"Die Geburt des modernen Mysteriendramas aus dem Geiste Weimars" by Christian Clement, recently presented a textual analyses of Rudolf Steiner’s "mystery plays" the way they are currently performed at the headquarters of the Anthroposophical Society.
But where Christian Clement’s analyses is in line with that of Anthroposophical commentators, a historical contextualization of Steiner’s ‘symbolist theatre’ is largely missing.
Like Katherine Tingley in the USA, Rudolf Steiner developed mystery dramas that he believed contained spiritual insights that were relevant to people living in his era. Unlike Tingley, he did not draw aesthetic inspiration from scholarship about the ancient Greek theatre. Steiner’s theatre resembles the symbolist theatre of the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century in France rather than the Greek Revivalist movement of the U.S.
Both Steiner and his later wife, Marie Steiner-von Sivers (1867-1948), had connections to the French symbolist movement cantered in Paris. Also in the late 1890s Steiner co-directed a production of Maeterlinck’s The Intruder with Otto Erich Hartleben for a “free Dramatic Society” in Germany, which was an independent theatre dedicated to producing “misunderstood” plays. Steiner also directed two plays by Edouard Schuré, and Steiner-von Sivers studied artistic recitation in Paris, where she became friends with Schuré, whose works she translated and through whom she learned about Madame H.P.Blavatsky and Theosophy. Schuré spoke of Villiers de l’Isle-Adam, Joséphin Péladan, and Maurice Maeterlinck as playwrights who, like himself, strove to create a Théâtre de l’Âme. (Edouard Schuré, “Le Théâtre de l’Âme,” in Les Enfants de Lucifer & La Sœur Gardienne, 1922, xv.)
In May 1907 Steiner produced and directed von Sivers’s translation of Schuré’s The Sacred Drama of Eleusis, which Steiner put into free verse for performance at the Theosophical Congres in Munich, and in which von Sivers played the leading role. In August 1909 then, Steiner directed the premiere of Schuré’s Les Enfants de Lucifer at the Munich playhouse on 22 August 1909. Schuré’s works remained important and when Steiner-von Sivers became the director of Thespis’s Cart after Steiner’s death in 1925, she and her performers “specialized in plays denoting the state of the spirit,” and The Sacred Drama of Eleusis and Les Enfants de Lucifer were among the plays that suited their mission. (Robb Creese, Anthroposophical Performance, p. 50).
Although what is now called Anthroposophical (following Steiner’s break with the Theosophical Society) theatre draws from the theatrical practices of French symbolism, it can be differentiated from most symbolist drama and theatre by its dramatization of specific esoteric or occult, tenets.
The Anthroposophical Society developed as a result of disagreements between Annie Besant (1847-1933)—who became the leader of the International Theosophical Society in 1907—and Steiner after Besant’s proclamation of Jiddu Krishnamurti (1895-1986), as “an avatar of the Christ” dashing Steiner’s hope for taking on a more leading role in the ‘international’ T.S., Steiner himself was considered the future “Maitreya Buddha”. (Karl-Heinrich Meyer-Uhlenried, Rudolf Steiner und die Bodhisattva-Frage, 1994)
However the integrity of the Theosophical Society had already been challenged before for example when the more than six thousand members of the American Section broke away in 1895 since 1896 under the leadership of Katherine Tingley. Followed on 2 February 1913 when three thousand —more than half the German Section—seceded with Steiner to form the Anthroposophical Society.”
Historian Maria Carlson argued that the disagreement between Theosophy and Anthroposophy was more a matter of means and method than of ultimate goal, and she points out many similarities between the two belief systems, while simultaneously acknowledging their differences:
Both movements sought to achieve clairvoyance through the use of intellect and reason; both sought to overcome materialism and return the spiritual dimension to human life; both desired to heal the rift between religion and science; both represented a modern gnosis.While Theosophy emphasized the oriental, intuitive, passive principle as the means toward occult ends, Anthroposophy focused on the occidental, rational, active principle. Steiner avoided the Theosophists’excessive dependence on oriental vocabulary and sought to present religious and occult concepts using Western terms. . . . (Carlson, No Religion Higher Than Truth: Books: Maria Carlson, 1993, p. 33.)
