“Never trust a prophet without a limp.”
In Myths and Fairy Tales, to be crippled is a metaphor for psychological wounding. The archetypal motif of being crippled, wounded, unable to function in a normal way, or dismembered is associated with heroes, wise old sages, or with those of a special kind of fate (Daryl Sharp, My Life As An Elephant 1998).
You cannot come into contact with the numinous and not experience wounding.
This is the theme of encounter with the Greater Personality.
1) encounter with a superior being
4) divine revelation.
The wound is where the God Enters.
The story of Eros and Psyche has much to teach us regarding an encounter with the numinous and process of the incarnation of the feminine aspect of God. The following is an edited version the story of Psyche and Eros as told by Jungian Analyst, Robert A Johnson. In his book SHE. A more in depth version of this myth by Marie Louise Von Franz can be found Here.
The Birth of Psyche
Our tale begins with the line–Once there was a Kingdom. From this we know that we will be given vision and insight into that kingdom, which is our own inner world. If you listen to the old language of the tale you will see into that inner realm, seldom explored by the modern rational mind. A gold mine of information and insight is promised by a few words–Once there was a Kingdom.
THE STORY BEGINS
There is a king, a queen, and their three daughters. The two eldest are ordinary princesses, not very remarkable.
The third daughter is the very embodiment of the inner world and even bears the name Psyche, which means soul. She will take us on a journey to the inner world. She is as much of the mythic kingdom as she is of the earthly kingdom.
Do you know these three in yourself? Who can be unaware of the ordinary part of one’s self and that special unearthly inner self who does so badly in the ordinariness of everyday life?
So great was the power of this extraordinary princess that people began saying, “Here is the new Aphrodite, here is the new goddess who will take the place of the old one, drive her from her temple, and entirely supersede her.” Aphrodite had to bear the insult of seeing the ashes of the sacramental fires in her temples grow cold and the cult of this new slip of a girl take her place.
Now, Aphrodite was the goddess of femininity who had reigned since the beginning-no one knew how long. For her to see the rise of a new goddess of femininity was more than she could bear! Her rage and jealousy were apocalyptic and the whole course of our story is determined at this moment. To stir the rage or demand change of a god or goddess is to shake the very foundations of one’s inner world!
THE MYTHIC ELEMENTS
The origins of the two goddesses, Aphrodite and Psyche, are interesting. Wielding a sickle, Cronus, the youngest and craftiest son of Uranus, the god of the sky, severed his father’s genitals, and flung them into the sea thus fertilizing the water and Aphrodite was born.
Aphrodite’s birth was immortalized by Botticelli in his magnificent painting, the Birth of Venus: she, in all her feminine majesty, is being born upon a wave, standing on a shell. This is the divine origin of the feminine principle in its archetypal form, which may be vividly contrasted with the human birth of Psyche who was said to have been conceived by dewdrops that fell from the sky. What curious language! But this language is rich in psychological insight if you can hear its archaic, timeless message.
The difference between these two births, if properly understood, reveals the different natures of the two feminine principles. Aphrodite is a goddess born of the sea: she is primeval, oceanic in her feminine power. She is from the beginning of time and holds court at the bottom of the sea. In psychological terms, she reigns in the unconscious, symbolized by the waters of the sea. She is scarcely approachable on ordinary conscious terms; one might as well confront a tidal wave. One can admire, worship, or be crushed by such archetypal femininity but it is extremely difficult to relate to it. It is Psyche’s task, from her human vantage point, to do just that–to relate and soften the great oceanic, archetypal feminine. This is our myth.
Every woman has an Aphrodite in her. She is recognized by her overwhelming femininity and vast, impersonal, unrelatable majesty.
There are marvelous stories about Aphrodite and her court. She has a servant who carries a mirror before her so that she may constantly see herself. Someone continually makes perfume for her. She is jealous and will stand no competition whatsoever. She is constantly arranging marriages and is never satisfied until everyone is busily serving her fertility.
Aphrodite is the principle of mirroring every experience back into our own consciousness. As man is occupied with expansion and exploration and finding that which is new, Aphrodite, is reflecting and mirroring and assimilating. Aphrodite’s mirror is symbolic of a most profound quality of the goddess of love. She frequently offers one a mirror by which one can see one’s self, a self hopelessly stuck in projection without the help of the mirror. Asking what is being mirrored back can begin the process of understanding, which may prevent getting stuck in an insoluble emotional tangle. This is not to say there are not outer events. But it is important to realize and understand that many things of our own interior nature masquerade as outer events when they should be mirrored back into our subjective world from which they sprang. Aphrodite provides this mirror more often than we would like to admit. Whenever one falls in love, sees the god or goddess-like qualities in another, it is Aphrodite mirroring our immortality and divine-like qualities. We are as reluctant to see our virtues as our faults and a long period of suffering generally lies between the mirroring and the accomplishment. Psyche takes just such a long journey between her falling in love with Eros and the discovery of her own immortality.
Thus Aphrodite is the great mother goddess as seen through the eyes of her future daughter-in-law. When a woman mediates beauty and grace to the world, often it is the Aphrodite or Venus energy at work. But when Aphrodite is confronting her daughter-in-law she is jealous, competitive and determined to set out hurdles for Psyche at every turn. This drama of mother-in-law and daughter-in-law is acted out in every culture and is one of the psychic irritants which can contribute so much to a young woman’s growth. For a young woman to cope with her mother-in-law’s power system is to attain feminine maturity.
