a sermon delivered
by the Reverend Barbara D. Morgan
on Sunday, June 14, 1998
at Community Unitarian Universalist Church of Volusia County
in Daytona Beach, Florida
A long time ago in Greece there lived a king who had three
daughters. The loveliest of these was the youngest, Psyche. High
above Greece, on Mount Olympus, lived many gods and goddesses.
One of these was Aphrodite, the goddess of beauty. She began
to notice that the men and women of Greece were paying less attention
to her and more attention to Psyche. She became jealous, so she
asked her son, Eros, the god of love, to help her get rid of
Psyche by making Psyche fall madly in love with a monster. Eros
could make anyone fall in love with a slight prick with one of
his magic arrows. Aphrodite commanded Psyche's father to bring
Psyche to a high, rocky place and to leave her there, explaining
that she had found a husband for Psyche.
Psyche's father obeyed Aphrodite without question. The procession
to the mountain top was more like a funeral procession than a
wedding procession. On the lonely hill top Psyche awaited her
impending marriage as if she were awaiting death. The loneliness
of the high peak was familiar to Psyche. Although she was extremely
beautiful, she had never fallen in love, and, what is more curious,
although she was much admired, no man had ever fallen in love
with her. So there she waited, alone and lonely as always.
Eros, before going off to find the monster, decided to take
a look at the beautiful mortal creature who had made his mother
jealous. Since he was a winged god, Eros easily flew down to
the mountain top where Psyche waited. He was so taken with her
beauty, that as he alighted on earth he carelessly allowed his
own arm to brush ever so lightly over the tip of one of his magic
arrows. As the fates would have it, that slight brush was enough
to cause Eros himself to fall madly in love with Psyche.
Eros arranged for Psyche to be brought from the lonely mountain
top to a beautiful castle down in the valley. Psyche was excited,
realizing that soon she would meet her husband. She was enchanted
with the castle, however she found it deserted, with only voices
murmuring to her. Disappointed, she retired to her bed chamber.
That night Eros came to Psyche during the darkest hour. He warned
her that she must never try to look at him, for if she were ever
to see him he would be forced to leave her forever. She promised,
however she asked one favor in return. She said it was too lonely
for her during the day and she asked her husband to bring her
sisters to her for a visit. Eros didn't think this was such a
good idea, but he was so in love with Psyche that he couldn't
refuse her anything. After some time passed and Psyche learned
she was to have a child. Eros arranged for the sisters to visit
and share Psyche's joy.
When Psyche's sisters arrived they could not believe the splendor
of their little sister's castle. They were jealous, just as Aphrodite
had been jealous, and they immediately began to try to make Psyche
uncomfortable. They realized, as they listened to her talk on
about her wonderful husband who provided all sorts of wonderful
things for her, that Psyche never described this husband. The
sisters began to tease Psyche, suggesting that her husband must
be really a horrible monster. This made Psyche begin to wonder
about her pledge never to look at her husband. She told her sisters
about her promise and asked them what to do. Her sisters told
her to hide a lamp and a sharp knife near her bed, and that very
night, when her husband was fast asleep, to leave the bed, light
the lamp, and cut off his head.
Psyche wasn't so sure about this plan, but she was now quite
upset about her promise never to look at her husband and suddenly
quite fearful. That night, while her husband lay sleeping, she
left the bed, lit the lamp and raised it high above her head.
She gasped to see that her husband was none other than the magnificent
Eros, god of love. Her surprise was so great she dropped the
knife, and, as she stooped to pick it up, she lightly brushed
her hand on one of Eros' magic arrows and also tilted the lamp
so that a tiny bit of oil dropped onto Eros' shoulder. He awoke
with a start, and, seeing Psyche looking at him, he fled from
her without a word. Poor Psyche now gazed at his departing figure
with love filling her heart, for now she too had fallen in love,
Days and days went by and Psyche could only weep with longing.
Finally she decided to ask Aphrodite to help her, without realizing
that Aphrodite was the cause of much of her trouble. The goddess
laughed to see Psyche so distraught, her eyes all puffy and red,
and gave her four tasks to do, each one more impossible than
the next. She told Psyche Eros would come back to her if she
succeeded at these labors, but Aphrodite never believed that
Psyche would be successful.
