as they really are. After having switched from one to the other, he had to grow up to a middle attitude and learn to go into relationships without complete distrust or the limitless trust of a little boy. But I could have done nothing for him if I had misused my power. I had to wait and avoid every power attitude. I tried from time to time to put a little skepticism into his trustfulness, and when I gave him the interpretation of a dream, I asked him if he really believed it, trying to get him to be more critical and to listen to his own judgment instead of saying, always, “Yes.” At the end it so happened that one day he needed me badly. At that time I had the flu and could not see him. That gave him a shock, and suddenly he saw that I was an ordinary human being who could even fall ill. For the first time he realized that I was not a divine daimon or goddess but could get the flu, and that gave him a hint that he should grow up, that to leave everything in my hands was not quite safe. So he pulled himself together and began to think about his relationship to me and what it meant.
In our tale one can say that in the figure of Psyche is personified a positive feeling relationship of man to women and to the unconscious, but one which is naive and still living in paradise, where everything is positive. At the same time, the jealous sisters are too skeptical, too cynical, and too much aware of the banal aspect of life. If one walks in the woods and sees the young couples who are in love with each other, then one realizes that they are living in a divine world. The people who pass by have a double reaction, for, on the one hand, they recognize that the lovers are in a divine world, and, on the other, everything looks so utterly common and banal. It is “the eternal Harry and the eternal Harriet,” and, like the jealous sisters, the passers-by make mocking remarks because they are aware of the couples’ banality and incompleteness, while the couples themselves see only their fairy-tale aspect. The two aspects are too far apart and one-sided. One who sees such a thing from a more mature attitude will know that there is always both, the divine and the banal aspect, and that is one of the greatest paradoxes our feeling must learn to accept.
A woman who was occupied with this problem, and who asked herself whether her love relationship was a divine experience or a banal love affair, dreamed once of a king and a queen wearing radiant crowns, walking ahead of her, accompanied by a cock and a hen. And a voice said, “These two pairs are one and the same thing.” This image represents fittingly the paradox of love, but practically it is a great problem, and to stand it, great maturity is required. In alchemy the symbol of the coniunctio, a union of the divine couple, can be represented equally as king and queen, as god and goddess, or as two mating dogs. The alchemists knew that these are all aspects of the same union, symbols of the psychic opposites in the unconscious wholeness of the personality.
We have seen that Psyche and Venus are two aspects of the same archetype, Venus symbolizing more the anima which is mixed with the maternal image and Psyche the actual anima which is no longer contaminated with the maternal image. One could imagine the archetypes like atomic nuclei in the field of the unconscious. Most probably, there they are in a state in which every element is influenced by all the others. Thus an archetype in the unconscious is in some way also identical with the whole unconscious. It contains in itself the opposites: it is everything, masculine and feminine, dark and light, everything overlaps. Only when an archetype approaches the threshold of consciousness does it become more distinct. In our story, Venus resents that she, the omnipotent goddess in the Beyond, has now a rival on earth. This is a widespread problem in late antiquity. It appears with variations, for instance, in the so-called “Songs of the Fallen Sophia,” which were written about the time of Apuleius. According to some Gnostic systems, especially in the book Pistis Sophia, there was with God at the beginning of creation a feminine figure or companion: Sophia, Wisdom. In the Apocrypha of the Old Testament, too, she is represented as the Wisdom of God. (See the Song of Solomon, Jesus Sirach, and Proverbs.) There she says: “Before God created the world I was there. I played with Him. . . .” But, since according to Christian teaching God is not married and has no feminine companion, the interpretation of these texts gave some trouble to the Church Fathers, who therefore said that this was the pre-incarnate form of the “anima Christi” before his incarnation.
In many Gnostic systems it is said that Sophia was with God at the beginning of, or before, creation, but later she sank down into matter and was cut off from God. She had lost her connection, and in seeking Him when looking down into matter she saw a lion-headed demon, Jaldabaoth, and she thought that that was God the Father and went down, and Jaldabaôth caught her. There are very beautiful songs and poems in which she calls back to the Heavenly Father asking for his help to free her from matter and from her contamination with the demons and with Jaldabaôth. The Gnostics in late antiquity were the philosophers and thinkers in the early Church, and it is not by chance that they have amplified the myth of the fallen Sophia, because as Jung says, if a man identifies with the Logos or the intellect, his emotional and feeling side falls into the unconscious and must be redeemed from there.2 His soul then becomes contaminated with primitive chthonic passion. This myth, developed especially by the Gnostics, was forgotten after the Church decided to expel the Gnostic philosophers and declare their system as heresy.
Were we to compare the incarnation of the Father God in Christ with the incarnation that occurs in the story of Amor and Psyche, we would have different images. God comes down from the heavenly sphere, carefully purified from any macula peccati, and takes on human form. In the parallel of our story, the incarnation of the goddess is not the same. Venus does not come down and incarnate in a feminine being, but instead an ordinary feminine being is elevated and regarded as a personification of Venus and rises slowly up to Olympus. In the development of the Catholic teaching, too, the Virgin Mary is first an ordinary feminine being who slowly, through the historical processes, is elevated to nearly divine rank. Thus, in the incarnation of the male god there is a descent into humanity and into matter, and in the incarnation of the female goddess, an ascent of an ordinary human being to a nearly divine realm. We are dealing, on the one hand, with the materialization of the abstract logos, and, on the other hand, with the spiritualization of matter. The latter process is still today in its beginnings. Psyche, who is looked on as an incarnation of Venus, incurs her wrath and is condemned in the Beyond to marry the lowest of men. But Eros, falling in love with her, decides to be her mysterious bridegroom. Psyche is placed on the summit of a rock for her funeral marriage and left there. But a soft wind lands her in a paradisiacal country where she lives very happily with her husband, who remains invisible, only visits her at night, and forbids her ever to look at him. In contrast to what happens later, the first descent of Psyche into the unconscious has a misleading aspect, which takes her into an ideal place, a fool’s paradise of happy love. And, as with all fairy tales which run parallel, this cannot last. In this form, her process of becoming conscious is delayed, since for Psyche the event indeed seems to be lucky and a great blessing, but from the human realm it means a loss.
In the human realm a feminine being, who has already carried the first characteristics of Venus in an incarnated form, has disappeared into the unconscious, and in this the human world has suffered a “loss of soul.” At the beginning of the coming up of a new content from the unconscious, energy is being used, and hence there arises often on the other side a loss of libido, a depression or emptiness, until one discovers what comes up from below and what has happened there. Therefore we cannot be too angry with the two sisters, who, with jealousy, learn of the secret of Psyche’s happiness and who weave their poisonous intrigues by telling her that Eros is a dragon.
