"D.D. Delaney's metaphysical fantasy There Was a Stone in Her Sister's Old Shoe is...a riotously engaging piece." Terrence Afer-Anderson, Virginian-Pilot, 3/28/93
"[In The Murder of Crazy Horse the] Susquehannock Players have once again shared the magic of theater with Lancaster...and Delaney and company animatedly give us the chance to experience the theater as it was meant to be--an entertainment." Greg Keech,
Lancaster Independent Press, Oct. 24-30, 1980.
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In the Pastures of the Sun, a series of plays which celebrate the solar myths, includes the following
The Candle’s in Your Eye
The Pears of Heaven
A Summer’s Tale
Richard Sumerak’s Summer Vacation
The Murder of Crazy Horse
There Was a Stone in Her Sister’s Old Shoe [Ouch!]
In the Pastures of the Sun
I. The Solar Myth
Between 1969 and 1971, when I had no permanent address and spent a fair amount of time living outdoors, I came to appreciate in a personal and, yes, quite reverent way what a friend I had in the Sun, whose light and heat was so vital to my comfort and convenience.
Then, between 1971 and 1973, when my wife, Jala Magik, and I lived on an impoverished rural commune in the Susquehanna River hills of Lancaster County, PA, I became deeply sensitized to what I can only call the poetry of the Earth—the rhythm of the seasons, the life of the woods, the moods of the river, the spirits so often loose in the winds.
During that time a book on Wicca came into my hands. In it I first learned about the eight ancient solar festivals, each corresponding to a seasonal marker at intervals of every six or seven weeks, in the annual journey of the Earth around the Sun.
Most of the festivals are familiar to us today, even if by other names with other meanings superimposed upon them. We celebrate a few, but our technology has insulated us from the solar-orchestrated rhythms of nature experienced by our ancestors. As a result, we may note the festivals on our calendars, but we don’t much live by them. We’ve forgotten, or perhaps have come to take for granted, what a central, indispensable role the Sun plays in our well-being.
Further, we no longer regard the Sun as a conscious entity—a cosmic personality—nor even take him seriously as a symbol of radiant divine light. On the contrary, we most commonly believe the Sun to be a ball of hot gaseous matter which will burn us to a crisp and give us cancer if we expose ourselves to its rays over-long.
At the same time, of course, there are few among us who do not experience an irrational joy when the Sun warms our faces and our bare arms in those first liberating days of spring.
In the Pastures of the Sun
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Our day star’s return (in the northern hemisphere) begins each year at the winter solstice, December 20-22. According to ancient lore, the Sun stands still for three days at the solstice before beginning his reverse journey. December 25, then, is the first day the ancient star-gazers could say with certainty that, indeed, the Sun is moving toward us again. Hurrah! Thank the Gods!
But in a metaphysical tome which came into my hands in the late 1970s—The Secret Teachings of All Ages, by Manly P. Hall—I learned that each of the solar festivals corresponds to a significant event in the career of an ancient mythic (male) savior identified with the Sun. This “solar hero,” whose mission is to enlighten humanity by virtue of his advanced consciousness in a special relationship with the Creator, was born into this physical world at the winter solstice, sometimes called “the birthday of the Son.”
All ancient cultures worshipped the Sun, often in the form of an incarnated human being whose biography contained features strikingly similar to those in the archetypal solar myth cited by Manly Hall. Not just Jesus of the Christians but Krishna of the Hindus, Mishra of the Persians, and Quetzalcoatl of the Mayans, for example, were all said to have birthdays on December 25.
Each of the festivals, then, observes a mythic point of significant development in the career of the archetypal solar hero, who is considered a world savior, an avatar, a messiah, and who plays a prominent role in most theologies of the ancient world. Taken together, therefore, the solar festivals illuminate a metaphysical system, most likely older than civilization itself, based upon the cyclical rhythms of the seasons applied to the life story of an archetypal human being.
Further, this solar myth remains, even today, deeply embedded in religious belief and practice around the world, no more so than in Christianity. Yet its symbolism also transcends them all, a cosmic mythology of universal application.
