I love opinionated non-PC people. This blog is to vent my opinions on life, the universe and everything. Which is 42 which in gematria is "My Heart" (LBY) according to Rabbi Abulafia. The Divine Heart is the centre of everything.

Monday, May 04, 2015

Apollo and his Nine Muses and the Jewish Mystical Tradition

Rebbe Nachman of Breslov wrote of the mysteries of the 10 stringed lyre[1] and the music, song, dance and melody pulsating through all creation[2] and often hidden in the depths of the stories, folktales and sciences of the nations. The master storyteller was seen by him as the Master of Prayer[3] a kind of spiritual troubadour.  Rebbe Nachman was a true romantic[4] who embraced the Hasidic most-moved Mover[5] as the God of Israel rather than the dry intellectual concept of the Unmoved First Mover of Greek philosophy. The concept of the ten-stringed lyre or harp is at the heart of his Hasidic and kabbalistic understanding of reality.  The Greek Mythological concept of the Nine Muses of inspiration reaches into the primeval wisdom (Sophia) of the Greeks.[6] Behind the masculine mask of the intellectualism of Greek Philosophy is hidden the ever burning wildness of the feminine Greek Mythology of the wild, dancing, singing, leaping world of the creative muses.

Homer the earliest of the Greek writers tells of these muses set in a world that has little in common with the male-dominated cultures of the Mediterranean but of the Goddess dominated northern cultures of Europe descended from the lost Tribes of Israel. At the core of the Greek understanding of the nine muses is the concept of the lyre just as it is in the mystical tradition of Israel and of King David. As the words lyric and lyre suggest, in the ancient world lyric poetry and storytelling would be accompanied by the musical instrument of the lyre.[7] This goddess is the Matronita and Holy Wisdom of Biblical and Jewish tradition who has been transformed into the Greek Sophia. This Sophia is embodied in the nine muses.  The ten strings of the Davidic lyre represent the sefirot of Jewish mysticism seen in the feminine mirror of the Tree of Life. The Davidic Messiah or Bridegroom of the Song of Songs and Psalm 19 becomes the Apollo of Greek mythology. The Davidic Queen-Mother and Bride is the Sophia of Greek wisdom. Sophia is also Aphrodite the Goddess of Love and desire. 

The Greek origin of the term muses comes from the word for desire (mosis). This has a link to Moses and his sister Miriam who led the women in the spiral circle dance at the Red Sea. The circle dance of the nine Muses alludes to this mystical and spiral dance at the heart of all wisdom. This is feminine wisdom –the wisdom of the mother and the Goddess as the one who dances according to the music of the lyre played under Divine Inspiration which is the Divine Will or Desire for Creation. Apollo or the Davidic Messiah is this Sun of the Divine Will who is the Muse-Leader- the one who leads us to join the rounds or spiral circles of Living and Dancing in the Divine Will. This is the source of all man’s wisdom, learning, knowledge, creativity and inspiration.
Miriam and the women in the circle spiral dance

Joseph Campbell’s understanding of the monomyth as the common pattern that lies hidden within the great mythologies of man can be useful in helping to understand the role of the nine muses in this great mythological wisdom tradition underlining all cultures. This is the music and melody of the mystical lyre of Apollo and David. Campbell also in his writings writes about the nine muses. He states: “…so are the Muses-clothed in the garments of this world-not opposed to the unclothed Graces, but in triple rhythm (3 times 3) the earthly heralds of their paradisial dance. And they are nine because (as Dante tells of his own Muse, Beatrice) their root (the square root of nine being three) is in the trinity above. Beyond the frightening visage of all-consuming time, the arts-the Muses-initiate us to the enduring harmony of the universe, the planes or aspects of which are controlled by the planets and their spheres…” [8]  

The three primordial muses that embody the nine Muses were Aoide (song or tune), Melete (practice or occasion) and Mneme (remember) as the daughters of Mnemosyne (Memory personified). Thus Mnemosyne alludes to Miriam and Aoide as the song or tune of her dance of faith (emuna). Melete is the delight or pleasure (taanug) of the dance itself. Mneme is the choreography of the dance as an act of the Will (ratzon). These three primordial muses represent the three chords of the Mystical Lyre according to Greek mythology.

