What makes mythology far more insightful than a news item or a real story is that it is multilayered. A myth is best defined as a true story that never happened, and as such, can potentially convey in one telling many insights.
I would like to illustrate this concept using the famous myth of Narcissus. Originally, it is a an etiological story, which means that it is designed to explain the origin of the beautiful flower that grows near water sources belonging to the amaryllis family and appears to be looking down at its own magnificent image.
The flower, yellow and white, has six petal like petals, which is a curious synchronicity considering that in the Kabbalistic Tree of Life, the sixth sphere is called Beauty, colored yellow and is associated with love and the throne of God. In the Chakra system, the heart is symbolized by the six pointed star, Anahata. So at least symbolically speaking we are talking about a story of six, in numerology and Kabbalah associated with both sacrifice and love.
There are many versions to this ancient myth made popular by Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Here is a short one which excludes dear Echo:
Handsome Narcissus, the precursor of the selfie generation, fell in love with his own image that was reflected back to him by a crystal-clear pool. He was not the sharpest knife in the drawer so it never occurred to him that it was his image that he was enamored with. He begun wooing the image hoping to start a conversation. However, since the image snubbed him, giving him the silent treatment, Narcissus eventually reached out to give the beautiful reflection a passionate embrace. Unfortunately, the image swiftly moved and poor Narcissus fell into the pool, drowning in his unfulfilled love. In the spot where he once reclined, a flower emerged, bearing his name but not his karma.
Matt Collishaw’s Narcissus
Like Narcissus, we can get obsessed with our own image. Alas, now a days, we easily fall in love with the digital version of our lives, only to realize it has nothing to do with who we really are. We too must be careful not to drown in the binary pool of selfieness…
Many psychologists could not miss the opportunity to use the myth to explain different disorders. For example, Havelock Ellis, an English sexologist in the late 19th century, coined the term narcissus-like to refer to excessive masturbation and self-pleasure. I guess he means auto-eroticism. Freud wrote a whole paper on the subject and today psychologists classify NPD (Narcissistic Personality Disorder) as an official cluster B personality disorder that affects 1% of the population. But looking at Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat, maybe a new poll needs to be conducted.
Oscar Wilde retells the story and changes the narrative’s point of view from Narcissus to the pool. In his own words:
When Narcissus died the pool of his pleasure changed from a cup of sweet waters into a cup of salt tears, and the Oreads came weeping through the woodland that they might sing to the pool and give it comfort. And when they saw that the pool had changed from a cup of sweet waters into a cup of salt tears, they loosened the green tresses of their hair and cried to the pool and said, ‘We do not wonder that you should mourn in this manner for Narcissus, so beautiful was he.’
‘But was Narcissus beautiful?’ said the pool. ‘Who should know that better than you?’ answered the Oreads. ‘Us did he ever pass by, but you he sought for, and would lie on your banks and look down at you, and in the mirror of your waters he would mirror his own beauty.’
And the pool answered, ‘But I loved Narcissus because, as he lay on my banks and looked down at me, in the mirror of his eyes I saw ever my own beauty mirrored.’
That is a beautiful rendition of the story. A meeting of two narcissistic personalities, perfect for each other. The pool and Narcissus both suffering from NPD, each using the other to see their gorgeousness. But there is a kernel of truth to this eloquent retelling. Relationships are the best mirrors we have. Libra, the sign of relationships is ruled by Venus, which symbol is a handheld mirror.
It is through our partner that we learn who we are. It is our relationships that reflect back to us our strengths as well as weaknesses. In many ways, the pool showed Narcissus its beauty just as Narcissus’ eyes reflected to the pool its own splendor. In other words, the way we reflect through our partner’s eyes serves as the best selfie. Wilde story makes me think of an old Talmudic tale. It likens the eye to the world:
The world is like a human eyeballTalmud – Derech Eretz Zuta 9
The white of the eye is the ocean surrounding the world
The iris is this continent
The pupil is Jerusalem
And the image in the pupil is the Holy Temple.
In kabbalah, it is believed that God, wanting to reflect on himself/herself, created the universe as a mirror so. For this reason, we were created in the images of God, or better still, we are the image of God. The Sufi say that a perfect human sees God reflected in everyone they meet. So in many ways, we are God’s selfie. According to Kabbalah as well as Sufism and countless other mystical systems, the fact that we are God’s image helps explain how everything is One. “There is no me, no you,” the Buddha’s Heart Sutra claims. There is no God or creation. There is only oneness. When we truly get it and when they start teaching this in schools, then there will be no terrorist blowing people up. There will be no crime or poverty. There will be no homelessness or extinct species. So its time for humanity to wake up and smell Narcissus.