Saturday, June 26, 2010

Alien Dreaming: I Want to Believe, Part 3

I've wanted to finish up this series for a while, but a brutal work schedule and more pressing topics have put this (and many other series) on the back burner. Some of this material was included earlier in the series, but that was posted so long ago a lot of you might have totally forgotten about it.

This film got pummeled by the Dark Knight blitzkrieg, but I think it also fared poorly because it's too brutally unrelenting in its view of a cold, heartless, spiritually-dead America. It also presents us with heroes beaten down by that reality, which has certainly only become more stark since the film's release. Some critics also bashed the film for what they perceived as its use of the "gay villain" trope, not understanding the X-Files philosophy that villains are simply people with conflicting agendas, and are often simply trying to survive. But none of that was going to wash while the Dark Knight Working was unleashing its chthonic spell across the world.

All that being said, I think I Want to Believe is a flat-out masterpiece and is so densely packed with layers of meaning and subtext that I discover something new every time I watch it (and I've watched at least 40 times). Whether it's saying something people are ready to hear right now is another issue entirely. I will add that one of the reasons the film hit me so damn hard is that it's filled with truly startling personal synchronicities. But that, as they say, is a story for another day. Now, let's dive in...

Find the hidden mushroom!

As we saw in the previous installment in this series, the X-Files film I Want to Believe allegorizes the series' own Mythology, symbolically retelling the drama of aliens, abductions and genetic experimentation in a real-world context. And just as The X-Files has always done, ancient mythology seems to be part of the mix as well. in particular, the motif of the "descent to the underworld" that was an important theme in the Mystery religions.

Modern scholars like Gordon Wasson and Terence McKenna have shown that the "mystery" behind the Mysteries was the use of powerful hallucinogens like LSA and amanita muscaria, which led to rituals including everything from wild dancing to group sex. Wasson has argued that Dionysus cultists actually used an admixture of powerful hallucinogens and herbs as their "wine," not the usual mix of fermented grapes.

left: Isis-Aphrodite right: Isis Anderson

As we've seen in the "Alien Dreaming and the Widening Gyre" series, hallucinogens and alien contact seem to be connected in ways we don't yet understand. The liturgy of the Mithraic Mysteries- generally believed to be the most sober and conservative of the ancient sects - includes some pretty startling encounters with angels and snake-faced humanoids inside flying discs, which have doors and exhaust and artificial light fixtures and all of the rest of it. All of this follows the ingestion of a bitter mixture of herbs and other plant derivatives by the initiate.

As mentioned before, X-Files episodes that delve into ancient astronauts and alien identity were always preceded by unconnected stories about hallucination or hallucinogens. We don't have any explicit reference to either in I Want to Believe, but we do have a lot of parallels to several Mystery religions, the Eleusinian Mysteries of Demeter and Persephone being the most obvious (as well as lots of interesting visual clues scattered throughout the film).

Let's take a look at the parallels:

Monica Bannan is our Persephone, abducted and brought down to Hell. Remember that Persephone is associated with Spring and was spotted by Hades while picking flowers, so here Monica defends herself with a gardening tool. Given the exoteric narrative of the film, it's probably not an accident that the agent who plays Monica showed up before in Chris Carter's previous Frankenstein riff, "The Post-Modern Prometheus." That just shows you how he thinks (Bannan is related to Baines - Downard fans take note).

Cheryl Cunningham is Persephone as well. Here we see her abducted amidst giant rolls of hay, tying back into the agricultural motif of the Mysteries. The constant backdrop of snow neatly parallels the barren earth of endless winter following Persephone's abduction.

Janke is our Hades (with a bit of Set thrown in for good measure). The iconic shot of him underwater parallels Hades' place in the Underworld, looking up and spying Cheryl/Persephone. Janke is played by Callum Keith Rennie, who first appeared in the Ten Thirteen Universe in "Lazarus," an episode that also deals with conscious being grafted onto another body (which also references Osiris). The symbolism goes even deeper with this character...

