For some people shamanism may immediately seem like a far out concept but the themes, stories and lessons are prevalent in many of Hollywood’s best loved adventures. It may have its fair share of materialism, propaganda and mind control, but within the vast seas of films it has produced, there are some truly enlightening tales.
Occultists, shamans and spiritualists of the modern world have had a huge influence on Hollywood’s storytellers, and the form and structure of their tales still have a big place amongst the special effects and mass appeal of the big screen. Essentially this is the core of shamanism, the telling of stories.
Why do these patterns of storytelling appeal so much to the human heart? What is it that captivates people to the point they’ll buy tickets months in advance for a midnight screening or dress up like a Wizard in public?
They are in essence, reflecting back the inner workings and archetypes of your own world, giving life to the unconscious within us and following the themes that gnostics, shamans, sufis and occultists have initiated into and explored at depth.
There are three tales in particular I’d like to focus on which are firm favourites of mine;
The Neverending Story
The Lord of the Rings
The Neverending Story
Educated and influenced by the spiritualist Rudolph Steiner, Michael Ende captured the imagination of children world wide with his tale, The Never Ending Story. When I ask people about this film or book, most often what comes up is this Dragondog, but we’ll go into that later.
The story begins with a dreamy little boy named Bastian who’s father is a typical pushy parent - do your homework, get up, get to school, stop being such a pussy and do something with your life kinda guy.
Clearly struggling with the world, Bastian is accosted by bullies on the way to school and after running away finds himself in an old bookstore.
Old libraries and bookstores, forever the starting point of seekers and those with a thirst for knowledge. Upon entering, the owner of the store, who we’ll label with the archetype of magus (the magician), entices Bastian into reading a book, The Neverending Story.
You are the Creator
Upon reading the opening pages it becomes clear that Bastian is written into the very fabric of this story. The idea that we are indeed all co-creating this story called life, connected to the only author, called source, is congruent with plant medicine experiences and many esoteric teachings. As the pages turn, it becomes clear that not only is he the reader or experiencer, he is also the writer or creator. A paradox that intellectually makes no sense yet on the deepest level is understood. We are both experiencer and creator, manifesting the dance of life together from the same point.
There’s no beginning and no end
What point? Ha, you will never be able to get a fix on a point that has no beginning and no end which brings me to the Ourouborus on the cover of the book. The serpent eating itself and regrowing in a continual and infinite expression. A sign that notions to a multiverse in which all possibilities are eventually made actual and those possibilities are endless.
Not only is this the front page image but the title of the story is… The Never-ending Story. He really has tried to make it clear.
The relationship between fantasia and the Nothing that is seeking to destroy it.
Here we see the relationship between form and emptiness, thing and no thing, yin and yang. Eternally pushing against each other knowing full well that one cannot exist without the other. The polarity of opposite and opposing forces in an eternal dance that powers the fountain of all our emotions.
The main character of the book Atreyu
In one particular moment when Atreyu enters the mirror gate, he and Bastian come face to face as a refection of the other within the same whole. They see each other as the same being experiencing itself from different perspectives.
In the end, Fantasia implodes as it represents the astral realm, a realm which Bastian has mastered and integrated into his own psyche. As this world ends into a grain of light in the princesses hand, Bastian is told to make a new world, because Bastian is God, from thought he creates, as we all do everyday. This just brings the unconscious into consciousness in the most extraordinary way, yet shows how even what we consider mundane is indeed extraordinary. In that sense words like extraordinary, sacred, divine almost become redundant because all is.
At the end, such is he the master and creator, Bastian is able to bring his dragon forth from the astral realm and into the physical realm to help him chase off those bullies. Moral of the story, if you want a dragon, create one. The dragon being the ultimate symbol of fantasy, imagined and brought forward into the physical realm, reinforcing the power of imagination to create. Everything must be imagined before it is created.
Wow! This one gets it in a big way, family feuds, power struggles, the Jedi order, THE FORCE! George Lucas closely studied the work of shaman and mythologist, Joseph Campbell, something that overflows in his work.
