Vincent d’Indy is a minor French composer of the late Romantic period who is something of a one-hit wonder for his tone poem “Istar,” based on the Babylonian myth. D’Indy takes the classical form of theme-and-variations and turns it upside down, presenting the variations first—seven of them—before finally revealing the theme on which the variations are based, now exposed in all its orchestral nakedness.
Why seven themes? This is why the piece is named for Istar, who, in order to save her lover, descends through the underworld. As she passes through seven gates she discards an item of clothing at each, until, in the depths of the abyss, she reaches her destination completely nude.
Although the myth is thousands of years old, some scholars believe its symbolism isn’t quite right. Shedding earthly garments should be associated with ascension towards heaven, the realm of Being and metaphysical principles, rather than descent into a netherworld of chaotic forces and undifferentiated potentialities.
Ascending upwards through seven gates, for example, suggests transcendence of one’s astrological birth chart, indicating that one has faced the seven astral bodies visible to the ancients—Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn—and now stands before the Supreme Principle, The One, The All, or whatever one chooses to call it. Such a state of being is certainly a highly evolved one, and one term we can apply to it is Absolute Nakedness. It is a symbolic state associated with transcendence, rebirth and purity, since one has been stripped of all earthly garments and conditionings and has both submitted to and been elevated by a higher supra-human principle.
Acclaimed Danish filmmaker Lars von Trier’s fascinating movie, Melancholia, concerns the final days before a rogue planet collides with Earth. At one point the heroine, played by Kirsten Dunst, leaves her mansion chamber in the middle of the night and walks into a neighboring forest. Spirit seekers can probably sense what’s coming next, and sure enough the subsequent shot shows her lying naked in a bed of grass gazing up at the sight of the doom-planet slowly approaching, while Wagner’s “Love-Death” music from Tristan And Isolde plays on the soundtrack. A similar scene occurs in the 1982 cult classic, Cat People, when Natassja Kinski wanders into the night and disrobes, clearly without knowing why. Suddenly her vision changes, and she begins stalking prey as her feline powers emerge.
Absolute Nakedness can thus be said to characterize the awakening to something greater than oneself, a ritualized expression of virgin rebirth, of consciousness becoming aware of the soul and its divine nature.