The Immortal Hour
By Marie Fornario
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'This superb complete recording was a salutary
shock: the opera is a kind of masterpiece, bleak, passionate and
... Enthusiastically recommended' (BBC Music Magazine
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The following essay, published under the pseudonym
of Mac Tyler, is by Marie Fornario, who met her death so mysteriously
in the island of Iona during the latter part of 1929. Dion Fortune
alludes to this incident in her book "Psychic Self-Defence".
During the course of some three
and twenty performances of "The Immortal Hour," the
writer of this booklet has gained much amusement from the comments
of the audience, yet, if various remarks overheard on such occasions
have enlivened the interval between the two acts with flashes
of humour, (mostly unconscious on the part of the speakers), they
also provided matter for considerable reflection.
Visitors to the Regent Theatre
may be roughly classified as follows; students of mysticism and
folk-lore who are able to understand the great truths concealed
behind this gossamer curtain of faery; (a small clan, but they
come frequently and every time discover some new aspect of illuminating
significance), a large number of people who think the play beautiful
but sad; and many for whom the whole drama is so elusive and incomprehensible
that they irritably demand of each other "what on earth the
fellow can be getting at," and are frankly bored: and there
is a fourth class who, while keenly appreciating the artistic
beauty of the performance, also sense the existence of a deeper
meaning, but are hopelessly baffled by their inability to interpret
the intricate symbolism employed.
It was for such seekers that
this interpretation was written, and in the hope that these tentative
suggestions, based on a study of comparative religion, folklore,
mysticism and symbolism will provide them with the necessary clues.
While this Celtic allegory may
be interpreted to represent the return of Spring to the world
from the enforced thraldom of Winter, it will be apparent to all
students of esoteric cults that we have here a drama similar to
those employed in the ancient mysteries, and that the reactions
and interaction of Dalua, Etain, Eochaid, Midir and the two peasants,
symbolise the psychological and spiritual effects of initiation.
Practically all the religious
systems of the ancient world, and most of the modern ones also,
include two strongly differentiated types of teaching, the one
exoteric, the other esoteric.
The exoteric or public side of
any faith dealt with the moral precepts and ordinary religious
ceremonies generally in use; the great truths underlying all religion
were therein allegorised for the benefit of those who were not
sufficiently evolved to grasp the fundamental philosophical concepts
in their abstract form, and therefore had to be taught in terms
of concrete things which are known to all.
The esoteric side dealt with
the abstract philosophical concepts veiled by the exoteric symbolism.
These ideas were never publicly proclaimed, but they were taught
in secret all down the ages to such advanced individuals as were
capable of understanding them, and who having reached a certain
standard of moral, intellectual and spiritual development, were
permitted to take part in the mysteries where they were instructed
in the spiritual science of raising the lower self or personality
to the level of the higher self or Individuality.
The allegories employed in the
various exoteric systems seem to contradict each other but the
esoteric interpretations are the same in every case, notwithstanding
the apparent diversity of the different symbolism.
The Celtic mysteries are denoted
by two mythological traditions; one is the Feast of Age, instituted
by Manannan Mac Lir; the other is the Shadowy Fount of Beauty
wherein the Salmon of Knowledge swims among berries fallen from
the rowan, quicken tree or mountain ash, the Tree of Life in Celtic
mythology, corresponding to Yggdrasil, the World Ash of the Scandinavians.
The opening speeches of the first
scene of "The Immortal Hour" appertain to the world
of thought; the stage is almost in darkness, vague shadows appear
and disappear, denoting half-formulated concrete ideas strange
and alien to Dalua, (who represents the abstract mentation of
man), as that abstract mentation is itself alien to the emotions
of normal humanity. The abstract mentation holds converse with
half-caught intuitions which inform it that though it has travelled
from one darkness to another, yet it has come
"no further than a rood,
A little rood of ground in a circle woven, "
All this first scene is tremendously
significant, a clue to much that follows afterwards, and that
would be otherwise be incomprehensible. The working of the principal
of polarity is clearly shown in Dalua's assertion that he is
". . . not first or last
of the Immortal clan
For whom the long ways of the world are brief
And the short ways heavy with unimagined time, "
implying that the conditions
of the physical world are reversed in the metaphysical.
