In Greek Mythology, Narcissus was a beautiful boy who was loved and admired by all that came into contact him, both male and female. At his birth, his mother was approached by a seer who told her that he would grow up to live a long and happy life provided he never knew himself.
Throughout his life, his mother did not allow him to know his identity, and so he became an object of love desire to others; a safe place for people to project their desires onto. He did not know himself and others found comfort in his empty shell. Narcissus, however had no interest in the sexual world. He was a young boy who went about his own business, mostly going on hunting trips in the forest.
Another character in this story in Echo. She is a nymph. Echo loved to talk – this was her ‘thing’ that got her out of trouble! But Juno– Jupiter’s goddess wife got all pissed off with Echo (but that’s another story) for fooling around with her lover, and in her jealously, she took away Echo’s speech and made her only able to repeat the last word of other peoples sentences. This explains how we use the word Echo today. Its quite nice to think that our musical terminology can be traced back to Greek mythology.
So.. one day, when Narcissus was sixteen, he took a walk through the forest to hunt, when Echo caught sight of him and became inflamed (you know in the loins) and she made the best attempt to communicate with him, only able to repeat the last words of his sentences. But Narcissus rejected her as he rejected all sexuality and he pushed her away.
So Echo being rejected hid away in shame in a cave in the forest. She was distraught that she could not have him, and became so overcome by sadness that her body withered away into the rocks so that eventually all that was left of her was her voice… and she became nothing but sound. Echo!
Narcissus is said then to have stopped to rest by a river to drink some water after his long day of hunting, where he saw his reflection for the first time.
And when Narcissus finally sees his own reflection, he became so self absorbed that he could not leave the sight of his own reflection. Narcissus was offered food and shelter plenty of times by other goddesses and nymphs while he lay there, but he rejected all of them, and with this, he eventually came to die there at the side of the river.
When the others came to collect his body for the funeral, they found no body – only beautiful yellow flowers growing where his body has been. They called them the Narcissus flower – or today, better known as the Daffodil.
Here I share one piece of one chapter towards the end of Narcassiss’s story from Ovid’s Metamorphoses – the epic poetic narrative, orginally written in Latin – which can give better depth into the poetic form of conversation Narcissus has with himself. Our ancestors historic story telling can tell us so much about ourselves today still..
What he has seen he does not understand, but what he sees he is on fire for, and the same error both seduces and deceives his eyes.
Fool, why try to catch a fleeting image, in vain? What you search for is nowhere: turning away, what you love is lost! What you perceive is the shadow of reflected form: nothing of you is in it. It comes and stays with you, and leaves with you, if you can leave
‘Has anyone ever loved more cruelly than I? You must know, since you have been a chance hiding place for many people. Do you remember in your life that lasts so many centuries, in all the long ages past, anyone who pined away like this? I am enchanted and I see, but I cannot reach what I see and what enchants me’ – so deep in error is this lover – ‘and it increases my pain the more, that no wide sea separates us, no road, no mountains, no walls with locked doors.
We are only kept apart by a little water! Whenever I extend my lips to the clear liquid, he tries to raise his lips to me. He desires to be held. You would think he could be touched: it is such a small thing that prevents our love. Whoever you are come out to me! Why do you disappoint me, you extraordinary boy? Where do you vanish when I reach for you? Surely my form and years are not what you flee from, and I am one that the nymphs have loved! You offer me some unknown hope with your friendly look, and when I stretch my arms out to you, you stretch out yours. When I smile, you smile back. And I have often seen your tears when I weep tears. You return the gesture of my head with a nod, and, from the movements of your lovely mouth, I guess that you reply with words that do not reach my ears!
I am he. I sense it and I am not deceived by my own image. I am burning with love for myself. I move and bear the flames. What shall I do? Surely not court and be courted? Why court then? What I want I have. My riches make me poor. O I wish I could leave my own body! Strange prayer for a lover, I desire what I love to be distant from me. Now sadness takes away my strength, not much time is left for me to live, and I am cut off in the prime of youth. Nor is dying painful to me, laying down my sadness in death. I wish that him I love might live on, but now we shall die united, two in one spirit.’
The story of Narcissus is quite symbolic of the self awareness we begin to display when we reach our teens. As we grow out of our youth, we become aware that we have an identity that spans across the external world and also involves how others perceive us.
We have to get to know who we are – and we do this by first looking at ourselves. The best scenario is that we like what we see! But that also runs the risk of self absorption – especially if we have never known ourselves before. In the Liz Greene Greek mythology tarot deck, Narcissus is used as a representation of the Page of Cups.
Narcissus’s mother denied him the self exploration of self that comes with life, thinking that she was able to protect him this way. The truth is that we can never hold someone back from knowing themselves, because eventually there will come a time when we have to explore ourselves through the world – though there is no denying that some mothers will do their best to hold on to their children so to keep them ‘safe’ from the perceived evilness out there.
We may begin to think that our external apperance is who we are, hence why we can become so obessed with perfecting it – the make up, the clothes, the way we style ourselves and our bodies.. etc. But there is a difference between presenting ourselves to the world and being overly concerned with our presentaion of selves.
It can get to a point of not caring any more about what is happening in the world and rejecting the help that others offer us, like Narcissus did at the river. Narcissus’ story shows us to learn to get to know and love ourselves, but also to know when to accept help from others so that we can learn more about our reflection. To keep it for ourselves will only cause us pain and suffering.
The story of Narcissus is about someone who never really knew themselves and could not really understand the praise that he got from others. There comes a sadness when we cannot have that love that we seem we idealise – We love ourselves because we realise that we are love- the highest of all things, sometimes forgetting that others are also love, just as we are. We can forget that we are not our bodies, and that our human form is only the external us. Once love is found for the self, it’s be good to remember that we can also love others and be loved by them.
On this journey, – we realise that we are human, that we have an outer form, with facial features and a human body, capable of giving and receiving sexual pleasure. Then we realise that we cannot hold on to the human form, that we are not our reflection and as much as we may try to hold onto it, that reflection in the water can never be caught, or grasped and will always slip through our fingers. When the Page of Cups is drawn in a reading, it usually reminds us for the need to learn to love ourselves, depending what position the card if laid in.
I think the story of Narcasiss is great because it shows us that life is pretty lonely, boring and really damn sad (to the point of becoming invisable, like Echo in the cave) if we do not share ourselves, our bodies of sexual pleasure and inner self with others. If we spend time wollowing in what we think the world should be like, the symbolic representating of what the ideal of love is – what we think the world ought to be, then we will dig ourselves into sadness, which pretty much feels like dying, and symbolically speaking IS dying.
You cannot help a dreamer who only dreams and does nothing but stare into those dreams. Everyone must stand up and walk if they want to experience the love they see in themselves when they look in the mirror.
It shows us that we have to appreciate ourselves and our ideals about love, while also ensuring that we can interact with the outside world and share that with others.
I mean, what would be the point in living if you had to live with only your own reflection. That’s so dead – literally!