Myth and Magic, chapter 1: Self Love in the Story of Eros and Psyche

The story of Eros and Psyche is an ancient myth dating back to the second century AD. The full story can be found here. It tells the tale of a beautiful princess named Psyche who became the wife of Eros, the god of love, though she did not know this at the time because she was forbidden to look upon him. Convinced by her jealous sisters that her unknown husband was a terrible monster, Psyche took a lamp and a knife and sought to kill him while he slept in order to save her own life. However, when she looked at him in the lamp light she saw the most beautiful and charming of all the gods, Eros, the god of love, and not the monster she had been told he was. As she leaned forward to take a closer look, he awoke, and was angry that Psyche had disobeyed him. He flew away out the window telling her he would never see her again.

Psyche was despondent at losing her divine lover, but decided to look for him at the home of his mother, Aphrodite, the goddess of love. Aphrodite gave her three miserable, seemingly impossible tasks to complete. Unseen forces helped her with these tasks and she completed them relatively easily. For the fourth task, Aphrodite sent her to the Underworld to collect a box of beauty from Persephone, the wife of Hades. Psyche received instructions to help her complete this task, most importantly, that she was not to open the box. However, when Psyche returned to the earthly realm, she reasoned with herself that Eros would be unable to resist her if she was anointed with Divine beauty, so she opened the box and fell into a death-like sleep. While this may have seemed like a failure, Eros then returned to wake Psyche from her sleep. They were married and Psyche took her place on Mount Olympus with the gods.

Psyche Opening the Golden Box. John William Waterhouse, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

What then, can we learn from this story when it comes to self love?

Psyche’s choice to open the box after being told not to could be seen as vanity, desperation, or the inability to let go of a failed relationship. However, in his commentary on the myth, Jungian analyst Erich Neumann (1956/1971) suggested that with this act, Psyche “professes her love and holds fast to her individual encounter with Eros,” (p. 123) and “forsakes all reason” (p. 124) in order to follow her heart: “This signifies that the soul’s individual ability to love is divine, and that transformation by love is a mystery that deifies” (p. 136). Thus, Psyche’s failure was actually her apotheosis, where, as mythologist Joseph Campbell (2008) wrote, “the wall of the pairs of opposites is shattered and the candidate [is] admitted to the vision of the God” (p. 146).

Thus, I view Psyche’s decision to open the box as an act of radical self-love–making the choice to follow her own heart and trust her intuition even though it went against what she was told she must do in order to be successful. In this radical self-love, I also see Psyche reclaiming her divinity, power, and beauty and saying she is done trying to earn what is already hers through the completion of miserable, impossible tasks. To me, opening the box is a moment of self-realization or an experience of the Self, as well as Psyche taking responsibility to put an end to circumstances that no longer serve her. Psyche’s knowledge of her own heart and the willingness to follow it despite overwhelming odds is an act of faith. As Jungian analyst Marie-Louise von Franz (2017) wrote, “Faith is a great achievement, or rather pistis: loyalty to the inner law. When this loyalty or feeling constellates, it calls forth the secret order which is in the chaos of the unconscious” (p. 118). The order created by this faith allowed Psyche to receive help in the tasks she faced, and successfully complete them.

Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss. Antonio Canova, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

So we see in the tale of Eros and Psyche, as noted by Jungian analyst Robert Johnson (1989), “A mortal fell in love with a god and stayed true to her humanity and faithful to her love. The sublime ending of the story is a direct result of Psyche being true to herself and to her love” (p. 37). By illustrating this, psychotherapist Martin Lowenthal (2004) claimed, “The story asks you to become wholehearted—to risk everything for what you cherish. This is what Psyche does over and over in her work to reclaim her love” (p. 61).

This loyalty to the inner law, willingness to follow one’s heart, and claiming of one’s own divinity are all facets of self love. In the video below, I share some additional information about self love and the myth of Eros and Psyche, and offer a short energy clearing to assist you in embodying expanded self love. I hope it is a blessing to you on your journey.

If you would like a deeper clearing for greater self love or anything else of concern to you, you can schedule a clearing session with me.

Works Cited

  1. Campbell, J. (2008). The hero with a thousand faces. Novato, CA: New World Library.
  2. Franz, M.-L. von (2017). The golden ass of Apuleius: The liberation of the feminine in man. Boulder, CO: Shambhala.
  3. Johnson, R. A. (1989). She: Understanding feminine psychology. New York, NY: Harper Perennial.
  4. Lowenthal, M. (2004). Alchemy of the soul: The Eros and Psyche myth as a guide to transformation. Berwick, ME: Nicolas-Hays.
  5. Neumann, E. (1971). Amor and psyche: The psychic development of the feminine (R. Manheim, Trans.). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. (Original work published 1956).

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