How to Work With Your Muse

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“There is no room for grief in a house which serves the muse.” – Sappho


Step One: You Have One

For some, this seems to be the most difficult step.  Maybe you’re not an artist/musician/writer so you think you don’t have a muse.  Wrong.  Everyone does.  Just because yours is different than the media portrayal of the Muse, doesn’t mean that she* doesn’t exist.  What media portrayal currently describes your struggles and your life right now?  What, none?  Exactly.

My mom’s muse couldn’t be arsed with airy-fairy art junk.  She’s got snarled balls of yarn being delicately barfed up onto her desk by management, full of knots and tangles and a lack of fucks to give about current tax codes.  It’s up to my mom (and her muse) to wrangle that hot mess into order.  My mom’s muse answers to the name Mrs. Peel and dreams in numbers.

Don Draper is frequently seen as The Establishment in Mad Men.  He’s full of hetero-white guy privilege during a time where it was extra tasty and delicious to be a hetero-white guy due to the constant buckets of money, ease of middle class life and all the under paid female labor there to help you at the office and at home.  He’s a brilliant ad man which even then was seen as being in league with the devil.  But he’s brilliant at it and his words and images evoke beauty and longing which is super useful when you’re in advertising.  His muse creates artistic advertising with him which was like saying your muse likes to create meth in a lab but muses do what muses do.

What is your Great Work?  What is your Union of Opposites?  I have to be honest, I don’t feel everyone’s Great Work is necessarily based in the pursuit of occult knowledge and that’s more than okay in my book.  The world would be incredibly tedious if it was.  Maybe it’s math, maybe it’s science, maybe it’s cooking, maybe it’s cleaning, maybe it’s flying a plane, maybe it’s making a really fantastic cup of coffee.  But it’s in there, in you.  What do you give a fuck about?

After identifying the fucks you do have to give in life, you can begin courting your muse.


Step Two: Meeting Your Muse

Muses are slippery creatures by their very nature.  While the muse is often referred to as a female, there is nothing saying yours can’t be male or some other gender all together.

One thing most muses have in common is that they tend to be very clear about who is the bitch in the relationship.  Here’s a hint: It’s not them.

Have you met your muse before?  If not, it’s going to be a lot more work getting to her.  Not impossible by any means, but more work. Chances are she’s been asleep at the wheel for a while.

Let’s start with the scenario that you haven’t met yours yet.  On a Friday, pour out a libation that you think your muse would like best (champagne, Red Bull, Scotch, pomergrante juice, clamato juice, pig’s blood, it’s your muse give it your best shot) and a small plate of treats for your muse to partake in (cherries wrapped in proscuitto, a Magnolia cupcake, a dove’s heart, a marrow bone, 1,000 day gouda with uncured bacon, again this is your muse you would know best) and a small pink candle.  On a piece of joss paper, write out why you want to be talking friends with your muse.  Don’t let your pen leave the paper, if it does start over.  Roll it towards you with a little ginger powder dusted on it and light it in the candle and let it burn.

Wait a week to see if you get any feedback.  Do you hear a specific song on the radio, in the supermarket and in your playlist repeatedly?  Do you see some kind of omen that wasn’t there last week like seven bunnies in every empty field you pass?  Has your muse appeared to you in a dream?  At two o’clock in the morning when you’re supposed to be sleeping, is that bitch kicking the bed with a brilliant but inconvenient idea?  You’ve made contact, congratulations.  You’re on your way to a more interesting life.

If you haven’t heard from your muse in a week, obvi she didn’t like your presents.  She’s a vegan, she thinks cherries gross, she doesn’t eat sugar any more, gluten makes her stomach cramp, whatever.  You guessed wrong.  Or she’s playing hard to get.  That’s a fun game muses like to play too.  Continue offering different things on a Friday with a new candle and a new petition, waiting a week for her reply until your muse shows up.

Usually that approach is no bueno with the gods and spirits because sometimes, friend, They Are Just Not That Into You and it’s kind of stalky which is a turn off.  But your muse is a piece of you and you are a piece of your muse so due to that symbiotic relationship, all bets are off and you can be more pushy than usual.

Step Three: Reconnecting

If you have met yours and you’re reading this, chances are she ditched you, climbing out the restaurant bathroom window while she claimed she was powdering her nose.  It is possibly even more challenging to get in touch with yours if you have met her and she’s given you the slip.

Is your muse on walkabout?  No longer responding to your calls?  That means you’re too boring to bother with.  You need to spice up the relationship again.

First, figure out where she’s been hiding and try to woo her back by following Step 2.

But even with said wooing, after that a good starting place is to offer her a sacrifice.   Chances are she’s really pissed at you which is why she dumped your ass like a bad habit.  People, spirits and gods like a pound of flesh when they feel wronged by you, it’s just the nature of anger.  The good news is you probably won’t have to give her an actual pound of flesh.  The bad news is it’s called a sacrifice for a reason.

I can’t speak for your muse any more than I can speak for say, all women around the world, but I can tell you that mine likes the sacrifice of time, schedule and money best.  As I get older, I get more tight fisted and regimented on all of those aspects which makes her roll her eyes so hard she could be in a CW teen drama.  I’m a writer, so my muse is completely uninterested in what I need to do to survive and be mentally stable.  Working, long term relationships, paying off bills, home ownership, staying in most weekends?  Boooooooooooooooooooooooooooring.  She doesn’t want to be bothered with the petty details of maintaining my existence, she wants to eat waffles wearing an expensive men’s shirt after a night at a gala.

As a writer, it’s hard to write exciting things if your life isn’t terribly interesting, I find.  Your banality and glamour ratings get all screwed up and it’s hard to dream of new exciting worlds when you’re too weighed down in this one.

