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Incubation & Temple Sleep

Anyone who is interested in dream interpretation will be familiar with the works of Carl Jung and his allegorical dream-scapes of the collective unconscious. In truth, the allegorical expression of ideas pervades literature, art, music, religion, politics, business, and advertising – as well as everyday speech. For the magical practitioner, the immense richness of the allegorical tradition was thoroughly mined and exploited by no less an individual than Aleister Crowley himself, whose grasp of classical understanding knew no bounds.

Jung saw dreams as the psyche’s attempt to communicate important things to the individual, and he valued them highly, perhaps above all else, as a way of knowing what was really going on in that individual’s mind. Dreams are also an important part of the development of the personality – a process that he called ‘individuation’. If dreams are sometimes difficult to comprehend it is because we need to understand that dreams express themselves through the use of symbols; of symbols, he wrote: “A symbol is the best possible formulation of a relatively unknown psychic content”.

He also voiced his opinion that the dream is ‘a spontaneous self-portrayal, in symbolic form, of the actual situation in the unconscious and we can see that by treating the dream images as symbols, with the images all representing elements within the dreamer’s own psyche, and by asking for the dreamer’s personal associations to the dream, as well as amplifying other images with relation to archetypal themes, we are able to understand a dream and what it may be trying to communicate to the dreamer. [Man & His Symbols]

Similarly, the concept of magic is also communicated by a whole host of signs and imagery – where nothing is as it seems. The magical world is concealed behind a veil of analogy and allegory; similes and metaphor; sigils and symbols; praxis and motif; illusion and allusion; myth and legend – all of which is a complicated shorthand for the techniques of magic and its practices. The amount of knowledge needed to understand esoteric symbolism can border on staggering for the uninitiated at times, since the knowledge and science they represent is not taught outside of esoteric circles for a valid reason; in fact, in almost every instance what people have been taught is often the exact opposite of the truth. And symbols and sigils, allegories and metaphors, are used as esoteric concepts because of the amount of encapsulated knowledge they represent, which is not always easily explainable to the layman.

Some theories propose that myths began as allegories for natural phenomena: Apollo representing the sun, Poseidon representing water, and so on. According to another theory, myths began as allegories for philosophical or spiritual concepts: Athena representing wise judgment, Aphrodite desire, and so on. In this context, these figures are allegories, representing symbolically abstract concepts, or Muses, goddesses of the liberal arts … Their presence in connection with a library, for example, could allude to the pursuit of virtue through the study of the sciences and arts.

By entering our consciousness as ‘symbolically abstract concepts’ these classical entities do not in any way infringe on our belief in whatever godhead is pertinent to our personal faith, path or tradition when it comes to dreams and divination. When referring to an individual, it generally means a person or personified force, who is the source of inspiration for a creative artist. Often filmmakers talk about a certain actor being a muse – meaning the actor inspired a movie. Writers, painters, musicians, and other artists have muses and if we are searching for inspiration in any of the sciences or arts, we could do worse than call upon any of these classic ladies for originality.

In Greek mythology, the nine Muses were goddesses of the various arts such as music, dance, and poetry. Blessed with wonderful artistic talents themselves, they also possess great beauty, grace, and allure. Their gifts of song, dance, and joy helped the gods and mankind to forget their troubles and inspired musicians and writers to reach ever greater artistic and intellectual heights. The Muses were the daughters of Zeus and the Titan Mnemosyne (Memory) after the couple slept together for nine consecutive nights. There was a muse who created the inspiration for every aspect of artistic and scientific thought, and the ancient Greeks believed that by communing with the actual Muses, they could achieve great things:

