Psyche’s Third Task: Fetch water from that black river…

The River Styx
Luca Giordano
Fresco in the Palazzo Medici-Riccardi

From: The Golden Asse
by Lucius Apuleius
Adlington’s translation, 1566


The most pleasant and delectable tale of the marriage of Cupid and Psyches

… Then Venus spake unto Psyches againe saying: Seest thou the toppe of yonder great Hill, from whence there runneth downe waters of blacke and deadly colour, which nourisheth the floods of Stix, Cocytus? I charge thee to goe thither, and bring me a vessell of that water: wherewithall she gave her a bottle of Christall, menacing and threatening her rigorously. Then poor Psyches went in all haste to the top of the mountaine, rather to end her life, then [sic] to fetch any water, and when she was come up to the ridge of the hill, she perceived that it was impossible to bring it to passe: for she saw a great rocke gushing out most horrible fountaines of waters, which ran downe and fell by many stops and passages into the valley beneath: on each side shee did see great Dragons, which were stretching out their long and bloody Neckes, that did never sleepe, but appointed to keepe the river there: the waters seemed to themselves likewise saying, Away, away, what wilt thou doe? flie, flie, or else thou wilt be slaine. Then Psyches (seeing the impossibility of this affaire) stood still as though she were transformed into a stone, and although she was present in body, yet was she absent in spirit and sense, by reason of the great perill which she saw, insomuch that she could not comfort her self with weeping, such was the present danger that she was in. But the royall bird of great Jupiter, the Eagle remembring his old service which he had done, when as by the pricke of Cupid he brought up the boy Ganimedes, to the heavens, to be made butler of Jupiter, and minding to shew the like service in the person of the wife of Cupid, came from the high-house of the Skies, and said unto Psyches, O simple woman without all experience, doest thou thinke to get or dip up any drop of this dreadfull water? No, no, assure thy selfe thou art never able to come nigh it, for the Gods themselves do greatly feare at the sight thereof. What, have you not heard, that it is a custome among men to sweare by the puissance of the Gods, and the Gods do sweare by the majesty of the river Stix? But give me thy bottle, and sodainly he tooke it, and filled it with the water of the river, and taking his flight through those cruell and horrible dragons, brought it unto Psyches: who being very joyfull thereof, presented it to Venus, who would not yet be appeased, but menacing more and more said, What, thou seemest unto me a very witch and enchauntresse, that bringest these things to passe, howbeit thou shalt do nothing more.

Transitions as Liminal and Archetypal Situations
Jean Shinoda Bolen, M.D.
The third task was the creative task: Psyche is told that she must fill a crystal flask with water from a stream that runs in a continual cycle from the River Styx to the highest crag. The great water of life, the water of creativity, cycles. It is archetypal. It moves and moves and moves, and yet each person needs to seize some of that fluidity and give it shape. Some of that is a conscious desire to capture archetypal energies, visions, emotions and give them shape through your own personality, which is relative to the great expanse of the archetypal world of gods and goddesses. It is symbolically fragile, and yet this is the task.

Again Psyche looks at the task. She sees this river that is carved into the side of the mountain. It goes down to the River Styx and then rises up through a spring to come up to the top again and down the face, etching its way into the mountain. If that isn’t bad enough, there are snake-like dragons on either side warning, “Stay away! Stay away!” The water itself is hissing. Psyche again thinks, “Too much! I can’t do it!” when another symbol comes to her aid.

Now, this third task is supported by Zeus’ eagle. Zeus is an archetype that succeeds very well as an entrepreneur in this world. After all, he is the Chief Executive Officer of Mount Olympus. He has lightning bolts. He can punish. His symbol, the eagle, has the ability to see what it wants and plunge from the sky to grab it in its talons. That ability to see the overall picture, to see the forest but not each individual tree, is a way of being in the world. If you’re a man with Zeus as your innate archetype, then the world (especially capitalistic United States) rewards you very well. An entrepreneurial woman with Zeus as an archetype finds it really helpful to see the overall picture, to not get emotional about losing a sale or being undercut in business. An eagle doesn’t stop and have an emotional fit if that succulent mouse that she had her eye on suddenly follows intuition and runs under a rock. The eagle just flies up again and looks for another dinner somewhere else. That unemotional ability is very successful.

Of all the innate male air sign archetypes that have to do with the sky like Apollo and Hermes, Zeus succeeds very well in this world. Some people have more of them than others. If you are a man in this culture and you happen to have these archetypes, they will be stretched on that Procrustean bed to fill the picture. Those parts of you that have to do with creativity and emotionality are often ignored and, therefore, you are cut off from them.

Zeus’ eagle now comes to this very personal Psyche giving her an overview of how to go after what you need, how you avoid the dangers, keep your eye on the prize, and go for it. The eagle takes the flask. It returns to give Psyche the flask, now filled with Stygian water that she was to get for task three. One would say that at each step Psyche has learned something new.

Amor and Psyche
Eric Neumann
(Pages 103-104)

This labor is a variant of the quest for the waters of life, the precious substance hard to obtain…
The essential feature of this spring is that it unites the highest and lowest; it is an uroboric circular stream that feeds the depths of the underworld and rises up again to issue from the highest crag of a “huge mountain”…
The essential quality of this stream is that it cannot be contained. Psyche then, as a feminine vessel, is ordered to contain the stream, to give form and rest to what is formless and flowing…
In relation to the feminine psyche it is the overwhelming male numinous power of that which penetrates to fructify.

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