- Robert Kirk Donaldson, LMFT
Sing in Me, Muse
“Sing in me Muse, and through me tell the story”… and so begins the sweeping epic of Homer’s Odyssey.
In the ancient world, creativity and storytelling took people into sacred and mysterious realms. The Greek Muses fueled this creativity. Let’s take a brief look at these Muses, and see if perhaps we can rekindle their spirit into our own daily quests for creativity, joy and adventure.
The Muses are the children of Zeus and Mnemosyne (Memory). This indicates the creative and learning impulse is grounded in both power and memory. Zeus, the king of the God’s, became enchanted with the lure of Memory (Memory, being a Titan, was a generation older than Zeus). In his affair with Memory, Zeus was returning to something familiar and known. Zeus came down from his palace on Mount Olympus, and in the fertile meadows of Pieria where he spent nine nights in the royal bed of Memory. In due time Memory gave birth to their nine daughters, the Muses. For generations, poets and scholars relied on the power of these Muses when engaging in creative or scholarly quests.
The Bards of Ancient Greece
An early example of the inspiration of the Muses were the traveling bards who wandered from village to village reciting the tales of Greek mythology. Before the stories were written, these bards, or poets, kept the stories alive by reciting the great myths from memory. A bard’s arrival in a village was a time for celebration, and the Muses were called upon before he began sharing the stories of adventure. Then, for several evenings in a row the villagers gathered around a big fire, feasting on sumptuous foods, celebrating while listening to the bard bring the stories of old back to life.
These stories were not mere entertainment. In antiquity, stories provided lessons in the deep yearnings and nature of the human psyche. The heroes and gods represented different archetypal aspects of human impulse. The stories were sacred, and people often experienced inner transformations while listening.
Eventually, around the 800s BCE, the ancient oral stories began to be transcribed into epic poetry. Two of the most famous poems of this Bronze Age age came to be known as Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey. Like the bards before him, Homer began each epic with a call to the Muses for inspiration and guidance.
The Nine Muses
Each of the nine Muses had dominion over different areas of creative and scholarly inquiry; Clio was the muse of history, Urania governed astronomy, Melpomene of tragedy, Thalia of comedy, Terpsichore of dance, Calliope of epic poetry, Erato of love poetry, Polyhymnia of songs to the gods, and Euterpe of lyric poetry. Throughout the ages, people have called upon these Muses for inspiration.
The Muses teach us that creativity is a power to be remembered, not discovered. Creativity needs to be nurtured and honored as something innate, natural, and sacred.
Applications for Today
In my work as a psychotherapist, I often encounter people who report feeling hopeless, living lives they see as stagnant and void of meaning. In some cases, most of their energy is spent securing the basics of survival such as food and shelter. In most of these instances, it seems the Muses have been forgotten.
But the creativity is already there. It’s just been silenced, perhaps forgotten.
Psychiatrist CG Jung says, "“We must follow nature as a guide, developing the creative possibilities latent in the patient himself.”
The spark of creative adventure already exists in the depths of our own psyches. It manifests differently in each person. We don’t search for memory outside of ourselves. To find it, we go within and rekindle the spark.
But how do we rekindle that spark? We let the Muses guide us. Memories of childhood often holds a key. What gave one joy as a child?
As a child, I remember making lakes in the mud, crafting imaginary cities out of boxes in my bedroom, and scribbling pictures of the visions in my head with crayons onto rough pieces of construction paper. I wrote stories, and as I grew older I acted in plays, thrilled at the notion of transforming a script into imagined reality on the stage. Before the responsibility of "real life" kicked in, the world was full of life, and pulsing with possibility. The Muses were alive and known.
Just like in the Greek world, for a child the woods are full of playful nymphs, streams flow with imaginary beings, and invisible friends help keep one never alone. As life proceeds and challenges arise, the playful fun of the Muses can be forgotten. But they are still alive. All we need to do is remember.
How did your imagination play as a child?
Invitation to Invoke the Muses
The invitation is to simply move into a silent space where you can feel your breath. Take a breath in, feel it fill your lungs. Let the breath out, connecting you with all the life on this planet.
If it feels appropriate, call to the Muses. "Sing in me, Muse." Then listen for the answer. You can also call to God, the Universe, Nature, Inner Self, or whatever other Higher Power term resonates for you. This is not about belief; it's about inviting an experience.
Focus your energy on these simple questions:
1. What brings me joy? What did I love to do at one time that may be missing in my life today?
If past enjoyments are no longer physically possible, is there some variant you can do instead?
2. What is one creative thing could you do today that would be in service to this joy? This could include going for a walk, lighting a candle, listening to a piece of music, writing in your journal, drawing doodles on scratch paper.
The only rule here is that you can't do anything that hurts yourself or anyone else.... but beyond that anything goes. If it sounds fun, do it.
What is one creative, fun, or adventurous thing can you do you today with the help of a Muse?
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