I’m finishing up my weeks of instruction on my online Greek mythology class, and I saved one of my favorite myths for the end of the class, a special “bonus” myth if you will, for after my students finished their end-of-term presentations. Eros and Psyche has got to be one of the most psychologically and spiritually rich of all the Greek myths.
It’s certainly got more going on than one blog post can support, but each time I read it it hits me in a different way, and this time was no exception. I was paging through Erich Neumann’s wonderful book on the myth, Amor and Psyche: The Psychic Development of the Feminine, and it reminded me that this myth is about the progression of the soul (Psyche) from darkness to light. The tale strongly resembles and is the precursor to many well known fairy tales, such as Beauty and the Beast and East of the Sun, West of the Moon.
Psyche begins as innocence incarnate, as undeveloped psychological matter. Her experiences, both before and after love (Eros) leaves her, contribute to her psychological development and her maturity into individuation. Neumann says “she was imprisoned in darkness, but now the drive toward light and knowledge has become imperious (p. 76)”.
Once Eros is lost to her, she must complete four tasks to be reunited with her love, at each task she is provided with help. She is given just the right knowledge or assistance at the right time to move onto the next task. This reminds me of the well known phrase of mythologist Joseph Campbell’s, “if you follow your bliss, the universe will open doors where there were only walls.”
Eros is Psyche’s bliss, and as she works her way through the tasks set for her by Aphrodite, she finds a path through. The doors are opening for her. However, at each stage she feels despair, and wants to give up. For me, that rings true. I always seem to have those moments myself, finding a way to follow my bliss every day. Don’t we all know what that feels like? To pursue the thing we love, we all fall into moments where it feels like we’re not moving forward, that we should just give up. But, then, there is a shift in energy at the right time, an ally appears where one wasn’t expected, and we’re able to keep moving forward.
Psyche’s story reminds me to look for that unexpected assistance, to know that, even as I’m despairing, the wheel of the story is turning upwards and that things never go down forever. The wheel always turns back up.