..such as his menacing Ford pickup that makes a nice stand-in for Hades' chariot, and plays a major part in the abductions. Cheryl drives a Subaru Outback, which opens a whole other can of worms.

Janke also has a two-headed dog, a gene-spliced modern version of Cerberus. Mulder encounters the beastie after hopping the fence to the Russian compound, a Hell-on-Earth if ever there was one.

Inside the compound, we see Cheryl submerged into a vat of ice water, again symbolizing the descent into the Underworld. She's about to take her place as the Queen of Hell, once her head is removed and replaced with that of Franz, that is.

Which brings us to our first curveball. Franz is our Agdistis, on loan from another Mystery cult alogether. Agdistis was the mad hermaphrodite whose male genitals were ripped away by the gods. Using the godlike technology of genetic engineering, the dark gods of IWTB pull away his entire male body and replace it with a female one. The old pun of altar boy/"altered boy" takes on new meaning here. Who then is his Attis?

Father Joe is our Attis, the self-castrated prodigal son, who bled to death beneath the evergreens. We see Joe bleed from his eyes beneath a fir tree, the eyes often being identified with testicles in mythology. Father Joe is psychically linked to Frank and is seeing the crimes through his eyes, which is why he can't see Cheryl's abduction. Scully rescues Father Joe during a seizure and has him taken from the halfway house he shares with other sexual predators- just as Cybele rescues Attis from Hell.

So what about our stars? Mulder repeats his role of Demeter seeking Persephone from the Samantha storyline, which Scully helpfully reminds us when she tells Mulder "this is about you trying to save your sister." We get some semiotic tips feminizing Mulder in the first half of the story, such as when enters "the woman's side" (another interesting parallel is Orpheus and Eurydice, as well as Dionysus and Semele).

Mulder rises from his tomb, again

But Mulder is also our Osiris, dragged down to the Underworld. Monica Bannon becomes Osiris when her body is discarded, which is made explicit when she are Mulder are both meant to be dismembered and scattered by Janke. Again, Scully helpfully links the two when she tells Mulder that Bannon "could have been you," somewhat cryptically.

Scully is our Demeter when she and Skinner rescue Cheryl/Demeter from Hell, and Isis in her search for Mulder/Monica. Both Isis and Demeter were "Our Ladies" thousands of years before the Virgin Mary. In fact, Demeter was known as mater dolorosa in Eleusis, which means- you guessed it - "Our Lady of Sorrow."

As both Cheryl and Mulder begin their descents into the Underworld, we see Scully yelling at a disinterested FBI agent and yet another visual cue- a young girl (rumored by fans to be Anderson's daughter Piper) descending a staircase.

UPDATE: Does Father Joe have a dual identity as well? Michael of Gosporn fame brings up the story of Prosymnus, a lusty fisherman who aided Dionysus when the wine god descended to the underworld to rescue his mother, which is exactly the role the priest ( a "fisher of men") plays in Mulder's search for Monica Bannan and later Cheryl Cunningham. The bottomless pool resonates with that vat of ice water that Cheryl/Semele is placed into. From Crystalinks:
(Dionysus) made the descent from a reputedly bottomless pool on the coast of the Argolid near the prehistoric site of Lerna. He was guided by Prosymnus who requested, as his reward, to be Dionysus' lover. Prosymnus died before Dionysus could honor his pledge, so...the god fashioned a phallus from an olive branch and sat on it at Prosymnus' tomb. This tradition was widely known but treated as a secret not to be divulged to those not privy to the god's mysteries. It was the source of the custom of parading wooden phalloi at the god's festivities.
Note that the Dionysian Mysteries in Classical Greece were almost exclusively female. The mind reels. Which brings us to our next player in the drama...

