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.
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.