The three muses may also allude to the three tribes of Judah (Aiode), Benjamin (Melete) and Levi (Mneme) who remember the Lord and become cut off from the nine muses and Apollo representing the Lost 10 Tribes of Israel in which Joseph or Ephraim is seen as Apollo.  Judah and Aoide represents the Torah or Divine Word, Benjamin and Melete the practice of the mitzvoth (Commandments) and Levi and Mneme the Divine Service (Avodah) of the Temple. The nine Muses thus may represent the nine main areas of academic learning and the arts. Thus the separation of Judah and Israel represent the separation of the Sacred Arts from the Secular or Human Arts and Sciences.

The nine desires or muses are the Divine Desire to Create through his sefirot (attributes). Campbell writes “…Now, according to Hesiod (eighth century B.C.), the nine Muses were the daughters of Mnemosyne, "Memory," and Zeus. Born of Memory, they cause the soul to remember its forgotten higher estate…”[9]. The bearded Zeus alludes to Moses and the concept of desire (Mosis) in Greek.  The Greek term Anamnesis (memory or remembrance) is used in the Catholic Faith to describe the Eucharistic Sacrifice or Memorial as it manifests the Divine Life from Eternity into Time. The linking of immemorial and primeval beyond time with the memorial in time is the Eucharistic Mystery that is made present through the Mystery of the Incarnation. This Divine Dance and Song of Remembrance occurs within the heart and womb of the Mother from all Eternity in the mind of God.

She ponders or remembers all these things in the depth of her heart (Luke 2:19). She is truly the Sophia or Binah (Understanding) who understands and remembers with the heart. Her heart is like a ten string lute or lyre that plays the Divine Song of Creation with its three –fold chords of the fiats of Creation (Aoide), redemption (Mneme) and sanctification (Melete). Her crown of twelve stars proclaims her as the Mother of all the twelve Tribes of Israel and the Mother of Wisdom who plays her ten-stringed lyre or harp with three chords which unites all in harmony or unity (Harmonia). This mystical Harmonia is also Gaia (Mother Earth) and Calliope who represents in time the Little Daughter of the Divine Will Luisa Piccarreta.
Our Lady of Sion with her Twelve Stars

Campbell lists the fourfold categories of the function of mythology in our lives which are Metaphysical, Cosmological, Sociological and Pedagogical.[10] Using Campbell’s fourfold categories of the function of mythology can be helpful as long as we don’t fall into the errors of Campbell of separating mythology from reality by a limited understanding of the use of metaphors. Using the metaphors of mythology and the Old Testament and Jewish traditions doesn’t do away with a literal historical level of understanding. The Metaphysical concerns our relationship in God, the Cosmological our place in the Universe, the Sociological our encounter with our culture and society and the Pedagogical concerns our personal learning and growth as a human person. The Metaphysical function we can associate with the three primordial Muses, the Cosmological with Apollo the Muse-leader and the muses Urania and Polyhymnia, the Sociological with Erato, Thalia and Tepischore and the Pedagogical with Melopomene, Euterpe and Clio. Calliope who represents the discipline of Theology unites all the Muses as one in the Sophia in perfect harmony (Harmonia).

All mythologies have been constructed based on actual events and personalities that have then been mythologised. One can study this literal historical level and still gain much from also the metaphoric use of the myths and stories. The power of the metaphors is that they point to realities in history and in our human lives. In the Church this metaphorical level is called the spiritual senses and are grouped into three- moral (or hermeneutical), allegorical (or symbolic) and anagogical (or mystical). All these metaphors in mythology and in Scripture point to the realities of the incarnation, birth, life, death and resurrection of the God-Man and his mother, St Joseph and Luisa. Even then these realities can be used in a metaphorical manner to enrich our spiritual and human lives in all areas of learning.

We can become a new Daniel or Moses who excel in the Sacred Arts as well as the Secular Arts which all have one source in Holy Wisdom. Daniel represents those who come to faith and the sacred arts first and then study the secular. Moses represents those who learn the secular arts first and then come to faith and the Sacred Arts. Mankind can unite the Song of the three primordial muses with the dance steps of the nine secular muses to create a beautiful culture and society that is in harmony with all Creation so that the Divine Will may be done on Earth as it is in Heaven.

