By Nancy Tenfelde Clasby (auth.)
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Venus, the jealous mother god, sets all sorts of seemingly impossible tasks for Psyche to perform as the price for a reunion. At last Venus orders her to go to Proserpine, the Queen of the Underworld, to bring back some of Proserpine’s beauty. Psyche faces all the horrors encountered by heroes as they descend into the underworld of death, but she returns to life with a little box containing the Queen’s beauty. Psyche cannot resist opening the forbidden box; Proserpine’s fatal beauty envelops her and she falls into a deep sleep.
The repetitions, I NTRODUCTION 25 the stylized gestures and sounds, reach beyond the sense-based world as human reflections of the cosmic order. Enacted in ritual worship—expressed in poetry, music, dance, drawings—the harmonies of the universe displaced eating and sleeping as the vital centers of attention. Sexuality, eating, the hunt were incorporated and re-enacted in ritual, becoming sacred symbols. The fertility rites, the ritual meals, and hunting dances were invested with an intensity beyond that of biological processes.
To be is now to mean. In such a world, the sacred myths are pure meaning—holy, raised above the ontological level of commonplace information. Art and ritual are efforts to make the overwhelming brightness assimilable, as Shekhina, the Queen, mediates the light of the Lord for human beings. To create symbols, or better, to be a symbol, to enact it in life, is to be Shekinah, God’s glory. No one may see the face of God, but all feel the pulse of the divine energy. The religions of the Axial Age focused on the compassion represented by the golden rule to do unto others as you would be done by.