There’s so much in this, that to put it into an article would be overwhelming, so instead I’ll focus on the two Skywalkers, Luke and Annakin. The light and the dark. Both known as young skywalker, both so much potential, so much so, their very name is to walk the sky, both with a world of possibility and choice before them.
Luke’s journey begins from obscurity, mundaneness, plucked from here by circumstance and an ancestry he is yet unaware of.
Yourself or something greater?
The first major turning point in Luke’s life is the calling of spirit, to serve something other than himself. In all religions and orders, monks, priests, prophets, shamans experience this call from spirit. A call that is immediate and must be answered. After initially rejecting the call to train as a Jedi with Ben Kenobi, Luke later accepts when his family is slaughtered by sand people. When spirit calls you will answer, one way or another.
The paradox to my question… you are that something greater.
You can’t do this alone
No man is an island as they say, and Luke enlists the assistance of a teacher in the form of Yoda. It is through Yoda that Luke develops his most important asset, the will, or unbending intent as some shamans call it.
As Luke tries to free his spaceship from the depths of the swamp using the force, he gives up:
“I don’t believe it,” says Luke.
“That is why you fail.” Responds Yoda.
We’re often told that we become the people around us, which can often lead to occultists and spiritualists blowing off old friends and those that don’t fit or understand their new knowledge or perspectives. Hans Solo, Lando, Chewbacca, C3PO, R2D2, all join Luke on his journey, all play a role. Non are Jedi, yet the force is alive in all things, by its nature it is non discriminatory and all play a role in supporting Luke in his endeavours. The galaxy, the universe, life as we know it functions as the sum of innumerable parts.
I digress briefly into Lord of the Rings and Gandolph the Grey when speaking to Frodo about the creature Golum:
“Do not be too eager to deal out death and judgement. My heart tells me that Golum has a part to play yet, for good or for evil, before this over.”
Be accepting of others and the roles they play in your life, for they are all teachers.
Be of service to others
Luke’s new found powers and ability to use the force come with responsibility. He could quite easily run away and find somewhere to live a life of decadence but instead he chooses to face the Empire. A force that is oppressing the lives of millions in the galaxy.
Many enlightened beings, physical and non physical choose to serve humanity and assist in transforming its slavery and suffering. To be of service to others can bring us to the greatest connection with our higher self. It is perhaps the most challenging of all challenges.
We move now to the other Skywalker, Annakin, the chosen one, the one who was to bring balance back to the force. For all the prophecies of what was supposed to happen, the opposite came to be.
It was Master Yoda that first saw and recognised the fear and anger in young Anakin and so began his concerns about the resurgence of the dark side.
Anakin on the other hand, believed the hype, he believed he was more powerful than all the Jedi put together and in a way he was justified, he was born with an access to great power and skill. And yet, by not understanding power, by not understanding himself, he slowly gives in to the dark side, finding himself cut off from love and in a place of pain and suffering.
Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to the dark side.
Ah fear, IF ONLY more people could own their fear, acknowledge their fear, admit to their fear, face their fear, the darkness could be acknowledged and would not need to fight for attention like an out of control toddler.
What we truly fear may surprise us, for most people it is simply the unknown or the abyss. Can you let go, can you fall into the abyss with arms stretched open? Or is it in fact the light that you fear? As said earlier, to know yourself is to know fear.
I am your Father
In the most recent Star Wars, The Force Awakens, we see father and son fight once more as Kylo Ren and Hans Solo cross swords. A scene all too reminiscent of Luke’s battle with Darth Vader and the famous line “I am your father.”
What is behind this constant battle between father and son?
The famous nutritionist and shaman Paul Chek once asked a team of NFL players (high performance athletes) who here is angry with their father?
Nearly every hand in the room went up. What is it about the male energy that loves to fight and war? Dominance and dominion and the wars this creates. The masculine in crisis and out of control, reflected in everything we see today.
Lord of the Rings
Good Vs Evil in a world that is spectacularly fantastical and yet, almost reminiscent of the European continent in a strange way, a struggle for dominance, of many races coming together to overthrow one evil superpower, sound familiar? It’s also a constant in the films that good seeks to preserve nature and live harmoniously with it and the forces of evil always seek to control and use it. Very close to the bone.
