By: Jennifer Sodini and Jay Dyer
Nostalgia is defined as the “sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations.” The feeling can sometimes be evoked from music, a pleasant memory of the past, or any sensory perception that was crystallized in time by a fondly experienced moment. An extremely powerful medium for evoking nostalgia is film, because it has the ability to touch our consciousness on multiple levels, as well as on a deeper, subconscious level we are not even aware of until we intentionally take a look back and analyze.
Fantasy and sci/fi films in particular tend to evoke the affectionate feeling of nostalgia, as well as whimsy, because of the fantastical dreamscapes and imagery they contain. Analyzing the deeper subliminal messages encoded within these films, we find there may be a “hidden hand” at work that intentionally orchestrated esoteric subplots whose roots can be found in ancient hermetic teaching/mystery school tradition.
Below I’ve compiled a list, along with Jay Dyer of Jay’s Analysis, which explains the subtext and symbolism of some of our favorite films.
Theosophy is a system of esoteric philosophy concerning the mysteries of being and nature, particularly concerning the nature of divinity. “The Secret Doctrine” by HP Blavatsky, published in 1888, is viewed by many as the text responsible for the New Age movement. The sister of Theosophy, Anthroposophy, developed by Rudolf Steiner, shares a similar ethos, yet can be more related to Spirit Science as opposed to New Age.
So, how does The Neverending Story relate to these concepts? Let’s explore…
In The Neverending Story, the central symbolic image is the ouroboros. Protagonaist Bastian encounters a magician in a bookstore and attempts to read his occult wonderworking text, The Neverending Story, replete with an Ouroboros on the cover. As it turns out, Bastian is himself written into, and participates in, the process of creating this story. In literature studies, this is known as metafiction, where the narrative is taken to another level – an appropriate usage in this case, since the view of alternate worlds and and all possible worlds comes into play. This is significant because the film is working from a paradigm in which notions of a multi-verse ends up necessitating that all possibilities are eventually made actual. The Ouroboros symbolizes this concept in ancient religions, as well as in gnosticism and hermeticism with the notion of eternal return.
We discover that Bastian must ultimately must rename the Empress, giving her the name of his dead mother, who we find out is called “Moon Child.” Bastian screams “Moon Child!” when Fantasia is imploding, and “Moonchild” has the occult association with a novel by Aleister Crowley. Its usage also links the Empress with Bastian’s mother, or the feminine sophia archetype. Indeed, research into the scheme author Michael Ende drew up for Fantasia reveals that the Empress is the feminine embodiment of the spirit of Fantasia. She is then the “soul of the world,” or the anima mundi, in Platonic parlance. It is also interesting that she appears as a kind of Venus or Aphrodite, as well as being associated with vaginal imagery. She is the virgin queen sophia, who lacks the male principle – a role Bastian must fill when Fantasia is re-created after the chaos of the Nothing.
Like Close Encounters of the Third Kind, E.T. is loaded with esoteric and conspiratorial clues and messages, but also has its own unique emphasis, providing 80’s youths with a new approach to the issue of other-worldly beings. That is also the theme of E.T., though with E.T. the imagery is intended to evoke the subconscious of the youth. Close Encounters is an adult’s story, while E.T. is for kids. Both films focus heavily on communication, language, and symbols, and involve complex usages of synchronicity, foreshadowing, and occult symbology.
For example, moon imagery comes to the fore with E.T., and in the iconic scenes we can derive a deeper meaning: it is significant that it is under the moon that Elliot first encounters E.T. The moon has an important role in mythology, regulating the female ovulatory cycle, and is thus associated with femininity. In astrology, the moon has a direct influence on human actions, and here, as a possible “moonchild,” Elliot encounters what will be his familiar. My contention with E.T. is that he is more like a familiar spirit than an “alien.” In classical descriptions of the familiar, the spirit can be associated with an animal. Is Elliot a kind of “Moonchild,” referencing the Crowleyan mythology of a demonic insemination? Elliot is spoken of as chosen, and through E.T. will have magical powers.
