Harpies: Those Things that Drain our Creative Soul

An archaeologist unearths the divine feminine, one archetype at a time...

Harpies: the official definition is from Greek mythology - creatures with the upper bodies of women, the lower bodies of birds. The spirit of sudden gusts of winds, sent by Hades to steal the souls of people and carry them off to the Underworld to torture them. They appear as both beautiful, winged maidens and ugly old women with sharp talons. 

But I'm more interested in a modern interpretation, one that I first encountered when reading Women Who Run with the Wolves by the Jungian psychologist Clarissa Pinkola Estes. Her definition of Harpies: those things that claw at us like predators, draining us of our creative energy, our sense of well-being, our sense of confidence.

Our sense of Who We Are.

Such as the fear of expressing oneself, of using one's voice. Do I have the strength and confidence to tell the truth in my writing? As Alexandra Fuller, the author of Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight, says, "I think you have to write about a million words to clean out of the pipes. I think we are afraid of our own voices and very self-censoring, and we write as if the book is going to publish and be read by people. Once we realize we're never going to get published and we just write; that's our voice."

But of course - we want to be published, right? Fuller's advice is well-taken, though. If we feel as though we are confessing our deepest thoughts to a diary no one will ever see, then that's the moment we free our voices, allowing the words to sneak past that censor, that ever-present detention hall nun that lies in wait, ready to snatch our most vulnerable and closely-guarded treasures.

Sort of reminds you of the old saying by William W. Purkey:

"You've gotta dance like there's nobody watching,
Love like you'll never be hurt,
Sing like there's nobody listening,
And live like it's heaven on earth."

So wherever I find myself in the world

Fully aware of those Harpies standing over my shoulder, waiting to pounce

I write on, doing the only thing I know to do

Letting their clattering beaks and flapping wings fade away, back into the Underworld.


  1. Sis, I love the pictures, I love the gentle confidence and the implied encouragement. There are a lot of poses in yoga in which you expose your throat and your heart. The focus is on those chakras and when you feel that stretch, you realize just how vital the process is. There really is a channel that must be cleared and that happens only with tremendous courage.

    Stay the course (as I know you will.)

    1. A very important observation, Suze - the whole concept of the throat chakra and opening one's voice. You are correct that this is a channel that must be cleared, and it truly does take courage. I am working on that one a lot ;)

  2. I loved this, Amanda. Wonderful and inspiring. Damn those Harpies (not the same as that all-important self-critic!) Write on, write on. Express yourself. Nobody's watching! ('Cept us bloggies, of course...) Telling the truth, in your own voice, that's the thing...

    1. Robert, I agree that the part of us we employ to provide ourselves with constructive criticism does not belong to the Harpy family. But that doubting, unhelpful and self-critical voice is definitely a Harpy...perhaps the worst of the lot!

  3. That was so beautiful Amanda. I agree that we tend to self-censor. I know I do that a lot. I need to shoot those harpies away.

  4. I do love this also, and now have an image of what I want to vanish when they show up- great advice!

  5. I know it sounds silly, but it's nice to have something to focus on when the creativity drains away. Now I know that I can fight off the harpies around me and get down to business :)

  6. Because we live in society, we watch what we say, we modulate our sound so it is interpreted correctly, we restrain our natural tendencies to be selfish and brute. Having said that, it doesn't mean that we can't find our own instrument through which our sounds come out as they are felt.

    Our "voice" is that confidence to do all that we do, knowing full well there will be some consequences.

    1. It is a challenge to use our authentic voice while navigating 'polite' society. You bring up an interesting point: the differences between how we use our voice to interact with other people in the world and how we use our voice in our writing.

  7. These pestering Harpies have been pecking at my brain lately...whaaa..."go away little Harpies",I whisper,go away..heehee. It's all good my friend,these moments help me to "let go" for a while and because of this I can return refreshed, rejuvenated, ready...to start again.

    Your writing inspires me,always has, always will....Harpies and all.

    1. I'm sorry to hear the Harpies have been pecking away, Cat - but I like the fact that you use such moments to recharge your creative battery - you go girl!

  8. Sadly, I have encountered a few Harpies in my life...what to do? Walk on, go on with Life.....and pass by them - never surrender to those feelings of fear and doubt!


    ♥ Robin ♥

    1. Good advice dear twin!! I would love to know if Harpies ever appear in any operas - and you would know the answer to that!! xoxo

  9. I can relate to these feelings, but it's best to acknowledge your fears and move on. Focus on your writing not the results. A thick skin is the best defense. Believe in yourself, and the harpies will fly away. Good luck with your revisions.

  10. No harpie is going to sneak up and steal my soul, Amanda. I have enough problems :-)

    I read this post a few days ago and surely I left a comment?

    I keep saying, 'first draft, first draft .' It is mine alone, but even then I can trick myself straight into academy award status. I am fascinated by people who truly write only for themselves because that is not me. I want the recognition that comes with a work well done.

    You are wise to just keep writing. That is the real measure: a writer......writes.

    Love love

  11. oh, the guardedness of not writing or thinking or living in full truth is a reflex, i think, beyond gender, to ward against vulnerability, which in its most extreme form is to guard against mortality. plus we have the whole idea of perfection arse backwards. and where in god's name did the idea of the one polarity of perfection come from when really perfection encompasses all? perhaps from cleverly veiled consumerism (which has its reflex, its bite, centered against mortality).

    and how, just how do we write, think and live directly into truth? how do we make our world better through this?

    that said:) i wish you the best of luck and the most of bravery)))



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