Thursday, October 28th, 2010 Diary Entry – Lineage
What a lovely day, Ganymede.
Sometimes people like to keep track of their magical lineage. The Wiccans have this rule that only a witch initiated by a witch initiated by a witch… and so on… who was initiated by Gardner’s original coven is a true Wiccan. It makes sense for an initiatory mystery religion. Gardner says he was a member of a coven that existed before he formally founded Wicca, which would trace back much farther- he also supported Margaret Murray’s theories about a certain type of witch-cult lineage tracing back to the British Isles, but apparently these theories do not quite hold. Really I don’t know much about this tradition, having never studied it in particular, but only having heard about it through Wiccan sources often enough. Because I have a fondness for Aleister Crowley’s writing, I know that Gardner was very influenced by Crowley, so much so that Gardner’s High Priestess, Doreen Valiente, altered The Book of Shadows so that Wicca might have its own, more unique voice. She cut out most of Crowley’s influence (fearing the man’s bad reputation) while leaving other influences such as Aradia, or the Gospel of the Witches, The Key of Solomon, and Rudyard Kipling.
I do know there are some branches of “Wicca” which do not insist upon lineage, and there are solitary/eclectic Wiccans, but many initiated Wiccans do not consider said persons to be Wiccan at all. These Wiccans sometimes say that these non-initiatory branches/eclectics/solitaries merely steal the name Wicca for convenience and rape the Wiccan religion instead of using their own new pagan label. ( Lol labels!) Obviously these solitaries are not usually well-educated upon what the original Gardnerian Wiccan sect is about, religious traditions or otherwise- they are not steeped in its history, because they have not trained with other Wiccans. Thus the traditions and rituals they use are not the same, and their intentions are often completely different, which frequently results in in an amateurish carrying-on.
Such was a similar phenomenon in my own choice of cult, the Catholic church- Christ, a Jew, teaches his apostles, also Jews, The Way, and they each develop their own following. This is the Apostolic Church. Peter dislikes John’s group and discourages it and then… *snooze*. I am really keeping this abbreviated, because I don’t want to get into ALL the groups right now (there’s a reason I fell asleep during classes covering this topic). Suffice it to say there were many sects descending through the years of apostolic succession and Catholicism/The Universal Church emerged as dominant. There is a lineage of popes kept from Peter onward. Of course, even popes can act like children and try to jockey and murder for position- so I wouldn’t say this lineage is as sacrosanct as some might make it out to be- and, eventually, we suffered a schism with the Orthodox church, and the Protestant church, and so on. Many people, in this or that sect, consider those of other sects not to be true Christians. Some Catholics think anyone who does not consider the Roman Pope to be their authority to be outside the church. But like I said before, I think there is no such thing as extra ecclesiam. The Catholic Church truly is Universal. And some people don’t think Catholics are real Christians either. Oh well. Despite differing traditions, I think we can agree that the label does not dictate the level of connection with the divine. Individuals are far too unique for that.
However! Lineage can still be fun. I would like to describe a different sort of magical lineage: My lineage in theatre. :O Let’s do another silly exercise in identification. Just for fun. I’m not going to go into the entire history of theatre; take a course if you want a better attempt at that. I will be leaving a lot out in order to be as brief yet illuminating as possible, and this will be a lineage that relates to me personally. Therefore I will obviously mention only the main “ancestral” influences upon my present.
So yes, my magical lineage. Theatre is most holy to God. Theatre is my church too. For some, it is their only church- after all, it’s usually far more interesting than mass. Theatre is a primordial expression of worship that is inextricable from the ritual performed in any church anywhere.
So let’s go backwards, I suppose. We’ll start with me. I’m a young woman who studied movement, breath, and technique under some very talented masters. These three are useless without the others- one needs movement to breathe correctly, one needs breath to execute technique. There were also all sorts of aesthetic design studies, and history and technical memorization- but for my purposes today I will focus on performance rather than tech.
I studied Yoga and the Alexander technique. I focused for six months on only breath. It really should have been a year or more, but such was unavailable to me. I would go back to it later. And really, it was a continuation of what I had already learned with breath, and this learning continues always, even now as I attempt to master the zen of screaming (and thoroughly annoy my neighbors when I sing along to rock music in the shower- God I wish I had a quiet room in my home like the soundproof rehearsal rooms). Yoga is the union of the breath- the soul- the spirit- the anima- with the body. This is a necessary lesson for every soul.
