By Alex Rivera
Beware of Spoilers! Please watch Mother! before reading this article. This article is also R-rated.
The surreal, fever-dream film Mother! by Darren Aronofsky, contains many allusions to Kabbalism, Jungian psychoanalysis and Gnosticism—particularly Simonianism. As many other film reviews have correctly identified, JLaw/Jennifer Laurance or “Her” as the fallen Sophia-Achamoth, Shekinah or Ennoia. Her husband, “Him”, is, of course, the father god but also a sort of demiurge figure equivalent to Jehovah or Yahweh of the Old Testament. We know from other films, we can certainly infer that the director of Mother!, Darren Aronofsky is a Kabbalist. In particular, we see films like Noah, The Black Swan, The Fountain and Pi, all four of which also have strong Kabbalistic inclinations spread throughout each film.
If the Fountain was about ascending to Kether through the sephiroth’s of the Tree of Life, Mother! was certainly about descending down into Malkuth. Indeed, there are many layers of meaning of subtext placed in the film and even in certain key scenes. While there are many interesting and correct interpretations of the film, I will offer my own analysis based on the Kabbalistic mysteries. We first encounter a young woman (that looks a lot like Emma Watson) as a dying and smoldering crispy critter and then we are soon treated to scenes of a burnt house becoming renovated or regenerated spontaneously, including a brand new version of “Her” (but slightly different), as if she is trapped in some sort of wheel of fate shaped like the Ouroboros or eternal re-occurrence of Nietzsche.
Enter In: The Gates of “Him,” Papa Javier
One might sum up the movie in a few words: “The baby is Jesus, the son of JLaw, who is Mother Nature. Mother Nature is in an emotionally abusive relationship with God, and oh yeah people destroy her house and eat her baby.” But even this puerile description is outweighed by the theological implications laid out throughout the film. We also encounter Javier Bardem as actually listed or credited as “Him” in the film and the Lord of the microcosm of the universe being the octagon-shaped house. Interestingly, there is an octagon shape inside a white flower, right next to JLaw’s waist, who holds out her heart, a sort of twisted mockery of the Immaculate Heart of Mary imagery we see in Catholicism.
This is explicitly stated by several of the technicians of the film in my Blu-Ray copy of Mother!, since Aronofsky stated that the house ultimately represented the human brain or the mind. We must also keep in mind that the octagon has several meanings attached to the shape. The octagon is, of course, an eight-sided polygon. The sum of all the internal angles of any octagon is 1080°. As with all polygons, the external angles total 360°. One can deduce that the house represents the Mind of God as well as both the material and spiritual universes. In a way, it also represents the human soul as well. JLaw and Papa Javier also symbolize the feminine and male aspects of the soul or the psyche, as Carl Jung’s Anima and Animus. The guests and invaders could also represent one’s neurotic tendencies and even invading evil spirits.
When an unclean spirit comes out of a man, it passes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ On its return, it finds the house swept clean and put in order. hen it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they go in and dwell there. And the final plight of that man is worse than the first” (Luke 11:24-26).
However, reading certain Old Testament passages like Proverbs (3:19) gives us a clue about Yahweh’s and Wisdom’s relationship. This is mirrored in the Canaanite El and Asherah/Astarte/Ishtar/Inanna, the mother goddess of fertility and the queen of heaven. The couple is completed with Baal, thus forming the Canaanite Trinity. Asherah worship is eventually transferred and survived in Theotokos/Sophia worship in Orthodox Christianity.
The LORD by wisdom has founded the earth; by understanding has he established the heavens.
When Michelle Pfeiffer’s character confronts her about JLaw’s role in renovating the house, she responds by saying “I wanted to make a paradise. I love the work.” There are also few explicit shots of Javier looking down from the staircase, below. The staircase itself could be a reference to Jacob’s ladder as told in Genesis 28:12 (KJV):
…[Jacob] dreamed, and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven… [and he saw] the angels of god ascending and descending on it. And he was afraid, and said, ‘How dreadful is this place! This is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.’