It is embarrassing for a modern, reasonably intelligent woman to discover her Aphrodite nature and the primitive, instinctive tricks it can play. Aphrodite often shows her tyrannical side and thinks her word is law.
Naturally, when a new kind of femininity appears on the stage of evolution, the old goddess will be irate. She will use any means at her disposal to down an opponent. Every woman knows this through her own sudden regressions to her Aphrodite nature; a woman is a terrifying figure when she falls prey to it. It is a rare and intelligent household where, in her sudden eruptions, Aphrodite can be called by her true name and that sublime energy put to its real use.
Aphrodite energy is a valuable quality. She is in the service of personal development and wields her terrible power to make those around her grow. When it is time for growth, the old ways and the old habits must welcome the new. The old way seems to hinder the new growth at every point, but if you persevere, this way will bring a new consciousness to birth.
There is a story about the first elephant born in captivity. At first its keeper was delighted, but then he was horrified when the other elephants in the compound gathered in a circle and tossed the new baby to each other around the circle. The keeper thought they were killing it, but they were only making it breathe.
Often, when new growth occurs, the most dreadful things seem to happen, but then we see that they were exactly what was required. Aphrodite, who is criticized at every turn, does what is necessary to make Psyche’s evolution possible. It is easy to be optimistic after the fact, but it is devilishly painful while it is happening. There is a sort of inner chaotic evolutionary warfare happening during this time. The old way, the Aphrodite nature, is regressive. It pulls a woman back into unconsciousness, while at the same time it forces her forward into new life sometimes at great risk. It may be that evolution could be accomplished in another way; or it may be that at times Aphrodite is the only element that can bring about growth. There are women, for example, who might not grow unless they have a tyrant of a mother-in-law or step-mother.
Much of the turmoil for a modern woman is the collision between her Aphrodite nature and her Psyche nature. It helps to have a framework for understanding the process; if she can see what is happening, she is well on her way to a new consciousness.
Generally in fairy tales the woman achieves individuation by suffering, while the male hero is more activeMarie Louise Von Franz
The Youth of Psyche
Psyche’s nature is so magnificent, so innocent, so unworldly, so virginal that she is worshipped; but she is not courted. This is an utterly lonely experience and poor Psyche can find no husband.
In this sense, there is a Psyche in every woman, and it is an intensely lonely experience for her. Every woman is, in part, a king’s daughter, too lovely, too perfect, too deep for the ordinary world. When a woman finds herself lonely and not understood, when she finds that people are good to her but stay just a little distance away, she has found the Psyche nature in her own person. This is a painful experience and women are often aware of it without knowing its origin. To be caught in this aspect of the feminine character is to remain untouched and unrelated.
All manner of nonsense goes on when a woman tries to bring her Psyche nature into the everyday give-and-take of relationship. If the Psyche nature is a large part of a woman, she has a painful task on her hands. She bursts into tears and says, “But nobody understands me.” And it is true! Every woman has this quality within her; it makes no difference what her station in life may be. If you see this quality and can touch it in a woman, the great beauty and divinity of a Psyche can be made conscious in her and a noble evolution begins.
Psyche is the despair of her parents because, while her two older sisters have happily married neighboring kings, no one asks for Psyche’s hand. Men only worship her. The king goes to an oracle, who happens to be dominated by Aphrodite, and she, irate and jealous of Psyche, has the oracle give a terrible prophesy! Psyche is to be married to Death, the ugliest, the most horrible, the most awful creature possible. Psyche is to be taken to the top of a mountain, chained to a rock, and left to be ravished by this dreadful creature, Death. Oracles were unquestioned in Greek society; they were taken as absolute truth. Psyche’s parents, believing, made a wedding procession, which was a funeral cortege, took Psyche as instructed, and chained her to the rock at the top of the mountain. Mixed together were floods of tears, wedding finery, and funeral darkness. Then the parents extinguished the torches and left Psyche alone in the dark.
Here again we observe the paradox of evolution. It is Aphrodite who condemns Psyche to death but who is also the matchmaker who brings about the very wedding she is opposing. The forward evolution toward marriage is accompanied by a regressive tug of longing for the autonomy and the freedom of things as they were before.
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. — Marie Louise Von Franz
In order to destroy Psyche, as she wished to do, Aphrodite engages the assistance of her son, Eros, the god of love. Eros caries his quiver of arrows and is the bane of everyone on Olympus; not even the gods escape his power. Yet Eros is under the thumb of his mother who instructs him to enflame Psyche with love for the loathsome beast who will come to claim her, thus ending Psyche’s challenge to Aphrodite. One of Aphrodite’s characteristics is that she is constantly regressive. She wants things to go back where they were; she wants evolution to go backward. She is the voice of tradition, and ironically, it is this very tendency that carries our story forward in its evolution.
Eros goes to do his mother’s bidding, but just as he glimpses Psyche, he accidentally pricks his finger on one of his own arrows and falls in love with her. He decides instantly to take Psyche as his own bride and asks his friend, the West Wind, to lift her very gently down from the top of the mountain into the Valley of Paradise.