The slander that Eros is a monster is in itself meaningful because in antiquity Eros was very often represented as a dragon or a snake. In alchemy the snake or the dragon is a symbol of the prima materia of the “stone of the philosophers” or a symbol of the “divine child.” So the two sisters are not too much off the mark. In a way they are even right: if the whole love problem has again regressed into such deep layers of the unconscious, one could say that it was completely inhuman and cold. The dragon and the snake always refer to something in the unconscious which is inhuman, either in the positive sense of being divine or in the negative sense of being demonic. In either case they are not human and lack the possibility of human contact. Jung always pointed out that wardens in zoos say that from the snake on downward even the specialist in animal contact cannot make any feeling connection. One can tame and handle a snake for years, but one day it will bite, and even a very experienced warden cannot foresee such a reaction. With warm-blooded animals, on the other hand, someone with enough experience and knowledge can foresee or guess their reactions. If we live close to warm-blooded animals, we can have an empathy with them that we cannot have with snakes. As soon as a content in the unconscious appears in snake form it is therefore often difficult to make the meaning understandable to the dreamer. He does not feel any empathy toward this content of the unconscious, which sometimes shows itself only in physical symptoms, especially in those which involve the sympathetic nervous system. It is therefore almost impossible to come in contact with something which is stirred in this form in the deepest layers of the unconscious. We feel, quite innocently, that this has nothing to do with us, and generally it takes, in my experience, months before such a content becomes visible enough for one to be able to say, “Now, that is the snake.” Therefore, if the sisters slander Eros, calling him a snake, they describe it in the way Eros appears when seen from outside. It is too far away from the human and therefore the unreal, divine paradise in which Psyche lives has to be destroyed.
Naturally, one can also connect the sisters with the power drive, which works in them, although this drive has a positive value, as power and self-preservation are very closely connected. If an animal expands its territory by fighting a neighboring animal, is that self-preservation fighting to have enough food, or is it power? In a certain measure it is simply self-preservation, but if it goes beyond that it begins to become what we would call power drive. There is only a thin borderline between the two. This instinct of self-preservation, contaminated with evil power, breaks into the paradise of Psyche. She is induced to take a lamp and a knife and to throw light on her bridegroom in the night. If she should find that he is a dragon, she intends to kill him. So, with no less intention than murdering Eros, Psyche lights the lamp. But then she discovers that her husband is a beautiful winged youth, and she is so shaken by this overwhelming sight that she drops the knife, and a drop of hot oil from the lamp falls onto Eros. He wakes up and gives her the greatest punishment this god can give: he leaves her. To be left by the god of love is really worse than anything else he could have done to her. Psyche now is completely in the dark, and now her real deeds begin with the long and agonizing search to find Eros again.
The symbolism of the lamp, whose oil burns Eros, is double. In a modern German parallel, recorded by the brothers Grimm, it is the light (not the oil) that drives away the hidden lover. In mythological context light symbolizes consciousness. The light of a lamp represents in particular that which consciously is at the disposal of a human being and can be controlled by him, in contrast to the light of the sun, which is of a divine and cosmic nature. Jung has pointed out frequently that it is not possible to describe the unconscious life of the soul with the help of conscious and logical categories. Too much “light” damages the soul. Symbolic analogies are much more adequate, because all psychic reality is never “nothing but” this or that; rather, it is a living entity with innumerable facets. Moreover, the hot oil of the lamp makes Eros suffer greatly. In every devaluating interpretation of the personification and of psychic events of this kind there lies hidden a secret motivation: the wish to escape the “divine” aspect, which is manifested in all archetypal manifestations of the deeper layers of the collective unconscious. The true motivation of this rationalistic devaluation is fear. We see this depreciation at work in the common modern psychological theories, in which the great divine symbols of the unconscious are looked upon as “only” sexual or involving the power drive.
Beyond the fear there is contained in the oil of the lamp still one more element, namely, “burning” passion, but a passion which has more to do with demand for power and possession than with true love. Psyche personifies here some personal traits of the anima of Apuleius-Lucius: his passionate longing for knowledge (curiositas) and his inclination toward magic, whose purpose is to manipulate the divine forces instead of serving them. These intellectual qualities of his anima have prevented Lucius until now from getting to know the goddess Isis through personal experience and subordinating himself to the unexplorable mysteries of the soul. Love can endure neither an intellectual standpoint (these are “nothing-but” interpretations) nor the passion which strives for possession. That is why Eros runs away, deeply wounded, and Psyche must suffer long trials before she can find him again.
As Erich Neumann6 has pointed out, in that moment when Psyche begins to love truly she is no longer lost in the unconscious of a distant paradise of joy and death; rather, she awakens and behaves toward Eros like a loving partner. The personal love has taken the place of a purely collective pleasure principle, but exactly in this moment love becomes tragic.
Generally in fairy tales the woman achieves individuation by suffering, while the male hero is more active. There are exceptions, but the hero slays dragons, fights with giants, or climbs mountains, while the heroine more frequently completes her quest by enduring suffering without giving up her love. Psyche is a typical example of the latter. There are innumerable fairy tales in which the girl goes to find the water of life, and so on. There are also the texts of late antiquity, as I have mentioned, which described endlessly the sufferings of the goddess Sophia and her descent into hell.
There is a certain amount of the same motif in the Jewish teaching that the divine aspect of the feminine in God, the Shekhinah, has to be redeemed from matter and return to God again. These Jewish Shekhinah tales were probably influenced by Gnostic traditions, or they may come from the same source. Jung mentions this in his book Alchemical Studies. He says that wherever motifs come up in which the feminine side of God has gotten separated from the male, this is the separation from the anima through the Logos, who wants absoluteness and the victory of the spirit over the sensual world. The more a man wants to establish order in consciousness, the more he will cut himself off from the anima, and she therefore falls into the lower level, into matter. This means that he is dissociated from his anima, who sinks down into suffering and endless emotions. Where the man does not consider his anima and keep in contact with her, she becomes more and more involved in sensual impulses and primitive affects. That’s why the academic man often has a worse character than the man in other professions, for he is the type who tends to reject the anima and who therefore regresses onto a lower level. If you take away the academic persona from the professor, you may find just a baby. He is often the man who marries his cook, for he is too lazy to find a proper wife and has no time to develop his feeling and woo a decent woman to whom he might have to give in to a certain extent. The man who is absorbed in his books all day needs someone simple, so he marries his cook because she is there, and after a few years she rules him! He has devoted himself to the Logos, and the anima has regressed into primitive sensuality, affect, and emotion. Naturally, this is only a caricature of what happens when the man rejects Eros too much. And that is mirrored in the motif of the anima falling down from heaven and having to go on a long quest. As stated earlier, mythologically, the woman usually reaches the goal more by suffering than through action. It is a quest of endurance, and of more and more suffering, while the hero often has to be active, though this is not always the case. Like the suffering, fallen Sophia in Gnosis, she accepts her suffering and goes a long way to find Eros. In the tale of Eros and Psyche, one fact, however, is definitely altered by the interference of the wicked sisters, a little fact which Neumann skips in his book, but which is an important point for me: in leaving her, Eros says to Psyche that the child which she has in her womb will now become a girl instead of a boy. “If you had not broken the secret,” he says, “it would have been a boy, but because of what you have done you will not lose the child, but will give birth to a girl.” We know that at the end of the story, when she is on Olympus, she gives birth to a girl called Voluptas, sensuous love. She would have given birth to a boy, whose name we do not know, if she had not broken the spell.
If we interpret this turn of events from the human aspect and connect it back to Apuleius, then it becomes clear that Charite and Psyche are a personal aspect of the same figure in his unconscious, which is tied up with the positive aspect of the mother complex and with a great puer aeternus naivité. When a man has a positive mother complex he identifies directly with the divine child. He behaves like a winged god, refusing all the essential tasks of life, such as taking a firm standpoint of reality of his own, earning his own money, finding his appropriate line of work, and similar hardships. Lucius has a negative mother complex, as we saw in the beginning. One could say that he, the ass, is completely imprisoned by the negative aspect of the mother archetype. The Psyche-Eros mythos now shows an enantiodromia, a beginning turn into the opposite. But since this positive aspect is still completely unadapted and unrealistic, the sisters can break into it.
