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The story continues . . . If you didn't read the first part of the story, click here.
Four Impossible Tasks
Psyche has had a tasted love and wants nothing more than to be back with Eros. Tragically, she finds herself exactly where she was previously— destitute on the bleak shores of the ocean. But this time it's different. This time she's willing to do whatever it takes to get back to Eros. No longer will she be passive and just allow things to happen for her.
As she is pleading to the gods for help, one god appears, Aphrodite, Eros' mother and says, "Okay, pretty thing. If you are serious about getting back to see my son again, you must accomplish four tasks." Psyche says that she is willing to do anything. And I don't know if you've really ever studied Greek gods but for most of them, benevolence isn't their thing. Aphrodite either wants to punish Psyche, watch her suffer or both. Or maybe Aphrodite can use this Psyche's energy in her desperate condition to get something she wants . . . from the underworld.
Sorting The Seeds of Love
First, Aphrodite leads Psyche to a door and says that in this room is some seeds and that for her first task if she is to see Eros, she must sort this pile of different seeds into their respective piles and it must be done by morning time. She opens the door and in this room is an enormous pile of seeds taller than her. Aphrodite smugly closes the door and leaves Psyche to her task. Psyche wants nothing more than to be with Eros but this task is impossible. She desperately tries for a while to sort seeds the best she can but eventually she is overcome with grief and fatigue and falls into a deep sleep. During her sleep an army of ants comes in, sees the task at hand and organize themselves to meticulously and thoroughly sort all of the seeds so that in the morning time when Aphrodite throws open the door, much to both of their amazement, all of the seeds are sorted and organized. Psyche is mute in astonishment. Aphrodite isn't amused but merely points to the next task.
Next, Aphrodite instructs Psyche that she must gather some of the golden fleece of some rams that live in a far-off field. Problem is, that these rams breath fire and will singe you to a crisp if the so much as lay eyes on you. Desperate to find her way back to Eros, Psyche makes her way to the field and is hiding in the reeds. She quickly realizes how impossible it will be to gather the fleece of these incendiary animals before she gets turned into a toasted marshmallow. And just before she turns back in defeat, she hears the wind blow through the reeds and whisper to her that if she waits until the sun sets and the rams retire, she can find the bushes near where the rams like to feed where much of their fleece has rubbed off and she can gather it without the threat of getting burnt to a crisp. This she does and again returns, the impossible task done much to the disappointment of Aphrodite.
Her third task is to gather a goblet of water from the river Styx. She arrives at the gates of the underworld and in strange fashion, the river is raging high above her in the air. There is no way she is going to be able to fill her goblet until an eagle comes down, grabs her cup in his talons, and flies up and fills the cup for her. Aphrodite? Unimpressed.
The Irresistible Lure of Beauty
For Psyche's final and ultimate task, she must go all the way through the underworld and find the beautiful Persephone, who has a box with a special ointment that she must bring back to Aphrodite, ointment that will make her more beautiful than any other god. Psyche arrives at the river Styx, is once again overcome with how to even start this journey. As she is contemplating this impossible task of going all the way through hell with its obstacles, dangers, and depths, a tower speaks to her and gives her some crucial instructions. It says that she must first gather some money to pay the boatman to carry across the river Styx, that she must bring with her some sweet treats to give to the animals along the way so they don't eat her, and that no matter what, she must resist all requests made to her for help. The money and sweets aren't a big deal. She accomplishes this without a problem. What's hard for her is when she comes across a man whose donkey has dropped most of its load and who pleads for help. Next some women who look like her mother and grandmother plead for help with their task of weaving. This one hits hard because it is so much like home, remember this is what she did when she wasn't out dating like her friends? Lastly, a dying man pleads to her for help and she must resist trying to help even the dying man. At long last, she meets Persephone who gives her the box of the precious ointment.
It's done. Psyche has completed her tasks. All she needs to do is return the precious ointment to Aphrodite and she will win back her Eros. But instead of rushing straight to Aphrodite, she paused a moment and looked at the box and thought, "Why should Aphrodite get all this good stuff?" And so her curiosity got the best of her and she opened the box. As she opened the box she looked in and never had she seen anything so white, so glimmering, and attractive. Her hand reached uncontrollably into the box and touched the divine contents and because this was stuff meant only for the gods, her mortal body was overcome and she collapsed dead on the spot.