Dalua, (who represents the abstract
mentation of man), is recognised by the light of the wandering
star above him, and the intuitions hail him, half mockingly, half
"....Sad Shadows of pale
Forgotten dreams, madness of men's minds;
Outcast among the Gods, and called the Fool,
Yet dreaded even by those immortal eyes. "
The Gods symbolise the highest
type of emotional forces, but even these shrink from the cold
impersonal detachment of the abstract mind, whose touch also wrecks
the concrete mind if the latter has not been rendered sufficiently
plastic by training to endure the shock of such an impact.
The chorus of intuitions now
gives place to a chorus of demons symbolising the dark atavism
of the subconscious forces which endeavour to acclaim the abstract
mentation as part of their own evil, because the reaction of the
lower principles to the mistranslated stimulus of the super-conscious
frequently produces disastrous results on the material and lower
emotional planes. This is why Dalua is said to bring madness and
death, which generally result from misapplication of metaphysical
In a marvellously orchestrated
chorus of mocking laughter the demons gibe at the dreaded power
who has unwittingly strayed among them. Dalua silences them with
an angry gesture, bidding them laugh not,
"For Lu and Oengus laugh
not, nor the gods
Safe set above the perishable stars."
The music here explains much
that is left otherwise unexpressed. In the well-night perfect
beauty of the Dalua motive we have all the sadness of mortal struggle
and spiritual triumph marvellously interwoven, as in one flash
of supreme vision the mind visualises its own high origin and
lofty destiny, and unflinchingly carries out the plans of the
forces whose tool it knows itself to be. It accepts the hatred
and fear of the lower principles, which are unconscious of the
law with which it co-operates, and, in realisation of the sublime
ultimate purpose, it has already attained in essence, even though
suffering in its own application of the law to itself and others.
Dalus is a composite figure,
including many of the characteristics of Lucifer, Saturn and Pan.
As Lucifer he tempts Etain, even as the serpent tempted Eve, and
with a similar object; as Saturn he initiates Eochaid, weighing
him in the balance and warning him that those led by dreams shall
be misled, for those who seek initiation guided only by emotion
and not by reason, cannot pass the necessary tests. Like Pan,
who brought madness and death on those who confronted him unexpectedly,
at the close of the play the Fairy Fool bestows the boon of death
on the heart-broken king who demands from him the restoration
of his dreams. The shadow of Dalua's hand, as applied to Etain
and Eochaid to bring forgetfulness, corresponds to the draught
of Lethe offered to souls about to descend into incarnation. It
polarises their respective attitudes; Etain is made to forget
her fairy kindred and high estate; Eochaid, who symbolises the
desire principle, is made to imagine himself greater than he really
is, a king of dreams and shadows, instead of their plaything,
and a fit mate for the immortal Star of the Shee. The Shee are
the Celtic gods, the spiritual emotions of man, which appear cold
and cruelly callous to the warm passions of humanity.
Etain's appearance on the stage
is marked by a slight increase of light, and as she represents
the soul, we may surmise that this section of the play deals with
the forces of the lower emotional or desire plane; the actual
change from the mental plane to the desire takes place previous
to this point and is denoted by the departure of the intuitions
and the entrance of the demon chorus.
Etain is half fascinated, half
terrified by Dalua, who suddenly during their conversation realises
why their meeting in that strange place has been ordained, and
tells her of the King of Men, who has wooed the Immortal Hour,
". . . sought and found
and called upon the Shee
To lead his love to one more beautiful
Than any mortal main . . .
but concludes sternly that there
"One way to that gate: it
is not Love
Aflame with all desire: but Love at peace. "
He then makes a significant gesture
which is repeated at Eochaid's death. This gives us a very important
clue to the cause of the tragedy. Eochaid's desire for initiation
is prompted by a selfish longing to grasp and hold for himself
something beyond the ordinary quality of joy, not by a desire
for service, and because the motive of his quest is purely selfish,
the hidden god speaking from the fountain warns him to return,
but the warning is unheeded as Dalua's mocking laughter lures
the king onward to his doom.
The second scene shows Etain
sheltering from a storm in the hut of two peasants who represent
animal instincts, and who are terrified both of her and of Eochaid,
who seeks shelter from them also. The lower instincts are as much
afraid of the desire principle, when that is seeking its higher
self, as they are of the Soul, knowing full well that such an
attempt towards unification, if successful, will inevitably be
followed by an attempt at their own extinction. In this case it
is not successful, as when they intreat Eochaid to do them no
ill, he gives perfunctory assurances of his harmlessness towards
them, while the rising tide of the great love duet surging in
the orchestra denotes that he is hardly conscious of what he is
saying, or of anything in all the world but the beauty of Etain.
