Stories of Eros
The Two Love Gods
Most of us think we know Eros, the infant son or companion of the Goddess Aphrodite, and the original cliche of the cherubic putto (amazing Italian phrase meaning ‘plump child’) who pierces lovers with arrows. Aphrodite was born – fully formed – from the foam of the sea, and Eros was born just as painlessly alongside her with a twin named Himeros (Desire). Baby Eros has led to our popular understanding of the erotic as sexual love, but he's considered the God of unrequited love, which, in the opinion of some is the most erotic kind.
The other, older Eros is a truly self-formed being, appearing at the dawn of creation, and not so much the God of love as the God of procreation, creativity and nature. It's no accident that these two Gods share the same name, the Greeks must have known that the erotic was a complex and vast experience.
Eros and Creativity
'For I must tell you that we artists cannot tread the path of Beauty without Eros keeping company with us and appointing himself as our guide.' - Thomas Mann
At first glance, conflating the word 'erotic' with the experience of artistic creation, childbirth and even... gardening seems nonsensical, but that didn't stop Freud. The psychoanalyst believed that individuals are motivated by two fundamental 'drives': Eros and Thanatos, otherwise thought of as creative and destructive. For Freud, the libido isn't just responsible for sex, it's about taking pleasure in survival, so everything from drinking a glass of water or making a friend, to creating art satisfies in some way the libidinal drive. Carl Jung compared the libido to the idea of élan vital, 'the vital force.'
The Dark Side of Eros
'At the beginning there was only Chaos, Night (Nyx), Darkness (Erebus), and the Abyss (Tartarus).' - Aristophanes
In some versions of the Eros story, Night and Darkness came together, laid an egg and out came Eros, to give birth in turn to the whole human race. In some iconography, he's portrayed with a demonic appearance, and even his cherubic representation carries a bow and arrow, and sometimes a whip. Our existence is bookended on both sides by darkness, and love could be seen as the darkest mystery in between. This creation story comes from Orphic myths, a religion based on the mythological writings of Orpheus. There's no Eros without Thanatos, and there's no better story of the death drive than Orpheus in the Underworld. When his lover Euridice was bitten by a snake, Orpheus travelled to Hades in hopes of bringing her back. The God of Death said, 'she will follow you home, but must not turn and look at her before you read the upper world.' Full of mistrust, Orpheus turned around at the last second and lost Euridice forever. 'Eros is very close to death. And both things, in a way, balance each other', said Chilean novelist Isabel Allende. Have you ever had an idea that came to you in the depths of mourning or heartbreak? That's where Eros and Thanatos intermingle.
Eros and Psyche
In the most famous story of Eros, the chubby cherub shapeshifts into a beautiful youth. Psyche was a mortal woman so beautiful that she incurred the jealous wrath of the Goddess Aphrodite, who told Eros, 'give your mother a revenge as sweet as her injuries are great; infuse into the bosom of that haughty girl a passion for some low, mean, unworthy being.' When Eros laid eyes on Psyche however, so startling was her beauty that he accidentally wounded himself with one of his arrows and fell in love. Although many admired her beauty, no men seemed to fall in love with Psyche, and her father consulted an oracle who told him that Psyche was destined to marry a monster. Lonely and doomed, Psyche lived alone until Eros sent a Zephyr to carry her up to Mount Olympus, where she lived in his castle. As Eros visited her only at night, Psyche never saw what her true love looked like, and her envious sisters started to instil doubt in her mind about him. One night she looked at him from the light of a candle, and Eros caught her and stormed out, feeling betrayed. In penance, Psyche asked her nemesis, Aphrodite, to set her a series of tasks to win back the love of Eros. Aphrodite chose challenges specifically to diminish Psyche's youth and beauty, and after numerous tortures the other Gods stepped in and reunited the lovers, making Psyche immortal. With Psyche living on Mount Olympus with her husband, the men on earth forgot about her and again worshipped Aphrodite as the true Goddess of beauty.
Ancient Greek Love Magic
In the Museum of Arts and Trades in Hamburg, you can find an example of Ancient Greek erotic magic in their collection of talismans. Inscribed into a haematite gemstone, Ares, The God of War, is leading a trussed-up Aphrodite around by the cord that binds her hands. You can find similar stones with the image of Eros and Psyche, and apparently, you can even find examples with the roles reversed. Archaeologists have also discovered wax effigies of men and women bound with cord and stuck all over with thirteen pins. All these objects were used by ancient Greek men and women alike in 'Eros' rituals, where the aim was to psychically torture the object of desire until they submitted. For those less hellbent on dominance and submission, there was also 'Philia' magic, related more to the idea of binding lovers closer together. Historians tend to assume that the curse-like 'Eros' spells were practised by men, and the healing 'Philia' spells by women, but the existence of gemstones depicting Psyche tying up and torturing Eros would rather disprove that theory.
Eros in Astrology
There are various aspects of our astrological charts that can tell us more about our sex lives; Venus rules love, Mars rules sex, creativity and the expression of anger, Black Moon Lilith reveals secret shame. Eros is an asteroid, rather than a planet, so may not show up in your average birth chart, but finding out its position in the sky at the time of our birth can give us an extra insight into our ever-complex sexual preferences. Eros is associated with astrology in another way through yet another myth. To escape from the fearsome monsters Typhon and Echidna, Eros and Aphrodite became a pair of fish who swam away to safety and became the constellation Pisces. This might explain why Pisces are boundary-free and sensual in their approach to lovemaking.
Burn Eros when you make love, that's a given. But to experience the full erotic potential of Cyres's third scent, light it ceremoniously for morning pages, late-night bursts of creativity, casting spells or the first moments of solitary pain after a break-up. Eros is for the living.