Sunday, February 2, 2014

Amor and Psyche by Erich Neumann

After pain and suffering, Psyche and Amor mature

Venus is offended when yokels abandon her temple to worship the beautiful human Psyche. She orders her son Cupid to disgrace the girl, but he falls in love with her instead, allowing Psyche’s parents to believe a sacred monster wishes to devour their daughter. Dressed in wedding finery, Psyche is abandoned on a mountaintop but soon the gentle west wind bears her to a magnificent palace. Unseen servants pamper her, and at night, she is visited in the dark by her new “husband.” Quickly growing accustomed to their nighttime activities, she gets pregnant, but is lonely during the day, and begs her husband to let her visit her parents. Unwillingly Cupid acquiesces, and even more unwillingly acquiesces to her sisters' visiting the hidden palace.  They fill her mind with suspicions about her never seen husband, perhaps he really is a cannibalizing monster, and so one night she takes a sword and a lantern to bed. She lights the lantern, only to discover in her bed the God of Love. Transfixed, she accidentally spills burning oil on him, causing him to wake and flee in painful betrayal. A period of suffering and four highly symbolic tasks are required before Psyche and Cupid are reunited, older and wiser. Her reward is elevation to Mount Olympus.

This book was erudite but also very readable. Erich Neumann, a disciple of Jung, a professor forced to emigrate from Germany because of Nazism, uses the story of Cupid and Psyche to illustrate how women psychologically reach maturity. I found this book a fruitful basis for contemplation of certain questions. What is education? What is a mystery? What is the essence of being human?   Also I wasn’t all that convinced Neumann’s points applied only to women. Neumann claims that the original marriage, in which Psyche is an unwilling blind participant, is a “marriage of death.” There’s a lot of discussion of the uroboric consciousness – the snake eating its tail. In order to become an adult, in order for both Psyche and Cupid to become adult, they must free themselves from the dark confines of Venus’s control, the mother’s control, and make their own lives.  It is only then that they can achieve the Godhead.

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