Psyche, Eros, and Aphrodite: The Beauty/Soul Connection – Part II

In my last post (Psyche, Eros, and Aphrodite Part I) I presented an overview of the myth of The Invisible Lover. I continue my reflections on this myth with tasks the goddess of Beauty and Love, Aphrodite, demanded of Psyche.

The Tasks

Aphrodite assigns tasks to Psyche that Aphrodite is confident Psyche will be unable to fulfill. The first task requires Psyche to separate a vast heap of seeds as the first of four seemingly impossible tasks. Seeds imply a masculine principle. In order for soul to come to terms with beauty an ordering of the masculine principle is required. But in this Psyche herself does not participate but is served by the small but energetic industrious and plentiful ants. Psyche neither asks for help nor commands it. She does, however, allow the ants to come to her aid.

The ants act out of pity for Psyche’s plight and objection to the cruelty of Aphrodite. Both the seeds and the ants have an earthly quality. Although Psyche isn’t involved with the activity, this scene represents an alignment with the earth element.

For the second task, Aphrodite requires Psyche to harvest wisps of wool from sheep whose fleeces shine with hue of gold. This time Psyche’s aid comes in the form of advice from a reed of the river near where the sheep graze. Psyche for a second time contemplates suicide by drowning but the reed intervenes. The vegetative advisor tells Psyche that the sheep shine with hue of gold because they borrow fierce heat from the blazing sun. If Psyche delays her approach until after “the sun has assuaged its burning and the beasts are lulled to sleep by the soft river breeze, and gather not the from the sheep directly but rather from a grove where their wool has been rubbed off onto crooked twigs.”

The image of these sheep who borrow fierce heat from the blazing sun and are prone to wild destructive frenzy suggests a powerful solar masculine energy. If Psyche were to approach them directly during the apex of their strength, she surely would be destroyed, which is probably the point the of the exercise from Aphrodite’s perspective. However, through the wisdom of the supple reed, by biding her time until the noon day sun is on the wane and harvesting their fleece from an indirect source, the demands of Aphrodite will still be met without risking harm to Psyche.

Throughout the four ordeals, Psyche is “big with child”. The third task tests “whether you have a stout heart.” Psyche is sent to draw a small urn of water. Like the previous tasks, this is assumed by Aphrodite to be impossible to accomplish, for the waters flow from an inaccessible mountain cliff with dragon sentinels protecting it from anyone’s approach.

To accomplish this task, Psyche is aided by an eagle of Zeus who is allowed to pass by the sentinels because he says he is on an errand of the great goddess. The eagle fills the urn and returns the water to Psyche. Although Psyche is greatly relieved to be able to satisfy the demands of Aphrodite, the great goddess is not appeased.

So far Psyche has been assisted by ants, a water reed and an eagle. Earth, water and air realms are represented. The ants introduce order to the chaos of the heap of seeds. Through the water reed’s advice the ‘fierce and frenzied’ power of fire (the heat of these solar sheep) is tempered. And the third task by means of the medium of air, the water element is delivered to Aphrodite.

If we use this myth as a guideline for the connection between Beauty and Soul, what do these three tasks reveal about that relationship? In each of these three tasks assigned by Aphrodite to Psyche, Psyche doesn’t “do” anything. For the soul to mature, as Psyche assuredly does throughout the myth, beauty must first of all be acknowledged as the divine energy that it is.  The soul must also not turn away from the demands of the power of beauty.

As this myth unfolds, we see Soul with a tendency to be overwhelmed by the enormity or impossibility of the tasks. However, this myth tells us that just by being present to the demands of beauty, those demands will be satisfied on behalf of soul in ways the rational mind could never conceive.

It is often through unpleasant impossible tasks that the soul matures. Its mettle is tested even as unusual resources come to its aid. If you deeply contemplate this statement reflecting on the examples from the myth, you may bring to mind specific examples in your personal life experience.

In my next post, I will present the fourth and final task.

