Bowie’s “Labyrinth” – Esoteric Analysis, pt. 1

By: Jay Dyer

Dedicated to Ross!

It's always fun to go back and watch the movies you grew up with. However, it can also be a disturbing experience, akin to finding out that uncle you had that was so cool was actually an alcoholic. This last week re-watched several movies that were favorites of mine from the 80s. I started with the Jim Henson/George Lucas production Labyrinth(1986), starring David Bowie and Jennifer Connelly.

Seemingly a harmless mish-mash of various fairy tales into one puppeteered hodgepodge, virtually all of my contemporaries are well familiar with this film which constitutes, as we say, the "essence of 80s." But is it harmless fun, or is there something else going on?

In the story, Sarah (Jennifer Connelly) is a young girl who has yet to enter womanhood. Her parents are divorced, while her mother is a moderately popular actress we never meet. Sarah is obsessed with fantasies, and in the opening scene we see her in a park/garden, where she wears a pure white dress, emblematic of edenic purity, reciting lines from the book, The Labyrinth. But Sarah isn't just standing in a garden/park, she is surrounded by Egyptian/masonic obelisks as seen here and in the video below.

On top of the obelisk behind her, a white owl comes to perch who we later discover is the antagonist, the otherworldly being “Jareth” (David Bowie) in one of his many forms. Note in the video at 3 mins in.

Already conspiracy readers will be licking their lips, but let us not jump into wild speculation. Clearly there are masonic elements to this film, given Jim Henson’s, Monty Python’s Terry Jones’ and George Lucas’ penchant for such masonic myopia. I want to point out other levels interpretation than might be typically given by “conspiraciologists.” One level often missed is that of the individual’s pysche progressing in purported occult maturation, along the lines of the review given of The Wizard of Oz by Dr. Dennis Cuddy. Labyrinth is also an extend landscape of ocular occultation.

In ancient mythology the owl denoted Athena to the Greeks, goddess of wisdom. In Labyrinth, however, the imagery seems to be similar to that of it’s meaning to the Romans – mystique and bad luck. Lilith is associated with this as well, and in certain traditions and in terms of the Illuminati proper, the owl was a symbol of autonomous reason and rationality, based on the research done by Terry Melanson. So while there may be some exoteric association with the “Illuminati,” in Henson and company’s mind, it appears to be more of a bad omen and outright witchery – not Illuminati rationalism. Indeed, Jareth is more of a witch, which in Latin is strix, form which comes the Italian strega, meaning “witch.” He is the king of the goblins in the film, and in real life, witches aren’t always women.

As Sarah comes into her room from the garden to babysit against her plans due to the command of her wicked stepmother, we see a pan of her room, where most of the central characters to be in the Labyrinth already exist in a toy or object form. The Labyrinth itself is a simple marble labyrinth game (those things were damn hard!), as well as a poster of M.C. Escher’s art, which will be Jareth’s castle. We see stuffed figurines of Hoggle, Ludo, and other characters, as well as a large Jareth image, complete with devil horns. And, importantly, several key books, like The Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland, Snow White and Grimm’s Fairytales.

Sarah wanders through obelisks

Sarah is young and wants to retain her freedom from babies and responsibility – what a grown woman generally will have to deal with. She does not want to babysit Toby, her baby brother. Sarah utters a curse in anger that the Goblin King (Jareth) would come and take him away. Bowie enters as an owl in a flurry of glitter and spandex nastiness. Jareth is basically androgynous and is some kind of spirit being from another realm since he can morph into an owl. We learn that he is in fact in love with Sarah (think of the attraction of the fallen angels to mortal women – Genesis 6).

The deal is then made that Jareth will give Sarah all her dreams if she will sacrifice her baby (brother) and love Jareth. Jareth offers her his magic crystal ball. Sarah makes a pact with the spirit that she can solve the Labyrinth and win her brother back in “13” hours – the number of a witch’s coven as well as a generally “unlucky” number.

Bowie sketches out the Kabbalah Sephiroth

Sarah learns quickly that things are not as they appear – fairies bite, not bless. Doors are not where they appear and missing where they should be. In the medieval world, labyrinths were a symbol of making our way though this wayward world to heaven. In Jung, the Labyrinth is also an image of the individual’s unconscious psyche. We will see Sarah fall several times in the film, deeper and deeper into the labyrinth. In “The Process of Individuation” by M.L. von Franz in Carl Jung’s Man and His Symbols, explains of the meaning of the labyrinth as subconscious:

“The maze of strange passages, chambers, and unlocked exits in the cellar recalls the old Egyptian representation of the underworld, which is a well known symbol of the unconscious with its abilities. It also shows how one is “open” to other influences in one’s unconscious shadow side and how uncanny and alien elements can break in.” (pg. 176)

Jareth certainly breaks in. But where is he taking her? In the opening song, Bowie’s “Underground” is the theme. Jareth is entering the underground of her subconscious.


In the next part, we will fall even further into the labyrinth of archons and archetypes in Sarah’s psyche.

7 Comments on Bowie’s “Labyrinth” – Esoteric Analysis, pt. 1

  1. Thank you. This film desperately needs in-depth analysis by experts in the occult and gnosticism. I’ve felt for a long time that Jareth is a sort of demiurge. 🙂

  2. Interesting. Have you listened to Brian Froud’s feature commentary?

  3. Although you made a great many good points, I have to disagree with your idea that Jareth is some kind of androgynous spirit. He is most definitely meant to be male. That is emphasized over and over again. Think of the outfits that he wears. His pants brazenly display that he is male, and the camera angles emphasize this further. If they wanted him to appear as androgynous, they would have chosen a different wardrobe for the Goblin King. To add to this, there is decidedly sexual tension between Sarah and Jareth. In the scene in the tunnels, Jareth leans over Sarah in a decidedly agressive, sexual pose and asks her how she likes his Labyrinth. When she isn’t suitably impressed, he retaliates. He is jealous over her relationship with Hoggle, going so far as to threaten him, and the ballroom scene is further loaded with sexual tension. For as much as Henson swore this wasn’t intended to be a love story, there are too many sexual undertones to ignore. And isn’t that a part of Sarah’s journey to grow up? Like many fairy tales, Labyrinth contains a Coming of Age theme, part of which is sexual maturation. As much as Sarah sets the Goblin King up in her mind as the villain, she is still fascinated by him. I would argue that he very much represents masculine sexuality, and not until the end when she realizes that he has no more power over her than what she allows, does she win.It’s very similar to Angela Carter’s “In the Company of Wolves” when Red Riding Hood announces that she is no man’s meat and defeats the wolf by embracing her own sexuality. Isn’t that a realization that many women have to come to?

    • I think the androgyny refers to Jareth not being butch (stereotypically masculine). While being definitely male, he has a sort of femme energy. Paul Stanley (KISS) and Dani Filth (Cradle Of Filth) are other good examples of this.

5 Trackbacks / Pingbacks

  1. Bowie’s “Labyrinth” – Esoteric Analysis, pt. 2 « Jay's Analysis
  2. Inception, Labyrinth & Jungian Analysis « Jay's Analysis
  3. Batman: Dark Knight Rises – Esoteric Analysis « Jay's Analysis
  4. Batman: Dark Knight Rises – Esoteric Analysis by Jay Dyer | evolve and ascend
  5. The Hidden Meaning Behind These 10 Classic Fantasy Films | Jay's Analysis

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: