On the Doorstep Premieres at the Copenhagen IAAP Congress

On August 22, 2013 – 22:00
at the IAAP Congress Copenhagen
don’t miss the premier of
On the Doorstep of the Castle
A play of Teresa of Avila and Alma de Leon
by Elizabeth Clark-Stern

Book Publication Date coincides with the premier – August 22, 2013 – Advance Orders Welcomed. http://fisherkingpress.com/shop/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=22&products_id=199

Our setting is 16th century Spain. The Inquisition has expelled the Jews or forced them to convert. Teresa of Avila is igniting the imagination of the country as the nun who receives messages directly from God. Alma de Leon, a young Jewish converso, appears on Teresa’s doorstep, petitioning to become a novice in her care. Their complex relationship explores the feminine archetypes of the Amazon, and the Medial Woman, in a story that unveils the foundations of psyche’s movement toward wholeness: Kabbalah, and Christian rapture, in an oppressive yet luminous time.

This play is a work of creative imagination based on the interaction of a true historical character and a fictional one. Teresa of Avila is admired to this day not only by Catholics and Christians, but by Taoists and Buddhists, psychologists and poets. Carl Jung was fascinated by her master work, The Interior Castle, for its description of the journey of the soul toward intimacy with God. The fictional character, Alma de Leon, is inspired by twentieth century Jewish philosopher, Edith Stein, who chanced to read Teresa’s autobiography, and experienced a profound spiritual awakening that led her to become a Carmelite nun. “What if these two were to meet?” the playwright asked herself, crafting the character of Alma as a Jewish woman true to her time and place in history. The teaching of the ancient Jewish mystical tradition, the Kabbalah, was strictly forbidden by the Inquisition, and yet Alma is haunted by it, even as she dons the habit of a nun and struggles to find her identity in the presence of her passionate, spiritually adventurous mentor.

A Playwright’s Search for Voices from Psyche’s Mystical Past

Alma: Is this (rapture) not a conjure of your imagination?

Teresa: Valgame Dios! They are as different as the night the day! When my little mind thinks to fashion a colloquy with God, it is like scratches on parchment, all froth and fantasy. When the rapture captures me, unbidden, the voice echoes with all the chords of eternity, my mind awake as the sky at dawn.

 What happened to Teresa of Avila when she received messages from God? Were the raptures an expression of her unconscious, or did they emanate from somewhere beyond her personal psyche? What is the nature of mind, and how do its voices shape our values, beliefs, personal development, relationships, creativity, and destiny?

These are some of the questions that haunted me as I researched and penned my new play, ON THE DOORSTEP OF THE CASTLE.  Where did my idea for this play come from, and how did I learn to listen to the voices of my characters, transforming an intellectual quest into an expansive journey into the depths of the soul?

It began some years ago, with a story seemingly far removed from the arid plains of Sixteenth Century Spain. One night I watched a PBS documentary on the twentieth century philosopher, Edith Stein. Born into a Jewish merchant family in 1890, she lost her father when she was two years old. Her mother took over the management of the business while single-handedly raising seven children. Edith’s character was shaped, in part, by learning from her mother’s determination and confidence. This would serve Edith well as she fought throughout her life to follow a calling unique in any era, but certainly for a Jewish woman in early twentieth century Germany.

Edith had a quick wit and sharp mind, and in young adulthood, moved from the traditions of Jewish faith to the study of philosophy. She apprenticed with pioneer phenomenologist, Edmund Husserl, and wrote her doctoral dissertation ON THE PROBLEM OF EMPATHY in 1916. In this work, she asserted her own theories, including what she called “non-actuality”, the concept that early experiences in a person’s life can exist in the background of the present and still have an effect. She appears to have arrived at “Non-actuality” independent of Freud’s theory of the unconscious.

Clearly this was a woman who possessed tremendous powers of analysis, rational thought, and creative synthesis of complex material. How intriguing to discover that in 1921, when Edith was visiting friends, she plucked a copy of Teresa of Avila’s autobiography from the bookshelf, and upon reading it, heard the voice of conversion. In the teachings of this modest nun, Edith Stein discovered what she had been searching for all her life. She not only converted to Catholicism, but joined Teresa’s Carmelite order, to the great amazement of her Jewish family and philosophical colleagues.

I was aware of Teresa of Avila, but had never read her work. If her autobiography had such an impact on Edith Stein, a devout Jewish woman whose studies of philosophy had turned her into an atheist, I had to see for myself what could possibly have inspired such on-the-spot enlightenment.

In TERESA OF JESUS:  A LIFE, and her masterwork, THE INTERIOR CASTLE, this self-deprecating nun guides her readers on a journey into raptures with Christ and angels, encounters with the devil, and tells of her transformation from a daughter of privilege to a barefoot nun pioneering a monastic order on the model of Saint Francis of Assisi.

What a story.

