THE MYTH OF PSYCHE

(excerpted from http://www.mythicjourneys.org/newsletter_jul05_transitions_bolen.html )

As most of you know, psyche is the Greek word for soul. It's also the Greek word for butterfly. If you have a protagonist in a story whose name is Psyche, you might expect that she will go through a major transition and crisis. Will she survive it? Will she come through and be transformed, or will she die? That's one way of looking at the Psyche myth. Those of you who heard Robert Bly's White Bear story on the first day of this conference heard a variation of the Eros and Psyche myth.

The form that Psyche broke was the understanding with her unseen lover who came every night. The piece of the story I want to focus on is what happens in an unconscious relationship when it is broken. Psyche was the third most beautiful princess. She was considered so beautiful that she was worshipped rather than sought as a partner. Her father the king seeks to know whether his beloved daughter Psyche will ever find a husband. He goes to the Oracle at Delphi. You know, if you go ask the Delphic Oracle for advice, you are bound to fulfill the advice, so be careful. Don't ask for the advice unless you are prepared to really do what you are told to do.

The Oracle tells the king that he must abandon his daughter on a mountain top to meet her fate — an inhuman bridegroom. And so, with death is the beginning of the next stage, Psyche is dressed as for a funeral. All the people of the kingdom grieve. Undoubtedly the king must have had second thoughts of, "Why did I ever ask?" The kingdom then mourned beautiful Psyche, left her on the highest crag, abandoned and wailing.

As it turned out, Psyche was wafted down into a wonderful, magical valley where all her needs are cared for. All day long she wanders the valley, enjoying this wonderful home that has all the conveniences and provides for everything. Every night her bridegroom comes through the window, makes love to her, and leaves by morning so she never sees him. In some ways this sounds a little like the suburban idyllic gated community. (Laughter) This goes on and it's fine for a long time. In Robert Bly's version of the White Bear it may have gone on for hundreds of years before anything changes.

Psyche's older sisters, who thought their youngest sister dead, came to the crag to mourn and cry at her loss. And so Psyche beseeches her unseen bridegroom, asking him to let her see her sisters. She cries...and he tries to persuade her that this isn't what she really wants. And she cries. Eventually, he gives in, only agreeing "as long as you do not tell the secret." And he tells her, "Psyche, you're pregnant. The child you are carrying will be a god if you keep my secret. It will be a mortal if you reveal it." Then he leaves and allows that the sisters come down, which they do on two occasions.

In coming down and raising questions, the sisters reminded Psyche that she was supposed to wed an inhuman bridegroom. They stirred up the idea that "You must be married to a monster." In her innocence Psyche thinks, "Oh, my God, what have I done? Maybe they're right. What should I do?" And they say to her, "You must take a lantern and a knife. After your bridegroom comes to you at night, makes love, and falls asleep, take the lantern that you've hidden under this bushel basket. Lift it up over his head. If it should be a monster that you're married to, take this knife and cut off his head."

Now, those are the two symbols that really do matter to us: the lamp and the knife. If you are going to examine the relationship that you are in, you need both. The first step is the willingness to really take a look at the situation. You need the illumination of the lamp. This symbolizes your willingness to actually take a good look at the person you're working with, or who you're living with, or what you're doing that is a question in your mind. "Who am I in relationship to this?" So the lamp is important.

But what good is the lamp if you don't have the knife? This is a symbol that can discriminate, cut through the situation, end the relationship by severing its bonds. What good is knowing that you are in a very dysfunctional relationship, if you haven't the capacity...that is the symbol of the knife...to draw a boundary, to discriminate, to cut it off, to end the relationship if it turns out that what you see really is negative?

Psyche discovers sleeping Eros

In this part of the story, Psyche takes both symbols in her hand. As you know, when she raises the lamp and sees her unseen lover, her unknown bridegroom, he turns out to be the immature god of love, Eros. Immature in that he was carrying on this secret affair. He had promised his mother, the goddess Aphrodite, that he would punish Psyche who was so identified with the goddess because of her beauty that the goddess's shrines were ignored. People were worshipping a human girl as if she was a goddess, and the goddess plotted revenge for what psychologically is true. If you identify with an archetype, you lose your humanity, your individuality. You get inflated by it. You get taken over by it. You do get Aphrodite's revenge.