For her first labor Psyche had to sort an enormous mountain
of seeds. There were seeds of every size and description, and
Psyche despaired of ever completing the task. She was almost
to the point of suicide when unexpected help arrived. As Psyche
wept, hundreds of ants appeared and began swiftly and surely,
in their ant-like way, sorting the seeds into separate piles
- all the sesame seeds in one pile, the millet in another, and
so forth. When Aphrodite returned at the appointed hour, she
was very surprised to find that the huge mountain of seeds had
all been sorted.
Aphrodite was not discouraged, however, for she knew the second
trial she had set for Psyche would be impossible for one as naïve
and passive as Psyche. She told Psyche to gather golden fleece
from the sun rams. Psyche watched the rams and knew that if she
were ever to set foot in the meadow where the rams snorted and
butted each other she would be trampled and killed. She sat by
the riverbank by the rams' meadow weeping with despair, but as
she paused between sobs she heard a reed growing in the river
speak to her. The reed advised her to wait until after the sun
had set. Once the rams had lain down to sleep she could then
gather their golden fleece from the bushes against which the
rams brushed during their active daytime cavorting. This Psyche
did and once again Aphrodite was surprised to find the task completed
when she returned at the appointed hour.
The third task was designed to finish off poor Psyche. She
was to fill a crystal flask with water from the river Styx, which
cascaded in a torrent down a steep mountain, into the Underworld.
Again Psyche despaired of the venture, knowing the rocks near
the river were far too slippery, and that if she even tried to
get near the water she would be swept away in its mighty current.
But once again, in the midst of despair, she was befriended,
this time by an eagle, who took the crystal flask in its beak
and flew high above the raging river and then swooped down to
fill the flask. When Aphrodite saw that Psyche had completed
this third task, Aphrodite was aghast.
She set Psyche to her fourth and final task. Psyche was to
go to Persephone, Queen of the Underworld and then return to
the surface of the earth with Persephone's beauty box. This time
Psyche had help from a tower, which told her exactly what to
do to complete her journey into the Underworld.
She was to take two coins in her mouth and two pieces of barley
bread in her hands. She was to refuse to assist a lame donkey
driver who would ask her to pick up some sticks. She was to pay
the ferry man over the river Styx with one of the coins. She
was to refuse the groping hand of a dying man as he reached up
out of the water. She was to refuse to assist three women who
were weaving the threads of fate. She was to toss one of the
pieces of barley bread to Cerberus, the three-headed dog who
guards the entrance to the Underworld, and while the three heads
were quarreling over the bread, she was to go in. She was to
refuse to eat anything but the simplest food while there. And
then she was to repeat the whole process in reverse on her way
Psyche followed these instructions, and she was successful.
She returned from her journey carrying the box Persephone gave
her, only she was overcome with an urge to look inside the box
before delivering it to Aphrodite. As she lifted the lid a deep
sleep overcame Psyche. Poor Psyche.
High up on Olympus, Eros was watching Psyche's every move,
and, seeing her in danger, he flew to her, wiped the sleep from
her, and put it back into the box and carried her off to Olympus.
Zeus, the mightiest god of them all, welcomed Psyche to Olympus
and made her a goddess. Eros and Psyche were formally married,
and soon their daughter, Pleasure was born.
So, the story has a happy ending. Even though she despaired,
Psyche completed the impossible tasks set before her and was
united with Eros, not as a mortal, but as a goddess. Need I add
they lived happily ever after.
When Jean Shinoda Bolen writes about the myth of Psyche and
Eros in her book, Goddesses in Everywoman she reminds
us that myths are both exterior and interior. The exterior story
is about two individuals, one a god, the other a mortal. The
other story is interior. As with any myth or dream, it is about
different aspects of our being.
This myth tells us how to nurture the feminine part of ourselves
by letting our interior ants, reed, eagle and tower help us to
grow and mature. The myth is important for both men and women,
because every man also has a feminine aspect.
