Department of Theater, Dance,
and Performance Studies
Revelations and the New Order:
At What Costs, and How to Find the Balance?
by Lauren Richardson 12.12.18
Picture Resources: http://ology.wikia.com/wiki/File:Phoenix_bird_picture.jpg
“Round about is deep black darkness,
Darker than the blackest night,
Whispering deep 'n dreadful murmurs.
Bird dropped dead in midflight.
Blind and weeping, lifeless attle,
What you see is your own soul,
Burnt and weary from the battle,
Turned disenchanted from its goal.
In the ash, a spark she smoulders,
Crackling, rasping, wounded warrior,
Briars squeeze her neck and shoulders,
Suffocating in smog-fill'd air.
Deep within stagnating waters,
Crystal clear elixir tears,
Rippling, movement, life astir,
Rises Phoenix from the slaughter.
Still she rises, golden daughter,
Fears no longer yonder fright,
Strength within from those who fought her,
Blackest night turned brightest light.”
The power structures that are in place today are causing climate change to accelerate at a rapid speed and much like the phoenix, our essential ways of life need to be destroyed in order for our world to have any chance at becoming something new and beautiful again. The growing effects of climate change are signs that an old cycle is ending and that we must be prepared and willing to embrace the beginning of a new one. Much like the archetype of the phoenix, “a powerful, self-rejuvenating bird that reincarnates by burning itself up” (Craig Chalquist PhD), complete catastrophic change and rebirth in the wake of a new order is a recurring theme throughout history and life as a whole. The destruction of a paradigm is necessary in order for a new or (or old) way of living to flourish. In this essay, I will explore the ways that the archetype of the phoenix closely relates with the current state of our world as well as the texts that we’ve read throughout this semester.
Indigenous peoples were known for their use of fire for regenerative purposes. It was not out of malice but rather out of consideration for the greater good of their agricultural life and the earth respectively. This echoes the recurring theme of destruction in order to make way for new life. This way of thinking was originally looked at as a savage behavior by Europeans who failed to comprehend the ways of the Natives and the practice was often squandered. This anxiety surrounding the unknown is a common theme in many of the works that we’ve read during this semester. People often cling to stasis because it’s comfortable, however, stasis leads to eventual death. The departure from stasis is not the end of the world but rather the end of the world as it is known. The end of every story is the beginning of a new one. In our current society, renewable forms of clean energy are typically ignored while oil and other non-renewable forms of energy are the norm. The use of finite, non-renewable energy sources such as oil are prevalent mainly due to inertia. It is the way our country has always operated so it is the way that we continue regardless of the fact that it is killing the planet. In order to begin a new earth-conscious paradigm, there needs to be a catastrophic happening that shifts our way of living so much that there is no choice but to embrace change. I interpret the Earth to be an embodiment of the Phoenix. The effects of global warming could be the way that the earth prepares itself for the beginning of a new paradigm.
Throughout time, there have been various depictions and representations of the archetype of the Phoenix. It’s actual form varies throughout different cultures but the overarching theme of cyclical death and rebirth by fire stays consistent. After a long life, the Phoenix becomes aware of the ending of its life cycle and begins to prepare itself for its rebirth. “When the beautifully songed phoenix (from the Gk. "fenix," possibly derived from Phoenicia) has reached the end of a cycle of life, it builds a pyre for itself. Consumed by the flames, it issues forth as a new being, young and renewed... Jung considered the phoenix one of many representations of the archetype of Rebirth.” The archetype of the Phoenix is reminiscent of the Mexica-Maya Quiche view of the apocalypse. The imagery of the Phoenix is important because it’s initial demise does not represent a final death but rather the ending of a cycle and the simultaneous beginning of a new one. In ancient Asian and European legends, the appearance of the Phoenix means that a new era is about to begin. The phoenix never truly dies but rather goes through a continuous cycle of life and death, much like the Mexica-Maya Quiche view of nature and the universe. There have been countless ways of life that have existed and perished before us and there will continue to be more after us. The transition into the new way of life does not come without a price, however. Though the phoenix comes out of the fire young and renewed, this is only achieved through major loss and sacrifice.