We studied movement with a depth which many would never imagine, I expect. How can one really boil down the body to stasis? How can one interpret the slightest differences as one walks across the room over and over and over and over? All the while trying to remain neutral. How can one learn to navigate a sea of will, a sea of bodies, each turning randomly wherever they might go? How can one convey combat with truth while keeping the victim safe and in control? How can one convey the mind and soul through the body? All these are questions we learned to answer. And as we learned to move, everything improved, and our breathing improved- these linked processes increased our skill as performers.
I also learned about the expression of intention. The breathing, the movement, and the intention- all this was learned through masters who had studied under masters who had studied under masters of certain fame and success- Konstantin Sergeyevich Stanislavski, Vladimir Ivanovich Nemirovich-Danchenko, Anton Pavlovich Chekov, and Tenessee Williams to name a few- these people “succeeded”- and sects developed afterward descending from Stanislavski just as they did with Wicca and Christianity.
Sometimes, our masters would try to teach us without telling us anything- merely have us do. This was frustrating to no end, for me. Tenessee Williams was also a frustrated student who claims he resented school and learned little to nothing there, so I sympathize. I came in knowing very little of what it meant to act, and I wanted someone to show me.
Yes, I wanted to learn. I give myself at least that much credit. Some people decide that they want to act and so they just hop right in- for some people with innate talent, this may work. That is extremely rare, and anyway, it can still be improved. But so many are attracted to this profession without the discipline to improve their skills or to learn anything about what they are actually doing. I absolutely could not stand to go without the benefit of training. But some do go without, and this is why we are subjected to the deluge of reality TV. This is why, when I go to a restaurant, I might see some shitty amateur actors like the Pratts come inside and greet their friends on camera… and then do another take… and another take… and still suck, and call it “reality”.
But I went to find gurus. And I wanted them to teach me, like I said. Sometimes I instead encountered a certain issue with a few of my masters: They expected me to know, and, if I did not act correctly, they would criticize me for not living up to their expectations. And give me the lesson afterwards with vocabulary I had never even heard (and they would expect me to figure that new vocab out too, rather than explain themselves).
Okay. That was only a few masters. And I suppose their technique works. Others were more open and explanatory. But I still think people should just come out with a plain explanation perhaps more often than they might think, if one is trying to be teaching at all. I mean- seriously- my very first course in acting my master literally tried to teach me the art of being zen in only a few weeks. NOT HAPPENING LAWL. How can you expect me to understand it and all the vocab that goes along with it so quickly- on my own?
I’m trying to see things from their point of view, but I am still dissatisfied with this issue. So I’m thinking: It could be one of two things. Sometimes, when something like this occurs, people forget that others are innocently ignorant, because they feel so confident in their own knowledge that they think such knowledge to be completely obvious. And then they look down their nose at those who fail to meet their perfection. It would be either that, or the following: The master is throwing out one of those “blinds”- when a master purposefully withholds or obscures information, or gives misinformation (and instills false esteem in my case) in order to see if the student will transcend the blind naturally. Oh shit, I mean, ORGANICALLY. << The master wants to see if the student is astute and if she will learn inwardly, recognizing the blind and looking for verification. The rosary also teaches us that one must meditate upon some mysteries by oneself.
This reminds me of masters like Chiun in the movie Remo Williams. “You move like a pregnant yak!” Remo Williams, an incarnation of Shiva, learns Sinanju, a fictional ultimate Korean “Sun Source” of all martial arts, from Chiun, a Korean master. And Chiun begins by, well, rightfully and honestly insulting Remo’s abilities, and then Chiun makes Remo do all sorts of new disciplines. Remo eventually learns a more correct way. First, Chiun teaches him to breathe.
I guess it’s time to put my first video in my blog… just because I enjoyed the combat so much. That starts at about 6:30.