  • Calliope, traditionally the most important (beautiful-voiced and representing epic poetry and rhetoric), she inspired Homer as he wrote The Iliad and The Odyssey and was normally depicted with a writing tablet in her hand. Calliope was the mother of Orpheus, the great musical hero of Greek mythology, and Linus, the inventor of rhythm and melody; their father is often named as the Olympian Apollo.
  • Clio (glorifying and representing history) was sometimes referred to in her capacity as ‘the Proclaimer, glorifier and celebrator of history, great deeds and accomplishments’, she is often represented with an open parchment scroll, a book, or a set of tablets.
  • Erato (lovely and representing singing), she is the Muse of lyric and love poetry, particularly erotic poetry, and mimic imitation. In the Orphic Hymn to the Muses, it is Erato who charms the sight and since the Renaissance she has mostly been shown with a wreath of myrtle and roses, holding a lyre, or a small kithara, a musical instrument often associated with Apollo.
  • Euterpe (well-delighting and representing lyric poetry), was Muse or patron of lyric poetry or flute playing and her attribute was the double-flute. She inspired the development of liberal and fine arts in ancient Greece, serving as an inspiration to poets, dramatists, and authors (such as Homer). According to tradition, ancient Greek musicians would invoke the aid of Euterpe to inspire, guide and assist them in their compositions. This would often take the form of a prayer for divine inspiration from this minor goddess.
  • Melpomene, patron of tragedy and lyre playing. In this guise, she was portrayed holding a tragic mask or sword, and sometimes wearing a wreath of ivy and cothurnus boots. The name ‘Melpomene’ is actually derived from an ancient Greek meaning, ‘to celebrate with dance and song’. In the early days of her worship, she was considered to be the Muse of singing. Over time, the way the people viewed her changed and she became the muse of tragedy; in some traditions, she remained the muse of both, depending on which custom you adhere to. In most works of art, she is usually shown holding a mask, which is the symbol for tragic theatre; it is usually speculated that she represented tragedy after the Greeks invented theatre and regularly performed tragic plays. She became the Muse of Tragedy during the classical period of ancient Greece.
  • Polyhymnia (depicted as very serious, pensive and meditative, and often holding a finger to her mouth)), the Muse of sacred poetry, sacred hymn (representing hymns to the gods and heroes), dance, and eloquence as well as pantomime. In the Classical era, when the Mousai were assigned specific artistic and literary spheres, Polyhymnia was named Muse of religious compositions. In Bibliotheca historica, Diodorus Siculus wrote, “Polyhymnia, because by her great (polle) praises (humnesis) she brings distinction to writers whose works have won for them immortal fame…”
  • Terpsichore (delighting in dance), the Muse of music, song, dance and chorus. She lends her name to the word ‘terpsichorean’ which means ‘of or relating to dance’. In the Classical era, Terpsikhore was named Muse of choral song and dancing, and depicted with a lyre and plectrum. According to the traditions and beliefs of the ancient Greeks, a dramatist writing a play or drama – including the songs for the chorus – would invoke the aid of Terpsichore to guide and assist him in his work. The invocation took the form of a prayer for divine inspiration from this Muse. The theatre was an important and primary form of Greek entertainment and plays were often combined with music and dance. Plays consisted of three major parts: the prologue, the chorus and the scenes. In Greek drama, the chorus, or the singers, told the story, not the actors. Actors used gestures and masks to act out their parts and changed roles by changing masks. 
  • Thalia (blooming and representing comedy), was crowned with ivy, wearing boots and holding a comic mask in her hand. Many of her statues also hold a bugle and a trumpet (both used to support the actors’ voices in ancient comedy), or occasionally a shepherd’s staff or a wreath of ivy. Patron of comedy who, according to the Greek poet Hesiod, presided over idyllic poetry She was the mother of the Corybantes, celebrants of the Great Mother of the Gods, Cybele – the father being Apollo, the god related to music and dance.
  • Urania (a heavenly being representing astronomy). Like the other Muses, Urania is depicted as a beautiful woman and generally draped in a flowing cloak. The globe and the compass are used to identify her in ancient art she often gestures towards them with a short staff. This likely reflects the connection between astronomy and navigation in the ancient world. As goddess of astronomy, she could read the stars better than anyone else and watched the movements of various celestial bodies in order to predict the future. In fact, her namesake was Uranus, the primordial Titan who embodied the sky – and her grandfather. This was a very powerful concept in Greek mythology, as the sky was a place of divine power. Zeus, for example, was also a being associated with the sky. As the granddaughter of Uranus and daughter of Zeus, Urania’s role as the Muse of astronomy is not inconsequential. She contained some of the power and authority of her forebearers.

The Classical Muses were believed to live on Mt. Olympus where they entertained their father and the other Olympian gods with their great artistry and extensive knowledge, but later tradition also placed them on Mt. Helicon in Boeotia where there was a major cult centre to them; or on Mt. Parnassus where the Castalian spring was a favourite destination for poets and artists. On Mount Olympus, Apollo Mousagetes was, in a certain sense, the choir leader of the Muses, although his attachment was not limited to music, as he fathered many children with his musical ensemble! Calliope was the mother of Orpheus, the wonderfully gifted lyre player whose father was said by some to be Apollo himself.

