Initiation to the Mystery Dramas

No, I didn’t spend a week at the Goetheanum just as a vacation, on the contrary. I was in Dornach mainly to participate in the experience of the four Mystery Dramas of Rudolf Steiner, or the contribution to the theater by the Austrian philosopher. You can see an extract of two hours starting from the almost twenty original ones, divided into four different dramas.

The four Mystery Dramas are:

  • The Gate of Initiation (1910)
  • The Trial of the Soul (1911)
  • The Guardian of the Threshold (1912)
  • The Soul’s Awakening (1913)

The dramas follow the story of a group of main characters, the artist Johannes, the scientist Strader, the humanist Capesius and the mystic Mary, through a journey that includes both their life on this side of the Threshold, and beyond, or in the spiritual world. They are recited in prose when the scenes are set in the physical world, while with eurythmy when in the spiritual world. Eurythmy, the visible language, allows the spiritual beings that the protagonists meet beyond the Threshold to talk to the movement, above all Lucifer and Arimane. Every single eurythmic movement therefore corresponds to a letter or concept that is read from the back of the theater following the solemn diction of the art of the word.

The union of all these elements in an organic unicuum is singular. Each drama lasts about five hours, in some ways it seems to witness a work of Wagner in prose, modern and decidedly liberty. The parts set in the Threshold and in the spiritual world are surely the ones that strike the most, especially for the extremely refined aesthetics and never left to chance in the meaning. A successful synthesis of liturgical aspects of mysteries with the artistic representation of drama theater.

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Seals of the four Mystery Dramas

Each of the four plays is associated with a seal, which symbolically contains the meaning of the work and the content of the work itself:

  • The Gate of Initiation (seal in the upper left): shows a symmetry according to the number 7, from inside to outside and from outside to inside alternately. The letters indicate the Rosicrucian motto: “Ex Deo Nascimur, In Christo Morimur, Per Spiritum Sanctum Reviviscimus.”, The same on Steiner’s tomb. Represents the physical body.
  • The Trial of the Soul (seal in the upper right corner): shows a symmetry according to the number 5, portraying forces that from the center of the star go outwards, but which then return to themselves to embrace the sister forces that go from the periphery go towards the central star. Represents the etheric body.
  • The Guardian of the Threshold (bottom left): has a symmetry according to the number 4, a vortex that springs up as a compression and together expansion of a sphere. The cross inside is a swastika, even if “softened”. It was used especially in the theosophical field, where Steiner still moved before 1913 and the split in anthroposophy, but in a completely free sense from the Nazi exception! It is a symbol of the four elements at the center of which is the Sun. It represents the astral body, with the rotation of the stars around a center and their confluence towards the center of the cross, or the proof of the Guardian of the Threshold. Represents Plato’s prophecy in the Republic: “the Right Man will be flogged, hung, tied up, removed his eyes and finally crucified” so that “the Soul of the World is crucified in the heart of the Earth” alluding to one of the greatest mysteries of Christianity esoteric that had to come, about 360 later.
  • The Soul’s Awakening (bottom right): the circle is the Uroboros, the snake that bites its tail. It represents the serpent of knowledge, which bites its tail by poisoning itself to know where it starts and ends. It is therefore connected to Lucifer and the ambiguity of force given by the awakening of the Kundalini. The letters on the twelve spokes of this wheel mean, clockwise: “ICH ERKENNET SICH”, while the three flashes can also be read counterclockwise, like “IST”. “I recognize myself” therefore, with the H in the sign of Pisces and the N as the Caduceus of Mercury. Pisces represents the present era, in which humanity as a whole develops the Ego (received in year zero in the Age of Aries with the incarnation of Christ), the two serpents of Mercury, evolution and involution. “È” refers to “He Who Is”, or “I Am the I Am”, the Christ. The drama and the seal thus represent the ego.

As Judith von Halle recounts in this article, the expected dramas were seven. A fifth was already in preparation, but its development was interrupted by the outbreak of the First World War first (in 1914), and by the destruction of the first Goetheanum then (the New Year’s Eve 1922-23). The Mystery Dramas had indeed to follow a development according to the number 7, as the evolution according to the cosmic cycles of manvatara, or cosmic day, and pralaya, or cosmic night: the fifth Mystery Drama would then have had a seal representing the Spiritual Self, or astral body transformed by the ego.

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