Ruth Barker

To Mithras

2010
Carrawburgh Mithraeum, Northumberland.
To Mithras To Mithras To Mithras To Mithras To Mithras To Mithras To Mithras To Mithras To Mithras To Mithras To Mithras To Mithras To Mithras To Mithras To Mithras To Mithras To Mithras To Mithras To Mithras To Mithras To Mithras To Mithras To Mithras To Mithras To Mithras To Mithras To Mithras To Mithras To Mithras

Performance: Running Time 20 minutes approx. Garment design and production by Lesley Hepburn.

The text was memorised, and recited as a spoken word performance by the artist.

Photography by Niall Macdonald, with many thanks.

 

To Mithras was performed at the site of Carrawburgh Mithraeum, a 3rd Century temple to the god Mithras, located along the line of Hadrian's Wall in Northumberland. The piece was produced as part of Barker's Leverhulme funded residency at the Centre for Interdisciplinary Artefact Studies at the University of Newcastle, and was catalysed by Lindsay Allason-Jones’ paper Mithras on Hadrian's Wall. In: Marleen Martens and Guy de Boc, ed. Roman Mithraism: the Evidence of the Small Finds. Brussels: Tienen, 2004.

The performance is a monologue is five parts: preface; invocation; appeal; tauroctony; and the final song. The performer (‘I’) adopts the voice of the Mithraic initiate, and addresses herself to the god (‘You’) although the audience – as the visibly attendant presence - are also at times implicated in the address.

The artist commissioned a new garment (materials: reinforced paper) by designer Lesley Hepburn to accompany the performance.

To Mithras is produced with thanks to Lesley Hepburn; Lindsay Allason-Jones; Niall Macdonald; and the Centre for Interdisciplinary Artefact Studies, University of Newcastle. The performance has been supported by the Leverhulme Trust.

 

See also Low Metamorphosis blog.

 

To Mithras: Synopsis.


The Preface

The performer defines her territory. She introduces the god, then herself. She concludes by announcing her intention to re-tell a fragment of Mithras’ sacred narrative (‘I know your tongue / and I will sing your song.’) As the cult of Mithras was an exclusively male sect, the female performer’s asserted identity and position is contradictory. She becomes she/he: a visibly female performer occupying a verbally male position.

 

The Invocation

The performer establishes her/his position within the structure of the Mysteries as an initiate, outlining the stages of initiation. By vocalising the degrees of initiation she/he symbolically passes through them, ending by reciting (and so briefly inhabiting) the seven Mithraic grades and their attributes. By the end of this section, the performer is ready to make her appeal.

 

The Appeal

The performer addresses the god, appealing that he (Mithras) has forgotten himself by forgetting his own sacred narrative and attributes. Some of the god’s principle attributes and epithets are outlined. The performer announces the work’s central motif – the image of Mithras’ slaying of the bull.

 

The Tauroctony

The performer recounts the sacred Mithraic image of the bull-slaying using the word ‘Tauroctony’ – a term that more usually describes sculptural representations of the killing of the bull. The passage ends with a reassertion of Mithras’ primary epithet reapplied through (and, it is implied, reapplied because of) the successful retelling of the image (‘They sang you / Invincible / Invincible / Invincible / Invincible / Sang you / Invincible / Invincible / Invincible.’)

 

The Final Song

The performer closes the circle of the performance by returning to the primary ‘chorus’ of the work – the repeated refrain that has reappeared throughout the performance. This stanza ('You are The Old God Mithras’ &c) takes the listeners out of the sacred narrative and returns them to their position as spectators of a dialogue between the initiate and her/his god. The circle is complete, the narrative is back at its beginning. The performer exits.

 

 

To Mithras Script


You You You You

You are The Old God Mithras.

Invincible,

The Sun,

Rock Born,

Egg born

Victorious,

The Wearer of the Phrygian Cap.

 

And I, I, I, I,

I am your man,

your soldier,

your believer,

your faith,

your memory,

your nobody,

your initiate.

 

And I I I I

I know your tongue.

And I will sing your song.

 

 

 

  

First: The Invocation

(The Invocation):

 

You. You are The Old God Mithras.

Invincible,

The Sun,

Rock Born,

Egg born

Victorious,

The Wearer of the Phrygian Cap.

