by Marjorie Morgan
I’ve always been a very creative being, whether that was as a highly imaginative child or an artistically productive adult. Creativity is a common thread in my life that has helped me to metabolize my experiences and connect with other beings.
As a child, I used a lot of that creative energy just to survive as I built stories, strategies and structures that pulled the blame off of those who hurt me and put it onto myself.
As I moved into adulthood, I didn’t need to create those stories, structures and strategies anymore. And I suddenly had a lot of creative energy to spare.
I first poured this excess energy into the field of dance. I started dancing later than most, yet I was almost instantly good at it. I loved improvisation, choreography and collaborating with other artists. And I adored the intense joy of moving my body in time and space. As my skills developed in that field, I felt the need to expand the container of dance and I started to speak and sing while I was dancing. I wrote little “ditties.” And then I wanted more music to exist in my dance pieces, and I started composing. I remember just sitting down at an old, out-of-tune piano and starting to compose for several instruments and voice. I had no training in composition. My music writing skills were terrible (the scores were very rudimentary and hard to read), but the sound that came from the musicians reading those scores was magical. It was just what I imagined. I kept pushing the envelope of what was acceptable in the field of dance further and further until I was labeled a performance artist. This was not my chosen descriptor. Dance reviewers picked that word because they didn’t know what the heck I was doing. What I was creating was no longer safely in the category of dance or choreography. It was not my goal to be controversial or experimental. I was merely doing I what needed to do. It made sense to me.
Many years (and labels) later, I had to leave performance because of an injury. I had recently learned how to paint and, once again, I was almost instantly good at it. So I poured my excess creative energy into that. As my skill level grew and I started exploring other media and styles, people became confused. I remember someone telling me, “I don’t understand. Every exhibit I see of yours is completely different. What kind of artist are you?”
I am a creative channel.
This means that spirit/energy/source moves through me in creative ways. It is my calling.
And sometimes my creative projects are the result of a summons.
What is the difference between a calling and a summons?
The channeler, David Spangler, shares helpful clarity about this in his book, The Call.
Now, I want to reiterate the distinction between a summons and a call. I can call you for no other reason than that I love you and want your attention, or I’m in a friendly mood or I wish you to be aware of me. I’m not asking anything of you. How often do you call up a friend just to say hello? But a summons carries with it a sense of purpose, mission, and identity.
In this quote, while not saying it directly, he is speaking about a spiritual call versus a spiritual summons. A spiritual call is more general, such as my being a creative channel. A summons is a very specific directive from a spiritual source. In my case, this means specific works of art or bodies of work.
When I recently reviewed my years as a creative channel and the work that I have produced, I can pinpoint which projects were the results of a summons. In over 35 years of creative work, I have fulfilled no more than a handful of summonses in a variety of media. Maybe there are clusters of small works that were guided in this way that I am not noticing; but the big projects really stick out. This is because they share some very interesting traits:
1. They happen quickly and almost magically… as if something outside of me (or deep inside of me) is the driving force and my job is merely to execute this vision. I feel like I am scrambling to keep up.
2. I never see them coming. They seem to appear out of nowhere. I don’t think them up or even prepare for them.
3. I have to work right on the edge of my skill set in that particular media. Because of this, my growing curve is steep and I learn things extremely quickly.
4. I often have very little (or no) knowledge of the particulars of a project. As mentioned above, I had no training or experience in composition before I received a summons to create a score that involved five different instruments and three vocal parts. I could hear it, and I needed to make it. So I did.
5. Other humans respond very enthusiastically to these works. They like them. They might not know why, but something in the work resonates with them. I always get the best reviews, sell the most artwork, and create some kind of buzz when I’ve created work from a summons.
6. I can’t control how long it will last. Clearly, these decisions are being made outside of myself and my agenda. When I try to extend a summons after it has completed itself, the work falls flat. That particular energy just isn’t there anymore.
7. The work is a pleasure. It is a real gift and an honor to have such clarity and direction. I am always a bit sad when they are over, but I am also a bit relieved because…
8. The energy behind a summons is not sustainable long term. They are exhausting, and maintaining that kind of focus takes a lot of work. I often wonder if this is the reason why some folks who I think were creative channels (Mozart, Whitney Houston, the list goes on and on) did not live long lives. Many creative channels muffle this intense energy and drive by using drugs and alcohol. It’s a lot for a human to process.
Magical Nature Tarot is the result of a summons.
I was doing an artist’s residency, and was just waking up on the second to last day when my creative guide very clearly said, “You should make a tarot deck.” I said, “Ok,” and I started creating the backs that day. I started the fronts (the collages) on the first of January, which I just realized was 1/1/22. Hmmmm….