Pico della Mirandola was a Catholic who used the wisdom of Kabbalah and the Greek wisdom in a deeper exploration of the Catholic mysteries of the faith as a theologia poetica. This draws on the concepts of the nine muses united to the Kabbalistic sefirot. This theologia poetica concept closely reflects the Greek understanding of the creative inspiration for the Arts being rooted in deep poetry. Poetry here has a wider understanding connected with movement, dance, song, music, tune, melody, lyrics and storytelling. Traditionally the muses' Arts are listed as Calliope (epic poetry), Clio (historical poetry), Euterpe (flutes, music and lyric poetry), Thalia (comedy and pastoral poetry), Melpomene (tragedy, dance and song), Terpsichore (dance, music and delight), Erato (love poetry), Polyhymnia (geometry, grammar and sacred poetry), Urania (astronomy). [11] Today we might list them as Calliope (Theology), Clio (History and Geography), Euterpe (Music), Thalia (Drama), Melpomene (Literature), Terpsichore (Art), Erato (Dance), Polyhymnia (Mathematics), Urania (Physical Sciences). The ancients demonstrate an important point that knowledge and learning is not dry scientific intellectualism but beautiful musical and lyrical poetry that resonates with the soul.[12]

"We have forgotten to pray to God with our feet. We have forgotten that once in the great past a divine being touched us and we were nearer to God." This saying was attributed by my step-grandmother, Madame Nadine (Mirceva) Wulffius, to her teacher Sergei Khudekov the great historian and balletomane of the Russian Imperial Ballet.  Wulffius herself was a Ballet Dancer and teacher, choreographer and teacher of the history of Dance trained in the Imperial Ballet in St Petersburg, performing in the Latvian Theatre in its earliest days and running her own ballet schools in Latvia and Australia.[13] The generation of my grandmother in the world of Dance and the Ballet understood the unity and harmony uniting all the Arts. She was not just interested in the techniques of the Dance but the cultures, history, mythology and stories behind the choreography of the dances. A rediscovery of the muses and their connection with Sophia is a truly romantic project needed after the dry intellectualism of the modernist and post –modernist era.

Jacob Meskin writes about philosophical thought as “the choreography of the dance of real life” , in an article about the great French Jewish philosopher and thinker Emmanuel Levinas.[14] This ‘choreography of thought’ transcends the reality of the dance and links the dancer to the tracings (reshimu) of the ‘beyond’ from where inspiration flows. This ‘beyond’ is at the same time primordial and eschatological and can be linked to the concepts of the ten Sefirot within the seven days of the Creation week in Genesis 1.[15] This is the primordial source of Sophia as Apollo and the nine dancing, singing and playing muses (desires).[16] It is from this source that all man’s creativity and inspiration flow. Rebbe Nachman understood this form of storytelling knowledge[17] as a way to reach the generations and to awaken them to the beyond.[18] Levinas in his writings saw the importance of a fruitful encounter between Greek and Hebrew learning[19] that would not be oppositional but a true perceiving and sharing of face to face encounter[20]. However Levinas encounter seems to lack the spontaneous joy and delight found in the Greek Mythology of the poetic muses and Hasidic Judaism.[21] Greek philosophy separated from Greek mythology becomes a dry and sterile intellectualism just as Kabbalah and legalistic study of Torah cut off from the vibrancy of Mussar and Hasidut also tends towards a dry sterile intellectualism.[22] This intellectualism overemphasises the vertical analytical approach to knowledge and is suspicious of the lateral mystical approach to knowledge and learning that allows a true encounter and sharing of wisdom.[23]

The Greek Sophia is represented by the Davidic Queen Mother who is the Mystical Miriam in the feminine array of the Sefirot as the mirror of the Tree of Life who is Son of Man and Adam Kadmon. The  Helladic nine muses have their parallels in the matriarchs of the Bible. Urania the oldest of the muses parallels Eve the Mother of all the Living. Polyhymnia parallels Tzadika Naamah (the Righteous Naamah) the wife of Noah who is also known as Emzara as the Mother of the Seed (zera). Erato parallels Sarah the wife of Abraham. Thalia parallels Rebecca the wife of Isaac and Tepsichore parallels Rachel the wife of the Patriarch Jacob. Melopene parallels Tzipporah the wife of Moses as the Bird of Desire. Euterpe parallels Elisheba the wife of the High Priest Aaron and Clio parallels Asenath the wife of the Patriarch Joseph the Ruler of Egypt. Calliope the Chief of the Muses parallels Bathsheba the first Queen Mother of Judah and Israel the wife of King David and the mother of King Solomon.