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.Marie Louise Von Franz
Psyche finds herself in a magnificent paradise. She has everything one could wish. Her god-husband, Eros, is with her every night and puts only one restriction on her; he extracts from her the promise that she will not look at him and will not inquire into any of his ways. She may have anything she wishes, she may live in her paradise, but she must not ask to know or see him. Psyche agrees to this.
All paradises fail. Each one has a serpent in it that demands the opposite of the peace and tranquility of the Garden of Eden.
The serpent quickly appears for Psyche’s paradise in the form of her two sisters, who have!been mourning her loss–though not with deep sincerity. They hear that Psyche is living in a garden paradise and that she has a god as a husband. Their jealousy knows no bounds! They come to the crag where Psyche had been chained and call down to her in the garden, send their best wishes, and inquire about her health.
The sisters also have a plan to save Psyche from this horrible end. They advise Psyche to get a lamp, put it in a covered vessel, and have it ready in the bedchamber. She is to take the sharpest knife available and have it beside her on the couch. In the middle of the night, when her husband is fast asleep, she must expose the lamp, see her loathsome husband for the first time, and sever his head with her knife. Psyche quickly falls under the spell of this advice and prepares herself to unmask her terrible husband.
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.”Marie Louise Von Franz
Eros comes to the couch after dark and falls asleep beside Psyche. In the night she takes the cover off the lamp, grasps the knife, stands over her husband, and looks at him for the first time. To her utter amazement and bewilderment, and now overwhelmed with guilt, she sees that he is a god, the god of love, the most beautiful creature in all of Olympus! She is so shaken and terrified by this that she thinks of killing herself at her terrible mistake. She fumbles with the knife and drops it. She then accidentally pricks herself on one of Eros’ arrows and falls in love with the husband she has seen for the first time.
She jostles the lamp and a drop of oil from it falls on Eros’ right shoulder. He wakes in pain from the hot oil, sees what has happened and, being a winged creature, takes flight. Poor Psyche clings to him and is carried a little way just far enough to be taken from the paradise garden. She soon falls to the earth exhausted and desolate. Eros lights nearby and says that she has disobeyed, broken her covenant, and destroyed the paradise garden. He tells her, as he had warned, her child will be born a mortal and a girl. He will go away, punishing her by his absence. Then he flies away to his mother, Aphrodite.
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.Marie Louise Von Franz
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.—Marie Louise Von Franz
The sisters are the demand for evolution from an unexpected source. They may be Psyche’s shadow. Dr. Jung described the shadow elements in a personality as those repressed or unlived sides of a person’s total potential. Through lack of attention and development, these unlived and repressed qualities remain archaic or turn dark and threatening. These potentialities for good and evil, though repressed, remain in the unconscious, where they gather energy until finally they begin to erupt arbitrarily into our conscious lives, just as the sisters came into Psyche’s life at a critical moment.
Dr. Jung said that the demand for growth in consciousness often comes from the shadow. So the sisters, those less than lovely and imperfect parts of Psyche, serve her well.
Eros has worked as hard as he can to keep Psyche unconscious. He promised her paradise if she would not look at him or question him. In this way he sought to dominate her.
The symbolism of the lamp, whose oil burns Eros, is double. 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. (Marie Louise Von Franz)
The Song of Songs says:
You ravish my heart,
My sister, my promised bride,
You ravish my heart
with a single one of your glances. (4:9)
The Douay Version says, "Thou hast wounded my heart with one of thy eyes." This image refers to the wounding effect of being seen by the "other." One aspect of the coniunctio is that the opposites are seen by each otherthe ego is seen by the Self and the Self is seen by the ego. Each becomes an object of knowledge and perception by the other, which has a wounding or violating effect. As Jung tells us, "the integration of contents that were always unconscious and projected involves a serious lesion of the ego." Likewise, the Self in its original unconscious state is wounded in the process of conscious realization. Just as the ego is ''emptied'' by encounter with the "other," so also is the Self. This theme is expressed in the doctrine of kenosis, based on Philippians 2:6, 7 which describes the incarnation of Christ as a process of emptying. "His state was divine,/yet he did not cling/to his equality with God/but emptied himself/to assume the condition of a slave,/and became as men are." The theme of "emptying" also appears in the Kabbala: It means briefly that the existence of the universe is made possible by a process of shrinkage in God . . . . If God is "all in all," how can there be things which are not God. . . . [Thus] God was compelled to make room for the world by, as it were, abandoning a region within Himself, a king of mystical primordial space from which He withdrew in order to return to it in the act of creation and revelation (Edward Edinger, The Bible And The Psyche).
When the Self and the ego get in touch with each other, who is wounded? As soon as they come together both are wounded because to get in touch with the ego is a partial damage to the Self, just as it is a partial damage to the ego to be in touch with the Self. The two cannot meet without damaging each other. For the Self, you could say that one way in which it is damaged is that instead of being a potential wholeness it becomes a partial reality; in part it becomes real within the individuated person—in the realizing actions and words of the person. That is a restriction for the Self and its possibilities. The ego, however, is wounded because something greater breaks into its life. We generally think of that part, which is why Jung says that it means tremendous suffering to get in touch with the process of individuation. It causes a great wound because, put simply, we are robbed of the capacity for arranging our own lives according to our own wishes.
