Eros and Psyche (1)

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Eros and Psyche by blackeri

Plato perceived love as the desire and pursuit of the whole, as he wrote in Symposium. The tale of Eros and Psyche is a story of the soul’s desire for wholeness. It has been haunting me for years both in my conscious and unconscious (dream) life. Nothing can spoil the tale for me; its beauty is eternal, its mystery unfathomable. I would like to devote some place to that story on my blog, and I know one post will do it little justice, as it is so complex and carries so much symbolic weight.

The first thing that needs to be said is that the story of Eros and Psyche cannot be found in any Greek mythology if you decided to look it up. It is actually a part of a Latin novel The Golden Ass written by Apuleius in 2nd century AD. Apuleius recounts a story that is much, much older, dating back to at least 4 century BC and which was very important to ancient Greeks, especially those involved in sacred mysteries.

The names of the main protagonists surely stir imagination: Eros (love, desire, sexual passion) and Psyche (soul, life, breath of life, also – a butterfly). Let us look at the origins of the main hero and heroine. Eros plays a decisive role in the Orphic myth of creation, as described by Robert Graves in Greek Myths:

“Some say that all gods and all living creatures originated in the stream of Oceanus which girdles the world, and that Tethys was the mother of all his children.

But the Orphics say that black-winged Night, a goddess of whom even Zeus stands in awe, was courted by the Wind and laid a silver egg in the womb of Darkness; and that Eros … was hatched from this egg and set the Universe in motion. Eros was double-sexed and golden-winged and, having four heads, sometimes roared like a bull or a lion, sometimes hissed like a serpent or bleated like a ram. Night … lived in a cave with him, displaying herself in triad: Night, Order and Justice. Before this cave sat inescapable mother Rhea, playing on a brazen drum, and compelling man’s attention to the oracles of the goddess. (Eros) created earth, sky, sun, and moon, but the triple-goddess ruled the universe, until her sceptre passed to Uranus.”

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The Primordial Eros, surrounded by the circle of Zodiac

The Orphics were a religious group in ancient Greece, revering the mythical poet Orpheus, who was said to have invented the Mysteries of Dionysus, the Greek god of wine and ecstasy. The Mysteries were very much connected to the Underworld with an enormous reverence that the Orphics dedicated to the goddess Persephone, consort of Hades.

In his story of Eros and Psyche, Apuleius follows the mainstream myth and presents Eros as the son of Aphrodite. At the beginning Eros is nothing like the powerful Orphic deity. Rather, he is enmeshed with his mother and meekly fulfills all her orders. In the course of the story, both Eros and Psyche wake to their inner power and both get in touch with their inner, essential divinity. In the end Eros, the winged god, marries Psyche (butterfly), who has transformed and got her own wings as a result of her long, arduous and trying process of individuation. Two books have shaped my understanding of the myth: Amor and Psyche by Erich Neumann and Elisabeth Eowyn Nelson’s Psyche’s Knife: Archetypal Explorations of Love and Power. Neumann asserts that the myth portrays the psychic development of the feminine, while Nelson is chiefly preoccupied with the rich symbolism of the knife that appears very early in the story.

It is worth starting our exploration of the myth with Psyche’s early life. I think Nelson tells the story beautifully, so I am going to use her wording:

“In western Greece there once lived a king and queen who had three daughters. The eldest two were beautiful but the youngest, Psyche, was so incomparably lovely that no words could describe her. … the people… began to view her as a fresh incarnation of the goddess of love herself, Aphrodite … As word of her loveliness spread far and wide, travelers flocked to the kingdom to worship Psyche as the new goddess. In their eagerness, the people neglected the altars of Aphrodite.

When the true Aphrodite realized that the honors due to her were being granted to a mortal, she was outraged and vowed revenge. … Aphrodite begged Eros to fly one of his arrows and make Psyche fall in love with a vile and disgusting creature. …

Time passed, and Psyche’s older sisters eventually married noble husbands. But though Psyche grew more beautiful with each succeeding year, no man dared approach her. She was worshipped by all – and she remained untouched and alone. The king her father … consulted the oracle. To his horror he was told to dress Psyche in funeral robes to meet her spouse, for she was fated to marry a monstrous, terrifying bridegroom. On the designated day, the king and queen and all the people mournfully conducted Psyche to a high cliff, chained her to the rocks, and left the young woman to face her destiny.

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Pierre-Paul Prud’hon: Psyche Abducted by the Zephyrs

 Psyche waited and trembled, then felt the gentle breath of the West Wind. It … lifted her up and carried her down to a lush, green valley. When she awoke, she saw a forest with a fountain in the center and a magnificent palace… Psyche timidly walked inside and found that the rooms were filled with radiant, golden light. Then a voice welcomed her, saying, “All that you see here about you is yours. We shall attend to your every need.” Psyche looked for the speaker but saw no one. Then a different voice offered Psyche a refreshing bath, while still another invited the young woman to a banquet fit for a queen.”

At night, under cover of darkness, a stranger appeared in her bedroom and made love to her, and so it continued until Psyche’s sisters came to visit and planted a grain of doubt in Psyche’s heart. Perhaps she indeed married a monster? The truth was that the god Eros had disobeyed his mother, and having pricked himself with his own arrow, fell in love with Psyche, and wanted her for himself. He was not ready yet to disobey his mother openly.

