Saturday, September 27, 2014


The other night, I was reading the latest installment of a mystery book series. It was all about trying to find an artist who had failed to return to his estranged wife upon a prearranged date. He could have been dead, injured, or just pursuing his Art, but the wife felt there was something amiss – and the search was on.

Since the missing party was an artist, there was a lot of discussion in the novel of the Muses, and the absence of a Muse for actual, physical, art. Could there be a 10th Muse and, if so, why is she so obviously lacking in Greek myth? It made me realize that I know pitifully little about these nine sisters, and decided to take a closer look.

Turns out, there were originally only three Muses, then that number grew to four: Thelxinie, Aoede, Arche, and Melete. (I can't pronounce them either.)

There are various versions of their names, I should point out, especially for the original three. They were said to be the daughters of Zeus and Plusia. Over time, the number stabilized at nine, with their parents being Zeus and Mnemosyne (the personification of “Memory”). The Muses were the teachers of Knowledge and the Arts, but it wasn't until the Romans that they got their symbols and their job descriptions – more or less. They were:

Calliope – a goddess of eloquence and music, she was assigned epic poetry, and carried a lyre, a scroll or a tablet (windows or android is uncertain).

Clio - who's name means “to make famous” - was the Muse of History. She was shown with a scroll or a pile of books.

Euterpe - “Giver of much delight” - was assigned lyric poetry, and was symbolized by the double flute.

Thalia - “rich festivity” - was the Muse assigned to Comedy and pastoral poetry. Her symbols were a Mask of Comedy, a shepherd's staff, and a wreath of ivy.

Melpomene – Was assigned as the Muse of Tragedy. She was symbolized by the Mask of Tragedy, a sword, an ivy wreath, and boots. Her name means “ to celebrate with dance and song”. (Humm... she'd be a hit at Irish wakes.)

Terpischore – was assigned the art of coral song and dancing. She was symbolized by a plectrum and lyre. (A plectrum is sorta kinda like a pick.)

Erato - or “beloved” - got to be the Muse or erotic or love poetry. She is symbolized holding a lyre, and a bottle of Viagra.

Polyhymnia – or “many hymns” - is the Muse of sacred poetry. She is depicted as a young woman standing in a meditative pose. (This way she's not reading banned books, singing filthy lyrics, or dancing enough to rile the Baptists!)

and finally:

Urania – the Muse of Astronomy and astronomical writings. She sits or stands pointing at a globe with a wand.

It would seem, then, that the book is right: there is no Muse of graphic art, holding a pallet and brush. One character speculates that she is an outcast; the 10th muse who hides in the tree line and watches her sisters dance in the clearing. Well...that's creepy. Perhaps the spirit of “Art” is the 10th muse generated by the combined energies of the other nine.

I have found a painting or two showing 10 sisters, but the last is unnamed. Perhaps she belongs with those original three goddesses of inspiration: Melete (Patience) who was born from the movement of water, Mnene (Memory) who makes sound by striking the Air, and Aoide (Song) who lives in the human voice. (I warned you that they had a variety of names!) In combining water, air, and earth (the human body) they could awaken the fire of inspiration, which can birth music, verse, poetry, dance, and tactile arts, within the human spirit.

Finally, reading this book made me think about personal Muses. So many artistic folk had individuals who inspired them to such a degree that they evoked amazing works. So, I began to think: who or what inspires me? I've had a few good friends who have encouraged me, and cheered me on, as I worked on books or articles. When working on Graven Images Oracle, I believe Natalie and I inspired each other. But did we fulfill the role of “Muse”? Hardly.

After careful consideration, it finally dawned on me. My Muse is the island of Erin. I heard her history, and my family's history, before I ever set foot in a school. I've felt the connection of blood, knowing I still had close family there. I practice old ways with their roots in her soil, and I celebrate her in poems, rituals, and daily practice.

I'm no “weepy eyed” Irish, either. I know from whence we hail; the names of the towns and the counties. I Facebook with cousins, and I know the difficulties they faced back in Crossmaglen until recently. I went and saw for myself.

I know how hard my Grandfather worked for eight years in England before he could afford to come here, and then bring his siblings. I marveled how my Grandmother could leave Armagh on her own, at only eighteen. I know the prejudice they faced here, and the names they were called (as I've also been called): Mic, Harp, Teag, and this happy moniker...

We love America, and we are Yanks..but we're Irish-Americans to the core. I've taken the love for that land as my Muse, and I haven't been the first to see her as a Goddess. From the Paps of Anu to the sculpture of Anna Livia in Dublin (the once nicknamed “Floozie in the Jacuzzi”), aspect of the landscape – hills and rivers – are her sacred body.

  Even the name “Erin” comes from the Goddess Eriu, who asked the land's human conquerors to remember her name. To Yeats she was Cathleen Ni Houlihan, a symbolic figure representing a free, independent Irish State. As such, she was featured on the Irish pound note for years. 

For other singers and poets, she was the “Dark Rosaleen” of James Clarence Mangan's poem. The beloved, and besieged isle of Saints and Scholars.

So think – and take your time. Who or what inspires you..has become your Muse? It may not necessarily be in Art (or Astronomy, apparently) but in life. Who or what is the Muse that helps you become a better person?

And, finally, in Sherlock news...

Is it just me, or do others find it endearing that Ben Cumberbatch can't say the word “penguin”, considering his role in the new animated feature? Give a listen... cute.

Have a happy Samhain Season, everyone. It has begun!

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