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The Nature Theatres of the Occult Revival: Performance and Modern Esoteric Religions

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Abstract

This essay explores the specific way in which two of the leading figures of the Occult Revival – Katherine Tingley and Gerald Gardner (who established Wicca, the modern witchcraft religion) – related nature to theatre and dramatic rituals as they sought to embody their spiritual teachings through theatre, drama, and performance. Tingley was leader of the Universal Brotherhood and Theosophical Society, which promoted ideas concerning humaneness and reincarnation in Point Loma, California in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Gardner established the Goddess-centered current of modern witchcraft known as Wicca, which still flourishes to this day. Although Tingley and Gardner held very different spiritual ideas, both agreed that nature was an expression of the divine and that a carefully-crafted performance set in natural settings could raise the spiritual consciousness of human beings. This exploration into their works provides insights into a legitimately religious current of nature-focused theatre that seems to have been a part a broader nature theatre movement acknowledged by theatre scholars in the early twentieth century. This essay demonstrates that the sacred, natural theatre that they anticipated have contemporary forms of alternative spiritual and religious performance that are rooted in Western “Ecospirituality.” Ecospirituality is a contemporary religious perspective that expands the conventional Western sense of the sacred beyond human-centeredness and incorporates everything that occurs in the natural world, such as soil, water, plants, animals, and the atmosphere. The relationship between nature and the performance of theatre and rituals that was established by spiritual teachers such as Tingley and Gardner marked an early stage of a relationship between ecological concerns, religion, and art that exists today.

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Correspondence to Edmund B. Lingan .

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Lingan, E.B. (2015). The Nature Theatres of the Occult Revival: Performance and Modern Esoteric Religions. In: Brunn, S. (eds) The Changing World Religion Map. Springer, Dordrecht. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-017-9376-6_130

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