Courting the muse

The madness of art

The Chagford Filmmaking Group's Faery Hut

From Christina Cairn's Inspiration or madness...or both?:

"[T]the unfinished piece holds a kind of magic that the finished piece doesn't, a dynamism and vitality because all the possibilities and potentials still exist.  And that is the exciting part for me as an artist.  Because while that piece stays unfinished, I can hold all those possibilities inside my mind, I can be in all those 'otherworlds' at once.  All those contradictions, and impossibilities can co-exist happily.  I can move around them, look at them from different points of view, try out different reactions to them.  I can thread two together that might seem utterly opposite, and find something beautiful or powerful in that conjunction.  And I think this is often the point where that something 'mystical' happens (if we want to put it like that), as if by putting together two disparate ideas we create a pathway that allows something else to come through, something that feels like it doesn't belong to us.  A secret whispered in our ears by a muse.  Who knows!  

Early morning cobwebs on the path by the stream

"I once told a uni lecturer that I considered myself a 'post-modern humanist', and was told that was impossible because they are utterly contradictory schools of thought.  But it makes sense to me.  I can believe in faeries on one hand, and not believe in them at the same time.  And both are the truth.  I can look at an artwork I have created and see every painstaking line, every problem I had to resolve, remember seeing my hand create this and remember all the thought processes that have gone into it, and see it as nothing more than a thing I have made.  And at the same time I can be amazed and awed by what seems to be so much more than the fruits of my labour, a thing magical with a power of its own that is nothing to do with me." 


Cobwebs…or faeries in flight?

"Anytime that is 'betwixt and between' or transitional is the faeries' favorite time," Brian Froud advises. "They inhabit transitional spaces: the bottom of the garden, existing in a space between manmade cultivation and wilderness. Look for them in the space between nurture and nature, they are to be found at all boarders and boundaries, or on the edges of water where it is neither land nor lake, neither path nor pond. They come when we are half-asleep. They come at moments when we least expect them; when our rational mind balances with the fluid irrational." 

“What is an artist?" the great Italian filmmaker Federico Fellini once asked. "An artist is a provincial who finds himself somewhere between a physical reality and a metaphysical one. It’s this in-between that I’m calling a province, this frontier country between the tangible world and the intangible one. That is the realm of the artist.”


“We work in the dark - we do what we can - we give what we have," said Henry James. "Our doubt is our passion, and our passion is our task. The rest is the madness of art.” 

Mystery Man, David Wyatt, Howard Gayton, beside the fire

Fireside at BumblehillImages above: The faery hut in Pigwiggen Wood; cobwebs at dawn (...or are those faeries in flight?); a detail from a painting by Brian Froud; and a summer night at Bumblehill.


deep and satisfying--the webs illuminated in blue are soooooo fine.....and here, perhaps, another addition to the conversation:
A PEN interview with Margaret Atwood
“For me the experience of writing is really an experience of losing control.… I think it’s very much like dreaming or like surfing. You go out there and wait for a wave, and when it comes it takes you somewhere and you don’t know where it’ll go.”
Watch or just listen

such beautiful photos Terri, both Brian Froud and Christina have such a great way with words & images that lead us into the betwixt & between, that elusive liminal space that inspires the best in us all!

I am just so grateful that others have the same experience and emotion as I. After all the years of feeling like an exile alone, I'm discovering it's really quite crowded here! :-)

So beautiful and well articulated. As a ritualist I absolutely agree that the crepescular times, the in between times are where magic happens in large part because laws of non contradiction fall apart and we are able to hold many (often apparently) opposite things in tension & harmony. Gorgeously illustrated too!

I often wonder about the link between madness and inspiration, and this has been on my mind with the similar discussion you posted from earlier in the week. Madness runs along the maternal side of my family, through the women. My grandmother still has never recovered from her time in the otherworld... my mother dipped her toes in the waters several years ago, and while I was taking care of her, I didn't realize my visitation would soon arrive.

It came after a series of endings, as well as several strange encounters in meditation. The madness came quick, and I found myself unable to leave my dark room for months, where I saw beautiful creatures and ghastly beings, where I had to sleep with a sword and my Beagle, Waffles for protection.

My travels back to "reality" have been gradual, and now I often wonder if I, like the shamans I studied in undergrad, like the artists and writers I follow and admire, might be able to traverse back and forth through my creative work.

From the breaking of my mind, the drop into my personal night of darkness, a story sparked in me. I wrote it out and it became the first complete novel I'd ever written. (I am still currently editing it). It's greatly influenced by Demeter's foray into the underworld to retrieve her daughter, something I feel like I had to experience in order to write it.