If we take the unconscious and the process of individuation seriously, we can no longer arrange our own lives. For instance, we think we would like to go somewhere and the dream says No, so we have to give up the idea. Sometimes it is all right, but sometimes such decisions are very annoying. To be deprived of an evening out, or a trip, is not so bad, but there are more serious matters where we greatly want something which is suddenly vetoed by the unconscious. We feel broken and crucified, caught in a trap or imprisoned, nailed against the cross. With your whole heart and mind you want to do something, and the unconscious vetoes it. In such moments there is naturally an experience of intense suffering, which is due to the meeting of the Self, but the Self suffers just as much because it is suddenly caught in the actuality of an ordinary human life.
That is why, in this connection, Jung refers to the saying of Christ in the Acts of John, in the Apocrypha: Christ stands in the middle of the dancing apostles and says, "It is your human suffering that I want to suffer." That is the most simple way to put it. If it is not in touch with a human being, the divine figure has no suffering. It longs to experience human suffering—not only longs for human suffering but causes it. Man would not suffer if he were not connected with something greater, or he would suffer as an animal does: he would just accept fate and die from it. If you submit to everything that happens like an animal, you do not suffer intensely but in a kind of dumb way. Animals accept things as they happen: a leg is lost in an accident, and they hobble along on three legs; they are blinded and try to carry on without eyes and will probably starve. That is what happens all the time in Nature, but man feels what happens to him. He has a greater capacity for suffering because he is more conscious. If his legs are cut off or he is blinded, the feeling is deeper and more intense because there is more ego and therefore the ability to rebel against fate. If you have ever had to do with people who have met a horrible fate, you will have seen what a terrific revolt can mean. Such people say, ''I cannot accept it! I cannot! Why has this happened to me? It is irreversible, but I cannot accept it!" The animal does not show such intensity of suffering. It tries to carry on until it dies; even if its hind legs are paralyzed, it tries to move, and usually ends by being eaten—a quick and merciful end. For us it is worse, because with modern medicine a human being is not killed quickly. We are preserved in hospitals, and then comes the problem: what does this mean?—why do I have to go on living? In such cases the suffering becomes intense and terrible and a real religious problem.
One can say, therefore, that we are more open to real and intense suffering, and this has to do with the fact there is something within us which thinks that this should not be; if it is a part of my life and inescapable, then I must know what it means. If I know its meaning I can accept the suffering, but if I do not, then I cannot. I have seen people who could take what had happened to them with a certain acceptance and composure when they saw a meaning in it. Although the suffering continued, they had a kind of quiet island within because they had the relief of feeling that they knew why they suffered. But to discover the reason for such suffering we have to follow the way of our own individuation process because the reason is something unique and different in each individual (there is no general meaning), and one has therefore to find that unique meaning. That is why in seeking for the meaning of your suffering you seek for the meaning of your life. You are searching for the greater pattern of your own life, which indicates why the wounded healer is the archetype of the Self—one of its most widespread features—and is at the bottom of all genuine healing procedures. —Marie Louise Von Franz
Aphrodite has accomplished her task of evolution of consciousness in the most extraordinary way! By what seems a series of blunders and mistakes a wonderful story of development has taken place! Aphrodite, bless her devious soul, in jealousy, sent Psyche to her Death wedding to a hideous monster on the mountain top. She sent her son, the god of love, to arrange the marriage; but Eros pricked his finger on his own arrow of love and fell in love with Psyche himself. Then in a terrible moment of revelation Psyche also pricked her finger on one of his arrows of love and fell in love with the god of love!
It has been said that Psyche is the first mortal who ever looked at a god in his true splendor and lived to tell the tale. This is the heart of our story; a mortal fell in love with a god and stayed true to her humanity and faithful to her love. The sublime ending of the story is a direct result of Psyche being true to herself and to her love.
In earlier times the experience of being “touched” by the gods took place in a religious context; we have moved away from such settings for our profound experiences. Psychologically speaking, this is saying that prior to the time of our myth, if you touched an archetype, you were simply obliterated. The myth tells us that henceforth, and under certain circumstances, when mere mortals undergo an archetypal experience, they may survive it, but will be radically changed by it. I think this is the touchstone of our story. A mortal touches something of super-mortal dimensions-and lives to tell the tale. Within this context, one can see what it means to be touched by the arrows of the god of being-in-love. One can see the profound experience that it is, the transposition of levels involved. This is the incredible, explosive experience of falling in love.
Our story is about a woman who was touched by something far greater than ordinary human experience. The rest of the myth tells us how she survived this divine touch.
It is ironic that the moment you fall in love with someone, you must acknowledge that person’s utter uniqueness and thus their separateness. Then we become immediately aware of the distance, the separation, and the difficulty of relationship. There is generally a terrible feeling of inferiority in both men and women when they find that their companion is a god or goddess. Loneliness and isolation follow quickly.
Eros flies away to his mother, Aphrodite, and figures very little in the rest of the story. Poor Psyche is left to journey all on her own, though she has more helpers than she realizes. Even Aphrodite, that mother-in-law ogre, is caring for her in an astringent way. During this experience the man may leave his marriage and go home to his parent’s house. Or if he does not leave physically, he may have unaccountable bouts of silence, be perfunctory and unavailable emotionally. He has gone home to mother-at least to his interior mother complex if not his actual mother. Then Aphrodite reigns supreme in the woman’s consciousness.
