The Creation of the World. Out of original Chaos come Gaia (Mother Earth) and Eros. Gaia gives birth to Uranos, the sky god. They unite to give birth to twelve Titans, three Cyclopes and three monsters. Uranos pushes them back into Gaia’s womb (the earth), but Gaia persuades the youngest Titan, Cronus, to help her avenge them. Cronus cuts off his father’s genitals, which fall into the sea, turn into foam and create Aphrodite, goddess of love.
Explores the Greek understanding of chaos as ‘open
space’ and Eros as the metaphysical attraction of two forces; also the
nature of the Great Mother and the role of the Titans as first divine
race and inventors of the arts and magic. Uranos creates monsters and
then Aphrodite. The manner of her birth is significant: like her male
counterpart Ares, with whom she later has an affair, she has only one
parent. Her association with foaming genitals, or sperm, is appropriate
for a goddess of love.
The nymph Echo is punished by the goddess Hera, for misusing her gift of speech, so that she can only echo the voices of others. She falls in love with Narcissus, who spurns her and instead falls in love with his own reflection in a pool and drowns trying to reach it. Grieving, Echo fades away until only her voice remains.
Explores the power of Hera, who was worshipped long
before Zeus, and who demands her former status. Narcissism represents
anima/animus projection, also an early and necessary stage of psychic
development. Echo colludes in the Narcissistic stage, and is herself
Acrisius, King of Argos, is told by an oracle that he will be killed by his grandson, so he locks his daughter Danae in a tower. However, Zeus transforms into a shower of gold in order to enter the tower and have his way with an unsuspecting Danae. She bears him a son, Perseus. The King sets mother and son adrift on the sea in a wooden casket, but Zeus protects them and brings them to an island, where Perseus grows up.
Examines the new patriarchy in the nature of Zeus
and celebrates his fertility and powers of transformation. It also
explores fate and human attempts to defy or manipulate it. Finally,it
embodies the deep symbolism of the hero child born of the divine father
and mortal mother who has special powers and a special destiny.
King Polydectes sends Perseus on a dangerous mission to capture the head of the Gorgon Medusa. He has many adventures, including encountering the three Graeae, who share one eye between them. He also obtains gifts from Hermes – winged sandals, a helmet of invisibility, and a scimitar for beheading Medusa. From the goddess Athena he obtains a polished shield for reflecting the Gorgon’s gaze. He is successful and uses the head to good effect in many adventures, including rescuing Andromeda from a sea-monster. He finally uses it to kill King Polydectes. He returns to Argos with his mother and Andromeda but accidentally kills his grandfather with a discus during some funeral games.
This myth explores the hero role, linking it to
the tasks of the developing ego. It shows the significance of empowering
gifts and the symbolism of Hermes and Athena: communication and warlike
courage tempered with feminine wisdom. It also contains the powerful
negative anima symbolism of Medusa’s serpent-hair, coupled with her
ability to turn humans to stone, and shows the right use of such powers.
The beheading is very likely linked to the many other mythical beheadings,
such as that of the Celtic Bran, the Arthurian Green Knight, and even
John the Baptist.
Theseus was either the son of Aegeus, King of Athens, or possibly of the god Poseidon. His mother raised him away from Athens and sent him back to Aegeus when he came of age. His heroic adventures on the way include overcoming Sinis the Pine-bender, and Procrustes, who famously shaped his guests to the size of his bed. Theseus narrowly escapes being poisoned by his father’s consort Medea before being recognized by his father. Intending to kill the Minotaur, he journeys to Crete as one of the youths to be given to the monster as tribute. In Crete Ariadne, daughter of Minos, gives him a clew, a ball of thread, so he can find his way out of the labyrinth. He kills the Minotaur, escapes, and sails to Athens with Ariadne. In most versions he abandons her on Naxos. Owing to an apparent oversight, Theseus arrives to find his father has killed himself presuming his son is dead. So Theseus becomes King.
The most ancient part of the story – the killing
of the Minotaur – is the least politicized and has the most resonance
today. The labyrinth is the unconscious, which the hero must enter to
overcome the monster. The Minotaur represents the dark, devouring side
of matriarchy which must be encountered and transformed – with the help
of the ‘clew’ (origin of ‘clue’), the thread of self-observation showing
the way out. The word labyrinth is derived from ‘labrys’, a double-headed
axe – shaped like a butterfly, and thus representing transformation,
but also linked to ‘labia’. Encountering one’s personal minotaur in
the passageways of the unconscious leads to psychic transformation.
Some commentators see the whole myths as solar. According to this way
of thinking, Ariadne is a solar goddess, and Theseus abandons her because
he knows that close relations with a goddess can prove fatal.
Persephone is the daughter of Zeus and Demeter, the harvest goddess. Her uncle Hades wants her for his wife. Zeus acquiesces, knowing Demeter will never consent to it. He causes a beautiful narcissus to grow. Persephone, examining it, loses sight of her friends, whereupon a chasm appears through which Hades arrives to carry her away to the Underworld. Unable to find her daughter, Demeter wanders, distraught, looking for her, and neglects the earth so that it stops being fruitful. Famine results and the people cry to Zeus for help. He finally decrees that if Persephone has not eaten anything in Hades she can return. But Persephone has eaten six pomegranate seeds, and must therefore spend six months of each year in Hades. Thus while Persephone is on earth Demeter is happy and the earth is fruitful; for the other six months she mourns and the earth is barren.
