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Fortællinger fra Kreta | 70

Tales from Crete | 70

What is it that makes us do, act, react or act the way we do?

To understand it, one has to start with some mythology and the curious development of the concept of “psi” (Ψ) (the twenty-third letter of the Greek alphabet)

It is, of course, about the word psychology, which comes from the combination of the Greek words ψυχή and λογία.” In ancient Greek, the word meant psyche or butterfly. The butterfly was also a symbol of the breath of life, a breeze, a life-giving wind... Little by little, thanks to the influence of the Roman Empire, the word ended up symbolizing the human soul. What they saw it as was our life force, also known as "Ka" in Egyptian culture.

The Greeks and Romans had a very specific view of the soul when it came to people. One of their beliefs was that when someone died, the "ka", as the Egyptians spoke, would leave their body in the form of a breath. The breath would take the form of a butterfly. Nor was there anything frightening about that image in their minds. To them, butterflies represented light, change and hope.

In Greek mythology, the word "psyche" means more than just butterfly, soul and mind. Psyche was also the name of a goddess, a beautiful creature with butterfly wings. Her love story is one of the most beautiful love stories ever. It was immortalized by Apuleius in Metamorphoses (The Golden Ass). According to the story, there was one out of the three daughters of the King of Anatolia who was something special. She was so beautiful, attractive and full of joy that Aphrodite herself became jealous and saw this young woman as a rival. She was so desperately jealous that she immediately sent her son, Eros (Cupid), to shoot her with his arrows. She wanted young Psyche to fall for the most horrible, ugly and heartless man in all of Anatolia.

But nothing went according to plan. Instead, it was her son, Eros, who fell for Psyche. Unable to stop himself, the young god decided to go to her room every night to seduce her and make her his own. And so it went. Psyche fell completely for a stranger who visited her every night in the dark. She couldn't even see his face. The stranger was a god who wanted to keep his identity a secret. But something went wrong. When Psyche told her sisters about it, they told her that she could not continue the relationship unless she saw the face of her mysterious lover. So she did. While Eros slept in her bed, she held a lamp close to his face. At that moment the son of Aphrodite awoke and stormed out, completely enraged by Psyche's audacity.

Inconsolable, depressed and full of regret, the daughter of the King of Anatolia went to Aphrodite to ask for help. Eros' mother saw this as an opportunity to gain the upper hand. She saw it as her chance to get rid of this woman who rivaled the very goddess of beauty. She gave her four trials, four tasks she had to complete if she wanted to gain Eros' love and forgiveness. But the trials involved going to the underworld, facing Kerberus, traveling with Charon and later with Hades to reach Persephone and ask her for some of her beauty, which she hid in a small box.

Against all odds, swashbuckling Psyche proved she was more than just beautiful. She was also smart, brave and full of determination. But just as she was about to get through all the trials and reach Persephone's box, she experienced a moment of vanity and curiosity. She decided to open the box to see what was inside and take some of the beauty for herself. It was then that she fell victim to its trap: the Stygian dream. Fortunately, a familiar hand lifted the box away from her eyes. The familiar skin of the hand soothed her and the owner's hopeful face brought her joy back. It was Eros who had forgiven her and came to save her.

There couldn't have been a happier ending for this magical couple. Aphrodite stopped being jealous of her son's lover and danced with them at their wedding. Zeus decided to make Psyche immortal. Now this brave, beautiful woman with butterfly wings also represented the symbol of psychology “Ψ”.

A good little story from Greek mythology and the word Psyke (psychology), but also something we can take with us on a daily basis, even if it is perhaps a little difficult to access.

We are all controlled by our psyche, which is not necessarily as rational as we might think and which deep down we don't understand much about. We sometimes react inappropriately to the strangest things and are left in a void and with uncertainty about: "what just happened". 

But then again I have to resort to some of what I myself have learned from some of the wise old men on Crete, who have kindly given me so much inspiration with the words: "If you knew everything, there was nothing more to know"

Tales from Crete | Elena's - The taste of Greece

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