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Creative Passion: Teeming Neurons or Muse?

Does creative inspiration come from our own teeming neurons, or is it a gift of a Muse?

A passion to create may feel like something from beyond us, or from a spirit being, but maybe that is what anything from the not quite known inner depths of our psyche feels like.

In his article Perspiration Meets Inspiration or, The Return of the Muse, Matt Cardin explains, “The muse model tells us that creativity can be pictured as an external force or presence that visits a person on its own timetable and inspires him or her — that is, ‘breathes into’ him or her — the idea and motivation to accomplish some sort of creative work.”

In his post Depth of Work, Part Two, Steven Pressfield (author of The War of Art) declares, “You have to be a little crazy to be a writer or an artist or an entrepreneur… But this state of mind isn’t really crazy. It comes from the gods. It’s a species of divine madness.

“Socrates called the poetic variety of this condition ‘possession by the Muses’ (and rated it superior to technical mastery)… When this kind of nuttiness grabs us, we are possessed by forces we can’t name and can’t see, can’t measure or quantify, and whose very existence is doubted by much of the conventional world.”

One consequence of this notion of “possession” can be waiting for inspiration to “happen” and viewing it as beyond our own consciousness and control. And maybe it is, at least to some degree.

Jane Piirto, Ph.D. (author of Understanding Creativity) considers it “the thorn, because it bothers, it pricks, it causes obsession until it has its way, until the person with the talent begins to work on developing it.”

A calling from the daimonic

The idea of the daimonic has multiple meanings, “from befitting a demon and fiendish, to motivated by a spiritual force or genius and inspired. It can also mean (as a literary term) the unrest that exists in us all which forces us into the unknown, leading to self-destruction and/or self-discovery.” [From the Wikipedia page on the Daimonic.]

James Hillman (author of The Soul’s Code: In Search of Character and Calling) talks about the deep importance of this “unrest” – and that “We hunger for that myth of calling, destiny. I think it’s something people can feel as — I hate the word — empowering, but at least affirming.”

But on the way to being affirming, the daimonic may be overwhelming, as Carl Jung has commented: “A creative person has little power over their own life. They are not free, but captive and driven by their daimon.” [paraphrased]

Psychologist Rollo May noted “the daimonic (unlike the demonic, which is merely destructive) is as much concerned with creativity as with negative reactions… constructiveness and destructiveness have the same source in human personality. The source is simply human potential.”

[From my interview with Stephen A. Diamond, PhD: The Psychology of Creativity.]

Being creative also has a spiritual dimension.

As Jungian psychologist Marion Woodman says, “The creative process shrivels in the absence of continual dialogue with the soul. And creativity is what makes life worth living.”

Elizabeth Gilbert (author of Eat, Pray, Love and other books) says in her post Some Thoughts on Writing, “I believe that – if you are serious about a life of writing, or indeed about any creative form of expression – that you should take on this work like a holy calling.

“I became a writer the way other people become monks or nuns. I made a vow to writing, very young. I became Bride-of-Writing.”

But, she warns, “Please try, also, not to go totally freaking insane in the process. Insanity is a very tempting path for artists, but we don’t need any more of that in the world at the moment, so please resist your call to insanity.

“We need more creation, not more destruction. We need our artists more than ever, and we need them to be stable, steadfast, honorable and brave – they are our soldiers, our hope.”

[Photo from my post Elizabeth Gilbert on fear and creativity and mental health.]

Painting: Kiss of the Muse by Paul Cezanne [From]


Creative Passion: Teeming Neurons or Muse?

Douglas Eby

Douglas EbyDouglas Eby, MA/Psychology, is a writer and researcher on psychology and personal development related to creativity; creator of the , and author of books including [link to book site with excerpts.]
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APA Reference
Eby, D. (2012). Creative Passion: Teeming Neurons or Muse?. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 1, 2020, from


Last updated: 26 Oct 2012
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