Theater as a reflection of our deepest consciousness. 

As the philosopher Mircea Eliade says, "In the beginning was ‘Il illo tempore.’" In the early days of human life, time was an eternal cycle. Life and death was a wave, rising and sinking; linear time had not arrived in the human mind.

In those days animals, plants, trees and humans were a part of this cycle. They were woven into each other. There was no division between the spiritual and material selves. We could say that human consciousness still was embedded in the womb of that force that lies behind everything. So art and science and everyday life was a whole, rising and sinking as the sun and the moon.

Then humans started to see themselves apart from nature and the rest of the universe. I believe that real loneliness was born then. And what made this strange thing happen? Humans gained a new sense of self-awareness. Not aware just of themselves as a part of the ebb and flow of life, but as individual beings. Then humans became estranged, not only to sticks and stones, and plants and animals, but to their fellow humans and even their blood families.

So what is the meaning of this strange and lonely voyage we are undertaking? Is it the work of some crazy devil, who wants to take us away from the good track of creation? Or is it just an illusion of the mind? In fairy tales, that which seems to be evil and cruel doesn’t happen accidentally. It happens because there is a necessary experience and lesson in it for the hero, who eventually wins his beloved princess and at least half the kingdom.

So why have we embarked upon this lonely journey of the separated ego and consciousness? Is there a jewel somewhere inside?

In the beginning there was no art, because art was not separate from living and being. All songs and dances and music and plays were a part of the ongoing creation and devotion of that which already was.

In the history of theater this becomes clear. Theater as we know it today seems to have emerged in ancient Greece, which has had so much influence on the culture of Europe and eventually much of the world. And the same theater re-emerged in the Renaissance. The theater, an excellent historical mirror of our collectives dreams, can be seen as one of the best ways to understand the psychic development of humanity, at least for the last two thousand years.

Early theater shows people being thrown out of the sacred togetherness and going on some quest and voyage, to find truth and identity. The story of Oedipus may be the best known piece of theater ever written, and illustrates this quest very well. As a child, Oedipus is taken away from his mother, abandoned in the hills and then found and adopted by a foreign king. We could say that it mirrors how the true identity of the self is taken away and hidden, when we are born. Later, Oedipus discovers that he doesn’t know his true identity. The "I" discovers that it doesn’t know who it really is. He becomes king by answering the questions of the Sphinx. He is no more an instinctual being, but has a human consciousness and understanding. At the same time he has killed his father and married his mother.

Carl Jung says you have to kill your inner parents, to become a true self. Oedipus got it half right. Killing his father shows he has found some of his own strength and identity, although by accident. The marrying of his mother is not so good. It symbolizes his inability to become emotionally self sufficient.

When Oedipus finds he’s married his mother, he blinds himself and leaves for the desert. The blinding is an outer manifestation of his inner conditions; leaving for the desert symbolizes the search for his true self. In the last play Sophocles wrote about Oedipus, he comes out of the desert, forgives himself and the world, meets the godlike essence and disappears.

In a way the story of Oedipus is a whole. But let us look at it from a longer perspective. When European theater re-emerged in the Renaissance, it started with "Commedia dell`arte," emphasizing caricatures. Later we have Shakespeare, with his long row of kings trying to reach the throne, and failing to stay on it. The "I" strives to find its place as the ruler of the human psyche, but has a hard time holding the rest of the stock under control. Thus the "I" often uses suppression and exploitation to stay at the top. Similarly, the governing "I" may suppress some of our needs, which of course leads to unhappiness, trouble and breakdowns.

Later the French writer Racine rewrote the Greek tragedies, so they mirrored his times and the ongoing process of human psychic development. In his plays, the King or Queen, which of course is a symbol for the land, and for the ego, was a kind of prisoner, caught by his/her own pride and stubbornness. Divided from the land and the people, he/she always met some lonely and tragic death. We see how the ego has become divided from the self and the greater whole, and how it suffers.

The next big influence in theater was Ibsen, with his tragedy of social realism. Here we see how the ego also belongs to the common person, not just to special individuals. The normal individual has a clear sense of I, and is at the same time unhappily caught in the smallness of society and human pettiness.