Steiner’s major appeal was to those who felt drawn to the basic concept of Theosophy, but who felt uncomfortable with its alien terminology. For them Steiner had a Western vocabulary, based on Western European occult, religious, and philosophical traditions to which they could relate.
Steiner drew from syncretic material with roots in neo-Platonist and ‘Rosicrucian’ type Philosophies, both inside and outside of the Christian tradition in the development of his worldview. For instance, Steiner places Ahriman, the “Hostile Spirit” of Zoroastrianism next to Lucifer, with in the middle his version of Christ.
Ahriman and Lucifer transmit “Ahrimanic” and “Luciferian” impulses, and, according to Steiner, the great struggle of the human being is to balance these. If either impulse dominates the life of an individual the psyche of the individual experiences this imbalance as “the Devil.” An overdeveloped Luciferian impulse causes an individual to become controlled by passions, emotions, desires, and impulses; a predominant Ahrimanic impulse leads to obsessive materialism and a blind faith in the “exclusively mechanistic aspect of modern science.” (Carlson, “No Religion Higher Than Truth,” 134-135.)
Steiner’s four Mystery Dramas, which were first performed at Theosophical conventions in Munich between 1910 and 1913, are entitled Die Pforte der Einweihung (The Portal of Initiation, premiered 15 August 1910), Die Prufung der Seele (The Soul’s Probation, 17 August 1911), Der Hüter der Schwelle (The Guardian of the Threshold, 24 August 24 1912), and Der Seelen Erwachen (The Soul’s Awakening, 22 August 1913, premiered at the Volkstheater in Munich). The Theosophical Convention of 1913 was the first year in which all four plays were performed as one series.
Steiner depended heavily upon his valued collaborator, Steiner-von Sivers, to help him organize the many details of producing the Mystery Dramas in Munich, and he would continue to depend upon her help for all of his future productions. Steiner also sought to create a theatre designed specifically to house the performances of these dramas in Munich. Richard Rosenheim writes that “ fanatics of nationalism and clericalism finally resolved to resort to certain test proof tactics for preventing the erection of a worthy building in Munich.”(Rosenheim, The Eternal Drama: A Comprehensive Treatise on the Synergenetic History of Humanity, Dramatics, and Theatre, 1952, 269.)
Hence the foundation of the ill-fated first ’Hermetic Academy’, topped with several large domes, was laid on 20 September 1913 in Dornach Switzerland. Burned dawn probably by means of an accident, with the insurance money a second building, now called Goetheanum was erected in 1928, three years after Steiner’s death in 1925.
The outer form still designed by Steiner, this second building is made of fireproof reinforced concrete and upstairs, seating 1100 people. Its organic, fanciful curves are reminiscent of a large piece of modernist sculpture. Bringing to the stage of the first two Mystery Dramas in 1928, Marie Steiner had been working with her actors for two years, developing also the speech chorus, since the founding of Thespis’s Cart [the Goetheanum performance group].
By 1928, Steiner and Steiner-von Sivers had developed two Anthroposophical forms of performance—Eurythmie(a movement art) and Sprachgestaltung(speech formation, sounding rather monotoom). Eurythmie was more conceived by Steiner himself, and speech formation by his wife. Steiner and Steiner-von Sivers consider the combination of Sprachgestaltung and Eurythmie to be an essential part of creating “spiritually realistic” theatre. (Robb Creese, Anthroposophical Performance, p. 54.)
Steiner and von Sivers also valued Schuré’s theosophical writings about the spiritual evolution of human beings and of theatre. In 1936 the New York Anthroposophic Press published Fred Rothwell’s English translation of Schuré’s The Genesis of Tragedy and The Sacred Drama of Eleusis in one volume. In 1989, Steinerbooks reprinted The Great Initiates, and it is frequently stocked at the Anthroposophical bookstore in New York City, indicating that there is still an interest inSchuré’s writings in Anthroposophical circles.
