from the cracks in the psyche of culture
Hebe's descendants and the
invention of GOD
science create their own models or contexts for explaining and
exploring phenomena. Perhaps the existence and understanding of God
is a similar human construct. And if so, it has implications for the
practice of theatre arts to create a
Theatre beyond religion
A girl in a
blue dress once sang Hebe's song from Gilbert and Sullivan's HMS
A young guy fell in love with her immediately because she sang like
his mother or at least like his mother seemed to sing. That was in
1967. Strangely, the girl in the blue dress still haunts the boy in
the man who remembers the girl in the blue dress singing Hebe's song
beautiful. But it wasn't her beauty that was remembered so much as
her echo. A lingering sound embedded itself in his body; into the
very cells of his being long after Gilbert and Sullivan's nonsensical
play rescinded into the void of memory.
Perhaps it was
the ritual of young girls' singing; dressed up and exhibiting a kind
of special intimacy; like the girls doing their piano recitals or
ballet performances or being presented in their debut while dressed
in white. Perhaps it was the sense of mystery surrounding all young
girls; that mystery kept shrouded in secrecy; secrecy which only
women accessed; secrecy that was kept from the young boys!
The girl in
blue was the angel of youth who would come disguised as the anima of
death acquainting the older man with his fate; his deceptive
evocation of personal grandeur and self worth; his connection with
rejuvenating forces of a cultural heritage and sounds of his
But the girl
could never know this as she floundered through life like most
flounder and attempt to rise again. Her embodiment of the melody of
culture and the ritual of adolescent adornment could never be
adequately explained or harnessed to any notion of history or art or
creation. Like a recurring dream, the melody of destiny becomes fused
with the actions of a personal dhama; the rationality of dreams being
more significant than any logic of free choice!
How often has
the girl's song been incorporated into the bones of the city; the
architecture of ideals; the voice of god; the rage against walls of time?
such matters, the writer has confused some personal resonance with
the universal echo as if they are the same. At one point, there is a
particular girl. Then she is an archetypical figure. Then the figure
becomes somehow metaphorical for something that influences thought
and action. In popular culture, we do this all the time. Someone of a
particular race is seen doing this or that and soon "all"
people of that race do this or that. We generally regard this sort of
generalizing as a negative aspect of our thinking. Yet the insight is
useful in how we regard our relationship to religion, philosophy,
ideas and general world views.
In a positive
sense, such generalization is a useful tool for art. Artistic
creation and presentation utilize a kind of general referencing drawn
from particular experience or reflections. Whether it be the case of
King Lear or Mother Courage, the audience is left with a general
perception based on deliberate particular selections by the authors
and presenters. If something can be inferred about the human
condition from observation of particularities of characters and
contexts, then we can say that art uses this irrational model in a
way that appears opposite to what may generally be classed as
scientific method. Yet like science, art sets up contexts like
scientific models for exploration of the human condition. In both,
there is a demand to know or understand more about something relevant
so to the creation of GOD
It is no
wonder that there arose a notion of God. Just as with art and
science, some construct had to be created that would allow for
particular referencing to take on a universal meaning. As the sun
rose giving warmth and the rain came to nourish the ground the
particular observations grew into a myriad of experiences and
necessary dependencies through which a human kind related and were
inextricably linked. The human consciousness was naturally dwarfed by
such phenomena. To explain the observable nature of things which were
inherently inexplicable, early human beings pieced together models of
thinking which reflected the particularities of their own experience.
Out of these models emerged the concept of super beings or gods which
controlled the order of all things.
passed these models were constantly refined as humans became
articulate and developed time for personal reflective development. It
was quite natural that notions of god and goddess and god-king began
to take root as the god model of existence was refined and slowly codified.
awareness of the human environment complicated so much by emotional
memory and the possibility of what came to be understood as the
"ancient" allowed for the codification of invisible traits
such as "good" and "evil" and
"motivation" "fear" and "insight" etc.
Even areas we take as given may not be as long understood as we may
think. For instance the very notion of humans possessing a
"creative imagination" has only been acceptable for little
over two hundred years. It was articulated by the poets (eg.
