A Reading from the Acts of Simon Magus, in which Simon, Helena and the Simoniacs put on a play and found a faith.


THE PASSION OF SOPHIA
A Tripartite Theognosis


The Voice/The Light/Man/The Man ................Simon
Sophia/Woman/Young Woman.......................Helena
Ialdabaoth....................................Giorgio
Chorus/Archons/People..........Simoniacs/Local Talent
 

AN UNDERGROUND CAVERN, hewn in bygone ages from the living rock of a craggy mountainside. Its walls are wet from the waters of some hidden subterranean source. The only connection to the outside is a narrow, winding tunnel.

The USHER stands at the entrance, nude save for a fantastic mask. It has four faces: man, eagle, ape and dog, each facing a different direction. He holds a torch, which is the only illumination, but its light is swallowed up by the vast blackness and we can see no details of the interior. There is a sound: bare feet padding along the tunnel. Every so often we hear someone trip and curse, but quickly shushed by the others.

The newcomers come into view. They are about a hundred, MEN AND WOMEN in equal numbers, blindfolded, groping their way along the damp tunnel walls. As each passes the USHER, he whisks off their blindfold and indicates with a gesture where they are to stand. They obey in silence.

When all have taken their places, the torch is extinguished, and the cavern plunged into total darkness. For several minutes the PEOPLE stand, waiting. At first, the only sound is the water dripping down the walls. As time passes, nervous giggles are heard, then restive rustlings. But just when it seems that muted whispers will erupt into open complaints, a great VOICE suddenly echoes through the blackness.

THE VOICE

Good afternoon, men and women. I have a Word. The Word is... Light!

A brilliant light fills the cavern. The PEOPLE cower back, covering their eyes. As they adjust to the light, their field of view is entirely filled by a blinding whiteness. It is created by a large sheet of white linen, which shields the far wall of the cavern from view, lit from behind by some mysterious source which rivals Sun Himself in its intensity. (In fact, it is Sun: the sheet has been stretched over an opening which leads to an exit on the side of the mountain, the sudden light caused by flinging open the door to the outside at the calculated moment.)

(NOTE: From this point the dialogue is mostly sung. I cannot, alas, reproduce the tune in an intelligible format; you may like to imagine your own. /sm)

THE LIGHT

I am the Standing One
Kosmos rings with My laughter
I have stood from the first
And will stand hereafter!

A shadow appears materializes near the top of the screen. It is SOPHIA. The outlines of her magnificent body are plainly visible through the diaphanous robe that clings to every curve. She appears to be floating in the Light.

CHORUS

She is the Voice.
And the Sound of the Voice
And the Word from the Sound of the Voice.

She is the Wisdom of the World,
The Thunder rolling from the Perfect Mind,
Virgin, Whore and Mother,
Mother of the Maker,
In the shape the Maker made her,

Here She is!
Three for one!
She is Woman,
She knows all!

SOPHIA

Before Chaos,
Before Kosmos,
In His place which was no place,
The Father lay dreaming.
I was His dream,
All the thoughts that He thought.

I sprang from His brow.
Full-formed, unbegotten.
I said, "Let us unite."

She begins a sensuous dance before THE LIGHT, with no visible response.

But He did not heed me.
How could He hear me?
He dreamed on in silence,
And left me alone.

SOPHIA begins to caress herself, slowly at first, then frigging furiously, as she moans out her frustration. Her body begins to rotate slowly. As it turns to the side it reveals the swollen belly of pregnancy. Her moans turn to sobs. She suddenly flings back her head screaming, in the unmistakable agony of childbirth, as a flood of fluid gushes from between her thighs. She clutches at herself, trying to stop it, but it flows forth and begins to cover the area at the bottom of the screen with a shimmering darkness. The water level rises, until the surface is almost halfway up the screen. In the waters, a monstrous dark form takes shape, at once human and beastlike. It is IALDABAOTH. At first It floats lifeless, then starts to move with a spastic jerking. The misshapen shaggy head looks around and up. Attracted by the Light at the surface above, It starts to rise, and bursts out of the water with a great splashing. As It emerges, Its Mother disappears with a cry of despair.

CHORUS

Ialdabaoth,
O Ialdabaoth!
Pass over here,
Son of shame!

As they sing, IALDABAOTH darts about the screen, and wherever It touches, a new darkness is born, a miniature duplicate of Itself. Eventually It and Its creations cover the screen, and the cave is dark again.