Although bringers of festivity and joy, the Muses were not to be trifled with when it came to the superiority of their artistic talents. The nine daughters of Pierus foolishly tried to compete musically with the Muses on Mt. Helicon and were all turned into birds for their impertinence. The Thracian musician Thamyres (son of the nymph, Agriope) was another who challenged the Muses in music and after inevitably coming second best to the goddesses was punished with blindness, the loss of his musical talent, and his singing voice – the subject of a tragedy by Sophocles. The Muses also acted as judges in another musical competition, this time between Apollo on his kithara and the satyr Marsyas, who played the aulos given to him by Athena. Naturally, Apollo won and Marsyas was flayed alive for his troubles.

Hesiod in his Theogony claimed that he spoke with the Muses on Mt. Helicon, and they gave him a luxuriant laurel branch and breathed into him their divine voice so that he could proclaim the glory of the gods and their descendants. Thus, the simple shepherd was transformed into one of the most important poets in history. Hesiod also states that the Muses were created as an aid to forgetfulness and relief from troubles, perhaps as a balance to their mother, (Mnemosyne), who personified memory.

Since the Muses were goddesses of the arts, how did astronomy get wrapped up in all this? We don’t generally consider astronomy, or other sciences, to be artistic … but that’s not how the Greeks saw it, because to them there was no firm line between art, science, and philosophy. In their endless search for universal truths, the Greeks found all of their disciplines could be based on the same moral and logical principles. Each of the Muses became a goddess associated with one of the arts. Eight of them mastered arts closely connected to life on Earth. One, however, set her sights a little higher. That was Urania, the Muse of astronomy who was obsessed with the sky and the study of the stars.

In ancient Greece, music, and by association the Muses, were held in great esteem and music was played in homes, in theatres, during religious ceremonies, to accompany athletics, provide rhythm during military training, accompany agricultural activities such as harvesting, and was an important element in the education of children. For example, Themistocles, the great Athenian politician and general, considered his education incomplete because he could not play the khitara. Throughout the ancient Greek world musical festivals and competitions were held in honour of the Muses and philosophical schools bore their name: the Mouseia. [World History]

Invoking the Muse

Mary Ann Burrows, for example, is an artist, poet, author and life coach who recognizes that the poetic tradition of invoking the Muse has a long history in which this ethereal being is synonymous with the creative voice. ‘Sing Heav’nly Muse, that on the secret top Of Oreb, or of Sinai, didst inspire …’ (1.6-7) is a quote from the 1600’s epic poem, Paradise Lost, by John Milton. In these first lines, Milton is not only stating the theme for his very long poem, but he is also asking for heavenly guidance and inspiration. This was the first invocation of the Muse by Milton in this poem, although he continues to ask for guidance a few more times. The most interesting thing being that Milton was blind when he wrote these ten books and over ten thousand lines of verse – Paradise Lost was recited by him to his daughters.

 A prayer or address is made to one of the nine Muses of Greco-Roman mythology, with an invocation beginning the epic poem and serving as a prologue to the events to come. The poet asks for the inspiration, skill, knowledge, or the right emotion to finish a poem worthy of his subject matter. Homer began his two epic poems with an ‘Invocation to the Muse’ as in this invocation from The Odyssey, where he asks for inspiration …

Speak, Memory –
Of the cunning hero
The wanderer, blown off course time and again
After he plundered Troy’s sacred heights.
Of all the cities he saw, the minds he grasped,
The suffering deep in his heart at sea
As he struggled to survive and bring his men home
But could not save them, hard as he tried –
The fools – destroyed by their own recklessness
When they ate the oxen of Hyperion the Sun,
And that god snuffed out their day of return
Of these things,
Speak, Immortal One,
And tell the tale once more in our time.

Greek writer Hesiod claimed in his work, Theogony, to have spoken with the Muses who blessed him with divine voice and a once simple shepherd became one of the great ancient poets at the pleasure of the gods. Dante had at least six invocations to the Muses in The Divine Comedy. Chaucer called upon the Muse in three of his poems. Plato also saw poetic inspiration as a sort of instability but a necessary evil for creating lasting works of literary art. Ever since the beginning of storytelling, writers have invoked ‘the muse’ to help them tell the stories in their minds and as modern-day writers, poets and creators this helping hand is available to all of us. Although writing poetry has changed dramatically over the years, one thing that has remained crucial to people is the belief in themselves and the ability to choose one’s own influences. Simple enough, right?

