Saturday, February 11, 2012

Cupid and Psyche

Psyche, by William
Adolphe Bouguereau
Through a prism of tears, the girl watched her parents walk away, leaving her chained to the side of the mountain. 

Her name was Psyche. All men praised her beauty, but no man wanted to marry her, for Psyche was cursed. In desperation, her parents had consulted an oracle, who declared that Psyche was too beautiful for mortal man. They must take her to the mountain, said the seer, and abandon her to the gods.

Leaves scattered and Psyche's hair whipped her face as the West Wind approached. The wind carried the girl away to a beautiful palace to become, at long last, a bride.

Cupid falls in love with Psyche.

But whose bride? 

At night, Psyche lay with her new husband, always in the dark. She never saw his face. And when the first rays of morning came, he was gone.

For her husband had made a law. She must never bring a light to the room where they met. She must never see his face. Her husband wanted to reveal himself in his own time, in his own way.

Psyche soon discovered that she was going to have a child, and somehow this news made her happy and sad all at once.

For Psyche was lonely. She missed her family. And so her husband allowed Psyche’s sisters to visit her in the palace for just one day, but he warned her not to listen to their advice. 

The sisters were overjoyed to see Psyche again, but they warned her that she was in great danger. What kind of a husband hides from his bride? She must discover the true identify of her husband at any cost. They told her that he was a hideous serpent who would devour Psyche and her unborn child.

Later that night, after her sisters had gone, Psyche crept into her bower with a lamp and a knife. She could stand the suspense no more. During the night she lit the lamp and looked on the face of the monster she had married. But instead of a serpent, she saw the handsome Cupid, and she fell deeply in love with him. She bent over to kiss him, but just then a drop of hot oil fell from her lamp onto his beautiful face.

It was the first time she had seen him, and now it would surely be the last time as well. She would never forget the look in his eyes—a look of bitter disappointment and betrayal. Then the light went out and he flew away.

Psyche Opening the Door
 into Cupid's Garden
by John William Waterhouse
How ironic that Cupid, the god whose arrows cause men and women to fall in love with each other, was so "unlucky in love." Or perhaps it was a kind of poetic payback! There’s more to the story, and Cupid and Psyche will go through much grief and torment before they are reunited. But if you really want to experience this myth. . . .

Orual, the heroine of C. S. Lewis’s novel, Till We Have Faces, is Psyche’s sister. She is jealous of Psyche, but she also loves her and truly wants to save her from the “monster” she has married. The story of Cupid and Psyche is retold brilliantly in this masterwork of mythic fiction. 

In Till We Have Faces, Lewis likens the relationship between Cupid and Psyche to our relationship with an invisible God. Do we dare trust this God who hides Himself? The problem, according to Lewis, is not that God is faceless, but that we are. As Orual says about the gods, "How can they meet us face to face till we have faces?"  In this story, we can begin to understand, along with Psyche's sister, what love is and who we truly are.

Happy Valentine's Day from the Stark Raving Mythopath.

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