Hallmarks of Our Modern Myths, Part III


MAGIC AND THE OCCULT SCIENCES

Another aspect of these films is the glorification of magic and the occult sciences. This idea extends to the speculative forms of empirical science we see regularly in these myths. Indeed, Arthur C. Clarke once famously wrote that science in a sufficiently advanced form is indistinguishable from magic. 

Supernatural magic is the basis of most of modern myths. Star Trek and 2001: A Space Odyssey are ostensibly science fiction, but Star Trek regularly dealt with paranormal concepts like psychic phenomena (and warp drive as it's portrayed is arguably magical), and the Monoliths have no basis in science. 

Neither do the powers of Solaris, which are similar in nature to those of the Monoliths. There is the barest shred of scientific rationalism ascribed to the happenings in Cocoon, The Matrix and Eternal Sunshine, but for all intents and purposes what is being depicted is magic.


Magic and the paranormal are taken for granted in the Dune and Star Wars stories, in the forms of ‘the Force’ and the ‘Weirding Ways’. These same powers are given to John Murdock in Dark City. Magicians are seen as the guardians of all that is good in The Lion King and the Harry Potter movies. 

The occult-minded Templars and Freemasons are depicted as the unsung heroes of  American democracy in National Treasure and the various Dan Brown block blockbusters. And every  wacked-out paranormal, occult, magical, supernatural and religious idea that ever existed has found its way into The X-Files at one point or another.



COLONIZATION

Implicit  in many of these stories is a colonialist agenda, particularly in the space operas.  As mentioned before, the mission of the USS Enterprise is essentially colonial. The goal is to absorb foreign planets into the socialist military dictatorship of the Federation, an obvious analog of Globalism. 

This is also the mission of the various space agencies in 2001, Mission to Mars, Red Planet and Solaris


However, colonization is often differentiated from conquest here. Most of these films do not present invasion and submission as virtuous or desirable. Military action is usually and perhaps disingenuously depicted as defensive when undertaken by the protagonists of these stories. 


In Star Trek, the peaceful means of the Federation are deliberately contrasted by alien races like the Borg and the Dominion. But at the same time the weltanschuang of the stories is one of liberty and virtue being under constant threat, a mindset neoconservatives  have appropriated from the movies to justify their doctrine of endless, ‘preemptive’ war.




Star Trek and Independence Day also explicitly champion the idea of a neoliberal variety of Globalism. Star Trek presents the planet Earth as ruled by a single entity, and the creation of such is an unspoken subtext in Independence Day as well. Star Wars and Dune both present a universal ruling body, similar in many ways to the Federation in Star Trek.

Alien colonization, malign or otherwise, is also the main source of dramatic conflict in 2001, Cocoon, The X-Files, Independence Day, Dagon and Solaris. In the latter two films, the audience is made to identify with this alien colonization as a participant through the viewer’s natural identification with Paul Marsh and Chris Kelvin. 

Of course, this makes perfect sense in the context of the Modern Myths when one decodes what Dagon and Solaris actually represent.

Hallmarks of Our Modern Myths, Part II


Even if you dismiss the symbolic meanings of these films, their exoteric narratives often reveal common values entirely consonant with the Mystery traditions. While many of these values are typical of any conservative value system in any culture, there are others that are not only unique to the esoteric worldview, but are actually antithetical to the standard Judeo-Christian ethics you would expect from such mainstream fare. Sex, magic, and the idea of greater human potential are seen as evil and destructive by conservative elements in the so-called Abrahamic religions, but are highly valued within the ancient Mystery traditions. 

HORUS/SOLAR SAVIOR

The defining hallmark of our modern mythology, and a theme we've looked at in depth on this blog, is the Solar Savior. Again, this is a theme taken from the ancient Mystery cults and midwifed into our modern culture through secret societies and occult groups. 

More precisely, the rolue of solar savior corresponds to the Age of Horus, announced by Aleister Crowley in the early 20th Century. His prophecies of the Age have been remarkably accurate in many ways, less so in others.

As I wrote in Our Gods Wear Spandex, the solar savior theme burst back into the public consciousness via heroes like Superman and Captain Marvel, both explicitly and consciously modeled on Hercules, the most widely regarded solar savior of the pre-Christian world, a figure whose fame survived the Church and was acknowledged by groups as disparate as Egyptian and Phoenican pagans, Gnostics, and Medieval Alchemists. Hercules was a symbol of inspiration for Renaissance painters, a symbol of a reawakened Europe.


The Italian sword and sandal movies, which enjoyed a great deal of success in the late 50s and early 60s brought a tidal wave of pagan imagery and myth-themes to the mass consciousness and are under-valued in today's culture. 

The rich and lusty paganism they invigorated postwar culture with was swamped by dreary, life-denying materialism and postmodernism in the mid to late 60s and 70s, but their influence simply fed into junk culture; heavy metal, sword and sorcery gaming, novels and comics and other pursuits unnoticed by the cosmopolitan mindset that dominated respectable discourse. Concurrent with the sword and sandal craze was the Tolkien revival. Needless to say these sword and sandal films were filled with solar saviors such as Hercules and Jason.

