Ritual Theater

What is Ritual Theater?

Ritual theater is intentionally different from what we may call “traditional” theater. According to ritual theater creatrix, Batya Podos*, ritual performances storylines tend to be cyclical rather than linear. Catharsis is the central experience (for audience and performers), the methods tend to be psycho-spiritual with the spiritual played in and through the performers rather than directed up toward a transcendent god, and the audience members are participants rather than passive spectators. Ritual theater may include repetition, chanting and/or singing, movement/dance, and acknowledgment of the Divine Feminine.

For me, in addition, ritual theater exists in the tension between the sacred and the profane; it is the magical lifeblood that flows outward from the liminal realm. This is precisely the moment the audience—the public—the viewer, becomes an active part of the unique ritual performance experience, rather than a passive observer.  Finally, the central experience of my ritual theater creations is that of the Goddess.

*Summarized from Batya Podos’ essay, “Feeding the Feminist Psyche Through Ritual Theater” in the anthology, “The Politics of Women’s Spirituality,” edited by Charlene Spretnek.

 

Current and Past Projects

 

Bleeding the World into Existence

This ritual theater series of “performative offerings” is inspired by my scholastic and devotional work with Mary Magdalene, Menstruation, and the Sacred Feminine. These pieces are “fragments” and “offerings” because they are glimpses of creative moments captured in-process. They are born of a certain moment and place in time, and will never been duplicated. Instead, they are the inspiration—the groundswell—for a grander vision aimed at celebrating and honoring the Sacred Feminine in women.

 

Blood of Her Holy Womb

The purpose for this performative fragment is to use the methods of ritual theater to promote female physiology—in this case, menstruation—as powerful, healing and life-affirming. It is a performative fragment captured on camera, meant to honor the rawness of the present moment while using ritual performance to amplify the tension between the sacred and mundane experience.*

Meaning behind the symbolism:

  • Song: I used an old Christian hymn, “Are You Washed in the Blood” (by E. A. Hoffman) and modified a few of the lyrics to reflect the life-affirming power inherent to the Divine Feminine as well as human women.
  • Location: I performed this fragment in the hills of Ventura, CA, shortly after the Thomas Fires. For the purpose of this piece, I have interpreted these hills as the mythological wasteland, barren and lifeless.
  • Menstrual Blood can symbolize cleansing, purification, fecundity, and regeneration. In some cultures, whether celebrating the menses of a goddess or of a human woman, menstrual rituals are performed to affirm the life-giving powers of the female body. This does not mean a woman must have a child nor that childbearing is her sole purpose in life. Rather, I choose to view menstrual blood and the menstrual cycle as a positive affirmation of the amazing generative and creative capacity of the female body.
  • Ashes: I created an alchemical elixir with ash from the fire and menstrual blood, meant to suggest the healing of the wasteland.
  • White Dress: In this piece, I chose white to punctuate the transformation that happens before and after the ritual cleansing-healing of the earth.

*Thanks to Lisa Skura for helping me capture this moment on film.

 

Ritual Puja for Menstruation

This ritual performance piece is the second “offering” in a series exploring menstruation, the Divine Feminine, and Mary Magdalene.

“Puja” is a Sanskrit word meaning worship. Widely speaking, puja is a devotional worship act that is unique to various Hindu traditions. Giving/receiving puja is a sincere devotional act, generally administered in temple ceremonies by Brahmins, but can also performed at home by a member of the household. Furthermore, the honoree of puja is reserved for a god/goddess or a very important person.

In this performance piece, I have decided to use the act of puja to honor menstruation (as a process) as well as the menstrual body. This is a particularly challenging topic because in most cultures that are steeped in patriarchal institutions and androcentric mindsets, menstruation and therefore women, are considered dirty, impure, unclean, a “hindrance” to business, etc. For many women in the world, Her time of the month ushers in a time of menstrual seclusion because the act of menstruation is seen as taboo and polluting. Even in the West, menstruation is still considered shameful and is, in fact, treated much more like a disease rather than a natural and necessary bodily process.

In north India, Kamakya is a tantric goddess associated with fertility. She is often seen with Her vulva exposed, and Her menstrual blood is believed to fertilize that land. Brahmin priests preside over Her temple, and in an ironic twist, control who can and who cannot see the “menstrual blood” of the goddess. Because of strict menstrual taboos, menstruating women are not allowed in Her temples.

Therefore in this performance fragment, I performed puja to Kamakya to celebrate my menstrual body as well as to honor women, the female body, and menstruation as beautiful, natural, and life-affirming!

Various Symbology:

  • Red—passion, fertility, menstrual blood.
  • Roses—associated with goddesses and the vulva. Rose petals are often used in puja ceremonies to honor the deity.
  • Rose-petaled yantra—a visual representation of the mantra chanted for the goddess.

*Animation by Kalista Skydancer

 

She is Risen: A Revisioning of the Easter Story

This ritual-performance “offering” is the third in a series of ritual theater fragments inspired by my scholastic and devotional work with Mary Magdalene, Menstruation, and the Sacred Feminine. I consider these pieces fragments because they are glimpses of creative moments in process. They are by no means finished or polished, rather they are meant to invoke the tension between the sacred and the profane.*

For this piece I decided to revision the Easter Story as a symbol of the awesome power of the Divine Feminine, in Her manifestation as Mary Magdalene and in Her body as Menstruant.

The Original Story:

In the Eastern Orthodox Christian tradition, Magdalene is the bearer of the red egg. As the story goes, Mary Magdalene headed to Rome to proclaim the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The emperor did not believe her story, so in complete confidence she told him that if the resurrection were true, the egg she held in her hand would turn red, and so it did.

The Revision:

Whereas the original tradition teaches that the light-turned-red egg is a symbol of Christ’s resurrection, I have revisioned the red on Her egg as menstrual blood, which I have painted in the form of a downward triangle, an ancient symbol of the Goddess.

Menstrual blood, typically associated in patriarchy with shame, impurity, and disgust, is reframed in my story as beautiful, natural, life-affirming, and as an empowering symbol for creation itself.

Therefore, Mary Magdalene as the bearer of the egg—a potent symbol of fertility—becomes a powerful symbol of the regeneration of the Sacred Feminine.

The text I spoke in English and Italian, “The Thunder: Perfect Mind,” is a Gnostic text believed to have to be written well before the 4th c CE. The overall voice of the text is clearly feminine and also clearly embodies the tensions of opposites within the lived experience of many women, the world over. It is, I believe, the song of Mary Magdalene.

I performed this text in Vatican Square, on the Eve of Easter, as a way to proclaim the sacredness and power of the Divine Feminine, Mary Magdalene, and the female body as the central tenant in a story that is about rebirth, regeneration, and fertility.

In the performance, Mary gives her menstrual egg as an offering of the Divine Feminine to the patriarchal powers that are embodied in the structure and history of the Vatican and Christian establishment.

Other symbols within the piece:

  • Red—a color representing fertility, passion, blood, and generally associated with Mary Magdalene.
  • Rose—associated with many goddesses and also a symbol for the vulva.

English translation of “The Thunder: Perfect Mind” by Hal Taussig, Jared Calaway, Maia Kotrosits, Celene Lillie, and Justin Lasser.

Italian translation by Daniela Riva

*Thank you to Marco for holding the performance container.

 AVE MAGDALENA