This is Mythic Deviant with Sea Gabriel. Orpheus: do not look back.

Orpheus’s parentage is in debate. In any event, Apollo, who may or may not be his father (it happened then, it happens now), gave him a lyre. The muse of epic poetry, Calliope, who may or may not be his mother (I really can’t explain that one), taught him to write songs. In addition to his potential parentage, he’s also in good graces with Hecate, Goddess of lots of stuff, including magic and Demeter, Goddess of Growing Things.

As a young man, he went on a road trip with Jason as one of the Argonauts. His ability to play music louder and more enchanting than the Sirens is the what saves them from destruction.

But eventually Orpheus wants to settle down. He falls madly in love with a young woman named Eurydice. The plan a lovely wedding, at the end of which she is stalked by a rape-intending (as so many are) satyr. As she runs to get away, she falls into a nest of vipers and is fatally bitten.

Orpheus discovers her body and is horrified. He plays and sings songs so sad that all life weeps. He decides to travel to the underworld and where he moves the hearts and minds of Persephone and Hades who allow him to lead Eurydice back to life. But there is a condition: he must walk ahead of her and cannot look back until they have returned to the upper world.

He walks ahead of her and just at the entrance to the upper world he hears the call of his own monsters: fear and self-doubt. He turns around to make sure she is with him. And with that she sinks back into the underworld: lost forever.

Orpheus then wanders the world playing sad tunes and limiting his engagement in romantic pursuits to young men. This eventually angers a group of women who tear him to shreds, and send his head and lyre, still playing and singing songs of loss, floating down the river.

Neil Gaiman, in his poem Orphee says “But I’d look back, wouldn’t I? We all would. The ones who can’t look back, who can only stare into the sunrise ahead of them, stare into the glorious future, those people don’t get to visit Hell.”

I love the ‘get to visit Hell,’ because, to me, that’s exactly the case. Hell is the place of second chances, the place we go when we’ve lost too much and we can’t go on without some time to face our demons, alone, in the dark. Time to learn their voices so that we know not to listen when they call.

Only those of us who are willing to turn around once, to look at ourselves, get to go to hell. And only those of us who make peace with our demons, who can walk back into the sunlight again without turning around a second time, get to leave again.

Those of us who don’t look back at all, who can stare fixedly into the sunrise without looking at ourselves, are blinded by the illusion of light without shadow and will spend the rest of our days eternally pursued by the monsters we can, or will, never have the opportunity to face, to defeat.

Orpheus did not make it out. His body did. But his soul remained forever condemned to the underworld by his ego which never made peace with his loss. Rather than defeating his monsters, he brought them back with him.

He did make it to hell, but was so focused on his music, his light, that he forgot to make peace with his dark.

What are you willing to go back for? Which, of your own monsters, do you need to defeat so that they no longer have the power to call you back to hell? How will you know you’re ready to walk out without looking back a second time?

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