What strikes me about the beginning of the story is Psyche’s loneliness and isolation: both as her parents’ daughter and then as the “wife.” She is a soul on the verge of her destiny: wrapped in the safe cocoon of the collective unconscious. She has not been born yet: she has not left the safe womb of the goddess. She is not in love with a person, but more with the archetype or the idea of love. She rests in the state of sweet inertia. She is not an agent, rather a passive participant in her own life. She appears to be gentle, loving, and of a very pure heart and intentions. She is all about Love, but without Judgement. According to Neumann, she is indeed imprisoned by the monster: the maternal uoroboros and the undifferentiated, unconscious state connected with it. She loves a man, but he has no face.

The story starts with the paradise-like unity, harmony and a seeming completion, but soon doubt and conflict sneak in, for such is a way of the development of consciousness. Psyche must embark on her own journey, she must extricate herself from the suffocating bond she has found herself in.

Eros and Psyche: Part 2

Eros and Psyche: Part 3

About Symbol Reader

Life is a living book of symbols, a sacred text to be decoded. My blog's themes meander through Jungian psychology, myth, symbolism, astrology, dreams, and the return of the sacred feminine.
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35 Responses to Eros and Psyche (1)

  1. Great post. I read Graves’ translation of “The Golden Ass” and thought it was excellent. My guess is you’ve probably read “The White Goddess” by Graves too, but if not, you should add it to your reading list. :-)

  2. Henry Jekyll says:

    Looking forward to part 2. Need some time to digest this though. Your analysis certainly adds a wonderful dimension to the myth.

  3. This is a great reflection, and I look forward to reading the rest. I read “The Golden Ass,” a long time ago, but I don’t remember too many of the details. Thanks.

  4. kimfalconer says:

    Thank you! I’ve been enjoying your posts for some time, and this one in particular excites me. I work with asteroids 16 Psyche and 433 Eros in the symbol system of astrology, and rely on the mythologies to guide me. I find it very interesting how Eros has morphed over the centuries from creator deity to (modern) cherub symbol on Valentine’s Day cards. Is he denigrated, misunderstood or just becoming more accessible for our Western collective? I’m not sure, but I know Psyche and Eros, in the horoscope or in our inner/outer lives, represent a process of becoming, and opening to love.

    Have you read Harriot Eisman’s ‘That Other Loveliness’? She references Neumann as well. The entire issue of Parabola (vol XX, no 4) is available online in PDF. The theme is Eros.

    It would be fun to see where asteroids Psyche and Eros reside in your chart. I suspect activation at the time of these posts! Thank you again! Your site is a wonderful resource.

  5. I am looking forward to more from you. I am especially interested in her underworld trials: it has been on my mind to explore and see how it could connect with the upcoming Venus retrograde in Capricorn that will station direct conjunct Pluto, similar to how Inanna is often referenced.

    • The asteroid Psyche is in Sagittarius right now so you may want to check when she enters Capricorn… Is it always like this or is this time magical that way with the asteroids highlighting all the celestial themes? Look at 30 January 2014.

      • Amazing. I also noticed on the Solstice when she stations retrograde, Psyche will be conjunct Mercury in Sagitarius and Eros will be conjunct the North Node of the Moon in Scorpio. I have Psyche in Aries conjunct my Jupiter and Eros in Leo opposite my Mars in Aquarius- so I realize now my Eros was just set off by the Solar Eclipse in addition to my Mars…. I do not have any good books on Psyche and Eros, I’ve just been very interested ever since seeing Demetra George lecture on the myth in connection with St. Teresa. Thank you for giving me the heads up about the Venus retrograde, maybe I will look more into how Psyche’s story can connect to the cycle. The synchronicity of this cycle is so amazing! Thanks again for your inspiration. To answer you last question- the synchronicity of this time is just flat out astounding. I just found out there is also an unprecedented heliocentric t-square occurring in the next week or two involving Jupiter, Uranus, and Pluto- plus a bunch of other heliocentric intensity happening at the same time.

      • Fascinating, all this! I also know that Demetra George looks at Eros and Psyche as higher octaves of Mars and Venus.
        Heliocentric astrology is something I am not familiar with but I have heard it has enormous revealing power.

  6. intriguing and fascinating – the pics are a real pleasure to view – the symbolism leaves one to introspect.

  7. the like button does not work – maybe my brouser

  8. Wonderfully brought… thank you and until the next instalment.. Barbara

  9. shreejacob says:

    Great article as usual Monika..can’t wait till you unfold the story of Psyche and Eros and the underlying message from it :)

  10. Did not know this: “…the story of Eros and Psyche cannot be found in any Greek mythology…”

    And this passage: “She is not in love with a person, but more with the archetype or the idea of love,” made me want to inquire: Is she not then in love with Herself?

    Is not Eros the manifestation of what She see within, and calls He? That is, her Formless Form, Formed for her to see and know?

    The reason I inquire is that is how I have come to know She that I am, that is, Woman that I am.

  11. Your series inspired me to revisit Eros placement in my chart and find where Psyche is located. Lo and behold Eros is on my descendent at 18 Leo , squaring my Scorpio placements and trining my Venus. Psyche is conjunct my Moon and trines my Ascendant at 15 Gemini. Eros and Psyche form a sextile to each other! So now things begin to slowly come into focus….

  12. kimfalconer says:

    Reblogged this on The 11th House and commented:
    This is a deep and rich exploration of Eros and Psyche from the Symbol Reader. I highly recommend her blog. Enjoy, xKim

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