- by Mary Brian
“All of Anthroposophy is contained in the Mystery Plays.” This is something I have often heard, and yet to approach these works of Rudolf Steiner is no easy task. Perhaps one reason, as stated by Barbara Renold, director of the second play, “The Soul’s Probation” presented August 17-20, 2011, in Spring Valley, New York, is that they are available to most of us in a heavy book, and yet they are meant to be experienced as a colourful living drama of individuals on the stage. Even here on the stage, Rudolf Steiner leaves us free, without enticement; these plays require much chewing and time to digest. My experience has been, however, that like a little seed of cumin in the mouth, they spread and continue to enhance all the life around.
Our “guide” into this realm of relationship, reincarnation, and karma was Barbara Renold, humbly sharing the fruits of her own “destiny” as a third generation Anthroposophist, thoroughly steeped in and then intensively working in the Mystery Plays for most of her life.
Barbara’s grandparents came from St. Petersburg, Russia, and listened to Rudolf Steiner speak in Dornach. Barbara “grew up” with the Mystery Plays. At age 18 (first moon node) while paying her way by cleaning toilets at the Goetheanum, she attended many Mystery Play rehearsals and performances in Dornach. Barbara went on later to study Speech, worked as a Waldorf teacher, and since 1987 (second moon node!) has been fostering the plays in Spring Valley, New York, starting with a few scenes from the second play, and gradually working up to presenting the whole second drama, then the third and fourth plays (the latter in Dornach, 1998).
Between 2007-2008, Barbara worked on scenes from the first Mystery Play, culminating with a full presentation of “The Portal of Initiation” in Spring Valley in 2009. Now, in 2011, the hundredth year anniversary of its presentation in Munich, “The Soul’s Probation” was the focus.
Barbara “primed” us with daily morning talks about several of the scenes, followed in the evening by the presentation on the stage of these same scenes. Certainly one of Barbara Renold’s incredible strengths is her ability to see through all the complexities to a simple kernel underneath. She brought the characters down to earth, so we could perceive traits of ourselves or our friends being acted out before us.
For example, Johannes Thomasius, the striving artist, is someone who doesn’t know who he is. He lives in everyone around him. He becomes dependent on Maria for his artistic inspiration. He lives much in his feeling; in this play he becomes very excited and passionate. He moves in wide arcs over the stage , his gestures large and expressive.
Then there is Strader, the scientist, in whom we can recognize our society’s present day attitude of doubting the spiritual. Unlike the other characters, Strader is not helped by the “Soul Forces” of Astrid, Philia, and Luna….he is left totally on his own to think everything through. He tries to escape his misery by working long hours in his screw factory, just doing. He suffers in the cold hardened realm of Ahriman. Capesius, the Professor, falls under the temptations of Lucifer.
The Mystery Plays strive to answer, “What do you do with a spiritual experience?” In this second play, Maria meets “the dragon of self-deceit” (or is it “conceit”?), Ahriman, who is trying to confuse her that every situation must follow hard and fast rules. Ahriman spreads doubts, through his hard intellect, that our human consciously evolved heart-felt experiences can be true. Ahriman has no understanding of metamorphosis. Maria has transformed her feeling through will to help others, and so with her clear thinking and will-penetrated soul forces, can meet this dragon
In his deeply researched and amazing talk, Steve Usher elaborated on the theme of Ahriman and Lucifer, relating it also to our own experiences. When we penetrate outwardly through the veil of the senses, we meet Ahriman and his minions, highly intelligent and passionate to destroy. Ahriman performs deeds which outwardly manifest as events of nature. (Radioactive material in nature is composed of Ahrimanic elementals.) In human nature, Ahriman manifests as sensuous urges. Ahriman is related to illness; he is the “Lord of Death”. We need to develop the clear living penetrated thinking of Michael to meet this challenge.
When we penetrate inwardly, into our own soul, we come into the realm of Lucifer. Lucifer has a veritable passion for creation, productivity, and bringing into being. Lucifer inspires great egoism; filled, we can blow ourselves up so we see ourselves as a whole world. Anyone who is brooding on himself, as is Capesius, can be a doorway for Luciferic spirits…… This was just the beginning!
