12 Holy Nights Mystery Play study-Scene One [long]
- *******Well, either people don't have any experience with taking up a work for the 12 Holy Nights, didn't understand how we were to go about it, or just aren't participating. It didn't work well last year either. So, we'll do the best we can and hope for better results next year.
The 12 Nights, described mystically in the Norwegian legend "The Dream-Song of Olaf Asteson", are the time when the spirit world is closest to us, and so it can be a transformative experience to study something intensively during that time. In anthroposophical communities, people are meeting each night and studying one of the books of spirit science or lectures of Steiner's or other anthroposophic study material. We've done this online here for 7 years now.
Since no one has taken up the challenge to present the first scene, I'll start.
* * *
First, what is a "Mystery Play" and why are Steiner's plays called that?
In the Middle Ages, all over Christendom, people would put on plays at Christmas depicting the Creation and the Fall of Man symbolically, then the Birth of the Redeemer as the fulfillment of the plan to rescue us from doom (which are now being put on again in Waldorf Schools at Christmas). They and other symbolic plays in those times were called Miracle Plays or Mystery Plays. This is a survival of the sacred origin of the theater, just as are the plays enacted in Masonic lodges. In the ancient Greek and Roman Mystery-Religions, men were prepared over time to act out a symbolic drama of the Fall and re-ascent of man, and this was done in such a way that the person participating would actually be transformed by the event. The first plays written by the Greek dramatist Aeschylus, and later by Sophocles and Euripedes, were profane versions of these sacred initiation dramas. So the origin of the theater was in sacred symbolic portrayals of cosmic mysteries, a tradition later revived in Enlightenment times as the Opera.
When you experience spirit-beings, you can only go so far in writing about this in dry book form. When you want to really describe the experiences, they naturally take the form of being "spoken" to by beings, interacting with them, doing things as a result of what they communicate to you, having things happen to you in your life after this, and being changed as a further result. Already in his last few books written up to 1909, Steiner had begun depicting things in this more living way, for instance the meeting with the Guardian that happens on the spiritual path in Knowledge of the Higher Worlds and its Attainment. Then, as I wrote last week, he had been exposed to Goethe's symbolic "Fairy Tale of the Green Snake and the Beautiful Lily", he said, 14 years before he wrote about the symbolic path of spirit-development contained in it (in an article he wrote entitled "Goethe's Secret Revelation" about 1896), and another 14 years passed and the content of this metamorphosed into his first Mystery Play in 1910.
The theater has become, in the past 200 years, much fallen away from any contact with its spiritual source (as Andre expresses so well in the film "My Dinner With Andre"). So, doing something like a new Mystery Play was a radical departure from regular theater at that time, as it still is in ours. It's not just going back to tradition as in the Christmas plays or Masonic ritual enactments, but an entirely new approach. I've been privileged to experience this as an actor in both Goethe's Fairy Tale and several of the Mystery Plays, including this first one, The Portal of Initiation. It is an experience of a completely new theater that anyone who can seek out should. (For anyone in the New York City area, there is the Michael Chekhov Group working there with these new techniques of movement and speech, and the Plays are put on from time to time at Sunbridge College in Spring Valley. But the real center is Dornach.)
* * *
As a recognition of the radical difference in this kind of Play, there is first an introductory "Prelude" of two friends meeting, one of whom (Sophia) has gotten into anthroposophy while her friend Estella does not relate to it; Estella invites Sophia to a performance of HER type of play (whiny, political and "modern", it would appear, like a lot of the leftist stuff people online want to mix in with anthroposophy ;->). But Sophia reminds her that her society is putting on their Mystery Play tonight, and so she says she can't go with her. They have a brief exchange about their different approaches to life and art and the theater, in which Sophia says some introductory words preparing the audience for a different use of the theater. What follows is the play she is going out to see.