This leads us to the question of what the “masculine child” who is not born could have been. The answer is: the child of the anima, that is, the Self. The result of the hieros gamos, of the sacred marriage of Eros and Psyche, would have been the birth of a symbol of the Self. A divine child would have been born, which we could have called the emergence of his Self in relation to Lucius. In a man’s psychology, the girl who will now be born is a renewal of the anima. It comes up as Voluptas, as sensuous lust, of which one would think Lucius had already enjoyed enough. Although born on Olympus, this girl Voluptas is closer to the human, so there arises with her a humanization of the pleasure principle, which is, however, almost immediately swallowed back into the collective unconscious.
A similar, and to a certain extent parallel, process is represented in the
Apocalypse of Saint John, on which Jung commented in Answer to job.7 A woman appears with a crown of twelve stars on her head and is pursued by a red dragon. She should give birth to a new savior figure, but she is removed to heaven again, and thus the divine child is not incarnated on earth. Here we also have a description of the possible birth of a new symbol of the Self, which, however, again sinks back into the unconscious. This means that the time has not yet come when this aspect could have come into the collective consciousness. Also this is a parallel to the Leta-Apollo myth and the not-yet-dead paganism of late antiquity. Here, too, is a description of the possibility of birth of a new symbol of the Self, which is again removed into the unconscious. There are only germs of such realizations here and there, which then get lost again. We must see the abortive birth of a boy in our story as a parallel to the Apocalyptic story; “only” a girl is born instead, and she is taken away into the Beyond. The question why it is specifically Voluptas, sensuous lust, I would like to leave until the end of the story when we have to comment on the beauty box Psyche finds in the underworld, for it is connected with that.
The bringing together of the divine, elevating, transpersonal, and freeing aspect of the hieros gamos, the sacred marriage motif, with the incompleteness and disappointing narrowness and dirt of human life, is still one of the greatest of unsolved problems. People either let themselves be intoxicated by the “divine” and romantic aspect of love or cynically remain in its banal aspect. There is a beautiful representation of this problem in the novel Aurélia by the French author Gérard de Nerval. He was a deep-feeling and romantic poet, which is a very unfortunate predisposition for a Frenchman, and he liked therefore to live in Germany, where he felt much better. This he occasionally was able to do, visiting a German uncle in the Schwarzwald. As a young man and a gifted writer, he fell very much in love with a little midinette. Completely overwhelmed by his feelings and emotions, he wrote poems about her. He felt that Dante’s relationship to Beatrice could not be greater than this experience. But then suddenly the French rationalism and Gallic cynicism came up, and he decided that, after all, she was just une femme ordinaire de notre siècle, an ordinary woman of our time. So he threw her over. The girl really loved him, and she fell into despair. Later a woman friend tried to bring them together again, but somehow, probably because of the cynical way in which he had thrown her over, really destroying his and her own feelings, the break could not be mended. When this woman brought them together again, the girl looked at him rather reproachfully and with tears in her eyes. That hit him very badly; in the night he dreamt that he went into the garden and saw that the statue of a beautiful woman had fallen onto the grass and broken apart in the middle. This dream shows what really happened in Nerval. His anima had split, because now the woman was for him either the unobtainable goddess or une femme ordinaire de notre siécle, with whom you can just have a little pleasure. He could never bring those two aspects together again. He then slowly slithered into a psychotic crisis, which at the end overwhelmed him, and finally he hanged himself in a fit of mental confusion. He was a sick man, but he could have probably overcome his split if he had only understood that the hieros gamos and the ordinary aspect of every deep human relationship is a paradox.
Love is a moving, divine, unique mystery, and at the same time just an ordinary human event. This split is constellated in the same way here: at first the pendulum goes too much toward the divine Beyond aspect, where Eros and Psyche live in a kind of paradise, and then follows the countermovement initiated by the interference of the sisters, who, through bringing in all the most wicked and cynical aspects of life, destroy the connection. I believe that a sense of humor is the only divine quality with which one can hold together these irreconcilable aspects of every deeper love experience. But people like Gérard de Nerval lack that; and so he became psychotic. He had no sense of humor at all, and thus he could not accept the paradox and say, “Yes, it is both, she is Beatrice, the experience of the divine woman, and also une femme ordinaire de notre siècle.” When a woman goes through such a process, generally the animus is the cynical commentator who tries to destroy every deeper movement of feeling.
C. S. Lewis, in his novel, retells the story from the standpoint of one of the wicked sisters, who in our fairy tale are described as weak, jealous, intriguing, and witchlike women. Lewis, however, projected onto this motif a rational woman who serves the idea of power and duty. She takes over the throne from her father and rules the country. She is in opposition to her romantic sister, who falls into Eros’s clutches and seems to be lost in a romantic dream. But at the end of the novel, in a moment of truth, this jealous sister realizes that she has missed the point and has betrayed the principle of love. Lewis has therefore confronted the domination of Eros with opposing drives: sex and self- preservation. That conflict exists already in nature. The female sacrifices herself for the young, and the male often ignores his own self-preservation in the moment of sexual drive. These drives are the basis for many human conflicts, for here two genuine human urges do not coincide, and the still deeper drive to be oneself has to be constellated in order to overcome the difficulty.
One could ask now what would have happened if Psyche had not disobeyed her husband. The answer is that mythological laws are always transgressed, otherwise there would be no story! But there may be more to it than that. Such stages of unconscious harmony, like that in the story of Paradise, result in the stagnation of life, and naturally certain disharmonious or evil impulses are excluded. Some people by a great mental and psychological effort will sacrifice the one pole of an essential conflict in the hope of establishing peace in their souls with the remainder. For instance, in the monastic life money and sex are cut out, and with them the source of innumerable conflicts, and by retiring from these difficulties the establishment of peace in the soul is sought. The whole Christian idea of inner peace is in this direction; that is, one first cuts out a certain aspect of evil which seems impossible to integrate, and then one tries artificially to establish harmony with the remainder. All over the world mankind has a tendency to go in this direction. It is probably inevitable, for one needs from time to time to be able to set aside an insoluble problem. It is as though there were rest places where one has a moment of peace, though one has the dim feeling that the conflict is not solved and will reappear after a time. One can observe this in people who draw mandalas and in doing so leave a part outside. They put the dark things outside the border of the mandala and imagine that they have now reached a state of relative wholeness and totality. But in this way they exclude certain aspects, and they can be sure that this state will not last. Some of these left-out elements will break in and a new process of integration must begin. At this point we have the essence of the whole novel, for all through it (though sometimes the author seems to be gripped by feeling) a mocking, skeptical tone creeps in, a devaluating judgment which works like the knife in Psyche’s hand. When things go well, a devil whispers in our ears that it is “nothing but,” a rational devaluation which destroys everything. In a woman it is generally the animus who is the artist in this field, and in a man it is a certain aspect of the anima. The more sensitive and delicate and untouchable a man’s feeling is on one side, the more he tends to mock himself. The Swiss recognize this type of man in their poet Gottfried Keller, whose feeling, on the one side, was extremely delicate, while on the other he showed the typical mockery of an old bachelor. That was his defense against his own hypersensitivity. He drank too much and was incapable of dealing with the anima problem. Apuleius-Lucius has some of the same characteristics.
