Sunday, December 11, 2016

Til We Have Faces, "Cupid and Psyche" A myth retold

   I experienced stirring heart-rending sensations after I just finished C.S. Lewis classic "Till We Have Faces" . The themes throughout the book continue to haunt me causing me to feel deep emphatic emotion. It is a retelling of the greek myth "Cupid and Psych" through the eyes of her ugly and disfigured older sister Orual. Psyche is the youngest sister of a tyrant king and so captivatingly beautiful that people worship her instead, which incites the jealous anger of the gods, her father the king consults an oracle who tells him to leave Psyche chained on a mountain since she is not meant for any mortal man. Cupid is tasked with putting her under a spell to fall for the worst of all men, but instead is smitten with her and Psyche is stolen away. Orual, left grief stricken over the gods decision to take all that was precious and beautiful out of her life vows to avenge. True to the Cupid and Psyche of Platonicus's Metamorphoses, Psyche's new god-husband keeps his face veiled, and only comes to her in the cover of night. Orual first takes her sister for mad, but eventually is convinced (in spite of herself) that perhaps she should leave Psyche to her newfound joy, to the love of her husband. But here jealousy and obsessive love step in, grudging Psyche her happiness, her love. Orual is unable to comprehend, much less approve, of any love for Psyche that usurps her own. Orual, predictably, resents the gods for the gulf now so plainly separating her from Psyche. "the world had broken in pieces and Psyche and I were not in the same piece. Seas, mountains, madness, death itself, could not have removed her from me to such a hopeless distance. Gods, and again gods, and always gods . . . they had stolen her." 

Psyche pleads with Orual to open her spiritual eyes and see what she could; the palace now standing all around her in dazzling splendor; and Orual is indeed tempted  but her (possessive) love for Psyche is too strong, it was pulling her to come back and stay with her in the physical realm. In the end, though, jealousy wins the day. Orual delivers Psyche an ultimatum: either expose this "god's" face this night, or I will kill myself. To this threat Psyche reluctantly acquiesces, broken with sorrow. Everything, she knows, is now changed, horribly changed, altered forever. She will betray her god to satisfy her sister's love-need. "I know what I do," Psyche informs Orual. "I know that I am betraying the best of loves and that perhaps, before sunrise, all my happiness may be destroyed forever". The die is cast: Rationalizing that she has gone mad and her husband was nothing but a lecherous brute, a monster with veiled face.  Orual thought she was acting out of love and in Psyche’s best interests(so she convinced herself) the next morning, as Orual begins, incredibly, to catch glimpses of a great palace rising from the mountain, the valley is suddenly besieged by rockslides, storms, general destruction, and Orual understands suddenly and fully the extent of her guilt. Hearing in the distance Psyche's cries ringing from the rocks. She has sentenced her beloved sister to a life of wandering and toil, and herself to guilt, anxiety, and unutterable loneliness. She is left desolate, to wander the earth always weeping tears of dismay. Orual prepares to return to her kingdom to live the lonely life of the warrior queen. Her nights henceforward will be haunted by phantomlike howls and clinking of chains, and all her attempts to locate Psyche will fail. For Orual's sin of obsessive love, for her fear of the dividing gulf, Orual is left alone to grow in power but never in love, wearing a mask to conceal her hideous features, yet always wonder at the silence of the gods. Searching always for her sister, torn by what she had done, it was a life of inner agony and regret. Only at the end of her life, in visions of her lost beloved sister, will she hear an answer. In Queen Orual's last hours, when all the dead have gathered to hear her complaint against the gods....she again meets Psyche.

       After many years had passed she is embittered and angry at the gods. Eventually she see's that her love was of a possessive and harmful nature. Only at the end of a hard rugged life does she find her beautiful sister Psyche who has "hungered and thirsted and tread hard roads, and fought battles whom the gods could not fight, the victim to malice and ill will thrust upon her.  Cupids last words towards Orual are now running through her brain "You woman, shall know yourself and your work, you shall be called "Psyche". She had been misunderstanding the decree, and believing it meant a sharing in her poor younger sisters laborious exile. 

    Yet at the end of her years,  as she removes the mask she has been wearing to conceal her ugliness, she is swept away into vivid visions of  her sisters wandering.  The real truth of the betrayal comes to light. Psyche herself, like the mythical Psyche, has been sentenced to eternal turmoil to all manner of impossible tasks. Orual is guided  to a place where she is shown images of Psyche performing these. She was tempted by mortals on every side "I looked and saw Psych walking , alone in a wide way under the earth-a gentle slope, a gentle slope but downwards always downwards, I saw a (light opened up) and there a great table and rabble sat "Istra" (as she was known on earth) princess! Stay with us! Be our goddess, rule us! speak oracles to us" Psyche walked on and never looked at them. Another figure that arose was the wise old fox who raised her  "Fie, child do you want to be a barbarian all your days? Come back to me and I'll lead you out of all this darkness", yet onward she still descended, colder darker, deeper it became until eventually a third place, an image of a woman and when I looked at it I felt a pity that nearly killed my heart, despair, humiliation, entreaty, endless reproach and now I trembled for Psyche, for I knew the thing was only there to entrap her and turn her from her path, she held out her hands to Psyche and I saw the left arm dripping with blood, then came her voice so full of passion it would have moved you even if it spoke of happy or careless things "Oh Psyche" it wailed. "Oh my sister, my only love. Come back. Come back. Back to the old world where we were happy together. Come to me, sister" Psyche bit her lip till the blood came and wept bitterly. I thought she felt more grief in that instance than wailing Orual. She however kept on, journeying always further down into death. That was the last of the visions.

 "Did we really do these things to her?" I asked the fox (now beside her in the vision) "Yes all here are true" the voice replied. "It was those that loved her most; she had no more dangerous enemies than us" And Psyche in that old terrible rime when I thought her cruel....she suffered more than I perhaps?" "She bore much for you then. You have bore something for her now" Even your life your pain, your sorrows have aided her tasks,  that poisonous bowl of regret, has now been filled, this will be the final step of her journey." (to take that very bowl to the gods) They say...but even I, do not understand but a few broken words of their language. Only this I know. This age of ours will one day be in the distant past. Nothing yet is in it's true form"

    Many voices were soon after heard shouting in glee "She comes! Our lady returns to our house, the goddess Psyche is back from the lands of the dead. bringing with her the casket of beauty from the shadows" Like having been reunited with a long lost scent or desire, Orual soon after found herself falling at Psyches feet "Oh Psyche, never again will I call you mine, but all there is of me shall be yours, alas you know now what its worth, I never wished you well, my love was a craver"  Psyche now bent over to lift Orual up then replied "But sister, dear sister, you must stand up, I have not given you the casket, you know I went a long journey to fetch the beauty that will make you beautiful. "Did I not tell you there would be a day you and I would meet in a house with no mythical cloud between us" For in this moment the divine met the mortal and looking at a glowing reflection, Orual saw not one but 2 Psyches smiling back at them. She only now understood the true meaning of Psyche's selfless love and Cupids decree "She goes to sojourn in treacherous lands, You will be Psyche" 

    When at last Oruals waged  complaint against the God's is heard, she finds herself filled with shame for now she understands the silence, the misery, Psyches absence, her selfless and true love all at once. It was all for her, although she understood it naught. 

 C.S. Lewis considered this, although the most least known of all his novels his finest work. It leads me to consider the complex motives that underlie my actions — even the ones that seem most altruistic; it raises the possibility that there are precious few who yet have faces. I ask myself whether my holy places are dark like Orual’s or whether I am quick, like The Fox, to explain with glib reason just what the “divine nature” is or is not like."

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