I do not normally read, much less enjoy, contemporary play scripts. In fact the last memorable one was way back in the 80s, St Bob’s stunning piece of guerrilla ontology, Wilhelm Reich in Hell which left me reeling and shaking at the final page. Rebecca Wilby’s This Wretched Splendour did not have such a dramatic impact, but is equally as impressive and stunning in its own way.
On the surface this play should hold little interest for magical and esoteric folk: a short script set in the trenches of World War I Belgium, it charts the transformation the arrival of a new officer makes to a group of depressed and (most likely) doomed soldiers. However, the play is literally a talisman, a condensation of inner forces, contacts and blessings made available on this plane via the medium of literature. The impetus for the play seems to have come from Rebecca’s connection with “David Carstairs”, one of the most persistent and personable Inner Contacts within the broader Dion Fortune tradition and lineage. Gareth Knight, Alan Richardson and others have written about the Carstairs contact, but in This Wretched Splendour Rebecca Wilby writes with the Carstairs contact. The result is a tangible piece of magic, holding both inner and outer riches.
These days there are any number of ‘magical novels’ and novels by magicians. Most of these are products of the individual writer – not that there’s anything wrong with that. This Wretched Splendour, though obviously the work and product of Rebecca Wilby has the inner planes, via Carstairs, woven into its very fabric. It is thus something more than a play, just as Dion Fortune’s novels are more than novels. Reading This Wretched Splendour enriched and effected me at both deep subconscious levels and ‘higher’ transpersonal levels.
Subconsciously, by reading this play we are connected and opened to the reality of the living history of this ‘war to end all wars’. Though nearly a century ago, the wounds and scars remain and effect us all. It warped and maimed a generation, as well as providing impetus for much change. As esoteric folk, we know the effects such momentous events have within the soul of a nation, of the world. In the words of one of the characters, Conor:
There’s a death here that goes beyond the bodies that writhe and twitch in the mud. There’s a death of the soul of man, and the final fall of Adam.
The final fall of Adam. Through these five words, Rebecca Wilby masterfully sums it up. The sheer scale of horror (with thousands dieing before breakfast in some battles) is incomprehensible to our modern minds, accustomed to hearing the names of individual battle deaths. The almost preternatural violence must have seemed apocalyptic and I think helped give rise to stories such as the Angel of Mons, even though the general consensus relegates this as a myth or illusion. Experiencing hell encourages us to invoke heaven. My great-grandfather, who somehow survived the entire war (after enlisting underage in 1914), insisted to his dieing day he had seen the angels.
It is only recently that psychology has begun to look at this ‘trans-generational trauma’, trying to make sense of these deep soul wounds. This play takes us into the genesis of that trauma. It also, through the presence and words of an inner contact, contains the seeds of healing and redemption, for us personally and our society.
Transpersonally, by having the presence and words of an inner contact within this play it becomes a well crafted invitation to enter mystery. The inner contact Carstairs was a young British officer who died at Ypres, where this play is set. Soon after his death, he became a kind of mediumistic control for Dion Fortune, often introducing and explaining the teachings of ‘higher’ masters and adding a much needed human and humorous element to the proceedings.
Carstairs, the inner contact, is obviously the main character of the play, David Cartwright, a central sun illuminating and fructifying the other characters. Here we see the very clever writing of Rebecca Wilby, as the Cartright character is not only made different to other characters by conventional artistic devices, but by using a few channeled lines from the actual Carstairs contact and weaving his presence into the words, there is a distinct ‘feel’ of the ‘other’. If we are in sympathy with the character, this can then take us into realms not known through ordinary plays.
Towards the end of the play Cartright, like Carstairs, dies. There is not a lot to this scene, no gaudy descriptions or action, something which serves the play very well. The presence of the Carstairs contact in a play describing his own death is not only ironic but an very powerful occult tool. The play is then the material basis for the mystery of the broadness of death, the continued existence of the soul in one form or another.
Added to this, there is a richness of subtle esoteric symbolism and action throughout. This is not always clearly delineated and will play more on the subconscious of the reader than on the conscious. Again, I compare it to Dion Fortune writing about how her writing of the Sea Priestess was designed to mimic the motion of the waves. There is much within the structure and form of This Wretched Splendour that will illuminate the open reader. Of course, there are occasional overt moments of spiritual potency drawing on esoteric lore, such as this call to the battlefield dead:
Let the dead arise! Out of the shell craters, out of the mud, out of the filthy slime, let the dead arise! Out of the broken trees, out of the barbed wire entanglements, out of the wretched trenches, let the dead arise! Out of the burning earth, let the dead arise! Let the undead arise! Rise up now, see the light in the West. Kick the fifth of battle from your heels and rise up. Follow the western splendour. Go! Go to the real Western Front!
Rebecca Wilby has done a wonderful job in the creation of this play. It deserves wide readership by the esoteric community. Do not be put off by the form, a play script, the subject matter or its ‘fictional’ content: this play has much to offer the esoteric and magical student. When we read it we are sharing in a highly successful magical action – the grounding of inner knowledge and redemption. It is thus a gift to us all.
This Wretched Splendour can be ordered from Skylight Press, www.skylightpress.co.uk.