 St Paul lists nine feminine fruits of the Spirit (the uncreated feminine Sophia) which alludes to the nine muses of Greek mythology and literature.  Thus Calliope is Eirene (Peace), Clio is Enkrateia (Self-control), Euterpe is Pistis (Faithfulness), Thalia is Prautes (Gentleness), Melpomene is Makrothymia (Patience), Terpsichore is Chrestotes (Kindness), Erato is Agape (Love), Polyhymnia is Chara (Joy), Urania is Agathosyne (Goodness).[24]  The Latin Vulgate lists 12 fruits of the spirit which includes the three primordial muses as Generosity (Xenia), Modesty (Sophrosune) and Chastity (Hagneia). For those called to the celibate consecrated life Generosity (Xenia) becomes Obedience (Hupakoé) to all and modesty (Sophrosune) becomes poverty or simplicity (Haplotes). These three primordial muses embody the Sophia as the Muse of the Muses or Desire of Desires in a unique way. She is the one who Desires to live in Divine Will like a dry thirsting desert (Arabah) longing for water[25].
Miriam and the women at the Red Sea

The nine Muses can also be linked to the Nine Wave Maidens who were the nine daughters of Aegir and Ran in Norse Mythology. [26] Miriam means the Bitter Sea or the Lady of the Sea  and alludes to the concept of her Living in the Seas or Waters (mayim) of Divine Will. In Norse mythology she is remembered as Ran the Sea Goddess.[27] Her nine desires or Wave (in Hebrew Gal) Maidens are: Himinglæva - she is the one that through her one can see the heavens which alludes to the concept of the Saphhire Blue pavement or Sea in Judaism, Dúfa - the Pitching or dipping one alludes to the bronze sea or laver, Blóðughadda - Bloody-Hair a reference to red sea foam in the northern Red Sea (wine coloured sea of Homer), Hefring – Riser, Udr- Frothing Wave, Hrönn - Welling Wave, Bylgja Dröfn - Foam-Fleck and Kólga - Cool Wave.[28] This concept of the wave (gal) is linked to the circle spiral (galgal and gilgul) dance of Miriam and the women at the Red Sea.[29] Some scholars associate the nine mothers of Heimdall (a Norse messianic Apollo-like hero) with the nine daughters of Aegir. One also needs discernment as the side of Evil (the Other Side) can pervert and twist this use of mythology and turn it to the other side. The realm of evil imitates the good- it is never original.

The Scriptures speak of the reunion of Judah with the Lost Tribes of Israel, this will involve a unity between Jews (Judah) and Christians (the Lost Tribes). This reunion will be a new encounter between the Greek and Hebrew understandings of Wisdom which will lead to the spiritual Resurrection from the Dead for the Church and the world[30]. It will be a time of a new blossoming of science and the arts seen as a joyous and humble pursuit of wisdom that is rooted in the Divine Revelation of the Incarnation in time and eternity.

A focus on the concept of the muses points us to humility. A man who invokes the muses like Homer, Herodotus, Virgil, Hesiod, and Dante and myriad others show that he doesn’t take the glory for his creative endeavour to himself but acknowledges that great inspirations that result in highly creative works have their source in the beyond. They also help us not to make structured systems that are not open to the creative power of love, joy, freedom and festivity of soul. They help us to see the underlying choreography of the dance of life and its hidden and sweet melodies that unify all under the banner of Holy Wisdom or Sophia who lives and dwells in the divine Will or Desire.

If we desire to become like God in his attributes (Sefirot) we will live in the Divine Will or Desire and the fruits of the muses will be ours. We will be Divinised and live in the divine freedom and joy of the Sons and Daughters of God no matter our exterior circumstances and sufferings. This will allow us to give others the freedom to be who they are without them needing to conform to my own belief structures and rules to receive our love and acceptance. We will break open every sealed box and leap forth like the leaping gazelle of the Song of Songs in a river of creative and inspirational activity. Then we will truly live the spirit of the Torah as Sons of the Divine Will and leave behind the mentality of the letter of the Law which enslaves and keeps us in the position of servants.