She is equally swayed by emotion
and moves towards him like one entranced, though when he kisses
her hand, she breaks away, half conscious that she is transgressing.
But the spell is too much for her; she yields to his passion and
the love music reaches an ecstatic climax as they both sing
"The years, the bitter years
of all the world
Are now no more, "
when the mockery of Dalua is
heard from the orchestra, and Eochaid demands, half in anger,
half in fear,
"Who laughed? What means
Etain wearily seats herself at
the other side of the stage, the king kneels by her side, and
the two peasants slumber by the glowing fire, when suddenly a
sound of far-away music is heard, and Etain rouses herself to
listen to the song of the Shee. Eochaid hears nothing, and is
both puzzled and troubled as she turns from him, and rises from
her seat, with outstretched arms, straining towards the distant
voices. She has remembered something of her true nature and passionately
regrets her self-determined exile.
The scene of the second act is
laid in Eochaid's dun, and shows us the rejoicing at the first
anniversary of his wedding. After a chorus of bards and soldiers,
Etain enters with her women, pale and sorrowful. During the first
act, she wears the green gown of the fairy folk but now she is
robed in gold and red; Eochaid who enters shortly afterwards is
also robed in the red that symbolises passion, though in the first
act he wears blue, the colour of aspiration.
Etain complains of weariness
and announces her intention to retire, but Eochaid entreats her
not to leave him, confessing that in spite of all the rejoicing
he is "sore wrought by dreams and premonitions," expressed
by a sinister little chromatic passage in the orchestra. He has
heard again the laughter of Dalua and senses the approach of trouble,
but notwithstanding his request, Etain passes out with her women,
and he dismisses the rest of the court with the exception of an
old bard and a page. The last two Druids on the point of departure
are startled by the sudden appearance of a stranger in green,
who stands in the doorway and hails the king, apologising for
his late appearance and requesting a boon. Eochaid is somewhat
disconcerted, but replies with dignity that
". . . no stranger claims
a boon in vain
. . . if that boon be
Such as I may grant without loss of fame
Honour or common weal,"
and enquires the name of the
mysterious visitor. This the stranger refuses to give but proclaims
his royal lineage in a passage of exquisite beauty:
"I am a King's first son.
My kingdom lies beyond your lordly realms
O King, and yet upon our mist white shores
The Three Great Waves of Eire rise in foam.
But I am under sacred bonds
To tell no man, not even the king,
My name and lineage.
King, I wish you well,
Lordship and lands and all your heart's desire."
Eochaid turns to him impulsively,
then recollecting the presence of the two Druids, he dismisses
them, before confessing his longing
"To know there is no twilight
Upon my day of joy; "
The stranger reminds him that
great poets have sung how
"Great love survives the
night and climbs the stars,
And lives the Immortal Hour along the brow,
Of that Infinitude called Youth whom men
Name Onegus Sunrise."
But Eochaid is also a poet and
desires a more definite reassurance. The stranger, who is Midir,
a prince of the Fairy people, husband of Etain, and symbolises
the Spirit, now leaves the entrance and comes forward, flinging
wide his cloak, as if announcing himself the messenger of the
gods. He sings of the Immortal Hour from a Cosmic standpoint,
as exemplified by Aed and Dana, suggesting the immortality of
love and its Cosmic significance, but Eochaid's reaction to this
clarion challenge is in terms of personality, a passionate prayer
that he and he alone may keep Etain for ever, and so he misses
his great opportunity.
Midir turns significantly away.
Eochaid murmurs bitterly, "Dreams, dreams," and then
enquires what boon is desired by his visitor. He is still more
troubled when Midir asks to touch the white hand of the queen,
and to sing her a song, but the king has given his word, so he
sends the page to summon her, and while they await her appearance,
the old bard gives definite form in the following words to the
vague uneasiness pervading the whole of this scene.
"I have seen all things
pass and all things go
Under the shadow of the drifting leaf;
Green leaf, red leaf, brown leaf;
Grey leaf blown to and fro,
Blown to and fro.
I have seen happy dreams rise
up and pass
Silent and swift as shadows on the grass
Grey shadows of old dreams,
Grey beauty of old dreams,
Grey shadows on the grass."
The old bard slowly hobbles away,
and Etain enters, clad in the green robes of the first act. She
starts when Eochaid speaks to her, and complains that she could
not sleep, for her dreams came close and whispered in her ears.