The life of the solar hero begins with a miraculous birth at a low point in human experience, when suffering is acute and corruption runs rampant. This corresponds to the winter solstice, when the light of a world growing ever more dark and cold changes course, as if itself reborn, like a dawn which ends a collective dark night of the soul. Indeed, there is a great deal to celebrate in this season of Yule, as it’s known in the so-called Old Calendar of the Wiccans, and all cultures raise their glasses and sing sacred songs in joy and gratitude, whether or not they understand what they celebrate—that the continuity of life has been guaranteed. The miraculous birth at the winter solstice seals the deal.
But it’s only a beginning. The next installation in the myth occurs six weeks after the solstice, on February 2, known most familiarly to us as Groundhog Day but also, with more dignity, as Candlemas or, in the Old Calendar, as Imbolc, the first day of spring (no matter what they tell us the groundhog said). Only the most skeptical can now doubt that the “new” Sun is growing stronger.
At Candlemas the hero of the solar myth, now at the threshold of puberty, is admitted into the adult community of believers. Those who know him best—parents, relatives, mentors—have been watching him closely. They realize there is something extraordinary about this boy. He confounds his teachers with his precocious originality, logic, and wit, especially in studies of philosophy and religion. He’s also been observed to have healing powers. On the fringes some whisper they’ve seen him perform acts of sorcery.
But perhaps only his mother, for reasons of her own, realizes that her son is the savior of prophecy and legend. She keeps her conviction to herself. Despite a nascent excitement in the air at her son’s initiation into adulthood, patience is required. The solar hero is still too young, too inexperienced to shine forth in the world or to know too much about his own destiny.
By the time he reaches young manhood, however—marked by the Vernal Equinox (Ostara), March 20-22—the time has come for him to venture into the public square. Though fairly sure within himself that he is a divine messenger, he’s nervous about being tested on it. What if he should fail? Now he must pass through a gateway blocked by his fears, which threaten to take away everything he has—perhaps even life itself—if he thinks for one moment he’s some kind of savior with a message anyone wants or needs to hear.
Faith is the key word of the Vernal Equinox. The solar hero can’t conceal his identity any longer. His presence is suspected in any case, as darkness retreats before his advancing light. Now he must step out of the shadows and make his intentions known. Yet there are no guaranteed outcomes. It is the season of the Fool, who hurls himself into his dreams because, really, he has no choice. He is who he is, and may the gods be merciful!
And they are. He survives the test of “coming out” at the Equinox, dispelling his doubts through self-defining choices as he emerges in the world as a recognized challenger to the tyrannical shadows of the past. With increasing momentum he advances toward Beltane, or May Day, six weeks later, when, in a decisive confrontation with the authority which holds the world in the grips of an obsolete doctrine of contraction and limitation (winter), he emerges victorious. He establishes a new order in the world (summer), promising universal dispensation, a new covenant for all creatures under a benevolent, liberal system of administration and justice, always tempered by compassion.
In the Old Calendar, Beltane is the first day of summer. There is no turning back now, and by the next festival—Midsummer, on June 24—our solar hero is a well-established figure in the world, having reached the height of his power and popularity in a reign of peace, prosperity, and thriving commerce.
Yet even at this triumphant high point there are dark undercurrents stirring in opposition to the solar hero’s liberality. Spies infiltrate his circle, looking for exploitable weaknesses in him and his followers. Secret agent provocateurs drift among the general population, muttering how the solar hero goes too far in his doctrine of freedom and his tolerance for social outcasts and foreigners.
Sensitive to popular sentiment, the solar hero, keeping his own counsel, becomes wary. He begins to back off. It’s little noticed at first, as the general exuberance released at Beltane reaches dazzling heights by Midsummer and continues unabated until Lammas, on August 1, when the first fruits of the harvest arrive from the fields and, with plenty for everyone, the solar hero’s promise of liberation for all in a seemingly endless summer seems realized at last.
Few are aware of the coalescing plot afoot to overthrow the solar king and end his enlightened reign. Yet agents of darkness, spreading discontent, are more numerous in public places, where, for his part, the solar hero is seen less.
Then, at the Autumn Equinox, September 20-22, facilitated by a traitor in the solar king’s inner circle, assassins strike. Though the hero, badly wounded, escapes, he must flee for his life.