Jacob’s Ladder is a spiritual gateway that leads from earth to heaven. Javier’s writer office space can be seen as Eden since he has JLaw’s crystal heart displayed as a trophy for all to see. The crystal, however, is shattered when a star-struck Adam and Eve (played by Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer) enter the house and shatter the prized crystal possession. Some have identified the crystal with the forbidden fruit. If this is true, then it would mean that the forbidden fruit was planted by God himself and perhaps even by Sophia as well since in Gnostic texts like On the Origin of the World, Sophia, through the serpent imparts the fruit of wisdom, illumination and gnosis. Trees are also associated with the mother-goddess as Proverbs plainly says this in 3:18. This idea is fully explored in the film The Fountain. This is not the only instance of an inanimate object being shattered. There are at least three or four scenes of different people, including JLaw dropping dishes and them breaking into pieces.
One cannot escape the affinities provided by the Medieval kabbalist Isaac Luria (1534-1572) who taught that God withdrew or contracted in himself in order to free space for creation or the “breaking of the vessels”—that is, the interruption of godly procession and the invasion of the “spiritual channels” or “aeons” by the lower aeons, being matter. This leads to the appearance of Evil: the qliphoth, shards or “shells” of the lower aeons, fallen down in the void of space. In a way, this is what also occurs in the film as well, as the chaos of the qliphoth or the “tree of death” unfolds and is conquered again by Javier and JLaw’s interactions. (We’ll get to this later).
Each “sefirot” or aeon gives birth to a succeeding lower sefirot or aeon. This relates to the Kabbalistic “four worlds” (World of Emanation, World of Creation, World of Formation, World of Action) where the ten sefirots emanate in a “chain of being.” Each succeeding sefirot progressively becomes denser and grosser—further removed from the consciousness of the Divine, until it is possible to deny any existence of God. This is similar to how the Gnostics imagined the physical universe as being a result from the fallen Sophia’s psychic Anguish as being described as an “abortion” for being the original building blocks of the first universe. This factoid is an important point, as we will see later.
Each succeeding “heaven” according to the Gnostics were ruled over by seven archons or cosmocrators which the Gnostic initiate must overcome by rehearsing magical passwords and prayers of Grace via Sophia and the Invisible Mystery God, in the astral universe (such as Celsus’s Ophite Gnostics). The Divine essentially made an empty or kenomic space for the manifest world to incarnate. Over at Theomagica, in the article, “On the Nature of the Qliphoth” the author explains the process of the precision of creation and the fall of light or spirit in the inferno of matter.
Into this vacuum of non-being the Divine released a single ray of light. This ray of light emerged from the Ain Soph Aur, entered into the empty space of creation and started to bring forth the matrix of all life in ten distinct emanations. These emanations are illustrated as ten ‘first-lights’ which the author of the Sefer Yetzirah introduces by the name of Sephira (singular) or Sephiroth (plural).
One by one, each light would be captured in a vessel made of clay in order to transfer their state of pure being into one of becoming and creation. Each vessel had a specific name, function and shape, perfectly expressing the idea of creation it represented and brought to life by the light it captured. The sequence of filling these vessels with light is called Seder Hishtalshelus (the order of development).
This process went well for the first four Sephiroth, which all came forth from the veil of non-being into the vacuum of creation. The shell of the fifth Sephira, however, turned out to be not solid enough in order to capture the light that emanated into it. The fifth point or light and vessel in the sequence of creation was dedicated to the idea of Strength or Severity (hebrew, Geburah). Thus the clay vessel broke due to the overflowing light of Strength in it and the process of creation continued with the remaining five Sephiroth.
Yet, even though creation continued the original vessel of Geburah couldn’t be restored. This, finally, is the way how evil managed to enter into creation by shape of untamed Strength or Severity. This momentous event during the first ten emanations is called Schebirath ha-Kelim (hebrew, breaking of the vessels) and marks the birth of the ten original demonic forces, called Qliphoth (hebrew, shells).
The broken parts of the original vessel of Geburah sank down to the bottom of the Zimzum space of creation. Just like droplets of oil remain on the surface of a broken clay vessel the light of creation remained captured on these shells. It is these remains of divine light which are the reason why the broken shells weren’t lifeless but filled with a shadow-like yet highly effective state of demonic being. This process lays open the essential nature of the Qliphoth according to Lurianic Kabbalah. Just like flames devour its own aliment while burning, the only reason for the Qliphoth to come into being were the original sparks of divine light captured on their shells.