I don't know why madness had to happen as it did, but I believe I am a more balanced person as a result, and I had to leave a great deal of dishonesty behind (which was difficult to part with, which may have required this experience). I believe my life is so full and open now because of it, and I have so much gratitude to those who traversed the underworld before me, because it is their footprints that guided my way out.

Wonderful quote, wonderful interview. Thank you, Michelle.

A very interesting comment, Raquel. Up until now we've been primarily discussing the ways that artistic inspiration can look (to the outside observer) like a form of madness, but isn't really, is simply part of the ineffable mystery of making art. But of course that topic leads to the next question: what happens when we cross the line into actually madness...and, where do we (personally and as a culture) draw that line?

Many artists throughout history have struggled with mental health issues (Virginia Woolf, of course, comes immediately to mind), and I think this is made harder when we don't have mythic/shamanic metaphors to use as guideposts for the journey to the underworld and back again...whether that's a journey made due to mental health concerns, physical health concerns, or a combination of the two.

"Touched With Fire" by Kay Redfield Jamison is a good book about the relationship between art and mental illness (focusing on manic-depressive issues in particular, but touching on other forms of "madness" as well), and Stephen Fry created an absolutely brilliant documentary, "The Secret Life of the Manic-Depressive," which discusses creativity and madness (among other things): Fry talks frankly about how bi-polar disease has been a two-edged sword for him, undermining his creativity and career in many ways...yet fueling it in others.

There is still such a huge, cruel, and unnecessary stigma attached to mental illness, yet some of the most creative and brilliant people I know have survived mental health breakdowns and come back from them all the stronger, as you did. Thank you for the honesty of your story. (Ah, the healing power of the love of a good beagle!)

You might be interested in the "Healing and Transformation" issue of The Journal of Mythic Arts (if you haven't seen it already), which includes articles on illness as a mythic journey by me, Heinz Insu Fenkl, Kim Antieau and others -- plus Midori Snyder's fabulous look at Armless Maiden/Handless Maiden folktales:

Raquel, Demeter's story has given me great strength as well. I think Terri is absolutely right, that we no longer have the mythic/shamanic guides to show us the way on the journey into darkness, and so too many get lost. My three great journeys into darkness (of grief, of almost-blindness, of Post Natal Depression) have all been inextricably linked with motherhood. Such joy and such sorrow so close together is hard to get one's head around, and Demeter's myth has made my way somehow easier, and helped me come through. And, I hope, given me something worth bringing back from those dark places.

So much to think about here. Thank you for the links to follow.

I feel as if I've stepped into an alternative universe! My words, alongside Brian Froud, Fellini and Henry James! But Terri, is that a photo of Rex I see...sans hat and coat? Aren't you in danger of revealing his secret true identity?! ;-)

May I add a quote?

'In Native American traditions, the word "medicine" does not refer to the pills or tonics we take to cure an illness but to anything that has spiritual power, and that helps to keep us "walking in beauty." Words can be strong medicine. Stories can touch our hearts and souls; they can point the way to healing and transformation. Our own lives are stories that we write from day to day; they are journeys through the dark of the fairy tale woods. The tales of previous travellers through the woods have been handed down through the generations in the poetic, symbolic language of folklore and myth; where we step, someone has stepped before, and their stories can help light the way.' - Terri Windling

(from the Editors Letter in the J.O.M.A. 'healing & transformation' issue linked to above.)

Well, it's a pretty shadowy photograph. And I'm sure that's an imposter.

Quick thinking! *Chuckle!*

As I begin to recover from, well, cowardice, this is beautiful and useful. With the gift of visions given freely by nature and music and bardic tales, there is the shadow. It is prodding one to think it is a sickness to give in to the imagination. It sneers and says, who do you think you are? Also one can find ego a swell pal until it turns against you, too. It is the quest that matters; Jane Yolen's road. Our souls.

Phyllis, do you know this quote from Marianne Williamson? She's generally a little too out there on the New Age side of things for my personal comfort but with this quote I take my hat off to her because it's spot on:

'Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, 'Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?' Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.'

I'm not a writer, I'm a farmer, but for what it's worth it seems to me-in response to your comment on Tuesday's post-you should just get your work out there fear or no fear. 'Who do you think you are?' A unique person with a unique voice and gifts. That's who. The world has need of us all. Including those of us whose art is in digging and weeding and lambing, whose art is wordless and who depend on you writers to voice in words what we can not voice ourselves.

