Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Entering the Abyss

Love is a funny business . . . falling in love an odd expression. What do we actually fall into?

The ancients often painted and carved a sweet, chubby, innocent little Cupid, a child - yet with those lethal bows and arrows - blindfolded as if to say, 'Love is blind' - as well as a madness, an altered state into which we 'fall'.  All this seems to indicate that when we fall in love with something or someone we are no longer truly conscious anymore.  And yet, at the same time we can feel more alive, more real and the world glows with joy.  But if this love is not returned or those involved awaken from their dream illusion, we enter a twilight realm where we stumble about, bereft of our reasoning powers, searching, yearning for something intangible, often with no idea quite what it is we think we have found in 'the other'.   A part of ourselves, our unexpressed Shadow side, an animus, anima figure? We try to reason it out thus in modern psychological terms but it doesn't help much at the time.  No amount of reasoning can explain our reactions to what is stirred up within us by someone who is often a total stranger. In fact a stranger is a better a hook for our instinctual and archetypal longings. The deeper, more passionate, more compulsive the feeling of love, the darker it all becomes; if we are rebuffed or cast aside, all those caring, tender feelings and that all-embracing acceptance of another gives rise to the noxious fumes of hate, jealousy and revenge.  Stalkers are a horrible example but we all feel those compulsive feelings at some time.  Let's be honest!


Aphrodite, the great Goddess of Greek myth had a strange beginning according to one myth. When Ouranos the Sky God was castrated by his own son, the god Kronos (Saturn), his genitals fell into the sea and produced a mighty frothing and from the unity of sperm and sea arose the glorious form of Aphrodite (her name is translated as 'foam-born)' This falling into the sea or the unconscious seems to have been the first falling in love.
Plato in his Symposium speaks of Aphrodite or Venus as having a 'superior' and 'inferior' form, or Sacred and Profane love.  He also states that Eros, her son, has this dark and light side too. He describes the two myths about their parentage. The Heavenly Aphrodite is the daughter of Ouranos and has no mother, like Athena, the daughter of Zeus, This form of Aphrodite seems linked with the Libran Venus, rational, just, calm, intellectual, beauty loving but in some ways remote. The “common” Aphrodite is the daughter of Zeus and Dione and comes from a “normal” mating of male and female energies. This equates with Taurean Venus for Taurus enjoys the simple pleasures of mating and sensual joys, loves Beauty in tangible forms such as sculpture, music, painting.  Yet has a darker side which feels the depths of rage, jealousy and possessiveness when thwarted. Eros too has the most ancient heavenly parentage born from the World Egg of Nix (Night, nothingness) and the Wind but in later myth we see his more ordinary manifestation as a son of Aphrodite and Hermes (or Zeus or Ares!)

Sacred and Profane Love.  Why should one type of love be inferior to the other, we now ask? Isn’t it this sort of talk that created the division, later to be taken up by the Mediaeval Church, a split in consciousness into Beauty and the Beast, God and the Devil, the problem that Mankind has always battled with?  Shouldn't we try to marry the two, balance the opposites within us?

We have to recall that Eros was a great God, only later denigrated to a rather sulky little boy playing about his powerful and often cruel and vengeful mother, Aphrodite; the ideal of Love in all its sheer grandeur and awfulness reduced in power to mere Hollywood sentimentality.  Heroic effort is needed to grow up and learn to understand just what Love is really all about. It isn’t about 'happy ever after' or romantic idylls or constant sweetness and light. To expect that a relationship will last forever with no ups and downs is a modern dangerous fantasy and foolishness. It means that young people today prefer to remain single, lonely at heart and isolated rather than risk the dark abyss.  It means couples who fly apart at the least hint of unpleasantness, betrayal or trouble. No more the ability to forgive, to understand anothers transgressions as reflecting our own - but the childlike and selfish insistence on 'my happiness, my pleasure' 

Apuleius says of Eros in his version of “Cupid and Psyche, ' that he is no sweet little cherub but an evil Daimon, rash enough and hardy, who by his evil manners contemning all public justice and law, armed with fire and arrows, running up and down in the nights from house to house and corrupting the lawful marriages of every person, doth nothing but that which is evil'.  Love was well conceived then as a power beyond mortal man, dangerous, painful, destructive, even evil at times but at its best, stirring men and women from the comfort of their “mother-father “marriages and unions and through this adulterous havoc helping them to mature in feeling.

It seems that in order to really experience Love, we have to fall into the heart's abyss even if it means betrayal, pain and suffering and try to climb out again as best we can when we awake from our sweet delusions. But having climbed out of the place where a passionate encounter can and still does take us, we can return clutching a piece of treasure. That treasure is a new awareness of ourselves and a new understanding of our own feelings. The pain of love can have a melting, softening effect upon the hardness of our hearts though sadly, it too often, simply hardens the heart, making us cynical and unfeeling out of fear of further pain.


quote from “Cupid and Psyche” by Apuleius trans. from Latin by William Adlington Routledge and Sons. 1906

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