By Chris Henley
(Read the first part of the series)
As the first verse of Hotel California begins, we find the protagonist traveling down a “dark desert highway”, destination unknown. This conjures a vision of someone (a prodigal child, perhaps?), that has left home to undertake a mysterious journey–or a special “mission,” which is mentioned later in the same verse. The exact reasons aren’t immediately obvious. However, in Gnostic myth, this is what happens to Sophia, who is described as a once-innocent child of God that leaves the house of her Father without her consort, who is the Christ:
Sophia’s departure stems from her desire to create something beautiful in honor of her father, who exists in perfection. However, unlike the rest of her heavenly brothers and sisters, she is the final “emanation” of her Father, lacking in the understanding and wisdom that comes from experience. Perfection therefore proves to be a hard thing to duplicate. So, what she comes up with is, of course, flawed. This fosters within her mind a sense of shame and envy and self-doubt, which in turn, become inherent within her plan.
But as the story goes, being the powerful cosmic force of nature that she was, Sophia’s will wasn’t idle. And so she gives birth to an ugly, wild beast of a thing. It has a terrifying countenance like that of a lion, with lightning for eyes, and a huge, coiling serpent of a body. In other words, it is a face only a mother could love. Thus, the young goddess leaves her eternal home and family, along with her “child”, and assumes the role of Cosmic Mother*, the creator of our material universe.
Subsequently, Sophia immerses herself fully in her own creation–spreading her sparks, her seeds, her divine energy–throughout reality. She gives herself freely to one and all, and soon forgets who she is and where she came from. Sadly, she becomes trapped in this vast, ever-recycling prison “of her own device.”
“…by attempting to conceptualize the Mystery, which is ‘inconceivable, uncontained and superior to all thought’, Sophia inevitably instead conceives ‘error’, which ‘like a dense fog, makes it impossible to see’. Mistaking her ideas for reality, Sophia becomes trapped in error or ignorance, a prisoner in a conceptual world of her own making.”
-Freke & Gandy, from Jesus and the Lost Goddess
On a microcosmic level, each human being was given a small piece of the Goddess’s creative soul within mind and heart, too. In fact, it is this very “divine spark” that gives us our psyche, our intellect. And it, too, by extension, is a lost prisoner in need of freedom, so that it may be restored “to the place it was before”. In Gnosticism, that perfect home of Sophia’s childhood is a spiritual dimension called the Pleroma. And it is from this original source that everything in existence has sprung.
The events described in Hotel California are more clearly understood then, if they are viewed from the perspective of one of these lost spiritual sparks.
*The word “matter” is derived from the Latin root mater, which means “mother.”
“On a dark desert highway, cool wind in my hair”
The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way.
-Matthew, 7: 13
The dark and the desert described here symbolize the transitional zone between the realm of pure energy and the sensible universe, i.e., the Pleroma (fullness) and the Kenoma (deficiency), respectively. This place is also known as the Ogdoad, the Eighth (heaven), or even the Rainbow Bridge of Norse mythology. It is the veil that separates innocence from experience, the realm of the gods from the world of humanity–and it is the symbolic hymen of the Cosmic Mother, through which new souls must pass in order to inhabit a body here on Earth. The fact that the way through it is a highway might even serve as a warning to the wise, as ancient Gnostics considered our world to be a form of Hades, Hell or the Underworld.
So, the wind perhaps indicates that this wandering traveler is moving closer to physical experience; it’s “condensing” and becoming more solid as it descends into matter. Thus, the very first human sense it experiences in this case is the feeling of touch and movement, in the form of a cool breeze.
“Warm smell of colitas, rising up through the air”
Next, the traveler smells the enticing scent of colitas, meaning “little tails”, which are either a pungent species of desert flower, or a Mexican slang term for the buds of the cannabis plant, depending on who you ask. Taken in context, one would assume it is probably the latter of the two, as cannabis is believed by some to be a mild entheogen. And according its Wikipedia entry, the word entheogen literally means “generating the divine within”, and “any psychoactive substance that induces a spiritual experience and is aimed at spiritual development.”
“Up ahead in the distance, I saw a shimmering light”
Now, the spirit can see the entrance to the cosmos as it closes in. (For anyone who is counting, that makes three of the five senses so far.) However, the shimmering quality of this light suggests it could be a mirage. And this is precisely what the Gnostics believed about the worlds of the material universe. I.e., they are flawed illusions, mere copies of the true transcendent dimensions of the Pleroma. Interestingly, modern theoretical scientists have recently posited the idea that our universe just might be a hologram, or some kind of extremely advanced virtual reality program.
