There’s nothing more 80s than Steven Spielberg, and there’s nothing better 80s than Raiders of the Lost Ark. Based on the oft-referenced classic film serials, Indiana Jones is a household name. What is far from common knowledge are the profound religious and esoteric themes in the Indiana Jones films, particularly in Raiders. Written by George Lucas and Lawrence Kasdan, and directed by Spielberg, Raiders demonstrates a carefully ordered, intriguing religious progression, evident to those well-read in esoterism and in this case, so-called “traditionalism” or the “perennial philosophy.” In short, it’s much more layered than the basic-level adventure story presented, and I will demonstrate that below.
The film begins with the mountain image, prominent in Spielberg films, particularly Close Encounters of the Third Kind. There, “Devil’s Tower” in Wyoming becomes the meeting point of the aliens/gods and mankind. Biblically, the Law and prophets frequently mention the “high places” where the pagans and apostate Israelites would offer sacrifices to the “gods” or “demons.” Textual examples. This trend is consistent in many alien motifs, where the aliens are simply no different from the traditional religious ideas of the “gods.” Spielberg especially has utilized this trend, as well as Lucas. Indeed, Mt. Sinai itself is the meeting place of man and the God of the Bible, which will be of particular relevance for Raiders. As a side note, Wired magazine reports that “Devil’s Mountain” also has relevance to the NSA as an old Cold War listening and surveillance post in Germany.
The Hovito Temple where Indy and Belloq haggle over the golden idol situates the viewer in the primitive superstitious world of polytheistic paganism. The Hotivos are savages, and are used by Belloq to obtain the idol from Indy, who risked his life in the well-known trap sequence. At view in the background is a golden sun with a skull. From South America we fly to Indy’s classroom at the fictional Marshall College. Army Intelligence arrives because Dr. Jones is an “occult expert,” and wants information on Hitler’s own fascination with the occult, and his search for the Ark of the Covenant. Indy, we note, is a rationalist and pragmatist, and doesn’t believe in “hocus pocus” and mumbo jumbo, much like Han Solo dismissed the Force. The Ark demonstrates the power of God, and Hitler believes that by controlling it, his army will be invincible. There is some truth to this in terms of Hitler’s circles being into bizarre forms of occultism, as shown in the video.
From the university we fly to Nepal. Nepal is relevant because of the Nazi quest for the Great White Brotherhood of Madame Blavatsky and Himmler. Indy is after Marion From Nepal, Indy and Marion fly to Cairo, where we will begin to be initiated into the mysteries of Egypt. The progression has been from primitive animism to the ascended masters to Egypt, where the “Well of Souls” supposedly houses the Ark in Tanis. The scenes in Cairo are of particular importance, particularly for the scene with the Sufi. Sufism is Islamic mysticism, and so we have the mysteries of each religion leading Indy to the culmination of the perennial tradition in Judaism as its source. This is a unique twist, since generally, traditionalist writers ascribe to Judaism a place of derivation—that Judaism’s mystical side is purely based on Platonism or Egyptian hermeticism or some other supposedly older tradition. Here, Judaism is the true source.
Indy meets with Belloq in Cairo, and Belloq tells Indy he is his “shadow” – the Jungian archetype of the inner dark side of the psyche that must be faced. Indy could very easily be made to turn to the dark side, Belloq says. However, Belloq, like Hitler, believes that the Ark is a magical device—that one can “talk to God” with it. Indy sees it in a more rational, yet humble perspective, and seeks out the actual meaning of the Ark. Sallah, Indy’s Muslim friend, takes him to visit the Sufi where we see a Star of David with an All-Seeing Indy Eye, and then a square and compass on the lamp. When the Name of God is mentioned, a wind blows, like when Moses approaches Sinai. Is Indy a kind of Moses/deliverer? In the next film he does deliver slave children from the Thuggee cult.
