Pascal Pageantry & the Green Man

Paschal services (Christian Passover, Easter in the West) have a very long tradition. Some date back to the catacombs. In the early days of the Byzantine Empire church services were celebrated out and around the city. For the service of the Twelve Gospel Readings I imagine that there was twelve stops, “stations” if you like, within the city walls of Constantinople. I imagine the faithful walking reverently through the polis marking God’s earthly domain, the bishops blessing the city. I am reminded of the English practice of walking the boundaries of one’s property, thereby affirming its ownership.  In Jerusalem, we are told by an early witness that during Pentecost worship was made on the Mount of Olives where the Ascension had taken place, as well as the gates and on Mount Zion. (1) The early church in a similar way marked the boundaries of God’s Kingdom on Earth. Constantinople was considered the New Jerusalem, an earthly reflection through the watery sky above of that other Jerusalem, the one that always was.

The Epitaph, Christ's Tomb, in procession through the streets of Adeliade on Good Friday

The Epitaph, Christ’s Tomb, in procession through the streets of Adeliade on Good Friday

Christianity was not the first religion to use religious processions as part of their celebrations. The worship of the Olympian gods had processions too e.g., the Dionysia. Can we equate liturgical procession with the pageantry of the Festival of Dionysius? Did one replace the other? Early Christian witness attests to the taking down of a statue of Aphrodite from over the site of the exhumation of Christ’s cross.(2) A kind of juxtaposition of religious iconography was at play, if you allow, a kind of iconclasm. In Western Europe, the curious face of the Green Man stares out from the architecture of many Medieval Churches. Theirs was a more symbiotic relationship.

But who was he, this Green man, this man made of leaves who shared a coiffure with Dionysius, the ancient god of theatre? He makes me question what came first, the processions and supplication ceremonies or the characters that filled them? Did liturgical dramas of the Middle Ages evolve into the Mystery Cycle / Pageant Plays and onto cleared fields and marketplaces for the first time? Could the opposite be true? Could Medieval / Byzantine drama have grown from pagan practices and festivals and infiltrated the acceptable Christian Drama?

The Green Man,from Ludlow

The Green Man, from Ludlow

When Christianity became the recognized religion of the Late Roman Empire, theatre practice changed drastically. Pagan theatrical practices were not tolerated and so drama disappeared. Gone were the pageants, the festivals, the Baccanalia and many, many plays. Others were just read and no longer enacted. Drama was to reemerge in churches at Easter. Through liturgical singing the three Marys visited the empty tomb while the priest represented the Archangel.(3) The purpose of liturgical dramas to follow was to teach the illiterate bible stories and their faith through parables. As time progressed the stories became more detailed. Stations for different scenes were performed around the inside of churches/cathedrals. Craft guilds were involved. They were each given a different station to build as a scene. They built literally, with hammer and nails. Guilds vied with each other for the best scene. Tumbling and horseplay infiltrated through the guise of larger than life characters e.g., Noah’s nagging wife and devils sent to taunt the protagonists. Finally these plays moved outside of the Church, onto wagons. They were stationary and their audiences moved to them. And they were mobile, moving to their audiences depending on the town that presented them. Once out of the Church, with the aid of the Commedia Dell’arte and the Renaissance, a new secular theatre arose. End of story. But is this the whole story?
Passion Play 1