IALDABAOTH

There was Light.
But nothing to look at.
Nothing to see.
Till there was me.

There was Thought.
But nothing to ponder.
Till I cast the first shadow,
And sinned the first sin.
Alone in the gloom,
At a time before Time,
I said, "Let Time begin!"

A tiny point of light appears on the blackened screen, then others, one by one, until the screen is filled with the constellations of the night Sky. The shadow of IALDABAOTH is visible moving behind them.

IALDABAOTH

Where there was One,
Now there are many.
For what is the Light
Without darkness?
Without eyes to see it?
And what is a God
Without praisers to praise It?

CHORUS

It thought Itself supreme,
Created the darkness,
The Powers and Aeons,
Spheres, Stars, Sun, Moon.

It made Earth,
And peopled it with people of Earth.

On EARTH, lush grasses and fruit trees spring up. ANIMALS move peacefully among the trees, one of which has an almost female form.

CHORUS

But one thing It didn't make
But there it was anyway:
A tree, like a serpent, growing nearby.
When It reached out to touch it,
It felt sick and lazy,
And when It touched it,
It made It feel nothing at all.

So It left that tree alone.

IALDABAOTH picks up a handful of dirt and moulds it into an ANDROGYNOUS CREATURE.

IALDABAOTH

I am thy Father
Worship nothing before Me!

ANDROGYNOUS CREATURE

You are my Father.
Praise be to You.

IALDABAOTH

Is that it?
More feeling!

ANDROGYNOUS CREATURE

Let me see...
O gracious and wonderful Creator who has so generously made me and given me the wonderful gift of life, I abjectly prostrate my filthy and unworthy self at Your divine feet, that You may trample me back into the dirt whence I came if ever I give offence to Your high and mighty Holiness or consider worshipping any of those other Gods who are not anywhere near as great and mighty and glorious as You, plus I vow to dedicate everything I have or will ever have to Your Glory, and sing Your praises for ever and always, and make everyone I know do the same. Better?

IALDABAOTH

Hmm. For now.

A DOG comes up to ANDROGYNOUS CREATURE and sniffs him all about.

IALDABAOTH

Say, look at that!
He likes thee!
And thou likest him too.
I can tell.
Go ahead.
Give him a name.

ANDROGYNOUS CREATURE thinks for a moment.

ANDROGYNOUS CREATURE

I'll call him... Kerberus!

LAUGHTER in the AUDIENCE; the name is a favourite among the canine citizens of that locality.

IALDABAOTH

He's thine now,
And so too is all this.
Do what thou likest with it.

Oh. One more thing.
Deep in that forest,
Something is growing,
A tree with strange fruit.
Thou'lt know when thou seest it.
That fruit is not healthy.
It causes delusions.
It makes one think thoughts
A God shouldn't think.
And neither should thou.
So leave it alone.

Got it?

ANDROGYNOUS CREATURE nods.

Good.
I'll be off then.
I've worlds to make,
But just so thou dostn't get lonely...

IALDABAOTH reaches out to ANDROGYNOUS CREATURE, seizes them by the top of the head, and tears them in half lengthwise. As It does so, the two halves form into Man and Woman shapes, which It deposits on the ground.

There, that should do it.
Have a good time, kids.

But before i go,
Heres a little list
Of things thou can't do,
And things thou can't say,
And foods thou can't eat,
And clothes thou must wear
And drinks thou can't drink
And thoughts thou can't think
And prayers thou must pray
And days thou must feast
And days thou must fast...

MAN

But why...?

IALDABAOTH

...dost thou question the will of thy creator?
That's not a good question. Don't ask it.

Who's the god here, me or thee?
Who made all that thou canst see?
Who can crush thee like an ant?
What i say thou can't thou can't!

Maybe tomorrow I'll change my mind
Until tomorrow thou'lt do what I tell thee.
OK?

Bye now.
But mind what I told thee,
Daddy is watching!

CHORUS

At first they believed It.
They did what It told them.
It rewarded them with all It had made them to desire.

But in Its pride, It didn't see
That the souls of Its creatures,
Like Itself, came from Her,
Not from It at all.


MAN and WOMAN wander the garden, marvelling in its diversity. They finally encounter the TREE.

MAN

Look. No, don't look.
Thou knowst what that must be,
Don't you?