Else Wouterson, gave a detailed description of the life of a Templar, both monk and warrior. Apparently the rules of their order were written down by Bernard of Clairvaux, In their rhythmical religious life, the Pater Noster, or Lord’s Prayer, was constantly repeated. (I understand that Rudolf Steiner also repeated the Lord’s Prayer aloud, daily.) The Templars were originally given the power of three “Papal Bulls”, superceded only by the Pope. They sacrificed their lives completely to Christ, and vowed to fight to the death. Like the fairy tale of “The Axe and the Tree” (How does Evil come out of Good?), the “mummified” ideas of Thomas v. Aquinas became the tool of the Catholic Church’s “Domini Canis” (hound of God) in the Inquisition that wiped out the Templars. (This whole last thought from Daniel Hafner.)
Everything interwove. In Steiner’s second play, “The Soul’s Probation”, the main characters all experience themselves in the first third of the 14th century in Burgenland, near the Templar’s ‘Castle Lochenhaus’. Interweaving lives. Unfolding layers of revelation.
Daniel Hafner’s talk, entitled “The Drama of Reincarnation: Individual Destiny and World History”, was mind-blowing, ranging from the relationship of “drama” to “karma”, and going back to the ancient Greek drama, and also to Wagner’s “Parcival”, where there is a hint of the reality of reincarnation. Evolving out of J.W.von Goethe’s “Green Snake and the Beautiful Lily”, Rudolf Steiner’s plays put reincarnation on the stage for the first time in our present era! How do the mystery streams of the new Sun Christianity, as carried by the Templars, relate to the Catholic orders of the Cistercians and Dominicans? “Where is Thomism in the present?” Well, you had to be there!
The actors were each so different and alive in their presentations. After just experiencing the four Mystery Plays in Dornach, I was struck by the way these mainly American actors ("Capesius" was English; "Romanus", Australian) seemed “real”, somehow more physically and soul-penetrated. In this smaller more intimate setting, their portrayals “spoke” to me and moved me in a way not experienced in Dornach. (Certainly just having had the overview of all four plays in Dornach contributed to this deepened experience.) It was also a joy to have the words (English) go with the actions of the actors.( Although in Dornach we had incredible translators who brought the stage’s German words into living English! Also in Dornach, the elaborate and colourful eurythmy presentations were nourishment for the eyes and soul, as was the music.).However, here in Spring Valley, the Luciferic and Ahrimanic beings, were powerful forces, experienced up close!
Canada was quite well represented at the Conference; of the 75(?) or so participants, about 10 were from Ontario. After all the talks, discussions, meetings, and experiencing of the individual scenes, we were treated at the end to a presentation of the full play, “The Soul’s Probation”. To sum up, in the words of Sharon Ballah (of Camphill Nottawasaga, Ontario): “I felt there was not a boundary between what was on the stage and the audience. It was more of a circle, a sense of oneness and full participation of everyone there in the Mystery Drama.”
Our relationship to these supersensible realms, as explored in the Mystery Plays, is of extreme relevance. In Ontario, we are experiencing the battle of “raw-milk advocate” Michael Schmidt, standing up for the freedom of each individual to choose what he will eat, against the bureaucracy of Government rule and hierarchies of money and power. All over America, the “Occupy” movements are expressing peoples’ desire for freedom in the face of big business and global agendas. In the realm of nature, radioactive material continues to leak into the earth in Japan and spread. Ahriman and Lucifer are everywhere present. How do we recognize and meet them?
We can be very thankful for the dedication of Barbara Renold and the actors. Years and years of peoples’ lives, strivings, questions, passion, training, and practice were the gifts to us “play-goers”, deepening our understanding of Anthroposophy.
Next summer, 2012, in Spring Valley, NY, will come the third play (“The Guardian of the Threshold”), followed in summer 2013 by the fourth play. (“The Soul’s Awakening”). What could possibly cap off this achievement? Yes! In summer, 2014, there will be a week-long conference including all four mystery dramas!!
As Daniel Hafner, Christian Community Priest in Toronto, stretching his words to far distant spaces, queried in his closing talk: WHY ISN’T EVERY ANTHROPOSOPHIST HERE?! THIS IS A FESTIVAL PLAY OF CONSECRATION! THIS IS A GREAT SPIRITUAL EVENT!! The Mystery Plays are being produced in ENGLISH, in AMERICA, and IT WOULD BENEFIT EVERYONE (who is an Anthoposophist) TO BE HERE!!