I've got a beef with the way most folks in my culture perceive Narcissus. He's criticized for pride; his death a just reward for an act of hubris, a word interpreted generally these days as egotism. In these versions, Echo is a pathetic female, ignored and spurned. At best, Narcissus is learning self love, as I've read in interpretations from other Jungian writers. However, I'm going to present my thesis for the (to me) obvious fact that his story is an initiation tale. Adolescent initiation, specifically.
Traditionally, adolescent initiation involves making a deep connection with the soul, for the one who's about to wander away from childhood's natural deep connection with it. The "vision quest" initiation you might have heard tell of is of this sort. At the threshold between the two stages, the adolescent is challenged to look within the soul where the true self waits, and bring forth the gifts of destiny, a vision, an inspiration, to carry into adulthood. The vision isn't always a static thing; it, too, often morphs as we develop understanding. The vision has to be interpretable in some way by the receiver, and obviously we are somewhat limited in our ability to envision a life's destiny when we're not even adults yet and haven't met the challenges thereof. Visions often need updating; they are like the crumbs scattered along the Hansel and Gretel path, and one thing leads to another. Yet in traditional societies, this initiation process, which can take place at any time on our lives, is emblematic of the stage of life between childhood and the creating of a family and full social responsibility. For lots and lots of wisdom on the human developmental trajectory, read Bill Plotkin's Nature and the Human Soul (click on highlighted title to link to Amazon).
Just as Briar Rose of Sleeping Beauty is Everywoman-or-man, so is Narcissus. The fact that we have taken his name in vain as it were, and created a pathology with it, is also emblematic- of a lack of wisdom concerning healthy human initiation into deep soul connection. We could say that, along with that disability goes a lack of self reflection.
This is pretty different from the self (in the sense of personality or ego)-centeredness we associate with the narcissistic personality. From my soul centered point of view, the difficulties experienced by folks who might fit into the narcissistic psychological category are cured by the experience depicted in Narcissus's experience at the pool. This story of the self centered one transforming through nonordinary consciousness ( a large category that includes infatuated love) is common enough in my culture. Scrooge of A Christmas Carol is cured of his narcissism, or seeming total dependence on his ego (by nature a disconnected way to perceive life) to determine his actions. There are many such characters in film; Nick of The Game and Jack of The Fisher King are two films I've reviewed with such portrayals.
Usually such characters are men. In our society at least, they are more strongly tempted to discard soul in favor of "the world". Also, in our culture, soul itself is primarily characterized as female, because it is the connecting principle. As I mentioned in one of the last Sleeping Beauty posts (last one I think), the sword (somewhat less so cutting tools in general) depicts the ability to disconnect through slicing things into parts. This is the intellectual, judging mind. We may love someone until the mind comes in and cuts the experience up into worldly judgments, for example. Also in that post I explained that this masculine power is prone to misuse, and wisdom involves mastery or proper use of that skill that's part of air element.
They're gathered in circles, the lamps light their faces
The crescent moon rocks in the sky
The poets of drumming keep heartbeats suspended
The smoke swirls up and then dies
Would you like my mask? Would you like my mirror?
Cries the man in the shadowing hood
You can look at yourself, you can look at each other
Or you can look at the face, the face of your god.
Here McKennitt has included three ways to perceive and to understand and to enter into, Oneness: self reflection, other-reflection, or a religious/spiritual/wisdom-based door of some kind, "your god". As she says in another of her songs I like, "All roads lead to You."
So next I'll get into the story as set down by the Roman poet Ovid, and we'll meet the archetypal blind seer Tiresias. The fact that a blind seer is consulted about adolescent (fifteen year old) Narcissus is a good clue that the story's about seeing itself, about vision and perception and consciousness and maturing towards a life of wisdom, not about pride at all. We could imagine the "man in the shadowing hood" of McKennitt's lyric as Tiresias, actually.
And by the way, here's a 3 minute clip of mirror-Wise-Foolishness (meaning my favorite archetype, the Fool) compliments of the Marx brothers.