I remember studying about papal indulgences in Comparative Religion in college. These were documents that the wealthy could purchase from the Church that would guarantee them entrance into heaven, even if their worldly sins had banished them to the back of the line.
Sounds crazy, doesn’t it?
Because we all sense that you can’t buy your way into forgiveness or redemption or love, let alone into the precinct of the Almighty. You can’t command your way, you can’t bribe your way. You can’t make deals with heaven, even though many of us have promised, “God, if you’ll let me off the hook on this one, I’ll never drink/cheat/steal/gorge on donuts again.”
That’s why the Prayer to the Muse is just that—a prayer. An invocation.
We come before the goddess in humility. We set aside our vanity. We acknowledge her primacy. We are here not to bug her or importune her or cajole her or con her. We are here to seek her favor.
What does the divinity ask of us?
She asks that we be true to our gift. She asks that we respect it and give its expression everything we’ve got.
She asks that we be willing to sweat.
She asks that we be willing to undergo pain.
She asks consistency and devotion over time.
She asks that we not sell her gifts for profane purposes. (Recall the verse recounting the fate of Odysseus’ men—” … to destroy for meat the oxen of the most exalted Sun, wherefore the Sun god blotted out the day of their return.”)
She asks fidelity.
She asks trust.
She asks love.
When my friend and mentor Paul Rink introduced me to the concept of the Muses, he didn’t make a big deal out of it. He did better than that. By his posture and his tone of voice, as well as his words, he expressed his absolute belief in the goddesses’ reality and in our dependence upon them and our need as artists of deference and respect and reverence toward them. This was, as I’ve said, over morning coffee at the fold-down table in the back of Paul’s camper/pickup “Moby Dick.”
I had never really thought about the words “invoke” or “invocation” before.
Since then, they’ve never left my mind.