Participatory Spirituality for the 21st Century
2014 is the 75th anniversary of the 1939 MGM movie "The Wizard of Oz," which as many know was partially based on L. Frank Baum's children's novel of the same name. What some may not know, however, is that L. Frank Baum was a known theosophist and that this novel has parallels and connections to many aspects of Theosophy. This, therefore, makes the movie fertile ground for a number of interpretations, from the cultural to the metaphysical to the post-metaphysical.
I'll start off with some observations and interpretations of the main characters:
Dorothy Gale: Knocked unconscious and dreaming, she wakes up in her waking dream that she is in a magical land called "Oz," where she discovers that she's already killed the Witch of the East (leaving that position vacant). Figuratively unconscious, her journey is ultimately towards awakening and awareness. Analogically, this is a journey from BELOW to ABOVE and through her travels ultimately becomes a symbolic return to the EAST.
Glinda the Good Witch of the North: The first major character she meets in Oz is Glinda the good witch of the North (in the original children's book, she was the good witch of the South). Throughout the movie, Glinda acts as a kind of guide or mentor helping Dorothy with what to DO next. Wear the ruby slippers (former property of the Witch of the East, now deceased), take the yellow brick road, see the Wizard, click your heels together, etc... As an aid to volition, action and Will, Glinda is analogically functioning in the capacity of NORTH.
The Wicked Witch of the West (WWotW): The story's antagonist and opposition character to Dorothy. the WWotW represents oppression and the negative side of Karma and Fate. Dorothy is fated to have a final encounter with the WWotW. This is the collision of Fate verses Dorothy's Destiny which is to awaken and return Home. The WWofW represents the WEST, symbolic of the cycles of cause and effect, and thus fate and karma. Can Dorothy escape the fate that the WWotW has in store for her, or will she achieve her destiny? Not without some help from her friends.
The Scarecrow: The first ally she meets is the Scarecrow. Scatterbrained and without direction, he is in search of a brain representing intelligence and awareness. Dorothy suggests that the Wizard will help give him a brain, and so they journey together to see the Wizard. The Scarecrow at first appears witless and in this way appears to parallel Dorothy's real unconscious state (BELOW), but in his quest for intelligence he is moving in the direction towards the ABOVE of awakening. Scarecrow: from BELOW to ABOVE.
The Tin Man: Next the meet a rusted solid and immovable Tin Man with an axe in his hand. They help get him moving again by applying oil from an oilcan which is nearby. The Tin Man tells them that the tinsmith forgot to give him a heart, and Dorothy suggests that the Wizard can give him one, and so all three go off together down the yellow brick road. The Tin Man of steel and action with his axe is an analogue to the direction NORTH. But he is in search of a heart which is analogous to the direction SOUTH. So the Tin Man's journey is from NORTH to SOUTH. His journey is from being an Object or tool to becoming a Subject.
The Cowardly Lion: Counterpoised to the Tin Man, the group next meets up with the Lion, who at first appears fearsome, but when pressed is found to have no backbone. He quickly breaks down crying and admits that he is lacking in courage. The Lion's journey is the complement to that of the Tin Man, for the Lion is on the path from the SOUTH to NORTH. He has heart and subjectivity (SOUTH), but like Hamlet, he lacks the STRENGTH of WILL to ACT (NORTH) in the face of difficulty.
Finally, we have the Wizard of Oz himself. Throughout most of the movie, he represents a mysterious and withdrawn force, someone very powerful, but also hidden. When they first meet him, he is a paradox, having the appearance of omnipotence, but demanding an impossible suicide mission of them in return for an apparently small favor. The Wizard demands that they bring him the broomstick of the Wicked Witch of the West, which the Scarecrow correctly deduces would require that they kill her. The Wizard represents the withdrawn CENTER, that place of paradox and nonduality. He is both all powerful and totally impotent at the same time. He is both that height of wisdom and power sought for through most of the film and also the most ordinary common man (as will ultimately be revealed).
So in summary we have:
fixed NORTH: Gilda
fixed WEST: Wicked Witch
Below to Above: Dorothy
Below to Above: Scarecrow
North to South: Tin Man
South to North: Cowardly Lion
But there is one direction missing, and that is the EAST. It is not until Dorothy has developed awareness, shown empathy, strengthened her will, traveled to the WEST to defeat the Wicked Witch of Fate, and then moved to the CENTER to confront the paradox of the Wizard, that she finally comes into possession of what the EAST represents. She is now ready to consciously wield the power of the imagination and return home.
Gilda advises her one last time on what action to take. Dorothy then clicks her ruby slippers together (the slippers are on her feet, which astrologically & symbolically are ruled by Pisces in which Venus - EAST- the Imagination- is exalted). Matured from her journey and having developed the necessary faculties, she is now in full possession of the imagination required to return home.
So to complete her travels we have for Dorothy:
Below (dream) to Above (Scarecrow's journey) to North (Tin Man's journey) to South (Lion's journey) to West (confront the Witch) to Center (confront the Wizard) to East (Ruby Slippers and home).
Oh, here's an alternate point of view on Gilda the so-called "Good Witch" of the North:
And there's this "alternate" ending:
Very interesting, Joe; thanks for posting this here. (I was just thinking about you the other day, wondering what projects you might be working on.) I heard they recently released a 3-D version of this movie, which played at a limited number of IMAX theaters. I didn't see it but heard a rave review from a friend.
Yes, I just got the 75th Anniversary Ultimate Collector's Edition in the mail today as a birthday gift for the Mrs.
Still working on the same project, developing it further. Hope to publish a paper in the near future.
Great -- please let us know about the paper, once it is published / available.
I always hated this movie when I was a child -- and for one reason in particular. It was the scene in which she "wakes" and observes that the other world was populated by people who look just like those in her real world. Today I appreciate this interplay differently, but at the time I was quite unsatisfied with the "cop out" suggest that it might all have been a dream. This was not a feature of the books. Rather than allowing the two ranges of experience to simply coexist in a puzzling fashion the "steam was let out" by providing a structural opportunity to place the Other World in the all-too-familiar category of dream material.
The cowardly lions of the film industry have a reactionary tendency toward renormalization which often runs the risk of subtracting from the psychogenic potency of the artwork. The second Star Wars trilogy, despite its many other flaws, suffers dramatically from the fact that Vader's helmet was removed in Return of the Jedi. A certain mythic field effect is deactivated and returns only when the helmet clicks back into place at the end of Revenge of the Sith.
The utility of mythic communication is not simply a function of the fact that it presents a more or less comprehensive set of archetypal variables which can be consciously or unconsciously assimilated by viewers. It also depends on the amounts of pressure which the "machine" can hold. Bathos is always lurking, waiting to undo the pathos-of-reality, waiting to renormalize.