The Suffering of Psyche
Notice how every time Psyche encounters the Archetype/Numinous/Goddess/ Aphrodite her first impulse is to commit suicide, to take her own life.Paityn Masters
Psyche immediately wants to drown herself in a river. As she faces each of a series of difficult tasks, Psyche wants to kill herself. Does this not point toward a kind of self-sacrifice, the relinquishing of one level of consciousness for another? Almost always in human experience the urge toward suicide signals an edge of a new level of consciousness. If you can kill the right thing-the old way of adaptation-and not injure yourself, a new energy-filled era will begin. When a woman is touched by an archetypal experience, she often collapses before it. It is in this collapse that she quickly recovers her archetypal connection and restores her inner being. This constellates the helpful elements in her deeper self. A woman does this in a different way from a man. While he probably has to go out seeking a heroic task and kill many dragons and rescue fair maidens, she generally has to withdraw to a very quiet place and remain still. Paradox heaped upon paradox, she may find that she did embrace death in her marriage; yes, death to an old way of living.
It is bewildering to a man to discover the degree to which a woman has control over her feelings and inner world, a capacity unknown to most men. She can enter at will a deep place within herself where healing and balance are restored. Most men have no such control over their feelings or inner life. Many women presume this same differentiation in their men and are hurt that they are not capable of the same degree of sensitivity.
Being in love is likely to tear you into bits; but this has its creative possibilities also. If you maintain the strength and courage, out of this dismemberment may come a new consciousness of uniqueness and worth. That is a very difficult way to go, but perhaps there is no other way for some temperaments. It seems to be our chief western way of reconnecting with the archetypal energies that we call gods or goddesses.
The best way to solve this dilemma is to stand absolutely still, and that is what Psyche finally does. Once she gets past her suicidal feelings, she sits very quietly. If you have been dazzled out of your wits, if you have been knocked totally out of orbit, it is best to keep very still. This is the moment in the Christian liturgy of the Eucharist when, “Here we offer and present unto Thee ourselves…a living sacrifice.”
A woman has a profound capacity to be still, perhaps the most powerful act any human being can make. She is required to go back to a very still inner center every time something profound happens to her. This is a highly creative act but must be done correctly. She is to be receptive, not passive.
This is the basic theme of our story; it begins as a collision between a mortal and a goddess, between two levels of being, between humanness and a superhuman quality. Both have to learn, generally painfully, that the superhuman quality can not be lived out on a human level.
When touched by a god or goddess, what are we to do? That question is largely!unanswered in our culture. Most people suffer and endure the fading of the godlike vision of the beloved, settle down into a humdrum middle age, and think that their vision of a divine quality was all a bit foolish anyway. The feminine alternative to this self-defeating and depressing end to being in love occupies the rest of our story.
To be touched by a godlike experience is to become open to learning a godlike consciousness, godlike in a Greek, Olympian sense. Once you have been touched in this way you can never return to simple, carefree, unconscious ways.
The task for a woman is to translate the pain and suffering of a tragic love affair into the mundane steps of personal development.
Psyche goes to the river to give herself up, perhaps with the wrong superficial motives but with the right instincts.
Pan, the cloven-footed god, is sitting by the river with Echo in his lap. He sees that Psyche is about to drown herself and dissuades her.
But why Pan? He is the god of being beside one’s self, wild, out of control, near-madness, which the ancients thought so highly of and we regret so bitterly when it seizes us. We derive our word panic from his name. It is this very quality that saves Psyche. If we can find the god Pan in the right way, that is if we can be driven out of ourselves into something higher, that energy can be used for our benefit. To be driven into something lower, such as suicide, would be the wrong way.
A fit of weeping is a Pan experience. Although it is humiliating (and that word means to be near the humus or earth), dissolving into tears can take you quickly to something greater than yourself. It is Aphrodite’s power of evolution that brings you to this point and she will take you the next step of the way without fail.
Pan tells Psyche that she must pray to the god of love, the god who understands when someone is inflamed by his arrows. It is a nice irony that you must go to the very god who has wounded you to ask for relief.
Being the god of love, Eros is the god of relationship. It is the essence of the feminine principle whether in a man or woman-to be loyal to Eros, to relationship. Always follow the path that will keep relationship with the anima or animus, for it is with this you have to live most intimately.
In order to find Eros, however, Psyche must confront Aphrodite, for he is in her power now. Psyche rebels at this and goes to the altars of many goddesses instead of to Aphrodite. She is rejected time after time since none of the gods or goddesses will risk offending Aphrodite. Her wrath would be too much to risk!
There is an instructive parallel here between Psyche and Parsifal. Psyche goes from altar to altar, and finally to Aphrodite’s, the correct one; Parsifal is red-knighting, fighting heroic battles, conquering dragons. Whether you are a man or a woman, these dynamics of the masculine and feminine principles are important to remember. Men and women both have feminine/masculine characteristics and must choose the right tool for the specific task they confront.
Psyche finally goes to Aphrodite’s altar, for it is almost always the case that whatever has wounded you will also be instrumental in your healing.