The second poster associated with Papa Javier can be equated with how the Gnostic Naassenes describe the Demiurge as a fiery god as well (Hippolytus. Refutation of All Heresies 5.2), which also corresponds to burning bush of Moses in Exodus 3,2 and God’s voice booming from a fiery mountain or volcano also in Exodus 19 and Deuteronomy 4, 11-12. The title “Papa” is actually a Phrygian Gnostic term that is also used in the Mithraic mysteries (Pater) and in Catholicism (St. Peter), where the Roman Emperor Pope is also called “Papa.” In Simonian Gnosis, according to Hippolytus, God is equated to the invisible, noetic or intellectual fire of Zoroaster, Heraclitus, Plato, Aristotle, the Stoics, Empedocles, the Orphics and of Moses’ statement of God being a “burning and a consuming fire” (Deuteronomy 4:24; Hippolytus Refutation of All Heresies 4.4). However, one cannot escape the sinister imagery in the background of the poster as well, since you do see faces of people (or demons?) in the flames enveloping around Papa Javier. Is this a not-so-subtle nod to Papa Javier’s role actually belongs to Hades or the Devil?
In Simonianism, the world is produced by angels and powers stemming from the Ennoia, the first Thought of the first Father. These angels contest the ruler-ship of the world among themselves and thus the world is governed in a chaotic way. In the same way, we see Papa Javier invite all the guests to vie for power and control over the house and the attention of Javier. The angels seize their Mother (Ennoia) and hold her hostage out of jealousy that she is not taken for someone else.
And so as the Simonian story goes, we see Ennoia prevented from returning back to heaven to the Father and in order to weigh her down, they place her in a human body and transmigrates from one woman’s body to another, just like how we see JLaw wakes up again in a Groundhog’s Day-styled cycle/eternal return. Also, note JLaw’s beauty and how Helen of Troy was also considered to be one of Ennoia’s incarnations. Michelle Pfeiffer’s character also notices this as well. (More on this later.)
Eventually, Ennoia is reincarnated in the form of a prostitute in a brothel in Tyre. Simon Magus was sort of a magical Christ figure, who was called the “Great Power” to purchase her from her destitution. He could either be the proto-Gnostic version of Jesus Christ or a brother of Jesus Christ himself if we are to believe the Clementine literature, since both Jesus and Simon are baptized (initiated) by John the Baptist. This story was a common allegory of the fate the noble intellect imprisoned in the body in the cycles of transmigration. To be incarnated means to be prostituted to matter and the powers that rule over it. Simon Magus isn’t represented in the film unless you count Papa Javier as one since he happens to contain and keep JLaw/Ennoia’s spirit represented by the crystal, hidden inside her heart like some sort of token or trophy. There is strong Christ and Mariam symbolism in the crystal heart.
Returning to Papa Javier, according to Hippolytus (Refutation of All Heresies 5.3), the Phrygians and Naassene Gnostics called the “Perfect Man” by the epithet of “Papa.” This is also an epithet for the Roman Mithras and the Orphic Phanes or Aion as well. The “Perfect Man” is actually a code-word for the Gnostic initiate himself since he is supposed to enter in the “celestial gate” that transforms the human soul into a god or into divinity via rebirth, much like the Orthodox idea of theosis.
Jacob, he says, saw this entrance and this gate in his journey into Mesopotamia, that is, when from a child he was now becoming a youth and a man; that is, (the entrance and gate) were made known unto him as he journeyed into Mesopotamia. But Mesopotamia, he says, is the current of the great ocean flowing from the midst of the Perfect Man; and he was astonished at the celestial gate, exclaiming, How terrible is this place! It is nought else than the house of God, and this (is) the gate of heaven. On account of this, he says, Jesus uses the words, I am the true gate. John 10:9; Matthew 7:13 Now he who makes these statements is, he says, the Perfect Man that is imaged from the unportrayable one from above.
The Perfect Man therefore cannot, he says, be saved, unless, entering in through this gate, he be born again. But this very one the Phrygians, he says, call also Papa, because he tranquillized all things which, prior to his manifestation, were confusedly and dissonantly moved. For the name, he says, of Papa belongs simultaneously to all creatures -celestial, and terrestrial, and infernal — who exclaim, Cause to cease, cause to cease the discord of the world, and make peace for those that are afar off, that is, for material and earthly beings; and peace for those that are near, Ephesians 2:17 that is, for perfect men that are spiritual and endued with reason. But the Phrygians denominate this same also corpse— buried in the body, as it were, in a mausoleum and tomb. This, he says, is what has been declared, You are whited sepulchres, full, he says, of dead men’s bones within, Matthew 23:27 because there is not in you the living man.
