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TitleTransforming Psyche
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Table of Contents
1 Contexts and Circumstances
2 Narcissus and Echo
3 Introducing Psyche, Attending Aphrodite
4 The Green World
5 Learning Transformation
6 Eros, Psyche, and N(arr)ativity
7 Voluptas beyond the Ending
8 Lifeprints
9 Retelling Psyche
Appendix: Apuleius's Cupid and Psyche
Works Cited
Document Text Contents
Page 2

Transforming Psyche

Barbara Weir Huber explores the myth of Psyche, interweaving
research from such diverse disciplines as current feminist and educa-
tional theories, mythology, literature, psychology, and cultural anthro-
pology. She offers an original, critical reinterpretation of the myth,
highlighting the way it overtly portrays female experience in a patri-
archal context while covertly affirming all aspects of female life.

In Transforming Psyche Huber shows that the myth of Psyche and
Eros can be interpreted to illuminate the experiences of twentieth-
century women. In contrast to the portrayal of Psyche as indecisive
and amorphous, Huber emphasizes those aspects of the tale that
describe Psyche's connectedness - to her sisters, her own sexuality, her
earthbound experience, and, ultimately, to the birthing of her child.

Using the works of such writers as Emily Carr, Margaret Laurence,
Gertrude Stein, and Virginia Woolf, Huber demonstrates that feminist
theory and women's autobiography mirror the insights uncovered in
her retelling of the Psyche story.

BARBARA WEIR HUBER is a sessional lecturer in the English depart-
ment, University of Manitoba.

Page 127

n6 Transforming Psyche


Not only does childbirth carry the potential for a woman's physical
death and/or the death of her infant, but even without these very real
physical dangers, it carries the matching and equally real potential for
the death of the unitary responsibility to the self, of psychological
virginity. Just as during pregnancy Psyche is an image of one who
carries another within her, an image of physical two-in-herself-ness
(perhaps given the age-old admonition to "eat for two"), with the birth
of her child, she represents an additional and psychological two-in-
one. Thus, the loss of "virginity" that pregnancy and birth entail also
brings an accumulation of competence in giving care and assuming
responsibility, as well as an increase in experience and maturity.

There have been many definitions of "virginity" suggested by
women scholars, all set forth with the desire for reclaiming an authen-
ticity of female experience that is missing from the patriarchal mean-
ings. M. Esther Harding introduces the term "one-in-herself" to
suggest that ancient or more "primitive" societies viewed the virgin as
a single woman belonging only to herself regardless of sexual behav-
iour or experience: "A girl belongs to herself while she is virgin -
unwed - and may not be compelled either to maintain chastity or to
yield to unwanted embrace" (103). Whereas both Harding and Mari-
lyn Frye link their definitions to intercourse, acknowledging the power
structures that confirm male hegemony, Frye goes on to say that the
"word 'virgin' did not originally mean a woman whose vagina was
untouched by any penis, but a free woman, one not betrothed, not
married, not bound to, nor possessed by any man." She goes on to
describe its meaning as "a woman sexually and hence socially her own
person" but contends that in "any universe of patriarchy, there are no
Virgins in this sense" (1992,, 133).

Since the word "virgin" comes from the Latin vir meaning "man,"
menarche is also a signal that a woman is not vir-like. Not first sexual
experience and "loss," but first menstruation and gain of an embodied
power might signal the acquisition of reproductive power. The patri-
archal sacrifice alluded to in Psyche's "man made" and "flame-red"
bridal veil is "fiery" and external to Psyche, placed over her. So, too,
the blood of first intercourse - if the hymen has not been broken in
athletic or other physical activity - mimics the original dedication to
female being and may, or may not, herald pleasure, however much it
is another increase in experience. Such blood recalls Psyche's pricking
of her own thumb on Eros's arrow.

Of "virgin birth," Barbara Walker states that it is a term evolving
from the "virgin-born" designation given to children born of temple

Page 128

Eros, Psyche, and N(arr)ativity 117

priestesses - those women, "holy virgins," dedicated to Aphrodite:
"The Holy Virgins or temple-harlots were called 'soul-teachers' or
'soul-mothers' - the alma mater" (Encyclopedia, 1048). The joining
together of all these views and definitions suggests a different defini-
tion of virginity that might be applied to Psyche. With first menses, as
a mortal girl, she may have acquired virginity in a consecration to life
lived as a woman. Psyche is dedicated, has dedicated herself to Aphro-
dite; her daughter is thus "virgin born"; her tasks encode knowledge,
an embodied, incremental consciousness, and make her sacred wisdom
an alma mater.