So what happened to the Muses?

Did they abandon us?

The Muse is an energy and a force that is still available to all of us to call upon.

The gift, then, of the Muses, or one of their gifts, is the power of true speech,” wrote the great classicist, E R Dodds.

We all have a muse. My muse is different than yours. We can decide how we see it, or if we see it at all. I know that I have felt a deep connection to my muse during painting, writing, and meditation and that my muse is a force that connects me to this vast, limitless universal well of creative inspiration. I often wake up from hours of creative work and look at my painting, poem, or writing and wonder how it happened. This deep level of consciousness is there and available for all of us to tap into. I think that it’s our job to learn how to tap into our muse and be open enough within ourselves to receive Her guidance. Rather than waiting around for an idea to show up or for my muse to appear and drop off some really good inspiration, I have discovered a variety of ways to connect with Her that work better, such as the ones that I am about to share with you. [Mary Ann Burrows]

Nearer to home in English folklore and literature we have The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame – the title an analogy that refers to elves whispering among themselves in the leaves of the willow trees as people walked or sat underneath. Figuratively, the wind refers to inspiration just as the willow is the symbol of creativity and inspiration for poets and writers when we pause beneath its branches. This tree inspires our creativity and encourages us to make the most of our talents. It helps us overcome our doubts and fears regarding our abilities and helps us take actions to fulfil our dreams. Just making sure we pause to listen next time we walk beneath the tree and it seems to whisper … Or similarly the ash tree from Llwyn Onn – a traditional Welsh folk song …

The ash grove, how graceful, how plainly ’tis speaking;
The wind through it playing has language for me,
When over its branches the sunlight is breaking,
A host of kind faces is gazing on me.
The friends of my childhood again are before me;
Each step wakes a memory as freely I roam.
With soft whispers laden the leaves rustle o’er me;
The ash grove, the ash grove again is my home.

How to Call Upon Our Muse

First and foremost – we need to bring forth a conscious invitation and hold a firm belief in their existence. After all, these are powerful entities of the Ancient World, as Mary Ann Burrows reminds us …

  • The most important step towards finding and invoking our Muse lies in the act of opening ourselves up to a belief in the mystic elements of something that we cannot see. Our trust in what we cannot touch is what ignites the spark of our Muse to come out and play; a relationship that takes time to foster and grow. Our particular Muse has been with us our whole life, waiting and available, however, she needs to get to know us, too. The best part about a Muse is that we are the one who gets to decide what she is and isn’t. If we don’t believe in her existence, she will never step out of the shadows. We need to have faith.
  • A daily ritual can include meditation, a prayer, a blessing, lighting of a candle, the polishing of a crystal, or playing music that signifies we are calling upon our Muse. Set aside fifteen minutes before we begin to create to ground ourselves, in order to centre our being, and create a connection with our Muse. It’s like a warm-up before going to the gym. It includes emptying our old thoughts and clearing out those old threads so that inspirational thoughts can come through.
  • Find a symbol. Some item that associates us with our Muse. A feather, a candle, a piece of jewellery, a crystal, an ocean stone, a seashell … we take our time to find the perfect item. We follow our gut instinct, pick what we are drawn to, and something that resonates. Keeping the item close with us whenever we travel, walk, meditate, work on our projects, or sleep. Setting the item in front of us during meditation.
  • Finding a sensual location – picking a physical location where we can sense a visceral energy. A place where all of our senses are alive and awake – where we feel very deeply and find it difficult to control or ignore those feelings that are not the result of conscious thought – under or near a willow tree, perhaps? Or by a rippling stream … or a large expanse of water where we can hear the wind among the reeds. It’s important to spend time in our special place of connection because this is a sacred space. This is where we want to return to in our mind when we are calling up our Muse at home.
  • Traditionally, the poets associated music with the invocation of the muse as sound shifts energy and opens our minds. It’s a welcoming mat and an invitation for our Muse. Do you like Bach or Rap? Only you know the answer to what makes your heart sing. Whatever calms our nerves and makes us smile, play this. This is a personal choice and it is ours to make.
  • If we’re having trouble connecting, it’s perfectly normal. It takes time. It’s also a sign that we need to further ground ourselves. Try to take a different path, walk a new way home, choose a different routine, find a different and new symbol or location to sit in. Meditate, have a nap, ask a question to find the answer when we go to sleep. Try something new and the blockage will disappear. Muses don’t suffer from writer’s block!
  • When your muse speaks, listen. Take note and use those inspirations. We all have the ability to invoke and connect with our own individual Muse – and to benefit from those otherworldly influences.