Aphrodite can not resist giving a tyrannical speech which reduces Psyche to the status of a scullery maid, a low place indeed. Women almost always have to endure a period of Aphrodite-domination, a time when they feel lower than the lowest. Aphrodite then delivers four tasks to Psyche; these are to be her redemption.
The tasks Aphrodite lays out for poor Psyche constitute one of the most profound psychological statements in literature. The modern mind cries out, “Yes, thank you for all the theory, but what do I do”. This part of our myth lays out a more coherent pattern of development for the feminine principle than anything else available. The fact that the story is drawn from an era long ago in our psychic history does not make it less applicable, but rather honors its universality and timelessness. Countless prescriptions exist for the masculine way; but our story is one of the few feminine ways in our heritage.
After Psyche has survived Aphrodite’s vitriolic tirade she receives instructions so specific as to thrill one. But why should we have to go to Aphrodite for this? Nowhere else! Psychological events come in a package; naivete, problem, waiting, and solution are neatly done up in one coherent structure.
THE FIRST TASK
Aphrodite shows Psyche a huge pile of seeds of many different inds mixed together and tells her she must sort these seeds before nightfall or the penalty will be death. Then Aphrodite sweeps off grandly to a wedding festival. Psyche is left with this impossible task. She weeps and decides on suicide again.
An army of ants comes to her rescue. They sort the seeds with great industry and accomplish the task by nightfall. Aphrodite returns and begrudgingly concedes that for a good-for-noth-ing Psyche has done tolerably well.
What a beautiful bit of symbolism; a pile of seeds to sort! Without that essential task of establishing form there would be chaos.
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. (Marie Louise Von Franz)
Most cultures try to eliminate this sorting and ordering through custom and law. They stipulate what a woman shall do and this saves her from having to sort. Monday is for washing, Tuesday is for ironing, etc. We are free people and have no such safeguards. A woman must know how to differentiate, how to sort creatively. To do this she needs to find her ant-nature, that primitive, chthonic, earthy quality which will help her. The ant-nature is not of the intellect; it does not give us rules to follow; it is a primitive, instinctive, and quiet quality, legitimately available to women.
Each woman has her own proficiency in this sorting attribute. Tasks can be done in a kind of geometric way, the nearest one first, or the one closest to a feeling value first. In this simple, earthy way you can break the impasse of too-muchness.
It is easy to overlook another dimension of the sorting process–the inner one. Just as much material comes from the unconscious demanding to be sorted as comes from our modern too-much-with-us outer world. It is the special provence of a woman to sort in this inner dimension and protect herself and her family from the inner floods which are at least as damaging as the too-muchness of our outer world. Feelings, values, timing, boundaries–these are wonderful sorting grounds which produce such high values. And they are special to woman and femininity.
THE SECOND TASK
The second of Psyche’s tasks, arrogantly and insultingly set out by Aphrodite, is to go to a certain field across a river and gather some of the golden fleece of the rams pastured there. She is to be back by nightfall, on pain of death.
Psyche must be very brave, perhaps foolhardy, if she is to accomplish this dangerous task, for the rams are very fierce. Once more she collapses and thinks of suicide. She goes toward the river which separates her from the field of the sun-rams, intending to throw herself in. But just at the critical moment the reeds on the river’s edge speak to her and give her advice.
The reeds, humble products of the place where water meets land, tell Psyche not to go near the rams during the daylight hours to gather wool. If she did she would immediately be battered to death. Instead, she should go at dusk and take some of the wool that has been brushed off by the brambles and low hanging boughs of a grove of trees. There she will get enough of the golden fleece to satisfy Aphrodite without attracting the attention of the rams. Psyche is told not to go directly to the rams or try to take the golden fleece by force; the rams would be very dangerous if approached in this way. She is to approach these dangerous bull-headed, aggressive beasts only indirectly.
Masculinity often looks ram-like to a woman when it comes time for her to assimilate a little of that quality into her interior life. Imagine a very feminine woman at the beginning of her life looking at the modern world and knowing that she must make her way through it. She fears that she will be killed, bludgeoned to death, or depersonalized by the ram nature of the patriarchal, competitive, impersonal society in which we live.
The ram represents a great, instinctive, masculine, elemental quality that can erupt unexpectedly as an invading complex within a personality. This power is awesome and numinous like the experience of the burning bush. Forces and powers in the depths of the unconscious that can overwhelm the conscious ego if they are not handled correctly.
Our myth gives explicit instruction on how Psyche may wisely approach the ram power. She is not to go to it in the heat of the day but at dusk; and she is to take fleece that has gathered on the twigs and branches, not directly from the rams. Too many modern people think that power is to be had only by wrenching out a handful of fleece from the back of a ram and going off in triumph in the noonday sun. Since power is such a double-edged sword, it is a good rule to take only as much as one needs-and that as quietly as possible. To under-do power is to remain dominated by interior parental voices. Overdoing power can quickly become abusive and rampage about leaving behind wreckage and destruction.
THE THIRD TASK
Aphrodite discovers that, incredibly, Psyche has gathered enough of the golden fleece. In her anger she decides to cause Psyche certain defeat; she tells her that she must fill a crystal goblet with water from the Styx, a river that tumbles from a high mountain, disappears into the earth, and comes back to the high mountain again. It is a circular stream, ever returning to its source, down into the depths of hell and back up to the highest crag again. This stream is guarded by dangerous monsters, and there is no place where one can set foot near enough to the stream to get one small goblet of water from it.
