“To wake her first you must know her. In 1944 the English poet and novelist Robert Graves was working at his home in Devon when his attention was caught by a West African brass object, a humpback playing a flute. On research he found this object to be a symbol of the guardian of the African triple moon goddess Ngame and like a man possessed he started researching her European counterpart the White Goddess. He concluded that within every poet and musician lies the sleeping muse, repressed by over two thousand years of patriarchal religion and theocracies. He found her through the mystery plays and songs of folk art and ritual hinted at in James Frazer’s study of European magic The Golden Bough and the garbled Irish and Welsh versions of the song of Amergin, and other Celtic myths. Every musician knows her in the creative cycle we sign up to as part of our job description, the cycle of birth, love and death. Grave’s lexicon of poetical grammar manifests itself in this triple form: the joy of creating a song (the virgin new moon in spring), the nurturing process of bringing it to life (the pregnant full moon in mid summer) then the hardest part, the ability to let it go (the dark crone moon in midwinter) and the recognition that at times the song simply isn’t there for the taking. The muse is mercurial, ever changing, anarchic, chaotic but sublime in her ecstatic, synaesthetic embrace of song, dance and poetry. She brings life but also helps us to deal with death.
“Railing against the muse are the authoritarian and monotheistic religions, nation states and cultural commentators that have tried but ultimately failed to pin her down and control the subversive quest of the poet and musician. Banned Czech writer Josef Skvorecky portrays this brilliantly in his book The Bass Saxophone, a love story that shows the lengths that the Nazi and Soviet dictatorships went to in controlling music. Compare that to the obsession in the ’50s and early ’60s with the correct floor rules of the folk club set up by Ewan MacColl and the Stalinist hegemony within English folk music. The muse is the greatest ally of any musician, she comes to us in flashes of inspiration, she gives us strength to deal with the forever changing and maddening cycle of creativity, the ‘cruelty and betrayal’ of the lost song; and like the greatest of musicians she resides outside of state control, religious and political doctrine, record company marketing strategies, new age clichés and the simplistic reductive labels of so much music journalism. She reveals herself at the most intimate moments of love and creativity that lie outside of language and cultural artefacts. Hence the neverending quest of the poet or musician to embrace her form in prose or song. Simply put: we know her when we are doing a great gig, getting the mix right or writing a fine tune. And to find her, just go for a walk in your local wood. I leave the rest to Robert Graves:
‘Green sap of Spring in the young wood a-stir
Will celebrate the Mountain Mother,
And every song-bird shout awhile for her;
But I am gifted, even in November
Rawest of seasons, with so huge a sense
Of her nakedly worn magnificence
I forget cruelty and past betrayal,
Careless of where the next bright bolt may fall.’
In Dedication, Robert Graves (from The White Goddess)”
Thanks to Simon Emmerson for the latest in our series of artists blogs. Earlier this month Simon released a series of 4 CDs, Fresh Handmade Sound: Synaesthesia/ Validation/ From Source To Sea/ The Spell featuring his new band Walking With Ghosts, among other artists. Working with Lush Cosmetics co-founder Mark Constantine, the idea behind the project, which draws on folk music and bird song for its inspired creations, was to provide a soundtrack to accompany treatments at the Lush Spas as well as to create some great music. Read the story behind the project here, the review of the launch gig here and enter the first of our Lush competitions on the blog right here.