The myth of Eros and Psyche tells us that to have the relationship
we want we must toughen our feminine sides - be successful at
what seem masculine tasks, but in feminine ways, and that we
must overcome the feminine desire to help everyone - even the
Psyche's first task is to sort the seeds. Feminine awareness
is usually considered a diffuse awareness. It's the kind of awareness
that makes it possible to know without searching the home or
the office who's in and who's not. It's the kind of awareness
that knows where the blue socks are and the dates of everyone's
birthdays. It's the kind of awareness that accumulates lots and
lots of bits of information so that soon there is a mountain
Sorting seeds is an analytical task calling for selecting,
sifting, correlating and evaluating - functions thought to require
focused awareness, which is usually considered masculine awareness.
Sorting seeds is the interior task of separating a jumble of
conflicted feelings and competing loyalties to identify what
is truly important from what is insignificant.
Some years back I was driven to examine my life by a feeling
of emptiness. I was experiencing something like Psyche's feeling
of grief over the loss of Eros. In fact, that's exactly how I
was feeling - unloved. I went into therapy, looking for some
magic potion to swallow to make it all better and what I got
was a pile of seeds! I sat with that pile of seeds for a long,
long time. I despaired of ever sorting it all out. And then,
one day, I noticed that while I had been sitting despairing,
my internal sorting ants had been at work. Over there was a little
mound of millet. Over there was a small hill of sesame seeds.
It had all been happening so gradually, so slowly I hadn't noticed.
With the help of my internal ants I began to see what is truly
important in my life.
Having sorted the seeds, having decided what is important
to her, Psyche begins her second task - gathering golden fleece
- which is about becoming empowered. This is a transition for
Psyche from passivity to activity. We usually think of activity
as being a masculine trait, but during her second task, Psyche
uses her own feminine courage, that of the slender reed growing
from the liquid depths of the unconscious. She gathers her power
at night, in stillness. It hangs on branches in strands. She
needs only a small amount to feel powerful. Like the woman who
had only to touch the fringe of Jesus' garment to be healed,
she needs only a single strand of golden wool to be whole.
I'm reminded here of the endless number of meeting I've attended
and how differently each of us wields power in meetings. The
people from whom I have the most to learn are the ones who sit
through the whole discussion without saying a word, and then,
when it seems that the group is powerless to reach consensus,
one of these silent ones enters the discussion. By waiting, by
observing the process they acquire the power to help the group
achieve its goal - a resolution everyone can support.
This last weekend Pat and I visited some friends who have
three teen age children and five dogs at their cabin on Lake
Okeechobee. One of the goals for the weekend was to paint the
exterior of the cabin. So in addition to managing the meandering
of three children in almost adult bodies, they also had to manage
the ins and outs of five canines, feed 12 creatures, entertain
two visitors from up north - and parcel out the prep and painting
tasks. During the weekend various crises developed: a scare about
an alligator, spilled paint, miffed feelings, garlic bread that
developed a hard as nails crust while its interior remained frozen,
and countless other major and minor events. Some of you smile.
You are familiar with this kind of regular, everyday busy-ness.
In the story, Psyche's third task is to transcend this kind
of busy-ness. Her task is to avoid being swept away in a torrent
of activities and appointments and commitments and demands -
to choose only as much from life as she herself can comfortably
contain. Eagle-like, she must circle high above the raging river
of life, learn to recognize the bends, backwaters and bruising
white torrents, and choose just enough water to fill her flask
- no more.
It feels wonderful to have sorted seeds - to know what's important
and what's not. It feels wonderful to have gathered golden fleece
- to feel empowered. However, to face all the possibilities life
has to offer can often feel awful - a crashing cacophony of confusion.
That's the way I felt when at 50 I realized I could do anything
I wanted with the rest of my life. Anything?! Yes, anything.
Wow! I wasn't used to deciding the direction of my own life.
That is what men do, I thought. We women just go along for the
ride. Or we fill the number two position, making the number one
person look good. It was overwhelming to think I could do anything
I wanted to do. But one day I changed into an eagle and took
off to soar over the river of life. What I discovered was a lovely
stretch of the river called ministry! It had quite a bit of variety
- in fact it flowed throughout the entire North American continent
from Florida to Alaska and to Hawaii as well. There were part
of it that looked lonely, and there were parts that looked friendly.
