Rediscovering Our Muses

Finding Our Personal Sources of Inspiration
How Greek Mythology Can Inspire Us Today
copyright 1989 by Tracy Marks
published in Women of Power magazine, winter 1989-90

Women today are searching for meaning, passion and inspiration. We devote ourselves to a spiritual path, become politically active, or immerse ourselves in our chosen art or career. We enter psychotherapy, join women's groups, and attempt to cultivate loving, enduring relationships. Sometimes, for moments, for days or even weeks, we feel content, whole, complete. But then the emptiness returns, and the longing; once more, we question the purpose of our lives, and seek another inner or outer means of experiencing substance and joy.

This continual pursuit may leave us restless and unsatisfied, particularly if we never become attuned to our deepest sources of fulfillment, and learn to replenish ourselves by evoking our inner Muse or Muses.

Each of us has at least one personal Muse, perhaps as many as the legendary nine, or more. In ancient Greece, the Mother Goddess, when referred to as the White Goddess, was the original Muse, the wellspring of all forms of inspiration. Later, she became worshipped as a threefold goddess, and eventually as nine smaller, less significant goddesses.

Most people, when they think of the Muse, associate her with poetic inspiration. But the original Muse encompassed far more than poetry and the creative arts. She was associated with nature, healing, music, celebration, fame, comedy, tragedy, astronomy, and erotic expression. Indeed, she was the catalyst for all forms of inspiration.

The Muse today can be the means by which each of us discovers our own personal sense of meaning, our creativity, our aliveness, our passion. By contacting the sources of inspiration in our lives - through reconnecting with experiences of serenity, pleasure, and empowerment in our past and present (as well as awakening to new forms of meaning) - we can begin to create lives which are in deeper attunement with our own needs.

The Muse is the original creative force. We depend upon her energy for creating and recreating ourselves and our world, so that we live in greater harmony. As stated by Alyce Cornyn-Selby, in an interview for WOMEN IN UNISON magazine, "Creativity is not restricted to the arts. Creativity is an approach to living life." (1) In order to discover, cultivate and continually live from our creativity, we need to find and name our own personal Muse or Muses.

 Let us do so. Let us, along with Carlos Castaneda, find our "path with the heart," and with Joseph Campbell, learn how to"follow our bliss." But first, let us understand the history and meaning of the original Muses, and what messages they bring to us as women today.  

Originally, the Muse, the White Goddess, known as Cerridwen in Celtic mythology, was the primordial Mother, the goddess of creation, nature, healing, love, divination and poetry. "The test of a poet's vision is the accuracy of his portrayal of the White Goddess," Robert Graves wrote in his classic, The White Goddess. "The reason why the hairs stand on end, the eyes water, the throat is constricted, the skin crawls and a shiver runs down the spine when one writes or reads a true poem is that a true poem is necessarily an invocation of the White Goddess or Muse, the Mother of all Living." (2)

Cerridwen bore many sons and daughters, but one son, Apollo, gained the reverence of the emerging patriarchy. Apollo soon became known for poetry and prophecy, and for the Delphic oracle, which had been her domain. The healing arts were then attributed to another son, Aescapulius.

As Greek society developed, Cerridwen became known as Mnemosyne, goddess of Memory, who in Greek tradition is viewed as the first Muse. Her association with Memory has particular relevance to modern psychological theory. According to the object relations school of psychology, which has gained widespread acceptance today, a child begins to develop a sense of self as he/she gains object constancy, which results from internalizing the image or memory of a mother's nurturance and empathy. Without the necessary experiences of symbiotic oneness with the mother, a child is unable to develop the deepseated "memory" of oneness, which provides an internal stability and sense of wellbeing.

In Greek mythology, the nine Muses which evolved from the Muse Mnemosyne were her daughters, the offspring of nine nights of lovemaking with Zeus, who sought ecstasy with her upon Mount Helicon. Some sources claim that three of the daughters, were worshipped as the Muses before the nine became known, and that these three were the original Triple Goddess (Meditation, Memory and Song), goddesses of the new, full and waning moon. Of the nine Muses, Calliope, Clio, Erato, Polymnia and Urania have all been regarded by different historians to be the original three.

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Circle of the Muses
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