Similarly, in his Creativity Quartet Masterclass, Willemijn Brouwer expounded his own theory on divine inspiration: On Mount Parnassus, there was a spring that was sacred to Polyhymnia and the other Muses. It was said to flow between two big rocks above Delphi, then down into a large square basin. The water was used by the Pythia, who were priests and priestesses, for oracular purposes including divination …

Inspiration is a gift from the gods. Right. Let’s start our historical review with the Big Three: Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. I will shortly mention the first, focus on the second and end with the third, and the words inspiration, madness, demons or demonic possession. The first word sounds positive to us, the other words not really. For the Greeks, they were all the same. Socrates talked about ‘the demon as a divine gift granted to a few individuals’. This possession by the gods Plato referred to as divine inspiration or divine madness. And Aristotle doesn’t have a different name for divine inspiration. But he is important because he is the founder of association theory, and if you know anything about creativity, you know about association.

     In Greek mythology, Zeus was the supreme God who had nine daughters. And if you created a poem in Ancient Greece, those nine daughters had something to do with it. It was Plato who was credited for explaining this possession by the Muses as ‘divine inspiration’. He argued that the Muses possessed the mind of a poet that brought him to the creation of poems. Plato only discusses the work of poets as a result of divine inspiration because according to Plato, the work of a painter was not divine. Because the painter was only trying to capture the beauty of nature. And because nature was already an imitation of the idea of nature, a painter was producing an imitation of an imitation. 

   Plato’s entire theory was based on ideas. He argues that there is an ‘idea world’ and that everything we see is an imitation of that world. If we transform his argument into contemporary language: a poet is creative and an artist like a painter is an imitator and ‘just a craftsman’ or worse, a Chinese copyist. Even though the focus of creativity was on poems, Divine inspiration was not only possible for poetry but also for other art forms that were not imitations of the idea world. [Willemijn Brouwer]

In Ancient Greece, if we had written a great poem, we were complimented for producing the poem but not for inventing or creating it. It was one of the Muses that gave us inspiration, and we should feel honoured about it. In Phaedrus, Plato wrote: “The creative poet needs divine madness: the madness of those who are possessed by the Muses: which taking hold of a delicate and virgin soul, their inspiring frenzy awakens lyrical and all other numbers; with these adorning the myriad actions of ancient heroes for the instructions of posterity. But he who, having no touch of the Muses’ madness in his soul, comes to the door and thinks that he will get into the temple by the help of art – he, I say, and his poetry are not admitted; the sane man disappears and is nowhere when he enters into rivalry with the madman.”

And in Ion: “The poet is a light and winged and holy thing, and there is no invention in him until he has been inspired and is out of his senses, and the mind is no longer in him: when he has not attained to this state, he is powerless and unable to utter his oracles.”

For Plato, there is no credit for the person himself in the creative process. If we came to an ‘act of creation’, we were simply lucky because the gods had chosen us. The fact that we had to translate the inspiration into a poem, was of no importance for him. This is where Aristotle differs in opinion. Aristotle gives credit to the person who created the poem where Plato did not.  According to Aristotle, thinking started with the person’s own thoughts. And thinking is a process of jumping from idea to idea: to associate.

Today we might scoff at the idea of the existence of the Muses, but the idea of inspiration in relation to creativity is very much alive. And also, Aristotle is not only the founding father of how we see science but also of the association theory. Maybe what we call inspiration today is actually an association as Aristotle meant it to be.  In modern parlance, creativity allows us to view and solve problems more openly and with innovation. Creativity opens the mind. A society that has lost touch with its creative side is an imprisoned society, in that generations of people may be closed-minded. Creativity broadens our perspectives and can help us overcome prejudices – even if we use Old World techniques to help us achieve our goals.

Incubation & Temple Sleep by Mélusine Draco – published by ignotus books UK as the tenth in the Arcanum series ISBN978 1 80303 454 7 : 100 pages : £6.85 : Order direct from the printer at a discounted price from

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