The Three Muses

Once of the last vestiges of Goddess worship in Greece was the Boeotians’ reverence to the Triple Muse, which Robert Graves identified as a conceptualization of the White Goddess in poetic incantation. Later, as the Attic pantheon grew to prominence and became canonized throughout all the Greek-speaking nations, the Muses would be relegated to the status of demigods. They were taken from Mount Helicon where they were worshipped as supreme by the Boeotians and brought to Delphi to be subordinates of Apollo. They grew from three to nine so that each might govern her own specific artistic discipline rather than being representative of all creative force generally. The meaning of the Three Muses and their spiritual power would be divided among Olympian gods like plunder. The office of poetic inspiration would be extended to Apollo. The power of wild spontaneity vested in Dionysus, who himself was probably a prehistoric godhead renewed by the Greeks and made relevant to the Classical Age.

Originally, the three Muses stood for many things. They constituted a tri-polar arrangement of several different classes of ideas, all of which relating to creative inception and growth. Robert Graves names them Meditation, Memory and Song (The White Goddess, 386), the fundamental components artistic inspiration. Meditation is the spring by which new vision is brought into being and nourished. Memory is the means by which it is fostered and refined. Song is its expression.

On Mount Helicon, the Muses were worshipped with delirious incantation, mixture and ingestion of medicinal herbs and erotic fertility dances. My belief is that each of these rites was probably dedicated to or possibly inspired by a certain one of the Muses: incantation was performed as a benediction to the dark and chthonic Muse of Meditation; the brewing of medicines and restoratives strengthened the lucid mind and put one in communion with the Muse of Memory; and the fertility dances were perhaps aided by the beautiful and arresting Muse of Song. Graves offers an additional anecdote about the practice of Muse worship performed at Helicon:

“The Muse priestesses of Helicon presumably used two products of the horse to stimulate their ecstasies: the slimy vaginal issue of a mare in heat and the black membrane, or hippomanes, cut from the forehead of a new born colt, which the mare (according to Aristotle) normally eats as a means of increasing her mother-love.” (The White Goddess, 386)

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