We come now to the different stages of Psyche’s journey in her search for Eros. Back in heaven, Eros is imprisoned by his resentful mother. In her despair, Psyche wants to kill herself and throw herself into a river, but the god of the running waters brings her back to the shore, where she meets Pan, the goat-god; with his great wisdom he advises her not to end her life but, on the contrary, to honor Eros, “the most exalted” of all gods, with her prayers. The great god of cosmic nature therefore helps Psyche to go on living. In between, the enraged Venus searches for her everywhere. Finally, Psyche surrenders herself to her and as Psyche arrives at the heavenly palace, Venus has her seized by her servants, Sorrow and Sadness, who torment her and then bring her back to face Venus. This part, I think, is understandable to anyone who has ever experienced an unhappy love affair. Venus then orders Psyche to sort out a quantity of different kinds of seeds during the night. The sorting out of grain is a motif found in numerous fairy tales, for instance in the Russian tale “The Beautiful Wassilissa,” in. which an unhappy girl comes to the great witch, Baba Yaga, the nature and death goddess, and there she must also sort out seeds or corn. According to Merkelbach’s interpretation, this could have to do with the Eleusinian mysteries, for corn is the mystical substance which represents the mother goddess as the goddess of corn.
A chaotic host of seeds is, in a way, an image of the collective unconscious, which seems to be, at the same time, a single essence and a multiplicity of images and creative impulses. One could say that as long as the archetypes of the collective unconscious are not realized by a human being, they are not real. They only become psychologically a reality if they are experienced by the human psyche. It is for this reason that the archetypes of the collective unconscious resemble a host of chaotically dormant “seeds” inborn in every human being, which, if not activated through contact with human consciousness, could just as well be regarded as nonexistent. We can perhaps guess what such a heap of potential archetypal contents looks like if we observe a person in a psychotic episode. On the one hand patients in this condition pour out, at terrific speed, one archetypal fantasy after the other. But two minutes later they do not remember anything they have said. The most amazing, beautiful material pours through them, but they have no memory of it. Thus the collective unconscious is seen as a kind of chaos of contents, all of which have the latent possibility of becoming something meaningful within human consciousness. But instead there is confusion, and consciousness is too weak to stop the flood. Jung spoke of a patient he had, a woman, who talked a lot of absolute nonsense all the time, but then she would suddenly stop and say, “Hello, yes, ah-ha, thank you.” And after this “telephone call” she would be all right for a while, and Jung would succeed in worming out of her what she was really doing, and she would say that she had been telephoning to the Virgin Mary, who was very helpful to her and who would say, “Now don’t talk so much nonsense!” And that would quiet her down for a while, but then it started again. One saw that there the normal personality somewhere still functioned but could not hold its own.
One could say that a good mind is needed to sort out the material, but that does not help either because one cannot bring any intellectual order into these things. What is needed is the feeling function, the function of choice, which says, “Now I will fish out this and discard the rest” and “I will relate to what has become conscious to me and stay with it.” Without the evaluation through the feeling function one cannot know what is important and what is not. One cannot sort the chaff from the corn in the unconscious.
In the tale Psyche cannot cope alone with the corn. But there is still something that can rescue her, for ants turn up and sort out the grain. The chaos of the unconscious always contains a relation to order as well. In talking about the unconscious one must always talk in paradoxes, and when we emphasize its chaotic aspect we know at the same time that the unconscious is not only chaos but is also order. In the last analysis, only unconscious order can overcome unconscious disorder. Man cannot do anything but be attentive and make the utmost and, so to speak, hopeless effort, until order is established again by itself.
This is something which Christian theologians would call faith. Having faith and doing one’s best, when one is faced with what seems hopeless, gives one the underlying feeling that, even when one is lost, one has at least done what was possible. This is essentially human and it is a behavior which a god or an animal could not do. Here in our story the same unconscious which is chaotic manifoldness cures its disorder by another chaotic manifoldness, the invasion of ants. We, in our Western countries, often speak of ants negatively, saying that “if we go on like this we shall soon be an ant heap.” This is naturally a negative metaphor for the complete blotting out of the individual, but the ant in itself, in mythology, is generally a positive insect. For instance, according to an Indian myth (recorded by Herodotus), it helps to carry the sun in its night journey under the earth. In Egypt the scarab does that. In some Greek sagas the ant extracts gold from the earth; it is the symbol of the secret orderliness of the collective unconscious, contrary to our bureaucratic state organizations. Karl Kerényi has connected the ants with the people of Myrmidones, who, according to a Greek myth, were the first inhabitants of their country: the Greeks believed that these people were born directly from the earth mother. Thus, in the Attic comedies, whose texts are unfortunately lost, there were antpeople, “Myrmekanthropoi,” who represented the first inhabitants. Contrary to the destructive mother Aphrodite-Venus, these “children of the earth mother” help Psyche. The ants, and especially their cousins, the termites, have also in reality very mysterious and unexplored qualities. One knows that hundreds and hundreds of termites will build a complete architectural structure. In an experiment to try to find out how they communicate when building, a lead plate was put through the center of a termite building at its beginning; the termites of the left half built their parts for lthe whole building in a way that met exactly with those on the right half. One could take the plate out and the two halves fit. So one knows that they have no telegraphic signal, but work synchronously in a complete organization, which is something still unexplained. We know of bees that they signal each other when they wag their tails, but we do not know anything yet in this respect about termites. One sees, therefore, that this beautiful image is more than just a simile really, for these things also happen in reality. An artist who had lived for a long time in Bali described to me the same process: a temple had fallen into ruins, and for some reason the villagers decided to build a new and bigger one. To his amazement there was no organizer, no plan, and no architect, and practically not even a stone mason to organize. One villager sat in one corner and made a column, another sat in another corner preparing stones. No communication went on, but everybody worked extremely zealously. In the end they put the temple parts together and every stone fit! The artist could not find out how the Balinese did this. They worked together inwardly via the unconscious. The temple lived simply in their inner vision. That is the whole explanation. So one can say that in the right way faith is a great achievement, or rather pistis: loyalty to the inner law. When this loyalty or feeling constellates, it calls forth the secret order which is in the chaos of the unconscious.
After having fulfilled the first task, Psyche must fetch the golden wool from dangerous wild solar sheep, or rams, which are very difficult to approach. Here she is helped by reeds which tell her that the rams are unapproachable at midday and that she should wait until evening when they get cooled down in their temperamental wildness. If Psyche approaches them too early they will tear her to bits. The reeds, as Merkelbach points out, had a great meaning in Egypt: the hieroglyph for “reed” represents the king of Egypt and Horus, the new sun, the reborn sun god, the new king of Egypt. The reed represents the king in his rebirth form.
In many fairy tales, the reeds betray secret knowledge. In antiquity there are many stories where somebody is murdered and buried in a swamp. A shepherd comes along, cuts a reed, and makes himself a flute, and the flute sings and reveals the secret of the murder, and the murderer is discovered and punished. The reed can also betray or convey divine wisdom to man by the wind which whistles through it. There is an instinct of truth in the human psyche which, in the long run, cannot be suppressed. We can pretend not to hear it, but it remains in the unconscious. And Psyche in our story has a kind of secret inspiration about how she can solve the task. The whistling reed, like the ants, corresponds to these tiny hints of truth which we get from the unconscious. Jung always said that truth does not speak with a loud voice. Its low but unsuppressible voice announces itself as a malaise, or a bad conscience, or whatever one may want to call it. Great quiet is needed in order to feel these small hints. When the unconscious begins to talk loudly and to manifest itself with car accidents and such happenings, then the situation is already very bad. But in the normal state it has been whispering softly for years, before the thunderclap comes with accidents or other bad things. That is why we have analysis, where we try to hear what the reed says before the catastrophe comes.