At the time I wasn't sure I had the skills to navigate a white
water section called "Preaching". I thought I might
be able to handle it if I got some good instruction and had a
chance to practice! So down I swooped and filled my flask with
just as much life as I could comfortably contain.
Have you noticed that each of Psyche's tasks so far relate
to processes we often think of as masculine? Sorting, empowering,
deciding. The paradox is that as Psyche is completing her tasks
her masculine dimension is growing. Psyche will need to remember
what is important, feel empowered, and make decisions during
her fourth task in order to achieve what she wants - a reunion
with Eros - Love!
Psyche's fourth task is her most challenging. She must refuse
to help a lame donkey driver pick up sticks which have fallen
off his donkey's back; she must refuse to grasp the groping hand
of a dying man as it rises up out of the River Styx; she must
refrain from advising the women who weave the threads of fate;
and she must eat only the simplest food on her journey into the
Underworld, because if she eats too well she might never come
back. Aphrodite really knows how to make things difficult. Poor
Psyche. How is she ever going to get that box from Persephone
with all these temptations. She is not to assist, not to rescue,
not to advise, AND not to gorge herself with guilt! How does
she ever do it?! She follows directions - given by a tower. She
prays for guidance and she gets it, right down to when to flip
the coins and when to flip the barley bread.
An ancient song of praise from the Jewish Bible reminds us
we must have faith if we are to accomplish anything in life:
I love thee, O Creator, my strength. The Creator is my stronghold,
my fortress and my champion, my God, my rock where I find safety,
my shield, my mountain refuge, my strong tower.
The feminine wants so much to be in relationship - relationship
is everything. Yet if our feminine part gives and gives and gives
we will become empty. What's more, we may do irreparable damage
to others in the process.
It takes faith to say no. Faith to understand that if we say
no we enhance our chances of relationship because we become separate.
Psyche cannot be in relationship with Eros until she has defined
herself, until she knows where she ends and Eros begins. The
magic word "no" is our passport to wholeness, our relationship
with ourselves, the bonding of our interior feminine and masculine
to make a whole person. By having faith in the process we succeed.
For the feminine it is a very difficult lesson. What daughter
hasn't wept when she's walked away from her alcoholic father
knowing he won't get the help he needs as long as she continues
to cover up his drinking. What nurturing father hasn't grieved
as he's sought medical attention and counseling for his anorexic
Many years ago, when my son Jesse told me he was dropping
out of college mid-quarter, I told him I would not support his
decision, that he couldn't come home. Saying "no" to
him was difficult. It was also difficult to refrain from advising
him what to do, to let him make his own decisions. But having
said no and let go, I found I didn't feel too badly about my
decision. What's more, I felt only about 20% of the guilt I expected
to feel! Well, okay, 30%. Our relationship has not only survived,
it has strengthened.
The fourth task in growing the feminine, for which all the
rest is preparation, is for the feminine to value her own journey,
to say no when others would keep her from it, to have faith that
others will find their own destinies without her, and to ingest
only slight portions of guilt in the process.
Psyche completes her last task. She heads out of the Underworld.
She carries with her Persephone's beauty box, which she is to
give to Aphrodite. She is home free, except she opens the box
and she is overcome with a deathlike sleep. On the verge of success,
on the cusp of reunion with Eros, Psyche falters - she is overcome
with a powerful urge to regress to total passivity, to become
the innocent maiden once more. But Eros swoops down from Olympus
and saves her!
I used to hate this part of the myth. It reminded me too much
of Sleeping Beauty - of the part where after the wicked witch
has cast a spell on Beauty, the prince comes riding in on his
white horse and kisses Beauty, and she awakes and they live happily
ever after. I hated it because it never turned out that way in
real life. Either the prince wasn't really a prince or Beauty
a true Beauty or the "happily" ended. But having lived
with the Eros and Psyche myth for several weeks now, and remembering
that the myth is about an interior process, I realize the ending
is different from what I thought it was.