Beyond and Outside Nativity

There are other goddesses who figure in the background of Psyche's
tale and who suggest the continuity that extends beyond and outside
of female reproductive life. Via the Demeter and Persephone myth, we
meet the nearly obscured goddess-as-crone, Hecate, who is intelligence
and compassion (Hayes, io-n).3 Literally, Hecate is not grandmother
as her ancient origins and place in the trio might suggest, but her
association with Persephone and their underworld companionship sug-
gest a disinterested motherliness and recall her role as "nurse of the
young" (Zeitlin, 75). Giving an affection not compelled by biological
connection or maternal love, she is a "tender-hearted" and "helping
figure," the only one to have heard Persephone's screams as she was
carried away (Friedrich, 165, 154).

The importance of this non-biological mothering quality is revealed
by her role following the reunion of Demeter and Persephone: "After
mother and daughter are reunited, Hecate once more appears in the
hymn in order to receive the Kore and remain her companion for
always: Hecate and Persephone are as inseparable as Persephone and
Demeter" (Jung and Kerenyi, 154). Hecate and Persephone are also as
inseparable as Hecate and Demeter, a situation reflected in the ten-
dency of scholars to see "Demeter and Hecate in one person" (Jung
and Kerenyi, 158). This, in effect and twice over, makes a doubled
figure. Demeter and Persephone are almost always together, "thought
of as a double figure" Without Persephone, "her mother's Kore,"
Demeter would not be mother, ''''Meter" (Jung and Kerenyi, i5z).

According to C. Kerenyi, these two forms are, in reality, not two
doubled figures, but "a triad of unmistakable individuals"; "the torch
appears to be the attribute of each of them." Their communal epithet,
"phosphoros" (bringer of light), emphasizes the kind of transforma-
tional consciousness this triplicity implies: a consciousness symbolized
in "[o]ne torch, two torches held by the same goddess, three torches


Page 254

Index 243

Priapus, 88
procedural knowledge: and stages of

epistemological development, 92-4
Proserpina, 52
psyche: as an aspect of consciousness,

Psyche: and anger, 74; and Aphrodite,

90, 94, 100; as beauty, 46-9, 61; and
choice, 81-2, 90; and Demeter, 90;
and depression, 73; and desire, 88;
and grief, 74; and Hera, 90; and nar-
rative pattern, 118-20; and Pan, 90;
and paradisal experience, 60, 63; and
passivity, 51, 84; pregnancy and moth-
erhood, 75, 93, 96, 99, 122; as repre-
sentation, 6-9, 160; Retelling, 161-79;
as shaman, 101-3

Psychean: as descriptor, 139, 142-4,

Psyche and Eros: in conflict, 85; honey-
moon of, 60, 63, 84, 116; and recon-
ciliation, 75, 105; as story, 6, 9, 45,

Psychean text: features of, 142-4
Psyche's sisters: anger and envy in, 66-

70, 74-5; deaths of, 69-70, 74, 126;
marriages of, 100; role of, 74, 85

Psyche's tasks: and birthing, 115, 122—3;
as female achievement and feminine
development, 76-82, 92-4, 112-14,
120-2; as housekeeping, 77-8, 93-4,
96-7; and stages of learning, 83-99;
and symbolism of footsteps, 89-90

puberty, 61. See also menarche

quest: as coincident with journey, 81,
102; women's, 19

quilt: as metaphor of learning, 11-12,

quiver, 63

Rabuzzi, Kathryn Allen: on childbirth,
115; on time, 94

rape, 32, 51, 155-6
Raven, Arlene, 44
razor: and knife 118; and Psyche, 32,

63, 68, 72; symbolism of, 85, 87, 89
received knowledge: and stages of episte-

mological development, 90
reed: advice from, 92
reflection: definitions of, 30, 32—5

repetition, 33; and aesthetics, 33-4; and
narrative structure, 111; and sexual
tension, 35

responsibility: knowing limits of, 80
Retelling Psyche, 161-79
Rich, Adrienne, 5
Rivers, Caryl, et al.: on women's silence,


Rosaldo, Michelle Zimbalist, and Louise
Lamphere, 215n1

Rosenblatt, Sidney M., 64
Rowbotham, Sheila, 215n1
Roy, Gabrielle: autobiography by, 144,

Rubin, Lillian B., 22-3
Ruddick, Sara, 5

sacrifice: definitions of, 58, 72; of Eros,
71-3; of Iphegenia, 48; and marriage
of Psyche, 48-9, 58-9