True to form, Psyche collapses, but this time she is numb with defeat and cannot even cry. Then an eagle of Zeus appears as if by magic. The eagle assisted Zeus in a certain amorous episode earlier, so the eagle and Zeus have a warm camaraderie. Zeus, now willing to protect his son Eros openly, asks the eagle to assist Psyche. The eagle flies to her in her distress and asks for the crystal goblet. Flying to the center of the stream, he lowers the goblet into the dangerous waters and fills it and brings the vessel safely back to Psyche. Her task is accomplished.
The river is the river of life and death; it flows high and low, from the high mountains down into the depths of hell. The current of the river is fast flowing and treacherous; the banks are slippery and steep. Approaching too closely, one could easily be swept off and drowned in the waters or crushed on the rocks below.
The crystal goblet is the container in which the water of life is held. Crystal is very fragile and very precious. The human ego may be compared to the crystal goblet; it is the container for a small portion of the vastness of the river of life. If the ego container, like the goblet, is not carefully used the beautiful but treacherous river will shatter it. Vision like an eagle to see clearly arnd dip into the river at the right place in the right manner is important. The ego that is attempting to raise some of the vast unconscious into human conscious life must learn to contain only one goblet of water at a time lest it be overwhelmed and the container shattered. This warns against any great plunge into the depths to bring the whole of life into focus; better one crystal goblet of water than a flood which may drown us.
The earthbound individual may look down into the crashing, swirling confusion and feel that there is no way to sort it all out. From this narrow point of view she can not see clearly enough to have a workable perspective. It is at this moment that she needs her eagle vision, which has a much broader perspective and can see the great flow of life. When the small bit of river bank looks impossible, the eagle perspective opens up the next step-probably a small step in light of normal ambition, but a necessary step for progress in personal growth
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.Marie Louise Von Franz
THE FOURTH TASK
Psyche’s fourth task is the most important and most diffcult of all. Few women reach this stage of development and its language may seem strange and remote. If it is not your task, leave it and work at what is correct for you. For the few women who must embark on this fourth task, the information in our myth is priceless.
Aphrodite, true to form, prescribes an impossible task for a mortal. If we had to rely only on our own personal power we would never survive any of the tasks-least of all this one. But a helper appears who is the gift of the gods and makes the tasks possible.
The fourth task is Aphrodite’s last test for Psyche. She is instructed to go to the under-world and ask Persephone goddess of the underworld, the most hidden, the eternal maiden, queen of mysteries for a cask of her beauty ointment, which Psyche is then to deliver to Aphrodite.
Psyche, seeing the impossibility of this task, goes to a high tower that she might throw herself from it and escape this terrible fate
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 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.Marie Louise Von Franz
It is this very tower, first chosen as escape, which gives Psyche the instruction she needs; and what curious instructions they are! Psyche is instructed to go to a hidden place and there find the breathing-place of Hades opening out into a pathless way leading to the Palace of Pluto, god of the underworld. Psyche is not to go empty handed for she must earn her passage. She is to carry two pieces of barley cake in her hands, two halfpenny coins in her teeth, and sufficient fortitude to pass several difficult tests. The passage through Hades is not without its price and preparation is esserntial.
Psyche finds her way to the pathless path, descends to the river Styx and finds a lame man driving a lame donkey laden with sticks of wood. Some of the sticks fall to the ground and Psyche automatically, in her generosity, reaches to retrieve them for the lame man. She is forbidden to do this since it would exhaust her energies, which must be kept for the difficult task ahead. Then she comes to the ferryman, Charon, with his patched boat who requires one of the coins for passage to Hades. During the passage over the river, a drowning man begs for help from Psyche and she must refuse him. When a woman is on her way to face the goddess of the underworld she must save all her resources and not be concerned with lesser tasks.
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. Marie Louise Von Franz
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!—Marie Louise Von Franz
Now in Hades, Psyche walks toward her goal and is confronted with three old women weaving the strands of fate on a loom. They ask Psyche to help but she must walk by and give them no attention. What woman carn walk by the three fates and not stop to take part in the weaving of fate? But Psyche is warned that she would lose one of her barley cakes in this way and then she would have no payment for a dark passage later in the journey. Without this payment Psyche could never again return to the human world of light.
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. 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 (feminine) 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.
—Marie Louise Von Franz
Next, Psyche confronts Cerberes, the guardian of Hades, a monstrous dog with three heads. She throws one of the barley cakes to the horrible dog and goes by while the three heads are fighting over the cake.
Finally she is in the hall of Persephone, the eternal maiden, queen of mysteries. As the tower had warned her, Psyche is to refuse the lavish hospitality Persephone offers. She accepts only the simplest food and sits upon the ground to eat it. An old law binds you to any house where you have taken hospitality and so if Psyche accepts the luxury of Persephone, she will be bound to her forever.
Psyche, in her growing wisdom and strength (for all the earlier tasks have strengthened her), passes each of these tests and asks Persephone for a cask of her beauty ointment. Persephone gives the precious cask without question, and Psyche retraces her steps. The story recounts that Persephone gives Psyche “a cask in which a mystical secret is contained.” This is a clue to a perplexing question that will arise soon. She has kept the second barley cake to buy her way past the terrible dog, and she has the second coin ready for the ferryman.
