Welcome back to the finish of this 3 part series!
So last we heard of Narcissus he had spurned an admirer, and Nemesis was called in to teach him a lesson, as it were. Humans each have their own idea of retribution, I’m sure, but this is COSMIC retribution. A cosmic guy like Narcissus, son of the river and dyed-in-the-wool flower man, is not going to be punished, in the sense of an eye for an eye. Because as you know that just makes the whole world blind, and hopefully the divine beings who oversee the doings of humanity are not trying to make us all blind. No, hopefully they are wanting us to open our eyes, to wake up and smell the…narcissi! With this idea in mind, Nemesis governs our soul development on a cosmic scale, signified by her karmic wheel or wheel of life attribute (note it under her foot, above). Notice also the book she writes in; the Akashic records maybe? Her “lessons” will not be parental, i.e. reward-and-punishment oriented, but divine, and ultimately benevolent. Narcissus will be given an experience that aids in balancing his current obsession with physicality. Thus, a lesson in consciousness.
The whole perception that good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people is immature, the result of a perpetually parental culture such as my own. It’s not what we’re going for in the human development/enlightenment/mastery game. Though the justice goddesses, including Nemesis, are sometimes depicted with a sword, it’s not for battle, obviously. It is for cutting attachment to ways that no longer serve the cause of balance and developmental change, of increasing levels of FREEDOM. The severing of attachments is a universal type of warriorhood depicted by the sword-wielding divinity.
So now, more water element. “There was a fountain silver-clear and bright, which neither shepherds nor the wild she-goats, that range the hills, nor any cattle’s mouth had touched- its waters were unsullied- birds disturbed it not; nor animals, nor boughs that fall so often from the trees…Here Narcissus, tired of hunting and the heated noon, lay down, attracted by the peaceful solitudes and by the glassy spring.” With all this description, we get clues about the nature of this particular water. IT’S NOT OF THIS WORLD. In short. To the symbolist, this description is not just a clue, it’s a 2×4 bludgeon. In case you were still imagining this story as mundane drama, time to shift gears. Let’s note also that ‘fountain’ in English is not still water, though it might have been a word in Latin that does not designate between ‘well’ and ‘fountain’. Don’t know Latin. The fountain designation gives us one symbolic concept crucial to the scene: an upwelling source.
The thing about the she-goats: female sexuality. The thing about cattle: physical abundance. The birds and the boughs are things not of human experience but of Nature; even that is not able to come to the nonphysical place referred to here. Even that. Narcissus is tired of the “heat of the sun”; tired of the masculine seeking and objectification, of being hot and bothered. He wants some respite from the air and fire masculine elements.
To cut to the internal experience chase, this fountain is Narcissus’s soul, a nonphysical location within that is both fountain, and reflective. It’s the source (fountain, well) of his inner connected experience. The source of his innate beauty, his creativity, THE PLACE FROM WHICH FLOWS HIS ABILITY TO LOVE HIMSELF BECAUSE THE SOUL DIRECTLY KNOWS THE LOVE OF THE CREATOR. As opposed to the personality. Self love is one of the latest and greatest of teachings in the conscious evolution movement, a shift away from enlightenment as a project focused on DOING, on behavior. “There as he stooped to quench his thirst another thirst increased. While he is drinking he beholds himself reflected in the mirrored pool- and loves; loves the imagined body which contains no substance, for he deems the mirrored shade a thing of life to love.” Let’s configure this little bit thus; Narcissus has been defending himself from love in its purer cosmic sense. He is now tired of looking for love in all the wrong places, i.e. physicality.
There’s no need here in Soul Land for his defenses and his vanity. It’s worth considering that psychologically vanity is a form of defense, a shell that keeps others out. Defense is what the personality/ego is for, in part; it functions as a boundary-drawing project, a construction with walls. Once Narcissus stops (maybe he’s taking a mindfulness class, wink wink), his thirst for peace and inner love increases (“another thirst increased”).
