Something in the way She moves through me

It is almost a universal experience of writers, painters, and other artists–and, I suspect craftsmen, and cooks, and anyone who creates–that when the work is going well the experience is not "I am doing this," but "something is doing this through me."

Like others, I had experienced this for myself, but vaguely thought of it as special, maybe reserved only for those who are "serious" about their writing. I found out how pervasive it is through an odd source, the late and largely unlamented magazine for mercernaries, Soldier Of Fortune.

During the 80s, in the period I lived in Amsterdam, I worked in a wonderful American bookstore, American Discount Center. The owners believed in selling anything someone wanted to read, from feminist manifestoes to porn, from gay books to Fundamentalism.

One evening I had little to do and so picked up SOF. They had an interview with a popular writer, someone who turned out book after book in a violent action series, with titles like Exterminator 32. In the the interview the writer said something like "When the writing is going well, it's like I'm not doing it, something is doing it through me."

If this sense of artistic creation is nearly universal why do we insist that I have written my book? Is the "I" who works on a book really only a channel for an energy?

Then what is the energy? Does it have a purpose? That is, does it want to tell a particular story and find me for that need? Or is it just available for any story, and I get to choose what tale will receive the energy? For writers choose the subject, which is often their own life history.

In older cultures, people seemed clear that a divine figure was telling the story. The Iliad begins "Sing in me, Muse, of the wrath of Achilles… " The energy that passes through the poet was personified as a Muse (nine of them, actually).

And yet, at the same time, Greek tradition attributed that poem, and its companion piece, The Odyssey, to an individual poet, a legendary blind singer named Homer.

The more important the text, the more extreme are the two positions. The founding text of Judaism is The Torah. Jews (and Christians) refer to it as The Five Books of Moses, on the absolute belief that a founding figure named Moses, for whom there is no historical evidence outside the Torah, wrote it all down.

At the same time, they insist that God composed every word, with Moses actually a sort of secretary. If we take this literally (as Orthodox Jews and Fundamentalist Christians do), Moses is writing down things that will happen after the event of writing them.

That is, the giving of the Torah–the dictation–happens about a third of the way through the story, in book 2, Exodus (followed by Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy).

The later part of the story includes serious mistakes that Moses will make. If he was writing them down before they happened, in the book that declares free will for humans, wouldn't he know not to do them?

This is a kind of time paradox. If Moses learns, from God's dictation, of a mistake he will make then he can avoid doing it. But if he avoids doing it, then it won't appear in the text. If it doesn't appear in the text, then Moses won't know to be careful, and he will do it, so that it should be in the text.

This mental merry-go-round arises from taking literally the two contradictory claims, that a person who is part of the story is writing the book, and at the same time God is really writing it, so every word is infallibly true.

Today, we have the cult of the individual creator. Despite the fact that almost all writers and artists say that "something" is moving through them we still insist that I own the book I write.

We prize originality. Instead of telling cultural stories, as "Homer" or anonymous poets and village story tellers did for millenia, modern writers not only claim authorship for their work, they write about their own lives.

Maybe modern writers should begin their work "Sing in me, Muse, of the pain of my childhood."

So what, then, is the relationship between the writer, her life that is being described, and that energy that moves through her and makes the actual writing possible?

Is the energy–the Muse–a kind of delusion? Is it just the subconscious–safely a part of me–that somehow just feels like something outside of me?

But what is a subconscious? You can't see it or touch it, you don't find it in the brain when you do an autopsy. I suspect that terms like subconscious, or higher self, are simply modern terms for old names we no longer feel comfortable saying, such as muse, angel, daimon. But substituting "subconscious" for "muse" doesn't actually tell us anything about what it is.

My friend, Callan, brilliant essayist and blogger (, writes the following:

"Writing is like any choice, it lets us make ourselves visible in the world. We can no more see our true selves than we can see the back of our head. We need either mirrors or models, and when we make art we expose ourselves."