The reed, as we have seen, is connected mythologically with the rebirth of the sun god in the form of Horus. You will recall that in Egypt the pharaoh is the earthly representative or the incarnation of the highest god. The first time the pharaoh sleeps with the queen, the moment of the hieros gamos in which the new king engenders his first son and successor, the king personifies the god and the queen personifies Isis. The suffering aspect and all that is suppressed by the king (who is the solar principle) is personified by Osiris. Every day, for the twelve hours of the day, one is only one half of oneself. In order to be able to work, we must repress innumerable inner living reactions; one cannot even let them come up to consciousness. As long as conscious activity lasts, only one half of the psyche can constantly express itself, and the other unconscious half is in the situation of the suffering god in the underworld. When, therefore, the pharaoh ages and dies, he becomes, at the moment of death, Osiris. Thus one sees on the inscriptions their names connected as: Unas Osiris, Pepi Osiris. But at this moment the new king has already been reborn, as Horus. We will go into this in more depth later; here I only want to say that the reed is concerned with Horus, with the principle of what comes after. It whispers to us the truth and the anticipation of the future.
The ram has been well interpreted by Erich Neumann, and I think that its meaning is clear to anyone who has ever seen a horoscope. As a zodiacal sign of spring it means aggressive impulsiveness and a temperamental spirit of adventure, a kind of unreflected, naive, masculine initiative. For a woman it naturally represents the animus, but in our case it means an aggressive impulsiveness behind the anima. It would mean that one of the greatest dangers for a man, when he begins to let his anima live, is to fall into an unreflective impulsiveness. It is much more difficult for him to delay a decision than it is for a woman. In Egypt the “ram of Mendes” was always associated with Isis, so that we have here again an allusion to the end of the book. One only needs to look into our newspapers: As soon as there is any kind of difficulty, too much rain, an avalanche, too many cars, and so on, the politicians say, “We must do something; we must have a committee; the state must . . .” Nobody proposes that we wait and see what happens! One must study the origin of these troubles, but one cannot wait. Some women, of course, are also threatened by the ram, but it is more frequent for men. Of Course this animal also has a positive aspect. But it is unfavorable for the man who has to realize his anima, for under the influence of the ram he can never realize what she is. Feeling, especially in a man, is generally a slightly delayed reaction. He must be able to wait, to listen to what the feminine side might have to say. If a man overruns that, he will never become conscious of his anima. Whenever we are caught in the temperamental wish for a quick action, we then understand how difficult it is to wait, to patiently let time pass. So Psyche not only has to wait but also has to collect a handful of wool from the ram’s hide, to take something from its wool fleece.
The motif of the ram also belongs to the famous story of Phrixos and Hellé: the myth of a brother and his little sister who are both persecuted by a stepmother who wants to kill them. But they hear of it and escape on a ram, which flies with them through the sky. On the way, Hellé bends over and looks down, and falls into the sea, which is how the Helléspont came into existence; the sea of Hellé. Phrixos is saved and is ordered to sacrifice the ram and to hang up the fleece on a tree. Since then, the golden fleece has become the motif of the “unobtainable treasure” of the long journey of the Argonauts; and in later Christian interpretation, this golden fleece hung up on a tree was regarded as the prefiguration of Christ, the sacrificed lamb. This story has been very popular with the Church Fathers, with its amplification of the symbolism of Christ. Even today, among the Knights of the Golden Fleece, those of the highest rank of the Order have a golden chain with a little golden fleece;12 if they place this on any table, that table has the value of a consecrated altar.
Apuleius alludes here consciously to the story of Phrixos and Hellé. The lock of golden wool is the unobtainable treasure, and this Psyche has to obtain from the rams. Now, every powerful emotion is not only something hot; it is also something which brings light. Generally it is eighty percent destructive fire and twenty percent light. Therefore, if one is overwhelmed or attacked by a terrific emotion, the art is not to let the emotion tear one, but to find out what it could mean. For instance, you may meet someone whom you loathe. Each time you meet that person you become exaggeratedly emotional without any visible reason. That is the reaction of the ram. Now you can either live your emotion out, and then there is catastrophe and failure, or you can repress it, but then you have not learned anything. The third possibility is not to give in to the emotion, but to pluck out its meaning, to ask, Why do I feel like this? What has got into me? Then you have really learned something. Wherever there is a destructive emotion, there is possibly also light, and the art is to perceive this light without getting pulled into the primitiveness of uncontrolled emotion. And that is the meaning of the capacity of being able to wait for the right moment in order to obtain the ram’s wool.
The next task for Psyche is to get water in a carved crystal bottle from the ice-cold waterfall of the Styx, something which again surpasses her capacities. At this point again a typical fairy tale motif appears: the eagle of Zeus takes the bottle, fetches the water, and brings it back to her. Merkelbach quite rightly connects the Styx with the water of the Nile. At the end of the novel we will return again to the question of the mystical vessel which contains the water of the Nile; that is the unspeakable mystery of Osiris. It is the water of death and at the same time of rebirth, but here it is represented in a Greek context.
Styx is a female goddess, the oldest of all, who rules over all the other gods. Her deadly water destroys any human being as well as every animal and cannot be put into any normal vessel, whether of glass, or lead, not even of gold, for it is even more destructive than the “water” of alchemy, which can be kept only in a golden vessel. Even the gods are terrified of this element, and their most solemn oath is pronounced in the name of Styx. If a god breaks this oath, he will lie dead for an entire year and be banished from Olympus for nine more years. The Styx symbolizes the frightening aspect of the mother archetype and in a certain sense also of the collective unconscious. The fact that we cannot “hold” it in a vessel seems to me to be very meaningful. We cannot indeed entirely grasp or manipulate the collective unconscious. It resembles a wild river of psychic energy which we cannot regulate and which we cannot make use of. The collective unconscious is like a powerful stream of images upon which man has no influence.
The only way to keep some of it, according to myth, is in the hoof of a horse, or the horn of a mythological (in reality nonexisting), one-horned Scythian ass. The horn, a phallic symbol, symbolizes the creative force of the Self,1 and the horse hoof has also, in a simpler form, the same meaning, because it was believed that horses could stamp springs out of the earth and that the kick of a horse fertilized the earth. So it shows that only the principle of creativeness in the human soul can hold its own against the destructiveness of the water of Styx.