Most recently I have been studying with students who have been influenced by one of the premier influential masters of improvisation- Del Close. Honing improvisational skills has been my “last” step in a long journey of completing my whole self. Improvisation, you see, can do that for almost anyone. It makes anyone a better person, whether they are an actor or not. Many writers and even non-artists study improvisation. It is the most difficult form of acting, and the most present. It teaches one to surrender completely and utterly to the present moment, and to one’s peers. It teaches one to let go of ego and irrelevant personal baggage- because if one does not, one will fail. If one persists, one learns the way of the Tao, and I mean this literally. One learns to swim. Or one sinks.
Del Close truly was a gem for Dionysos. Thanks to his influence, he is responsible for much popular modern comedy today. I am glad to have him as a part of my lineage. I am also proud of other excellent performers and all that they have done for the world. Others who share in the lineage of his influence are some of our most talented satirists and truthseekers today- for instance, Stephen Colbert. There is a man whom I know to be a performer Dionysos enjoys (doesn’t that make me sound pretentious). In true satirical fashion, he had announced an incredibly apropos event, the March to Keep Fear Alive, in response to (see: partnership with) Jon Stewart’s Rally to Restore Sanity. Colbert is full of truthiness! By now they have a combined rally. Let’s hope their political theatre heals the insanity of the mind well. I wish their rally on October 30th all the best in the world.
And speaking of the Master from whom we have learned, let me share a little of his humor with you as well. Some weeks ago when I had mentioned Del, a friend of mine at work said that Del was kind of like the theatre’s L. Ron Hubbard. I laughed so much. Now, there is a lovely large formal painting of Del hung in a place of honor, and if one looks closely, one will see just how srs he is about all this magickal cult business! LET’S SEE THE CLOSE-UP.
Enough of me and my present studies; let’s go back in time to those who studied before me. So, back to the old masters. Stanislavski. Revered by some like a god because he too was so srs about the business of theatre. Okay, so am I. Let’s be brief: He took from modernist and avant-garde developments, naturalism, symbolism, constructivism, formalism, psychology, psychophysiology, etc., and of course Yoga. He described the result as “spiritual realism”, which pretty much everyone shortens to Realism, and which some think to be the most SUPARAWSUM form of theatre. I agree that it is at least one of my favorites.
Basically, Realism means that one acts however one would really act while channeling a certain mask. In the present moment. What is happening? What is your character like? What would your character do based upon the stimuli in the present moment? Stanislavski searched for Truth as well. And, funny, he used a stage name because it was not appropriate for his nice rich social class to be actors. His family was discouraging… I empathize. My biological family does not understand any of this either. I suppose they would rather I were a lawyer, a mathematician, or in the armed forces. They love it when I’m on TV, but they sure as hell don’t get me.
Stanislavski partnered with Danchenko and Chekov for some of the most historic theatrical presentations ever, back in the days of theatre when actresses had to provide all their own wardrobe and shit. Stanislavski had his faults- for instance, making some performances tragedies instead of comedies as Chekov had intended them. I guess everyone is imperfect. Oh well. So, then- from where does this theatrical tradition descend?
Basically, Russian theatre descended from pagan religious theatrical celebrations which were very akin to the Christian religious theatrical celebrations in Europe. Russia would be pressured and eventually do Biblical stories too. And all of these were influenced by Italian rural theatre which would come to be known as Commedia dell’arte.
OH GOD I could write for pages about commedia. But I won’t subject you to that today. Let us just say there was a heavy focus on character, mask, movement, and companies. Clowns descend from these characters. One of Picasso’s alter-egos, Harlequin, was such: An androgynous breast-feeding clown yearning for both love and reproduction, paternity, and his triumph over death through his Mercurial alchemic and underworld associations.
A good part of the material commedia used was descended from Plautus and Terrence, two of the most famous playwrights of ancient Rome. Roman plays, in turn, were derived from Greek comedies, then-modern novellas, and careful political satire. They also focused a good deal on character work. When many speak of Roman theatre they are sadly very limited and acknowledge only a couple of theatrical periods and/or festivals… but really, the ancient Roman theatre is a lot more rich than that. Why, I once had a teacher claim that there were no female actors in ancient Rome, but that is a plain lie. They simply were not allowed at certain festival performances. They were present in theatre, though, certainly. One need only read an old book from one’s local library to realize this, so that a teacher would claim such an extreme thing seems like shoddy scholarship to me. She also claimed they did not use masks, which is also a “lie”, or at least an omission. Romans went without, but not always. They both wore and did not wear masks.