 

I sing to you

Singing Singing Singing Singing

 

Singing: That I was lined by fire, for you.

Singing: That I was lined by water, for you.

Singing: That I was lined by earth, for you.

Singing: That I was lined by air, for you.

Singing: That I left the earth, taking three breaths.

Singing: That I was borne into air.

Singing: That I rose to planetary spheres, immortal source of all

Singing: That I saw the sun’s opened disk, the shower of stars, the outer garment.

Singing: That I closed my eyes.

And saw the Mysteries.

And saw the mysteries, singing.

 

Singing: I was a star

I was a man underground

Singing: I was a star

I was a man in darkness,

Singing: I was a star

I was a man, singing.

 

I am your seven grades:

Singing: I am the raven with your beaker

Singing: I am the male bride with your lamp

Singing: I am the soldier with your lance

Singing: I am the lion with your thunderbolts

Singing: I am the Persian with your scythe

Singing: I am the sun runner with your crown

Singing: I am the father with your ring. Ring. Ring Ring. Ring.

 

Singing: I am here,

Reminding you, I am singing singing singing.

 

 


Second: The Appeal

(The Appeal):

 

You. You are The Old God Mithras.

Invincible,

The Sun,

Rock Born,

Egg born

Victorious,

The Wearer of the Phrygian Cap.

 

And in appeal I sing

In appeal I sing

Now remember.

Now remember

 

Sing: where are your torchbearers?

Sing: where is your cap?

Sing: where is the story of your rock birth?

Sing: where is the story of your egg birth?

Sing: where are you invincible?

Sing: where are you?

Where are you?

Where are you?

Sing.

 

And remember

And remember

It was you I called Invincible

It was you I called Eternal

It was you I called the sun

It was you I called my father

It was you I called to most of all.

It was you I called to most of all.

 

In appeal I sing:

In appeal I sing:

You have forgotten

That you are Mithras,

You are the Old God.

Unconquered,

Conquering,

The slayer of the bull.

You are the slayer of the bull.

You are the killer of the bull.

You are the one who killed the bull, the bull, the bull.

 

In appeal I sing

In appeal I sing

In appeal I sing the killing of the bull.

 

 

 

 

Third: The Tauroctony

The Tauroctony:

The Tauroctony:

You. You are The Old God Mithras.

Invincible,

The Sun,

Rock Born,

Egg Born

Victorious,

The Wearer of the Phrygian Cap.

 

Now I will sing the killing of the bull, now.

So bow now

Silence!

Silence! Silence! Silence!

Symbol of the living, incorruptible god!

Silence!

So bow now

For the killing of the bull, the bull.

 

You.

You killed

You killed the bull.

You killed

You killed the bull.

You killed

You killed the bull.

You killed

You killed the bull.

 

With sorrow and with glory,

You held him to the knife.

You killed

You killed the bull.

 

Your left knee on his back.

Your right foot on his leg.

Your left hand in his nose.

Your right hand opening his vein.

You killed

You killed the bull.

 

You held him. And you looked towards the sun.

You killed

You killed the bull.

 

And the bull bled.

As you held him in

His own crescent moon.

He was the crescent moon.

He was a crescent moon.

And the bull bled

As you held him to

The knife.

The knife.

The knife.

 

Silence! Silence! Silence!

Symbol of the living, incorruptible god!

Silence!

 

And a dog caught the life from his neck.

And a snake caught the life from his neck.

And a scorpion caught the life from his testicles.

And a raven flew.

And the sun looked down.

And the moon looked down.

And the stars looked down.

 

In silence

In silence

In silence

In silence

In silence

 

then

 

They sang you

Invincible.

Invincible.

Invincible.

Invincible.

Sang you

Invincible

Invincible

Invincible.

 

 

And last: The final song.

 

You You You You You

You are The Old God Mithras.

Slayer of the Bull,

Invincible,

The Sun,

Rock Born,

Egg born

Victorious,

The Wearer of the Phrygian Cap.

 

 

And I, I, I, I, I, I, I

I am your man,

your soldier,

your believer,

your faith

your memory

your nobody

your initiate.

 

I know your tongue.

And I have sung your song.