Man never could—and from this mythologem it seems as though he never will —manipulate, voluntarily influence, or possess, even in part, the collective unconscious. This nature principle takes its own course through history. It supports civilizations or nations, or lets them decay, and nothing can prevail against it. One could say that the Roman Empire in the second century after Christ, the time of Apuleius, was already condemned to go under in the water of Styx. In the myth, Styx has also to do with the goddess of Nemesis, the mysterious, revengeful justice of nature.” If an empire or a religion is doomed to extinction because the collective unconscious does not express itself through it anymore, then man is absolutely helpless. The water of Styx governs military defeat or victory; from it stems Niké (“victory”), this mysterious power of fate, which in battle dooms a civilization or promotes its continuation in life. If we look at the dust of history and consider how many wonderful human achievements have been destroyed again and again by barbaric forces, then we realize the meaning of the water of the Styx. It seems to be an inescapable destiny, the cruel justice of nature which we cannot halt. That is why we cannot hold this water: if Nemesis has decided destruction in the water of Styx, we cannot prevail against it, except with the “hoof of the horse.” That is the one comfort we can take from this myth. Nature seems to want to protect its own deepest creative power against everything; and it seems also at times to attach to human creativity a value superior to any other activity. Only if we are in contact with our unconscious psyche can we be creative. Great creative achievements come from the depths of the psyche; if we can keep in contact with the depth of our psyche, we are able to form that which wants to be expressed through it. Sometimes this is a matter of life and death, for we simply do not know if we can bring it into reality. But if we can, then it looks as if nature rewards us with the highest price; and therefore one could say that creative achievement is the only “vessel” which can hold the water of Styx.
Here Psyche is given the vessel as a present. She cannot herself approach the water; the separation from Eros makes the solution of the task impossible for her. With him she might manage it, but alone she is up against an impossibility. However, through divine intervention, through the eagle of Zeus, the task is achieved. The eagle represents here intuitive spiritual elation and high-soaring thoughts.
At the moment when the human psyche cannot act by itself, it is supported by a heroic, intuitive spirit which arises from the unconscious. One could call it the mysterious force of hope, for sometimes when one is up against an impossible situation, one has a kind of intuition that things will come right if only one can endure. That is grace. Here, because Psyche courageously makes an honest attempt, she is saved by such an act of grace, by the intuitive vision, which anticipates what she cannot yet do herself.
As the continuation of the story shows, the solution of the problem does not reach the conscious level. One could connect this with the fact that Psyche could not fetch the water of Styx herself. The eagle—an autonomous power— intervenes, as will Eros later, when Psyche will fall into a deathlike sleep after opening the box of beauty. In between these two events, however, Psyche experiences her descent into the underworld.
After she has brought the water of Styx to Venus, Psyche is sent by her into the world of the dead, in order to obtain a certain box with a perfumed beauty cream in it from Persephone, the queen of the underworld, a parallel to the dark face of Isis. In great despair, Psyche wants to kill herself by throwing herself down from a tower, but the tower begins to talk, and it advises her to go down into Hades and then gives her further instructions. The tower, as Neumann interprets it, is a symbol of the Great Mother herself. It is also a symbol of introversion, of withdrawal into one’s own inner world, and of contemplation of oneself. It is the withdrawal that allows Psyche to face the tasks which await her.
While crossing the river of the underworld in Charon’s boat, a drowning old man, half-dead, begs her to take pity on him. But her task is to not listen to his piteous cries for help. A woman’s natural inclination is to mother, to nurse, and to have pity for everything. Wherever there is a wounded being around or anything that touches the natural, feminine, maternal instinct, she wants to support it. To say no to this old cripple is for a woman a more difficult deed than for a man. Not to have any sentimental love for something that is doomed to die and has to go is very hard. This applies also in analysis: a neurotic attitude in the analysand naturally cries out for our pity, but to give in here would mean to keep alive something dying or already dead. To have pity and love, combined with the reckless “cruelty” to allow the condemned thing to die, is very difficult in practical life. It is so much easier to be full of feeling and to give in to one’s feminine inclination to sympathize. To have a “knife” in the hand and, without listening to the cries of the patient, to cut off a wrong attitude, this can be very painful for the doctor himself. Naturally the same applies also to the contents of the unconscious which have outlived their time. One should not fall into retrospective sentimentality, but live forward, “letting the dead bury their dead.” Psyche succeeds in ignoring this old man who cries for help, and Charon takes her on across the river.
Charon appears here in his usual antique representation, as a miserly, ill-tempered old man who will only take those people over who can pay him. He is, in a sense, the negative personification of what Jung called the “transcendent function.” Jung meant by this the faculty of the unconscious for creating symbols. It is “transcendent,” for not only does it transcend our conscious grasp, but it is the only thing which, through the help of a symbol, enables man to pass from one psychic state to another. Hence the ferryman! We would be forever stuck in an acquired state of consciousness if this transcendent function of the psyche did not help us over into new attitudes by creating a symbol which shares in both worlds: being associated with the psychic state of the present as well as the future, the symbol helps us over. “Habentibus symbolum facilis est transitus.”,Very often one sees in analysis that somebody has outgrown his old condition but feels lost and confused about the new thing. In this interregnum, or vacuum, one can only hold on to the chain of symbols which the unconscious produces, that is, to one’s own dreams, which never let us down, but safely lead us over from an outgrown into a new attitude of life. However, this stage between the two worlds of the conscious and the unconscious has also a quality of being narrowed in, of depression, and of having to cling to small things.
Charon has an Egyptian parallel in the god Acharantos, or Akeru, who, because of a similarity in the sound of the name, was identified with Charon in the syncretistic Graeco-Roman Egyptian religion.4 But Akeru has a more positive function in Egypt. He is depicted as a simple peasant who sows and reaps wheat, and so is interpreted in many texts of the Egyptian tombs as the agency of resurrection. One could say therefore that the “ferryman,” who from the extraverted standpoint is seen as negative—during his appearance there is a certain darkening of consciousness, and only the dreams go on producing symbols leading to the other shore—was seen more positively by the Egyptians, with their more introverted civilization. They saw therein a sowing of the wheat, which disappears in the earth and is awoken again to life. Jesus alludes to the same Osiris mystery of the “resurrection” of the wheat.5
The general belief in antiquity that one had to have money for Charon can also be seen in this light: in most of the tombs of antiquity the dead have under their tongue a penny or a drachma for Charon, who otherwise could leave them on the shore between the two worlds. This shows that the transcendent function requires a minimum of conscious libido. The healing function of the unconscious cannot bring us over “to the other shore” if we do not give it libido, that means conscious attention. One sees this so tragically in people who have dragged on for perhaps twenty years under terrific hidden suffering from a neurotic symptom. Such people have been arrested at the shore for lack of money for Charon. They did not have the right instruction, or they lacked the instinct or the generosity to follow it.
Then Psyche comes to an old man called Ocnus, who again and again winds up a black and white cord and unties it again. Ocnus means hesitation, and to him, also, Psyche must not pay any attention but must walk past and not take notice of what he tells her, otherwise she will get stuck with him. The rope, which also appears in other fairy-tale motifs, refers to a general mythological theme and is interpreted as the alternation of black and white, of day and night, and of other opposites. So one could say that Ocnus—hesitation—occupies himself incessantly with an endless chain of opposites in the unconscious and with the spinning of a yam from the opposites, so that he never comes to any deed or any breakthrough. This is another classical form of getting stuck in the unconscious: many people realize that everything has a plus and a minus, that everything in the psyche is ambiguous, that everything one undertakes can be naively interpreted as a wonderful deed, but has its dark motivations as well. If one realizes that, then one often becomes unable to do or think anything, and then one falls into Ocnus. Shall I, or shall I not? Everything has a disadvantage, and anything I might do has its absolute counterpart. Such a realization might lame the élan vital. The secret is to say, “Oh, well, if it has two aspects, to hell with it, I shall do this because this is me, and I am ready to pay for it; everything is half-wrong anyhow, whatever one does!” People with a weak ego- consciousness and a weak feeling function cannot take responsibility for their decisions but get lamed in the face of paradox. In analysis they argue, “You said last time . . . ! But isn’t there another aspect?” One replies, “Yes, certainly, but then . . .”Generally they want you to decide for them, and that is the worst of all, for then they could remain infantile. All this sounds simple, but in reality it is terrible and dangerous, one of the real devilries of the unconscious! Ocnus, who is quite rightly represented here as a superdevil, must be avoided!
