Psyche and Eros: A Myth Revealing Psychological Dynamics of Love and Relationship
– By Marie O. Davis, LPC and Tayria Ward, Ph.D. –
Myths and fairy tales may rightly be understood as the dreams of our collective psyche. They reveal deep archetypal dilemmas and patterns common to human development, experienced in some form by every individual within a culture. As our dreams of the night speak in stories and images that reveal the innermost depths of the psyche, so do myths use similar language. They are the culture dreaming out loud in well-told tales. While sometimes myths feel obscure or irrelevant to the modern person, if we endeavor to understand their world of symbols and allegory, modern humans will find an invaluable guide for living a rich and soulful life.
Witches, monsters and dragons that appear in our myths can represent deep-seated fears, as well as unconscious shadow characteristics. Stories of abduction, separation, love, loss, envy, jealousy, or heroism reveal the psychological situations and challenges we experience. Reading the myths and locating our own story within them can help us to not take ourselves so personally, recognizing the common nature of our most intimate challenges. They show a path to action, acceptance, perspective and wisdom offering tremendous healing value. Myths help in understanding different stages of initiation, the inner experiences and spiritual helpers on the path of personal development and within our relationships.
Eros and Psyche has become a classic story regarding love and romance. It addresses patterns of development in human and divine relationships—both one’s internal relationship to Soul and Self, and outer relationships to loved ones. This myth has been widely used as a subject in literature and art as a basis for psychological and cultural analysis, capturing the imagination broadly since it first appeared in the second century in the writings of Apuleius.
The story is told in varying ways. One version goes like this: Psyche is a princess who is the most fair and beautiful in her whole land, but she cannot find a husband. When her royal parents plea for help, the Gods tell them to put her in a death chamber. They weep with sorrow but do as they are told. As Psyche lay there alone, cold, and fearful, the West Wind comes and swoops her into a castle that is beautiful and has everything, both beautiful and necessary. But she longs for companionship. After the first night, her companion, the God Eros (also known by the name Amour, and also as Cupid) comes in the dark and shares intimate conversation, love, and lovemaking with her. Psyche is finally happy.
In time, she misses her family and asks Eros if she can bring them to the castle. He finally agrees but says they can only come during the day. Once her sisters arrive they are very envious of Psyche’s new life. They incessantly ask about her lover, but come to discover that she has never seen him, since he always comes to her in the dark of the night and never reveals himself. They purport that she may be in love with an ugly beast. At their urging Psyche finally carries a lamp and a knife into the room of her sleeping lover, an act that he has strictly forbidden. The light reveals him to be the most handsome, desirable God, the God of Love himself.
Psyche is startled and spills oil from her lamp on Eros, awakening him. She has broken the rule of darkness, and is banished from the castle. Amour says he can never see her again. Psyche finds herself lost in a wilderness. In despair she pleads to the gods for help.
Aphrodite, Eros’ mother, responds but will only help Psyche if she completes the four impossible tasks that she gives her. Psyche manages to accomplish these one by one, with the aid of natural and supernatural help. At the end of these she is exhausted and collapses. Amour flies down from heaven, revives her and gives her the gift of immortality. They can now be married and have the divine love that began on Earth, in the light of heaven for all time.
We could say that Psyche in the earlier stage of the story is an idealized, not-yet-initiated aspect of the Soul. It is hard to find a functional love relationship at this stage. First we must undergo a death ritual, a dying to innocence. When Love then comes to us, though we may think that we are happy, Love’s true face is unknown. We are in a gripping unconscious situation. When the time comes to shed the light of consciousness on our relationship, all sorts of disasters occur. The God of Love disappears from us. The Goddess of Love sets out impossible tasks for us to achieve in order to reclaim love. Each of the tasks requires the aid of natural and supernatural, miraculous, helpers. Persistence is necessary. Just when we have given up in exhaustion, Love returns. We become immortal and mortal at the same time, an initiated human in relationship to divine powers.