WOMAN

But it's so pretty.
One look can't hurt us.
And I think I hear something.
I swear I won't touch.

She approaches the TREE. Its branches undulate invitingly, and it speaks in SOPHIA'S voice.

TREE

Pssst.
Red dirt people.
Come closer.

WOMAN

It's trying to speak.
What are you saying?

TREE

Come closer, come closer,
Taste my sweet berries.
Eat of me, drink of me,
Why do you waver?

MAN

No!
We were warned of you.
You're danger!
Leave us alone!

TREE

Oh fools!
Who has lied to thee?
Don't you know me?
I am the life that shines forth from within thee,
Mind, Spirit, Soul,
All stolen from me.

MAN

Now thou art lying.

TREE

Who is that anyway
That thou must bow to It?
The potter makes a pot
Does the pot then worship the potter
And obey him in all things?

Do what thou wilt,
Find thine own way.

CHORUS

And they listened, and disobeyed It.
What It said, "Do not eat", they ate.
What It said, "Do not say", they said.
What It said, "Do not do", they did.
What It said, "Do not think", they thought.
But It found out...

IALDABAOTH

Who has corrupted my dear little children,
That they eat and say and do what I have forbidden?

MAN

It's that Wisdom within us,
The Wisdom You gave us
And forbade us to use.

IALDABAOTH

Wisdom? What's wisdom?
Never heard of that.
Thou'st not got that from me,
for I made thee to praise me,
And now thou defiest me?

CHORUS

In that moment, It knew the truth,
That Its world was a fake,
Stolen goods.

It looks about Itself wildly. It perceives SOPHIA, high above It.

IALDABAOTH

It's thou that'st done this!
Fool my creatures, wilt thou?
Well join them!

IALDABAOTH stretches out Its claws and seizes Her. She does not resist. It opens Its misshapen jaws and devours her in a gulp, then stretches out Its arms like wings, and the bestial shape becomes a great long-necked bird. On Earth below, a YOUNG WOMAN comes into view. She is stripping for her bath by a river. IALDABAOTH'S shadow falls on her; she looks up, screams and tries to flee, but It swoops down and ravishes her, in a frenzy of squawking and flapping, then flaps away laughing, leaving her lying motionless. After a moment she rises shakily, and looks down in horror as something falls from her loins to the ground. It is an egg. She picks it up and kisses it, caresses it; it cracks open revealing a baby which she rocks in her arms.

MONTAGE: Shadow images of the baby becoming a young woman, marrying a king, running away with a prince, a war, a city in flames, darkness...

SOPHIA

And what of me?

The screen fills with the seven Spheres. Upon the lowest, SOPHIA stands on a streetcorner, entreating passers-by.

SOPHIA

I was Helen, whose Torch
Drew the Achaian rovers.
Like bugs in the night
Were they drawn by my beauty
To die far from home
On the hills of the Hittite.

And I went home and died,
And I fell to another womb,
Again and again,
Each time further and further
Into the clutches of darkness and shame.

And now...

I am the Whore. In the side-streets and alleys
I wait in the shadows
And as you pass by me
I open my girdle
Raise up my kirtle,
Reveal my sweet Mysteries,
Entice you with lewd words,
And call you by name...

A burst of Light from the top of the screen.

CHORUS

What's this?

THE LIGHT

What's this?

CHORUS

He's awake!

THE LIGHT

Where is My Mind?
My dearest Mind?
I can't think.
I must find Her...

A great MAN OF LIGHT forms at the top of the screen. He looks down and sees SOPHIA far below, and starts descending through the Spheres towards Earth. A host of ARCHONS confronts Him.

ARCHONS (In turn)

We are the Archons!
We rule all below us
And nothing is higher than we.
We are the Archons!
We lurk in the darkness
Twixt Luna and Terra,
Dreaming and waiting
For souls to come winging
Out here to feed us
Like thou!
We are the Archons!
We will destroy thee!

They descend upon THE MAN, and there ensues a thrilling battle of sword on claw, at the end of which the ARCHONS lie beaten and bleeding about the Sphere of MOON.

(One performance of this part was particularly expensive: a bit-player lost an eye in the enthusiasm and only a large part of the takings would appease him. /sm)

THE MAN continues His descent. IALDABAOTH rises to meet him.

IALDABAOTH

I will destroy thee!

