I’ve been in a bit of a creative dry spell lately, which is unusual for me. It has inspired me to go back through some of my earlier writing and see if I can re-inspire myself with my own work. I did find an interesting bit in a paper I wrote on Orpheus in graduate school, and it nicely echoes some of my thinking lately about creative work, and the obligation I believe each of us has to bring our creative work into the world.
Orpheus, for those of you who aren’t familiar with his story, was the great bard/musician of the ancient world. He is so gifted musically that he can enchant wild animals, stop birds in flight, and uproot trees. In the most well-known part of his story, he falls in love with and marries a woman named Eurydice, who is bitten by a snake on their wedding day and dies, descending to the underworld.
Orpheus is so grief-stricken by her loss that he follows her to the underworld, his beautiful music allowing him passage where other mortals cannot go. He convinces Hades and Persephone to allow Eurydice to follow him from the underworld, but the only rule he must not break is that he cannot look back at Eurydice while they are on their way out. Of course, as must be the case, Orpheus does look back, at the last moment, and loses Eurydice forever.
Orpheus’ story is one of the great underworld descent myths of classical mythology. I believe that this story has much to teach us about our creative lives, and the dangers that can be involved with making any creative endeavor. In order to create, we must be willing to brave the depths of ourselves in order to bring new work into the world, and it is in this part of the creative experience that Orpheus has things to teach us. He provides a model for those who would brave the descent, whether in the pursuit of Carl Jung’s path to individuation or in the creation of art. With either of those endeavors, the path is the same, and it is a narrow one. We see the evidence of the narrowness of this path in the lives of all of our great artists and poets. To fall from the path results in madness or death, but the treasures of the descent to the depths are incalculable in value. What the seeker brings back to the community in the undertaking of this journey is desperately needed.
By making this dangerous journey, we are given an opportunity that is given to no one else on earth. There are treasures there that no one else can retrieve, that the rest of us need. Each of us is unique in what we can creatively bring into the world, and I believe that we each have an obligation to find our courage, to brave the depths, and bring those gifts back to a world in desperate need of them.
We all have our own Orphic role to play. We all have a sacred duty to bring the treasures of the dream time back to our communities. We can’t pretend that we don’t know what our communities need from us, and we must be willing to make that descent, again and again, and expose ourselves to the messy, dangerous and uncomfortable for the sake of our culture, who needs our message. In doing so, we serve the work of the psyche, and the world.
You are the only one who has had your life experiences, and who has earned your wisdom through those experiences. Please, for all of our sakes, brave the descent, and bring back the treasure. I promise to do the same.