In transformational story, we are getting a condensed version of one human’s enlightenment, for instructive purposes. In this case “enlightenment” is defined as a shift away from total identification with the body and personality, toward an understanding and experience of human life as more; as a fundamentally divine being in a loving universe. “He cannot move, for he so marvels at himself, and lies with countenance unchanged, as if indeed a statue carved of Parian marble.” Sounds like he’s in a pretty deep meditative state to me! He has discovered that he is not just pretty, but intrinsically marvelous on a more rewarding non-physical level. Note the statue reference again; he is experiencing the more-than-mortal-within which stone and metal statues are meant to depict, for they should last for hundreds of years. He’s moved beyond the experience of being put on a pedestal by others. Being the object of infatuation is a very short-lived and treacherous enterprise if people can claim to love you, and then curse you when they don’t get the sort of attention they desire from you.
There’s next a big chunk of dramatic Ovidian fat I’m going to trim, but this bit matters to my point; “All that is lovely in himself he loves, and in his witless way he wants himself: -he who approves is equally approved; he who seeks, is sought, he burns and he is burnt.” From this, of course, we logically conclude that previously he did NOT love himself, right? This wisdom story teaches us that vanity (or narcissism) is not truly self love, then. It’s a big fat sham, a form of conditioned defense against the idea that one is not good enough. Note the reference to moving out of the intellectual, judging mind in the word ‘witless’. The internal seeking bit (he who seeks, is sought), similar to hunting, is a well known metaphor in spiritual tradition. Just a few quotes from the most well known Sufi poet in the world, Rumi; “What you seek is seeking you”, “When will you begin that long journey into yourself?”, “Why am I seeking? I am the same as he. His essence speaks through me. I have been looking for myself.”
Alrighty then. Next, we have some good old-fashioned alchemical fire; “He burns and he is burnt.” Fire is the element most often referred to in transformational story, since it works its changes most dramatically; quickly and obviously, nothing remains of the old form. So blah, and blah, Ovid goes on a bit more and then we find that, through this burning up of Narcissus’s old defenses, he reconnects with the soul of Gaia. I say “reconnects” because we were all born connected, but are conditioned to turn away in some cultures. “Raising himself a moment, he extends his arms around, and, beckoning to the murmuring forest; ‘Oh, ye aisled wood, was ever a man in love more fatally than I? Your silent paths have sheltered many a one whose love was told, and ye have heard their voices…When I extend my loving arms to thee thine also are extended to me- thy smiles return my own…often thy sweet lips have seemed to move that, peradventure words, which I have never heard, thou hast returned.'” So now, the Echo shoe is on the other foot, for it seems Gaia HAS said words he never heard before, but now he can. From the soul space Narcissus is in, Nature R Us.
That Narcissus is experiencing self love is actually made very plain amongst the dramatic frosting Ovid slathers in this section; “No more my shade deceives me, I perceive ’tis I in thee- I love myself…” We can reckon this “shade” as his shadow self, in Jungian terms. Maybe the shade (as in ghost) is the personality itself, which famously is an illusion, not the true self, not the fountain of our life but the phantasmic outer covering of it. After more Ovidian ranting and raving, Narcissus commences to transform his body. I’d like to know how anyone mistakes this scene as mundane. He develops into the flower of manhood that is not only awakened consciousness, but also an inner partnering of the masculine and feminine, in alchemical terms (the feminine here being Gaia, the soul of Nature). “And while he spoke he rent his garment from the upper edge, and beating on his naked breast, all white as marble, every stroke produced a tint as lovely as the apple streaked with red, or as the glowing grape when purple bloom touches the ripening clusters.”
I assume the thing with the ripped garment is meant to imitate the ragged edges of the narcissus’s tube. Pounding on his chest is of course drawing our attention to his transformation as one of the heart, that physical area associated with the soul. In the center or heart of the flower’s ovary, the masculine fertilizes the feminine parts. In alchemical symbolism I employ, red is wounds and suffering; the white is the post-transformational purified state. He has disabused himself of some of his previous immature and/or dysfunctional ways of being in the world. He has shifted values, beliefs, priorities. Interesting the story isn’t satisfied with the flower stage of transformation; it wants to bring in the whole fruit/fruition aspect of Nature, too. You may recall that the apple of transformation in Snow White’s tale is red and white. Purple is very much a higher consciousness color, as I mentioned in regards to his Mom, Liriope. And grapes, of course, are associated with consciousness shifts as well, because of wine and distilled grape beverages.