Here’s how this specific project lines up with the commonalities of a summons listed above:
1. They happen quickly and almost magically.
I worked rapidly, creating the entire deck in four and a half months. First, I made all of the backs. And then, each day, I picked one out of a paper bag and got to work on the front. I researched, drew, cut and glued until each image felt complete and like something special. At first, I created a new card every day. As I got further into the deck and my skill level increased, I actually needed more time with each one. The images were getting fairly complex. But I still went at a furious pace during this period of time. I remember another very supportive and curious artist reaching out to me. She was excited about the project and was worried that I would quit. Apparently, it is extremely difficult to follow through on making an entire tarot deck. It requires creating 78 separate works of art, and ideally each card has a sense of integrity, uniqueness and connection to the tradition. I wasn’t worried at all. Even though my pace slowed towards the end, I knew I was in the middle of completing a summons.
2. I never see them coming.
The summons was entirely unexpected. At the time, I was kind of artistically fumbling… trying out different things, noodling around. The specific directive seemed kind of odd, but I wasn’t doing anything else terribly successful or interesting so I figured, “why not?”
3. I have to work right on the edge of my skill set.
I had just started experimenting with collage, so I had to learn those skills on the go. I had dabbled before, but never put any real energy into this wonderful art form. And, as is typical for me, I just figured it out on my own without following any guidance or even checking in with artists I know who have a lot of experience with collage. In retrospect, that would have been super helpful, but I was too busy making things to stop and get any advice. Also, I have no experience with graphic design, so I created the cards to size… as actual, semi-useable cards… not as larger works of art that then get photographed and adjusted and copied. Rookie mistake, but kind of fun and sweet. Plus, I have an amazing (if somewhat chunky) deck of one-of-a-kind tarot cards. The copied deck is actually much easier to work with.
4. I often have very little (or no) knowledge of the particulars of a project.
Believe it or not, when I received the summons, I didn’t know anything at all about tarot cards. I had never had my cards read. I didn’t own a deck. I had never even seen a deck or a reading aside from various cheesy and inaccurate portrayals in movies and television. I was a total newbie.
5. Other humans respond very enthusiastically to these works.
Folks are responding to these cards with such wonderful enthusiasm and integrity. In fact, I am amazed at the depth and complexity of the readings I have been in involved with and the stories that I hear. My personal guide, Ken, says that these cards are especially powerful because they are an intersection of human beings, non human beings ((plants and metals) and spirit. And I think he’s right. These cards are somehow holding the intersection of that energy; and that is an energy and a collaboration that we all need right now. I don’t feel conceited when I say that because I am merely the channel for this project. There are forces way beyond my understanding that have helped me to make this happen. It’s really not about me at all. I’m just grateful to be involved.
6. I can’t control how long it will last.
The cards are done.
The energy of this whole project is still going, I am writing up a storm, I want to create a workbook (with Rebecca Guanzon), ideas are coming fast and furious, but the energy has shifted.
And the original summons is over.
7. The work is a pleasure.
I absolutely loved creating the cards. And “love” is truly the most accurate word. When I remember making them, I feel love. There is great joy in this kind of work.
8. The energy behind a summons is not sustainable long term.
To be honest, I do feel a bit tired, so I need to manage that. Less drinking would probably be good too.
The infamous choreographer, Martha Graham, once said:
There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open.
In my creative work, I need to keep this channel clear and open and wide to all possibilities. So I now call myself a “creative channel” and not an “artist” because the label “artist” feels limiting and inaccurate to me now.
My experience is that labels and identity exist on a spectrum… or a spiral. At one point in my spiral of existence, I am a “being.” At another point, I am a “human being.” While out in the natural world, I love asking questions such as “how many ‘beings’ are hungry right now?” Or how many ‘beings’ are feeling the sun?” In response, I feel a deep sense of connection and community, and my brain and heart open wide. In certain situations, for purposes of community, celebration and/or affinity, I embrace my identity as a “queer human being.” And on and on the spiral goes. I don’t even know all of my possible identities, nor do I know how vast or how tiny they are in different contexts. And I wholeheartedly support the right of all beings to create their own labels or identities. How could we possibly ever know what exists in another being’s spiral of selfhood?
I left a gallery membership and decided to stop exhibiting work just before I received the summons to create Magical Nature Tarot. I was already letting my identity as “artist” slip away, and that left room for this project. Now I feel free to keep a multitude of creative practices going, and if I get a new summons I will answer it. In the meantime, I think I’ll be pretty happy just being creative in the world without having to prove my worth to the art establishment. Who cares? There is bigger and more meaningful work to do. Even if it seems small and unimportant to others, I know where my call is coming from and that’s good enough for me.
And at some point, I will probably drop the label “creative channel” as well. Because, let’s be honest… all labels have the potential to be inaccurate and limiting. Labels don’t allow us to grow and expand and change as we need to. Ideally, as we get to know ourselves better, we understand that no word, or collection of words, could possibly describe the gorgeous and complicated creatures that we are.
We need to be open to whatever it is that reveals itself to us. Our essential natures rely on us to be as expansive as possible. I truly do not know what will happen next in my creative life. I will try and stay open and curious, so that when a summons comes, in the words of John Cage, “I welcome whatever happens next.”