Schuré shared ideas about theatre and spirituality with Steiner and Steiner-von Sivers. Among these is a link between the evolution of theatre and the spiritual evolution of humanity that Schuré speaks about in The Genesis of Tragedy: an evolution of the theatre must correspond with this religious and philosophical evolution of humanity, wherein were manifested the spiritual powers that gave it direction.
wanted humanity to regain contact with these spiritual powers through drama,
and he believed that in ancient Greece the combination of tragedy with the
ritual drama of Eleusis was an example of a form of theatre that awakened human
beings to the potential of these powers. Because Schuré wanted to re-establish
this combination in his own era, he was interested in reconstructing the ritual
drama of Eleusis, and The Sacred Drama of Eleusis was an attempt to create such
a reconstruction. Schuré writes that the “Eleusian idea” is the “realization of
the divine in the other life [as opposed to ‘life on earth’] through the
deliverance of the soul which has reached perfection.” He explains that Greek
tragedy contains the “Promethean idea” of the “realization of the divine in the
life on earth” and asserts that a modern initiatory theatre would be possible
if: its founders and organizers seriously intend to bring about an harmonious
synthesis and a new blending between the Promethean idea and the Eleusian idea
which were embodied separately by the Greeks in tragedy and in the drama of
Eleusis. Manifestly this pre-supposes an organic conception of the Cosmos and a
clear idea of the transcendent destiny of mankind,—a conception
in which the individual soul, having recovered all its powers, would evolve freely in the three worlds. According to Schuré, it is only through experiencing the earthly and sub-earthly realms that a purification of the occult initiate’s inmost being, a “rising to ethereal spheres, [and] a marvelous sense of harmony with the Cosmos” becomes possible. The Sacred Drama of Eleusis dramatizes these three worlds (earthly/mortal, lower/Hades, celestial/Mount Olympus). With Les Enfants de Lucifer, Schuré moved away from reconstructions of ancient forms and strove to create “le théâtre de l’avenir.” (Edouard Schuré, “Le Théâtre de l’Ame,” in Les Enfants de Lucifer & La Sœur Gardienne, 1922, xiii.)
Schuré classifies Les Enfants de Lucifer as one of many “tentatives isolées” by a new breed of playwright to develop a “Théâtre du Rêve” or “Théâtre de l’Âme,” which will be “hautement et profondément religieux” and will attempt to reunite “l’humain au divin.” (Edouard Schuré’s, Les Enfants de Lucifer, in Les Enfants de Lucifer & La Soeur Gardienne, 16.)
Les Enfants de Lucifer is set in the fourth century CE, and it concerns the fate of a city in Asia Minor named Dionysia, the local deity of which is Dionysus. The town is on the verge of a change, as Caesar takes over the village ostensibly to defend it “contre ses ennemis.” When it becomes apparent that the Roman Empire and the Church are determined to repress the worship of Dionysus, heroic characters reject Christianity. Cléonice leaves the retreat of the virgins of the desert and the Christian guidance of Le Père du Désert after she sees a vision of Lucifer on the altar “à la place du Christ” (Edouard Schuré, Les Enfants de Lucifer, 72): Le Pére: Lucifer! Cléonice: Oui, Lucifer . . . avec son flambeau et ses ailes! . . . Non, il n’etait pas horrible comme tu le dépeins. Il etait rayonnant et beau comme le Sauveur, mais plus sombre et plus triste. (ibid., 73)
Schuré never suggests that Le Enfants de Lucifer or The Sacred Drama of Eleusis constitutes the successful creation of an initiatory theatre. Rather, he declares this to be “the task of the future creator of the idealist theatre,”and Schuré believed Steiner would bring the world closer to that theatre. After seeing the first performance of the The Sacred Drama of Eleusis, Schuré wrote that Steiner “recognized and confirmed” what he had “seen and represented unconsciously,” and he stated that “it is one of those very cherished moments in the creative life of the artist when he meets someone who recognizes and knows that he is drawing what he says from spiritual vision.” (quoted in “Edourd Schuré and The Great Initiates,” by Paul M. Allen, 1961; reprint, Hudson, NY: Steinerbooks, 1989, 11.)
Judging by their tendency to explicate the spiritual basis of the theatre that they created and their preference for representing phenomena that they perceived as spiritually real, it would seem that Steiner and Steiner-von Sivers drew a great deal of inspiration from Schuré’s writings.