Coleridge) and philosophers of the romantic period. Previously, all
understanding was determined by either observation, mimesis, rhetoric
and argument or the direct word of god or gods (often through Shamanistic
figures or the High Priest / Priestess or conjurer).
constantly evolving deity model and concept of God is characterized
by ever increasing abstraction. As words of prophets and witnesses to
this or that concept of enlightenment are translated, reproduced,
re-interpreted our model becomes contradictory and fragmented. And reinvented.
such models condemn as blasphemy the very notion of the human
invention of God. God's word is final. God's word is binding. But
who's word is being attributed to God. When God became a personality
with wishes and emotions like us mortals, God became a narcissistic
reflection of ourselves. God within us and universal God are entities
that speak and broker deals that are for the taking. Do this and we
get God's grace. Do that and you don't!
of God and resultant models become more than explanatory tools. The
invention of God has proved a more powerful and destructive weapon
than any nuclear weapon. The human psyche has become adept at being
wired for destruction shielded by the weapon of God. This point is
acknowledged by Religious representatives who decry the use and
invocation of God for such purposes. But underneath such decrying,
there is still the presumption of an "all knowing God". The
notions that "God is great" or "God loves us" are
examples of the reduction of God to human qualities to give
acceptability and definition to the undefined and unknown. The need
for definition is well understood by the definers of God.
Yet in all of
this, there is a paradoxical reality that the problem with God isn't
so much in God's existence but in the definition and modelling
process. In arguing from the particular to the general as a means of
proving or /and defining the existence of God, there is the obvious
logical fallacy while there is also a recognition of particular
experiences or observations that come within what might be called the
invisible and unknown realms of things pertaining to a notion defined
Does it really
matter though if human beings constructed gods and goddesses? Rather
than the other way around? Does it matter if they never could have
been real? Does it really matter if God, as described by those who
claim to know him, doesn't exist? Like the fourteenth earl of Gurney,
lord of the sprawling Gurney Manor in Peter Barnes' play and film The
God is adopted by all manner of beings from the aesthetic to the
terrorist. When Barnes' character is sprouting love and tolerance he
is deemed mad. When he sprouts vengeance he is the most sane of men.
the god of love and the god of vengeance
are metaphorical models through which real phenomena is described and
experienced. Barnes' highly theatrical character made famous by Peter
O'Toole in the film version embodies in a contemporary way what Zeus
and a variety of old gods did in ancient times. All are absurd. All
embody particular characteristics in metaphorical ways and used by
authors to make social, sometimes political and philosophical points.
All are attempting to distill some form of knowledge or difficult to
define experience or world view.
Carl Jung's anima
is as much a goddess as is Hebe. Just like the ancient creation of
gods to explain difficult areas of existence and experience, Jung has
created a model predicated on assumptions, observations and
experiments. His model includes "the
Persona, the Ego, the Shadow, the Anima/Animus, and the Self."
is largely inspired by the ideas contained in Jung's model. But it
also accepts that it is SOLELY a model and not sacred fact. Jung as
the prophet of archetypal thinking and the Individuation Process is
not the cypher through which holy fact is writ. Yet his work is very
useful in coming to grips with the way our theatre and our art works.
It is a kind of practical philosophy and guide posting to seek,
explore and express aspects of human existence that once were the
realms of the gods and goddesses.
belief, the acceptance of a model for exploring understanding is a
useful tool for guiding approaches and behaviours. The Marxist model
for social existence was also a useful model for studying history,
economics and sociology. Flawed as it was, it was only when used to
motivate violence and the use of power to control and destroy human
input into social development that the model was deified into a
psychology and political / social theories are each trying forge
tools for modelling some over-arching principles for existence. Each
presents a kind of god in different guise. There is the God with a
morality and a personality as proposed by many religions. Then there
is the God of archetypes comprising collective principles or forms
which underly observable behaviour. Then we find political and social
theories or philosophies that motive organization and action. There
are other models of course not discussed here. Buddhism, for
instance, doesn't discuss a personality of God.
