“Each of the arts whose office is to refine, purify, adorn, embellish and grace life is under the patronage of a muse, no god being found worthy to preside over them.”
- Ralph Waldo Emerson
The act of creativity - whether writing (music, lyric or poem), painting, singing, dancing - is not altogether different from the art of Love. When you're there, present and in a serendipitous continutity with the very essence of it, breezes murmur secrets. The air sparkles with invisible light. You feel invincible, confident and radiant with inward song of fire. You flow.
When you are not, things are arid. Colorless. The pen is dry. Even answering emails seems impossible.
It's indeed mysterious how that gamut ranges, and quite easy to see how the ancients considered inspiration not just a simple fancy (or flight) of the moment, but a powerful and mythological entity unto itself worthy of seduction, worhship and yes, even sacrifice.
History and Tradition Surrounding the Muse
Poetic tradition holds that the muse was formally invoked at the onset of many epic poems. A few examples:
Homer, in Book I of The Odyssey:
"Sing to me of the man, Muse, the man of twists and turns
driven time and again off course, once he had plundered
the hallowed heights of Troy." (Robert Fagles translation, 1996)
Catullus, in Carmen I:
"And so, have them for yourself, whatever kind of book it is,
and whatever sort, oh patron Muse
let it last for more than one generation, eternally."
(Student translation, 2007)
Dante Alighieri, in Canto II of The Inferno:
O Muses, O high genius, aid me now!
O memory that engraved the things I saw,
Here shall your worth be manifest to all! (Anthony Esolen translation, 2002)
Pythagoras, upon his arrival in Croton, advised officials to build a shrine to the Muses to inspire harmony and learning. The word 'museum' means literally 'shrine of the muses'. Muse worship was heavily identified with the hero-cults of the poets where poetic recitals were accompanied by literal sacrifices to the muse.
While stopping short of self-mutilation, it's certainly worthwhile to perhaps explore such things as a concept, if not an acknowledgement of perhaps something the ancients long knew. Things of myth have an energy and power all its own.
For further pursuits regarding the Muse and your creativity, check out Mark David Gerson's excellent book The Voice of the Muse.