Salverson, Laura Goodman: autobiogra-
phy by, 145, 157-8

Sappho, 54
science: women and, 24-5
seeds: as knowledge, 91; poppy and

Aphrodite, 61, 77; of Psyche's first
task, 77, 95; and semen, 76-7

Selene, 52
self: in autobiography, 150, 223n2
self-constructed knowledge: and stages of

epistemological development, 95-7
separate knowing: and stages of episte-

mological development, 94
sexuality: as metaphor 25-6; and Psy-

che's experience of, 60-3; and
women's emotional power, 23

Shack, Sybil, 216n5
shaman: Psyche as, 101; and the Centre,

shamanism: and spirituality, 137-8
Sheehy, Gail, 221n3
sheep: and Psyche's second task, 77,

Showalter, Elaine, 215n1
Shuttle, Penelope, and Peter Redgrove,

signature: and archetype, 21, 217n3
silence: as absence of choice, 74, 80; as

Echo, 30-1; as maternal absence, in
literature, 219n4; and Psyche, 84, 96,
120; and self-esteem, 49-50; and

Page 255

244 Index

stages of epistemological development,
20, 84

Silverman, Kaja, 43
sleep: Psyche's deathlike, 80, 99-100
Smith, Sidonie: on subjectivity, 141-2.
sorting: as metaphor, 91, 95
Spender, Dale, 216n5
spiral: as metaphor, 16, 19-20, 119,

136, 147
spirituality, 25; in nature, 25
Spretnak, Charlene: on goddesses, 70; on

"Hecate's suppers," 118; on seeds, 77
Stanton, Domna C., 223n2,
Stein, Gertrude: autobiography by, 145-7
Steinem, Gloria: autobiography by,

Steiner, Wendy: on Gertrude Stein, 146
Stern, Daniel L., 127-8
Stone, Merlin, 215n1
Streep, Peg, 221n2
Styx: and Stygian sleep, 95, 113, 148,


subjective knowledge: and stages of epis-
temological development, 27, 90, 98

subjectivity, 27-8
suicide: attempts by Psyche, 73, 78, 91;

in autobiography, 156
Swahn, Jan-Ojvind, 218n3
symbol: definition and woman as, 40

taboo: on female creativity, 89; in female
journeys, 78-9, 147, 150; in fourth
task, 112-14; on male figure as visual
object, 55, 87-8; in Mysteries, 135;
required by Eros, 87, 112

Tavris, Carol: on anger, 69
Thompson, Judith, 216n5
thumb: and fingers as symbols, 86;

Psyche's pricking of, 86-7, 117
time: linear, 89, 94; seasonal and mem-

ory, 95; as timelessness, 99
Tiresius, 29, 35
Tomm, Winnie, 5, 81
touch, 31, 132-3
tower: meanings associated with, 78;

warnings from, 78-80
transform: as transforming, transforma-

tion, defined, 7, 27
Trevathan, Wenda R., 32, 124-7
Turner, Victor, 133-4

Ulanov, Ann Bedford: on the uncon-
scious, 81

Ulysses, 19. See also Odysseus
underworld: Psyche's behaviour in, 80-1

veil: Psyche's, 116
virginity, 56-7, 116-17
voice: loss of, and anger, 23; women's,

31, 36, 152
Voluptas, 122-3, 126

Walker, Alice, 216n1
Walker, Barbara G.: revisioning myth,

217n3; on symbolism of footprints,
89; on symbolism of lamps and razors,
85; on symbolism of thumbs and fin-
gers, 86-7; on symbolism of water, 96;
on virgin birth, 116-17

walking: as metaphor of time, 89. See
also journey

Walsh, P.G., 52
Walters, Joan S., 216n2
Warner, Marina: on fairy tales, 21-2, 67,

water: symbolism of, 32, 96-7
weaving: and Fates, 79
weddings, 58. See marriage
Weitzmann, Kurt, 222n10
Williams, Linda Verlee, 14-15
wings: and Bird Goddess, 96, 222n10;

and Eros, 62, 109; of shamanic initia-
tion, 102

Wolf, Christa, 217n3, 22on4
Wolf, Naomi, 47, 218n6
Women's Ways of Knowing: authors of,

5, 84; and vision, 13-14; and voice,
13-14, 90; on women's experience of
learning, 13-14, 19, 20, 83-4

Woodward, Kathleen, 223n3
Woolf, Virginia: autobiography by, 144,

149-50, 218n4; and woman as mir-
ror, 218n4

Young-Bruel, Elizabeth: on Freudian the-
ory, 39-40, 41

Zeitlin, Froma I., 117, 118
Zeus, 30, 55, 62, 96, 100
Zipes, Jack: and feminist fairy tales,


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