His assassins are three, representing the three months of winter, and for the next six weeks they pursue the solar hero relentlessly to the very edge of the world. There, at Samhain, or Halloween, on October 31, they fall upon him, beat him senseless, and throw him for dead into the abyss beyond space and time.
In the Old Calendar Samhain is the first day of winter. In the solar myth it is the day the Sun is murdered.
Or so it seems. True, the days grow evermore dark, the nights evermore cold. It seems the Sun, daily sinking lower and more wan in the sky, will disappear below the southern horizon (as it does in some climes) and, like a dying ember, go out.
But then a miracle happens. At the winter solstice, the Sun stands still. Within days it becomes obvious that the light is no longer fading. In fact, it is growing! The solar hero is not dead but reborn! Once again the life of the world is delivered from blind cruelty and heartless cold.
II. The Solar Plays
In the Pastures of the Sun is a collection of plays—seven or eight, depending on how they’re counted—which dramatizes the themes of the eight solar festivals and the stations of the solar myth to which they each correspond. The story of how these came to be written and subsequently performed begins with a widely publicized near-disaster.
On March 28, 1979, at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant in the Susquehanna River a few miles south of Harrisburg, PA, the cooling system in one of the plant’s two reactors failed. As a result, the reactor’s fuel rods overheated and very nearly melted through its core, which, had federal and industry engineers not stopped the process just in the nick of time, would have released a gigantic plume of radioactive steam into the atmosphere, conceivably irradiating life for years to come all over south-central Pennsylvania, northern Maryland, and beyond.
The Three-Mile-Island nuclear accident, second only in magnitude to the 1986 Chernobyl catastrophe, brought the whole question of our nation’s energy future into sharp public focus. Up to then, those who warned of the dangers of nuclear energy, arguing instead for development of clean, sustainable energy production, were considered part of an extremist fringe. But with Three Mile Island, or TMI as we locals called it, the nuclear industry lost all credibility for claims that its fail-safe controls and engineering wizardry guaranteed public safety, not to mention cheap electricity.
I was living in Lancaster City at the time, thirty-three miles southeast of TMI—definitely within the radius of imminent danger in those first days of the disaster alert. At the time I was between jobs, as we used to say, having resigned from a volunteer co-editorship at a small weekly independent newspaper and in a quandary about what to do next. I didn’t have to wait any longer to find out.
A few days after the accident, when it was beginning to look as if the reactor had been shut down and sealed off without any further release of radiation, a Spanish professor of my acquaintance called to ask if my wife and I would join in a street theater protest against the nuclear industry. For me, it was one of those Equinox Fool moments when I knew I had to say “Yes.” The next day we joined four or five others at a street theater workshop facilitated by an activist from Philadelphia.
The facilitator handed out copies of an instruction sheet on how to create a street theater skit. Following that outline, we collectively conceived a scenario, filled in a plot and assigned ourselves characters, got on our feet to improvise the action, refined and shaped it and rehearsed it several times, and took to the streets to play it in the town square.
The visiting activist left the next day, exhorting us to continue to perform our skit, create others, and, in general, raise a ruckus.
Of those who participated in that first session, however, I was the only one to show up at the first meeting of the newly formed Susquehanna Valley Alliance, where as many as a hundred area people gathered to discuss the threat of nuclear power to the public, particularly children, and to brainstorm ways to send a strong message to the nuclear industry and its government regulators and Congressional cheer leaders that we, the public, believed nuclear power plants could never be made safe and must all be shut down.
At the general meeting I said I was interested in street theater as a way to help draw attention to the group’s agenda. As a result, I was put in charge of organizing a troupe. When the meeting broke out into work groups, I met in a corner of the meeting hall with a handful of volunteers, most of whom I knew, who wanted to be in street theater.
We called ourselves The Susquehannock Players, after the American Indian tribe which European settlers in the Susquehanna Valley had obliterated over 200 years before. For the next five months we created skits, several of which I wrote, and played them around town in a variety of public places, indoors or on the street, and at activist rallies and protests up and down the Susquehanna Valley and as far south as Washington, D.C., where we shared the main stage of a large, national rally with featured speaker Ralph Nader. It was a heady time.
The original Susquehannock Players were dreamers and mystics who agreed that a repertoire of anti-nuclear screeds and rants would only energize negativity. We wanted to create a positive charge to balance the weight of fear, anger, and depressing facts that seemed to dominate so much of the anti-nuclear rhetoric.