Are you ready for a surprise twist? What do you suppose has
been happening to Eros all this time? When Psyche shines that
lamp on him and lets a little drop of oil burn his shoulder,
he goes home to Olympus. He sits up there in the home of the
gods, wondering what he's gotten himself into, falling in love
with a mere mortal. However, as he watchs Psyche meet her challenges
he begins to realize what wisdom she has. As she sorts out the
elements of her life, as she gathers power, as she soars over
the river Styx, swoops down and fills her flask, as she completes
her Underworld journey, he watches her incorporate more and more
of Earth's energy into her own life, becoming ever more enlivened
and he realizes that he, too, has been maturing. He has developed
what are often considered feminine characteristics - patience,
observation, admiration and helpfulness. A miracle! The gods
change as humans change. As we honor the feminine in us we also
honor the masculine. As a stronger god, more certain of his desires,
Eros is able to come to Psyche's rescue when she needs him.
It's important to remember that all this growing and changing
is going on inside. It's our interior Psyche and our interior
Eros who unite in this dramatic sequence. Wholeness comes not
from someone or something outside us, but from our own growth.
Honoring the feminine is the story of Psyche and Eros. May
we learn to honor the feminine, the myth of Psyche and Eros as
our own story.
I invite you into a time of meditation. If you are holding
anything in your hands or on your lap, you may wish to put it
down. If your legs are crossed, you may wish to put both of your
feet on the floor, to ground your being. As you sit in your chair,
comfortably, with your eyes closed or focused on some object
of interest in the room, perhaps the chalice flame, be aware
of your breathing. Let yourself feel the breath enter your body
and fill your torso. Let your self feel it leave your body. Feel
your body take another breath, all on its own, without your willing
it. Now let it leave your body again, gently, the breath creating
a small breeze in the room as it leaves your nostrils to join
the breath of others here today. Be aware that the molecules
of your breath mingle with those of your neighbor, with those
of the plants in the room.
As you sit quietly, breathing, imagine yourself ascending
a hill. You have been summoned to the top of this hill. As you
climb you feel the sun on you, warming you. At the same time,
you feel your pores open and moisture dampen your skin and your
clothes. You become aware of the coolness of this moisture, regulating
the temperature of your body, warm and cool at the same time.
You come to the top of the hill, to discover a comfortable
resting place. You lower your body to its resting state, aware
of your heart beat, which is regular and strong. You feel the
warmth of the sun and the coolness of the moisture on your skin.
You are comfortable, warm and comfortable. Cool and comfortable.
As you rest, you allow yourself to focus on the warmth. You
feel your blood move in your body, your blood vessels expanding
to absorb the warmth of the air, the sun. You feel the place
of passion, of energy, of creativity within your body swell.
It feels like a flower bud, expanding with each breath in the
radiating warmth of your body. As this bud continues to swell,
you find your focus expanding to include both the warmth and
the moisture on your skin, the blessed wetness soothing your
skin, collecting in crevices and folds. You begin to weep, tears
running from your eyes involuntarily. Their moisture covers your
cheeks, dampens the skin of your face and neck, drips onto your
chest. As you weep, you feel the bud within flower gently. It
is so beautiful, the colors exquisite, beautiful, vivid - the
texture soft, soothing, yet stimulating - the fragrance inviting,
enlivening. You smile, grateful for the gift of life, the summons
that brought you to this experience.
You rise from your resting place, ready to descend from the
top of the hill, to take up your day's occupation. As you travel
downhill you feel other buds of creativity swelling and blooming
within you, energizing your body, filling you with gladness.
Reaching the place where you started, you take a moment to thank
the Universe for this journey, for the life you feel within,
for the life you sense about you.
Happily you return to this place, to this time, opening your
eyes, changing your focus, becoming aware of the room, the sounds
you hear about you, feeling relaxed yet present in this time
and in this place, ready to hear the morning's offertory, ready
to make your offering for our ministry as Unitarian Universalists
in Volusia County, Florida, North America, Earth, our beloved
Universe, and beyond.