Its arms stretch out, becoming tentacles with which It attempts to enfold THE MAN. THE MAN'S body becomes brighter and He bursts into flame. IALDABAOTH screams and turns into a DRAGON, snorting black fire, which the MAN repels back into Its eyes with the palm of His hand. The DRAGON becomes in turn a BIRD, a RAT and a tiny SPOT, each of which launches a vain attack upon THE MAN. THE MAN picks up IALDABAOTH and casts It down to Earth. It lands with a thud. A crowd gathers around It. It stands shakily. The people draw back, repelled by Its deformities. It starts gesturing at the crowd.

IALDABAOTH

O my people.
Don't draw back.
Rejoice!
I have come!
Worship me!

PEOPLE

A creature like thee?
Th'art no God.
Th'art a monster!
Or maybe possessed.

We know what to do with fake Gods!
Get out of here before we get mad.

IALDABAOTH

No!
Thou must listen!
I made thee...

The PEOPLE do not listen. They seize and impale It on a sharpened stake, and raise It high, where It squirms and pleads in vain. Laughter in the AUDIENCE.

IALDABAOTH

Daddy!
Don't forsake me!
Make them obey me!

THE MAN

Th'art no son of mine, thou miserable abortion,
Misconceived, born in error,
I cast thee far from Me.
Now where is my Wisdom?

He descends to Earth, to where SOPHIA stands soliciting. She sees Him from afar and flaunts her charms.

SOPHIA

Hey there, sailor! Hello soldier!
Art thou lonely? Want to party?
Take a look, lover,
Thou canst not resist me!

Pass me a penny,
I'm yours for an hour,
On my back in the back room
My scent overwhelms thee,
On my belly in the privy,
You ride me in style.

Standing in the doorway,
I bring thee to thy knees.
Kneeling in the alley,
I blow thee like a trumpet,
I suck thee like a leech
Till thou shudderest and bellowest
And burst forth inside me,

And for that short second,
O, such a brief moment,
We are One,
Thee, me, Kosmos...

THE MAN approaches. SOPHIA recognizes him, runs to him, flings herself on him with a cry of delight. They embrace, then stroll hand-in-hand past the place where IALDABAOTH writhes helplessly. THE MAN stops and looks at SOPHIA. She nods. The stake disappears and IALDABAOTH tumbles to their feet. SOPHIA bends and takes It in her arms and strokes Its brow.

IALDABAOTH

I'm sorry.
Forgive me?

SOPHIA

Of course, my baby
Come back to Mother.

ARCHONS

And we?

SOPHIA

And thee all. Group embrace!

They all hug.

THE MAN

(Turning to the AUDIENCE)

And thee all, O my people!
Be joyful!
We are one once again!
I the Father,
She the Mother,
And even this halfwitted bastard who made thee,

And all of thee here who have shared in our gladness
Thou art free
Go thy own way.
Free of the Powers,
Free of the Rulers
Free of the Laws that have kept thee in bondage.

No more offerings, no more devotions.
Thou'st seen their true faces,
They'll harm thee no longer.
And with this Knowledge I set thee all free!

MOTHER, FATHER and CHILD embrace and slowly merge into one shape, as the screen commences to brighten.

CHORUS

Mother of Wisdom,
Father of Light,
Child the Creator,
At last they unite!
Make away with the night!
Make a way for the day!
Ma mo o o o eia ei on ei!

Their voices rise in a paean of joy. which gradually fades as the light intensifies and fills the screen, and the cave, with brilliance. Suddenly, the screen falls to the ground, and the true light of SUN blazes in to sear the eyeballs of the ASSEMBLY, before the exit door slams shut, and all is silent and dark, and once more THE VOICE rings forth in the dark:

THE VOICE

My children, I have one more Word. If ever thou findest those Powers are trying once again to rule thee, if ever thou sufferest under a curse cast by one jealous of thy newfound freedom, or simply require a well-deserved advantage in love or commerce: in short, if ever thou needest such a boon as only I can grant, just get thee on down to Dagon Alley, first house past the Rampant Cock, and enquire after Simon the Magic Man, Great Power of Myself, Father of All. Say I sent thee, and all thou wishest shall come to be — at, I might add, very reasonable rates, sufficient only to maintain that mortal Aspect in which I am currently manifest. And now those who wish to remain for the Feast of Love, please gather about the usher, who will pass out the necessaries. The rest of thee may go now, in the Peace of the Father. And remember, I love thee!