We began offering skits with the fanciful proposition that, unexpectedly, radiation leaked from TMI had accelerated the evolution of consciousness among us, residents of the area, bringing an end to the era of fragmenting fission. In one of those skits, the Sun steps over a nuclear power establishment collapsed beneath the weight of its exposed crimes and misdemeanors and offers himself, the solar alternative, as the obvious antidote to the people’s future energy needs.
In the fall of 1979, with the season of outdoor rallies winding down and people taking off for new vistas, the Susquehannock Players’ numbers dwindled down to three, now invited to be in residence in a newly opened whole foods restaurant. That meant we needed more plays.
It was about that time that our activist interest in the solar alternative began to hatch in my brain as a project suitable to our primitive theatrical style. Inspired by the conceptual model of the old medieval mystery plays, which dramatized scriptural stories, I conceived an alternative sort of mystery play for each of the solar festivals, beginning with the winter solstice.
The first play, written for three actors because we were only three, was “Nativity,” a half-hour baby of a piece consisting of a series of vignettes, each tied thematically to some part of the solar myth and its counterpart in nature, the rebirth of the Sun.
The Susquehannock Players held no auditions. When a fourth person asked to be in the next play at Candlemas, I wrote it for four. “The Candle’s in Your Eye,” like “Nativity” a series of vignettes, was the result. By this time, also, a light and sound technician had joined us.
“The Pears of Heaven,” our play for the Vernal Equinox, was also written for four, but it was the first of the series to have a through-line plot. Like the others, though, it was short—under a half hour.
With Beltane, I began to stretch my playwright’s wings. A fifth actor had joined us by then, so “May Whole Day Pole Play” called for five in a full one-act fable of the overthrow of the cold-hearted Lord of Winter and liberation of his household by the passionate young Sun King, returned from the South.
By this time our residence in the whole foods restaurant had begun to annoy the upstairs tenant, who managed to have us evicted. We produced our Beltane play at the Lancaster YWCA.
Meanwhile, I was at work on the Midsummer script, which I’d decided to write as a sequel to “May Whole Day Pole Play.” The result, the one-act “Dievmedis,” might stand alone but is probably best as the second act of what became my first full-length play, A Summer’s Tale, commemorating both Beltane and Midsummer.
Our company was growing. For “Dievmedis,” I had to add roles for two more actors, bringing our total to seven, plus our light and sound guy and, of course, his girl friend.
And then it was nine, and the result, for Lammas, was Richard Sumerak’s Summer Vacation, a 90-minute “psycho-drama” with no intermission. We were still performing at the YWCA, but that was about to end.
Also, as the plays became more complex, I was getting behind. We should have performed Richard Sumerak around August 1, but we didn’t get it up until the end of August. In September I wrote the Autumn Equinox play, which we wouldn’t perform until late October.
It was “The Murder of Crazy Horse,” a 70-minute piece briefly highlighting the life and death of the great Sioux warrior-priest whose career caught my imagination when I learned that he was betrayed and murdered very close to the autumn equinox. With a cast of twelve, with some doubling-up on minor roles, it was produced in a barn on the grounds of a large city park.
The next year, when we remounted all the solar plays at their designated time, I expanded the play to the epic, three-act version which appears in this collection.
Meanwhile, once we closed “Crazy Horse” in November, I burned the midnight oil to turn out the Samhain, or Halloween, play, which we didn’t produce until the following February in a bare, donated room in a downtown mall then under construction. It was the supernatural comedy, There Was a Stone in Her Sister’s Old Shoe (Ouch!)—the final play in the solar cycle collection.
Up to this time the Susquehannock Players had been an egalitarian collective with no designated leader, certainly no director. Actors worked out scenes among each other, chose their own costumes and props, interpreted their roles as they saw fit, and trusted to the magic of theater to bring it all together. This process—or non-process—worked surprisingly well, bringing us to the run of our Samhain play, out of season though it was, as an exotic phenomenon in Lancaster, recognized as much for the way we ran our company as for the substance of our plays. But recognition brought its own set of circumstances, and our experimental management style soon crystallized into a core executive group of six Players who continued to produce theater until 1984, when the group disbanded.