Tolkien was hugely influenced by Norse and Celtic mythology which he spent hours translating into English. The trilogy was also written during the second world war, yet we’ll scale back from the bigger picture to see what’s going on within the individual strands of the story.
The obvious one is Frodo, just an ordinary Hobbit bimbling around the Shire enjoying the fireworks and food when, ‘enter the magus stage left’, Gandalph the Grey appears and turns his whole world upside down.
And so Frodo enrolls on an unexpected journey into the heart of darkness and of course, you don’t do this stuff alone (see Star Wars) off he goes with his friends, old and new, to defeat evil from within.
A big theme this trilogy works with is desire. The ring, a material thing, wields a power over anyone that possesses it. As much as it gives power to the holder, such as the power of invisibility, it takes away power by tying the owner to the ring.
The creature Golum refers to the ring as ‘my precious’ and so begins the split personality of a murderous thief who wants to kill anyone in his way and a loving hobbit who wants to assist Frodo on his quest. This duality reflected so literally in one individual highlights the challenge of desire that the material plane presents.
Desirelessness being a state Zen buddhists strive to achieve. When you’ve reached this state you have the power, nothing has power over you. To be in desire of someone or something is to give power to it. A choice we all make on a daily basis.
Another feature of Golum is that he inflicts hate and criticism on others as a reflection of his own self hatred. Quite often when you point a finger at another, you will find it is an outlet for your own self judgement. Or as my grandma would say, every time you point a finger there are three pointing back at you. It is the easiest way in which we can lie to ourselves as in essence we are telling a truth, for I am you and you are me.
Divide and Conquer
It may seem political to go into race and yet, racial hatred reveals a deeper fear. Tension between races is apparent in the story. Dwarfs hating elves, Gondor hating the riders of Rohan, orcs hating everyone. All racial tension is rooted in hate or resentment. This is a function of the person holding this emotional state rather than a reflection of any objective reality. If you choose to see races differently beyond the physical and not through the lense of your heart, then you choose hate. It is the known Vs the unknown again. Our race is what we are, it is known, another race is the unknown and so we are given on the deepest level, an opportunity to succumb to fear and hatred, which as we know leads to the dark side.
The power of racial and religious tension is being used to great effect today with the staged terrorist attacks that are pinned on Islam. All religion is violent by its nature, this is not something that can be avoided. The violence in these books is very easily staged and manipulated for the purposes of control and power. The ISIS phenomena is no more than a fight for a pipeline to transport natural gas, Iraq (oil), Afghanistan (heroin), South America, Africa and SE Asia (various) some of the biggest commodities in the world, except of course, the arms and weaponry used in those wars. It’s a skilful scam.
Before I digress too far from the path, back to middle earth, and any attempt to defeat evil always hinges on the coming together of different races who must put aside their petty differences. Divided is weak, together is strong, it’s a basic natural law. Or as George Orwell put it ‘the power is in the proles.’
Everything has a Purpose
When the end comes and Frodo stands in front of the fires of Mount Doom, his only task being to throw the ring into the lava, his resolve falters.
Everything he has done to get to that point, the people he loves, his friends, the whole of middle earth melts away as the power of desire and the desire of power takes over him.
In that moment, without the added element of Golum, all would be lost. Yet out he pops to bite off Frodo’s finger and fall helplessly into the lava along with the ring of power. Thus it is Golum who eventually acts out the ring’s destruction (see earlier Gandolph quote) and Sam who is yet again there for Frodo in his time of need.
How curious that nothing is ever as it seems.
We've talked about opposites pushing against each other in the dance of life, balance is a blissful state but there is much fun to be found in being off balance. As the powers of Sauron increase and the darkness grows stronger, Gandalph the Grey becomes Gandalph the White to counter balance the dark. The extremes may grow but balance is always sought.
And there I will end this article as some things must start and end, even if creation does not. Now to you reader. Are you going to save (insert blank) from (insert blank)? Can you walk into the depths of your own soul? What is hiding in your cave?
The answer to all our questions, lives within each and every one of us.