Psyche, Eros, and Aphrodite: The Beauty/Soul Connection Part I

The Beauty/Soul Connection

The myth of Psyche (the word “psyche” means “soul” in Greek), Cupid, her invisible lover (Eros in Greek), and Cupid’s mother, the goddess of beauty and love, Venus (Aphrodite in Greek), illustrates how deeply Beauty, Soul, and Love are interrelated. This relationship can show up in a modern context of the spa experience.  The many spa treatments readily available might be presumed to be merely pampering and possibly even decadent. However, if approached in the right frame of mind, they have the potential to touch us deeply and nurture the soul.


The story of “The Invisible Lover” is a chapter from the greater work of The Metamorphoses (also known as The Golden Ass)

by a Roman, Lucius Apuleius, who is credited with recording it in the second century CE. However, there is no doubt that a tradition transmitted by Plato from six centuries earlier played an important part in shaping the myth.  Although Apuleius uses the Roman names for the deities, in this commentary, I will refer to their Greek names.

The primary character of this story is a stunningly beautiful young daughter of a king, Psyche. Her beauty is so extraordinary that people neglect the temples of the Aphrodite and worship the mortal, Psyche. This enrages the divine Aphrodite who sends her son, Eros to mete out her punishment. Aphrodite commands Eros to cause Psyche to be consumed with passion for the vilest of men; a man who is destined to have neither health, nor wealth, nor honor; one whose misery has no equal. On his way to fulfill this command, Eros is pricked by his own arrow so that he, himself, falls in love with Psyche. This curious triangle of characters sets up a potent story of metamorphosis.


It is not uncommon for the experience of beauty to touch us deeply. These encounters have a tendency to lead us more deeply into soul. There is some quintessential relationship between soul and beauty. In The Metamorphosis (The Golden Ass) by Apuleius, this relationship is personified through the beautiful and mortal, Psyche and the great goddess, Aphrodite.

Aphrodite presides over three primary domains. She is the goddess of love, desire, and beauty. Her dominion over beauty relates directly to the conflict in the tale. This connection between the realm of Aphrodite and her future daughter-in-law, Psyche, exemplifies the relation between beauty and soul.

Beauty is a universal concept; its representation is not.

The representation and personal experience of beauty tends to emerge from a cultural context, historical moment, personal genius and possibly innate predispositions. Various forms and media have been used to represent beauty, yet a precise definition seems to be elusive. Nevertheless, when beauty touches us, the experience is profound and recognizable.

The ingredients in the recipe which describes this experience may include awe, a generous dollop of aesthetic arrest and a pleasant sprinkling of delight. Due to the archetypal nature of beauty, psychic energy may be released when beauty is confronted which may be experienced as sublime.

This essay focuses on beauty’s relationship to soul using a general notion of beauty and Aphrodite as its representation. What does this particular story have to tell us about the nature of the relation between Beauty and Soul?

In the story, the reader meets an enraged Aphrodite. Aphrodite is a major deity in the pantheon with significant power and influence over mortals as well as divine beings. She is also a jealous and vengeful goddess.

The Greek word “Psyche” translates to the English word “soul.” In Greek art, Psyche was frequently depicted as a moth or butterfly. Psyche in this story is worshipped as if she is Aphrodite. There is a natural beauty of the soul. The beauty of Psyche is so striking that people turn to her in worship and in so doing turn away from Aphrodite, the true goddess of beauty. Through this adoration and veneration Psyche did not have her own identity. She was not seen as herself. Nonetheless, it is through the beauty of soul, the extraordinary beauty of Psyche, that the goddess of beauty takes an interest in her. Aphrodite commands her son, Eros, to aim his arrows so that Psyche would love a base and unfortunate man.

However, quite the opposite is what actually happens. Eros himself is pricked by his own arrow and falls in love with Psyche. Out of fear of his mother’s wrath, Eros hides Psyche in a remote area and remains unseen, coming to Psyche only in the cover of night. Psyche is naïve and unquestioning as she lives in a paradise tended by disembodied voices, without care or strife and yet forbidden to look upon her husband.

Although Psyche’s sisters are presented as jealous and mean, it is through their prompting that ultimately sends Psyche on her path. Believing her sisters’ lies that her husband is a monster with a monstrous snake body, she prepares to illuminate this monstrosity as he sleeps and slay him.