Skinner is Thoth/Hermes, assisting the goddess/mother in her search. Thoth healed Osiris by wrapping his dismembered limbs in gauze and here Skinner wraps Mulder in his jacket after Mulder's stand-in Monica has been dismembered. Note that tender shot there- a lot of X-Philes will have my hide for this, but I will go to my grave believing that the "Skin-Man" is gay and suffered an unrequited love for Mulder. In the puritanical context of The X-Files, that scene there is flat-out slashporn.

Now what about Christian? In this scene the hospital staff decides to stop treating Christian and ship him off to a hospice (Father Ibarra claims it is God's will). Scully objects, saying his condition can be treated with stem cell therapy. Another doctor objects. Is "putting the boy through hell" another clue?

Both Isis and Demeter worked as nursemaids during their searches and both treated sickly young boys by burning away their mortality (Dictys and Demophoon, respectively). In both cases their treatments ("putting them through hell," essentially) were opposed. And it goes with out saying that Isis is associated with Sirius.

Here are the only characters Chris Carter acknowledges as symbols- he identifies the nuns as the Three Graces. The Graces are often confused with the Horae, who assisted Demeter in her search for Persephone. It's worth noting that these scene takes place as the snow is melting outside after Cheryl and Mulder have been rescued.


Dogs are everywhere in I Want to Believe, in all contexts, good, bad and indifferent. They are part of all of the major plot points in the story. Chris Carter even makes a Hitchcockian appearance clutching onto an urn of his dog's ashes (the pet had died during production). But I really haven't figured out what Carter is trying to say about them, only that that they are too ubiquitous to be an afterthought.

There's also this strange scene where a dog and Scully are visually conjoined as she demands that a creepy priest leave Christian alone. I don't know bout you, but I don't know of any hospitals that let dogs go trotting around in children's wards.

The dogs are the biggest puzzle in the film. We've been looking at the growing emergence of Sirius symbolism in the media and politics, with both political parties using the Sirius hieroglyph in the campaign logos and Obama milking the meme for all its worth (as we also see with the so-called 'Blue Dogs'). Perhaps to understand it (which I admit I don't yet) we need to look again at what The X-Files is telling us about the world in its Mythology.

If there is a third X-Files film, Carter and Spotnitz have both said they want it to deal with the 2012 Colonization storyline of the Mythology. If we are seeing a metaphorical retelling of the Mythology, are we to believe that the Colonists - or perhaps the creator alien gods of 'Biogenesis' - are from the Sirius star system?

That certainly ties into a lot of the occult and UFOlogy lore that The X-Files plundered for storylines. The concept of 'walk-ins' - alien spirits inhabiting human bodies- gives us a crude parallel to the experiments we see in I Want to Believe. In UFO lore, the walk-ins are from Sirius.

Discounting the usual chitchat about monomyths and hero's journeys, the use of ancient mythology in The Mythology offers two possiblities. First, that Carter and Spotnitz roughly believe what Mike Clelland (of Hidden Experience) and I discussed on his podcast- that UFOlogy is our modern mythos. All of these stories about aliens and flying saucers and abductions are our simply folklore for a technocentric age. That ties into the whole Keel/Vallee theory, which is fashionable among those who want to delve into the subject without being seen as lunatics at fancy dinner parties.

The other possbility has to do with what we hear all of the major characters proclaim throughout The X-Files' Mythology- that the alien creators gave us our religions, science and myths when they genetically engineered the human race. So in fact all of these stories about ancient gods are actually just garbled accounts of the ancient astronauts, perhaps with some folklore and random bits of history thrown in.

This idea becomes quite tantalizing in the context of IWTB when you read news stories stating that some scientists believe that life on earth was seeded from the asteroid Ceres, which is the Roman name for Demeter. Panspermia was the concept that kicked off the whole alien cretor storyline in "Biogenesis."

All of this ties into themes that have been taking up more and more of my time, such as the possibility that these mythic narratives are hardwired into our brains for a reason, namely that they are allegories of realities that ancient people couldn't begin to grasp. And the hallucinogen/alien link is still an enigma, but one I'm convinced has the potential to completely change our current reality paradigm if we solve it.