Next, Psyche has to walk past three old women who are weaving. These, we know from the mythological context, are parallel to the Germanic Norns or the Greek Parkae or Moirae, the weaving goddesses of Fate.6 Them, too, Psyche must leave alone, which means she must overcome them. Here is a big temptation for women and also for the man’s anima: the temptation to plot and help fate along. It is very meaningful that after Ocnus come these three women, because one could say that plotting generally comes after a feeling of hopelessness. For example, if a woman loves a man and there is seemingly no chance for her to conquer him, she will start to plot in order to catch him. Had she the confidence that what is meant to come about will happen, she would not need to plot; but there is the temptation to corriger Ia fortune, to help fate. Here is a particular failing of women. If they happen to give in to the temptation, they destroy, as Jung explains in “Woman in Europe,” their Eros and their creative possibility. But it is also typical for the anima in men. If a man plots, one knows he is still possessed by the anima. To give a kind of blunt primitive example: a man really is only interested in his fiancée’s bank account, but that is not allowed to come to consciousness, so he maneuvers himself into feeling that he loves the woman. In reality he wants to have the money but cannot separate this wish from the feeling of uninterested love, and so he keeps himself in a half-dark state, where he makes himself believe that this girl is the right one to marry. There is also perhaps a certain attraction, yet with this other little “thing” in the background: she has a rich father. Psyche escapes this danger in that she walks past the three fate-weavers. Only when one becomes conscious of such unclean, half-unconscious motivations and “walks past them,” does not fall into them, can the individuation process continue. Therefore, if a man or a woman cannot desist from this plotting there is no true love, for the two are absolutely incompatible, though they are always close together. Psyche succeeds in escaping from all these dangers.
Psyche’s last task is to go down into the underworld and get from Persephone the box which contains divine beauty and to bring it to Venus. Here she is disobedient, opens the box, and falls immediately into a deadly sleep. But by a miracle Eros comes and wakens her back to life. Later, through the intervention of Zeus, Eros and Psyche marry, Venus is reconciled and even dances at the marriage festival. Later Psyche gives birth to a child on Olympus, called Voluptas (Pleasure). Being from the land of death, divine beauty is obviously something poisonous which is kept for the gods and which human beings should not have. One could compare this to the biblical story in which Adam and Eve steal consciousness from God and thus start the tragedy of mankind. But here the sin lies not in the stealing of the knowledge of good and evil, but in the wish to want to participate in divine beauty.
This has to do with the well-known aestheticism of the anima in men. A man’s anima whispers to him: what is beautiful is also good, in the Platonic sense of the word (kalon k’agathon, “the good and the beautiful go together”). One of man’s deepest problems is that he is practically incapable of loving a woman if she is very ugly. He cannot separate his feeling from aestheticism. There is the story of the man who couldn’t decide between two women. The one was beautiful, the other ugly but a wonderful singer. After a long struggle the singer won. Then on the first morning of the honeymoon he wakes up, looks at her, and shakes her, saying, “For God’s sake, sing!” It is a terrible anima problem, for the man feels that beauty is divine and that it goes with goodness, whereas evil and ugliness belong together.
As Merkelbach has already worked out, Kore, or Persephone, is a variation of Venus-Isis in her underworldly aspect. But why the problem of beauty? In the story, Psyche naturally opens the box—as in all fairy tales, for nothing has ever been forbidden in a fairy tale which has not been done—and what comes out is a confusion, a soporific mist, which puts her into a deathlike sleep. Thus, she is thrown even deeper into the unconscious. The ointment has a completely negative role in our context, for it was not created for Psyche. It was meant for Venus, who, probably quite legitimately, wanted to heighten her own charms. Venus would not have fallen into sleep if she had opened the box. Therefore we must go into the meaning of ointment.
Oil and many sorts of creamy ointment had, in Egypt, a sacramental or religious function: they represented life substance. The Egyptians bathed and anointed their gods. They brought their statues down to the Nile and washed them regularly and then anointed them with a creamlike substance; the idea behind it was to give them life.8 They realized, in a projected form at least, that even the gods would be without the slighest life function or importance if men did not give them their psychic substance.
In the Christian tradition the holy oil still plays a great role in Catholic sacraments, representing the Holy Ghost and its gifts. For this reason the king is also anointed. He is the “anointed” one, because he represents the Christian principle on earth and because he fulfills his office with “God’s grace.” Jesus, the king of kings, is the “anointed” par excellence, but in a more invisible sense than the Egyptian kings.
So one could say that oil and creams represent the life substance of the psyche in its aspect of ultimate spiritual devotion, devotion with complete awe. By anointing the statues, the Egyptians gave their gods the best they could, unconditional devotion and reverence which made them alive.
The ointment has therefore also to do with love, with the reverential awe which a human being can give to a being who is greater than himself. If people try to exploit their dreams for their own purposes, without this loving respect for that which the unconscious conveys to them, then everything turns wrong. It turns dead, and after a relatively good time at the start they begin to doubt the analytical process and their dreams, doubting that they will lead somewhere or further. But they started this wrong way because they did not give unconditioned loving reverence, did not recognize that a living mystery within their own souls has to be kept alive, not for any other purpose than its own sake. Therefore it is right that the ointment should belong to Venus and not to a human girl. Human beings may not steal it; if it is stolen, it creates this soporific effect, which is visible here. Psyche is not killed, but she falls into a complete unconscious state, into the state of the gods, and loses the feeling for her own individuality.
This cream in our story is specifically called Beauty, a beauty cream. We are reminded that the girl to which Psyche later will give birth is called Voluptas, sensuous lust. Here we see clearly that in our context the tale of Eros and Psyche is an anima story. Man’s anima today is still very much the same as in late antiquity. To identify the highest values with beauty leads to a kind of aestheticism which is an inadequacy toward life, because life in every respect is a pair of opposites. It is beautiful, but also ugly, and both poles belong to reality, and chasing only beauty and aestheticism, even in their highest form, is a kind of hubris, an inflation, an unreal attitude, but one with which the anima in men especially tries to seduce. Eternal beauty does not exist in nature; it is always varied by gruesomeness and horror, and the same is true for our life. For instance, in the I Ching,9 Hexagram 22 speaks of Grace and Beauty, and there one can read that the great sage Confucius once threw this hexagram and got very depressed, for he realized that aestheticism was not an adequate answer to many of life’s questions.
Today we have an overaesthetic attitude about religion. Our churches, our images, and the music played, all must be as beautiful as possible, for only that pleases God. Everything which is dirty, ugly, and out of tune does not belong. This shows how much we are also possessed by that prejudice—then we wonder that some of our youths dance their real religious dances in cellars, sweating in dirt, and have more inner experience there then with sober church beauty!