However Steiner, also said to have drawn inspiration from Goethe’s fiction and dramatic literature. Geisteswissenschaftliche Erläuterungen zu Goethe’s «Faust» is a collection of lectures on Goethe’s Faust. To clarify the connections that he perceived between Faust and his own Anthroposophical worldview, Steiner connected the spiritual characters in Faust to the spiritual entities of Anthroposophy.
Goethe’s Das Märchen (The Farytale of the Green Snake) however had a more direct impact upon the Mystery Dramas than Faust. Like in Goethe’s fairytale Steiner asserted that the spiritual beings represented in his plays were not allegories or symbols, but, rather, entities that are as real for anyone capable of perceiving “the spiritual world as reality” as are physical beings in the “sense-world.” (Rudolf Steiner, The Guardian of the Threshold, in Four Mystery Plays, trans. H. Collison, S.M.K. Gandell, and R.T. Gladstone vol. 2, 1920, 6.)
Scholarly evidence however, contradicts Steiner’s assertion about Goethe’s spiritual intentions and perceptions when he wrote Das Märchen. In his 1972 translation and adaptation, Waltraud Bartscht states that, “as much as Goethe delighted in hearing or telling such stories [fairy tales], he did not take them very seriously.” (Bartscht, Goethe’s “Das Marchen”: Translation and Analysis, 1972, 38.)
To promulgate the existence of a supersensible realm however, was important for Steiner, whose authority as a spiritual teacher was based in large part upon the assertion that he could ‘perceive’ this supersensible realm. Thus for people to believe that, his Mystery Dramas are realistic pictures of the supersensible realm, they first must believe that such a realm exists and that Steienr could effectively reveal aspects of that realm.
A quick glance over the character list contained in an early draft of The Portal of Initiation also illuminates symbolic connections between Steiner’s Mystery Dramas and Goethe’s Märchen. In the early draft Steiner gives several of the characters two names:
Johannes Thomasius/Mensch, Maria/Lilie,Professor Capesius/Erstes Irrlicht, Doktor Strader/Zweites Irrlicht, Felix Balde/Der Mann mit der Lampe, Die Andre Maria/Schlange. (Steiner Steiner, Entwürfe zu dem Rosenkreuzermysterium: Die Pforte der Einweihung, Steiner-Nachlassverwaltung, 1954, 11-12.)
Based on Steiner’s explanations, because Johannes is also called “Mensch”, according to Steiner’s interpretation of the Young Man in Das Märchen, Johannes is according to Steiner trying to develop a balance between the sensory and the supersensory in order to free his soul. (Steiner, “Goethe’s Spirit,” 162.)
Maria’s connection to Lilie in Das Märchen is shown in Maria’s effect on Johannes, which is similar to the effect that Lilie has on the Young Man in Das Märchen, who complains of Lilie’s influence over him:Is it not much sadder and more frightful to be paralyzed by her presence than to perish by her hand? . . . I am just as naked and needy as any mortal, for so fatal is the influence of her beautiful blue eyes that they take away the strength from every living creature; and those who are not killed by the touch of her hand feel reduced to the condition of living shadows.
in the early draft of The Portal of Initiation, Johannes (Mensch) laments the
simultaneously draining and alluring effect of Maria’s presence:
Mensch [Johannes]. The characters named Strader and Capesius in Steiner’s play are referred to as Irrlicht, showing that they are analogous with Goethe’s Will-o’-the-Wisps. Capesius and Strader wander about in a state of confused thought, intentionally detaching themselves from the sensory world, which is behavior that Steiner attributed to the Will-o’-the-Wisps. (Steiner, “Goethe’s Spirit,” 170.)
Like Der Mann mit der Lampe, Felix Balde is a person who understands many mysteries and upon whom everyone depends for guidance and leadership. The snake of Das Märchen proclaims her wish: “to sacrifice myself before I shall be sacrificed.” For Steiner, this serpent is connected to the sensory realm and life experiences that must be sacrificed if one is to perceive the supersensory world. After sacrificing itself, the snake is transformed into “a beautiful circle of luminous gems.”Steiner adapts this sacrifice in The Portal of Initiation through the actions of the character known as “The Other Maria,” a character that is the counterpart to Maria’s supersensory nature and who sacrifices herself so that Maria can enter the supersensory realm.
