These were the work notes I assembled from Wikipedia and some of the publications on my bookshelf as I was working on this Charon video. I probably first heard of it from Robert Graves “Greek Myths” but ‘paying the ferryman’ is, at least in my generation, a common term. In the back of it all is the love story of Cupid and the mortal Psyche. In the film there’s the love stories of Margaret and Annette and the deep sleep that Psyche unleashed, has to be the Dreamtime when the Aboriginal caves we visited with Grace McGuigan, were formed. The only sign was a collapsed hole in dry-grass paddock on a remote agistment property of theirs.
The long drive across the Western District’s plains is ‘other-worldy’. Monotonous, soporofic and beautiful in storm and dusk, unpleasant in mid-summer heat. Grace McGuigan, partner of Col whose family were long time Western District sheep farmers, was a keen amateur film-maker. She came to a co-op screening and asked me for some help to have a Super 8 print made of one of her films. She particularly needed help to transfer to it, the magnetic stripe soundtrack she had made. She came to our house in Albert Park and I worked on it for hours (it wasn’t that simple then to transfer a synced track. It was done using sprocketed tape and a Synchrodeck) and she invited Annette and I to a weekend stay with them.
The images I took around their property, of the paddocks and wind blown grass made her suddenly realise that she lived somewhere beautiful and in a landscape that could tell a story in itself, (she and Col liked stories). I lost touch with her when I moved to Sydney. The record of the days we spent with her and husband Col is pure ACMI archive material. I may raid it like I have for this film. I’ve included it uncut, silent, below.
Charon, in Greek mythology, the son of Erebus and Nyx (Night), whose duty it was to ferry over the Rivers Styx and Acheron those souls of the deceased who had received the rites of burial. In payment he received the coin that was placed in the mouth of the corpse.
In Greek mythology and Roman mythology, Charon or Kharon (/ˈkɛərɒn, -ən/; Greek Χάρων) is a psychopomp, the ferryman of Hades who carries souls of the newly deceased across the rivers Styx and Acheron that divided the world of the living from the world of the dead.
Charon is the ferryman who, after receiving a soul from Hermes, would guide them across the rivers Styx and/or Acheron to the underworld. At funerals, the deceased traditionally had an obol (small coin) placed over their eye or under their tongue, so they could pay Charon to take them across.
The coin used to pay Charon for passage across the River Styx was also called a ‘naulum’ from the Greek word meaning “boat fare”. In the ancient death rituals the mouth of the dead was sealed with such a token or talisman and represented the boat fare to pay Charon the ferryman.
Seriously though, it was a symbol. The very low value of the obol that was placed in the mouths of the dead to pay for their passage across the river Styx underscored that death makes no distinction between the rich and the poor — all must pay the same because all must die, and a rich person can’t take their wealth into death or bring more than an obol to buy a better or grander entrance into Hades. Rather than having been implemented to benefit Charon financially, I believe the policy was in effect to make sure all of the souls understood they were on an equal playing field the second they set foot on that barge. Given the access to wealth the underworld gods and daimons had by dwelling underground where all the minerals and metals were, it is likely they were tossed away as unimportant after having served their symbolic function.
In Jungian psychology, the psychopomp is a mediator between the unconscious and conscious realms. It is symbolically personified in dreams as a wise man or woman, or sometimes as a helpful animal.
Psychopomps have been depicted at different times and in different cultures as anthropomorphic entities, horses, deer, dogs, whip-poor-wills, ravens, crows, vultures, owls, sparrows and cuckoos. When seen as birds, they are often seen in huge masses, waiting outside the home of the dying.
And Psyche perceived there the last ebbing of her fortune that she was now thrust openly upon death, who must go down,
of her own motion, to Hades and the Shades. And straightway she climbed to the top of an exceeding high tower, thinking
within herself, “I will cast myself down thence: so shall I descend most quickly into the kingdom of the dead.” And the tower, again, broke forth into speech: “Wretched Maid! Wretched Maid! Wilt thou destroy thyself? If the breath quit thy body, then wilt thou indeed go down into Hades, but by no means return hither. Listen to me. Among the pathless wilds not far from this place lies a certain mountain, and therein one of hell’s vent-holes. Through the breach a rough way lies open, following which thou wilt come, by straight course, to the castle of Orcus.
