Prayerformance: When Mythic and Personal Threads Intertwine
Ariadne Giving Theseus the Red Thread (Pelagio Palagi, 18th cent.)
When a performing art becomes the expression of the performer's spirit and their personal prayer joins the performance, it becomes Prayerformance. The song or dance or play becomes infused with a numinous quality that inspires, blesses and heals us all. For those who've ever heard a soulful rendition of "Amazing Grace" for example, the mere memory of it can revive an impactful effect that lingers because it was sung by someone who sung from a place of deep personal experience with this most amazing Grace.
Drawing on personal experience for Prayerformance makes it so much more powerful and authentic. I've been creating Prayerformances my whole life, ever since my childhood when I'd imitate Orthodox church services, complete with candles, incense and chanting or staging my own re-writes of Bible stories whose endings I didn't like. I would re-imagine them to fit my imagination and temperament, like the Queen of Sheba outsmarting King Solomon and making him bow to her instead. Throughout my life studying world myths, I've always found that the "right" story finds me at the "right" time. That the legendary characters, Goddesses, Gods and heroes all bring me some crucial points of identification with them that carry seeds of integration, blessing, or healing which are more fully revealed through Prayerformance.
Recently, I was invited to portray Ariadne in the Sacred Drama of the 2022 Priestess Convocation in Crete. Initially, I said "No" due to logistical conflicts. But Ariadne followed me relentlessly and dates and circumstances then "miraculously" re-arranged themselves so I could do it. I researched Her through myth, art and music. I read the fictional novel Ariadne by Jennifer Saint, an inspiring re-imagining of the myth through Ariadne's eyes. As essential mythic threads have a tendency to do, one strand spun to the next as this Shero led me into the labyrinthine corridors of the feminine psyche, where individual and collective patterns meet and we discover deep, underlying roots of complexes that challenge our growth.
As I pieced together a portrait of this Cretan nature goddess turned traitorous rebel princess discarded by an Athenian hero, I began to see that I had a lot in common with Ariadne.
Her knowledge, wisdom and help were essential to the myth's hero,
yet she was abandoned and belittled. Why? Because a truly knowing, powerful and wise woman was inconvenient to the Greek narrative of conquest and power-over, especially as they razed matriarchal cultures, built over them, and subsumed their mythos into their own.
"Women who know" have been inconvenient throughout history,
and this pattern is still very alive for women today.
She and I have both endured diminishment and erasure of our contributions; we've been discarded after use, our personal agency squashed under the boot of a much heavier foot. We've both needed to work hard to wrest back sovereignty that was nearly crushed to death under the weight of someone else's story. Ariadne holds out to us the winding red thread of Herstory as a template with which we can unravel these wounding themes for growth and healing.
I followed Her story back through the deep, winding corridors of ancestry and patriarchal narratives to the center of the Labyrinth where I found an inception point for the wound of feminine erasure. There, I danced with it and used Prayerformance to interrogate, transform and transmute it.
To express Her rage and sadness, I got in touch with my own by remembering my traumatic timeline of erasure, thwarting, or being taken advantage of. Of all the times I kept quiet as MY idea made a male boss look good and I received no recognition. Of all the times I swept aside the rage at seeing my lifework appropriated or mis-handled because I somehow didn't feel entitled to setting boundaries or asserting my worth. I let those feelings rise up till my process and Her process melded. This is what Jungians call "participation mystique", when the boundaries between subjective and objective, devotee and Deity, performer, character and story, become blurred and intermingled.
The process is mysterious, but the healing that can occur is multi-dimensional and can ripple from the individual to the collective. We not only heal ourselves, but we also bring healing to the story and the character and egregore we're working with. We keep mythos alive by writing it into our present lives and recognizing that the threads of our stories are infinitely intertwined with those of humanity and of the great characters that embody Life's great dramas. We realize we are not alone - others have gone through this and overcome, evolved, transmuted. Prayerformance helps us go there, again and again, following the story to the center of the Labyrinth where the Mysteries dwell and the gift of power awaits our creative, artistic expression.
I will be processing this journey with Ariadne for a while, and will no doubt express my progress through Prayerformance. But I can say that I do feel differently now, after the toil and exertion of the sacred drama in Crete. I look forward to Prayerforming the revelations as they come through, for the inspiration, blessing and healing of all women seizing their stories and taking their power back.
Ariadne riding a panther! I love this image of Her with my own power animal. The Greek rendition of Her story has Her marrying Dionysus, God of Ecstasy and Wine, after her abandonment on the Island of Naxos, as the panther and grape leaves in Her hair allude.
To me, this chapter of the story is the Greeks' way of returning Her to a semblance of Her earlier vegetative Nature Goddess form. No longer imprisoned in the marble palace of cruel patriarchy, She lives out Her days married to a God whose roots also lead back to earlier Earth-cults.