Totentanz

Anne Atwell-Zoll and Charles Cameron

A WaterBird Game


Move 1: Annie plays "Catherine of Aragon's body" in position 7

The body of Catherine of Aragon, first Queen of Henry VIII of England, was accidentally exhumed in the late 18th century. She was almost perfectly preserved. Her body was relocated to an outside burial spot while her crypt was being repaired. Some while later, some drunken rakes dug the body up. They danced around with her body, still well preserved, until the authorities neared -- at which point they fled and left it behind. Queen Catherine's body was at last returned to its crypt outside the church, and to this day anonymous person or persons leave bunches of flowers mysteriously at her feet. No other Queen of Henry VIII is so remembered or honoured.



Move 2: Charles plays "Holbein's 'Dance of Death'" in position 3

The Dance of Death (Danse Macabre, Totentanz) emerged as a major theme in the iconography of the 15th century: a skeleton or group of skeletons play various musical instruments (drum, trumpet, harp, pipes) as they lead the dance. Hans Holbein's woodcuts of the Dance of Death enlarged the genre, picturing Death sometimes fighting, sometimes leading the living -- people of all ages and walks of life -- in a sequence of images that run from Adam and Eve in the Garden at one end to Christ's final victory over the grave at the other. Holbein went on to become Henry VIII's court painter, and died himself of the plague in 1543.



Move 3: Annie plays "Agnes de Mille's 'Fall River Legend'" in position 1

The ballet "Fall River Legend" is Ms. de Mille's shivery ode to Lizzie Borden, in which Lizzie performs a "dance of death" as she picks up the axe and knocks off her parents. Nora Kaye was the ballerina most associated with this role.



Move 4: Charles plays "Exodus Ch 20 v 13" in position 2

In Exodus XX: 13, and even in the version of the Ten Commandments filmed by Cecil B de Mille (Agnes de Mille's father), Commandment number 5 says "Thou shalt not kill"... But tell me, what else is a poor boy named Death supposed to do?



Move 5: Annie plays "The Marseillaise" in position 5

The French mob danced an euphoric reel to the Marseillaise, creating a sort of "dance of death", stirring themselves to a fever pitch as the tumbril carts rolled towards the Guillotine. These rough-hewn carts would eventually carry the French Royal Family to their deaths.



Move 6: Charles plays "King Charles walked and talked" in position 9

There's an English children's saying, "King Charles walked and talked half an hour after his head was cut off". This children's saying suggests that like Queen Catherine, King Charles danced a macabre dance after his death. Like that of the French King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette at the guillotine, his death was not only in contravention of the Fifth Commandment, but also the killing of "the Lord's anointed" -- which is why regicide is considered of all killings the most heinous. There is even an echo of Lizzie Borden here: like Lizzie's parents, King Charles was killed with an axe.



Move 7: Annie plays "Salome's 'Dance of the Seven Veils'" in position 8

Princess Salome dances for her father's court in order to gain John the Baptist's head. Her biblical "dance of death" links with the biblical commandments, with Lizzie Borden's dance, Holbein's skeletons dancing, the French mob dancing round the tumbrils, and the rakes who danced with Catherine's body -- and even with King Charles' talking head. Indeed it is recorded that Salome spoke to John the Baptist's head for hours after the beheading.



Move 8: Charles plays "Red Queens in Alice" in position 4

The Red Queen cries, "Off with their heads" in Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass -- or was it the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland?

In any case, the two of them would make a fine pair of matching moves in another Game we must play together some other day -- one of them a playing card and the other a chess piece, both of them Red Queens, as different and same in their own ways as Tweedledum and Tweedledee. And one of them (it was the Queen of Hearts), keeps on crying "Off with their heads"... Now if you lose your head, it doesn't necessarily mean you die, but if you pass through a looking glass, it often means something pretty close to dying: the poet Orpheus passes through a looking glass to enter the realm of the dead in Cocteau's film, although of course he's still alive. And -- just to be sure the connection between losing your head and going through the looking glass is crystal clear -- Orpheus, like King Charles and John the Baptist, was also famous for what you might call his "talking head". In fact Ovid tells us that after Orpheus had been torn apart by the Maenads, his head was swept out to sea still singing -- and landed on the Isle of Lesbos where it continued giving prophecies until Apollo silenced it.

Or did I get it all muddled up again? St Paul tells us, "now we see through a glass, darkly, but then face to face." Is it the dead who are truly alive, perhaps, and the living who are already dead? It's all so confusing: everything gets reversed when you pass through the looking glass... Is "Wonderland" the place you get to? Heaven? Hades? Hell? Or the "Collective Unconscious"? Which side of the glass is Life on, and which side is Death?



Move 9: Annie plays "Thuggee" in position 6

The "Thuggee" or "Deceivers" were a cult of sacred assassins in 19th century India, from whom we get our word "thug". The Thuggee used ramal (wire) to practically behead their victims by garrotting them, and would then mutilate their bodies for their dark goddess Kali's pleasure. Thuggee cultists believed they could do good by stamping out evil, and their highest religious commandment would be the mirror image of "Thou shalt not kill". Their Goddess Kali herself is depicted holding a sword in one of her four arms, and a severed head in another: the Queen of Hearts in Wonderland would undoubtedly approve.



Move 10: Charles plays "Smoke and Mirrors" in position 10

This incredibly morbid Game is all, finally, a matter of smoke and mirrors. The magic here has been largely done with mirrors: we have seen evil and good trade places, and death and life. But what of smoke? King Charles' father James I wrote a treatise on tobacco, which had been introduced into England from the New World during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, daughter of Catherine of Aragon's husband Henry VIII by his second wife (of six), Anne Boleyn. But it is the sacred assassins of Annie's last move that provide the connection here, for our word "assassin" derives from "Hashishin" -- the name given to an Islamic cult of sacred assassins, not unlike the Hindu Thuggee centuries later.

The way the Hashishin were recruited is extraordinarily apt in view of the way this Game has developed. They were reportedly drugged with hashish, then taken into a paradisal garden where they ate plenteous fruits and were serenaded by beautiful women -- and saw the head of a man displayed on a plate on the ground. Later, this "beheaded" man would join them. They would thus be easily convinced -- once the drug's effects had worn off, and they had woken from a long sleep -- that they had indeed been to paradise, and witnessed the resurrection of the dead. When told that what they had tasted on this occasion would be theirs for eternity should they die in the course of one of their deadly missions, they understandably showed no fear of death...



Totentanz:

Anne Atwell-Zoll and Charles Cameron, A WaterBird Game



Game and original Board by Charles Cameron <hipbone@earthlink.net>


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HipBone Games rules, boards, sample games and other materials are copyright (c) Charles Cameron 1995, 96, 97. See Concerning Copyright for full copyright details.