|The Love Potion, Evelyn De Morgan|
For all their ubiquity in myths, it is a rare story where the love spell actually works out all right. There's Cupid and Psyche, sort of; he scratches himself with the arrow of love, falls head over heels, and... abducts her, woos her while invisible, and has to abandon her to a torturous set of quests before they can be reunited. And that's the happy one.
It's much easier to find a love spell gone wrong. Sometimes it's played for laughs, as Shakespeare does in A Midsummer Night's Dream. Frequently it's the province of a villainous woman, a "false bride" seeking to blot out a man's memories of his beloved and claim him for herself. (There's a splendid Grimm story, Sweetheart Roland, in which the heroine's loss of her beloved is just one of the many trials she faces.) More often, however, a love spell leads to total disaster. And I'm not talking about Our Hero and Our Heroine not ending up together. I'm talking about the breaking of the world.
|Aphrodite Leading Helen to Paris, Jack Pane|
Helen is a particularly sad case because not only has she been brainwashed, she knows it. The gods can force mortals to do their bidding; Helen knows all too well that no matter how much she might want to go home to Sparta, she will never be able to fight off Aphrodite's mind control. The best she can do is complain about it, and even that arouses the wrath of a goddess who's notoriously vindictive when thwarted. There are plenty of love-spelled bridegrooms unaware that they're about to marry the wrong girl; Helen is fully conscious all the time of just how much she doesn't want what Aphrodite's love spell is forcing on her. Hell with brainwashing - this is torture.
|Tristan and Isolde, Yoshitaka Amano|
|Siegfried Meets Gutrune, Arthur Rackham|
|Brunnhilde on the Pyre, Arthur Rackham|
|Death of Tristan, Robert Engels|
|The Death of Siegfried, Hermann Hendrich|
It's heavy stuff. But it's what we have legends for. We tell those stories to remember what happens when we impose our will on someone else. And in telling them, hopefully we remember that that path rarely leads to dignity, or happiness, or anything we'd want for ourselves.