In this case Aphrodite had told her son Eros to aim his arrows at Psyche in punishment so that she would fall in love with the vilest of men. This is the negative power of Aphrodite and Eros: to have Psyche fall in love with someone who would really be vile for her and her development. Instead Eros sees Psyche and falls in love with her himself. He decides to keep all that from Mother, and so he's been having this clandestine, hidden affair with Psyche.

Psyche betrays his admonishment, which was to really keep the form. ("Don't change anything. Stay unconscious about the basic agreement that we have.") She breaks it by lifting up the lamp. Then the lamp sputters, and a drop of oil falls and hits Eros' shoulder. He awakens, hurt and angry, blaming Psyche for destroying the situation as it was. He's got wings, this god, so he flies away and leaves her.

In this story we have a transition zone that begins with the end of the unconscious relationship. Pregnant Psyche is now abandoned, left on her own with no employable skills, as it were. When Eros leaves her, she feels so unable to cope that she throws herself in the river to drown and the river throws her back on the bank. It's like the river saying, "Your life force is too strong, honey. This isn't going to be the end of your story." Psyche then proceeds to go to the various temples of the goddesses, and they all say, "Ah, your issue is not with us. It's with Aphrodite." She's not who she used to be, but she must still confront the offended goddess.

Aphrodite give Psyche four tasksAphrodite gives her four tasks that she must learn to get through this particular zone. The story, then, is about her four tasks and her growth. As she learns each task, she grows beyond what she knew before. The first task is to sort all the seeds that are heaped up in a room. This is a wonderful metaphor for all of the possibilities, all of the emotions at the beginning of a transition period. Sorting the seed is really taking stock. What are all of the seeds of possibility in your psyche of your world? How much money do you have in the bank? How much energy do you have for this? How much talent do you have for this? What are you putting together out of all your possibilities? To plan to have a conference? If this is your particular dream, then you've got to sort out the seeds.

In this particular story, Psyche's first reaction to every single task is despair. It's more than she's ever done before, she's consciously not up to the task, and she wants to give up. Sort the seeds of possibility. At the beginning, she doesn't know how, and then the symbol comes to her. Ants. All the ants come sorting out the seeds, one seed at a time, so that by morning they've been sorted, each into its own kind, every one into its own stack.

Aphrodite comes back to find the task is done. The goddess doesn't seem to be at all pleased about it, so she then gives Psyche another task. The second task is to get some golden fleece from the rams of the sun, gather a small amount of it, and bring it to Aphrodite. So our young Psyche goes and looks at these animals ranging up and down the field, in this meadow, in that valley, all having a wonderful time. These rams are butting their heads up against each other, roughing each other up. They've got a great deal of competitive power, but they're big and they've got the strength and they're doing fine. It's just a big game with them, this competitiveness.

Psyche realizes that, if she goes out and tries to grab some fleece from the rams as they're charging and hitting each other and running up and down the field, she would be trampled. This does not seem to be the thing to do. So she goes down to the river again, and this time a reed tells her, "Psyche, you don't have to go out there and do it that way. The rams are energized by the sun. Wait until the sun goes down. Then you can go pick fleece that they have scraped off against the bushes and trees. Gather enough of it for your use and fulfill the task."

The reed that tells Psyche to bide her time has wisdom. It isn't just about attaining a certain amount of power, climbing to great heights or participating in competition. The wisdom of the reed tells you to listen to your own rhythms. It advises when and how you can gain the power that you need, but not have your soul destroyed in the acquisition. Listen and learn from the voice of the reed, which is organic and grows out of the water, the river.

The application here has something to do with the feminine psyche or soul, but it has to do with the soul of both men and women. When you are in a competitive game (and almost everything that is about outer commerce or outer success involves competition), you can be trampled if you get caught up in wanting to grab more and more and more golden fleece. If you go out and take on the archetypes to play the game (because these are archetypes, these rams of the sun) and leave your soul behind or forget that you have a soul, it will be trampled.