In the process of shedding light on him while he is sleeping, she is pricked by the arrow of love and falls in love with Eros. Eros, realizing that Psyche has seen and recognized him, punishes Psyche by abandoning her.

Psyche realizes what fate has befallen her. After a failed attempt at suicide, she destroys the voices that brought her to the disunion with her love. In what appears as acts of vengeance, Psyche sends the voices to their doom.

Don’t we all have voices in our lives we would like to still as effectively as Psyche quiets those of poor council? All of this drama leads eventually to Psyche supplicating herself at the feet of the great goddess Aphrodite. What appears as a circuitous route nevertheless leads Psyche to the house of Aphrodite.

If this myth is a reasonable representation of the relation of soul to beauty, then it can be said that the natural beauty of soul is not an unqualified boon. It is because of this natural beauty that Psyche is introduced to her future husband. So that is a good thing. It is also because of this natural beauty that she finds herself at the receiving end of the wrath of the great goddess, Aphrodite, which is a bad thing. Up to this point in the story, Psyche, or soul, is immature, naïve, or both. There does not appear to be any recognition of the importance of Beauty.

Since Psyche is worshipped as the new “Earth-born” Aphrodite, Psyche, has no identity of her own. However, there is no indication that Psyche attempts to evade the situation of being worshipped as a goddess. At whose temple does Psyche worship?

Later in the story Psyche approaches the place of worship of Demeter and Hera asking for protection, only to be rebuffed. It is only when she surrenders to her situation that Psyche meets Aphrodite. This is no great reunion. Aphrodite is a viper. Even though Psyche is pregnant with the future grandchild of Aphrodite, she shows Psyche no mercy. After physically and verbally abusing Psyche, Aphrodite sets several impossible task before Psyche.

Up to this point in the myth, Love, Beauty, and Soul appear to have a disharmonious connection.  Both Psyche and Eros are living a lie.  Aphrodite is out of countenance and viciously jealous.

Every archetype has a shadow side. This myth begins with these shadow aspects of these archetypal characters.

How honest is love that is hidden in the dark and lives in fear?

How mature is a soul who naively questions nothing?

How unattractive is beauty that is so venomous and myopic?

In my next post I will continue with the tale by focussing on The Four Tasks Aphrodite assigns Psyche.  Until then be alert to the Beauty/Love/Soul connection in your world.  Let me know what you see.

Dionysus – Tyrant and Liberator

Recently I was asked a question about Dionysus and what weaknesses this god had.  In this post I will create a short profile of Dionysus and address fatal flaws or “Achilles’ heel” for this god.

The Story

While pregnant, Semele, the mother of Dionysus, falls to her death when she gazes upon the unprotected vision of the father of her child, Zeus.  To allow the unborn child to continue to grow, Zeus places the child in his thigh secured with a golden clamp.  When it was time for the child to be born, Zeus opens the clamp and gives birth to the infant Dionysus, the “twice-born.”

To protect him from the wrath of Hera, the wife of Zeus, Dionysus is raised by nymphs and dressed as a girl.  In adolescence, Dionysus discovers wine, rejects his feminine disguise and is found by Hera.  At this point, Dionysus goes mad.  The myth is rather vague whether his madness is from Hera’s vengeance, the onset of adolescence, or the wine.  But, whatever the cause, he wanders across Greece, Egypt, and Syria in his madness.

In Phrygia, Cybele, the Great Mother goddess, cures Dionysus of his madness.  This cure is also referred to in vague terms, but, because his sanity is restored, he begins a long voyage of conquest.  And, it is this voyage of conquest that ultimately results in his being raised to the status of an Olympian god.  Most beings who have one divine parent and one mortal parent belong to the category of “hero.”  However, Dionysus rises above this denotation to be fully accepted as a member of the gods  of Mt Olympus.

The Commentary

Most of the travails of Dionysus are in his quest to become recognized as a god.  When this recognition is refused, the punishment Dionysus metes outs is madness and dismemberment.  It is exactly these qualities and the substance wine that are closely associated with this god.

Whether it is the Great Goddess, Cybele, the nymphs who raise him, or his fan club the maenads, women are attracted to him.  In Greek society, Dionysus is a favorite god of peasants, women, and slaves as opposed to the gods favored by the aristocracy such as Zeus and Apollo.