Now Ovid paints a pathetic little death scene where Echo, despite the earlier reference to Narcissus now being able to hear the voice of nature, does her echoing again. His sisters the Naiads cut their hair and lay it on his corpse. The Dryads (forest spirits) also mourn, and they were busy getting ready to light his body on fire. However, they turn their backs and when they look again Narcissus has turned into a flower…ta da! “And in his body’s place a sweet flower grew, golden and white, the white around the gold.” A narcissus, of course.
My culture has decided that such stories are… I can’t think of the term, but it means that folks back in the day who were not “scientifically rational” like WE are, were childishly trying to explain how everything in Nature was created. I say that these creation stories are not random fantastical little vignettes that “primitive” minds “made up” about the natural world, as they were presented to me in my youth. These stories are teaching stories. First, they teach of a plant or animal’s attributes; traits, qualities, habits, and behaviors. Also, in the case of a story involving deities, they can be in support of learning the ritual uses of the plant. Then, people know when to use the flower in healing, in ceremonies, or in art forms, for example. We understand how to interpret dreams that feature their energies. Because the attributes of a flower, in this case, invite a certain energetic or ethereal power to the moment, to the space.
‘Narcissus’ describes a number of species and tons of cultivated varieties. However, most of them are spring flowers: energy of new beginnings, or Spring. That designation works if we are to end a transformational process with their appearance, right? Something new is arising; out with the old, in with the new. If, for example, we had an initiation for encouraging youths into young men, narcissus power would be useful. Narcissi are often yellow (or gold, as the quote says) and both yellow and gold are the color of the masculine sun. Also, this plant is a bulbous one, as most folks know. This form accents the masculine symbolism, because the bulbs plus the stem and leaves are like external human male genitalia. The power of the plant resides in the bulb, and the generative power of a man is in the testes. Interestingly to this point, in at least one account, the flowers that Persephone is said to be pulling from the ground are narcissi, upon which a hole appeared in the ground and Hades came up and pulled her down.
The power of the narcissus is therefore also associated with the earth, with Gaia. The bulb-power of the narcissus is strongly rooted in the feminine element of earth, while the upward thrusting, straight power of a stalk is masculine (sorry if it sounds like a porn novel). Though Narcissus’s story features yin introspection, there are these grounding aspects too, in Echo and the naiads and dryads, and in his Mom, who straddles the two feminine elements (if she lives on the riverbank). The narcissus has what’s called contractile roots; they actually pull the plant down further into the soil, like strong toes. This species below could be Narcissus’s; it has the red on the tube. Note the family is the Amaryllis. I have an amaryllis plant with a central bulb that is easily a foot around. I tried to divide it last year, an enterprise that was absolutely impossible, the bulbs have so much staying power. I was not willing to cut it, as I saw recommended on videos. So now he has a very large pot…
And that’s a wrap! Narcissus has balanced his masculine and feminine, discovered the love within, and is a changed youth- or man. He’s a soul man! A sensitive New Age guy. Developmentally, the human trajectory often follows this story. In our youth, we can get away with a certain amount of busyness in the physical reality, and indeed we are often developmentally immersed in physicality to get a handle on how the whole thing works. But then we may discover the drawbacks of relying too much on “the world”. We may indeed tire of its busyness and focus on desire and goals, the impossibility of pleasing others, etc. I find it interesting that we have given Narcissus the role of being the one who is a jerk for spurning others, when really, the spurned one who moans and bitches and experiences betrayal is the most obviously immature, self-centered one. In my culture’s interpretation of the myth, it’s the squeaky wheel who’s gotten greased. Which happens a lot.
It’s my hope that at least one more person on the planet will now give Narcissus the respect he deserves…thanks for reading! Bless you for carin’ as the saying goes…