Passion Play

What about the tradition of Mumming? The Green Man? Puppetry? Tumblers? Bards and Bears and dancers?
Disguise and re-birth/re-generation are apart of the traditions of the Mummers and the Green Man. They are also associated with carnival and pageantry of Medieval Europe. The mummers moved from house to house at Christmas in their festive disguises. The devils moved between stations and carts. In the same way that a very old figure like the Green Man could survive the Christian juggernaut, could these pagan characters have survived in the form of these devils? I believe that the Greek Karagiozis shadow puppet survived Islam through a name change and a change of form from Silenus in the flesh to Karagiozis in the shadow. Could this survival technique have also been employed in the West, preserving pagan entertainments in the form of puppets and the buffoonery of tumbling devils?
In France, glove puppets are seen in the illustrations in the Roman du bon roi Alexandre Manuscript by Jehan de Grise? These illustrations were made in 1344. Is the much loved French cudgel-bearing puppet Guignol present? Guignol is said to have evolved from from the Commedia Dell’arte’s Pulcinella, but could he have existed before? Their names are very different. The English character, Punch from Punch and Judy is also said to have evolved from Pulcinella, aka Punchinella. At least their names are similar and they carry a cudgel. Austria / Germany’s cudgel-bearer, Kaspar/Kasperle is also said to have evolved from Pulcinella. However there is a catch. Kaspar is believed to have been a character in the Medieval Mystery Cycles. He is believed to have represented one of the Three Wise Men.(4)
Could pagan characters like the Mummers and even the Green Man have survived the Christian white-wash over bawdy buffoonery in the guise of puppets like Guignol and Kasper?
Pulchinella

Pulchinella

Have you seen the Crafty Theatre Medieval Theatre and Spectacle Board?
Or Marionettes and Glove Puppets?
References
(1) Egeria’s (fl c.381 CE) description of the Pentecost rituals in Jerusalem, from:
Clark, Elizabeth A.,  Women in the Early Church, Michael Glazier, Inc, Chapter 4:Women in the Wider World, pp192-195.
(2) From Socrates Scholasticus’ Ecclesiastica Historia, quoted in:
Clark, Elizabeth A.,  Women in the Early Church, Michael Glazier, Inc, Chapter 4:Women in the Wider World, p184.
(3)Hartnoll, Phyllis, The Theatre: A Concise History, Thames and Hudson, 1985, p.36.
Puppetry in the Middle Ages
The Epitaph
Photo credit: Foter / CC BY
Passion Play
The Green Man
Photo credit: Foter / CC BY-SA
Punchinella / Pulcinella
Photo credit: deadmanjones / Foter / CC BY-NC

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Double, double toil and trouble…

JustUs Society

Macbeth
Act 4, SCENE I. A cavern. In the middle, a boiling cauldron.
Thunder. Enter the three Witches

witches_640x478
First Witch
Thrice the brinded cat hath mew’d.

Second Witch
Thrice and once the hedge-pig whined.

Third Witch
Harpier cries ‘Tis time, ’tis time.
First Witch
Round about the cauldron go;
In the poison’d entrails throw.
Toad, that under cold stone
Days and nights has thirty-one
Swelter’d venom sleeping got,
Boil thou first i’ the charmed pot.

witches1

ALL
Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn, and cauldron bubble.

Second Witch
Fillet of a fenny snake,
In the cauldron boil and bake;
Eye of newt and toe of frog,
Wool of bat and tongue of dog,
Adder’s fork and blind-worm’s sting,
Lizard’s leg and owlet’s wing,
For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.

eye of newt

ALL
Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn and cauldron bubble.

Third Witch
Scale of…

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Holy Passion, Divine Tragedy

The first time that I attended the service of the Twelve Gospels I had just finished studying Ancient Greek drama at uni. When my head stopped taking notes on the similarities between this form of storytelling and that of Ancient Greek tragedies, my heart was being moved. I shed involuntary tears.

trio

Passion Play

In the Orthodox Church, the Passion of Christ is chanted in anticipation. The sun sets on what we would consider the eve of Good Friday before the service begins. The service, typical of the services of Holy Week is a mix of Old Testament prophecies heralding in the life of Christ and Gospel readings beginning with Jesus presaging his own death and ending with the guard at his tomb. Inbetween there are supplicating litanies, chanted hymns, blessings given and returned and the familiar prayers of the Sunday liturgy. In all that it is, it is a very full service.

But there is something else as well. I see Aeschylus, Euripides and Sophocles.

These three great tragedians provided drama through both monologues and dialogues. Their action was commented on by their choruses and there is implicit in their texts a variety in delivery for their actors. Their tragedies were also a part of a religious festival that began with a street procession and culminated in dramatic performance at the amphitheatre. Like the paschal services, their action occurred offstage and was retold after the events.

In the Holy Thursday evening service I shut my eyes and see with my mind’s eye an ancient messenger delivering his monologue. I imagine him addressing the audience at the amphitheatre as easily as the naos of the church.The chorus of chanters responds to him in a similar way that an ancient chorus tries to make sense of the often senseless actions of its pagan protagonists.