At one level this is a fertility myth dealing with
the renewal of the earth’s resources. At another it describes the matriarchal
era being disrupted by separation from nature, and by patriarchy. On
a personal level it deals with the mother/daughter relationship and
how the daughter must individuate and leave the realm of the Mother
to find the animus within and become effective in the world. Astrologically
Hades is agent of transformation and growth through loss.
Orpheus, son of Apollo and Calliope (one of the Muses), is a skilled musician who can charm birds and animals with his lyre. He falls in love with Euridice and marries her. But one day she is bitten by a serpent and dies. Orpheus, heart-broken, begs Zeus to restore her. Zeus gives him permission to seek her in Hades, but warns of its dangers. Orpheus overcomes these with music and eventually finds his wife. He is allowed to take her away on condition that he does not look back at her as they leave. However, just before reaching the surface, he looks back and loses her a second time. He spends the rest of his days singing mournful songs accompanied by his lyre. This infuriates the Bacchantes, who tear him to pieces. The gods rescue his lyre and set it in the sky as a constellation.
Orpheus is an older god, an unconscious layer of
the mind, which is closer to the animals and birds and even the rocks
and stones, and has the power to tame them. He is also a guide in the
realms of the unconscious, but also demonstrates the risks of ‘looking
back’. As the hero who enters Hades and attempts to restore his beloved,
he is a type of Christ-figure. He has also been identified with the
Fisher King of Grail legend. He shows how creativity can be used to
cross the threshold between the unconscious and the conscious. He inspired
an ancient mystical cult.
Psyche, youngest and most beautiful of three princesses, excites the envy of Aphrodite, who tells her son Eros to inflame her with an unsuitable passion. Instead Eros falls in love with her himself. He manages to have her plunge from a cliff-top and conveys her to a palace on an island. Here he visits her every night and makes love to her, but she never sees his face. One day she persuades him to let her family visit. Her sisters urge her to contrive to see him in case he is a monster. The following night she lights a lamp over him while he sleeps, and finds that he is a beautiful youth. A drop of lamp oil wakes him and he leaves her immediately, the palace disappearing too.
She wanders disconsolate, then decides to serve Aphrodite, who sets her impossible tasks, which she accomplishes. Her final task is to fetch beauty oil from Hades. She accomplishes this, but cannot resist opening the casket. Out flies Sleep and renders her unconscious. At this point Eros re-enters the story, rescuing her from unconsciousness (cf. ‘Sleeping Beauty’). Finally he defies his mother and marries Psyche.
For the Greeks, Eros symbolized the heart, and Psyche
the soul, often represented by butterfly wings. The myth explores the
conflict between the older and younger woman, mother and daughter-in-law.
It charts the progress of Psyche from an unconscious to a conscious
state. In the process she must undertake traditionally masculine heroic
deeds: Eros is tied to his mother, so Psyche has to perform the feats
for him. This, however, is effective. He steps in finally and releases
her from a second bout of unconsciousness, stands up to his mother and
marries Psyche. This is very much a story of our time. The journey of
the psyche is well charted and the conflict between mother and daughter-in-law
will be recognized by many.
The children of King Athamus and Nephele. Athamus puts away Nephele and marries Ino. She is jealous of Phrixus and Helle and plots to kill them, but Nephele intervenes and she ends up killing her own two sons instead. So Ino causes a famine and bribes the priests of the Delphic Oracle to say that Phrixus must be sacrificed to Zeus to save the land. Phrixus agrees but is saved at the last minute by a golden ram sent by his mother Nephele, who has been given it by Hermes. The ram flies off with both children on its back. Sadly, Helle falls off and gives her name to the Hellespont. Phrixus is put down in Aea, welcomed by its king, and marries his daughter Chalciope. The ram is offered to Zeus and its fleece given to the king, who hangs it from an oak and sets a dragon to guard it. It becomes the famous Golden Fleece sought by Jason.
Explores both sides of the mother figure, the good
and the bad. The good, protective mother has to withdraw in order for
the process of initiation to begin in the child, who must face life’s
challenges. Something of the good mother will remain in the child in
the form of guiding inner wisdom or intuition. In this tale the good
mother assists in the challenges faced by her children. The bad mother,
or shadow-side, pushes the child into dangers which have to be faced
for maturity to occur. The ram has solar connections and symbolizes
the sun and masculinity. Being the gift of Hermes, it also has the gift
of speech. It carries the children into the realm of rationality and
activity. Helle is unable to stay with it but it leads Phrixus to a
rich prize. The Golden Fleece ultimately becomes a symbol of spiritual
achievement and is hung on theTree of Life.
Jason’s uncle Pelias has usurped the throne from his father. Jason’s mother sends him away to be raised by Chiron the Centaur. On coming of age he sets out to claim his throne, aided by Hera. King Pelias, however, sends him on a quest for the Golden Fleece. Jason sets out in a specially built ship, the Argo, with many heroes. Their challenges include overcoming the Harpies and escaping the clashing rocks. Jason eventually arrives at the court of King Aetes, who sets him new tasks. Jason completes these with the help of Aetes’ daughter Medea, who has fallen in love with him. She also enables him to capture the Fleece.
Examines the difficult journey of the individual into the realm of the divine, seeking spiritual knowledge, as symbolized by the Golden Fleece. The energies of the hero are sufficient for the beginning of the journey when wit and creativity can be used to outwit opponents, but as he reaches a deeper and more difficult phase of the journey he finds his masculine gifts are not sufficient and he must accept help from the feminine in order to secure his spiritual goal. One view is that this diminishes his heroic stature.