Image: Psyche at the Throne of Venus
Psyche’s First Task: Sort the Seeds
Jungian analysts<em love the myth of Eros and Psyche.
Of all the myths, it is the most cited and most interpreted; it is seen a mirror of the development of consciousness and soul.
So here, for your reading pleasure, here is the original story from Apuleius and two interpretations of Psyche’s first task if she is ever to see Eros again.</em
This proclamation was the cause that put all doubt from Psyches, who was scantly come in the sight of the house of Venus, but one of her servants called Custome came out, who espying Psyches, cried out with a loud voyce, saying,
O wicked harlot as thou art, now at length thou shalt know that thou hast a mistresse above thee.
What, dost thou make thy selfe ignorant, as though thou didst not understand what travell wee have taken in searching for thee?
I am glad that thou art come into my hands, thou art now in the gulfe of hell, and shalt abide the paine and punishment of thy great contumacy, and therewithall she tooke her by the haire, and brought her in, before the presence of the goddesse Venus.
When Venus spied her, shee began to laugh, and as angry persons accustome to doe, she shaked her head, and scratched her right eare saying, O goddesse, goddesse, you are now come at length to visit your husband that is in danger of death, by your meanes: bee you assured, I will handle you like a daughter: where be my maidens, Sorrow and Sadnesse?
To whom (when they came) she delivered Psyches to be cruelly tormented; then they fulfilled the commandement of their Mistresse, and after they had piteously scourged her with rods and whips, they presented her againe before Venus; then she began to laugh againe, saying:
Behold she thinketh (that by reason of her great belly, which she hath gotten by playing the whore) to move me to pitty, and to make me a grandmother to her childe.
Am not I happy, that in the flourishing time of al mine age, shall be called a grandmother, and the sonne of a vile harlot shall bee accounted the nephew of Venus:
Howbeit I am a foole to tearm him by the name of my son, since as the marriage was made betweene unequall persons, in the field without witnesses, and not by the consent of parents, wherefore the marriage is illegitimate, and the childe (that shall be borne) a bastard; if we fortune to suffer thee to live so long till thou be delivered.
When Venus had spoken these words she leaped upon the face of poore Psyches, and (tearing her apparell) tooke her by the haire, and dashed her head upon the ground.
Then she tooke a great quantity of wheat, of barly, poppy seede, peason, lintles, and beanes, and mingled them altogether on a heape saying:
Thou evil favoured girle, thou seemest unable to get the grace of thy lover, by no other meanes, but only by diligent and painefull service, wherefore I will prove what thou canst doe: see that thou separate all these graines one from another disposing them orderly in their quantity, and let it be done before night.
Transitions as Liminal and Archetypal Situations
Jean Shinoda Bolen, M.D.
The first task is to sort all the seeds that are heaped up in a room.
This is a wonderful metaphor for all of the possibilities, all of the emotions at the beginning of a transition period. Sorting the seed is really taking stock. What are all of the seeds of possibility in your psyche of your world?
How much money do you have in the bank? How much energy do you have for this?
How much talent do you have for this? What are you putting together out of all your possibilities?
To plan to have a conference? If this is your particular dream, then you’ve got to sort out the seeds.
In this particular story, Psyche’s first reaction to every single task is despair. It’s more than she’s ever done before, she’s consciously not up to the task, and she wants to give up.
Sort the seeds of possibility. At the beginning, she doesn’t know how, and then the symbol comes to her.
Ants. All the ants come sorting out the seeds, one seed at a time, so that by morning they’ve been sorted, each into its own kind, every one into its own tack.
Psyche counters Aphrodite’s promiscuity with an instinctual ordering principle.
While Aphrodite holds fast to the fertility of the swamp stage (using Bachofen’s category), which is also represented by Eros in the form of a dragon, a phallic serpent-monster, Psyche possesses within her an unconscious principle which enables her to select, sift, correlate, and evaluate, and so find her way amid the confusion of the masculine.
In opposition to the matriarchal position of Aphrodite, for whom the masculine is anonymous . . .
Psyche, even in her first labor, has reached the stage of selectivity. Eric Neuman, Amor and Psyche, p. 55-56