An early dissenter from the materialist/nihilist mindset that was/is de rigeur in the media and academia was Stanley Kubrick, who seems to have undergone some kind of life-changing epiphany that he never spoke openly about (Network/Altered States author Paddy Chayefsky was another dissenter). 

His 2001:A Space Odyssey remains a radical work of art, so much so that academics refuse to discuss what the film is actually about, and require themselves to couch their analyses in opaque symbolic navel-gazing. 

The film's Star-Child is a startlingly explicit solar savior, though you need to read Arthur C. Clarke's novel to glean exactly how and why.

Both Kirk and Spock played the role of Solar Savior in the Star Trek films (not so much the TV series) and by his very name Jean Luc ('John the Light') Picard exists as one. Data played the role of the Baptist (the Gnostic savior) in the woefully-underrated final Next Generation film Nemesis.

Both Anakin and Luke Skywalker played the solar savior and the "chosen one", with Anakin being captured by the Sith and the Dark Side of the Force and Luke playing Horus and avenging his father and freeing his soul from capture.

Star Wars unleashed a flood of imitators, in the movies, on TV (Battlestar Galactica) and on Saturday morning cartoons. Explicit gods became heroes again on TV starting in the 1970s with Isis and solar savior figure Captain Marvel, and Hercules has been seen in countless incarnations.

The most interesting spin on the solar savior is the Gnostic savior, of which Dark City and The Matrix are the two most well-known and interesting of the lot. Dark City is the more explicit of the two in that John Murdoch (read: 'Oannes Marduk') actually brings the Sun to a city trapped in endless night. 

Dark City auteur Alex Proyas also made Knowing, a new frontier film (a theme to be explored later) and is currently making a more explicit film about Egyptian religion (extremely explicit).

The Matrix is more problematic, in that the power and clarity of the original film is badly muddled by the confusing and compromised sequels. But John Anderson ("Son of Man") is saved by knowledge, even though the film seems to use Gnosticism as another riff, rather than an idea to be understood and applied to one's own life.

We've seen solar savior mythology in the Transformers films, precisely in the first sequel. That film trades on Egyptian mythology and religion for its plot and imagery in a way you wouldn't expect from a toy tie-in and Optimus Prime plays the role of sacrificial solar savior. Don't ask me why.

We've also looked at solar savior themes in more unlikely places, such as the work of John Cusack (particularly the film Pushing Tin and The Numbers Station, which was filmed on the location of the famous Rendlesham UFO incident), and comedies like The 40 Year Old Virgin and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. You really never know where these themes are going to manifest themselves.


HATHOR/ISIS ARCHETYPE

In keeping with the positive view of sexuality, another important characteristic of nearly all of these myths is the goddess archetype. What I mean by this is that women are not only portrayed as being both strong and feminine, they are seen as having power and authority. 

Dana Scully is the ultimate avatar of the goddess- a figure of authority, a seeker after truth and justice but also a companion and advocate of the dead in her role as medical examiner. Also a Gnostic goddess in battle against the Archons who seek to enslave humanity.


There were female characters on the original series but Star Trek: the Next Generation was the most conscious pantheon-making exercise on television (there've probably been others that don't come to mind since), with an Isis (Beverly Crusher), a Sekhmet (Tasha Yar) and a Hathor (Deanna Troy).

Princesses Leia and Amidala are not simply damsels in distress in the Star Wars films, they  are decision makers and figures of governmental authority. Amidala has several aspects of Isis in her character.  But Lucas never seemed as interested in female characters (and not much interested in character in general).


The same can be said of  Lady Jessica, who is a divine mother archetype. In addition, the Bene Gesserit sisterhood is of crucial importance in the Dune universe.   

The Isis archetype is seen in these stories as these heroines who save their mates. This is true with Leia and Han Solo,  Scully with Mulder, Trinity with Neo, Uxia with Paul, and Kate Bowman with Robbie Gallagher.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a classic Sekhmet archetype- a slayer of things in the night, a protector of those walk by day. Her relationships have echoes of Hathor's relationships with Horus in that there is a distance, an elusive nature to them.


The Battlestar Galactica remake is filled with warrior women and therefore filled with Sekhmet archetypes. The original series made extensive use of Egyptian and Pre-Christian symbolism, as well as Mormon gnosticism.



Trinity in the Matrix films is an ass-kicker, but is also nurturing and protective of Neo, more motherly than romantic. She follows the Sekhmet/Hathor archetype; the fierce lioness who is also loving and nurturing. Carrie Ann Moss plays the same figure in Memento and Red Planet. Hermione in the Harry Potter films is not only assertive but also much more studious than her friends Harry and Ron, perhaps a reflection of the series' own author. 

Conversely, the Jennifer Connelly character in Dark City is more in line with the Venus aspect of the Hathor archetype- identified with sex and music, sexually unfaithful but also dedicated and protective to Murdoch, even at risk to herself.