H. Collison writes that during the 1910 production of The Portal of Initiation in Munich, The Other Maria emerged “from the rocks, covered with precious stones” after sacrificing herself; this is in direct relation to the transformation of Goethe’s snake. (Collison, addition to stage directions to The Portal of Initiation, in Four Mystery Dramas, 74.)
In the 1995 book The Time is at Hand!: The Rosicrucian Nature of Goethe’s Fairy Tale of the Green Snake and the Beautiful Lily and the Mystery Dramas of Steiner Steiner, Paul Marshall Allen and Joan Deris Allen encourage readers of Steiner’s Mystery Dramas to familiarize themselves with Das Märchen and Steiner’s interpretation of it, because “penetration into the essence of Goethe’s Fairy Tale . . . will show that theMystery Dramas possess a “profound, even transforming effect on those who willingly open themselves to them.” (See Paul Allen & JoanAllen, “From the Goethe Fairy Tale to the Mystery Dramas of Steiner Steiner,” in The Time is at Hand!, pp.111-114.)
However they also warn that, “all depends upon each one’s stage of inner maturity, if what is read or seen in the Goethe Fairy Tale or in the Mystery Dramas will become “everything” or will remain “nothing”.Today’s civilization, because of its denial of the reality of the spiritual world, weakens and finally blocks the recognition of the spirit’s working in each human soul. On the other hand, if this recognition exists within one as a living, operative power, this in turn eliminates the “nothing” and makes way for the “everything,” as the morning sunlight disperses the mists of night’s darkness. (Allen, p. 115-116.)
The passage above implies that, if Das Märchen and the Mystery Dramas mean “nothing” to the reader/spectator, then the spectator exists in a state of inner immaturity. The preservation of the theatre style at the Goetheanum however, rather equals the avant-garde symbolist (theatre) in France of the late nineteenth-and early twentieth century.
For example Frantisek Deak lists various theatrical practices that were associated with symbolist theatre in the late nineteenth century in Paris that bear an affinity to the performances at the Goetheanum today. Among these practices are “verbal orchestration,” “a recitational acting style” that was “a constant principle of staging . . . in symbolist acting in general,” “slow movements,” “ritualistic behavior,” a resemblance between iconography in the visual arts and the actors on stage, an “emphasis on imagination, inner life, hidden reality, and spiritual aspiration,” and, finally, the representation of the “ideas of mysticism” to an “initiated audience.” (Deak, Symbolist Theater: Formation of an Avant-Garde, 1993, 171-177.)
All of the above characteristics of symbolist theatre are present in the performances at the Goetheanum today. Plus due to its alleged ‘spiritual significance’ the designs of the Mystery Dramas are closely bound to the building of the Goetheanum itself, or instance, the prelude to The Portal of Initiation is set in a living room with a sofa, a couch, and other items that would normally be found in such an environment. However, the walls of the living room do not match the height of the proscenium, leaving several feet of exposed space between the top of the living room wall and the peak of the proscenium opening. In this exposed area one can see a cyclorama decorated with esoteric symbols that resemble the symbols on the stained-glass windows of the auditorium.
And where scenes set in the physical world are relatively static and usually depict conversations about revelations that the students of the occult experience while meditating or viewing something taking place in the supersensory realm, scenes taking place in supersensory regions involve more dynamic movement and dialogue.
For example in Scene Five of The Soul’s Awakening, for instance, Steiner calls for a colorful and visually striking mise en scène: The scene is set in floods of significant colored lights, with reddish deepening fiery red above, and blue merging into dark blue and violet blue below. Steiner called for such conventions in all of the Mystery Dramas, also prescribing different types of costume and scenery for each alternate plane of existence and each different incarnation.
