What happens when “sacred” and “theater” are linked to form one concept? Most of us are used to seeing theater either as a type of performance art, as a creative expression in other words, or as a form of entertainment. Theater, however, has great significance outside of its commercial and even artistic value. Perhaps you have heard of drama therapy, where drama is used as a therapeutic tool with the aim of psychological healing. Sacred Theater, however, is its own paradigm altogether. Here the purpose is to create a setting, an atmosphere, that allows the participants to transcend their everyday consciousness and allow an actual experience of their own sacredness.
This is not a modern innovation. Historians and archeologists have discovered that such practices were part of the Eleusinian Mysteries in ancient Greece, a practice that spanned two millennia. In Eleusis, tools of theater art were used by priestesses and priests as part of the ceremonies where the purpose was to initiate Athenean citizens into higher states of consciousness through the experience of sacredness. Taking part in the Eleusinian Mysteries was not a duty done for the sake of family or society, but a personal choice. Anybody who wished to have an experience of divinity and awakening could participate (after certain preparations) - men, women and even slaves. Many artists, leaders and philosophers are known to have participated, including Plato, Aristotle, Pythagoras and Aeschylus. And yet its relevance isn’t confined to a bygone era anymore than yoga belongs to Indian ascetics and history books. Even the master Adamus Saint-Germain has spoken extensively about how we can act our way into enlightenment.
In three weeks’ time, my dear friend Romana Ercegovic, who has received a PhD in dramaturgy and has been researching sacred theater for the past 16 years, is leading a sacred theater workshop in Slovenia, in which I am also taking part by facilitating yoga and deep breathing sessions. I also had the privilege of acting in one of her performances last summer. Yet even for me it is not easy to express in words what sacred theater actually means, because much of the experience takes place on inner levels.
‘Sacred theater’ (also known as ritual theater) is an ancient practice of using the art of theater to connect with deeper levels of our existence and to discover, feel and express our true, divine Self that is normally covered up by layers of stories. Today it is practiced rarely, but there are a few consciousness explorers and theater revolutionaries who are researching its origins and bringing it into the modern era in a new and meaningful way.
Compared to conventional theater, the process of sacred theater is a more organic and intuitive process, in which the actor doesn’t present or pretend a character for the purpose of entertainment, but rather works on embodying the essence of the character and thus reconnects with his or her subconscious aspects. The acting then becomes like channelling one's own archetypes, and eventually one's divinity. The inner world is accessed through silence, playfulness, the imagination and by connecting to nature. Sacred theater is about creating a safe, relaxed space by inviting more of ourselves to be present in the now moment. This allows the participants to feel free to explore their archetypal self and the hidden, forgotten and suppressed parts of themselves which are then expressed through movement, the voice and storytelling.
Why is it important to tell our stories? The idea is that by consciously telling a story, for example the story of a painful experience in life, we perceive the story from outside of that story - from a wider perspective, in other words. This new, more distant perspective then allows us to finally step out of that story, so that we no longer have the subconscious impulse to recycle the same stories over and over again. Consciously telling a story also provides the opportunity to write a new resolution to a perhaps unsatisfactory turn of events. This act of rewriting an experience sends a healing message to our subconscious mind that reminds us of our inherent creator abilities: if we don’t like the experience we are in, we can rewrite our script - because we are not just puppets being played by invisible hands, but indeed we are the actor and the director of our own life.
By consciously enacting a character, an identity, we become the observer of our own identity in addition to inhabiting it from within. Observing our ego/identity/role allows us to become conscious of its limitations and at the same time conscious of a more expanded, deeper reality where we exist beyond that identity. By consciously wearing a mask, we become aware of what lies beneath that mask. Of course, what one discovers is highly personal, but ultimately the purpose of sacred theater is to unmask our essence or divinity.
“Your true Self isn’t higher, it’s underground”
Sacred theater is a space where we can find a voice to express those emotions, aspects, experiences and archetypes that long to be heard. Sometimes an aspect needs to be seen and heard by someone (especially by ourselves) before it is ready to return to a place of balance. In sacred theater we perform so that we can see ourselves in a new light - we play the role of the actor and of the audience.
Sacred theater is a stage where we can explore yet unexpressed dimensions of ourselves. For example, someone might want to explore what it means to be vulnerable, or what it would be like to express themselves with complete authenticity. It is the perfect setting for observing how we manage our energy, for practising how to set healthy boundaries in our interactions or how to express our needs. We can play with the themes of distance and intimacy, sovereignty and connection not just between ourselves and other people, but also to get in touch with deeper parts of ourselves. The stage then becomes a space where one can rehearse new approaches in a safe manner, before bringing them directly into the fast-paced and more challenging stage of “real life”.
Sacred theater is a process where the focus in not on the outcome of the project, but rather on the joy of expressing oneself freely and on releasing old limitations and inhibitions. It provides an opportunity for sensually feeling the moment rather than analysing, judging or labelling the experience. Sure it is an intense process of diving into the underworld of our psyche, nothing short of Persephone's journey of self-transformation, but it is also joyful and creative and heart-opening. And I can assure you that it is even more fun as an experience than it is on paper!
“All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” William Shakespeare
From Romana Ercegovic's performance 'Persephone - a Story of Self-Love', 2016
Musician: Tina Sovič
Photography: Boris B. Voglar
Costumes by: Simona Čudovan
To read more about Romana and her work, visit: http://www.romanaercegovic.com/novice/7-day-ritual-theater-workshop/
To find out how theater can be used to teach kids about consciousness, self-love and energy management, visit: http://www.consciousnesstheater.com/