And again he exclaims, The dead shall start forth from the graves, Matthew 27:52-53 that is, from the earthly bodies, being born again spiritual, not carnal. For this, he says, is the Resurrection that takes place through the gate of heaven, through which, he says, all those that do not enter remain dead. These same Phrygians, however, he says, affirm again that this very (man), as a consequence of the change, (becomes) a god. For, he says, he becomes a god when, having risen from the dead, he will enter into heaven through a gate of this kind. Paul the apostle, he says, knew of this gate, partially opening it in a mystery, and stating that he was caught up by an angel, and ascended as far as the second and third heaven into paradise itself; and that he beheld sights and heard unspeakable words which it would not be possible for man to declare. 2 Corinthians 12:2
The name of the world creator is, in most cases, Ialdabaoth and Papa Javier certainly fits the bill. Certain Gnostics, such as the Archontics and another anonymous group mentioned by Epiphanius, prefer to call him Sabaoth, who is in some Coptic texts the repenting counterpart of the Demiurge. Hippolytus’s Peratics call him “assassin” or “murderer” according to John 8:44. This epithet isn’t necessarily meant for the angel Satan but for Yahweh instead as a God of judgment. (See: Isaiah 34:5-7).
In the Pistis Sophia, the Great Archon, tyrant of all cosmic tyrants, is called Adamas. But another heavenly Ruler, bears the name Authades, the Arrogant, which is elsewhere the epithet of the Demiurge Ialdabaoth. Authades emanates a lion-headed force in order to catch Pistis-Sophia’s spiritual energy. After having swallowed her Light-dynamis, an ambiguous metaphor for rape, the lion-headed monster is able to duplicate himself, producing Ialdabaoth, another demon made of Fire and Darkness. And all of this can be seen or interpreted from the ending of Mother! as well.
Interestingly, Adamas’ role as chief-ruler or demiurge also matches Ed Harris’s other roles he’s taken beside Adam, such as “Christof” the Demiurge-figure of The Truman Show and the “Man in Black” in the HBO show Westworld, which also has a strong-Gnostic outlook. The role of the Demiurge in Simonian thought is actually split into two. The Clementine Homilies (11.18.12) speak about two angels dispatched by the Simonian Great Power, one to create the world and one to give the Law; and a passage of the Recognitions mentions the creator of the world who claims to be God (Rec. I.2.57). The two angels-the world creator and the angel of the Torah-are present in Jewish tradition.
Our good old friend Hippolytus in Refutation of All Heresies (10.11), also tells us that another Gnostic, Justinus authored a book called the Book of Baruch, the worst of all heresies. Justinian Gnosticism introduces a trio of deities: the almighty Good, and two creator demiurges, one male (Elohim) and one female (Edem or Israel). These demiurges we might denominate “Father Sky” and “Mother Earth” and each displays both gender and sexual characteristics. It is their lustful sexual union that brings about heavenly beings such as various angels (including Satan, Naas, Leviathan, etc.), mankind, and the flora and fauna of the world. One can see certain Simonian ideas echoes in Justinus’ account with Ennoia giving birth to the angels and archons that eventually would turn on her. The two demiurges can be equated with Ouranos and Gaia of Greek myths found in Hesiod’s writings. The snake-angel Naas was also portrayed as the luminous being that created the tree of knowledge of good and evil and is even said to have had sex with both Adam and Eve, thus introducing adultery and sodomy into the human race.
While other Gnostic systems would portray the Demiurge, Yahweh as hopelessly evil, Justin allows his Demiurge to be redeemed. When the proud Elohim ventures into the heavens, he discovers the Good and is humbled. He then abandons Edem and their creation to devote himself entirely to the service of this almighty Good. The rest of the story tells of how revengeful Edem uses her angels to torment mankind, while Elohim is obliged to send, through his angel Baruch, familiar figures such as Moses, the prophets, Jesus, and even Hercules! Yes, you read that correctly—to turn the people back to Good. In a way, this Elohim and Eden’s relationship is also mirrored in Mother! However, JLaw’s role in the movie is a bit more passive in her relationship with Papa Javier as she plays the role of the victim but somehow knowingly, especially towards the end.
Stay tuned for Part II and the shocking conclusion of this article!
“Cliffhangers? You’re tearing me apart, Alex!”
For more on Alex’s Gnostic insights, please visit his site.
And certainly check out our interview with Rob Sullivan where we also discuss Mother!
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