“My head grew heavy and my sight grew dim, I had to stop for the night”
And I said to the Savior,’ What is the forgetfulness?’ And he said,’ It is not the way Moses wrote (and) you heard. For he said in his first book,’ He put them to sleep’, but (it was) in his perception. For also he said through the prophet,’ I will make their hearts heavy, that they may not pay attention and may not see.’
-from The Secret Book of John, in The Nag Hammadi Library
The spirit is becoming more and more like one of us now–heavier in heart, and less aware in mind. In other words, it is going from having a greatly expanded consciousness (that was previously in joyful union with the Universal Mind), to an individual, material body with perceptions severely limited by the five senses.
“There she stood in the doorway, I heard the mission bell”
Here, the traveler is greeted by the personification of fallen goddess Sophia, AKA, Acamoth, Mother Gaia, the world soul, the Scarlet Woman, the Whore of Babylon, etc. She beckons enticingly from the threshold of the Cave of the Cosmos with the sound of “mission bells”, which are also found in the towers of old Catholic missions throughout southern California.
They are rung for various reasons—like calling worshipers in for service, or summoning neophytes to work, or announcing a death, or the time of day. But more importantly, mission bells are rung to herald the birth of a child. This is a relevant point, as it seems the wanderer is on the verge of entering a body at last. (It is also of note that a church/temple is a symbol for the human form, both individually and collectively.)
“And I was thinking to myself, ‘This could be Heaven or this could be Hell'”
If we awaken to Christ Consciousness, we will know Heaven to be an ever-present reality….Heaven and Hell are both here and now, depending on whether we are spiritually dead or resurrected.
– Freke & Gandy, from Jesus and the Lost Goddess
This statement is plainly describing the dual nature of our reality. It clearly illustrates Don Henley’s assertion that the song is about the struggle of opposites: good and evil, dark and light, matter and spirit, innocence and experience, etc. Once again, to put this concept in Gnostic terms, our world is made from/of “the mixture”; it is divided against itself, and therefore needs to be healed and made whole again. In a nutshell, by thought and deed, all human souls play a part in creating Heaven on Earth, or making it a living Hell.
“Then she lit up a candle, and she showed me the way”
The soul of man is God’s candle.
Here, Sophia-Acamoth creates a human soul for the lost spirit to use as a dwelling–or traps it in a prison of matter, depending on your perspective. Either way, a new life is being ushered into the physical world.
But let’s rewind the story a bit… Remember Sophia’s “ugly child”? Well, he’s actually the boss after this point. He is the Demiurge, the “half-maker”, the smith who is in charge of making all physical things. He is called the “half-maker” because he only has real power over the body and the ego. He is also known as Yaldabaoth, Samael (the God of the Blind), and of course, Yahweh, the jealous, vengeful God of the Old Testament. One could look at it this way: Sophia is the Architect, and the Demiurge is the Mason. All of this is according to Sophia’s wishes, although he is unaware of it.
There were voices down the corridor, I thought I heard them say, “Welcome to the Hotel California”
The corridor described here symbolizes the birth canal, and it is also reminiscent of the so-called “tunnel of light” that supposedly manifests after a soul quits the body. The second part of this line is symbolic too, and the Hotel California represents—you guessed it— the material world.
But let’s break it down a bit further: the hotel is a symbol of transient existence, which suggests a place that you visit only temporarily; in the Grand Scheme, human life is but a flash in the pan—we are born, we live, and we die, all in a relative blink. In addition, portraying the Earth as a hotel also hints that this alien planet isn’t our real home. Indeed, all of us are but prisoners in a land hostile to the soul. It is a dog-eat-dog place of death and deceit and fleeting illusions, whether we know it or not.
The reason California is chosen (other than the fact that this was where The Eagles originated) is because that state is infamous for its hedonism and decadence, particularly in Los Angeles. In other words, the world is welcoming this new soul into a temporary, shallow existence that’s designed to distract and seduce it with foolish pursuits, until the person ultimately dies unfulfilled… only to repeat the same futile cycle, again and again.
“Such a lovely place (such a lovely place), such a lovely face.
Plenty of room at the Hotel California, any time of year (any time of year), you can find it here”
As above, these lines are describing our world, with which the soul has now become entwined–helplessly under the thrall of the bittersweet spell of human existence. The “lovely face” referred to here is the face of the planet Earth, which appears as a beautiful, vibrant blue ball when viewed from outer space. It has been around for a very long time, too—most scientists believe it is about 4.5 billion years old. This is much older than the human race. Relative to our existence, she may as well be eternal, which is why you can find it “any time of year”. Also, the planet currently supports over 7 billion people, which obviously doesn’t include all of the other life forms she nurtures in addition to us. Plenty of room, indeed.
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