The third task was the creative task: Psyche is told that she must fill a crystal flask with water from a stream that runs in a continual cycle from the River Styx to the highest crag. The great water of life, the water of creativity, cycles. It is archetypal. It moves and moves and moves, and yet each person needs to seize some of that fluidity and give it shape. Some of that is a conscious desire to capture archetypal energies, visions, emotions and give them shape through your own personality, which is relative to the great expanse of the archetypal world of gods and goddesses. It is symbolically fragile, and yet this is the task.

Again Psyche looks at the task. She sees this river that is carved into the side of the mountain. It goes down to the River Styx and then rises up through a spring to come up to the top again and down the face, etching its way into the mountain. If that isn't bad enough, there are snake-like dragons on either side warning, "Stay away! Stay away!" The water itself is hissing. Psyche again thinks, "Too much! I can't do it!" when another symbol comes to her aid.

Now, this third task is supported by Zeus' eagle. Zeus is an archetype that succeeds very well as an entrepreneur in this world. After all, he is the Chief Executive Officer of Mount Olympus. He has lightning bolts. He can punish. His symbol, the eagle, has the ability to see what it wants and plunge from the sky to grab it in its talons. That ability to see the overall picture, to see the forest but not each individual tree, is a way of being in the world. If you're a man with Zeus as your innate archetype, then the world (especially capitalistic United States) rewards you very well. An entrepreneurial woman with Zeus as an archetype finds it really helpful to see the overall picture, to not get emotional about losing a sale or being undercut in business. An eagle doesn't stop and have an emotional fit if that succulent mouse that she had her eye on suddenly follows intuition and runs under a rock. The eagle just flies up again and looks for another dinner somewhere else. That unemotional ability is very successful.

Of all the innate male air sign archetypes that have to do with the sky like Apollo and Hermes, Zeus succeeds very well in this world. Some people have more of them than others. If you are a man in this culture and you happen to have these archetypes, they will be stretched on that Procrustean bed to fill the picture. Those parts of you that have to do with creativity and emotionality are often ignored and, therefore, you are cut off from them.

Zeus' eagle now comes to this very personal Psyche giving her an overview of how to go after what you need, how you avoid the dangers, keep your eye on the prize, and go for it. The eagle takes the flask. It returns to give Psyche the flask, now filled with Stygian water that she was to get for task three. One would say that at each step Psyche has learned something new.

The fourth step is the first time that Psyche will end up accomplishing the task herself. As her very last task, Aphrodite commands that Psyche must go into the underworld, fill an empty box with beauty ointment from Persephone, the goddess of the underworld, and return it to her. For the first time, Psyche thinks, "She must want me dead." The only way she knows to go into the underworld is to die. Psyche now climbs up the highest tower to throw herself off. This time the tower talks to her saying, "Psyche, there is another way to finish this task. Go into the underworld via the Vent of Dis. Take coins with you for the ferryman. Take two cakes for the three-headed dog; one to let you into the underworld, and one to let you out again."

And then the tower warns her saying, "Three times you will be asked for help, Psyche. You must harden your heart to pity, refuse, and go on." And so Psyche does. Three times she is asked by very pathetic creatures or people to stop for a moment and help. Each time she remembers the advice. She says "No" and she walks on. She gives one of the coins to the ferryman who ferries her across. Even as she's going across the River Styx, a pathetic man says, "Just hold my hand and pull me across. I didn't have a coin." But she ignores his plea. There was one other piece of advice from the tower. "Psyche, once you get the beauty ointment in the box, DON'T OPEN THE BOX!" (Laughter)

Psyche enters the underworld, gives the three-headed dog one cake, fills the box with beauty, gives the three-headed dog another cake, comes back across the river (because she has one more coin) and returns to the upper world.