Again, in Psyche's most desperate hour, the one and only Eros comes swooping down, sees the lifeless Psyche is pierced with love for her and in proper mythic fashion, bends down to give her the most divine, the most loving, the most beautiful kiss that has ever been. Maybe it was Divine Love's purpose (read Eros), maybe it was because Psyche had traveled all the way through hell for true love, or maybe it was the divine ointment in the box, but no sooner did their lips touch than did Psyche gain a rosiness back into her cheeks. Life started to flood back through her veins and soon her eyes fluttered open and she gazed upon her true love, Eros. But this time the gaze was different. To great astonishment, she realized that not only was alive again, but that she was seeing her one and only Eros without vanishing or being cast away, something very drastic had changed. Indeed she had been turned into a god herself and with this divine boon, she and Eros could forever live in love's bliss. At last, Psyche was reborn yet reborn into something much greater than she had ever imagined possible.
What Does This Myth Reveal about You?
The Oracle knew what she was doing when she sent Psyche out to die. The old part of her that wasn't her real, true self needed to die in order to finally become what was possible for her to be. She was more than someone who would marry the Frozen Greek Yogurt geek! She was worthy of the very Eros himself. At this point in the story, she abandons the passive realm of allowing things to simply happen for her and decides to make things happen for herself. Yet, despite her effort, she is met over and over again with impossible tasks. When you are ready to act, expect to be met with the impossible. But don't give up!
At first when she is faced with the task of sorting the seeds, she's overcome and falls asleep. Her part of her that was rational, the doer, became overloaded and she conked out. In her sleep, the ants come and did all the work. This represents allowing the tireless work of the subconscious, the dream world or image world to work its magic. And indeed many of life's problems can't be solved in the current rational mindset. We must open up to some unimagined creative force lying within us. This is a time to listen to our dreams, to pay attention to omens, to change our efforts from physical to the trust in the ethereal.
When Psyche goes and attempts to gather the golden fleece from the fire-breathing rams, she listens to the wisdom of nature for the most simple, and natural solution. This wasn't rocket science. It was good old, natural, common sense.
The eagle flying to fill her cup with water from the river Styx represents a messenger from the divine. Birds often represent that link between heaven and earth. Maybe we further our tasks by not only listening to our dreams and by listening to nature, but also find a mode to tap into our Divine nature through meditation, prayer, or scripture, in whatever form speaks to you.
Now, what about the tower? It's pretty strange that the human-made structure of a tower speaks to her and gives her such practical advice. Well, sometimes we need to rely on those things that are already built, already developed, that are solid real and practical. It could be we need to consult a therapist or medication, or do something like go to the unemployment office-whatever. Sometimes we need to use the help of the system or structure that is produced by human beings. The Tower gave some practical advice to Psyche like bringing money and treats to help the passage, but also it gave some difficult advice to avoid helping other people. In this instance, it was a time where she needed to use all her resources to help herself and not fall into that trap of putting others first. Her own ultimate evolution had to be her main concern. Sometimes we identify with being the helper when we need to be helped or just put all of our efforts toward our own rebirth. There is nothing wrong with this and to do otherwise is perhaps an offense to our greatest Divine purpose during times in our lives when we are called to give birth to this new self. And of course, sometimes, we have to go through hell in order to do so. But like in the end of this story we will find ourselves coming through the other side, not only reborn but reborn into a version of ourselves we never imagined with wisdom beyond our compression. Truly we will come to KNOW THYSELF.
Socrates is the father of western philosophy and is known by seeking wisdom through inquiring. This method of searching for knowledge by asking questions is known as the Socratic Method.
Socrates said that the one thing really worth knowing is the art of love. And just like Socrates, maybe, through understanding how myths like that of Psyche and Eros might apply to our own lives, we too might come to really KNOW, the the art of love.
How does your life play out like a Greek myth? Please comment below. And share this post! Thanks!
For these articles I drew upon a great book by William Bridges' called, Transitions: Making Sense of Life's Changes, particularly the Epilogue. For more information about this subject, I'd suggest reading it.