Sunday, November 16, 2014

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. 


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.


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.