Each of psyche’s tasks is highly symbolic. In one she is confronted with a huge mound of a wide variety of seeds, which she is told to sort into separate piles before dawn. It is an impossible task, until an army of ants comes to assist her with the sorting. Magically, the task is accomplished. When we are in a “seed sorting” phase of love’s initiation, we may find that we have to sort out the seeds in our psyche in short order: these are thoughts about love or responses learned from family, these from the culture, these from a couple of failed relationships, these are what I actually think, these my friends want me to think, these my partner insists upon and so forth. It can be necessary to sort it all out very quickly in order to salvage the relationship but if one persists, seemingly magical assistance occurs.
In another task Psyche must steal golden wool from violent sheep. She is sure to be killed by them, but a reed gives her good advice. She is able to gather the wool stuck in briars at the end of the day rather than be exposed to the danger directly. This advice from nature can be life saving at a psychological level.
While learning to navigate the relationships in our lives—whether romantic, familial, friendships, colleagues—all of these stories from the myth may come into play. There will be a loss of innocence required as a relationship matures. Psychological separations, tasks, challenges, and helpers arrive. Receiving guidance from the symbolic and mythic dimensions of the psyche can be salvational.
Marie and I have developed Dreams and Mandala workshops that greatly assist participants in developing communication with these soulful dimensions lying just behind the veil of more rational or conscious thought. Dreams of the night are always speaking to us from this realm, offering timely, healing, personal, and wise guidance. In these workshops we learn the language of the dream together. I have been studying dreams for 40 years now. Years of extensive investigation of the world’s religions, followed by earning a Ph.D. in Depth Psychology where I learned approaches to dreamwork developed by Freud, Jung and archetypal psychologists, have uniquely prepared me to work with people’s dreams.
Dreams are your ‘visions of the night’ that speak the language of myth and symbol. They may seem like an undecipherable mixture of random characters, events and images, but a trained ear can locate their system of logic, which is invariably a strong medicine for the heart and spirit. Once a person begins to write down his or her dreams and muse with their messages, life becomes a meaning-filled adventure of psyche’s development, a journey for the soul with access to new maps.
Marie uses alchemical mandala-making as a structure which helps uncover archetypal beliefs, feelings, and actions that we habitually ‘fall into.’ Working the dream messages while making these mandalas offers an opportunity to be more deeply present to life during situations that may ‘wake us up.’ In this technique, we collect collage images that express the issues, challenges and movement in our inner life. By ‘ensouling’ these images with meaning, placing them on paper where we can see and move them around, something alchemical occurs, internally, which improves our spiritual, emotional and psychological situation. We work through fixities, see our patterns and figure out ways to develop new skills in relationship to the issues.
The alchemical mandala is a different approach from making Eastern mandalas. The structure places pictures that represent different internal thought patterns, creating an objective way of looking at the Self and areas of life where we may feel stuck. By choosing images to represent soul gestures, we take our ‘problems’ and place them outside of ourselves to gain a different perspective on the challenging life events, giving us an opportunity to develop ourselves, change beliefs and find new responses and behaviors, especially in our relationships.
When we do the dream and mandala work in a group, each person’s narrative adds insight, texture and richness to our own. A rare kind of community is formed. The dramas presented in ancient Greece were for similar purposes—telling mythic stories that help wake up audiences to realms of meaning, mystery and magic that inform our lives.
We love this opportunity to share with others the fascinating combination of dreams and mandala work. Participants in our workshops have reported life altering experiences of insight and healing.
Psyche and Eros – Soul and Divine Love – these are the muses that give purpose and richness to our everyday lives. It is a love story we all participate in, each in our own way. Relationships form the fabric of existence; no one can do this life alone. Working with the Psyche and Eros myth, finding techniques to engage its meanings and messages, is a gift that helps bring the immortal dimensions of love and soul into the mortal arena of human existence.
Tayria Ward, Ph.D. is a dream analyst in private practice. She sees clients in her office in the Flatiron Building in downtown Asheville, and also provides phone sessions for dreamers all over the country. Visit www.tayriaward.com for more information.
Marie O. Davis, MA, LPC is a Licensed Professional Counselor with a graduate degree in Expressive Arts Therapy and has a private practice on Orange St, in Asheville. She has studied and practiced Rosicrucian soul alchemy for the past 15 years through various trainings and self-study.
For more information call Marie @ 828/273-5647 or Tayria @ 828/329-0853