Louvre Museum [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
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Invoking the 9 Greek Muses
By Molly J. Anderson-Childers | Updated April 27, 2019
Urania invites me for a picnic beneath the stars. Strangely enough, she wants to meet in the middle of the afternoon, at the edge of the forest near my house. I walk up the trail, expecting to meet her around every bend. Finally, I see someone but it's not who I'm expecting. There is a ten year old girl with her hair in braids sitting by the path. I wave, thinking she must be one of our neighbors' kids, and start to walk on by. I stop and turn when she calls my name.
"You're the writer, aren't you?" she asks.
"Yes, but how did you "
"I'm Urania. You're supposed to interview me, remember?" She pushes her horn-rimmed glasses up her nose with one finger, and goggles at me with big, myopic brown eyes.
"You are?" I ask. "I was expecting someone much older."
"I am ancient, ageless — but during this adventure, I need to be ten years old again, and so do you." She hands me a thermos full of juice. I take a long swallow it is delicious and golden-red, like fall leaves. I hand the juice to Urania, beginning to notice a strange shrinking sensation in my stomach. Tightness. Irredeemable loss.
I look down at my body. My womanly curves have vanished, leaving behind the strong, deer-quick body of the child I once was. My feet are dressed in my favorite pink sneakers from fourth grade, the ones with a little pocket on the side. Something about my little feet in those pink hopeful shoes makes me want to weep.
Urania pats my arm kindly. "It's okay — I felt sad and strange too, when I changed. It's because we know we can't stay this way forever. " I nod, and try to smile. She gives me a quick hug, then asks, "Would you like to see something totally amazing?"
"Yes!" I follow her into the forest, keeping an eye on her bobbing red backpack through the trees. We reach a small clearing, and she takes off her pack. There's a blue tent rolled up inside. She begins to set it up. When I move to help her, she waves me away. Once it's staked down, it looks like an ordinary blue tent. I'm a bit disappointed and trying not to show it when she opens the flap and disappears inside.
She pops back out a second later, grinning. "It's perfect, it's the cave! I got it on the first try!" She begins to dig through her backpack again as I peek into the tent.
It isn't an ordinary blue tent inside not at all! It's a dark, dank, dripping cave full of strange rock formations shaped like fangs. They are so black that they seem to suck the daylight right out of the air. I back out and turn to face Urania. "What is this?" I ask.
"My magic tent," she says. "Every time I set it up, there's something different inside. I can't always control it, but today it's perfect, just perfect. I've seen this cave before. It leads to the Other Side of Midnight. We can see the stars, and still be back home in time for dinner." She hands me a flashlight and a miner's helmet like her own, with a light on the front. "Let's go," she says, disappearing into the tent. I follow her immediately what choice have I? None.
Urania tells me, "Sometimes it's not a cave at all. Sometimes there's a field of sunflowers in here, or a beach beneath a tropical sun. Once it was a time machine, and it took me to the 1950s for a week. Wow, was that boring! Cookie-cutter people all the same outside, and scared inside. Scared to be different, to be unique and real and true to themselves. I couldn't find one person to look at the stars with! The fifties were the most boring decade known to Muse-kind the first time I lived through them; I was not pleased to be there again." We laugh and this disturbs the bats that always dwell in caves like this, and they whoosh past us in a whirling, chattering cloud.
It seems as though we'll have to walk forever I see no light ahead, and none behind. "We're almost there," she calls over her shoulder. Uncanny was she reading my mind?
"Yes," she says, giggling.
The cave gets smaller and smaller and tighter and tighter until we're creeping along the cold stone floor of the tunnel like worms, with Urania pushing her backpack in front of her a few feet at a time. Finally, when I have given up on ever getting out of the cave alive, Urania's feet disappear, then prance about on the soft grass outside the cave. I push myself through the mouth of the cave, and emerge into delicious darkness and cool, fresh air.
Urania is all business, digging through her backpack again. She pulls out a huge picnic basket, and blanket, and two huge telescopes. Her backpack is no ordinary backpack. You could fit the world in there with room to spare. We spread out the blanket and she gives me a large, dripping peanut butter and strawberry jelly sandwich.