The Prelude can be read here: http://wn.rsarchive.org/Books/GA014/English/APC1925/GA014-1_prelude.html
One of the important differences in this type of play is that one scene does not follow another in the same setting or in linear time. Rather, the first scene takes place in the "real" world here, and then the next several scenes happen within the soul of the central character, who sits downstage in meditation. Scene One can be read here: http://wn.rsarchive.org/Books/GA014/English/APC1925/GA014-1_scene01.html
One way to approach the Play is to compare it to the fairy Tale, as we've been saying in preparation for reading it together. In that, the central characters are the Young Priince and the cursed Lily. He has seen the beautiful Lily whose curse makes it so that all who touch her must die, and as a result he has lost all interest in life. Similarly, in The Portal of Initiation, the main characters are Johannes and Maria. Johannes is an artist and his love Maria found her way to anthroposophy; but when she introduced him to it, all that resulted was that it killed all the creativity in his soul, so he can no longer paint and is feeling as if he is dying inside, facing an Abyss of nothingness.
In this first scene, they have just gone to a lecture by a speaker like Steiner, and other people who were at the lecture come by on their way out. There are two academics, an older literature professor Capesius and a young scientist Dr. Strader (who amusingly correspond to the 2 Will-o-Wisps of the Fairy Tale). In a rare visit down from the mountains has come the nature mystic Felix Balde (who corresponds to the "Man with the Lamp") and his wife Felicia, who is one of those gifted with the old power to spin fairy tales out of herself. [Felix appears through all the plays, and in his autobiography Steiner tells of knowing a man with natural clairvoyance when a lad, an herb-gatherer named Felix: he is the type of person born with this ability due to former lives as an initiate, like Edgar Cayce was.] We hear that Capesius discovered Felicia and the magic of her words, and they restored life to his soul, and he began visiting her house in the mountains, later bringing Strader with him. All the characters express at length (except Felix who apparently is a man of few words) the deep thoughts and feelings stimulated by the spiritual knowledge they have been exposed to. (Each one's words are filled with meaning and should be read rather than summarized here.)
There is also a woman who has found her way into this society of people, Theodora, who has a gift of prophecy which she cannot control but which impels her to speak strange words at times which she does not herself understand. She suddenly has one of these moods and 'channels' in front of the materialist Dr. Strader, which has an unsettling effect on his 'scientific' certainty of mind, which he explains was the substitute for the religion he was raised in and intended to become a priest in until his discovery of science wrecked his faith in it.
Three friends of Maria named Philia, Luna and Astrid walk through (who correspond to the Lily's 3 maids-in-waiting), and three men called Theodosius, Romanus and Germanus, aong with the lecturer, Benedictus (the Four Kings), and another woman named Maria (the Green Snake), who Steiner calls The Other Maria, and another named Helena. All these characters express thoughts stimulated by the spirit-science lecture they have just heard, and by each other's words.
But at last they all leave, leaving Johannes alone with his Maria, and he expresses feelings like those of people usually labelled with 'schizo-affective disorder' today--- each person terrified him and made him feel his own nothingness in a horrifiying way, in place of normal human feeling. He saw into each one's soul but it only made him feel that each of them made his partial experience of human nature into a whole being, while he no longer felt a healthy, whole being himself. And a dark past came back to him when the lecturer had said how we must take care how we can destroy those linked to us by love with our powers: Johannes felt accused by his conscience of bringing about the death of a woman who loved him but whom he left. Maria leaves him, saying she cannot help him in this trial, that he must do so alone. The scene then concludes with an interesting exchange between Johannes and Helena.
* * *
If there is participation, perhaps we can look at lines and exchanges from the scene in detail. Since most of the characters are introduced here, it would be good to study them in detail a bit before moving on to the other scenes. We can catch up later.
If anyone would like to present other scenes, say so.
Date: Mon, 24 Dec 2007 10:06:56 -0500
Subject: [steiner] 12 Holy Nights/Mystery Play study*******Well, tonight is the first of the 12 Holy Nights. No one has responded to my asking who is going to participate in reading the first Mystery Play and how, not even the people who suggested taking it up for the 12 Holy Nights in the first place. Only Matthew responded about taking Scene Five.
Is anyone out there?
