Karen McLane’s The Crowning of the Woodland Queen – A Suitable Repertoire Work for Any Dance Company
When I was growing up (attending a Catholic school, no less!), we had the yearly ritual of crowning Mary, the mother of Jesus, as “Queen of May.” Now of course the Catholic church has survived as well as it has, over more than two millenia, by successfully adapting and incorporating rituals and practices of earlier times.
Photo credit: Robin G. Jordan in Anglicans Ablaze. Traditional Roman Catholic and Anglo-Catholic ceremony of crowning Mary as the “Queen of May.”
However, we have a much more ancient archetype of the “Divine Feminine,” called by many names in many different cultures over time. Here, she is shown as the Woodland Queen.
Traditionally, one of the most powerful ways in which we humans have not only honored our most important archetypes, but understood their message and power in our lives, was through dance ritual and storytelling. Storytelling today – when done by a gifted storyteller such as Diane Wolkstein – continues to enthrall us because we are brought into the personal connection and energy of the storyteller’s presentation.
Diane Wolkstein, performing at the National Storytelling Festival, Jonesborough.
However, dance ritual is the other way in which we have historically “told stories” to ourselves. This goes back for many millenia; far longer than any specific religious church, sect, or denomination in existence today. Dance ritual, in fact, is one of the defining characteristics of human civilization. No one makes this point better than Iris Stewart, in her defining book Sacred Woman, Sacred Dance.
Karen McLane, with her troupe Ancient Rhythms Dance Company, recently enacted one such dance ritual in their performance of the Crowning of the Woodland Queen, at the Montgomery Community Arts Center on Saturday, May 26th. Her The Crowning of the Woodland Queen brings to life one of the most ancient of ritual dance forms, yet suitably updated for our times.
There is a storyline here; a struggle not so much of good against evil, but more of light against dark. In that, the story is reminiscent of the heroic myths that we all know and love – ranging from Star Wars to the earliest stories of our time.
Yet, there is a significant difference between the archetypal struggle portrayed in the Crowning, as compared to the classic Heroic Journeys first identified by Joseph Campbell in his well-known classic, the Hero with a Thousand Faces.
In the older, “heroic” storylines, such as depicted in sagas ranging from the Odyssey to Star Wars, the hero vanquishes his opponent. In this newer, and more evolved storyline, the hero(ine) does the necessary vanquishing, but then brings her opponent (her “dark side”) into herself as an act of integration. I emphasize this in my previous blogpost on the Crowning.
This is powerful stuff. It makes sense that we ask ourselves: where does this new, much more integrative and powerful storyline come from? Is it brand-new to humanity, or – as with Campbell’s Hero – does it link with a much more ancient provenance?
We find an answer if we look into the first known collection of human stories; those about the great goddess Inanna, “Queen of Heaven and Earth.”
The Inanna story is precisely what is being depicted in the Crowning of the Woodland Queen. Just as Joseph Campbell pointed out the underlying similarity of all heroic stories, there is a profound and poignant similarity between the Inanna myth and the Crowning.
“But wait,” you might say, if you’re at all familiar with the story first told in cuneiform tablets, and only popularized in this century. “Inanna didn’t rescue herself; she didn’t subdue her dark sister Erishkegal. In fact, Erishkegal put Inanna to death, and hung her on a hook to rot. And in Karen McLane’s story, the Woodland Queen defeats the Queen of Shadows, and then integrates her.”
And you’d be absolutely right. Inanna was indeed killed, and hung up on a hook. At that point, she was powerless to save herself.
However, Inanna was one smart cookie, and she knew what she was getting into even before she entered the Underworld.
Precisely because she knew what was going to happen to her, Inanna instructed her warrior-handmaiden Ninshubar to weep and plead for her in front of the Father Gods, should Inanna fail to return within three days. This is precisely what Ninshubar did, until Father God Enki relented and created two little “sprites” that he sent down into the Underworld to rescue Inanna.
The rest, as we way, is history. Inanna returns to her palace, and a new storyline unfolds.
However, for the first time in human history, we have a story of having a goddess (or even a god) encountering her or his “dark side.” There isn’t much time, as Inanna makes her fast and furious way back to the “regular world,” for integration. For real, true integration, we need to look deeply into the story of Jesus of Nazareth.
This understanding of encountering our “dark side,” and integrating it, has emerged with much more force in the last century. There has always been some understanding of it, but now, more and more people are becoming aware of this aspect of who-we-are.
Eckhart Tolle describes this as our pain-body.
I write about this in Unveiling: The Inner Journey.
So what should we do?
Recognize our shadow when it comes out. As the Woodland Queen does in the Crowning, we defeat our Shadow by taking away its power. But then, we don’t spurn and abuse our Shadow. She is, after all, a part of us. Instead, we join with her. (T’ai Chi students will understand what this means.) We mirror her. (Neurolinguistic psychology students will understand what this means.) And then blend with her, causing her momentum to join with and aid our own. (Ba Gua martial artists and judokas and aikido practitioners will understand what that means.)
And if we’re not practicing one of the internal martial arts such as T’ai Chi, Ba Gua, judo, or aikido?
We use our own dance art. We use it to pull up our stuff (because our “opponent” is inside ourselves, after all.) And we practice softening, relaxing, and releasing. All of our spinal release moves are designed to help us deal with this. You can read about this in Unveiling: The Inner Journey, Chapters 14-16.
And we go to see performances of the Crowning of the Woodland Queen, whenever we can. And take those whom we love; those who want some healing in their lives. And let the story of how the young Queen defeats and then integrates her Shadow encourage and empower our lives.