Set in a mythical world like Fantasia, The Dark Crystal is Jim Henson’s mystical puppet masterpiece. Focusing on the notion of a 1,000 year cycle, this world is premised on a Hindu theme, similar to the doctrine of Kali Yuga, where we are currently entering an age dominated by chaos, the demonic, strife, and discord. This is also similar to the notion espoused by other occultists that this is the aeon of the child, or of Horus, etc. Occultist Madame Blavatsky also formulated theories of numerous other races and worlds that preceded our own, and the Babylonian Talmud mentioned such ideas as well. It becomes evident that Henson, like Lucas, borrowed heavily from the mythology of various cultures in constructing this narrative.
Eastern dualist conceptions occupy a prominent role in the film, where the Skekses represent the left hand path of severity and cruelty, control and empire, while the “gentle mystics” represent the “gentle ways of natural wizards.” The Skekses are harbingers of technology and power, harnessing the Dark Crystal for the purpose of advanced control mechanisms and even brainwashing, while the mystics are in tune with nature and the forest. The Mystics chant the Buddhist “Om,” further reinforcing the eastern religious conceptions, while the Skekses are busy enacting the “Ceremony of the Sun” for the passing of the Emperor, which brings to mind ancient imperial Egyptian theology and its identification of Pharaoh as son of Ra.
Jim Henson and George Lucas’ Labyrinth hearkens back to the labyrinth of classical mythology, as well as relating to the perennial journey of the hero on his quest to the underworld. One can see how the transference of the earthen labyrinth and abyss-like waterways can be read as an allegory of the unconscious mind, the underworld of Hades and death, as well as being associated with the worlds in which we enter in our dream state. This astral realm, intimately connected to the realm of the subconscious, is the wellspring from which the archetypes of experience spring, corresponding to the archetypal forms in the outer world of phenomenal experience, as we will see below.
Upon entering the labyrinth, 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, the author 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)
5. The Last Unicorn, the film, is based on a book of the same name by Peter S. Beagle, and was produced by Rankin Bass in 1982. The film follows the story of a unicorn who goes on a quest to find out what happened to the others of her kind, after she learns that she is the last of her species. She is guided by a butterfly, who tells her that a demonic creature named the Red Bull herded the remaining unicorns to the edge of Earth.
Following a more fantastical and whimsical storyline, it seems the film/book may have found its roots from a series of tapestries entitled The Hunt of the Unicorn which date back to 1495 – 1505. The tapestry is the allegorical representation of the Passion of the Christ, where the unicorn (aka: the Christ) is hunted, captured, and killed, only to be resurrected and revered.
The unicorn of the film goes through the similar stages, as in the beginning she finds herself hunted/captured when a witch named Mommy Fortuna, finds her and puts her on display in her Midnight Carnival. She eventually escapes with the help of a wizard named Schmendrick, and the two become traveling companions as she continues her journey to find the Red Bull. Eventually they find him, and he presents himself as a fire elemental – an interesting nod to the notion of the devil being the opponent of the pure of heart (the Christ). When they encounter the Red Bull, Schmendrick does a magic trick on the unicorn to protect her from harm, and he transforms her into a human, mortal being, named Almathea, thus experiencing her immortal death. As the story continues to unfold – Almathea begins to forget her immortal nature as the unicorn, and she finds herself eventually falling in love with a prince named Lír.
Struggling to remember her true identity, and reason for embarking on the journey in the first place…she contemplates abandoning her quest completely for the sake of love. However, Lír dissuades her and as the story climaxes – the Red Bull finds her again, kills Lír, and Schmendrick transforms Amalthea back into the unicorn, the resurrection, which allows her to kill the bull, set the other unicorns free, and magically revive Lír.
The movie ends as the unicorn departs back to the forest, and says goodbye to her love. Both now mortal and alone, the love they will carry is what renders both immortal in the spiritual sense – and is the way they are able to revere one another through all eternity, through the sacred heart.
Raiders begins with an image of the mountain/high place, which is 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 Israelites would offer sacrifices to the “gods.” This trend is consistent in many alien motifs, where aliens are essentially interchangeable with traditional religious conceptions of the “gods.” Spielberg especially has utilized this idea, 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.
In the iconic Map Room scene, Indy discovers the location of the Ark of the Covenant. The Staff of Ra lights up the entire chamber, wherein there is a replica of the ancient city itself. Anubis figures prominently on the wall and in Egyptology is associated with embalming 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). In a famous Socratic dialogue, Plato has Socrates say both “by the dog of Egypt” and “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, to 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 mimics a Masonic ceremony wherein the initiate seeks “light.” Indy, like Moses, has now known the “mysteries of Egypt.” (see Acts 7:22).
