Merely a Wanderer – Part VIII – Three Ways to Look at Myth

In my last post about wandering through Faerie, I talked at length about Lewis’s definition of Myth and how he uses it in Till We Have Faces. I wanted to continue that discussion by looking at three different ways to view myth.

  1. Myth’s effect on the reader (Orual’s Story)
  2. Myth’s effect on the participant (Psyche’s Story)
  3. Myth’s effect on spiritual understanding (The Priest’s Story)

Orual is the main voice of all of the stories and it is her desire to set the record straight concerning the story.  Orual uses her voice to take the reader through how he/she is supposed to feel about the myth.  Her complaint is the universal complaint that the gods do not reveal themselves to man and yet they expect man to know and understand how and who the gods are. Orual is so convinced that she has been wronged that she cannot believe the words of wisdom from Psyche, the rational words from Fox, or the spiritual words from Bardia. Psyche tells her that she is safe and well, that her husband is the god of the Mountain. Her duty is to her husband, claiming “I am not my own. You forget, Sister, that I’m a wife” (TWHF 128). However, it is not that Orual has forgotten, but that she does not want to believe. She demeans Psyche’s marital status by thinking of her as a whore. When Orual goes to the Fox for advice she is overcome by her passions concerning the welfare of Psyche so much so that she does not heed the stoic warning: “You are transported beyond all reason and nature. Do you know what it is?  There’s one part love in you and five parts anger, and seven parts pride” (148). Bardia’s advice to Orual is that the “gods know better” (136). He is a god-fearing man and the notion that Psyche needed to be saved from the Brute or the god had not even entered his mind. Psyche was in the possession of the gods and there was no need to seek farther or disturb her. Yet Orual is so convinced of her version of the events that she refuses to take the council given to her. She would rather destroy both their lives than believe that Psyche is safe with her god-husband (Schakel 160).

The second version of the story is Psyche’s. She is the participant in the myth from the beginning to end. Her birth is in a way initiation to the myth. The mother dies, leaving the girls all alone to figure out the mysteries of love, marriage, and the gods by themselves. Psyche becomes the means for which Orual can understand these things.  Psyche is at once the daughter and sister and mother to Orual, which is an interesting twist on Orual’s desire to be those things for Psyche. Orual is angry with Psyche in their last interview before the sacrifice because Psyche is being the mothering type (TWHF 70).

When Psyche tells how the god saved her and made her his wife, Orual refuses to believe. Psyche tells the story as one who has seen the light, because she has. She can describe the palace because she has seen it, while Orual turns a blind eye. The joys that Psyche is experiencing are only shadows and wisps of wind to Orual because she has not experienced them herself. Everything that Psyche tells about her life with the god is more like a fairytale in Orual’s mind because the reality of it is too impossible for Orual to except. Orual could not see or even view Psyche as anything other than a child, therefore, she could not believe that Psyche was a wife and living out the mysteries of womanhood.

Psyche is like Christ, which is not to say that she is Christ, but those aspects that remind one of Christ in the sense that she is the innocent. She goes through the trials so that the observers can understand the divine implications. Christ came and was incarnate and lived among us, went through trials, and suffered death so that mankind could understand how to live. Psyche is not Orual’s Christ in all of these respects, but she is a means to understanding the mystery of divine sacrifice and holy living.

The priest’s version of the story is most like Apuleius’s story. It is worth noting that Orual is greatly angered by the “misrepresentation” of the sisters. However, in her anger she misses the mythical or spiritual understanding of the story that he tells. When Orual asks if Psyche is “now wandering over the earth or has she already become a goddess,” the poor priest can only answer “the sacred story is about sacred things…In spring, all summer, she is a goddess. Then when the harvest comes we bring a lamp into the temple in the night and the god flies away. Then we veil her. And all winter she is wandering and suffering” (TWHF 246). He understands the story in the context of the ritual. His story, even though according to Orual it is full of falsehoods, it gets closer to the spiritual truth behind Orual’s blindness:

Rather than attributing the sacrifice to Psyche to human violence, the priest blames in on Ungit’s envy of her beauty, just like Apuleius blames Venus’ envy. Orual revealingly judges such envy to be childish, but what she most objects to is that the older sisters are said by the priest (as by Apuleius) to have seen the palace that Psyche shared with the god on the mountain until, out of jealously, they convinced her to violate his prohibition against looking at him. Lewis’ carefully handling of the question of whether the palace is real, or rather in what sense it is real, and whether Orual sees it, is part of what makes the story mythopoeic in a positive sense…Though Orual’s narration includes a brief vision of it, it is not visible to her normal senses, and in the story she decides she did not see it, it cannot be real and she much save Psyche from delusion by bringing her a lantern to expose whatever it is that comes to her by night. When Orual hears the priest’s story, she rejects the idea that he is jealous of Psyche and maintains that she is an innocent victim of invisible gods. (Gruenler 253)

Jealousy blinds Orual and keeps her from truly loving not only Psyche but herself as well. It is the priest’s version that strikes Orual into action. His version is the one that stings the most because his words ring the truest in Orual’s heart. His story, though completely veiled in the mystery of ritual give the first glimmer of spiritual hope. Psyche is reunited with her beloved and Orual is forced to for the first time be introspective about her motives and actions concerning Psyche.

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About LizzyBeth

There is a Story inside of me that I must give a voice. I write so that imagination can take me to Faerie and I can catch a glimpse of the Otherworld and hopefully so will you.

Posted on April 22, 2011, in Lantern Hollow Press Authors. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Psyche as Christ? I see what you mean. But she is more basically fallen mankind, and the god is Christ. Orual, who does not exist in the original myth, is the Satan figure to tempt Psyche to disobedience at first; which makes it even more remarkable that in the end even she is redeemed. George MacDonald would have been proud of his disciple, I think.

    • Psyche is a type of Christ. There are so many similarities between the sacrifice and her response but she is by no means Christ. She is more like Beatrice in the Divine Comedy, who was for Dante a figure of Grace. Dante referred to her as his Grace and thought of her as a type of Christ but that did not make her Christ.
      And, yes, Psyche also represents the fall of man when she knowingly disobeyed her beloved’s command.
      I love how there are layers upon layer of meaning in every character and action. Unfortunately, I did not have the time nor resources to delve into all of them. The very nature of Psyche could have been an entire Thesis all on her own.

  2. “The very nature of Psyche could have been an entire Thesis all on her own.”

    True–and fair–enough!

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