 Milton in “Paradise Lost” speaks of his Muse as the Holy Spirit who ascends higher than the muses of the Ancient Greeks. This is also our Chief Muse the Holy Spirit as the uncreated Sophia united in a synergy with Our Lady the created icon of the Sophia who doesn’t leave behind the other muses but transforms them in the New Covenant and encompasses them within her in order for them to soar and leap with her in the feast of the Divine Will which is also the feast of her Assumption (Illui) into Heaven.

The muses also protect us from a pseudo Gnostic emphasis on only the soul or spirit often found in the very heartlands of the Catholic Church. The concept of the muses also emphasises the role of man’s body in singing, dancing and playing in the spiritual and creative endeavour. This wholesome and holistic way is what Christopher Dawson the great 20th century historian calls the erotic life. Dawson writes about the spiritual and mystical Catholic as a man of eroticism, desire and passion like St Francis of Assisi and St Augustine. 
The muse Erato dancing
According to Dawson true erotic love is generous, warm hearted and giving rather than the self-absorbed parsimonious and economic cold "charity" of the bourgeois. Dawson's warning is for all of us who have that hidden closed Pharisaical or Bourgeois mindset within us. He proclaims: "...The question of the bourgeois involves a real issue which Christians cannot afford to shirk. For it is difficult to deny that there is a fundamental disharmony between bourgeois and Christian civilization and between the mind of the bourgeois and the mind of Christ. But first let us admit that it is no use hunting for the bourgeois. For we are all more or less bourgeois and our civilization is bourgeois from top to bottom. Hence there can be no question of treating the bourgeois in the orthodox communist fashion as a gang of antisocial reptiles who can be exterminated summarily by the revolutionary proletariat; for in order to "liquidate" the bourgeoisie modern society would have to "liquidate" itself...". [31] The muse Erato is linked in Greek Mythology to the God Eros.

Dawson champions a Christian ethos that is creative, free, passionate and mystically erotic which owes much to this Catholic tradition of integrating the wisdom of the Romano –Greek culture with that of the Jews. Dawson states:"...Seen from this point of view, it is obvious that the Christian ethos is essentially antibourgeois, since it is an ethos of love. This is particularly obvious in the case of St. Francis and the mediaeval mystics, who appropriated to their use the phraseology of mediaeval erotic poetry and used the antibourgeois concepts of the chivalrous class-consciousness, such as "adel," "noble," and "gentile," in order to define the spiritual character of the true mystic...".[32] Dawson himself would seem to have drawn on the creative inspiration of the muse of epic history Clio herself.

A new Romanticism in education is needed today. The curriculums of the future need to reintroduce the concept of the muses to all areas of learning. The great mythologies and folktales need to be taught as well as the great classics of literature alongside a thorough Biblical education. The boring and dull utilitarian and economic philosophy behind much of higher education today is drying up the wells and springs of true creativity and inspiration. We see the advent of the grey man who tinkers on the edges rather than the man of erotic desire and passion who seeks the holistic panorama of Wisdom and wrestles with Herculean and Jacobean effort with the gods/ God in the beautiful choreography of the Dance of Life. Let us with the muses desire wisdom in all its many varied patterns and disciplines in order to give God the Glory and for the Kingdom of the Creative, Redemptive and Sanctified Fiat of Divine Will to reign on earth as it does in Heaven. Fiat Lux -Yehi Or- Let there be Light.

