11 February, 2010

The Cult of Psyche

Psyche et L'Amour

A while ago, I found myself reading up on the mythology of Cupid (also known as Eros), everyone's favorite Valentine's Day icon (right?). I think most people are aware of the fact that Cupid is the son of Venus, the Goddess of Love and Beauty. But what I found of particular interest was the identity of Cupid's lover, Psyche.

Based on what I read, Psyche was a mortal girl of such beauty that Venus herself became jealous and conspired to destroy her. With great reluctance Cupid agreed to assist his mother's scheme to have Psyche fall in love with a monster (with, of course, the help of Cupid's magic arrows).

Now, as the story goes, just as Cupid is about to prick the sleeping Psyche with his arrow of love, the girl opens her eyes and (somehow) sees straight through his guise of invisibility. Startled, Cupid inadvertently pricks himself with one of his own arrows, and subsequently falls in love with the girl.

Cupid and Psyche

Personally, I like to think this is an excuse Cupid made up to salvage his reputation as the one who drives the whims of romantic affection and not one who is subject to them; and that Psyche was so beautiful, even he could not resist falling for her. But you can come to your own conclusion.

Now utterly enamored with Psyche, Cupid cannot in all conscience complete his mission. Furious at this turn of events, Venus places a curse on Psyche never to find a suitable mate. Cupid becomes angry in turn, and goes on strike, vowing to sling his arrows until the curse is lifted.

Love recedes from the world in the absence of Cupid's magic, and the planet grows old and gray. Venus finally gives in and lifts the curse over Psyche. But still Psyche cannot find a mate, so she consults an oracle, who reveals that her beauty is so great, that no mortal man can have her.

Then the story gets a little complicated. Psyche is married to Cupid, her only fitful mate, but his identity is hidden from her on his request (for some odd reason). They only meet in darkness, but Psyche breaks the rule and lights a lamp to reveal Cupid's identity while he sleeps.

Cupidon et Psyché

Upon recognizing him, it is said that she accidentally pricks herself with one of his arrows (yeah, right), falling in love with him. Clearly, I think she thought to herself, "my gods, I'm married to Cupid himself! Let me just jab myself with this arrow and I'll be in love with the most desirable ex-bachelor in the pantheon!" Or something similar.

But, Cupid awakens and is furious at what Psyche has done, so he runs away. Psyche, now very much in love, roams the earth searching for Cupid, without any luck. Eventually, she swallows her pride and prays to Venus, hoping for some guidance. Venus, still quite jealous, sends her on a series of fatally dangerous tasks that are quite impossible for a mortal to accomplish, but she - surprise! - manages to accomplish each one with a good bit of luck (and mercy).

Cupid and Psyche are ultimately reunited (after some kind of sleeping beauty stunt), and Jupiter (Zeus) grants her immortality. They have a daughter, called Voluptas, or Delight, who is the goddess of sensual pleasures.

I found this tale quite interesting, and the character of Psyche quite intriguing. And desirable. I noticed that, in counterpoint to the birdlike angel wings that Cupid is often seen adorned with, Psyche is sometimes depicted with butterfly wings. A beautiful young maiden with butterfly wings - is it just me or does that sound like a faerie to you?

The Awakening of Psyche

I meant to write up a post at some point about the advantages of polytheism, but I don't think I ever got around to it. The great thing about having a pantheon of divine beings, each with their own aspects and personalities, is that you can personalize your spirituality by focusing on the gods and/or goddesses that resonate with you. For example, a fighter might spend his prayers on Mars, the God of War, while a lover will pray to Venus. A fisherman might carry a lot of respect for Neptune, while a drunkard and party animal might worship at the feet of Bacchus.

This compartmentalization of aspects appeals to me. As a form of ordering, I find it intrinsically interesting. It's like the various sailor senshi in Sailor Moon, whose personalities and attributes correspond (to some extent) to the deities and/or elements associated with their ruling (or, rather, ruled) planets. Additionally, the power of choice that a pantheon offers is very appealing from an individualistic perspective. Instead of having everyone pray to the same boring all-things-to-all-people god, each person can find their own god, who they feel is worth worshipping. Of course, to fully support individuality, I encourage people to be loose in their interpretation of accepted gods, so as to truly make them their own.

Anyway, there are a number of different kinds of gods I could worship, but above all, the one thing in this world that strikes me as carrying a divine aspect above all others is the beauty of girls and young women, which has the power to move my soul (my psyche, if you will). If a religious shrine were to be erected to honor such a thing, in the manner that I envision it, I would visit it often and offer up my prayers.

Amor and Psyche

In pagan spirituality, there is the concept of the Triple Goddess - she who exists in three forms: maiden, mother, and crone. Each form plays an essential role in the cycle of life. And of the three, I am most drawn to the maiden, as among the three, it is the maiden's role to inspire desire and the promise of sensual pleasures, which then lead to the next phase, and its role.

This - love and desire and courtship and flirting and sensuality and eroticism - is just one part of life, as are all others. But, if you ask me, I think different people have different strengths in different aspects, and different levels of interest in different parts of life, and it is fulfilling to find what one desires most and to make a concentration out of it. Which relates back to my polytheism argument.

If your life is fighting, you may worship Mars, and if your life is romance, you may worship Venus. Bacchus has his cult, and so do (or should, if you ask me) the rest of the pantheon. Long have I attended the Cult of the Maiden, but I've longed for a name and a face to attach to it. Even more so than Venus, I think Psyche fits that role well, as the female counterpart to Eros, with which eroticism (as opposed to full-on sexuality) can be associated.

Le Ravissement de Psyche


  1. It is every father's greatest nightmare for their daughter to be the goddess of sensual delights. Well, today. Probably not in ancient Greece.

    I too have always been attracted to the idea of polytheism for very much the same reasons. However, I've never found any of the gods appealing. I've on several occasions seriously attempted to erect my own pantheon composed of the people whom I worship (GG, Varg, Marquis etc). It's never worked out though. It always seemed too hokey or else it never seemed like my idealized emotions could genuinely be equated with these physical (and therefore fallible) manifestations.

    As a man of reason with a taste for religious mysticism, you may be interested in reading some of Varg Vikernes's writings. He's an ardent atheist who explains in great lengths why he believes it is necessary and worthwhile for us to be pagans. He's a harsh and bigoted man, but you read the Marquis de Sade, so... Check out his article about Pagan Love. http://www.burzum.org/eng/library/paganism13.shtml And go to the "Library" section if you happen to want more. Spoiler: he talks about falling in love with Elves.

  2. Oh, and this is my new blog, a music blog. Doesn't exist yet. But apparently I'm signed in. You know who this is.