The Mystery Dramas often strike a deep chord within, bringing notes of destiny understandings to sound within our individual life circumstances. They contain extremely concentrated karmic wisdom. A clue to the reason why, appears in the following writings of Rudolf Steiner about his Mystery Drama, ‘The Portal of Initiation’:
‘And actually, one must understand that if some trouble were to be taken to read the things that lie within this drama—not reading between the lines, but if one were to take the trouble to read what lies in the words themselves spiritually—if one were to take the trouble to grasp the Rosicrucian Mystery in just such a way, seeking for these things in the next few years, then it would not be necessary for me to give so many lectures about this or that in the time to come.’1)
Hans Pusch brings additional meaning to these lines 2):
“To learn to tune in to gesture language made audible in speech: this is the actor’s training, deepened by the dramatic style of Rudolf Steiner in his plays. There the speech sounds themselves —-consonants and vowels-– are a gesture language that has to be listened to. What Benedictus says in Scene One of ‘TheSoul’s Probation’ hints at this, the key to the ‘mystery’ character of the dramas:
‘I do not wish my words alone to say
what they convey as covering for concepts.
They turn the natural forces of the soul
to the realities of spirit…
It is the nature of these words
to lead to founts of knowledge;
yet it remains with him
who hears them in their own true sense,
To drink the spirit water at the source!’”
And later on in the above lecture series by Rudolf Steiner:
‘……–There is no spiritual development in itself, no general spiritual development; there is only the spiritual development of one individual, or of another, or of a third, or of a thousandth one. And, for as many people as there are in the world, there must be so and so many processes of development. If one wants to show what development is, such as it really is in the spiritual world; that can only happen by showing the development of a single individual; that is, by interpreting what is ‘true for everyone’, into one single individual. In the same way that one experiences more or less the beginnings of a spiritual path for all humans in How to Attain Knowledge of the Higher Worlds, so in the Rosicrucian Mystery Drama ( ‘The Portal of Initiation’) lies the mystery of one single person’s development, that of Johannes Thomasius.’1)
Since 2005, I have been working with a small group, studying the Mystery Dramas of Rudolf Steiner, primarily in German. In our group we begin with
1)Wege und Ziele des Geistigen Menschen. Lebensfragen im Lichte der Geisteswissenschaft, Rudolf Steiner17/9/1910 and 31/101910 GA 125,
Aufl. Dornach 1992.
2)Working Together on Rudolf Steiner’s Mystery Dramas, Hans Pusch,
1980, by Anthroposophic Press, Inc. pp. 65, 135
Eurythmy and also work from time to time with voice placement for the characters and the soul forces in the play. This kind of work opens up the gesture language for the participants. This year, as you may know, there is a new dramatisation of the Mystery Dramas being presented at the Goetheanum in Dornach. The original German carries the deepest meaning in its poetry.
Our study group in Melbourne has followed on from similar work that I participated in from 1995 – 2004 in Dornach. Ruth Dubach, who earlier played Theodora in the Mystery Dramas, and who now leads the study group in Dornach, has helped by supplying commentaries and information as well as understandings out of her life’s work.
I was first introduced to the Mystery Dramas by Hans Pusch in the early 1970’s in Spring Valley, New York where he directed and presented all four of the plays, with his group of dedicated students. I still remember something of his enthusiastic teachings.
The earliest performances of the Mystery Dramas were in Munich in 1913. After Rudolf Steiner’s death, Marie Steiner began a production in 1926, Hans Pusch was given the role of Theodosius, the Hierophant of the Temple in the Southern Altar, and, later that of the artist, Johannes Thomasius. 1)
As this year, one of the themes for the Anthroposophical Society is ‘Reincarnation and Destiny’, our attunement to this subject matter may open up and awaken individual destinies, and paths of karmic retribution. In relation to the Mystery Dramas, Hans Pusch states the following:
‘It is a clear sign of genuine relationship to Anthroposophy, if the forces of destiny become more and more active, even though they may be disturbing and uncomfortable. The spirit of our time is an awakener, a conscious troublemaker, and a dis-illusioner. Anyone who feels inner turmoil as a necessary tribute to the forces of progress will be prepared to enjoy the seemingly long speeches in the dramas. In their composition, he will sense inner laws and rhythms that will bring order to his own soul. The dramatic events in the spirit scenes become as real as any physical happenings.’ (2. 135
Our trials help us to understand and have compassion for one another. As Hans says, sometimes it’s indeed a daily, almost hourly inner battle with oneself to say ‘Yes’ to what destiny throws in our path.