The last of the instructions given by the tower proves too much for Psyche and she disobeys its wise counsel. The tower had instructed her never to open the box or to inquire into its contents. Just at the last of her journey, within sight of the light and human world, Psyche thinks within herself, “Here I have the precious beauty of Aphrodite in my hand; would I not be foolish not to look into the cask and take a tiny bit that I might adorn myself so that I would be beautiful to my beloved Eros?” This she did and found nothing in the box! The nothing issues forth as an infernal and deadly sleep. It overcomes Psyche who then lay on the path as a corpse without sense.
Eros, having recovered from his wounds, hears his beloved Psyche’s distress and finds a way out of his mother’s imprisonment. He flies to her, wipes the deadly sleep from her face and puts it safely back in the cask. He awakens her with the prick of one of his arrows and admonishes her for having succumbed to her curiosity, which almost killed her.
Eros instructs Psyche to proceed with her task, and she takes the mysterious cask to Aphrodite.
Eros flies straight away to Zeus and pleads his cause for Psyche. Zeus reprimands Eros for his poor behavior but finally honors him as his son and promises his help. Zeus calls all the gods together and instructs Hermes to bring Psyche to the court. Zeus announces to all the citizens of heaven that Eros’ tyranny of love has gone on long enough and it is time that this young firebrand be put into the fetters of wedlock. Since Eros had chosen a bride for himself, one of most fair countenance, Zeus demands a wedding. To overcome the dificulty of uniting a god and a mortal Zeus oversees a ceremony. He gives fair Psyche a pot of immortality and instructs her to drink fromn it. This brings her both immortality and the promise that Eros will never depart from her again but be her everlasting husband.
There was a festival in heaven never before equalled! Zeus presided, Hermes served, Ganymede poured the wine of the gods, Apollo played his harp, and even Aphrodite was caught up in the general merrymaking and was happy with her son and new daughter-in-law. In due time Psyche bore a daughter whose name was Pleasure or Volupta.
Psyche’s last task represents the most profound step of personal growth for a woman. Few people are sufficiently developed to begin such a task and it would be foolhardy to undertake such a journey unless the preceding tasks have been accomplished. To try such a journey too early is to invite disaster; to refuse the task if it is presented is equally terrible. In earlier times this was seldom attempted by ordinary people. It was left to the elect of the spiritual world. Today more and more women are called to this step of evolution. It generates power within them whether they know it or not. What is important is choosing to begin this process when it arises. You can not ignore this process once it begins any more than you can ignore pregnancy.
What do we learn from our story?
Psyche must make her way into the underworld through the place of waste, (how many journeys begin at the least expected or valued place), down the pathless way into the dark recesses of the inner world. She must not stop on the way and must not be drawn aside by her generosity or her usual feminine kindness. Otherwise she will be exhausted and stranded. She pays her way across the river Styx with a coin. If she does not have enough energy stored up at the beginning of the journey she will not have the means of accomplishing it. This journey requires rest, solitude, an accumulation of energy. She must divert the terible dog which guards the gates of Hades. There is no ignoring the vicious things one finds; they must be paid off with something of their own kind-barley cakes made with honey.
Next it is important not to dispel the energy for the journey by settling in with Persephone and adopting her ways. It would also abort the journey. Persephone is queen of the underworld, the most hidden of all the goddesses, eternal maiden, queen of mysteries. This part of a woman must be honored and respected for it is here that the mystery is to be found; but you may not identify with it. It is not difficult to find examples of women who remained with Persephone and made no further development.
Psyche makes her way back from Hades, distracts the terrible dog long enough to get by him, pays the ferryman with a coin, and returns to the human world of light.
Psyche asks for a cask of beauty ointment but receives–to her eyes-nothing. That nothing is called the secret mystery and is probably more valuable than any quality for which we could find a name. The deepest interior mystery for a woman may not be named or given any label. It is the essence of that feminine quality which must remain a mystery, certainly to men, and hardly less so for women. It is not less than the element of healing itself.
When Psyche disobeys (another felix culpa, a fall from grace which is necessary for drama to unfold?) she takes the divine feminine element for her own use and is made unconscious by it. This is the most dangerous moment of the journey and many people fail here. To identify with the mystery is to lapse into unconsciousness, which is the end of any further development. Many women who safely make the journey this far fall into the trap of identifying with Persephone’s mysterious charm. No further development is possible to them, and they remain a kind of spiritual fossil with no human dimension.
Psyche would have failed at this test, but her failure activates Eros, or her interior masculine side, into his masculine power and he comes to rescue her. It is the prick of an arrow of love which awakens her and redeems her from her sleep of death. Only love can save you from the hardness and remoteness of a partial spirituality.
Eros performs his godlike task and Psyche is welcomed into heaven as an immortal. Her contact with Eros has been diffhicult and dangerous but it finally brings immortality to Psyche, herself. Finally, you discover your own archetypal nature, that which is beyond any personal dimension. You then participate in the immortality which has been promised from the very beginning of the myth although in such dark and difficult terms. It was Psyche’s work which translated the naive beauty promised at first into the conscious goddesshood accomplished at the end of the story.