We are not aMUSEd
Speaking of muses, I have this editrix out in the Bay Area whom Iíve never seen in the flesh but who, at irregular and erratic intervals, sends me an email saying ďYour mission, should you decide to accept it, is to write another column for Mennonot, deadline thus and so. This message will self-destruct in 30 seconds.Ē And it does, apparently, because I can never find the damn things again, and meanwhile in my exuberance Iíve cabled back ďHey, no problem.Ē Well, she is like a muse, although I donít know that she qualifies as a Major Muse, just the muse from a small erratic zine that is read only by several hundred disgruntled Mennonites who donít even know whether they are really Mennonites at all and increasingly could care less.
Me, Iím a man of many muses. Iíve got an 800-year-old marsupial, answers to the name of Bozo, sheís one of my many-splendored muses. Iíve got a mythical Japanese empress named Jingu who conquered Korea and put a stone in her girdle to keep her baby son from emerging until the Koreans had been thoroughly subjugated. Some time after he finally emerged, he became the Japanese god of war.
Iíve got Harokiti, so good to meet you, wonít you come over to my house to play?
Robert Graves believed in muses you could see and touch in the flesh. My muses are more, how shall I say it, ectoplasmic. Not that his muses werenít sometimes a far leap of the imagination. Witness the first stanza of his poem ďThe White GoddessĒ:
All saints revile her, and all sober men
Ruled by the God Apolloís golden mean óIn scorn of which we sailed to find her
In distant regions likeliest to hold her
Whom we desired above all things to know,
Sister of the mirage and echo.
This takes us into dangerously murky theological waters, and Iím not sure I should even raise the question in a journal even remotely associated with Mennonites, but how about them Muses? Should they be considered goddesses or not even remotely divine? Is inspiration a thing of the spirit or can it be explained thoroughly in materialistic, psychological terms? Why are the Muses, all nine of them, imagined as women? Or had I better say that they indisputably are feminine?
I havenít read Gravesí book of the same name, but Iím dying to get around to it when I have a free moment. Graves apparently subscribed heavily to the myth of the Mother Goddess, the precursor of all patriarchy, patrimony and patrilinearity. I say ďmythĒ in full awareness of the danger that lurks, as the reality or not of the Big Mama is heartily disputed. In fact Iíve even seen a Web page defending patriarchy and dragging the myth of the M.G. through the dirt.
But without going into all the details of the battle (Mother Goddess as evidenced by widely distributed pregnant Neanderthal Madonna figurines, the dream of a Celtic Goddess where men were men and women were equal, the womb rather than the penis being the dominant motif in art, etc. etc.), the question I would like to pose, or poise, if I may, is whether anyone has ever had or heard of a masculine, or male, Muse? I certainly havenít. It just doesnít seem right somehow.
The eponymous Muses were patron goddesses of the arts, daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne. Mnemosyne was a Titan who personified memoly, and one imagines the Muses having been rather formidable, Rubenesque, hefty women. Cribbing from the Columbia Concise Encyclopedia now, the nine Muses were:
Calliope (epic poetry and eloquence)
Euterpe (music and lyric poetry)
Erato (love poetry)
Polyhymnia (oratory or sacred poetry)
Terpsichore (choral song and dance)
The Greeks thus considered the inspiration for all the arts of the word, plus history, astronomy and music, to be feminine. What does this mean for us as Mennonots today?
Personally, the questions I ask myself are typically Mennonite self-effacing, other-oriented, service-centered questions like the following:
ē is it possible to be a good Mennonot and believe in goddesses as well as Jesus Christ and company? Is it possible to do this in a Mennonite church without being given the hairy eyeball or the old heave-ho?
ē if goddesses are beyond the pale, how about Muses as good spirits of a sort, not goddesses but nevertheless somehow partaking of divinity?
ē or, does Mennoism in all its permutations require the belief that arts of the word are frivolous and perhaps even evil, especially if one spends more time reading frivolous works of fiction than the Bible, Martyrís Mirror, and the Adult Bible Study online?
Iím perfectly aware that there are those who unreservedly answer the first question in the affirmative. Iím not sure that at this point in my spiritual pilgrimage I can blah blah blah. That is to say, right now my betting is on the second.
But we are gifted, even in November
Rawest of seasons, with so huge a sense
Of her nakedly worn magnificence
We forget cruelty and past betrayal,
Heedless of where the next bright bolt!
(Robert Graves again, this time with the more ominous side of the White Goddess.)Amos Stoltzfus, Amish Druid