I was entirely hooked, and realized that I too was searching for something. Teresa’s story, and Edith’s, reawakened my longing to know the nature of psyche’s relationship with the divine.

Enter my first great love, theater. In May, 2011, Rikki Ricard and I performed OUT OF THE SHADOWS, A STORY OF TONI WOLFF AND EMMA JUNG for the Archetypal Theater Company in New Orleans, accompanied by our technical crew, Donna Lee and John Stern. That experience was so fulfilling, on so many levels, I returned with the desire to write another play.

In her essay, STRUCTURAL FORMS OF THE FEMININE PSYCHE, Toni Wolff articulated four feminine archetypes: 1. Mother, 2. Hetaira, the Greek word for “female companion”, the Mother’s opposite, a woman who nourishes the animus, either in an actual man, as Toni Wolff did with Jung, or, arguably, in a more modern sense, a woman who has a relationship with her own inner animus, or creative drive.

Wolff’s other opposing feminine archetypes are 3.Amazon, a woman like Edith Stein’s mother who fought to make a living and raise a family, and Edith herself, who fought to find her own truth and bring it to the world, and 4. Medial woman, one who mediates between heaven and earth, or the unconscious and conscious realms. This includes Cassandra, of ancient Greece, modern analysts, and therapists, healers and clerics.

There can be an intimate interaction between the voices of our archetypes, and our conscious functioning in everyday life. Women, and men, can call the archetypal Mother to help us through a bad day. We can allow the Amazon’s strength and courage to flow into us before a job interview, and when the medial person needs a break, Hetaira can say, “Take your beloved out to lunch!”

I realized Toni Wolff and Emma Jung embodied the Hetaira and the Mother. What historical characters could embody the Amazon and the Medial woman?

The answer was in the pile of books beside my bed. Teresa of Avila is the rock star of Medial Women. And then I was aided by the archetypal Hetaira from the dream world – not to mention my research.  I awoke in the middle of the night from an unremembered dream with the notion to transpose Edith Stein into 16th century Spain. A fictionalized “Edith” could walk up to the convent door and apply for admission. They could meet!

Thank you, oh thank you, imaginal part of my brain.

A young Jewish woman of the 1500’s would have been subjected to the persecution of the Inquisition, even as Edith Stein was persecuted by the Nazi’s. She also would have been raised with the great Jewish mystical tradition, Kabbalah, which was kept alive in secret rituals that echo into our present day.

I poured over texts on Kabbalah, stuck by the conception of construction of opposites in every dimension of the human soul, thousands of years before Jung and Freud.

I didn’t want to create a literal character of Edith Stein, and began to see her, not as a philosopher, but as a woman much closer to the earth;  a woman who loved color, movement, sound, music. One night, this emerging character whispered to me that she was descended from Moses de Leon, author of The Zohar, sacred text of Kabbalah. A friend told me that Alma means soul in Spanish, and the character “Alma de Leon” was born.

I pulled out butcher paper and began writing scenes between the characters – how they met, how their story progressed –  how they felt about each other. On this big surface, I felt free to pour in every historical character from Shirley du Boulay’s biography of Teresa , the “kitchen sink” approach to creative writing.

I began to see Lindsey Rosen as Alma, and was thrilled when she agreed to play the role. And, Teresa? I was already reading her works aloud, and could feel her creeping in to that part of me that portrays characters quite opposite of myself.

But I couldn’t make the leap from my Jackson Polluck-style outline on butcher paper to the terror of the blank computer screen.

Then, I began to hear Alma and Teresa, talking to each other as I stood in line at the grocery store, in between therapy sessions, waking me in the middle of the night.

“What are you waiting for?” said Teresa.

“Enough with the butcher paper, “ said Alma, “Stop giving in to your fear (“Who am I to write about these women? I’m not a  Carmelite or a Jew? Alma isn’t a real person…What does this have to do with psychotherapy? Who cares about these women?…blah blah blah”) Alma wouldn’t leave me alone. I had created an Amazon, and she wouldn’t let me be a weenie!

I moved to the computer and faced the horrid blank page. Interestingly, the writing began, not with voices, but with mental images and sensations. I could see the dusty arid plains of Avila, hear the sound of donkey carts, the rustle of a nun’s habit in the hot breeze.

From this imagined reality, the characters began to speak. I “took dictation” as they gave voice to the subtle dynamics of their relationship, their struggles in the world, the expression of their inner reality.

They took me to places I could never have predicted, speaking not only in dialogue, but in movement, dance, music and visual metaphor. Our cast and crew are terribly excited to bring this work to an international audience on August 22, at the Jungian Congress in Copenhagen. After that my vision is to offer it in book form to colleges, meditation centers, Jung societies and theater companies, to mount their own productions.


  1. I absolutely love your blog and find almost all of your post’s to be precisely what I’m looking for. can you offer guest writers to write content available for you? I wouldn’t mind publishing a post or elaborating on some of the subjects you write concerning here. Again, awesome web log!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *