Monday, January 5, 2009

The Ontological-Hysteric Theatre as Satanic Ritual?

In my late night online wanderings I've been doing a little reading up on Satanism* and the philosophy of Anton Szandor LaVey, author of the Satanic Bible and founder of the Church of Satan, and I couldn't help but draw some uncanny comparisons between the Satanic Ritual known as Black Mass and Richard Foreman's Ontological-Hysteric theatre.

We can start with the term that Satanists use for their place of ritual. They call it an "Intellectual Decompression Chamber," which simply means a place where one willfully enters into a state of conscious suspension of disbelief, for the purpose of achieving magical ends.  LaVey says that it is necessary for one to be completely unburdened by "conscious intellectual critique" to truly achieve this kind of powerful magic. 

This idea of an "Intellectual Decompression Chamber" bares a lot of resemblance to Foreman's sort of theatre, which tends to appeal to ones' senses or psyche rather than ones' intellect.  And is it only coincidence that for the past decade Foreman's plays have been created and performed inside a Cathederal?

Aesthetically, Forman's plays share a lot in common with the rituals performed by the Church of Satan. Or is it that the members of the church just happen to be the kind of people who are also attracted to real theatre? Peter Gilmore, the current High Priest of the Church of Satan, said in an interview with the History Channel that the performed rituals of the Church are often theatrical in nature, and that in fact it's the theatricality of the iconography of the Christian Satan that attracts the Church to use Him as an icon for their religion.

In the Book of Belial, LaVey lists the 5 major elements needed in the performance of satanic magic: Desire, Timing, Imagery, Direction, and Balance. LaVey's instructions on imagery perfectly describes Foreman's visual design of the stage:

Imagery: Accouterments conducive to the ritual environment, and the full visualization of the desired outcome, must be present. This not only includes the standard ritual equipment, but more specifically any specialized imagery or items the magician requires to give him a full mental view of what he wishes to happen. This can include drawings or paintings, sculptures, dolls, written poems or verses, or anything else that aids in visualizing the outcome.

Especially since Foreman creates his plays through the process of rehearsal, he too demands that every visual and aural element are present during rehearsal from day one in order that he can effectively create his "magic." Foreman typically adorns his sets (Astronome's not excluded) with many many layers of imagery, from strange and absurd props and objects to ornate and intricate geometrical designs to mythical symbols. These images really do create a sense of ritual. 

The Satanic Ritual and Foreman's plays also share similarities in the performative aspects of both of the rituals.

LaVey distinguishes the performative behavior that takes place in a Satanic ritual from that of other religions; claiming that even though the Satanist is in a suspension of disbelief, he is always consciously aware of this fact, and knows he is doing so for a specific purpose (magic), rather than falling victim to the sort of self-deceit and delusion that other rituals promote.

This reminds me of Foreman's technique of distraction and psychological conflict--always making both the audience and the actor fully aware of the fact that they  are in a theater, watching/performing a play--never letting you get swept away by your emotions or the fiction of the performance.

I know that Satanist are a rather silly group of people, what with the dressing up as devils and occult figures and performing strange rituals of lust, sacrifice, compassion, and destruction. I mean, they are really only as silly as any other religion with their silly rituals. But what the Satanists have, at least, is the humor and honesty to admit to the reality of what they do- the theatricality of it all. They are so self-delusional in that sense. And I think Forman himself would agree in saying the same for the institution of theatre. Ultimately, his theatre exists to point out the same type theatricality naturally inherent in theatre; rather than to not hide behind some intellectual concept of western theatre. It is theatre for the sake of creating theatre. Ritual for the sake of Ritual.  

With all this in mind, it is hard to look at Foreman's plays and not believe that he truly is trying to summon some kind of real and powerful magic. It begs the question: Richard Forman, Theatre Director? or Richard Foreman, Satanic Magician? 

Personally, I give Foreman much more merit than LaVey and his religion, because the kind of knowledge Foreman is offering isn't so readily attainable as the kind offered by Satanist philosophy.  Foreman's knowledge is much more cryptic, and carries with it a mystical fortune. It is a process of peeling back the layers, into the subconscious. Like the Satanist philosophy though, Foreman's theatre also indulges in the desires of man; only it is not so much about the immediate experience. Instead, it reveals the plural nature of man and man's reality (space and time)--it is about the here and now, but also about the there and then; about what is happening, and also what is not happening. and also, what is not happening. and also, what is not happening. and also, what is not happening, what is not not happening, what is not happening....

*For those of you more conservative readers who may not be familiar with the teachings of the Church of Satan, or who may have been sensitive to the whole "Satanic Panic" hysteria of the 80s, there is no actual Satan worshiping involved. The philosophy is for all intensive purposes humanistic, denying the concept of human-created gods or devils and all forms of the afterlife, and instead focuses on the pursuit of individual-enlightenment and the indulgence in human, worldly experience. The only difference is that Satanists believe religion and ritual to be a necessary part of human nature, so they have created certain theatrical rituals and dogma to be performed and followed as part of the religion. They are basically just intellectual Dungeons & Dragons nerds.

1 comment:

Spencer Thun said...

Here's an interesting fact: the same photographer who took the famous WWII photo that later spawned the Iwo Jima memorial, also photographed LaVey baptizing his daughter into the Church of Satan in San Francisco.

I read this online about a year ago. It may or may not be true.

Good post,