TO BE CONTINUED

Hallmarks of Our Modern Myths, Part I



I often get letters from readers inquiring about the archives, particularly about the work dealing with movie symbolism. These posts seem to be the most popular series in the archives, though the particular exegesis at work might be a bit overwhelming to new readers. 

Since people are constantly discovering these posts I thought it would be useful to have a kind of thematic guide to the underlying themes in the series looking at films such as Star Wars or The Matrix, so neophytes can understand the basic issues that aren't always made explicit in the texts. 

Which is to say that there are a set number of hallmarks that I study in each film as part of an overarching exegesis, that ties these modern myths back to stories that are much, much older. This will be a work in progress, so if there are major revisions to a certain post (and there may be major additions as I go along) it will be reposted. So keep an eye on the site in the coming days.


MILITARISM

Most problematic in our mythos is the recurring theme of militarism and military discipline. Many of the heroes in our myths are either in the military or militaristic organizations. Self-discipline and aggressive strength are often glorified, even in those characters who are civilians. 

Star Trek not only champions the military ethic in the presentation of its heroes, it also positively presents a universal system of governance that is essentially a totalizing military dictatorship. Star Wars does the same (though to a lesser degree), glorifying the (celibate, self-denying, essentially slave-like) military order of the Jedi as its highest ideal. 

Similarly, Frank Herbert (the ur-source of many of Star Wars' concepts) presents a very positive image of militarism and feudalism in the first Dune novel, despite his protestations in later years that he was actually critiquing the corruptive aspects of power. 

Alien invasion films/shows such as Independence Day, Battleship and Falling Skies gives us not only a heroic panoply of warriors, they also hint at military rule. The Chronicles of Narnia is also unabashed in its worship of militarism and warfare. But military ethics and values extend beyond the obvious suspects here. 



Like Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica (the remake mostly, but the original as well) glorifies a militarized society in service of an existential battle with a wholly alien threat, in this case artificial intelligence.

2001: A Space Odyssey and the Mars movies present astronauts as heroes, even though they don’t engage in actual combat. But astronauts are also highly trained and regimented individuals, and NASA is for all intents and purpose a branch of the U.S. military.  

Likewise, Mulder and Scully may seem like mavericks, but both are highly-trained, elite Federal police officers. And the rebels in The Matrix may seem hip and countercultural, but they are in reality an extremely specialized and regimented guerilla army.  Similarly, Harry Potter trains at Hogwart’s, which resembles nothing less than a military academy for young witches and warlocks. 

It’s also worth noting that the four most archetypal creators of these types of myths-- Roddenberry, Arthur C. Clarke, C.S. Lewis and Frank Herbert --all served in the military.



HIERARCHY/MERITOCRACY

In addition to the explicit glorification of the highly disciplined and physically powerful individual (which is unsurprising given that many of these stories are action-oriented), these myths also champion other militaristic ideals. 

For instance, none of these stories seem to bother with ideals like democracy or egalitarianism (with the notable exception of Moore's BSG, which presents us with the unlikely concoction of a liberal military totalitarian state). On the contrary, most of these stories present us with hierarchies. Orders are given and followed and people seem to know their place.  

Subsequently, HAL is presented as a villain in 2001 because he usurps Dave Bowman’s rightful station as commander of the Discovery. And the first signs we see that Anakin Skywalker is crossing over to the ‘Dark Side’ is when he becomes insubordinate and breaks Jedi protocol. 

Even in Dagon, Paul’s refusal to go along with the plan laid out for him by his father is depicted as being literally self-destructive. When Uxia intervenes and physically forces him to submit to Dagon’s will, he is granted immortality.

Yet at the same time, these characters are not serfs, condemned to a lifetime of drudgery as in the Feudal system. There is a implied meritocracy at work, often presented in the form of military rank. Characters are seen being promoted or advanced, often to positions of great power. Luke Skywalker, Paul Atriedes and Neo are all examples of this. 

This closely mirrors the Mystery traditions, where initiates start off in positions of powerlessness but are allowed to earn the right of advancement, either in the form of rank or degrees. The creator of the national Sol Invictus religion, Aurelian, rose from humble origins to a position of supreme power through military service. 

This pattern seems to be a very important one in the Mystery tradition. Hierarchy is decided by merit, at least theoretically. 



The idea of justification by works is common in ancient Egyptian religion. When one appeared before Osiris in the Hall of Judgment, his soul was weighed and he was required to account for his life and justify his eternal reward through both negative and positive confessions (“I did this good thing and I did not do that bad thing’). The soul was then measured against the Shu feather of Ma’at, (which represented truth)  and the soul was judged accordingly.

That all these archaic concepts bled into these kind of entertainments speaks to the influence of Masonic and quasi-Masonic groups at the turn of the century in Hollywood and  other corners of the showbiz world. 

They also seeped into the work of writers like Herbert and Lucas through mythicists like Jung and Campbell, as well as more exotic occultists such as Aleister Crowley and Alice Bailey.


TO BE CONTINUED 

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