A thread common to many esoteric analyses of film is the notion that the occult symbols seem to find their roots in Freemasonry/Theosophy. The same goes for The Wizard of Oz, as the author of the childhood classic, L. Frank Baum, was a noted member of the Theosophical society. The story follows Dorothy, a normal farm-girl from Kansas, who gets swept away by a tornado and brought to the mythical/mysterious land of Oz. She travels the Yellow Brick Road with her dog/spirit familiar Toto (an apparent nod to The Fool card of the Major Arcana), to find her way to the wonderful wizard of Oz, who is somewhere over the rainbow in the Emerald City, all of which can be viewed as an allegorical representation of the soul’s path to illumination.
The Yellow Brick Road, on the other hand, can be viewed as the concept of “The Golden Path” as discussed in Buddhist teaching (a key component in Theosophy), but it is also interesting to note that the color yellow is representative of the solar plexus, the emotional center where the heart and head meet (ego). The path of the Yellow Brick Road is shaped as an outwardly expanding spiral, and it is believed that the spiral represents the evolving self, where the soul ascends from matter into the spirit world. As Dorothy makes her way down the road she wears a pair of ruby slippers, which is an interesting color choice given that red is also representative of the chakra color which corresponds to the energy of our connection with the Earth, carrying the promise of survival. The companions she meets along the way – The Scarecrow, The Cowardly Lion, and the Tin Man – all appear to be fragmented aspects of her psyche. The Scarecrow believes he is without a brain, the Tin Man believes he is without a heart, and the Cowardly Lion believes he is without courage. The three components these friends seem to lack are three of the qualities an initiate to the great mysteries must possess in order ascend to the next level of understanding. The companions believe that if they brave the path together, the Wizard they are destined to meet will give them what they are searching for.
Amidst twists and turns, good witches and bad witches, munchkins and flying monkeys galore, they reach their destination, the Emerald City. Green here is an intentional color choice, as the Emerald City is representative of the heart chakra, which carries the power of love and the transformation of ego. As Dorothy followed her ego (the Yellow Brick Road), was guided by the desires of her base chakra (the ruby slippers), she reached her heart (The Emerald City) to find that the power of transformation was within her (and her friends) all along. The wizard was no wizard at all, beyond the smoke and mirrors – he was no different than they, and the great illumination came from the knowledge of the power of the true self and the heart, gnosis.
This 1984 classic comedy/horror film tells the story of a Christmas present gone awry. The word Gremlin itself is defined as an “imaginary mischievous sprite regarded as responsible for an unexplained problem or fault, especially a mechanical or electronic one.”
Pinocchio was originally written by Carlo Lorenzini (known by his pen name, Carlo Collodi) between 1881 and 1883 in Italy. An active Freemason, Lorenzini encoded metaphysical and esoteric concepts in the story of the wooden marionette who turns into a real boy.
The Disney film took artistic and creative license by adapting the original story to something more suitable to their tastes, however the fundamental elements and moral still remain. We find the movie beginning with Geppetto, a lonely woodcarver that desperately wishes for a son of his own. His house is filled with clocks, an homage to the illusion of time which has not served him well. To satiate his loneliness, he turns a piece of wood into a marionette with human-like features, and although the marionette brings him joy, he wishes in his heart of hearts that his creation could transform into a real child.
The irony of being the creator as the artist, unable to create his masterpiece (a son), has Gepetto wishing upon a star to turn Pinocchio into a “real boy,” or esoterically speaking, the illuminated man.
The “Blue Fairy” descends to earth and gives Pinocchio the gift of life and free will – but he is not exactly a “real boy.” His task is to prove himself to be brave, truthful, and unselfish – a similar theme to The Wizard of Oz’s notion of gnosis (self-knowledge) through courage, heart, self-reliance, and will.
Masonic teaching presents the process of illumination as the alchemical ideal of turning base metal into gold, or rough stone into smooth stone. In this case, it is Pinocchio who is being transformed as he begins his initiation into higher consciousness (illumination) as the rough piece of wood, needing to experience the way of the world before becoming a real boy. He finds himself presented with a series of temptations of Earthly pleasures (money, fortune, fame), but with Jiminy Cricket acting as his conscience, he is guided to eventually find the right path, but only through experience, and experience alone.