A tiny, fluffy white owlet approaches on silent wings and perches upon Night's sweet shoulder.
"Diana! Hi!" Urania greets her as if they are old friends. Diana flies to perch upon her head, then swoops down to the picnic blanket to investigate our sandwiches. "Want a PBJ, girl?"
The tiny owl pecks a piece of bread and peanut butter right out of her hand. "I made friends with her last night. She's so tame and loving, it's like magic." I reach out slowly towards Diana, offering a bit of fruit. She grabs it quickly with her beak, and eats it in one gulp. Then, she walks closer, nuzzling my leg with her fuzzy little head. I'm surprised by how strong she is, how quick.
"If you learn to expect magic in your life, you'll soon notice magical things happening everywhere, constantly." She took a drink from her thermos and passed it to me. "Just this week, I made friends with an owl, had my first magic-carpet flying lesson, traveled from daylight into night in my magical tent, and I helped you remember what it feels like to be ten again."
How does it feel? I ask myself. I'm curious, excited, a little afraid, and more alive to the world than I have been in years. Every sensation is electric with intensity, I want to laugh aloud, dance and sing my joy. I eat a sandwich in the moonlight and watch for falling stars with a Muse. Diana perches calmly upon my shoulder, gazing at the full moon.
When our picnic has vanished into our tummies, Urania puts the basket into her backpack and hands me a blue telescope. She lies back on the soft blanket, clutching a telescope of her own, and begins to gaze at the heavens opening wide before us. "If we're lucky, we'll see a falling star to wish on," she whispers.
I focus on the full moon. Diana's face gazes back, and winks. I'm delighted, laughing.
I ask Urania a question I've been wondering about. "You're the Muse of astronomy and astrology the link there is obvious. But how does universal love fit into the equation?"
"Starlight transforms," she says dreamily. Diana perched on the upturned toe of her left tennis shoe. "Man has always looked longingly at the night sky, seeking the wisdom writ large there. Doing so has always made me feel most acutely my true place in the Universe. My destiny, my calling, my vision for my own life, all become clear, and my problems shrink to their correct proportions which are quite tiny. I also begin to feel a connection to the vast beating heart at the center of things — my link to rocks and rivers, owls and writers and ladybugs, pink sneakers and butterflies and old cars with personality and pomegranate wine in blue bottles. All of it, all of it — and I love it all — and in loving all of it, I must love myself, too.
"This is important, especially for the artistic soul. Only by loving yourself and all of creation can you truly thrive and grow creatively. Self-hate will cause you to destroy yourself, and everything around you. If you can love yourself, you will love the world and seek to care for it most dearly, like you would care for a sick friend, or a tiny hurt kitten."
I am weeping. She continues, holding my hand in the vast darkness. "Love it all. The stars and all that is beneath them, and all that is between them, and all that lies beyond. And if you forget how to do that, just look at the night sky. Seek the first star and make a wish, and remember how it feels to be ten years old again — so happy, and so wise. So open-hearted, so strong and fas — you loved yourself then, and you must learn to love yourself still, at every age. You loved and trusted the world more back then, too — and you must re-learn this as well. The soul cannot survive within a vacuum."
She squeezes my hand, and points up to the sky, flinging away her telescope. A huge meteor, rabidly green, streaks by, then another, and two more hallucinatory blue, violet, crimson! And then the whole sky erupts, dancing, into a pinball machine with stars shooting wildly in all directions. A million wishes coming true.
I smile through my tears, broken open inside, and truly myself again, in love with the night. I hold Urania's small hand, my sister beneath the skin. My heart is whole, joyful, laughing. I awaken alone, in the forest clearing, at the doorway of the blue tent. Urania and Diana are nowhere to be found. I wonder what strange adventure she's having now, and I wish I could go find out, but my deadline looms, and so I head for home to record my last adventure with the Nine Athenian Muses. Farewell, fabulous Ones!
©2006 Molly Anderson-Childers. All rights reserved.
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