I love this. i will quote it to my writing students. And yet how does it happen? Who is revealing these things? Am I just tricking myself, getting past my filters?

Or should we take seriously that powerful sense that writing opens the way for something else to move through us? I will leave the last comment to Callan:

"I am a piece of her, a facet of God, connected & separate, unique & the same.

And that's what we feel when we tap into those inner voices."

Published in: on June 11, 2006 at 3:00 pm  Comments (6)  

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  1. When I read this, I think about the whole James Frey incident. Did something move though him, and if it did, should it have had a fact checker?

    Somehow I think this penchant for facts over truth wouldn't have helped "The Iliad" be better remembered today.

    But I do note how anyone who wants to write some piece of scripture today, a text that has what they consider divine meaning, often offers that text as channeled, and therefore attempts to remove it from human scrutiny, from attempts to demolish the text by discrediting or debasing the life of the human who wrote it.

    I suspect that the texts that contain the most wisdom are the ones that endure, or at least I suspect that's one of the few tests we have to separate wisdom from human desire, including the desire to manipulate though invoking wisdom.

    Right, Xenu?

  2. I probably am being totally unfair to channelers but it sometimes seems to me they are taking a highly literal approach to the issue of something coming through them–if not just claiming higher authority for their own thought.

    But maybe I'm just a literary snob, for I do not react this way when I think of what is possibly the greatest long poem in English in the second half of the 20th century, James Merril's "The Changing Light At Sandover."

    This work consists of three volumes of exquisite poetry, all of which Merril and his boyfriend swear was given to them via a ouija board.

  3. Wow! When I opened this box my name was already in it! Something special flowing this this blog, that’s for sure!

    Okay, I actually have something to say. When my first book came out in 1989, people asked me if I had channeled it, probably because of its spiritual subject matter and style of writing. I answered, no, because I wasn’t into channeling specific entities (and still am not), and like the previous poster, to me when someone claimed writing–or anything–was channeled they seemed to be claiming a higher authority for it. No, it was me, a mere human writing that book. And yet…I do feel I had some help. And in my books since then, as well as some of the art I’ve done recently, I’ve had the same sense–not so much because of any feeling I have while I’m doing it, but because of what is called in the psychic biz, “confirmations” that occurred after I had written or created them. Since having this experience and since doing intuitive work, my guess is that creating and intuitive (yes, psychic) work share something in common. I feel this commonality is spiritual. But I suppose it could be neurological or emotional–or maybe some combination.

    A while back I wrote a column about this experience for The Beltane Papers and it’s now on my website at
    or if that’s too long:

    Fascinating topic, Rachel. Great blog!


  4. ' Maybe modern writers should begin their work "Sing in me, Muse, of the pain of my childhood." '

    Howlingly funny line, Rachel!

    It is an interesting subject. I live for the writing that feels like dictation; when my fingers can barely keep up with the speech and action of the characters. I've also paid close attention to what precedes this fugue state – a period of what I call 'cooking,' in which I do research, listen, wait and invite. I take a lot of walks before one of these fugues, usually. Between the silence, research, gradual building of skill and strength in technique, and spiritual willingness, the door opens for the story or poem or characters to walk through.

    Is this mystical? Yes.

    Is this entirely practical? Yes.

    Probably why my pals call me a kitchen-witch. Making magic, up to my armpits in butter.

  5. What an age-old discussion!

    I think the reason people feel such ownership of their creations even if they believe they’ve channeled their work, is that it takes effort and dedication to be a channel, to keep oneself free and clear so that inspiration can flow.

    Writing would not be difficult or worthy of pride if any of us could simply sit down and open up, spewing forth beautiful poetry and prose at will!

  6. It’s been interesting to read over these comments. thank you to those who contributed. The point about channeling is well taken. Since most channelers seem to geuninely experience the words as coming from someone else, I wonder if the old authors who claimed their works came from some ancient secret source actually experienced it that way, or were simplu observing a formality.

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