Monday, February 13, 2006

The source of sending letters and cards on St. Valentine’s Day is from a medieval belief that birds mate on or around February 14, a propitious day to send a missive to your love.

Chaucer in Parliament of Foules writes that “For this was sent on Seynt Valentyne’s day/ When every foul cometh ther to choose his mate.”

On Valentine’s Day most Americans clog the stores, spending money on cards, candy, flowers, lingerie, food and drink, all in the name of love. At first glance, the holiday seems shallow and commercial but I think that something soulful is occurring and that both Eros and Hermes are present.

When we discuss real things through the lens of myth, we are really attempting to explore a portion of the world that is invisible or more precisely, unconscious. By exploring the things we do without thought, we create weight and depth or metaphorically we create or build soul.

To illustrate this method of mythical analysis, I quote below a passage from my third novel, The Cavern. In this scene, Karl Wisent’s Jungian psychotherapist gives him a homework assignment after he describes certain troubling behavior of his girl friend.

He knew the moment he asked this question Dr. Gondolini would not answer. It was up to him to answer, to find his way to his own realization.

As he lay on the couch, he also thought of the clochard who appeared and saved the man. He was, in effect, a deus ex machina. and for a second Wisent wished someone would now spring to his side and save him.

“Somehow I think she, too, is trying to force movement. She, too, must be feeling the contingent nature of the relationship as a burden.”

“To be split is never comfortable. Most people don’t realize the split.”

“So she’s throwing the decision to chance?”

“She’s throwing something to the wind: caution or good judgment.”

“It’s very primal isn’t it?”

“It could simply be the force of Eros, which is made up of many complex components.”

“What do you mean?”

“It’s time to stop. Why don’t you read the myth of Eros?”

Wisent’s girl friend’s actions are really ways of shifting and defining her relationship with Wisent. Dr. Gondolini wants Wisent to contemplate how the god, Eros, acts on and through his life. The implication is that love is never static; instead, love is in constant flux, waxing and waning. The reason perhaps is that, according to Plato in his work on love, Symposium (The Collected Dialogues, edited by Edith Hamilton & Huntington Cairns, Bollingen Series LXXI, New York 1961), Eros is the son of Resource (Poros) and Need (Penia). Socrates tells his listeners “as the son of Resource and Need, it has been his fate to be always needy.” Neediness is one of Wisent’s most undesirable characteristics and the one he is most ashamed of. But Eros has two parts-need and resource. As Socrates states: “he brings his father’s resourcefulness to his designs upon the beautiful and good, for he is gallant, impetuous, and energetic, a mighty hunter, and a master of device and artifice-at once desirous and full of wisdom, a lifelong seeker after truth, an adept in sorcery, enchantment, and seduction.”

Socrates probably created the mythologem cited by Plato. It shows the tension between need and resource, parts of love, but I see Eros as a more complex god and his characteristics, as described by Socrates, are more similar to Hermes than to Poros.

Cicero postulates the answer in De natura deorum and brings Hermes to the equation. He states that Eros is the son of Hermes, the guide, and Artemis, the huntress. Both are tricksters and both force and encourage change. Both are dangerous and seductive. With these parents Eros’ genealogy becomes darker and more complex and we can understand that its complexity and its sometimes-crass materialism, originate from the god and his parents.

If we meditate on the complexity of Eros, then the significance of the holiday works on us rather than the merchants’ advertisements.

If we see the characteristics of Eros, Artemis and Hermes in our lovers and our relationships during this holiday we deepen our understanding and the holiday becomes suffused with soul and meaning.

No comments: