[Some images in this post are NSFW]
Many of the fairy tales and legends we know and love today trace their roots back to the myth of Psyche and Eros (Cupid). The most notable example is Beauty and the Beast, though elements of Psyche’s story appear in the Grimm Brothers’ Cinderella (the impossible task of sorting seeds, as well as gruesome punishments for the wicked sisters), Sleeping Beauty and Snow White (the heroine’s flight from the wrath of a malevolent mother-figure, the death-like slumber, and the awakening kiss of a handsome prince), and even in Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid, when the Mermaid’s sisters give her a knife and urge her to kill her faithless prince to save herself. Some Christian writers treat the myth as an allegory of the soul’s journey to find God, notably C.S. Lewis in Till We Have Faces, written in the voice of Psyche’s older sister, who is left behind when Psyche, the younger and more beautiful sister, is sent wearing funeral attire to marry what all fear is a hideous monster who will devour her.
As in Beauty and the Beast, Psyche goes not to her death, but to a fine castle, tended by invisible servants. Forbidden to look upon her new husband’s face, she meets him only in the dark of night. Nevertheless, they fall in love, and Psyche conceives a child. Psyche is happy, but she begs to be allowed to see her family, so that she can assure them that she is safe and well. Her husband summons her older sisters to the castle to see her during daylight hours, and they are overwhelmed with guilt and jealousy at the discovery that their long-lost beautiful sister is happy, whole, and beloved. They convince Psyche that she has married a hideous monster who means to destroy her. They urge her to wait until late at night when her husband sleeps, and then to light a lamp and stab him through the heart.
Of course, when the lamp is lighted Psyche sees no monster, no angel of death, no hideous creature, but instead she beholds the gloriously handsome form of the god of love. Psyche is overcome by his beauty and swoons at the sight, and a drop of oil from the lamp falls onto his shoulder, burning and awakening him. Before the lovers can react, the castle disappears, and Psyche is left alone on a deserted mountaintop.
She is brought before Aphrodite, Eros’ mother, who is instantly jealous of the young woman’s beauty. Aphrodite sets Psyche on a series of impossible tasks, including sorting vast quantities of seeds and grains, collecting golden wool from one of the fierce rams of Helios, and fetching water from the River Styx. Her trials culminate in a dangerous quest to the Underworld to steal some of Queen Persephone’s beauty for Aphrodite. She passes safely by Cerberus, the three-headed dog who guards the gates of Hades, and returns to earth with the casket, but her curiosity gets the better of her, and she opens the lid. Instead of beauty, the box contains a deep and profound sleep, which overwhelms her, and she falls senseless to the ground.
Eros, meanwhile, has been seeking Psyche in her trials and wanderings, and he is overjoyed when he discovers her lying safe by the road out of the Underworld. He gathers the sleep back into the casket and awakens her with a kiss, and they joyfully reunite. Eros wraps Psyche in his arms and carries her before the throne of Zeus, king of the gods, who is moved by their story. He grants Psyche immortality and offers her ambrosia to drink, so that she and Eros can live and love together for eternity.
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LINGERIE: ‘Sweet Nothings’ babydoll, choker, and ouvert Chantilly lace knickers by Karolina Laskowska (c/o). Crafted of antique silk Leavers lace (over 100 years old!), trimmed with rhinestones dating from the 1890s. Swoon. For more one-of-a-kind pieces using extraordinary antique materials, check out the full Sweet Nothings collection here.
PHOTOGRAPHY: Michi Rezin