To: steiner@yahoogroups .com
From: DrStarman@hotmail. com
Date: Thu, 20 Dec 2007 09:14:31 -0500
Subject: RE: [steiner] The Fairy Tale/Mystery Play*******Well, we now have 5 days. The Play has eleven scenes: would someone like to volunteer to present one of them?
To: steiner@yahoogroups .com
From: DrStarman@hotmail. com
Date: Sat, 15 Dec 2007 14:34:30 -0500
Subject: RE: [steiner] The Fairy Tale******* We can look at the "märchen" or fairy tale as a work of literature. It's a story that has the look of a folk tale, with symbolism which can be interpreted many ways. It starts with a land under a spell and a beautiful woman under a spell, where a prophecy foretells that one day the curse will be broken. The spell on the land is that the great River divides it in two, and travel across it is limited to three ways: there is a Ferryman who can take people one way but not the other, the magical creature the 'Green Snake' forms a bridge at the height of the sun, at noon (and at the end of the story, also apparently at midnight, although we're not told if that was true from the beginning), and at sunrise and sunset a Giant can carry people across with his magic shadow. Apart from that, there is no permanent way across, but one is foretold; also, there is a great Temple, but it is underground, where the prohecy says it will rise to be by the River. The spell on the woman, Lily, is that, though she is so beautiful, she kills every living thing she touches, and so cannot know Love.
So the story is of how the spell is broken and a new world born. Part of the story of how it happens is that the Young Prince dies for love of the Lily (quite natural for a Romantic like Goethe), and then is restored to life through the sacrifice of the Snake---- who is thus a sort of Christ-figure of redemptive sacrifice. At the end, the Prince becomes the new King with Lily his bride, now no longer cursed, the Man with the Lamp and the Ferryman are his assistants, the Temple, now raised to the surface, is his palace, and the Ferryman's hut has become a smaller temple within the larger. A permanent bridge is upon the River and people can cross in both directions any time. The Giant, who had been a destructive power, becomes a statue/sun-dial whose shadow serves a useful purpose.
The meaning of the tale, then, is how this miraculous redemption and transformation is accomplished. Now, it only kills the spirit of a truly inspired story to say in a dry way, Well, this stands for this, this represents that. Goethe's story is as inspired and alive as any of the old tales gathered by the Grimms. But he clearly shared with Schiller some of the meaning of the story, as the latter wrote him in a letter that, when Goethe was going to revolutionary Paris, he should be careful of getting too near the 'Giant's shadow'. So both understood it as symbolic of the crude power of the ignorant masses. (In Steiner's play it becomes the Spirit of the 'Earth-Brain' .) Every character in it and every event can likewise be interpreted. Perhaps people here would like to offer their suggestions of what its symbols mean to you.
I'll just say a bit of an overall interpretation. Its various characters and events all tell a symbolic story of how Man can move from his 'fallen' state to one where the Spirit is accessible to him daily, instead of being that beautiful reality we can only see by dying. A sacrifice or Mystic Death is involved in reaching this state, just as Christ's death on the Cross was necessary in history, or as a German mystic put it, Though Christ be crucified on Calvary a thousand times, unless you set up that Cross in you, it is of no power. The Lily is the true Spiritual world. In the Mystery Play Steiner calls her Maria (she was, of course, played by his wife Marie), and he calls the Green Snake "The OTHER Maria." So the Snake is in some way the power of Nature, of the merely natural within us (green is the color of nature). She is thus a reflection of the Spirit in its true nature over there, but one that must die to itself in order to be reborn as what it really is. She must first be infused with Light, intelligence, and then seek the mystic Death and Rebirth. Goethe: "Und so langt du nich hast dies, 'Stirb und werde!', du ist nur ein Truber Gast en der dunkeln Erde." [ And so long as you do not have this, Die and Become!, you are but a troubled guest on this darkened Earth.] The first Mystery Play thus likewise portrays this Path of self-transformation . It also begins with a man separated sorrowfully from his Beloved, and through what he experiences, they are rejoined by the end of it.
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