By Chris Henley
“Her mind is Tiffany-twisted, she got the Mercedes bends”
Note the female gender here. Anyone familiar with Gnosticism and related systems knows that “femaleness” refers to the soul, because (among other things), “she” is the bride of the Christ who, in turn, is the bridegroom–the male half of the “yin-yang” equation. Also, female (negative) energy is “that which receives”, as opposed to male (positive) energy, which is “that which gives”. Making these two into one—or if you prefer, bringing them back into balance–is the key to spiritual freedom.
Wise men of old gave the soul a feminine name. Indeed she is female in her nature as well.
-From the Nag Hammadi library, The Exegesis on the Soul
Unfortunately, this particular soul has been twisted so much by her worldly desires for shiny baubles and trinkets, she has become weighted down, like the ghost of Jacob Marley in A Christmas Carol. Thus, she is incapable of pulling free from this self-made quagmire, only sinking lower as she struggles in vain against her own ego and addictions. In fact, she is drowning in it, and if she tries to go “cold turkey”, and pull herself out all at once, it may just mean her death. This is because enlightenment and healing must come in stages, over many lifetimes; it cannot be achieved without divine help and lots of experience.
And that’s the reason the word “bends” instead of “Benz” was chosen. According to the Wikipedia entry, decompression sickness (AKA DCS, the bends, divers’ disease, or caisson disease), “…most commonly refers to problems arising from underwater diving decompression (i.e., during ascent)…” Further, the article explains that “Its potential severity has driven much research to prevent it, and divers…limit their exposure and… control their ascent speed.” So, the entire metaphor is alluding to a soul drowning in the “waters below”, or the chaos of matter, after its descent. Interestingly, to that point, there are some scientists who believe that space is actually a superfluid,
“She got a lot of pretty, pretty boys that she calls friends”
Like many of the lines in the song, this one could be taken literally, if you think in terms of it being a description of a woman as opposed to a soul. In that case, the implication is that this person has multiple partners, with whom she identifies only on a shallow, physical level. They are merely pretty “boy-toys” who represent nothing more than the fleeting satisfaction of sexual desires.
Of course, that’s only the surface layer. If you instead continue along the same lines as before, and re-view it through a more symbolic lens, you will find the deeper meaning. The pretty boys described here symbolize (what else?) addictions and physical attachments, in their multiple forms. And like all sorts of bad habits, they rarely satisfy for long. After the high of the moment wears off, a raw need to fill a void appears, again and again–but no matter how one tries to fill that cup with more iniquity, it somehow always ends up leaving you cold and empty–and wanting more.
But when she fell down into a body and came to this life, then she fell into the hands of many robbers… And in her body she prostituted herself and gave herself to one and all, considering each one she was about to embrace to be her husband… But even when she turns her face from those adulterers, she runs to others, and they compel her to live with them and render service to them on their bed, as if they were her masters. Out of shame she no longer dares to leave them, whereas they deceive her for a long time… And after all this they abandon her and go.
-From the Nag Hammadi Library, The Exegesis on the Soul
“How they dance in the courtyard, sweet summer sweat”
Here, we have our first direct reference to Kabbalah. The courtyard is a reference to the Temple of the Holy of Holies, which had a physical representation in the form of Solomon’s Temple, and is the modern-day site of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. The three main sections of the temple consist of the outer courtyard, the inner courtyard, and the Holy of Holies; this last section is where God dwells as the Imperishable Light and Source of the Eternal Wellspring of Life. The wellspring produces the sustenance which flows down into the other sections, where angels and human souls alike each get their share.
In Kabbalistic teaching, the place mentioned above is both the outer courtyard of the physical temple, and it also symbolizes worldliness at its basest level. This is the reality for a good majority of the people on Earth; these types* generally believe in only what they can perceive with their bodies, and they give little to no regard to things of a more spiritual nature. They wander aimlessly their entire lives, oblivious to any higher purpose. For good or ill, this is the dance of the outer courtyard; it is the endless cycle of fleshly life, death, and rebirth.
“Some dance to remember, some dance to forget”
This line indicates the two directions a soul might take at any given time on the path of awakening. A few (the ones who “dance to remember”), come to a point on the endless generation wheel where they decide to follow a more spiritual way, which eventually leads to freedom. However, most remain slumbering lifetime after lifetime, deeply immersed in the dream of the “real” world and unable to remember where they truly came from, much less how to get back. And as the song says, “they livin’ it up,” and therefore, many are too intoxicated from the world’s pleasures and distractions to care about such matters to begin with.
“So I called up the Captain, ‘Please bring me my wine'”
As you already know, ground level always corresponds to Malchut. The flow of blessing and sustenance first enters these chambers, and from there it descends to the Courtyard below…Let me explain the purpose of these chambers on this gallery. They are for the three great and exalted chiefs, Shmu’el, Metatron and Yehuel [שמועא”ל מטטרו”ן יהוא”ל], who are captains over all the armies of angels in the World of Yetzirah…it is into these chambers that the sustenance and blessing destined for these angels flows first, after which it is then given over to them. It is from these chambers that sustenance flows down to the rest of the Courtyard.”
-Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto, from azamra.org
The Captain in this line is one of the chief angels in charge of directing the flow of sustenance (i.e., the wine) to the souls “dancing” in the (outer) courtyard. This sustenance is the essence of the Holy Spirit, the divine energy that flows through everything. It is expressed and received as divine, universal love, or as a Catholic might put it, Agape. It is quite literally soul food, that which grants–and sustains–eternal life. This energy also flows up and down the Tree of Life, according to Kabballah, which is a metaphor for the descent and re-ascent of the Divine Spark.
*In some schools of Gnostic thought, there are three kinds of people (which also correspond to the three areas of the Temple, respectively): The hylics (“men of flesh”), who have no chance of redemption, the psychics (“men of mind”), who may be redeemed if they have a change of heart, and the pneumatics (“men of spirit”), who are destined to be free and to return home.
“He said, ‘We haven’t had that spirit here since 1969′”
This line has infamously received attention over the years, much to Don Henley’s apparent annoyance:
In a 2009 interview, The Plain Dealer music critic John Soeder asked Don Henley if he regretted writing the lines “So I called up the captain / ‘Please bring me my wine’ / He said, ‘We haven’t had that spirit here since 1969′” because wines are fermented while spirits are distilled. Henley responded:
Thanks for the tutorial and, no, you’re not the first to bring this to my attention — and you’re not the first to completely misinterpret the lyric and miss the metaphor. Believe me, I’ve consumed enough alcoholic beverages in my time to know how they are made and what the proper nomenclature is. But that line in the song has little or nothing to do with alcoholic beverages. It’s a sociopolitical statement. My only regret would be having to explain it in detail to you, which would defeat the purpose of using literary devices in songwriting and lower the discussion to some silly and irrelevant argument about chemical processes.
The “sociopolitical statement” refers to the Hippie Era of the 60s, in which the aforementioned spirit of brotherly love was strong, as opposed to the “me decade” of the 1970s, during the height of the band’s success.
In his Encyclopedia of Great Popular Song Recordings, Volume 1, Steve Sullivan theorizes that the “spirit” that the Hotel California hasn’t had since 1969 refers to the spirit of social activism of the 1960s, and how disco and the related pop music of mid-1970s had turned away from it.
Thus, the captain angel is informing the poor, lost soul that sustenance is unavailable, due to the human habit of turning away from the loving kindness of the immortal spirit and toward the selfish, temporal things of flesh and matter.
“And still those voices are calling from far away. Wake you up in the middle of the night, just to hear them say: ‘Welcome to the Hotel California.
Such a lovely place (such a lovely place). Such a lovely face.'”
Although these lines indicate that these are the same voices that, like the sirens in Homer’s Odyssey, lured the once-innocent spirit into the chaos of matter, it seems there may be something different about them, after all. For one thing, the voices are far away, now, and calling to the soul.
But why is that? Why call to this person when they are already trapped here? Well, maybe these particular voices are calling from the place the soul came from instead, trying to reach out to the person in dreams, to awaken them with the Gnosis. Perhaps it is easier for the mind to connect with the Spirit while asleep, without all the distractions of the conscious world getting in the way.
Yet the “real world” erases what those voices were trying to convey, much like a dream which fades quickly from memory once one’s eyes are open again. (Oh, the irony!) This is why it says “just to hear them say”; it is a big letdown when the person finds out it was only dream, that it’s the same awful place it was before, as it always has been.
So, now the soul has awakened from sleep, only to fall back into “slumber” again. This is the sleep of ignorance–a spell cast by the real world. Because the spark dwells in a soul that is, in turn, trapped in a cloak of dense flesh, it is “struck blind” by all the pretty colors and dazzling sights. And, as was mentioned in part 2, the body places severe limits (via the five physical senses) on one’s level of awareness, which, were the soul set free, would be near-boundless.
“They livin’ it up at the Hotel California,
What a nice surprise (what a nice surprise). Bring your alibis.”
But that’s ok. Everyone is having tons of fun, and even though this behavior is potentially deadly for the soul, the assault is largely ignored by those caught up in the Grand Illusion. To those people, it is the only reality they will accept, and therefore, they become both hedonists and nihilists.
However, somewhere in the back of the mind is at least a little bit of guilt. Deep down, we all know this isn’t the right way to live, yet we do it anyway, despite the damage done. So, in order to relieve some of those nasty feelings of remorse, we need excuses to explain why we refused to change our destructive ways. We need alibis. And in this case, pretending not to know or believe in anything greater than our own physical bubbles of reality–with all of those needful things–is a perfect one. Ignorance is bliss.