The fiery imagery of the Phoenix is especially relevant today as we are currently experiencing one of the most catastrophic forest fires our country has ever seen with over 150,000 acres burned and countless amounts of houses destroyed in Butte County. Towns are mourning the loss of their homes, friends, and family members as there are hundreds who have perished with still so many who are unaccounted for. The entire Bay Area has been engulfed in smoke for days which has made the devastation that happened in Paradise something that we are all affected by. Global warming has made wildfires more frequent and significantly more deadly in the past few decades as the heating of the earth’s temperature has lead to more droughts and dryer conditions. “A May 2018 report from the California Environmental Protection Agency found that long-term warming trends, including the rise in average temperatures and the number of hot days and nights, have grown in recent decades and are the underlying causes for weather-related incidents like wildfires and droughts”. This is just one of the many ways that the earth seems to be rejecting human activity. Natural disasters are becoming more frequent and higher in intensity and it is no question that this is happening as a result of our complete lack of earth-consciousness. There is a definite shift that is taking place on Earth and it feels as if it is preparing itself for the end of something but also the beginning of something new. The rebirth of the phoenix does not come without loss.
Throughout many of the performative imaginings of the apocalypse that we have studied this semester, the recurring theme is the presence of a catastrophic event that alters the imagined world which forces the characters out of stasis. In the play, Marisol, readers get a firsthand experience of the apocalypse through the lens of Marisol who witnesses her world change and become new before her eyes. For most of the play, Marisol looks for signs of her old life only to find that everything she had previously known is gone and a new order has taken effect. The moon is gone, what was once north has become south, and God and the angels are nowhere to be found, leaving her in a world that is completely unfamiliar. Her angel urges Marisol to join the war being waged against God but she fiercely clings to her old way of living until the very end where she witnesses the war and finally embraces the beginning of the new cycle. “New ideas rip the Heavens. New powers are created. New miracles are signed into law. It’s the first day of the new history...Oh God. What light. What possibilities. What hope”. (Marisol, 68) Marisol represents the ways in which society clings to the past on the sole premise that it is familiar. However, Marisol’s world quickly decays around her and eventually, the only source of hope is to embrace the new cycle, much like humans are being forced to do now.
In The Unplugging by Yvette Nolan, the world is being said to be “shaking the humans off like fleas”. In this play, the earth is personified and is said to be rejecting the lack of earth consciousness, radically forcing everyone to live off the land again and return to the old way of living to restore balance. This left much of the society at a disadvantage because most of society’s knowledge had been delegated to technology and a lot of essential knowledge and “know-how” had been lost in the technological “unplugging”. Native Americans have historically had a deep connection with the earth and were, in turn, the protectors of it. In The Unplugging, the character Bern, a native American woman, was one of the chosen few that never lost her earth-connection and as a result, thrived in the new technology-less cycle of living. The switch to a more industrial, capitalist society has taken away this earth connection. If there are no more protectors of the earth, the earth must defend itself in its own way with or without humans.
In“Angels in America” by Tony Kushner, Prior, a gay man who is dying from AIDS, is selected to be a new-age prophet who was assigned by an angel to deliver her message to the world. The angels believe that the evolution and upward mobility that humans have been achieving has “made things unglued” and as a result, believe death is the answer to this new instability. In an act of utter defiance, Prior goes to heaven and refuses to participate in the stasis that the angels are imposing on the world. Despite his poor health conditions and the tragic losses he’s had to endure in life, he is still optimistic about life and the future even though it is filled with pain. He believes that humans cannot stay suspended in a world that is not constantly in motion and that stasis is equal to death. Similarly, the Phoenix can not live in the same way forever: it must go through immense loss and change in order to come back new and stronger than before. Even though the Phoenix goes through cycles of life and eventual death, it is constantly in motion. If it were to ever stop being in motion, it would cease to be the magnificent being that it is.