The ego is now clear and strong, but it has lost both the depths of the unfathomable darkness and the instinctual world, and the flaming heights. In many Ibsen plays only death can resolve the situation. The ego is caught in a petty, material, non-mystical world, which seems similar to some kind of gray hell. Nietzsche talked about the Dionysian and the Apollonian influences on the Greek theater. The Dionysian was the wild dark depths, which in Christianity has become an evil, terrible place, called hell and governed by the fallen angel Lucifer. The great heights were connected with Apollo, which in Christianity had become a small, remote and petty God.

The next natural step for theater and mankind was absurdism: nothing is really connected, nor holy. Humankind stands there like some jolly ass, waiting for something and striving to understand a meaningless world. Like Lucky and Pozzo in Beckett’s "Waiting for Godot ." Nothing really happens, and everything just repeats itself in a non-sensical manner. In a way we have returned to the eternal cycle. But since there is no understanding or feeling of the spiritual, this is a hell, eternally repeating itself. And again, the only way out is death and oblivion.

The great plan

So what is the point of this story? I see that psychological evolution has distilled the human I, from the bowels of time and unconsciousness. This ego seems not to know how to handle it. But look at it as a fairy tale. To be distilled, the "I" had to loose its contact with the great all. Only by itself, like a piece of coal, could it become the Diamond of the separate consciousness.

So what was the great plan? That Lucifer should not " fall" ? That Adam and Eve shouldn’t eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge? Or that the fall was planned, and the eating of the tree of knowledge was a master plan? Of course, there is no way back. You can’t sneak into Paradise without eating the apple with kernel, core and everything. And what is the price for this seemingly absurd journey through ages of loneliness and ego? Well the diamond has to be the ego, or what we call the individual self. If it isn’t so, the force behind all that is must be some kind of cruel beast, with a weird sense of humor. In " il illo tempore", man was created by the universe. And a creating part of the universe. And as far as I can see, the most cherished jewel in the last 5000 years must be the development, understanding and experience of the human I. Many have seen the I as sinful, bad and a hindrance for contact with the great All That Is. This view is understandable, since the ego first had to be extracted, painfully, from the feeling of belonging and oneness.

But do we understand why we have this ego, and what it can be used for? In the beginning, the world should be there for the child, to use and play with and learn from. Like the world in the beginning was there for supporting the development of the I. But the child grows up, and humanity has the challenge to grow up. As the ego grows older it has to understand that this jewel isn’t there to outshine and outsmart all the other jewels, or to suffer in self pity, but to give its special glow to the world. When that happens, humanity will again be a part of the creation, and a part of creation consciously creating itself. And then we will start to understand that the I or the world or the reincarnation cycle isn’t something we have to despise or get out of. We can not enter the realms of All That Is through extinguishing egos, but through making them shine so bright and strong that they reach those same spheres of beauty where they once came from. These spheres are not reached through repentance and meekness, but through sheer joy. And what a joy to find out that every one of those jewels carry within them the same creative force and beauty and pure essence that once put this whole universe into motion. And then you will not have one god, but millions or billions of gods who see each others’ light, and see that they all are the same light, and still have their individual glow and light and essence.

And how do we accomplish this? Through becoming fully and wholly what we are in our essence. To create the new renaissance, through incorporating the I and the understanding of oneness with everything, through melting the age old wisdom, with the new wisdom and so become artists and creators and strokes of an artists’ brush and something created. To become fully alive human beings who see that everything comes from the source that moves it all, and that we are this source, of joy and love and life.

PER HENRIK GULFOSS, a full time astrologer and tarot reader since 1983, has written eight books about astrology, mythology and tarot cards. He founded Scandinavia’s first and only astrology school in 1990. He has been the editor of several magazines about alternative consciousness and astrology and took his diploma in theater and the history of religion from the University of Oslo.

He also works as an artist and writer, paints on wood and plays the didgeridoo.

This article was published in New Renaissance magazine Vol. 8, No. 3