  1. "...namely that they are allegories of realities that ancient people couldn't begin to grasp."

    I don't know about that. I think they were in a better position than us to grasp it... that's why they actually experienced these things as part of their daily lives. Do we think because we have iPhones and the internet we're capable of grasping what "alien" life would look like?

  2. Great stuff! I ordered Thousand Eye Fried Rice at a Thai restaurant a few days ago, makes me a bit queazy now with your mythic interpretation of eye.

    It's interesting that you claim Skinner was gay, because he was the one my gay friends and I thought was hot. Mulder was too pretty. Also, in the Dionysian Mysteries, Prosymnus was Dionysus' guide to Hades, who desired a sexual favor of Dionysus, so perhaps Skinner is also playing that archetype.

  3. Anonymous - Excellent points well taken, my friend.

    Michael- NO- That's Father Joe too! Damn! I knew Chris Carter was a beast on the myths but that is insane.
    Prosymnus is extremely obscure- none of my myth volumes mention him. He's probably a late Roman-period add-on. Jesus- that is some heavy shite.

  4. I have to admit many of the same themes are subtly woven into the film Silence Of The Lambs.

    Agent Starling's Orpheus-like quest to, at least symbolically or emotionally, rescue someone from the dead is the central act of the story.

    In the movie, I haven't seen it mentioned, but there is a separate nocturnal and subterranean reality that Starling enters almost every time she goes somewhere at night or beneath the surface. For a short list, you have Lecter's cell, Buffalo Bill's basement, Lecter's storage garage, the Smithsonian's Entomology depart (filled with preserved dead bugs) and Lecter's improvised cell in the Tennessee courthouse (in Memphis? - Egyptian connection there, maybe).

    Each of these scenes and locations are incongruous with the external reality. Almost all of them seem either much larger than they could possibly be - Bill's basement, Lecter's garage - or much larger than they should be - the entomology lab is big as a library and Lecter's cell in the courthouse looks like it was assembled in the middle of a high school basketball court.

    Starling's apparent androgyny is probably intentional and the reversal of the role of woman as rescuer (Isis?) is definitely on purpose. You see a similar thing in the recent Swedish film Men Who Hate Women (better known in the US as "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo") as the hero of that movie completely reverses the gender expectations of this sort of story. She rescues the male protagonist or love interest and lets the antagonist die horribly for revenge.

    In Silence of the Lambs as well, you have the obvious death of the father myth driving Clarice - who finds fathers in the FBI agent above her as well as Lecter - and the central story of the Lamb she could not save - lamb probably a reference to the more pagan aspects of Jesus.

    Clarice does rescue her lamb at the end of the story, but her involvement also releases another dead soul from the underworld: Lecter himself, who is much more a Dionysius or Bacchus figure than a Hades (James Gumb or Bill).

  5. John- none of that is coincidental. One of the earliest XF episodes 'Beyond the Sea' was a direct homage to Silence of the Lambs, so much so that the network was uncertain about airing it. They're definitely picking on the themes in Silence in I Want to Believe, in fact I'm sure I've seen them mention that. Scully herself was directly inspired by Clarice Starling.

    Excellent insights.

  6. Chris, every time you do one of these Analysis' on IWTB, a light bulb always goes off in my head, thank you. Again, the hold that mythologies have our psychic is potent.

  7. Actually, this blog is great for narrative analysis on many films. Really, these IWTB essays, Michael Clayton's and the Hancock: Age of Horus mythic analyses are very fascinating.

    I think with X-Files, its creator and writer, the Mesopotamian, Egyptian and Grec-Roman mythic traditions seem to dominate, but it would be interesting to look for syncs following up the Indo-European traditions (that I think were heavily influential on the Vikings as well).

    Particularly, the Kalki Purana describing the Kali Yugga (the "Dark Age" or Age of Kali - in this case a demon like Set or the Antichrist), the last age of mankind when humanity is as far from the divine as possible before death and rebirth. Kalki (possibly derived from the root for Chalk) is the last Avatar of Vishnu who comes forward and essentially destroys the world after it has been corrupted by the demonic influence of Kali.