Eochaid informs her why he has summoned her, and Midir moves from
behind a pillar into her line of vision. She looks at him in bewilderment,
and when he kisses her hand she starts again, as though half remembering,
then recovering herself, she prays him to sing his song, and he
obeys in the words and melody used by the fairy people at the
close of the first act. As the notes die away she stammers confusedly,
"I have heard, I have dreamed
that song "
In the next Iyric Midir declares
his identity; she rushes impulsively towards him, and then draws
back, confused, as she remembers her desertion of him and her
own unworthiness, but
still he woos her with outstretched arms, and at length she comes
to him, saying,
"I am a small green leaf
in a great wood,
And you are the wind o' the south"
It is significant that after
kissing Etain's hand, Midir carefully refrains from touching her
again, even after her surrender, implying that though the spirit
may descend to woo the soul and reclaim her, it is on alien ground
in the lower planes, and their true relation cannot be resumed
until the soul returns to the higher level.
Eochaid here endeavours to come
between them but is repulsed by a gesture from Midir, who slowly
moves backwards to the entrance, drawing Etain after him. She
moves as though in a trance, and to Eochaid's passionate appeals
she only replies gently,
"I cannot hear your words
so far away,
I go from dark to light"
and so passes out of his life,
to the sound of the fairy chorus in the distance.
This is the part most generally
misunderstood, as the majority of people sympathise with Eochaid
and feel that Etain has treated him badly.
The real clue to the situation
lies in the fact that Eochaid and Midir are polarity aspects of
the same principle; and therefore a unity. When Eochaid was offered
his heart's desire, he could have gained the right to follow Etain
to her immortal home, had he been content to sacrifice himself
for her welfare, but because his love is selfish, he loses her
objectively, and, though erroneously, feels that he has lost her
irrevocably. If the lower nature is content to follow where the
higher principles lead, it can be regenerated without suffering
much of the pain entailed by its endeavour to drag down the soul;
but a refusal to be regenerated necessitates its sacrifice that
the soul may be liberated. Yet the lower nature and the higher
are one in essence, though manifesting in opposite directions;
and the death of Eochaid symbolises the metaphysical attainment
of his heart's desire, since in the supreme surrender Love is
at peace, as Dalua's gesture signifies, and this is the essential
condition announced in the first act for all who would stand beside
"The rainbow gate of her
whom none may find,
The Beauty of all Beauty."
The essence of Eochaid, all of
him that is pure and great, (being almost the highest possible
expression of the personality, truly a King of men,) is incorporated
with the polarity aspect, Midir, and thus in the metaphysical
world Midir-Eochaid hold Etain forever, and the cycle is complete.
In the original play, Eochaid's entreaty to Dalua,
"My dreams, my dreams, give
me my dreams,"
is answered by the significant
"There is no dream save
this, the dream of death"
implying that death itself is
only a dream and that the ultimate reality for Eochaid, as for
Midir and Etain, lies in the other world, where all life is one
This is not obvious to the majority
of people, and it is unfortunate that this pregnant sentence was
omitted; but the wonderful music of the closing bars, based on
a re-statement of the Dalua theme, explains it with extraordinary
clarity for those who can understand, and one watches the descent
of the curtain convinced that in spite of the apparent tragedy,
and notwithstanding struggle, illusion and mistakes, the end is
peace and fulfilment for all.
The Immortal Hour was given only
a few performances, the politics of its composer became an issue
and it has disappeared from the theatre. But the music has lived
on in recordings, the most famous being the lovely aria, 'The
beautiful they are the Lordly Ones
who dwell in the hills, in the Hollow Hills.
They have faces like flowers and their breath
is a wind that blows o'er sunny meadows
filled with dewy clover...
There is now a recording
of the complete operetta available and the music is well worth
the listening. Mac Tyler was the name used by Marie Fornario but
I have given her credit under her own name. She was a working
occultist who seems to have specialised in helping those who became
caught in the meshes of the Lords of the Dark Face. She was found
lying naked on a cross cut into the turf of a Scottish mountainside
during the winter of 1929. Mr Butler remarked to me some years
ago that she had told someone a few days before her death that
she, 'had a terrible case of healing on'. What that case was we
will never know, but this little essay on The Immortal Hour was
thought by Dion Fortune to be worth, as she said, 'saving from
oblivion'. We thought the same thing. - D.A.