As the scenes of the Mystery Dramas unfold, one becomes aware of various interactions between individuals in the course of time. For example, there is a karmic knot concerning the destiny situations of three characters, Capesius, Maria, and Johannes. It is one of the interactions that spans all four dramas. (They are ‘The Portal of Initiation’, ‘TheSoul’s Probation’, ‘The Guardian of the Threshold’, and ‘The Soul’s Awakening’. 3)
In the second of the dramas, ‘The Soul’s Probation’, Capesius, a rather melancholic professor, is able to observe his former medieval incarnation, after a journey into spirit regions (in the Sun Sphere). He has to come to terms with the misdeed of having secretly abandoned his children, allowing them to be adopted; so that he himself could retreat and devote himself to life in the Templar Order. He meets these ‘children’ again, reincarnated as his friends Johannes and Theodora, in the present life.
3) Four Mystery Dramas, Steiner Book Centre , Vancouver, Canada, 1973.
The Templars and their symbols, says Hans Pusch, spring from ancient sources, from which flowed esoteric Christianity, at the time when Bernard de Clairvaux inflamed the souls of the 12th century for the second crusade to the holy land. This current is spiritually real, as long as it remains cognizant of the cosmic nature of Christ.
The scenes of the Middle Ages in ‘The Soul’s Probation’ take place at the beginning of the 14th century, shortly after the execution of Jacques de Molay, Grand Master of the Templars., who had incurred the enmity of the Church. 2) 65.
In his present incarnation, Capesius succumbs to the overpowering grandeur of the spirit spheres, by being drawn into Lucifer’s domain. Capesius begins to escape from life, feeling resentful toward the limitations of his earthly body and existence. The Luciferic temptation causes chaos in his life. One would say that he becomes mentally ill. With the help of Benedictus, Maria, and Felicia, who evoke a right comprehension of his bodily existence, he finally returns to normal consciousness. Felicia helps him with her fairy tales, and Benedictus, through meditative spirit truth.
Maria had been a monk in the Church in that medieval incarnation. She is now conscious that her Catholic influence on Johannes, named Thomas in that earlier incarnation, caused him to reject the Templars, thus preventing the possibility that he would ever come to know his real father, (Capesius), who had by then become The First Preceptor in the Templar Order.
In the present incarnation of ‘The Soul’s Probation’, Maria consciously retracts her powerful influence on Johannes’ artistic development. (Maria’s influence had earlier upheld Johannes’ soul at a time of deep inner turmoil. He had become dependent on her inspiration for his art.)
Now, Maria has seen the need to help Capesius, whom she had opposed in medieval times. This is a conscious sense of karmic retribution. As she speaks in the Sun Temple Scene of ‘The Soul’s Probation’, one can feel healing qualities such as would arise out of the striving for atonement:
Maria: Sun Temple, Scene 13 ( excerpt)
……….The powers of destiny have granted me
the retrospect of former days on earth;
the signs are now revealed to me
by which I learn to guide my will to sacrifice
that good may come to those threads of life
that are interwoven with my own
throughout the evolution of the earth.
I saw Johannes’ soul within its former body
withdrawing from his father
and saw the powers which compelled me
to estrange the son from his own father’s heart.
Thus does the father now confront me,
Reminding me of my ancient debt to him.
He speaks distinctly in a cosmic language
Whose symbols are the actions of a man’s life.
What I have set between the son and father
Now reappears, though now in another form,
Within this life, which bound again
Johannes’ soul so closely to my own.
And in the pain I had to undergo
In severing Johannes from myself
I can see destiny at work in my own deeds.-
If now my soul is loyal to the light
Which spirit powers bestow on it,
It will be strengthened by the services
Which I may render to Capesius
Upon his arduous life pilgrimage.
Let us look at the words that Maria has just spoken:
‘I saw the powers which compelled me
to estrange the son from his own father’s heart…’
One can experience the nature of the ‘powers’ involved said Hans Pusch, for Maria had confronted Ahriman in Scene 11:
Maria: to Ahriman ( excerpt)
…Recall when last we met
Within the castle of that Spirit Order ( The Templar Castle)
You spoke to me with words of flattery
Intending to unloose my deepest self-conceit’
Remembrance of this time bestows on me
The strength to make a stand against you.
( Ahriman withdraws with a reluctant gesture.)
Let us return now to the plight of Capesius who will hear the following words of Maria in the Sun Temple, about the right and wrong approaches to Lucifer and about the significance of the Christ being:
Maria: ( excerpt)
…But more than any other spirit. Man has need
of that one God Who does not merely ask
for admiration, when He manifests Himself
within the glory of the outer world,
but who rays forth His highest power only
when He Himself dwells in man’s inmost being
and, in His love transforms death into life.
A man may turn to Lucifer
And warmly feel inspired by his bright glory;
He may in that way well experience himself.