From a psychological perspective, Dionysian consciousness tends to be emotional and experiential as opposed to Apollonian consciousness which tends to be abstract and formal.

In another myth, Dionysus marries Ariadne after Theseus abandons her on a beach on his return to Athens from Crete where he has destroyed the Minotaur with Ariadne’s help.  It is possible that this myth is telling us that in the world of Dionysus (a maze of intensity in emotions and sensations) an Ariadne is needed to provide the thread to emerge from the maze.

The word “orgy” meant a religious event recognized by the authorities.  We, today, equate orgy with ecstasy.  A Dionysian-orgy was a form of worship of the god, Dionysus.  It was sacred.  We have come to make it profane.

The opinion of Hofmann, the scientist who discovered LSD, might also be of interest:

In common parlance, among the many who have not experienced ecstasy, ecstasy is fun, and I am frequently asked why I do not reach for mushrooms every night.  But ecstasy is not fun.  Your very soul is seized and shaken until it tingles. . . .The unknowing vulgar abuse the word, and we must recapture its full and terrifying sense. (quoted in Pagan Grace)

I could not detect a fatal flaw in Dionysus such as the unprotected heel of Achilles.  However, he is a dangerous god.  He is bi-valent.  He is both the Liberator and the Tyrant.  The initiate into the Mysteries where Dionysus was prominent, spent a year in preparation with a great deal of support from the lay and religious community.  If we do not recapture the “full and terrifying sense” of ecstasy; if we bolt into the maze of sensation and emotion without an Ariadne; if we cannot revere the sacred; we may experience the punishment of the Tyrant instead of the Liberator from the mundane.

Did Jim Morrison have an Ariadne? Could his story have had a different ending if he had honored the god and met the Liberator rather than assuming the god-like image and, in so doing, met the Tyrant instead?



The Character Archetype “Hero”

The Hero’s Journey refers to a structure of story.  According to Christopher Vogler (see The Writers Journey), the Hero’s Journey is peopled with a small set of character archetypes. One of these character archetypes is that of the Hero.

The word “hero” comes to us from the Greek via Latin.  The Greek word literally means “protector” or “defender”.  The Latin term also includes the meanings “to preserve whole, save, deliver, protect” and possibly from an older word meaning “to keep vigil over.”

In Greek mythology, the “hero” referred to a type of being: someone semi-divine or a demi-god.  A hero was often the offspring of the joining of a deity (such as Zeus) with a mortal.  These demi-gods had super human powers and often were significant to combat scenes (e.g. Achilles in the movie Troy or the book The Iliad).

In dramatic writing, the term “hero” is often used synonymously with “protagonist.” A protagonist is the primary character. She or he is the lynch pin of the story. The protagonist is the doorway through which the audience typically enters the story, around whom the action is centered, and through whom the goal of the story must be accomplished.

One of the most well known of the Greek heroes was Herakles (Hercules in Latin).  We often think of him as the epitomy of the heroic because of the superhuman feats he accomplishment through the famous Twelve Labours of Herakles.  We tend to forget that these assignments were to redeem his heinous crime of murdering his own children.

Dara Marks (Inside Story) reminds us that “If hero were to be defined the old-fashioned way, by characters who earned it through the service of redeeming their self-worth, then not just astronauts and superheroes would get the accoleades.  Little old ladies who struggle to raise themselves from the ashes of a failed marriage could be considered heroic as well.  If fact, any human being–young or old, weak or strong, timid or brave–would be a contender for this honor because the potential to be heroic lies within everyone.”

The archetype of the Hero is not necessarily equivalent to the hero of dramatic writing. Frequently in modern stories the protagonist is not even heroic in the mythological sense.

Today’s writer has myriad heroes from which to choose: from the Savior Hero of Neo in the Matrix

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to the antihero of Wyatt (“Captain America”) in Easy Rider who went in search of America and couldn’t find it . . . anywhere.

If you familiarize yourself with mythology, you will be rewarded with an deeper understanding of the character archetype, Hero, and you will be able to differentiate between the dramatic function of a protagonist and an archetype.