Once upon a time when the world was young, mortals believed that all of the elements in the heavens and on the earth were connected. Humans saw that while a breeze silently and gently guided a leaf in its autumn journey, their dance — silently and gently — also altered the sojourn of the breeze. They saw gods and goddesses in the heavens, the passing of the seasons, the sounds and life of the forests, and the thunderous seas. They understood these supreme beings as powerful presences, each defined by unique attributes and limited by human-like frailties. Gradually, stories arose to tell of how life’s challenges and triumphs were affected by and affecting the moods of, squabbles between, and relationships among the gods and goddesses.
It is during this time that we first hear the love story of Cupid and Psyche, a young god and a mortal female. This story begins when Venus, the goddess of love and beauty, learned that her temples were in a state of neglect, the fires in her altars had turned to cold ashes, and her favorite towns had been abandoned. She saw that mortal men were journeying from everywhere to the childhood home of Psyche, a mere maiden, to gaze upon and admire her beauty and grace. In a jealous rage, Venus ordered her son, Cupid, to use his powers to make Psyche fall madly in love with the vilest and most despicable creature in the world.
Marriage and Mourning
Thus it came to be that when Cupid looked upon the beautiful Psyche, he fell passionately in love. It was as though he had pierced his own heart with one of his arrows. The intensity of his infatuation left him so stunned that he was unable to comply with his mother’s request. He instead sought the advice and comfort of Apollo, the god of truth, for his heart was heavy with the knowledge that his love for Psyche was an act of silent disobedience and disloyalty to his mother.
Through the years, mortal men continued to pay homage to the exquisite beauty and grace of Psyche. Yet, she did not fall in love and was not loved by any mortal man. Her father’s distress about Psyche’s unmarried state and questionable future led to his seeking an audience with Apollo’s oracle. With great despair, he heard that his daughter was destined to marry a fearful winged serpent. With feelings of sadness and helplessness, the family arranged for Psyche to be dressed in deep mourning, took her to the summit of a rocky hill, and ordered her to wait for the being that was to make her his wife.
Psyche stood alone at the top of the hill, unable to do other than what her family had bidden. She was frozen with terror and convinced that her death was imminent. Sobs of anguish and despair echoed through the silence of the valley as a sweet and gentle wind wrapped itself around her and lifted her up to the heavens. It is said that she regained consciousness in a magical place of abundance and beauty.
Abiding with an Unseen Lover
As the sun roused the morning pastels of dawn, Psyche awakened alone. She smiled enchantingly, knowing that this day would bestow upon her all her earthly desires. Yet, if you were to enter her dressing room unnoticed, you would soon see her smile tightening with resignation and self-reproach. Feelings of loneliness filled the emptiness within her, for she knew that, from this day forward, she would find her companionship not with a family member or friend, but rather with a shadowy being.
Psyche set out each day committed to be grateful that her family was no longer embarrassed that no man had asked for her hand in marriage. As she was only a mortal woman, she saw no choice other than what had been preordained by Apollo’s oracle. She came to realize that when the sun’s light no longer touched the western sky, her feelings of turmoil and loneliness would be soothed. For it was during the darkness of the night when an unseen presence that she believed to be her husband would lay alongside her, only to be gone by morning.
Foreseeing the intensity of Psyche’s loneliness, her invisible husband knew the day would come when she would wish to have contact with her family. He reminded Psyche of his gift to her of their home and eased her mind regarding questions and doubts she had about him and their marriage. He spoke of his fear that her family would persuade her to violate his one request that she not set eyes upon him and implored that she be content with this arrangement. He warned her that their relationship would be destroyed if she were to be unfaithful to his request and perceive his being.
To be continued…