By Vance Socci
There is a 20th-century Gnostic ritual that started in 1956 and was performed annually to this day. It’s called “The Wizard of Oz,” a phenomenally popular children’s movie with definite esoteric elements.
There are few of us who don’t remember the annual rite, assembling around the Altar of the Television Temple with various snacks in keen anticipation of the upcoming spectacle. As the ritual unfolds, our heroine Dorothy is transported from a dreary, problem-filled monochrome Kansas full of strife and woe by the state’s most dreaded threat into the Wonderful Land of Oz, in full color!
Surely category 5 by our standards today, the tornado would have been the envy of the Storm Chasers on the Weather Channel. (I wonder what the chasers would have made of seeing the Munchkins had their armored vehicle been transported to Oz instead of Dorothy’s house?).
What few of us suspected is that we were witnessing a deeply, meaningful Gnostic tale laden with symbolism . . .
As with many children’s books, L. Frank Baum, the tale’s author, enfolded interesting philosophical information along with the colorful imagery that attracts children. Not many know that although Baum came from a traditional Methodist background, both he and his wife Maud were members of Madam Helena Blavatsky’s Theosophical Society, encouraged by his mother-in-law Matilda Joslyn Gage. Perhaps this partially explains Baum’s love of symbolism and archetypical character development.
The story is clearly Gnostic, centering on young Dorothy, who is oppressed both in her dreary world of Kansas and in the colorful world of Oz. She dreams of expanded horizons, and a release from the soul-sucking predators of society like Miss Gulch who tries to deprive her of her beloved companion Toto.
Dorothy’s fellow travelers are dormant until reawakened by Dorothy and her quest. As she gathers them up one by one, we see enumerated the alchemical elements: the scarecrow being air, the element of mentality; the tin man being water, who rusts when he cries and is very sensitive and emotional, and the cowardly lion being fire, that element of motivation and energy. Dorothy herself is earth – yearning for her home, to be grounded, to find a place of happiness to dwell.
At this point it’s not a spoiler to reveal that in the end, the good witch Glinda reveals to Dorothy that her answer, which she’s been seeking outside herself, was the power within herself the entire time. This to me is Gnosis – the knowledge that we must follow our own path (yellow brick or otherwise!) and find the power within to redeem ourselves and find our true home.
What of the wizard, and of the witch? Oz, as he calls himself, is a self-styled demiurge if there ever was one, or at the least a priest thereof. Having stumbled upon the cathedral-like Emerald City (green – could this be a symbol for material wealth and power? Collection plates?), eventually he fades behind his curtain like YHVH and rules through fear and trickery, hiding behind his image technology. (In fact, you could consider his majestic flame-filled apparition a form of holography!) Nobody gets to see the wizard – and nobody gets to see YHVH, not even Moses or Abraham!
Knowing the power of Dorothy, he literally feeds from her and her companions and uses them to rid himself of a rival demi-urge, albeit a much more evil one. I’d say Oz is more of a Valentinian demiurge, one that is redeemable.
The same can’t be said of the Wicked Witch of the West. Bent on recovering what she thinks will give her ultimate power, she despises Dorothy and will stop at nothing to recover the precious Ruby Slippers. (Incidentally, the original story sees Dorothy sporting silver slippers; the producers of the 1939 MGM musical wanted to show off the new Technicolor technology . . .)
Using her army of slaves – soldiers and flying monkeys alike – she pursues Dorothy and successfully captures her. Dorothy’s inadvertent disposal of the witch with her spontaneous firefighting to save the scarecrow frees the captives from the witch’s spell. It is thought that the reason Baum picked water to be the witch’s instrument of destruction is its role in soul purification and combatting evil. The witch can be thought of as a Marcionite style demiurge, evil to the core. Who else uses opiates (poppies!) to dope up their enemies?
Green Hats, Black Hats, where are the White Hats?
Where are the Aeons in the story? Glinda, the good witch of the North, certainly qualifies as such. In her wisdom, she doesn’t tell Dorothy about the power she has to achieve her return; she knows Dorothy must take the journey and discover this for herself. Her wisdom and magnanimous demeanor are very reminiscent of Sophia herself! How Gnostic can you get?
Swallow the Yellow Brick Pill
Baum anticipated many modern inventions not known until a century after his time, such as television, augmented reality, laptop computers, wireless telephones, robots (Tik-Tok of Oz). So is it surprising that the whole premise of the Wizard of Oz resembles the Matrix – except that Dorothy starts out in the bleak post-android “real” world of the matrix and then enters the simulation of the earth’s prior civilization.
Dorothy being transported to another world parallel to her ordinary habitat? Her heroine’s journey, her rite of passage, occurs in another world. Not quite the Pleroma, but a darn sight closer to it than Kansas!
Finally, in the final part of the story, the Wizard (who can be thought of as representing organized religion and the priesthood) tries to bring Dorothy home in his balloon. The fact that he was dropped in Oz in that same out of control balloon seems lost on him – and sure enough, just like when he arrived, he wanders off in the skies without Dorothy, to find himself in some other unknown land not of his choosing. Unlike Dorothy, he doesn’t count on his own power – he turns to the (prince of) the powers of the air.
Returning from Oz ourselves here, we realize that generations of children watched this marvelous and wonderful movie year after year, a true ritual of our times, no doubt absorbing subconsciously or otherwise the great archetypes, forces and lessons of the tale. Could this have influenced us to the extent that we started opening ourselves up to Gnosis and Gnosticism? No one can tell us for sure, but we know the answer in our hearts just as Dorothy had the power to return home.
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