Exhibition "Ancient Drama"

Ancient Chorus

In the celebration/performance the interaction between chorus and priest/ actor and congregation/ audience picks up the emotional story between the lines of the historic prose of the Gospels and the narrative of the ancient myth. The irony in the drama is extolled with adjectives, imagery and personification through the choral odes.

“When the lawless people nailed the Lord of glory to the Cross, then the veil of the temple was rent, and the sun went dark, unable to endure the spectacle of God blasphemed . . .”( from the 10th Antiphon, chanted in the 6th Tone)

The sun was unable to see Jesus suffering or come to terms with it! The Gods and nature personified are mortified by mortal actions and respond in “signs”. In this way the paschal service has an ancient resonance and power.

These paschal odes chanted in between the Gospel readings are delivered in a Byzantine tradition that dates back to the 9th Century. Described as colourless, the aim of the somber delivery is to heighten the emotional impact and bring clarity to the meaning of the words. Musically, it comes from a lower register. In practice, if not in intent, it often sounds like a drone.Sobering, it inspires reflection.

Byzantine chanting in its original form is far removed from the ethereal choirs of angels of the West.The musical notation describing it, is not Western either. It doesn’t use scales and its tones are more correctly, “echoes”. It is said by Stanley Takis in his, Understanding the Byzantine Musical System Using Western Notation and Theory or Name That Tone! to have grown out of the music of the Synagogues and that of secular Greek and Syrian music. It would follow then that a better understanding of Byzantine chanting can garner an insight into the elusive qualities required to deliver an ancient chorus in performance. Conversely, could the story of the Passion of Christ be delivered in the form of an Ancient Greek tragedy complete with a chanting chorus?

Passion Play

Photo credit: istolethetv / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

Greek Chorus

Photo credit: Tilemahos Efthimiadis / Foter /Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Three Wisemen, Three Wise Kings, Three Magi

The Wise Men 01

The Three Wisemen. Who were they? Were they kings? Were they mystics, followers of Zoroaster, astrologers, magicians? How was it that they were able to follow a star to the baby Jesus? If they were from the East how far east and how long did it take them to reach Jesus? Did the star appear when he was born or afterwards?

We know they were foreigners and that they were welcomed in King Herod’s court. We know that they bore expensive gifts: gold, myrrh and frankinsense. Were they Persians as the early church documented 500 years after the event? Were they from the far east? China perhaps? We cannot even be sure about the number of gift-bearers they were, only the gifts.

They were foreigners. They had rank. Travelling within their own caravan, they would have been a spectacle to watch as they approached Jerusalem and then Bethlehem.

They were led by a comet through the desert. Having been entertained in state by Herod, they took counsel from a dream and broke a promise to return to him. In doing so they saved the baby Jesus life. They were spiritualists.

I am fascinated by accounts of early Christianity. The first Christians seem to have been a more spiritual people. They put their faith in God and the baby Jesus but also relied on astrology, dreams and visions. Much as today, many of us count ourselves as Christians but will read a horoscope if it passes our line of vision, will ponder over our dreams and take counsel from exotic spiritualists. Perhaps we haven’t changed so much.

The nativity story and accounts of Jesus as a baby are beautiful. Being human is stripped back to human needs. We need shelter and rest and refreshment as the stable animals do. We are beasts of burden like they are, but we have more needs. We need love and respect and we blossom under the admiring gaze of others. The baby Jesus was given these gifts by the efforts that the Wise Men and the Shepherds made in visiting him.

We also have spiritual needs. For some the strict letter of Christianity addresses this need. For others, spiritualism comes from other corners. The Three Wise Men are often depicted as coming from various corners. They are turbaned with philosophy and spiritualism. They are motivated by love. The nativity story embraces their difference and encapsulates acceptance and participation.

Whatever your spiritualism, have a merry and safe Christmas.

P.S., Instructions on how to make three wise turbans are posted on Crafty Theatre facebook page.

Photo credit: Waiting For The Word / Foter.com / CC BY