Apollo watching the nine muses dancing

[1] Chanani Haran Smith, Tuning the Soul; Music as a Spiritual Process in the Teachings of Rabbi Nahman of Bratzlav , 53.
[2] Rabbi Avraham Greenbaum, The Wings of the Sun: Traditional Jewish Healing in Theory and Practice, 123.
[3] Aryeh Kaplan, The Lost Princess and Other Kabbalistic Tales of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, 250.
[4] Chanani Haran Smith, Tuning the Soul; Music as a Spiritual Process in the Teachings of Rabbi Nahman of Bratzlav  IJS Studies in Judaica  Volume 10 (Boston: Brill Academic Publishers, 2009), 59.
[5] Abraham J. Heschel, The Prophets, Vol. II; New York: Harper and Row, 1962. p. 4.
[6] Penelope Murray, and Peter Wilson, eds. Music and the Muses: The Culture of'mousikē'in the Classical Athenian City. Oxford University Press, 2004, p. 372-374.
[7] Jane McIntosh Snyder. The Woman and the Lyre: women writers in classical Greece and Rome. SIU Press, 1991, p. xi.
[8] Joseph Campbell, Creative Mythology: The Masks of God, p.102
[9] Joseph Campbell, Creative Mythology: The Masks of God, p.104
[10] Joseph Campbell. (1969) Lectures II.1.1 The Function of Myth (given at The Esalen Institute in August 1969)
[11]   “Nine Muses” in James Hall and Kenneth Clark. Dictionary of subjects and symbols in art. J. Murray, 1979.
[12]  “Muse” Wikipedia. 2015. < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muse>
[13] “Nadine Wulffius” Wikipedia 2015.
[14] Jacob Meskin, “The Jewish transformation of modern thought: Levinas and Philosophy after the Holocaust” Cross Currents 47.4 (Winter 1997/1998), 505.
[15] Brother Gilbert Bloomer, The Mystical Dance: A Rendezvous of Levinas, Jewish Mysticism and Genesis 1 from a Hebrew Catholic Perspective, <https://www.academia.edu/5228090/The_Mystical_Dance_A_Rendezvous_of_Levinas_Jewish_mysticism_and_Genesis_1_from_a_Hebrew_Catholic_Perspective>  p.1
[16] Penelope Murray, and Peter Wilson, eds. Music and the Muses: The Culture of'mousikē'in the Classical Athenian City. Oxford University Press, 2004, p. 372-374.
[17] Likutey Moharan Vol. VII 60:6 in Rebbe Nachman of. Breslov Likutey Moharan Vol 7 (Lessons 58-64), Jerusalem/New York: Breslov Research Institute, 2007.
[18] Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, The Lost Princess and Other Kabbalistic Tales of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, (Jerusalem/New York: Breslov Research Institute, 2005), xxi.
[19] see Ephraim Meir, Levinas’s Jewish Thought: Between Jerusalem and Athens  (Jerusalem: The Hebrew University Magnes Press, 2008).
[20] David Patterson, “Emmanuel Levinas: A Jewish thinker” Between Reason and Revelation: the Logic of the Semitic dimension in Philosophy (Apr.-Dec 2006), 603-4.
[21] Adriaan T Peperzak, “Judaism and Philosophy in Levinas” International Journal for Philosophy of Religion Vol 40 #3 (Dec.1996), 129.
[22] See Brother Gilbert Bloomer, Jewish Thought
[23] See Brother Gilbert Bloomer, Lateral and Mystical Narrative Encounter and Sharing
[24] Galatians 5:22-23
[25]  See Psalm 63:1
[26]John Lindow. Norse Mythology: A Guide to Gods, Heroes, Rituals, and Beliefs. Oxford University Press, 2002, p.49.

[27] Welch, Lynda C. Goddess of the North. Weiser Books, 2001.
[28] See Hannah Burrows. "Enigma Variations: Hervarar saga's Wave-Riddles and Supernatural Women in Old Norse Poetic Tradition." JEGP, Journal of English and Germanic Philology 112.2 (2013): 194-216.
[29]  Sarah Schneider, Miriam’s Circle Dance: Women and the Circle World
[30] Romans 11
[31] Christopher Dawson, Catholicism and the Bourgeois Mind,
[32] Christopher Dawson, Catholicism and the Bourgeois Mind,

Apollo and the Nine Muses Dancing

Note: When I refer to the Blessed Virgin Mary as a Goddess this means that she is God-like and that she perfectly lives in God's Will and has reached the highest level of spiritual divinisation.  She is not in her essence Divine but God-like by adoption. It is the goal of all Christians to become divinised and God-like not by nature but by adoption.  She is not a Goddess who does her own selfish will like many of the stories of the pagan Goddesses. The legends and tales of the Goddess and Godesses in pagan mythologies are distorted versions of this true Goddess who lives perfectly in God's will but still containing many elements (seeds or sparks) of the truth.

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