One downfall that humans often suffer from is our resistance towards change and our, at times, unhealthy attachment to what is familiar. We fear the unknown and fiercely cling to what is familiar simply because it’s worked in the past. This keeps us in a kind of stasis where nothing changes and the same cycle perpetuates. Non-renewable forms of energy such as fossil fuels have been used on a large scale since the Industrial Revolution. Fossil fuels are what helped make America the powerhouse country it is today due to the ways in which it positively revolutionized our economy and our ability to travel and transport goods long distances by train. However, over time, this excessive use of fossil fuels has been slowly killing our planet and causing it to heat up due to excessive amounts of Carbon Dioxide being released into the atmosphere daily. All of this excess carbon dioxide creates a “greenhouse effect” in the earth, which results in a long list of harmful side effects such as major climate shifts, mass species extinction, and rising sea levels. Many power structures in place today gained their status from the wealth accumulated from the fossil fuel boom; it has been a consistent, reliable source of income for years because of the ease of mining “free energy” from the earth. This energy is not free, however, and comes at a steep price: the death of the earth. It is only through the complete dismantlement of the power structures and ideals that keep non-renewable energy suppressed and a switch to a new paradigm of clean, renewable energy that we have any chance at a bright future. The earth will react in any way it needs to in order to achieve balance. What is needed is a radical shift in our priorities and a return to the old way of living where the earth was respected and cherished.
Though the idea of the apocalypse has been talked about since the beginning of time, humans are closer than ever to experiencing one. Sea levels are rising due to the melting of giant glaciers, species are going extinct at record speed, and we are experiencing extreme natural disasters at an alarming rate. Humans are beginning to have to face the results of our actions in a very real way, a way that has never been experienced before. Unless we radically change the way we live and make the necessary changes that are keeping us in this stasis, the Earth is bound to “shake humans off like fleas”. It is possible that the Earth, in an attempt to regulate itself, will become uninhabitable by humans, leaving Earth to continue on without us on its own brilliant path of evolution. The earth has already experienced rebirth by flood, and rebirth by ice; it is not out of the question to assume that the earth will be reborn by fire. We are allowed to live on the earth but we are not essential to the earth’s existence despite what we might think. The choice is essentially ours: humans can either die out and a new earth can be reborn. Or, our old ways of living can die, which will give birth to a new way of life.
In the past few decades, the relationship between humans and the earth has become staggeringly one-sided. Humans consume dramatically more resources than are replenished which makes for an imbalanced, unharmonious relationship. It has become a societal standard to have little no consideration for the earth’s resources and as a result, the earth is protesting. Humans have tipped the scale too far to one side and it seems that the earth is regulating itself in its own way. Though radical change must come about, society does not necessarily have to literally burn to ashes in order to move into a more earth-conscious paradigm. However, the imperialist mindset that is prevalent within modern society must die in order for us to have a chance at repairing the damage that has been done. There needs to be a radical shift in the way that societies operate on a global level. This does not mean the complete destruction of all the things we have come to know but rather a re-imagination of the way our society operates as a whole. Because this problem concerns the entire earth, this is not an issue that can be solved by the efforts of one country alone. There needs to be major collaboration amongst all world leaders to combat global warming so that our efforts can be measured on a global scale. Though each nation operates by its own principles and there is much disparity in the way each country works, differences must be put aside as we all need to focus on repairing our relationship with the earth.
The archetypal Phoenix is a theme that reappears throughout space and time. Though not always explicitly stated, there is a recurrent idea of cyclical destruction followed by creation. A constantly moving force that endures loss and change in order to evolve and rebirth stronger than before. The earth is not exempt from this idea. It appears that earth is going through it’s own rebirth as it is literally becoming warmer and its various forms of life are dying out at a rapid speed, humans potentially included. These conditions will only worsen over time until what we know of the earth is no longer there, however, life always continues on and it always finds a way. It would be ignorant to think that human beings are, by some divine order, the most important beings on this planet. I liken the earth to the phoenix because it is also a self-sustaining being that has already gone through multiple cycles of “death” in the past but it has still continued on and it will continue on without us if we are not careful. If we do not take the proper measures to care for the earth, humans may perish but the earth will live on and perhaps one day, after all of the ashes and dust settle, a triumphant earth will rise from the ashes, new, fresh, and reborn.
Kushner, Tony. Angels in America. Prestroika. Play.Theatre Communications Group, 1994.
Leafloor, Liz. “Ancient Symbolism of the Magical Phoenix.” Ancient Origins, Ancient Origins, 20 Aug. 2018,
Nolan, Yvette. The Unplugging. Play. Bloomsbury, 2017.
Rivera, José. Marisol. Play. Theatre Communications Group, 2004.