The Chinese, who, being a people of high culture and great taste, were always threatened by aestheticism, did something compensatory, which was really just a trick, but still seems to me characteristic. In the best time of the Han, Sung, and Ming periods, when the greatest pieces of art were created, if a craftsman made a vase or a bronze vessel, he would make a tiny little mistake on purpose, chip it a bit, or put a little spot of wrong color, so that his work would not be perfect. Something perfect is, in a deeper sense of the word, imperfect. It must contain the opposites, and in order to be complete it must be slightly asymmetrical. But we still identify our highest values with aesthetic values. Only in modern art do the artists try to get away from aestheticism. Their art wants to destroy the false kind of aestheticism and show the “naked truth.” One could interpret the cream of beauty, which makes Psyche sink into the unconscious, also as the danger of being fascinated by the divine otherworldliness of beauty. It creates an ecstatic condition in which one loses interest in the concrete everyday life. Psyche therefore withdraws into the realm of the gods, into the realm of Venus, and makes no more progress toward the Venus incarnation on earth.
The aestheticism of the anima is always a problem. Even if a woman is beautiful, she may yet get some disease or have to undergo an operation. Women sometimes fear that they may lose their husband’s affection after an operation, which shows that the feeling relationship is not quite right. Or they are not rightly married if she fears losing her husband’s love for beauty reasons.
In antiquity, aestheticism was a much stronger bond between the sexes. Here, too, Christianity has brought about some change, but the problem has not been developed and needs more understanding. This problem of beautiful form and its connection and disconnection with inner truth is something we are still up against and here is represented for Psyche as the greatest danger. In this ultimate, tragic moment, Eros comes down from Olympus and wakes Psyche, and, with the help of Zeus, a happy ending occurs in the Beyond. On Olympus, Eros may marry Psyche and have her child, and Venus is reconciled. The story ends suddenly with a beautiful festival, a nice party of the gods on Olympus. From the human standpoint, Olympus means the unconscious. Thus the whole play of fate disappears. There is a solution, but it disappears; it is in the unconscious and not integrated in the human realm. It remains suspended as an open problem.
Despite the uncertain ending of our story, it is clear that Psyche had to open the box, otherwise Eros would not have come to free her. This is basically the same problem as in the story of the Garden of Eden. For if Adam and Eve had not eaten the apple we would still be sitting with long tails, scratching ourselves on trees. Therefore the Catholic Church calls the guilt of Adam and Eve a felix culpa, meaning a sin which brought forth the most positive consequences. All such nonallowed deeds in fairy tales and myths are felices culpae, for in the end they lead to a higher consciousness. As far as the problem of the beauty ointment in feminine psychology is concerned, I am convinced that this motif does not apply to woman’s psychology. Women have other problems. The hairdresser, cosmetics, and all these things indeed play an enormous role in a woman’s life, but these have to do with parts of her persona10 and her conscious social personality and not that which comes at the crucial turning point of a deep process of individuation. I am confirmed in this opinion by the fact that the beauty-box problem does not occur in other folktale parallels, whether old or new. So we are justified in assuming that it is an addition from Apuleius and illustrates specifically an anima problem. However, it is also a problem for women, since the anima attitude of a man influences them. It is instinctual in a woman to wish to appear as the man who loves her would want to see her. There is no conscious calculation here. It belongs in a certain way to the essence of feminine nature to carry, to a certain extent, the projection of the surroundings, and to act it out quite unconsciously. Certain women are very gifted in this way, and we talk about them in our psychological practice as anima types. It is practiced even by very small girls. A girl wants chocolate, which she does not get from her mother, because it is not good for her teeth. When Papa comes home, she gives him an absolutely melting, beautiful smile and says, “Papa, just this once?” Naturally, he melts, being tired after the office and seeing his little girl only in the evening. So she gets from him all that Mama has forbidden. Little girls of three and four already play perfectly the role of the father’s anima. This is an instinctive reaction; but if it becomes a habit, then it produces the classical type of the anima woman. Although a seductive attitude is quite legitimate up to a certain point, sometimes such a woman gives up her personality entirely and only plays the anima. When alone in analysis with another woman, she will collapse into a heap of nothingness, for she is nothing in herself. She does not know who or what she is or what she would be if she did not represent the anima of her partner. She borrows, so to speak, her right to existence through carrying a man’s anima projection and is annihilated in her own feminine personality. But then the man misuses this situation, and there comes the occasion when the woman knows that as a human being she has to take a stand and must differentiate herself from the projection of the man who loves her, even with the risk of disappointing him or of a severe disturbance of the relationship. Many women do not have enough love, courage, or honesty for this. It is a marriage problem par excellence and very difficult for women who deeply love their husbands. They do not want to risk the relationship but prefer to continue playing the role, and so deny some instinctual truthfulness they feel within themselves. In that way they keep the man in the unconscious too; for he can never become conscious of his anima, since his wife always represents it. But if she one day does not do that, then the man must say, “She is different from what I thought!”
Jung told us once how he discovered the existence of the anima. A woman in whom he was very interested suddenly behaved differently from what he had expected, and he was deeply disappointed. But instead of running away, as most men do in such a case, he went home and asked himself why in hell he had expected her to be different! Then he suddenly realized that he had carried within him an image of the ideal woman, or “how a woman should be.” And now this woman in whom he was interested had not behaved in that way. That was for him a step toward becoming conscious of his anima. So if a woman always plays the role of the anima, the image expected of her, she prevents her man from realizing the inner image, his anima. But since women know that as soon as they behave differently from men’s feeling expectations, many men will just throw them over, they naturally do not want to take the risk. Such women get into a conflict between their own inner honesty and the risk of the loss of the relationship; then begins the plotting.
The opening of the box was a felix culpa: Psyche has to become unconscious and Eros has to rescue her. If you think of Psyche as the archetype of the anima and of Eros as the archetype of the animus, it is a subtle ultimate reversal of role. In the human realm the man normally makes the effort of wooing the woman, otherwise there is a slight shift of normal values. Many mother’s boys are too lazy to go after a woman, but are caught themselves by some active woman, which is not usually very successful. Normally it is the man who in the visible world, as an ego, has to actively press his interest in a woman. In the deepest sense, however, in the Beyond realm of animus and anima, it is very often Eros, the highest animus quality of a woman, which is the logos spermatikos—the seed spirit of love. The French, who know more about the subtleties of love, have a beautiful way of putting it. They say, “Elle choisit celui qui devra la choisir” (“She chooses the man who shall later choose her”). It can easily happen that on meeting a man for the first time, the woman knows somehow that this is her fate; then she has chosen him. Her active Eros, her inner flame, has touched his sleeping soul, which he perhaps discovers five years later, though something in her has known it all along. So Eros is that active, invisible principle in woman. Jung has said that if a woman really loves, right to the bottom of her heart, that is, if her Eros really loves—and that is something she cannot bring about with her will or ego, or by plotting—she can get any man. It is something which happens to him as an inner fate.
Psyche falls into a deathlike sleep, and it is then that Eros comes to save her. Eros, as Merkelbach has remarked, is a prefiguration of Osiris, who appears in Lucius-Apuleius’s final initiation at the end of the book. The Greeks identified Eros with Osiris; indeed, for the Egyptians, Osiris taught men and women genuine mutual love. Eros and Osiris are both, psychologically, symbols of the Self.
This divine psychic core of the soul, the Self, is activated generally in cases of extreme danger. Eros appears again only when Psyche is at the end of her capacities. But then he takes her away to Olympus, to the world of the gods. This has to do with the fact that Eros appears in this story as an immature youth. It seems as if Lucius had not yet suffered enough to experience the Self inwardly, and as if he were not yet mature enough for the deep religious experience which occurs at the end of the book.