    Considering your insight into the spiritual vacancy in the US and generally in the world (I'd say fanatic, fundamentalist religion is actually the maniacally desperate response of people who realize that the divine or spiritual is actually absent from their reality), the Hindi eschatology would probably fit into your current worldview.

  8. Chris, you the man! 40 times, now that is borderline for sure. What you provide in terms of synchronicity is key. I tend to imagin that our evolution is in cycles. Yes we are prime brain stems, perhaps the ancients were closer to the story but we are close to the nexus. Or as my friend at Tekgnostics, the sing-lear-ity sp intentional. We are the most evolved. Flashlights in the dark. Dennis

  9. Matt- Thanks, my friend.

    John- Well, certainly the 2012 thing in the XF has that eschatological vibe, as well as the whole idea of these enormous hosts of gods and the chariots and all of it. I agree with scholars who believe there was a singular Indo-European tradition that spread out across Eurasia. There are so many parallelisms between some of the Hindu traditions and the Egyptian pantheons you can't help but wonder. Maybe Sumer was the common denominator there.

    Dennis- Well, I watched it a couple more times over the past couple of days so it's obviously way over the borderline. I crossed the border ages ago. I'm so tuned into that film I didn't realize that it's just way too dark and oppressive for mass consumption. But the same can be said about XF circa season 2 and 3, and certainly 8. I guess when you go against the biggest hype machine in American history you're going to have your ass handed to you.

  10. Totally off topic, but there's no other way to post a general comment I could find. Whether you're following the World Cup or not you've probably heard about the maddening horns known as vuvuzela's. They have an unmistakable drone of a hive of bees. I feel asleep watching a replay and the white noise created by the vuvuzela's triggered a kundalini tingle down the spine that woke me up and creeped me out simultaneously.

    The main stadium in Johannesburg has a hive-like feel.

    But what, just now, synched it all together for me is the official World Cup Adidas Jabulani Ball.

    It's a BEE'S FACE! Is it just me? I love those revelatory moments. You're blog is amazing. Thank you!

  11. Actually, it was this photo that did it for me.

    I've seen photo's of that ball numerous times and for some reason it finally sunk in. Hidden in plain sight indeed.

    Sorry about hijacking the comments on your Alien Dreaming post. I needed to share this for some reason and Secret Sun was the obvious choice.

  12. @Chris,

    if you get a chance, check out
    "When in Rome" starring Kristen Bell and Josh Duhamel.

    Opening minutes has
    "I WANT TO BELIEVE" on the wall of the Solomon Guggenheim Museum NY held in frame.

    See also Youtube: Cai Guo-Qiang: I Want to Believe"


  13. Here's a link to the audio conversation mentioned above;

    THanks for the plug!

    Mike C!

  14. By far the most interesting series you got going, entangling just about every topic on the board.
    keep it coming...

    As for the Skin-man, I could see that being true. Don't remember ever seeing him with a woman. well there was that episode where they make the movie based on them, not only (i think) does skinner have a date, but he worked his magic as producer to have his character hook up with Skully's at the end.
    perhaps its unrequited love for Skully, or maybe he was waiting to get them both into some group thing or maybe he did it to maintain appearances. who knows how far this conspiracy goes.--
    --anyways, sure, as trivial as it is, makes sense. Its just not Egyptian mythology without homo-eroticism

  15. The talk of the Dogs got me thinking about that Florance and the Machine song. "The Dog days are over" in that the lyrics proclaim the dog days are over and the horses are coming so you better run...

    Of course you know the significance of the Horses.

    Then I clicked the link to Ceres and and the International Society of for the Study of the Origin of Life Conference in...Florance

    Florance and the Machines latest hit "Shake it out" says it is always darkest before the Dawn...

    The Dawn spacecraft will arrive at Ceres in February 2015, to prove life?