The World's Tragedy
by Aleister Crowley
by Brian Matthew Kessler
The World's Tragedy is a fascinating little play by Aleister Crowley and it is a tragedy that it has yet to be produced as a play. Crowley was a magickian (that is to say, a real one, not a stage magician... note the "k" in the former) at during the earlier half of this century, during which he delivered the Word of the Aeon of Horus, The Book of the Law. This book was supposedly dictated to him by his Holy Guardian Angel, Awaiss and ultimately means "Do as thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law. Love is the Law, Love under Will." He was raised in a family of the Plymouth Brethren where he was plagued by the disease of Christianity. He saw how the virtues of his school were sneaking and hypocrisy. He saw how Christianity was a religion that spoiled the early lives of children and left them filled with hate and guilt as they grew older. In this play, he attempts to expose the religion as it really is.
The Prologue (The Garden of Eros) opens in the glade of green moss watered by a spring on a night with an exceedingly bright moon and stars. Around the glade are trees and flowers cover the ground. A merry company plays flutes, harps, and panpipes as a girl sings a full nightingale song. There is wine, fuit, honey, and cake of diverse sort. In shadows, on a tall tree sits a vulture, unseen by the other plays, who looks on in envy, disguised as disgust. The company is composed of Satyrs (Marsyas, Silenus, Chiron), Men (Anamimander, Lsyander, Anaxagors), Nymohs (Chrysis, Doris, Atthis), Hermaphrodites (Rhodon, Salmacis, Erotion), Girls (Rhodope, Erinna, Evadne), Fauns (Heliorus, Hyacinthus, Olympas), and Young Boys (Antinous, Giton, Hylas). The company, drinks, laughs, dances, wrestles, kissed, and indulges in other, more carnal, pleasures.
As the company goes to sleep, the Philosopher (Heracleitus) and his Disciple (Chrysippus) enter the scene. They admire the goodness of the company. After declaring their love for each other, they go to sleep.
Here enters The Vulture (Yaugh Waugh). He complains of the happiness he has witnessed in all these people and sets out to ruin their fun. An egg hatches, giving birth to The Lamb (Yaugh Shaugh Waugh), The Vulture's only son. Then he creates The Dove (Pigeon) from wood. The three form a counsel to stop the behavior of the people. The Dove suggests finding a virgin woman and on her begetting The Lamb in the form of a man. The Lamb will then grow to manhood, be whipped, tortured, and eventually killed. The Lamb will then rise again. They will then make a law that those who disbelieve in the occurrence will be prosecuted and those that believe it will come to live with the three on the provision that they never laugh, dance, or do anything else. Despite protests from The Lamb, The Dove's motion is carried. The three depart both from the scene and from each other.
The philosopher awakens and detects that some evil has brooded there they slept. The rest of the company awakens and they sing praise to Eros.
Act I (The Red Star) is in a grove of ilex in Arcadia. It is noon and the sun is alone in the sky. The grove is hidden from the outer world by the ilex. There is a marble terrace with an ivory and gold image of Pan at the center. This image is on a lapis-lazuli pedestal and is surrounded by malachite, strewn with roses. Before this image is a naked man who holds a sharp, heavy, and curved sword. The blade is blue and the hilt is encrusted with rubies. The man (Alexander, the great king of Macedon, Babylonia, etc.) is strong, has deep set glittering eyes, and his beard is short, square, curly, and black mingled with red. He is facing the God and his arm is raised as if to smite the God with his sword.
Alexander seeks to sacrifice himself to the God. As he prepares, two satyrs come bearing a fair haired child. The child is sacrificed instead of the king. Out of the fumes of the child's blood come two nymphs. Alexander is informed of all the deaths and suffering that will be done in sake of the slain child. The satyrs vanish with the nymphs and Alexander is left alone to contemplate what he has done.
Act II (The White Ward) takes place in a bare volcanic desert. There is a foul and stagnant lake in the distance. There is a crazy hovel on the edge of a squalid village. In the background there is the clamour of Syrian dogs. The night is moonless and a Syrian girl (Miriam) is sneaking through the shadows. The girl is contemplating shamefully, but lustfully, about a young boy she saw at the market earlier. A young man in a white robe appears before her. He has come to heal her loneliness. Ashamed, she drops her veil in front of her face. She tells him to stand back as she advances towards him. She tells him not to touch her, being that she is a virgin vowed, as she lays her hand upon his arm. She states she is of a royal and proud race as she kneels, kissing his robe. She tells him to spare her as she pretends to stagger, falls back upon the ground, her robe falling from her. The man states that he is a messenger and disappears. She feels tortured by the lack of his touch and that another man slipped away from her. A Roman century (Agrippa) and his lieutenant (Publius) enter. The century embraces her rudely and then defiles her. Publuis then takes his turn. As they prepare to leave she asks for more. She is then kicked by the century and then they move off. Miriam is left behind to enjoy her "filthy" acts. She then crawls into the hovel.
