Thursday, May 4, 2017



              If one could bottle the elixir of motivation, one might make millions.  What moves someone from stillness to action? 

 - Dr Beth Anne Boardman
cultural mythologist


If one could bottle the elixir of motivation, one might make millions.  What moves someone from stillness to action?  How does one overcome complacency or emotional paralysis and take healthy, constructive, creative action?

Motivation fades and surges according to its own inconstant logic.  How wonderful would it be, as one slumps at one’s desk, preparing to prepare one’s yearly taxes, to be able to chug down a quick shot of elixir-of-motivation, and get the job done?  How fabulous to conquer stage-fright and let one’s passion fly with an effortless sleight of hand, or get that dissertation done by just opening the laptop.  One hears the phrase liquid courage, but the spirit of action is more mercurial, more insubstantial than Jack Daniels. 

Mercurial: difficult if not impossible to pin down, grasp, define.  Uncontainable.  Not always apparent.  Unpredictable.  Written in the wind.  Words point in the direction of mercurial; images, though, evoke more complex meanings and help illustrate the enigmatic.  Ancient cultures around the world drew or painted or carved the likenesses of winged humans, angels, gods, fairies, and mythic beings who moved between the worlds—between heaven, earth, and the underworld.  Wings signify the unseen power of the air, the mysterious aspects of communication (prayer, intuition, meditation) between humans and what they perceive as invisible, divine energies outside of themselves. 

In addition to angels, gods, goddesses, and other mythic beings, people also honor and pray to saints, prophets, stars, the spirits of the Ancestors, and/or the planet’s natural elements.  Celtic tradition collectively names these unseen energies the Otherworld.  Fantastical images and stories of otherworldly beings emphasize that Divine Power(s) exist outside of the human world and thus remain unpredictable and inscrutable to humanity.  Jungian and Archetypal psychologies suggest that each individual’s mind and imagination can reflect these otherworldly energies, with the caveat that one may contain aspects of the divine but cannot possess all the power of the divine.  In other words, we recognize Love in ourselves, but we do not command the power of Venus or Aphrodite.  One may embody qualities of a Warrior or Defender, but one cannot bend the energies of Mars or Aries to one’s personal human will.

Diverse sacred traditions admonish humans not to gaze directly upon the gods.  The gods/the angels/the spirits – all shy away from explicit contact, and their reticence must be honored.  When the Biblical Moses encountered I Am that I Am on the mountainside, he saw only a burning bush, and through this interaction, understood that the human form cannot contain or withstand the actual power of God.  In the Greek myth of Semele’s contact with Zeus, her pleas to see him directly resulted in the spontaneous immolation of her human form.  These stories and others like them reinforce the reality of human frailty, our divinely ordained imperfection.

Early Greeks and Romans told of Hermes (Greek) or Mercury (Roman), gods who traversed between the worlds, passing messages between

gods and humans and accompanying beings that needed to travel to and fro between heaven, earth, and the underworld.  Represented by wings on his cap or the heels of his boots (or both), Mercury’s essential responsibility and quality, therefore, is to come and go; and since he is a god, his movements are beyond feeble humanity’s ability to predict or command.  Mercury gives a face to the unseen spirit of action, illustrates the ephemeral power of motivation. Alchemists, the philosopher-scientists of old, called this spirit Mercurius, the force they recognized as the power behind both worldly and spiritual transformation.

This is the mystery of motivation: human will-power can achieve much, but only inspiration, the visitation of the mercurial spirit of action, can lead us to accomplishments beyond our planning.  Mercurius provides us moments of its otherworldly power to transform ideas into actions, dreams into realizations. Like any of the other gods, the Spirit of Action will not be summoned, only invited.  And when invited, it may or may not coalesce.  A humble stance honors that the great energies of the universe defy human containment.  Creative, purposeful action requires a sensitive dance between power and receptivity on this spider’s web of life. 

In paying attention to the quiet whisper of our inner guidance and gathering up our human willingness, we take the first step on a new journey.  Along the way, we honor the otherworld and welcome the mercurial power of action to suffuse us with inspiration.  Honor the gods, the old stories say, and remember to give thanks for those times when we find ourselves wonderfully mid-action, not knowing quite how we got there, and amazed at finding done what we thought we couldn’t do. 


Beth Anne Boardman, RN, MA, PhD lives in California and New Hampshire. She travels and lectures on the Mythology of Sport; Women and Myth; and the Alchemy of Adolescence (her dissertation topic), in addition to consulting as a writer to websites.  

Recently, Beth has served on the board of the Pacifica Graduate Institute Alumni Association and as Regional Coordinator for local alumni. Her career spans work as a registered nurse, the study of world dance and music, and the profound joy of raising two children. 


For stories and essays on creative life and culture visit Dr. Beth Ann Boardman at MYTHMUSE