The Anthroposophical scene designers adhere to an Anthroposophical visual style—just as the actors, eurythmists, and vocal performers adhere to Anthroposophical performance style. The costume designers today however, follow the original Anthroposophical vision of Steiner and Steiner-von Sivers, for the actors portraying Lucifer and Ahriman resembled the figures in the stained-glass windows of the Goetheanum auditorium. Thus Lucifer appears as a woman in the Mystery Dramas and as a man in the green window at the south of the auditorium. On stage, Lucifer has a red, flowing robe with flame-like patterns cut into it that blended into the fiery scenery. In the green stained-glass window, Lucifer is depicted in much the same way, blending into his environment by way of a flowing “robe” of fire that surrounds his body. The actor playing Ahriman was little more than a reconstruction of the form of Ahriman in the green stained-glass window at the north of the auditorium. Like the shade of the window, the actor playing Ahriman wore green makeup, and his head, ears, and chin were unnaturally lengthened with latex extensions, making him nearly identical to the figure of Ahriman in the window.
Heinz Bähler, conductor of the Goetheanum orchestra, explains that not every scene of the Mystery Dramas should begin and end with music and mentioned Scene One of The Soul’s Probation, in which spiritual beings appear to Capesius. This scene opened without music as Capesius perused a book in his library, and Bähler explains that the beginning contained no music because it took place solely in the physical sphere of existence.
Then there is the Sprachgestaltung blended with Eurythmy, and for example the three female characters (Philia, Astrid and Luna), who appear in Scene One of The Portal of Initiation as physical beings, are played by eurythmists who reappear in Scene Seven as spiritual beings. This transformation from physical beings into spiritual beings is done as follows: (a) in the opening scenes the actors spoke their own lines, dressed in conventional clothing; (b) in Scene Seven, now eurythmists (movement artists without speech) appeared in wind-resistant, flowing gowns covered with a layer of transparent silk and a circular headpiece resembling an aura. They performed movements in silence while Sprachgestaltung artists recited their lines from the side of the stage apron, wearing neutral, gray clothing. The grey clothing that the vocal performers wore prevented them from distracting the audience from the eurythmists. The material that the eurythmists where is always silk moving slowly through the air, enhancing their flowing arm movements with silk veils, suggesting a non-physical being, unhindered by earthly gravity.
To further illustrate this atmosphere, a known writer at the time Andrei Bely described when Steiner gave his own, lectures:
He [Steiner] demanded that people gather in silence some time before the beginning of his lectures. To arrive at the lecture straight from the everyday rush meant the same to him as to arrive too late for communion, to push through the crowd in haste and rush up to the chalice. At the very least, Steiner desired that his audience be prepared for serious contemplation before they heard a lecture.
This allows one to understand that Steiner and Steiner-von Sivers also interpreted applause, as a sign that the audience did not receive Anthroposophical performance in a sufficiently serious state of mind. In a letter that Steiner-von Sivers wrote to Steiner on 9 October 1924, she wonders if the abundance of applause at a performance in Hanover indicated that the audience was absorbed or largely composed of “opponents.” (Correspondence and Documents, Nachlass Verwaltung, Steiner-von Sivers Steiner to Steiner Steiner, 9 October 1924, p. 227.)
Other observations we made during a previous visit, are that both the actors and the eurythmists move more slowly than would actors in naturalistic theatre who were imitating everyday behavior. The scenes depicting initiation rituals incorporate ritualized behavior into the action. The relationship between the images of Ahriman and Lucifer in the stained glass windows and the actors who portrayed them on stage suggests the symbolist tendency to create resemblances between actors and figures in visual art. Finally, Steiner’s demand that the audience come to the performance prepared for meditative contemplation shows that he longed for initiated audience members.
Another affinity between Steiner’s theatrical tradition and that of the European symbolist movement is his tendency toward medievalism. The qualities of medievalism are present in his Mystery Dramas. For instance, Scenes Six through Nine of The Soul’s Probation depict a past incarnation that is based upon the legend of the Knights Templar, and Steiner’s description of all of his Mystery Dramas as Rosicrucian dramas also evinces his tendencies toward medievalism. Steiner participated in the “cult of retrospection” that led symbolists back to medieval plays. (Daniel Gerould, “The Art of Symbolist Drama: A Re-Assessment,” in Doubles,Demons, and Dreamers: An International Collection of Symbolist Drama, 1985, p.10.)