Charon ferrying Psyche over the 
		River Styx

All of the advice that the tower gave her was good. Psyche, having done exactly what the tower told her understands that, if she had stopped to help, she would have had to lend a hand. In each hand she had one cake and one coin. Had she lost what she was holding, she would not have had the means to return from the underworld.

People in the transition often have limited amounts of strength, health or energy as they go into the underworld. For example, the story of Psyche speaks to people living with cancer. They say, "Cancer was a cure for my co-dependency. Cancer was a way in which I could say to people, "I can't do that." The ability to say "No" is one of the challenges for a feeling man or the feminine psyche. When other people expect you to always be there for them, and you break form by saying "No," you create a crisis in a relationship. It may be that you need to not stay in the underworld of your own depression or your own addiction or your own whatever it is, it is there. Addiction, illness, and depression are images of the underworld that you need to get through in order to get out. This liminal period of transition is a very long one. The tasks to be done keep on growing. It's hard. It's scary. If you're going to make it through this transition to the new phase of your life in which you have integrated the new you, with all that you are for the next phase of your life, you've got to often learn to say "No." Otherwise the people who have expectations of you will use your energy. Say "No," and they'll say, "You're selfish." Psyche manages to do all of that. She returns to the upper world. She's no longer in the underworld. She has made it through.

By now, you can imagine, she's very tired. She's pregnant, and she's been on this journey a long time. Because she is who she is, her archetypes are related to the relationship goddesses. That is, her archetype is she's the Mother. She started out the Maiden very much like Persephone. She became a Lover, so she was like Aphrodite. She is pregnant, so she's like Demeter. And she wants to be reconnected with this bridegroom, so she's got the persistent energy of Hera.

Psyche opens the box of beauty

For all that she has learned in mastering these good things, these are not strengths that she particularly feels deeply connected to as her meaning. What she wants most of all, after accomplishing all these tasks, is to be beautiful in order that Eros might love her and return. Psyche opens the box and death-like sleep envelopes her. She falls, like Snow White, as if dead. This is the point in the story where some people find fault with her decision. "Oh Psyche, after all this, did you have to become unconscious again?"

It is this action that calls Eros to her side, but Eros has been transformed as Psyche has grown through her ordeals. He used to be this child who ran home to mother, who hid things from mother. He felt betrayed because Psyche actually looked at him. It didn't matter that when she looked at him she actually consciously loved him. He was so wounded that she broke the form and disobeyed him. Now we see a very different Eros who comes to her side, wipes the death-like sleep off of her, and then takes her to Olympus. There, in front of all the gods and goddesses, Eros announces that this is the conscious relationship that he wants. The Olympians celebrate a grand wedding now, no longer a hidden affair, not this unconscious relationship of love and soul, because those are the names of these two folks.

What is really fascinating is that we know all along she was pregnant, which is the symbol of the journey. A new child is often present in dreams when you are growing into the next phase of your life. Sometimes the dreamer is actually pregnant, but more often the dreams I've listened to over the years show an exceptional, divine child (divine in the sense that it's exceptional; it's little and it talks.) Something of this wonderful child is growing as a symbol in the person as they move into this new phase of life.

The marriage of Psyche and Eros

When it's announced on Mount Olympus that the marriage of Eros and Psyche is celebrated, she gives birth to the child that was forecast to be a god if she kept the secret and a mortal if she gave the secret away. The child is born, a girl, and her name is Joy. This is the first mortal in Greek mythology that is made an immortal. The soul (Psyche) is elevated and made divine as well, becoming part of the Olympian landscape. This is actually the archetypal world of the gods and goddesses in our psyches. She goes through this chrysalis phase. That's her name, after all: it is butterfly, it is Psyche, it is soul. Trust emerges when there is a willingness to die to the old, to be vulnerable and have faith. There is a time when you know that you have been taken only so far by your own human abilities. Something else must come in to make the soul reconnect with Eros. And often when we start the transition journey there is a loss of love, or of our ability to love. We're depressed. We have had difficulties.

[For the complete speech, which is just as wonderful, see from http://www.mythicjourneys.org/newsletter_jul05_transitions_bolen.html ]