In my Goddess Temple e-course to meet the Alchemical Goddesses, you take a similar journey as Psyche, the woman who became a goddess, which I wrote about here. I am fascinated by this story because there are so many ways to understand it. One way to look at Psyche’s journey is the one presented by Jungian analyst Robert Johnson in his book, She, as symbolic of feminine psychology, the way we women tend to operate and face challenges as distinct from masculine psychology (which he defines in the book, He).
Another way is to look at Psyche’s journey as symbolic of the creative process. Each time we take on a creative project or endeavor, whether it’s starting a business, writing a story, committing paintbrush to canvas, starting a new course of study, or any number of ways we enter the creative realm, we are faced with obstacles and challenges, fears and doubts, breakthroughs, growth, and jubilation.
The first obstacle might be characterized as the terror of beginning. It often feels overwhelming to look at the journey ahead and all that we need to accomplish to bring our creation to fruition when we are at the starting point. Where and how do we begin? The blank canvas, the blank page — facing the unknown — can be daunting.
The first of Psyche’s tasks is sorting a huge pile of seeds. The task of sorting is a good way into the creative process. Whether it’s words on a page that have to be organized, paint colors and media that have to be decided on, classes that have to be selected, or choosing the steps needed to make a business a success, we are needing to sort through ideas, words, concepts, materials.
Sometimes we need to organize our office or studio and clear out the clutter, and as we do so, sort through the wheat and the chaff in our head, before we feel prepared to embark on the creative journey. A jumble of words and ideas will need to be sorted into coherent sentences, some edited out. The colors and image chosen for a painting may get painted over as a new image and colors emerge that we like better. So many decisions need to be made as we start the process of bringing our creations to life, decisions that may be changed a hundred times as we sort through what matters most.
Psyche’s seed-sorting task speaks to this aspect of beginning the creative process. It is a winnowing of ideas, of discerning what’s important and vital to our vision, and what’s not.
Psyche despairs about doing this seemingly impossible task, but she is able to do it with the help of the ants. Ants represent patience, taking one step at a time, moving one kernel at a time, until the job gets done. So as we begin to create, it’s important to step into the mess or chaos of not knowing and begin with one thing. And then another, and another, whittling away until the vision starts to take form and we’re in it!
The second task Psyche has to accomplish is to obtain a bit of golden fleece from a fierce and potentially deadly ram in a field. She can’t see how to do this and almost gives up in despair until she hears the reeds whisper to her a way. All she has to do is wait for the right time, when the rams are on the other side of the field, and pluck some fleece from the bushes! That’s like one of those moments when you say to yourself, “Why didn’t I think of that? Of course!” This is when we discover that there is an easier way to do something than we had thought or than we have been doing. And we start to do it that way now because we have learned a more efficient and clever way to do something, but we had to do it a different way or sit with the dilemma for a while first.
This often happens in the creative process when we’re stuck. We’re frustrated and don’t know how we’re going to proceed or how to solve a problem and we may think about giving up because it’s just too hard! This is when we need to pause, wait, and listen. Just when Psyche was about to give up, the inner voice whispered an answer. If we can learn to wait for it and listen, many times we will find the solution.
Sometimes we need to sit on something, sleep on it, or otherwise take a break and come back to it with new eyes. By biding her time, Psyche was able to get the prize in a way that did not require that much effort. We forget sometimes that the easiest way may be the best way. We may realize that we’re making something harder than it needs to be. This is the lesson of the second task: Stopping to see what our choices are and letting the answer come to us. If we can hang in there and not give up, and stay open and ready to receive, the answer invariably arrives. It may come from our own inner knowing, from a dream, or it may come from an outside source, a synchronistic event. This is a matter of trust.
The third task involved Psyche being sent to the River Styx, the boundary between the Earth and the Underworld, where dead souls pass over, and which is guarded by all manner of monsters and beasts. She is to fill a goblet with water from the dark river and bring it to Aphrodite. Again, Psyche is ready to give up, knowing that she cannot approach the river under these circumstances. She is helped by an eagle, who carries the cup to the water, fills it, and brings it back to her. The eagle was summoned by Eros who asked Zeus to intercede and send the eagle. This points to the need for helpers, support, and the ability to gain perspective.
There comes a time in most creative endeavors when we must ask for help, feedback, or support. Again, we may be trying to do things the hard way, all alone, and feel that we are working in a vacuum. Like the eagle, we need to be able to fly overhead and look down on our situation and ask: What help do I need? Who or what can assist me and help me overcome these obstacles and accomplish my goal?
We also want to be careful of the trap of stubbornly insisting upon doing things our way, on our own, with no help. The creative process needs to be fluid and active, like the river, and we need to consider all of our resources and tools and not be closed to outside help, however it may come. The intervention of the masculine forces in the myth, suggests marshaling that part of our psyche that can logically figure out what needs to be done, swoop in, and do it without letting fear stop us. The gift of overview, the eagle eye, can help us see what needs to be done more clearly.
The fourth task Psyche is faced with is to go down into the Underworld and obtain a box of beauty from Persephone, who rules there. She is not supposed to open the box, but we already know Psyche is a curious woman, who couldn’t resist looking upon the face of her lover. So, of course, like most of us would be inclined to do, she peeked into the box. And then something came over her that caused her to fall into a deep sleep and near-death. Fortunately, Eros (again, the masculine part of our own psyche that knows when it’s time to act) flew in and revived her.
We could see this as Psyche being a bit too passive and immobilized by ideas, things to get done, and the obstacles before her that she can’t quite get up the motivation and energy to meet the task and complete it. She gets off-course by looking into the box even though she has been advised not to. This could symbolize the things that distract us and pull us off our path, procrastination, or things that we know are destructive to our creative process, but we do them anyway in an unconscious act of self-sabotage.
It is often at the end point or near the end of a creative project, that we want to give up or may abandon it, leaving it by the wayside, incomplete and unfinished. It is the masculine component of our psyche that helps us to wake up, activate, and get the job done. We may need to step back and reconnoiter, and call in our inner warrior to help us move past these last barriers to accomplishing our dreams.
Thus reunited and joined as Psyche and Eros in divine union, we reach the pinnacle of the creative process when our inner feminine (thoughts, ideas, imagination, inspiration) and masculine (acting, doing, accomplishing, manifesting) are working together harmoniously and are able to give birth to new life. The wedding of Psyche and Eros represents living out our creative potential and the child they give birth to is our own creative dream brought to life.