so back to Hebe, daughter of Zeus and Hera
song from the girl in the blue dress, though abstract and ill-defined
as far as its influence may go, is as real as anything from the
observable universe. It's as real as the harvest rain; the
rejuvenating spring; the feeling of vengeance; the motivating desire;
the driving lust. If there ever could have been a goddess of youth,
then her voice surely sounds in dreams and memories where the actual
personage is surpassed by the ideal of the person; the effect of some
indefinable element in a person that remains and haunts the real life
The need for a
female model of god is a very powerful force. Christianity had
difficulty with the goddess religions that preceded it. There is a
credible theory with some evidence supporting it that the Holy
Trinity was derived to placate the need for a goddess: The Holy Ghost
in fact being the female
aspect of the trinity. The adoration of The Virgin Mary as
understood through the feast of the Assumption
is very close to the creation of a god figure from a human being.
That this was formally introduced by the Catholic Church as late as
1950 indicates something of the need for the female aspect in the
process of adoration.
I think a key
point in all of this, is that religious thinking and belief is not as
straight forward as most adherents might imagine. The history of
religion is one of constant variations, adaptations and inclusions.
There is no basis in the Bible for Pope Pius the twelfth to declare
the "truth" of the taking into heaven body and soul of
Mary. This was done on the basis of an on-going revelation. It might
then be a surprise for average Christians to discover how God's word
has changed or been changed by people over time.
So is it right
that we should now scoff at the ancient gods as if they were mere
fictions any more than our own? The reduction of the infinite
possibility of the Universe into particular human characteristics and
vanities is just as prevalent today as it was when Zeus was created.
Rather than scoffing at any religion or religious creation, perhaps
it might be more useful to examine the phenomena that give rise to
religious and quasi-religious belief.
With so much
emphasis given to patriarchal gods, perhaps it is time to look
closely at those experiences and observations that give rise to the
concept of the goddess. As each day, a new suicide bombing takes
place because a male god "is great" and the god of war and
the vengeful gods are aroused, then perhaps new models of explanation
based on a feminine resonance need invoking.
And this is
where theatre has a place and a role. Our models for creation are
ephemeral. The models are only useful while being engaged in
production. As Artaud observed, political change is not effective in
bettering the human condition. Only through constant change in form
and application can there be real and penetrating changes in human
existence matched with the natural environment.
religions to become theatre then violence, or real violence enacted
in the name of god, would be impossible. The enactment of ritual and
social regeneration through stories and sensual stimulation might
well be better placed to evoke the invisible world of inner
experience and inner action tempered by the psyche than any adherence
to a model of god that presupposes its legitimacy and its permanency
while ignoring the vital fact of its arbitrariness.
Of course, the
theatre practiced and presented in most theatres, is light years away
from this possibility. The mindless distractions presented as
entertainments are not the basis for the kind of theatre suggested
here. What I am suggesting here, is that theatre has the potential to
offer all the rituals, reflections, transformations, sensory
experiences, meditations, offerings, affirmations and catharsis that
are associated with religious ceremony. Its advantage is that theatre
doesn't have to provide the fixed model of God as suggested by
religion. Rather, it can start with where people's needs are subdued
and submerged to draw out the human and spiritual dimensions of everyone.
Then let God's
existence or otherwise take its own course. The moment we stop trying
to invent a notion of God, is the moment we accept our humility and
forego our vanity in the face of nature and an unknown universe.
We need to
come back to experiences in theatre where a young girls' voice can
stimulate change throughout a life time; where Hebe's youth infects
the very mechanisms that would halt dynamic progress; where human
beings experience each other in safe and yet challenging
environments; where moments of spiritual ecstasy are still possible;
where even the most real moments can be seen for the absurdity which
they are. And along with all of this, we come to know our own
absurdity and cultural shadow.
(sept 14th. 2004)
Woodward's play THE
NAKED GODDESS premiered in October
2006 at DNA Studios, Ralph Wilson Theatre in Canberra. See the review
from the Canberra Times here