Most of us are quite versed in narcissism (which comes from the Greek Hero, Narcissus) and people that are associated with that trait. Being totally self-absorbed and not really caring about you or what you have to say about anything really. Echo, likewise, finds its roots in the same story with Narcissus. To truly find out where it all came from we need to take a step back in time.
The story about Narcissus & Echo is a classic tale from Greek Mythology and is sad and beautiful at the same time. But if you look deeper into the mysticism, allegory and symbolism behind the text, you will find a much more profound spiritual meaning that is still applicable and much in need today.
Echo was a beautiful, woodland nymph who had a penchant for excessive talking, always wanting to get the last word in either in idle chat or argument. One day the Goddess, Hera was trying to find her husband, whom she believed was being entertained by the nymphs. Upon Hera’s arrival, Echo proceeded to talk to her in an excessive manner, allowing all of the other nymphs to escape her wrath. Hera, quite aware of the betrayal of Echo, meted out the following punishment: “You shall forfeit the use of that tongue with which you have cheated me, except for that one purpose you are so fond of—reply. You shall still have the last word, but no power to speak first.”
After some time had passed, Echo came across Narcissus pursuing deer up the side of a mountain and was instantly enthralled by his unparalleled beauty. She wanted nothing more than to talk to him, but fate had already cursed her ability to communicate. For the longest time, she did not try to speak to him, but her desire eventually got the better of her.
After Echo trailed him for some time, Narcissus eventually became aware that he was being followed. He spoke aloud, “Who’s here?” Echo replied, “Here.” Narcissus looked around him but saw no one. He called out again, “Come.” Echo replied, “Come.” Narcissus answered, “Why do you shun me?” Echo replied the same. “Let us join one another,” Narcissus said. Echo replied with immense emotion the same words and suddenly leaped from her spot to appear in front of Narcissus. Startled, Narcissus jumped back and said, “Hands off! I would rather die than you should have me!” “Have me,” Echo replied.
Mortified and embarrassed, Echo retreated to the woods and caves, but always stayed relatively close to Narcissus. His allure was quite powerful. His treatment of Echo was not unheard of though; all of the nymphs (or anybody else, for that matter) that had made advances to him were likewise shunned.
Sometime later, a maiden that had been shunned by Narcissus uttered a prayer that he would also experience the same treatment, to love and not have love returned to you. A Goddess heard the prayer and decided to answer it. The karmic tidal wave is on its way.
One day, after a long hunt, Narcissus came to a clear pond in a cave and decided to have a rest and a drink from the inviting pool. As he leaned down to drink, he saw the most beautiful image, himself. Although he did not perceive it to be himself; he believed it to be a woodland spirit. He spoke, “Why, beautiful being, do you shun me? Surely my face is not one to repel you. The nymphs love me, and you yourself look not indifferent upon me. When I stretch forth my arms you do the same; and you smile upon me and answer my beckonings with the like.” Every time he outstretched his arms the water would be disturbed and the image would vanish. He became quite sad and began to cry, his tears once again disturbing the water and the image. Distressed, he spoke again, “Stay, I entreat you! Let me at least gaze upon you, if I may not touch you.” With the water stilled and his reflection staring back at him lovingly, he found no reason to ever leave the spot again. He was slowly wasting away from lack of food and water.
Echo, meanwhile, had never left him; always keeping him in sight. As Narcissus was breathing his last breath, he said, “Farewell.” To which Echo replied, “Farewell.” She also passed away shortly afterward, but her spirit remains, as she answers us in the valleys and caves when we shout.
After the passing of Narcissus, the water nymphs decided to have a funeral pyre. But when they went to retrieve the body, it was nowhere to be found. In its place was a flower with white petals and a purple center that today we know as the Narcissus. This flower typically grows near a water source and is always bending its head to the water, not the sun, just like Narcissus used to do.
The hidden meaning in this beautiful allegory is this: Contemplation in meditation on one’s self that will cause you to reach a point of Passover where the flesh becomes one with nature. The person becomes a flower. The person passed over to a new realm of understanding because in meditation you overcome the self, the physical. You look within yourself, as the reflection from the water represents. You raise yourself to the second level of consciousness, which in Greek Mysticism is water, where you begin to separate from thought. In Scripture, we are told to “watch.” This is exactly what Narcissus was doing. It was a journey to overcome the self. A lesson we can all take something from.