When I was scared of doing something my very practical old granny used to say, "it doesn't matter what you feel, it matters what you do." A radical statement to someone of my generation, used to examining and obsessing about every little inner twinge of feeling! What she meant was, sure you're going to feel fearful at times, but that's no reason to stop moving forward. I think of her often whenever I'm on the fearful threshold of something new and try to emulate her practical no nonsense courage. It got me, slowly, slowly, over the stage fright I used to have as a musician. (Thank you, gran.)

So interesting and thought provoking,thanks

Thank you for your reply and the recommendations. I have put "Touched with Fire" on my library queue, will examine the documentary as soon as my internet allows, and have bookmarked the Journal issue for my next free night.

I hope you don't mind, but I'd like to add some works that helped me through the ordeal, for the benefit of anyone that may be reading. I loved reading the works of Stan Grof, in particular, the books he wrote with his wife, Christina, "Spiritual Emergency" and "The Stormy Search for the Self". Reading Julia Cameron's account of her own personal breakdown in her memoir, "Floor Sample" was really encouraging. My guiding light was Clarissa Pinkola Estes' "Women Who Run With the Wolves"-- it was this work that helped me realize that I could relate to my experience through myths, and I think this helps me to be courageous to be open about the experience today (though it is still scary at times!).

The idea of not having a mythic/shamanic base for these experience fueled my anthropological studies in college, and I really could possibly type forever and ever about it. But for now, yes, not having anything quite like that can make it difficult for one to see their way out of the dark.

Thanks again.

Thank you for commenting and sharing your connection with Demeter.

I'm not a mom, so I don't have this in common with her (yet). The pull to Demeter led me to the Sumerian Inanna, and through both of them, I could view my experience as a venture to find the bits of myself and bring them to light and integrate them back into my life again.

I have a feeling though, that once I become a mother (within the next two years, knock on wood), that the myths will take a whole new, deeper meaning, as it has for you.

Thank you so much Cynthia Rose. Marianne Williamson says something very powerful. I do have her "Illuminata" which I should read again. I think I have been comfortable being known by a small circle of friends and readers. It seems like a miracle to be a moneyless girl raised in the beautiful and enchanting forest, at one with wild creatures and tame, and to have come as far as I have. I look out at an audience, well, say, Circo Poetico a mix of acrobats and poets (guess which one I am) and I think that. I grew up with backwoods people. They are a part of me. Of course I want to tell their stories. but, but, but. You know the earth and the seasons and the smells, the sounds too. And what you write is good, so you are too a writer. OK, I was a secret poet back then, not knowing why; just wanting to know how it was done. I have to think of this as sending out paper airplanes with no way to know where they will go. Up? Down? Sideways?
Thank you so much, again.

Just catching up on all of this. You all are amazing in your thoughts and words. I'm still spell bound by the concept of 'post-modern humanist'. LOVE it!! Thank you for this dialogue!!!

My wife, a French-born academic, has this posted prominently on her pinboard and this discussion brought it to mind:

'Every woman knows the torture of beginning to speak aloud,
heart beating as if to break, occasionally falling into loss of language, ground and language slipping out from under her, because for woman speaking - even just opening her mouth - in public is something rash, a transgression.' -
Hélène Cixous

Your blog is lovely, Sarah.

"Crepescular times." What a great phrase.

Thanks so much for the book recommendations, Raquel. I know and love the Estes book, but haven't come across Stan Grof before...and I didn't know that Julia Cameron had survived a breakdown. It's a subject I'm particularly interested in because there's mental illness in my maternal background too. I'll definitely seek those books out.

Thank you Jack Hicks. You have a wise wife and you are wise, too.

I've written a post in response to this (and the earlier post on art and inspiration) three times now; but the last two times, when I come over here to get the link to the original post, I lose my nerve. Because, even though I put it at my other blog, the one I write at under a pseudonym, and even though I certainly have experience with art, inspiration and shamanism, and especially Muses and the daimonic it's just too personal and frankly crazy I guess. And so I imagine I'm going to go back right now and delete yet another post, before it's even published. Maybe I just need to write this out over and over for myself. But I'm dying, just dying, to be a part of this conversation.

Though I wanted to say thank you, too, because the comments in the first post on art and inspiration have helped a lot. Really, I mean that. I've been thinking about them for the past week, and through the words here I have come to some realizations about things, things that have I think opened up just a little crack for the light, and for inspiration, to come through. I think, maybe, I have come just a little bit unstuck. So thank you.

I'm so glad it's helped, Thalia. And you *are* part of this conversation.

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