The story finds Pinocchio being lured to “Pleasure Island,” a place where children eat, drink, smoke, fight, and destroy at will – where school and law no longer exist, in a seeming antithetical nod to the essential Masonic text, Albert Pike’s “Morals and Dogma.” In this part of the story Pinocchio turns into a donkey, which in esoteric terms is the personification of the stubborn animal locked in the material world, ignoring his true spiritual nature.
Eventually the climax occurs when Pinocchio realizes the error of his ways and returns home to reunite with Gepetto – but the house is empty, and Gepetto has been swallowed by a giant whale. This is, of course, a metaphorical nod to the story of Jonah and the Whale, which has its own occult significance. Manly P. Hall explains:
“When used as a symbol of evil, the fish represented the earth (man’s lower nature) and the tomb (the sepulcher of the Mysteries). Thus was Jonah three days in the belly of the ‘great fish,’ as Christ was three days in the tomb. Several early church fathers believed that the ‘whale’ which swallowed Jonah was the symbol of God the Father, who, when the hapless prophet was thrown overboard, accepted Jonah into His own nature until a place of safety was reached. The story of Jonah is really a legend of initiation into the Mysteries, and the ‘great fish’ represents the darkness of ignorance which engulfs man when he is thrown over the side of the ship (is born) into the sea (life).”
Pinocchio sacrifices himself by jumping into the belly of the beast (the whale), where he saves Gepetto, and emerges into the light. Thus proving his spiritual worth through the initiation phases of trial and error, forgoing temptation and sacrificing for love.
In the end, the Blue Fairy allows Gepetto’s wish to come true, as Pinocchio is granted the ability to become a real boy, and Jiminy Cricket receives a solid gold badge, a seeming indication that his role as Pinocchio’s conscience allowed his base consciousness to alchemically transform into gold (illumination).
Herbert’s novel, adapted into a film by David Lynch, is a fantastical blend of Islamic mysticism and imagery that immediately brings to mind ancient Afghani Sufism. The the opium trade has long been a center of global chess moves, particularly with the British Empire’s control and use of opium and its Great Game espionage maneuvers with Russia. Herbert is clearly aware of this global alignment and includes these very human drives in his futuristic, anti-imperial novel. The novel immediately made me think of Gould and Fitzgerald’s famous Invisible History, which details the importance of Afghanistan in Middle Eastern power moves, not just due to its centrality for the drug trade, but also due to its crucial “mystical” significance.
The narrative’s focus on ecology is also a rebuke to modern scientism which presumptuously enacts the rape of nature and mankind with no concern for an ecosystem that is part of a natural process. All natural hierarchies are restored by Paul Muad’dib and only under this hieratic order is true freedom restored. Paul and the “free-men” represent the masculine order placed back in power under which health and a blossomed, terraformed Dune emerge from a wasteland. This is also why Paul undergoes the Shai-Hulud (Old Father Eternity) worm bile ritual, wherein he experiences a crossing of the abyss to enter that place where the Bene Gesserit Sisterhood “cannot go.” When Muad’dib returns from this death/resurrection ritual, he is apotheosized to bring and end to the rule of the female power and the unrighteous. It is also worth noting that the imperial power sees mankind as a “disease” that must be eradicated through population control. The Sisterhood evidences this, too, with their attempt to engineer the kwisatz haderach. The Harkonnen follow suit with young boy sex slaves, as well as the imperial power brainwashing noble house servants and assassins for programmed missions. Here Herbert hints at programs like MKULTRA and human trafficking that are very real evils in modernity, though they are given little mainstream press attention.
As we explore the esoteric meaning of the subliminal messages encoded within these classics, although seemingly stranger than fiction, the spiritual morals of each seem to carry the same ethos – know yourself, and you will know the world, know the world, and there you will find enlightenment. The art of film is a medium that can convey complex ideas on a deeper level that we are unaware of, yet it also brands fond memories into our hearts. It is only until we analyze these films that we find the exact reason for why they tug on our heart strings in the first place.
Special thanks to Jay Dyer of Jay’s Analysis for collaborating with us!
Check out my interview with Jennifer on MKULTRA and pop culture on her podcast here.