Oh, and actors were still held in the same regard as prostitutes… these liminal creatures always seem to be both reviled and idolized. In fact, I was just reading some professed Christian’s rant on their website, one Kenneth Sublett, who is absolutely aghast at the religious nature of theatre- he believes that Dionysos and all performing arts come from Satan, and that we jesters mock and pervert Christ. Nevermind that theatre was all dedicated unto Christ at one time, in medieval Europe, as mentioned, and that churches such as the Catholic church are still quite theatrical. I once presented a project at university comparing and contrasting Osiris, Dionysos, and Christ as gods of theatre. Why, we Catholics still perform plays, even if they are not always very inspired or enthusiastic nowadays as I think they should be. In fact, I know some people who, because they think their religious sect tells them so, dislike Catholics because we are so heavily focused on tradition, ritual, and the theatrical aspects of mass. They think it’s wrong. They think we should… only use the Bible. (LOLWOT how is that possible I mean they go to church too and have traditions imean… but no, it’s all faith, no works! ONE HUNDRED PERCENT ORTHODOXY ZERO ORTHOPRAXYZZZ… I am of the opinion one cannot exist without the other in true Love of God, but according to these people I’m wraawwng.) At any rate, Sublett hates us utterly, and the very last thing he says is, “It is still a fact that fascinating, charismatic performers have some easily seen physical, emotional, or sexual abnormality. However, we all love to watch freaks even as we are repulsed by them.” Freaks indeed.
So, yes, the Romans derived much from Greek theatre, though they did not focus so much on specifically religious stories per se. People were much more interested in comedy in Rome. Greeks liked comedy and satire too. And from where does Greek theatre descend? Tragedy- τραγῳδία. The goat-songs of Dionysos.
Greek religion and theatre were… well, one and the same. Theatre was a form of worship. Theatre there was centered mostly around a few festivals which descended from phallic processions, celebrations of Dionysos, the god of life, vegetation, phalloi, drugs, catharsis, and the rebirth which conquers death. Et cetera. The main festival was held in honor of Dionysos and he was thought to watch all from his place in the audience. They also considered all of the actors to be channeling the god through their masks. It is said that τραγῳδία, the goat-song, being the song a goat sings as it dies, is a result of the many sacrifices that would be performed at these religious rituals in dedication to my Lord. In this way the people would also see life become death, before they absorbed the energy into themselves in celebration, one of the few times they would splurge on meat. One of the epithets of Dionysos is Aegobolos, Dionysos the Goat Killer- it is said he has this name because goats destroy the vine. Theatrical productions were considered a necessary function of life- one must undergo catharsis and be purged in order to be spiritually pure and a healthy part of life. Through witnessing tragedy, Greeks would purge the need for tragedy from their system. The Dionysian cults, and the Orphic mystery cults, certainly brought forth a good and wonderful thing. I wonder what Orpheus was really like. I imagine him sometimes. I imagine he was a yogi full of love who brought music and dance to many.
And from where do these processions come? When did we begin to celebrate life? When did we begin to dance around the fire and sing our songs to God? When did we twirl and shout just because we were alive and surviving? When we were very young….
And from where did our ancestors come, who would dance around the fire they had made, with bodies full of the magic of Dionysos’s vegetation and life? I will abbreviate both this behavior and evolution: From the Earth, which came from a very big explosion, it seems. The Earth, which, as we go around the fire, rotates around the Sun, which rotates in the greater scheme of the galaxy. All of this can be broken down even further into its base parts, the elementary particles whose fundamental parameters were created in the first 10−11 seconds, they say. They like to rotate with one another too. Also created by then were the fundamental forces of physics, and spacetime.
I will end my reach back into my lineage with The Beginning, 1:1. “In the Beginning, Elohim created the Heavens and the Earth.”
I enjoy Hebrew’s eloquence better in this instance:
בְּרֵאשִׁ֖ית בָּרָ֣א אֱלֹהִ֑ים אֵ֥ת הַשָּׁמַ֖יִם וְאֵ֥ת הָאָֽרֶץ׃