Psyche was a butterfly spirit; her name means “soul” or “breath.” I see her standing at the top of a broad staircase, gray stone and clear windows behind her, dressed in a white gown, a red sash tied at her waist, thick curls cascading down her back. Birds and butterflies of bright blue and red surround her, flutter down the stairs below. She is the soul, awakened from a slumber of one hundred years, starting to remember that once she flew free, and that she can once again. This is where the story begins, when Psyche stirs.
The legend tells us that Psyche was the most beautiful of mortals, so beautiful that the Goddess of Love and Beauty herself became jealous and commanded that the girl be taken to the top of a lonely mountain and offered up to a monster as sacrifice. And yet I wonder–is jealousy not a human emotion? Those who understand love and beauty know that both are available in abundance, that the more love and beauty we find in others, the more we ourselves possess. This could be no mystery to Aphrodite, the Goddess of Love and Beauty. And so I wonder if the command that sent Psyche up into the distant mountains alone was not, in fact, anger or punishment but merely the call to adventure, an invitation into a new life.
For once she stood upon the mountain top, far removed from the world she had known, a gentle breeze brushed past her, lifted her gown, her hair, and then her very body up into the sky and away to a place beyond her most beautiful dreams. She was set gently on the ground before a golden palace, and upon exploring her new home found every nature of luxury and delight. Lovely rooms, decadent meals, lush gardens all her own. And at night, when the world was dark and quiet, a kind and gentle man came to her room and became her lover.
All was perfect bliss, the story tells us, until Psyche asked for and received a visit from two jealous sisters, who told her that as she had never seen her lover’s face, he must be the hideous monster that the Goddess had sent to bear Psyche away. But we do not need jealous sisters to raise the fear of doubt and judgment in our minds; we do that well enough for ourselves.
Whatever the cause, Psyche began to doubt. Although her eyes and heart showed her only beauty and kindness, her uncertainty grew. She wondered if the man she thought she loved and who offered every proof of his love for her might, in fact, be a hideous monster who meant her harm. The only request her lover had ever asked of her was that she never try to see him in the light. Nevertheless, as he lay sleeping by her side, she crept from the bed, lit an oil lamp and discovered that her sleeping lover was none other than the God of Love himself, Eros. Cupid. Aphrodite’s son.
As she trembled in the face of love, a drop of oil spilled from the lamp and fell upon the sleeping God. He woke, saw that his love had been doubted and betrayed, and flew away into the night, leaving Psyche alone.
Without love, the beautiful palace felt empty and cold. Psyche longed for her Cupid to return, but he did not. And so Psyche began her journey into the world to find her love. She searched far and wide, with no sign of her lover. Finally, in despair, she went to a temple of Aphrodite to ask for her help, despite her belief that the goddess despised her.
Aphrodite heard the girl’s pleas and did agree to help her, but only if Psyche could complete a series of tasks. Each task was not merely difficult but impossible, seemingly designed to break Psyche’s already fragile spirit–they were beyond the hope of any mortal girl.
But Psyche is not, after all, just any mortal girl. She represents the soul, and when her soul is clear it reflects beauty bright enough to dazzle the God of Love himself. This beauty is not merely physical, it contains power, knowledge, a state of being that transcends the material world entirely. The soul is never without aid if it will only ask for it.
And so when Psyche cries out for help in completing one impossible task after another, the entire world conspires to aid her. Creatures great and small appear, eager to turn her tears into smiles. One by one, every task is accomplished.
Was the Goddess of Love and Beauty surprised? Did she not realize the power of her own gifts, her own domain? Was she taken unawares? Or instead, did the Goddess know what Psyche was capable of better than the girl herself, and so devised a clever way to teach the girl her own power? When Psyche passed each of the Goddess’ tests and came into full knowledge of herself, she was at last ready to stand by Cupid, the soul equal to love, the woman equal to a god.
Looking too closely at love is dangerous. It may leave us alone, afraid, confronted with impossible tasks. Yet we must question the love we find, for true love, true union and partnership, requires openness and understanding and, most of all, an understanding of ourselves, of our own gifts and power. It is only after we have dared to look reality in the face, dared to know the truth of our love and of ourselves, that we can ever hope to be truly and forever united with our desire.
Once we have seen love, our journey begins. Once we have seen love, we must follow ever after it, no matter the cost or the peril, until we are at last reunited with it forever. This is the path of the soul, different for each, but leading always to love.
And when the soul and love are finally reunited? They have a daughter, whose name is Pleasure. And the story begins again.