“Mirrors on the ceiling, the pink champagne on ice”
The first part of the line (mirrors on the ceiling) directly relates to the Hermetic maxim, “as above, so below”:
That which is Below corresponds to that which is Above, and that which is Above corresponds to that which is Below, to accomplish the miracle of the One Thing.
Some Gnostics believe that when this union is accomplished, they will join with their own particular angel, who is represented by one of the multitude of stars in the heavens. In more modern terms, one might refer to this angel as the “higher self” and the whole process could be deemed “self-actualization”, which means “to realize one’s full potential”. As for the mirror, when you look into one, you see a reflection of yourself, only it is subtly different; the reflection’s right arm is actually your left, and vice-versa. Same with your legs, and eyes, and nostrils, etc. Therefore, it looks like you, but is really a polar opposite–it is the Christ to your Sophia. Hence, you are looking at a reflection of your angel in heaven, via the “mirrors on the ceiling”. And it, in turn, sees you too.
Next, let’s look at the significance of the color pink. It symbolizes innocence, love and joy (like the pink candle in an Advent wreath), and is synonymous with the word rose, which is an anagram of Eros, the Greek god of love. In addition, a rose is the symbol of Mother Mary, who is also Sophia. But there is a distinction here between this Sophia–some call her Pistis, meaning “Faith”–and the fallen one, Acamoth, who is reflected on Earth as Mary Magdalene, among others.
Red is therefore Sophia-Acamoth’s color, being the color of the feminine energy, Mother Earth, and the passions of the flesh. It is the color of the human animal. On the other hand, white indicates angelic purity and perfection, which is obviously symbolic of Christ.
Thus, the union of Sophia-Acamoth (red) with Christ (white), produces something new and joyful (pink). In other words, the answer to this endless nightmare in which the soul is trapped lies in awakening and bringing the two poles together in a state of harmonious union; ie, the male and female, the matter and the spirit, the giver and receiver, the yin and yang, etc.
Finally, champagne is used in this context because it is traditional in weddings to toast bride and groom with it on their Big Day. So, it is sitting there on ice, waiting for one of the very few who manage to figure out the way back home.
“And she said, ‘We are all just prisoners here of our own device'”
This is fairly self-explanatory; the point being that no matter what brought us here initially, we are only trapped on the endless wheel of samsara because of our own continuous errors. If we act less like beasts, and more like our higher selves, our chances of escaping this mess greatly increase.
“And in the master’s chambers, they gather for the feast”
The soul who has tasted these things has come to realize that sweet passions are fleeting. She has learned about evil, has forsaken these passions, and has adopted a new lifestyle. After her experiences, the soul disdains this life, and she leaves behind the food of falsehood. Her true garment clothes her within, and her bridal gown reveals beauty of mind rather than pride of flesh.
-from Authoritative Discourse, Nag Hammadi Library
From an individual perspective, the master’s chambers symbolize the spaces within one’s own mind and heart. This is (potentially) where the “wedding feast” of the human soul and the Christ consciousness takes place. This also corresponds with the innermost area of the temple (the symbol of the human form), AKA, the Holy of Holies. In terms of the body’s subtle energy system, this would be equivalent to awakening the “serpent energy”, (i.e., Kundalini), cleansing her, healing her, and bringing her up the spine and into union with the mind. This is a profoundly transformative act. The symbol of the Rod of Asclepius, which is traditionally used by those in the medical field, reflects the same metaphor.
“They stab it with their steely knives, but they just can’t kill the beast”
Before any of you rock ‘n roll trivia nerds point it out, let me preface this by saying I am a nerd, too. So, I am aware of the rivalry between the Eagles and the band Steely Dan, which is indeed one of the reasons for this specific line. It was written as a response to the lyric “Turn up the Eagles, the neighbors are listening” from the Steely Dan tune, “Everything You Did”.
However, as I mentioned before, these lyrics are written in the form of a parable, and I am dealing mostly with the hidden, deeper meanings. With that said, the beast in this instance symbolizes humanity’s more animalistic side; i.e., the ego, which first needs to be killed, before a soul trapped in the flesh may be redeemed at last.
“Last thing I remember, I was running for the door. I had to find the passage back to the place I was before.”
Here, the soul is at the end of its human life, and it is now frantically trying to remember its way back home.
“‘ Relax,’ said the night man,’ we are programmed to receive. You can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave!'”
There are many passages in Gnostic texts that allude to the nature of our jailers (the archons), and they all work for the demiurge. It is mentioned that they “take souls by theft”, too–so being “programmed to receive” is a poetic way of saying “You are a prisoner now, serving life without parole. We will never release you”. The “night man” is the Angel of Death, of course–one of Samael’s archontic lackeys, perhaps–or maybe it’s Samael himself in disguise. Either way, he reveals the horrible, inescapable truth to the damned soul: once you are here, you can die as many times as you want to, but you will only come back to suffer in the Hotel California—again, and again, and again…
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