And thou must not go empty-handed. Take in each hand a morsel of barley-bread, soaked in hydromel; and in thy mouth two pieces of money. And when thou shalt be now well onward in the way of death, then wilt thou overtake a lame ass laden with wood, and a lame driver, who will pray thee reach him certain cords to fasten the burden which is falling from the ass: but be thou cautious to pass on in silence. And soon as thou earnest to the river of the dead, Charon, in that crazy bark he hath, will put thee over upon the further side. There is greed even among the dead: and thou shalt deliver to him, for the ferrying, one of those two pieces of money, in such wise that he take it with his hand from between thy lips. And as thou passest over the stream, a dead old man, rising on the water, will put up to thee his mouldering hands, and pray thee draw him into the ferry-boat. But beware thou yield not to unlawful pity.
“When thou shalt be come over, and art upon the causeway, certain aged women, spinning, will cry to thee to lend thy hand to their work; and beware again that thou take no part therein; for this also is the snare of Venus, whereby she would cause thee to cast away one at least of those cakes thou bearest in thy hands. And think not that a slight matter; for the loss of either one ·of them will be to thee the losing of the light of day. For a watch dog exceeding fierce lies ever before the threshold of that lonely house of Proserpine. Close his mouth with one of thy cakes; so shalt thou pass by him, and enter straightway into the presence of Proserpine herself. Then do thou deliver thy message, and taking what she shall give thee, return back again; offering to the watch-dog the other cake, and to the ferryman that other piece of money thou hast in thy mouth. After this manner mayst thou return again beneath the stars.
But withal, I charge thee, think not to look into, nor open, the casket thou bearest, with that treasure of the beauty of the divine countenance hidden therein.”
So spake the stones of the tower; and Psyche delayed not, but proceeding diligently after the manner enjoined, entered into the house of Proserpine, at whose feet she sat down humbly, and would neither the delicate couch nor that divine food the goddess offered her, but did straightway the business of Venus. And Proserpine filled the casket secretly, and shut the lid, and delivered it to Psyche, who fled therewith from Hades with new strength. But coming back into the light of day, even as she hasted now to the ending of her service, she was seized by a rash curiosity. “Lo! now,” she said within herself, “my simpleness! who bearing in my hands the divine loveliness, heed not to touch my self with a particle at least therefrom, that I may please the more, by the favor of it, my fair one, my beloved.” Even as she spoke, she lifted the lid; and behold! within, neither beauty, nor any thing beside, save sleep only, the sleep of the dead, which took hold upon her, filling all her members with its drowsy vapor, so that she lay down in the way and moved not, as in the slumber of death.
And Cupid being healed of his wound, because he would endure no longer the absence of her he loved, gliding through the narrow window of the chamber wherein he was holden, his pinions being now repaired by a little rest, fled forth swiftly upon them, and coming to the place where Psyche was, shook that sleep away from her, and set him in his prison again, awaking her with the innocent point of his arrow. “Lo! thine old error again,” he said, “which had like once more to have destroyed thee! But do thou now what is lacking of the command of my mother: the rest shall be my care.’: With these words, the lover rose upon the air; and being consumed inwardly with the greatness of his love, penetrated with vehement wing into the highest place of heaven, to lay his cause before the father of the gods. And the father of gods took his hand in his, and kissed his face, and said to him, “At no time, my son, hast thou regarded me with due honor. Often hast thou vexed my bosom, wherein lies the disposition of the stars, with those busy darts of thine. Nevertheless, because thou hast grown up between these, mine hands, I will accomplish thy desire.” And straightway he bade Mercury call the gods together; and, the council-chamber being filled, sitting upon a high throne, “Ye gods,” he said, “all ye whose names are in the white book of the Muses, ye know yonder lad. It seems good to me that youthful heats should by some means be restrained. And that all occasion may be taken from him, I would even confine him in the bonds of marriage. He has chosen and embraced a mortal maiden. Let him have fruit of his love, and possess her for ever.”
Thereupon he bade Mercury produce Psyche in heaven; and holding out to her his ambrosial cup, “Take it,” he said, “and live for ever; nor shall Cupid ever depart from thee.” And the gods sat down together to the marriage-feast.
On the first couch lay the bridegroom, and Psyche in his bosom. His rustic serving-boy bare the wine to Jupiter; and Bacchus to the rest. The Seasons crimsoned all things with their roses. Apollo sang to the lyre, while a little Pan prattled on his reeds, and Venus danced very sweetly to the soft music. Thus, with due rites, did Psyche pass into the power of Cupid; and from them was born the daughter whom men call Voluptas.