Act III (The Blue Dwarf) takes place in a stable with three stalls containing an ox (peacefully chewing cud), Miriam (stretched naked on the straw, holding her side and groaning), and an ass (Zakariah, lifting his voice ever and anon in a formidable bray), respectively. The stage is lit by two torchs. One is held by an old and withered hag whose two remaining teeth are long yellow fangs exposed in a grin. The other is held by a blue faced baboon who revels in his corner in the filth. The hag and the baboon dance together as they wait for Miriam to give birth. The stage door is pushed in and three kings (Govinda, king of the Indines; Chau, Son of Heaven, king of Tarty and China; and Alexander) walk in. They bear gifts and tell Miriam of the destiny of her son. A company of a million rats issue forth from her to herald the unborn's first yelp. The kings talk of how they came to be there and Chau's slave presents wine to Govinda who drinks. A hoard of toads then issues off from Miriam and hop off croaking into the darkness. The kings place wagers on whether the child will be a son, a daughter, or something else. The hag and baboon deliver the babe (Issa, a brass bottle containing a blue mannikin with a goat's head and Jew's nose). The kings depart.
Act IV (The Black Bean) takes place in a small Syrian mud nut. In a truckle bed strewn with dirty straw lie a naked man (Issa, as a grown man) and woman (Magda, an odalisque). Issa degrades her for being a whore, pregnant with his child. He punchs her in the abdomen. Magda calls for a young scrible (John), who descends a ladder from a loft and Magda splits.
Issa tells John of the greed of women, how he is sick of everything, and that matter is muck. He tells John of how he was sent from heaven so that he can die and be resurrected, thus spoiling life for everyone. He tells John to hire a knave to kill him. John is hesitant to agree and then suggests giving Issa a death that will suggest Adonis, Attis, Mithras, etc. and it is agreed. He tells John to write all the prophecies that are fulfilled. Issa decides to go to sleep and John states his desire to sleep with Issa. They kiss and then the door opens and Magda enters and states that she wants to go back to bed, but Issa says that if she goes back to bed, this time it will be with John as he rises wearily. He goes out and is followed by the protesting pair.
The final act, Act V (The Grey Night) is set in the thick darkness in the Emptiness of Things. In the midst of the darkness is Alexander. He holds a black rod clothed with twin glittering snakes, the royal Uraeus serpents of ancient Khem. A faint blue hexagram is at the rod's point. The light of the star illuminates the figure of a pale and tortured man (Issa) with outstretched arms who hangs in space. His weariness is gone and the noble-strong is the scarredbrow of his agony. Alexander tells Issa how Issa will share in man's fate of suffering but also prophecies hope that will come in nineteen centuries as the Word of the new aeon will arrive. Alexander then fades away. As Issa sulks, he makes note of the Romans who sadly guard him (Agrippa and Publius) because of their duty. The Romans notice The Vulture (Yaugh Waugh) who gloats his victory. The Vulture flies off, forsaking Issa. Agrippa and two soldiers heard but could not place the cry, but Magda understood it to be a call for a prophet. Issa asks for forgiveness and Miriam comes to collect Issa's body. Miriam offers a penny to a bystander to stand on the bloodless face. When asked for the name of the criminal by the bystander, a Greek Disciple from Alexandria cuts in "Say, Logos, or Homoniousios!" which begins a lengthy debate over the later term. John trusts a dagger into the Greek Disciple, thus winning the arguement with the term being "Homoousious". John then starts deciding what he shall write as Issa's prophet. The next shift of guards are late, so Agrippa orders a soldier to kill Issa and it is done. They wheel the bleeding corpse down the hill. Above a luminous shadow appears the image of the image of Alexander the king who states the suffering the world shall endure but again gives hope of a saviour who will someday come.
The reason I selected to write about this play is that Crowley is among my favorite writers and I like the subject material the play is based on, as well as how it was presented.