WB Yeats’s notebook from his Golden Dawn Days and an illustration of the World Tarot card (above).
I’ve blogged about the 19th century connection between poetry and mysticism and developing artistic vision. Here are five other Victorian-era practices that can be used to boost your creativity.
1) Tarot. The Victorian occultists worked intensively with Tarot to expand their consciousness. They studied the Tarot symbols, they meditated on the cards, they even drew or painted their own cards to acquire a soul-deep understanding of the symbols, letting them play within their subconscious.
As a writer, I use Tarot frequently for character development. When I’m stuck on a character, I’ll think of what Tarot card he’s most like, e.g. the King of Cups. Then I’ll consider the positive and negative qualities of that card. The King of Cups is mature, diplomatic, loving. On the dark side, his diplomacy can turn to manipulation. And sometimes he can be a little too loving, even sleazy. Suddenly, I’ve got a fully fleshed out and very real character.
Thank you, Tarot! (For more ways to use Tarot for writing, check out this blog post.)
2) The Commonplace Book. In fairness, this creativity-boosting practice pre-dates the Victorians. Thomas Jefferson kept commonplace books on his literary and philosophical readings, and he was crazy creative. But the Victorians embraced commonplace books with enthusiasm.
Less personal (and embarrassing) than a diary, a commonplace book is a place to record quotations, snippets of found knowledge, dreams, insights, poems, ideas, images, symbols, patterns… You get the picture. But here’s the trick to the commonplace book: you need to review it on a regular basis (hat tip to Carolyn Elliott‘s excellent book, Awaken Your Inner Genius). I know I’m not reviewing my own commonplace book enough when I write down the same quotation twice. Urgh.
There’s something about the process of recording and reviewing that engages your conscious and subconscious minds, helping you develop connections between images and ideas. And creativity, it turns out, is largely a matter of building those connections.
Seriously, this works. I’ve been doing it for nine months now, and it’s been mind expanding. My only regret is I didn’t buy a nicer journal when I started. But when this one is full, I’m going full Book of Shadows!
3) Meditation. Yes, the Victorians meditated, they even invented a form of guided meditation known as pathworking. Granted, both seated meditation and pathworking were considered avant garde practices, but Victorian occultists and artists were fascinated with eastern metaphysics.
It appears when it came to seated meditation, these Victorians artists mainly experimented with walking, zen-type, and guided meditations. But the great thing about meditation is pretty much any type that brings you to the present moment and helps you feel the unity of things will expand your artistic and mystic vision. So use what works for you. If nature inspires, go for a long walk and just notice the world around you. If you want to work on your connectiveness, loving kindness could be your thing. Want to improve your ability to notice the world around you? Zen.
The good news? You only have to meditate for a few minutes a day. Really! Only three minutes a day will have an effect. Personally, I find loving-kindness, gratitude, and zen meditations to be three of the most powerful when it comes to expanding my creative eye. I do each in three minute blocks in the morning for a total of nine minutes a day.
4) Automatic writing really took off during the Victorian era’s spiritualist movement, when it was commonly used in seances. Later, other types of magical practitioners began exploiting the practice as well, accessing the spirits or their higher selves (or in modern-day speak, their subconscious. Or is it super conscious?). And automatic writing is fairly easy. First, just sit for a minute or two and meditate on breathing in and out whatever it is you need right now: loving kindness, peace, or joy. Then put pen to paper and write without looking at the page or thinking. Let your subconscious pour out. Bypass your brain, loosen your inner editor, and just write.
And yes, most of what you write will be utterly goofy. That’s okay. In fact, that’s sort of the point. It get you past that internal editor who brings your writing to a self-conscious halt. This is big. BIG. The entire speed-writing concept is based on sending your inner critic on vacation and just putting words on paper.
If you’re an artist, you can try the same technique but use images instead of words. In short, doodle blind.
5) Incantations. Known in modern-day-speak as affirmations, Victorian occultists used incantations to change themselves and make change in their lives. If you’re writing your own affirmation/incantation, be sure to phrase it in the present tense and in a positive way. For example:
I am creating what is mine to create in a way that is in my greatest and highest good and in the greatest and highest good of those around me.
I dissolve all barriers between me & my words. My ideas & imagination flow easily in a way that is wonderful for me and those around me.
As my heart opens to the universe, my painting improves.
My art is beautiful and inspiring, reflecting the beauty and inspiration within my heart.
Be sure to write your incantations in your commonplace book!
At this point, you may be thinking: Hey, are these all really magical practices? Because these practices all aim to change your inner landscape and so change your world, I say they are.
If you’re looking for more inspiration on living a magically creative life, I highly recommend Awaken Your Inner Genius by Carolyn Elliott.
About the Author
Other books in the Riga Hayworth series of urban fantasies include: The Metaphysical Detective, The Alchemical Detective, The Shamanic Detective, The Infernal Detective and The Elemental Detective. Kirsten is also the author of Steam and Sensibility and Of Mice and Mechanicals, steampunk novels of magick and suspense.