In the Map Room, the Staff of Ra lights up the whole chamber, wherein there is a replica of the ancient city itself. Anubis figures prominently on the wall. Anubis is associated with embalming in Egyptology and the realm of the dead, and thus corresponds to Cerberus. He is also associated with Sirius, the “Dog Star,” as the gatekeeper for Osiris (Osiris is the god of the dead). Plato has Socrates saying, “by the dog of Egypt”, “by the dog, the god of the Egyptians” (Gorgias, 482b). Thus Ra – Sun/Atum – light – all have a crucial significance here, as Indy receives light by which he is led from superstition, through the use of reason, do divine truth in the one true God. Earlier we had seen the golden skull sun imagery in South America, and in the Map Room Indy becomes enveloped in light. The entire scene is like a Masonic ceremony where the initiate seeks “light.” Indy, like Moses, has now known the “mysteries of Egypt.” (see Acts 7:22). An obelisk is also visible. Psalm 18. Later that evening Indy and Sallah open the Well of Souls to discover the Ark to be surrounded by Indy’s own great fear, snakes.
The Well of Souls is the Egyptian Underworld – with Anubis there as gatekeeper. Snakes bring to mind the Garden of Eden and the serpent in Genesis, and like Adam, Indy is confronted in the presence of the Ark by snakes. Many writers have noted the similarity of the Temple of God to the temples of Egypt and Babylonia. Anubis is again visible as a large, double-statue guard of the Ark. Indy knocks down the Anubi (plural for Anubis I assume) in a scene that reminds one of the situation of the Ark and the Philistine god Dagon. The power of God caused Dagon to fall before the Ark, just as here, Anubis falls. The Jewish Encyclopedia describes of the event:
“The Philistines took the Ark to several places in their country, and at each place misfortune resulted to them (ib. v. 1-6). At Ashdod it was placed in the temple of Dagon. The next morning Dagon was found prostrate before it; and on being restored to his place, he was on the following morning again found prostrate and broken. The people of Ashdod were smitten with boils (Hebr. , A. V. “emrods”—that is, hemorrhoids); and a plague of mice was sent over the land (ib. vi. 5; the Septuagint, v. 6). The affliction of boils was also visited upon the people of Gath and of Ekron, whither the Ark was successively removed (ib. v. 8-12). After the Ark had been among them seven months, the Philistines, on the advice of their diviners, returned it to the Israelites, accompanying its return with an offering consisting of golden images of the boils and mice with which they had been afflicted. The Ark was put down in the field of Joshua the Beth-shemite, and the Beth-shemites offered sacrifices and burnt offerings (ib. vi. 1-15). Out of curiosity the men of Beth-shemesh gazed at [A. V. “looked into”] the Ark; and as a punishment over fifty thousand of them were smitten by the Lord (ib. 19). The Bethshemites sent to Kirjath-jearim, or Baal-Judah, to have the Ark removed (ib. 21); and it was taken thither to the house of Abinadab, whose son Eleazar was sanctified to keep it (ib. vii. 1). Kirjath-jearim was the abode of the Ark for twenty years (ib. 2). Under Saul the Ark was with the army before he first met the Philistines, but the king was too impatient to consult it before engaging in the battle (ib. xiv. 18, 19). In I Chron. xiii. 3 it is stated that the people were not accustomed to consult the Ark in the days of Saul.”
Another sun image when they emerge from the Well/Underworld. Indy has undergone a ritual death-enlightenment-burial-resurrection like Osiris (masonry). From there, Indy rides a submarine (somehow?) to a Nazi secret island off of Greece. One thinks of the use of Phraxos (based on Spetses) by Nazis John Fowles’ The Magus, as well as the secret Nazi base in the Antarctic. The Nazis lead a kind of ritual exodus procession like the Jews, and attempt to engineer the use of the Ark in a test run, only to discover that it is not a magical talisman as even the apostate Israelites thought. The Ark ends up in a huge facility somewhere like Area 51, supposedly housing craters full of secrets.
The lightning storm cloud of God comes (Psalm 18) when Indy finds the actual well of souls, and foreshadows the final scene where the Nazis get zapped. Psalm 18 describes in figurative language the presence of God:
13The Lord thundered from heaven, And the Most High uttered His voice, Hailstones and coals of fire.
14 He sent out His arrows and scattered the foe, Lightnings in abundance, and He vanquished them.
15 Then the channels of the sea were seen, The foundations of the world were uncovered.
At Your rebuke, O Lord, At the blast of the breath of Your nostrils.”