Am I saying that you should give into every demand your muse gives to you like you’re a mindless thrall?  Do you conduct any relationships in your life like that, not including a consensual D/s exchange?  Um, no.  Learn how to negotiate.

My muse may want the life of an Upper East Sider, but she’s attached to a suburban Jersey girl.  I don’t have the means or the connections to truly give her the kind of life she wants.  So we negotiate.  Until she gives me the connections and/or means to give her the life that she wants, she needs to be willing to accept the sacrifices I have to give her.  Going to Dracula’s Ball was a sacrifice she found acceptable, it had the elements she likes.  Time (shlepping out to Philly after a week of ten hour work days when I was tired as hell), money (cost of drinks, getting in, new fishnets) and effort (I could have gone in a little black dress, but I went all out, we went to see a group that performs electrically on antique cellos, dancing is not as easy as it once was for me).  Voila.

Sounds lovely and fun, right?  Sometimes part of your sacrifice will be non-consentual, it’s why it’s called a sacrifice.  My muse likes to punch me where it hurts for her pound of flesh.  Without getting into details, she also took two paying gigs out from under me at the very last minute and while I understood, I was pissed.  Now I guess we’re as L7 as we’re going to be.  Our relationship is always contentious.

How do you know what kind of sacrifice your muse would like?

First, think about your muse.  How do you see him/her/them?  What is s/he/zir like?  How does s/he/zir communicate with you typically?  How would you describe your relationship with him/her/them?

Now think about your personal Great Work.  What are you trying to accomplish and why?

With that information (and, ideally, feedback from your muse), think about what would be a good sacrifice.  Time, money and effort are the common modern day sacrifices.  But there’s still blood, that’s still an acceptable sacrifice.  And there’s always gaes which is when you and your muse come to the agreement that you will do (or not do) X or Y thing for Z amount of time.  The easiest modern example of that would be when a Catholic gives something up for the 40 days of Lent.  A Gaes is like a vow and I was always taught that if you make a vow to a spirit or a god, you better mean it because badness will quickly follow if you don’t.  So, make sure you mean it and it’s something you can accomplish.  You’ll know your sacrifice was accepted when you start to see movement in your Great Work and/or feel (divinely) inspired.  Until then, keep sacrificing and contacting until you get somewhere.

Appendix A: Why go through all this trouble?

That’s an excellent question.  If you want to see results in your Great Work that are extraordinary, you need to be willing to work harder for it.  Collaborating with a muse is hard.  A. They don’t see it as collaborating.  B. Mine will punch me in the face a lot faster than she would punch a clock C. If you think you can completely control your muse, you are teh hilar.  That’s like saying you can completely control your mother.

So why deal with the unknown and the untamed?  Why potentially be burned?  Um, I don’t know.  Why do you do magic?

Your relationship with your muse is magical, like any relationship with a spirit.  Most people chose not to do magic or commune with spirits.  Most people spend most of their lives on Facebook and playing Candy Crush.  Do you want to spend most of your life on Facebook and playing Candy Crush or do you want to get somewhere?  Right.  Welcome to The Game.

Appendix B: Too Much!  Too Much!

So, you did everything you were supposed to do and the results you got are more than you’re prepared to handle.  First, make sure that you really want to punk out on this.  Are you just feeling scared and overwhelmed?  Because, I can tell you from experience, your lizard brain hates fear and uncertainty and will do just about anything to get you to get back to status quo.  Take a sick day, just give up for a day and let yourself pretend like you’re going to live a normal human life like a normal human being for a day.  After that day, reassess and remind your lizard brain that you didn’t come here to be a normal human.

Can’t get it under control?  Having a toddler level freak out about not being able to handle your shit?  Even the most bad ass Heather has a moment of weakness.  It’s time for you to regroup and give your muse the slip for a while.

For the next two weeks, you are to have the most boring, mundane life possible.  You know, how you were living when she gave you the slip in the first place.  Nutritious boring food, going to work and being immersed in it, watching television at home, do laundry, listen to mainstream radio in your car, no sex, nothing creative, no drinking, no recreational drunks, nothing fun.  Fly under the radar until things settle down enough for you to ride the tiger again.

Get to it.


* I have chosen “she” as the third person neutral for this piece because it’s what’s organic for me.  Feel free to insert whatever pronoun you like!  You’re the captain of your own ship, sailor!

Deborah Castellano
Deborah Castellano's book Glamour Magic: The Witchcraft Revolution to Get What You Want is available for purchase through Amazon, Llewellyn and Barnes and Noble.
Her frequently updated catalogue of published work is available on Author Central.

She writes about Glamour Magic here at Charmed, I'm Sure. Her podcast appearances are available here.

Her craft shop, The Mermaid & The Crow specializes in old-world style workshop from 100% local, sustainable sources featuring tempting small batch ritual oils and hand-spun hand-dyed yarn in luxe fibers and more!

In a previous life, Deborah founded the first Neo-Victorian/Steampunk convention, SalonCon which received rave reviews from con-goers and interviews from the New York Times and MTV.

She resides in New Jersey with her husband, Jow and their cat, Max II. She has a terrible reality television habit she can't shake and likes St. Germain liquor, record players and typewriters.  


One Response

  1. I have this suspicion that my muse wants me to be living on a farm in Dalkeith or Cornwall or something, and that’s why I get poetry when I chop dozens of apples at a time, or go hang by the river, but not so much when I’m trying to make a go of it in The City. (Then again, relationship drama is definitely a muse-feeder, or at least a poetry-feeder, so…)
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