Posting on my blog has become intermittent because I’m deeply immersed in my current writing project, emerging into consciousness long enough only to put out the rubbish and occasionally grab something to eat – a benevolent pixie seems to protect me from confusing the two.
Waiting for the kettle to boil this morning, flicking through a tome on ancient Greek mythology – as you do – my attention was caught by the mention of ‘chaos’. It released a swarm of…well…chaotic thoughts, so it occurred to me to share the messy process with you.
The book in question was written by H. A. Guerber and published in 1907, so it is a slightly expurgated version or, as the author himself puts it: “The myths are told as graphically and accurately as possible, great care being taken, however, to avoid the more repulsive features of heathen mythology” – no need to cover the screen should the vicar arrive unexpectedly.
Myths not only recounted the carryings-on of gods and heroes, but the creation of the world – the cosmology of the ancients – and it was the beginnings of things that interested me. Heading the family tree of Greek gods – there are zillions of them, promiscuous and prolific as they were – sat Chaos and his wife Nyx. At that point, earth, water and air were not separate but mixed up in a sort of primordial porridge, which didn’t worry Chaos and Nyx because they couldn’t see the mess, there being as yet no light. Ovid puts it more poetically:
Ere earth and sea, and covering heavens, were known,
The face of nature, o’er the world, was one;
And men have called in Chaos; formless, rude,
The mass; dead matter’s weight, inert, and crude;
Where, in mix’d heap of ill-compounded mould,
The jarring seeds of things confusedly roll’d.[R.Elton’s translation]
When Chaos and Nyx grew tired of muddling along, they asked their son Erebus (Darkness) to help them sort things out. His first act was to get rid of his father and marry his mother. They produced two children, Aether (Light) and Hemera (Day), who quickly realized the potential of the ‘ill-compounded mould’ now that they could see it, sacked both of their parents and took matters over themselves with the help of their son Eros (Love). (As Guerber is careful to point out, all this in-house begetting is morally dubious, but they had little option at the time).
And these three made a good team; between them they created Pontus (the Sea), and Gaea (the Earth). Gaea, though, was a bit of a disappointment initially: brown, inert and boring. It took an arrow from Eros to produce from her all the living creatures, trees, flowers and flowing streams. Gaea, shaken out of her lethargy, was so pleased by the joy and life attached to her that she topped it off my creating Uranus (Heaven).
It was at this point that I brewed the tea and felt a flood of sundry thoughts. We tend to use the word ‘nyx – if we use it at all – to mean ‘nothing’, ‘emptyness’, but the beginning was not nothing; the problem was too many somethings in a jostling, indecipherable heap. This describes pretty well the state of my mind with a new book idea, and I’ve learnt to wait for Aether to illuminate the potential in the whole primitive mass, and to draw upon Eros – for the love of writing – to bring it to life.
That initial chaos can be disturbing; trying to disentangle it too soon with force can result in the mind freezing up – a form of writers’ block. Whether it takes six days and is resolved on the seventh day, or whether it takes seven times seven, light and love will prevail, and may, ultimately, create something quite different to my initial concept – the idea I thought was lurking in the primordial porridge. To finally reach this seed, and bring it to fruition with the help of that other wondrous Greek goddess, Muse, is as close as most of us get to heaven.
And when we find a publisher, we join those lucky souls on that other bit of Greek cosmology, the Isles of the Blest, where ‘The sun is bright , by day and night…Not a tear do they shed, not a sigh do they heave, they are happy for ever and ever!’ or so Pindar would have us believe.
But our own inspiration is not always the instigator of chaos. More often than not, we are quietly minding our own business, nurturing our seedlings with the Muse, when chaos is thrust upon us from some other quarter. This is life’s chaos, recurrent blips in the order of things, and it is tempting to sit in the dark like Nyx, muddle along, ignoring it and hoping for the best. But that doesn’t work. If we don’t want to be sacked and taken over, we must recognise for ourselves some potential in this alien chaos, some different seed of a new beginning, and conjure up light and love to make it germinate.
My tea has gone cold, but with any luck you might have gleaned at least some amusement from these mental meanderings. I hope normal service will be resumed.
If you are passionate about porridge, Greek mythology, or anything else, why not share your enthusiasm by writing about it. All the guidance and techniques you need to do so are here: Writing Your Nonfiction Book: the complete guide to becoming an author
“This is an essential ‘How To’ manual for writers of every sort.” Anne Stormont, Words with JAM