- Drawing the circle
- Taking the path
- Breaking the circle
In my Book of the Labyrinth, I've named this part of the RITUAL structure Numen/Connection. It's actually two sections in the Book, but for our purposes we can combine them.
First of all, what is "Numen"? It's a Latin word meaning "divine power," and we're going to use it to mean that indefinable quality of our creative process that we don't always understand—it seems to come from beyond us, from the universe at large.
Some call this inspiration, and that's an interesting word because it comes from the Latin meaning "to breathe into," and the implication is that it is a deity doing the breathing into us. Think Jahweh and Adam. The old hymn "Breathe On Me, Breath of God." The Oracle at Delphi. Someone who is inspired is obviously in touch with Numen.
Alas, the Romantics skewed our understanding of inspiration. Most of us these days think of artists as tortured souls who simply can't even until they are inspired, and then they pour out their art in one rushing torrent of beauty and perfection.
This is ridiculous. As in, I will ridicule this concept every time I come across it. Art doesn't really work that way; not even John Keats would tell you that, and he was as tortured as they come.
Here's a more useful concept: as you're working, as you're taking the path — listen. Stay open to two equally important channels. The first is Numen, the universe at large and your innermost voice. Listen for ideas that seem to come from nowhere. Follow your impulses.
For example, when I was working on my Six Preludes (no fugues), I started the first prelude with a ferocious theme that tumbled headlong down from above the staff like a downhill skier on a steep slope. As it approached the two or three measure mark, I told myself that it was probably time to wind it up and begin working out the possibilities.
However, that’s not what happened: the theme kept going—seemingly by itself—all the way down to the bottom of the bass clef. All in all, the theme made itself into a six-measure-long monster and gives the listener the impression that there’s no time to even to take a breath as it plunges on and on beyond reason. It was so striking that I used it verbatim as the end of the piece; in fact, that one theme makes up two-thirds of the very short piece. So much for my rational planning.
Listen to what the universe is suggesting. That's Numen.
The other channel is Connection, and a good synonym for that is our very own Precept of AUDIENCE. As you work, connect to your audience. Include them in your work.
This does not mean that you are limiting your grand, soul-inspired work to what might appeal to mere paying customers, as it were. If that were the case, I'd never have written most of my music or my blog posts.
But when you're working, you are never working just for yourself. You are working to Make the Thing That Is Not so that it can take its place in the universe with the rest of us, and for that to happen, you need to offer it to the rest of us (or at least a subset of the rest of us), and we should be a part of your work. Stay connected.
Let me wrap this up by returning to the overall structure of RITUAL and its relationship to the Hero's Journey. After the Hero crosses the threshold into adventure, he will encounter forces beyond his understanding or control. He must deal with them in some way, either by allying himself with them or engaging them in struggle. He may not succeed, but he must engage if he is to be in any way successful in his quest.
And so it is with us: we must engage with powers that we don't fully comprehend — inspiration and AUDIENCE — because if we don't, then we don't create art.
Next: BREAKING THE CIRCLE
I have avoided any kind of religious/woo interpretation of Numen for the simple reason that there are many different approaches to that, and I'm not going to be prescriptive for your approach. For a summary of my thoughts about this, click here and read forward.
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