By 1917, Steiner also had sanctioned a Paradise Play, a Shepherds Play, and a Kings Play, which he believed to have been written during the medieval period, as appropriate for performance in what is now the Goetheanum. According to A.C. Harwood, who translated the plays into English in 1944, German-speaking migrants brought the plays, which they had received from their ancestors, to Oberufer (on the Danube near Pressburg and close to the borders of Austria and Hungary), during the late sixteenth or early seventeenth century. (Harwood, “Translator’s Preface,” in Christmas Plays from Oberufer 1944; reprint, 1993, 7.)
The Oberufer plays are currently also performed at Waldorf schools (also called Rudolf Steiner Schools). Steiner’s acquaintance with medieval drama should come as no surprise, since he employed characters in his Mystery Dramas who are frequently found in medieval cycle dramas and passion plays. For instance, Lucifer’s appearance as a female temptress in Steiner’s plays is reminiscent of the dramatic device used in the Cornish Creacion, wherein Lucifer enters the body of a maiden-faced serpent in order to trick Eve with an alluring visage. H. Collison’s descriptions of the performances of the Mystery Dramas that he wrote after Steiner allowed him “to attend the rehearsals and assist in the performances of the plays” reveal that Ahriman underwent a metamorphosis much like that of Lucifer in the Cornish Creacion when Der Seelen Erwachen was first produced in Munich. When Collison describes Scene Twelve of the final drama, The Soul’s Awakening, he writes that Ahriman grew a claw and a cloven hoof to “show the audience that his identity as the Devil was being discovered” by the initiates. (Collison, addition to the stage directions of The Soul’s Awakening, in Four Mystery Dramas, vol.2, 271.)
As Paula Neuss says of Lucifer in Creacion—who becomes ugly after he is expelled from heaven—Ahriman “reduces his stature in the eyes of the audience” through a “process of degeneration.” Lucifer’s degenerative metamorphosis also appears frequently in medieval paintings of the Temptation. (Neuss, ed. & trans., introduction to The Creacion of the World: A Critical Edition and Translation, 1983, xxv-xxvi.)
Philia, Astrid, and Luna, who appear in all four of Steiner’s plays, also exhibit medieval dramatic characteristics. In the Scene Thirteen of The Soul’s Probation, thesethree “spiritual beings” lead Strader—a struggling initiate—into “The Temple of the Sun.” Philia, Astrid, and Luna describe the cosmic forces that are conducted through them and the way in which these forces will benefit Strader’s spiritual growth. Philia, filled with “faith’s clear power” will channel the spiritual light in order to awaken Strader’s soul to the spiritual world. Astrid offers “rays of hope,” the power of which will support Strader’s soul. Finally, Luna generates “the power of love” by which Strader can set free his soul’s “love of light” (Steiner, The Soul’s Probation, 258).
As sources of faith, hope, and love, Philia, Astrid, and Luna thus resemble the personified virtues that sometimes appear in medieval morality plays. Also Liliane Brion-Gufrry argues that Steiner employed a medieval conception referred to as “nécéssité enveloppée” when he designed the first Goetheanum as a theatre-temple. (Brion-Gufrry, La Premiere Goetheanum: Forme Utopique ou Forme Exemplaire?, 459-460.)
In The Arts and Their Mission Steiner however criticises both symbolism and allegory as “inartistic” and asserts that “we must become artists, not symbolists and allegorists, by rising, through spiritual knowledge, more and more into the spiritual world.”
But regardless of the distance that Steiner places between himself and symbolist theatre, it is in part because Steiner’s followers have religiously kept the performance of the Mystery Dramas as true as possible to Steiner’s and Steiner-von Sivers’s original vision that the similarities between Anthroposophical theatre and French symbolist theatre have been maintained until the present. Maintaining this vision is important to Steiner’s followers, because they accept his claims of possessing the skill of clairvoyance and feel that that skill gave him the knowledge required to create spiritually realistic dramatic representations.
Today, Anthroposophists continue to produce Steiner’s Mystery Dramas in Dornach during annual conferences dedicated to teaching and contemplating Steiner’s teachings. At these conferences, the Mystery Dramas are accompanied by lectures and presentations in which the plays’ central themes are examined and discussed.