The fourth task the Great Mother Aphrodite gives Psyche is to fetch some beauty cream from Persephone, Goddess and Queen of Hades’ Realm beneath the human world. Psyche sees this task as certain death and decides to throw herself from a high tower. Suicide is not a solution says the tower. Yes, inanimate things do talk. We have already discovered talking reeds, who helped Psyche complete another seemingly impossible task. This time she is aided by a tower, a man-made construction, from which one can see far. Like the eagle, who helped her complete the third task and who could see far, this piece of masonry has a view or a perspective on the earth’s inhabitants and their activities. The tower tells Psyche what she must do.
The tower tells Psyche where she can find access to the Underworld, what to take, and how to act while in Hades’ Realm. She has to take kneaded cakes of barley and mead in each of her hands as well as two coins in her mouth for the ferryman. Before reaching the river Styx, the tower says that she will meet “a lame ass bearing wood and with him a lame driver who will ask thee to hand him a few twigs that have fallen from the load. But do thou speak never a word, but pass by in silence.” Next she must let Charon, the Ferryman, take a coin from her mouth as payment for his service each way. She will be tempted to have pity on an ancestral spirit, “a dead man that is floating on the surface [of the river Styx] will pray thee, raising his rotting hands, to take him into thy boat.” But she is told to resist. She must not help him. Nor can she help the old women weavers who will invite her to join them, because she has the cakes in her hands and these will aid her. The cakes are to distract the three headed dog Cerberus which guards the Underworld. Once she gets to Persephone and her generous banquet, Psyche must not eat, nor sit at the table, but rather sit “upon the ground, and ask for coarse bread and eat it. Then tell wherefore thou hast come, take whatsoever shall be given thee and, returning back, buy off the hound’s rage with the remaining cake. Then give the greedy mariner the coin thou hadst kept back and, when thou hast crossed the river, retrace thy former steps till thou behold once more yonder host of all the stars of heaven. But I bid thee, above all, beware that thou seek not to open or look within the casket which thou bearest, or turn at all with over-curious eyes to view the treasure of divine beauty that is concealed within.” (Neumann, pp.48 & 49)
Psyche is undergoing a feminine initiation which is strikingly different from the hero’s initiation. As Erich Neumann said in Amour and Psyche:The Psychic Development of the Feminine (1956), that rites of initiation require “the insistence on “ego stability” characteristic of every initiation. Among men this stability is manifested as endurance of pain, hunger, thirst, and so forth; but in the feminine sphere it characteristically takes the form of resistance to pity. (p. 112)” His point is that the Soul must resist distraction from its goal through the typically feminine desire for relatedness. Since Psyche’s husband Eros is the god of relatedness,
this is particularly challenging. She longs to be reunited with her husband and lover, the father of the child she carries within her. But she must stay conscious of herself as an individual. The tower warns her of the “snares” set by Aphrodite, the traps which Psyche must avoid if she is ever to see the light of day again. The Great Mother has her positive side, her life-giving and life-preserving aspect, but that is not what is involved in her testing the Soul of humanity. Mother Aphrodite represents nature and species as opposed to the individuality of the human soul. Psyche must rise above herself as part of nature and assert her will to be reunited with Eros. This she does successfully. But her vanity proves to be her undoing.
Psyche makes it back into the earth plane of ordinary human awareness. And that’s when she decides a little beauty cream, which she has won as part of her trial, should be her reward. The beauty of death is what overpowers her. Eros anticipated this and rescues his love. He appeals to Zeus, who in turn invites Aphrodite to return to her duties and accept Psyche as her daughter-in-law. The Goddess does this and Psyche is made immortal. The myth tells us of the way humanity acquired an immortal soul. Psyche’s child is joy, so when we take joy in living our life, we are acknowledging the way love (Eros) creatively fills the soul with meaning. Psyche is reborn and gives birth to Joy. This is how we participate in the Divine Mystery, by dieing to our old selves, allowing love to impregnate us and being reborn. It is no wonder that the Greek speaking world of Jesus could embrace the message of the Christ consciousness. They already had the pattern in the myth of Eros and Psyche.