But he should not take Lucifer into his will.
A man, however, when he rightly understands
himself, will call out to that other Spirit:
This is the goal of love for earthly souls,
‘Not I, but Christ lives in my life and being’.
Through the case of Capesius, Rudolf Steiner lets us recognise the state of mind that appears in Luciferic temptations, as it can reflect into many levels of life existence on earth and in the spirit world. We may discern and beware of this, if it occurs in our life experience.
In the lecture series The Secrets of the Threshold Philosophical AnthroposophicalPublishing Co. Dornach Switzerland, 1928, Rudolf Steiner speaks often of the Mystery Dramas. From a certain point of view, the three earlier plays can be seen as a kind of preparation for Maria and Johannes to experience the Cosmic Midnight hour. In the 9th Scene of ‘The Soul’s Awakening’Maria’s experience of the Cosmic Midnight in an awakened state of consciousness occurs:
Maria: ( partial quote)
The cosmic midnight hour – before the sheath
of body enclosed my Self on earth –
passed wakingly in Saturn’s light-filled colour.
My earthly thinking ‘til now concealed
this spirit life in dullness of soul.
It rises upwards now in clearest vision.
( and soon afterwards)
Maria: (partial quote)
….Within the light that lights the cosmic midnight
which Astrid now creates out of my dullness,
my Ego joins that Self that for its service
created me within the universe………
A deep inner cognition of Maria’s highest destiny as individual Ego has occurred. Maria is then helped by Luna, a soul force, to preserve the memory of the Cosmic Midnight, using her own power of will, in preparation for her return to sense experience, when the dreamlike character of everyday life tends to dull higher consciousness.
Only a few of the individualities in the play are mature enough to experience this awakening at the Cosmic Midnight within the Saturn sphere. Henry Collison has quoted the following from Theosophy:
“‘It is only through the Christ that it is possible to maintain the remembrance of the ego in the Cosmic Midnight experience. Then through the Holy Spirit occurs the awakening that leads to a new physical incarnation. The conscious reception of the Christ impulse during physical incarnation strengthens the impulse of the Holy Spirit’
Rudolf Steiner uses the term ‘To see the Sun at Midnight’ for the seer’s clairvoyant experience of the period (which may be centuries) spent in the spheres of the Sun, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn and the Fixed Stars beyond. He uses, too, the term ‘Cosmic Midnight’; in some cases, it seems to include all these experiences- in others it seems to refer especially to the Saturn sphere and that of the Fixed Stars, which are midway between death and rebirth. He has pointed out that it is possible for initiation pupils such as Maria and Johannes to havepassed through the Cosmic Midnight between two incarnations in waking consciousness, though they have no recollection of this in physical existence until they have been suitably prepared as shown in the first three Mystery Plays, and have achieved the tranquillity of soul without which such a recollection isimpossible
In the process of experiencing the Cosmic Midnight, a most decisive moment in an earthly incarnation in the distant past can emerge.”3)
3) A Commentary on Rudolf Steiner’s Mystery Plays, Harry Collison, Rudolf Steiner Publishing Co. 1949.
Even though one may not be evolved to the highest level of attainment or had the experience of the Cosmic Midnight, good may certainly become from recognising and confronting destiny situations in a virtuous manner.
The Mystery Dramas give us an objective overview, ‘of knots from threads thatkarma spun in world becoming’ in the words of Benedictus. (in the Temple Scene of the first Mystery Drama.) In these threads, human lives are interwoven.
In the Temple Scenes of the Mystery Drama, one experiences the manifestation of karmic configurations and their progression in the spiritual development ofindividuals.
Surely within one’s present incarnation, there are deeds to perform to help rectify misdeeds, before the death of the body. We all have knots to loosen and unbind in our individual destinies. By recognising personages and situations in the plays, which are similar to one’s own life, unexpected karmic understandings may be glimpsed.
At Christmastime one thinks about the story of Ebenezer Scrooge, well known in Charles Dicken’s story, ‘A Christmas Carol’. Was it destiny that Scrooge was confronted by the ‘Ghost of Christmas Past’?How was his individual retrospect different from those in the Mystery Dramas?
Dickens’ story is a Michaelic-Christmas experience. Seeing the pain of the people he was hurting, Scrooge felt the need to make amends for his miserly misdeeds, thereby changing his future destiny and that of others, as well. The striving for atonement is to be developed at any season.
In daily life, our trials along the path appear less objective to see and not so beautifully expressed as the poetry we find in The Mystery Dramas. It is, however, the suffering in destiny situations, which leads to soul-growth. Present states of mind may hold the clues to understanding past misdeeds. Likewise does heightened consciousness assist in planting seeds of service for the future of mankind.