Jean Houston says, "I have always thought of a myth as something that never was but is always happening." I agree. I share the stories that I am led to tell and reflect upon here because the parallels and synergies with my life are so plentiful, and useful. Stories are amazing teachers and together we are learning how to sit at their feet. I plan to expand my offerings and avenues in the near future (stay tuned) but for now let's turn our attention to the story of Eros and Psyche (Cupid and Psyche in the Roman), and a mythic pattern that repeats itself in the life of every awake human being.
My telling is based on the version by Apuleius in The Golden Ass (also called the Metamorphoses) from the late 2nd century AD.
Eros and Psyche
A certain king and queen had three daughters. The elder two were quite charming but the youngest was wonderfully fair, so fresh and lovely that she seemed to have been born of a drop of heaven’s dew. News of her beauty spread and strangers from neighboring countries came in crowds to look on her with amazement. “It is as if,” they said, “the Goddess Aphrodite herself has come down to earth and taken mortal form.”
People were so captivated by Psyche that they neglected the temples and shrines of the magnificent goddess of Love. Aphrodite noticed the lack of offerings and traced the problem back to the unseemly worship of this mortal girl. “I am the first parent of all created things” Aphrodite fumed to herself. “People should not sing praises to a mortal girl. It’s not right. I will make sure that she doesn’t live to enjoy it.”
Aphrodite summoned her son Eros, a headstrong boy with little respect for law and order. “You must avenge me,” she told him, “and punish the girl. She will learn who is the goddess. Go to this Psyche and cast your spells. Make sure that she falls in love with the vilest of men, someone who will bring only bad fortune.” This Eros agreed to do.
In the meantime, the lovely Psyche was alone and lonely. Her two elder sisters had already been married to two royal princes, but Psyche had no suitors. Not one. Her apparent perfection induced awe but no one had the courage to propose to such a beauty, and Psyche felt herself cursed, not blessed.
Psyche’s parents were also distressed and afraid that they had unwittingly incurred the anger of the gods. They decided to consult the oracle of Apollo, who knew such things and could prescribe a remedy. This consultation was a serious business because once you got your answer, you were sworn to act accordingly. Alas, here is what the oracle told them: "Hope for no mortal bridegroom. Your lovely daughter will be wed to one fierce and wild who burns with fire as hot as a dragon’s breath. Her future husband awaits her on the top of the mountain. Take her there and leave her, dressed for both marriage and funeral."
This dreadful decree of the oracle filled all the people with dismay and Psyche’s parents abandoned themselves to grief. But Psyche said, "Why, my dear parents, do you lament now? You should have grieved when the people showered upon me undeserved honors and likened me to the great goddess Aphrodite. I understand now that she is the one aggrieved. Lead me without delay to that rock to meet my husband and my unhappy fate."
The procession was prepared. Psyche wore a wedding dress but it was a sad and solemn march up the mountain. On the summit her stricken parents bid her good bye and with sorrowful hearts returned home. Psyche was alone among the rocks, panting with fear, eyes full of tears. Who or what would come to that desolate crag to claim her?