SOMEWHERE OVER THE RAINBOW
Some works of fiction are created as intentional talismans which contain certain themes or ideas that are connected to a larger archetypal stream; Dante's Divine Comedy, or Edmund Spenser's The Faerie Queen, being just two examples. But in other instances, a writer with no great interest in matters magickal, or shamanistic, may innocently create a work which draws on this stream of archetypes without them even knowing it. Such is the case with L. Frank Baum's modern faery tale of the Wizard of Oz; a classic in American children's books, but one that is suffused with archetypal themes.
Frank Baum (1851-1919) is remembered as
the author of the Wizard of Oz, as well as thirteen
more other Oz books, and an assortment of fairy tales,
short stories, and poems and verses. The Wizard of
Oz became so popular during Baum's own lifetime that
he was able to convert it into a stage play, and it became
a successful musical play on Broadway, leading to the
inspiration of similar works (including Victor Herbert's
Babes in Toyland). Even then, there was something
inherently magickal about the story, and Baum said as
much himself, when he spoke of the work as almost inspired
or channelled: It was pure inspiration.... It came
to me right out of the blue. I think that sometimes the
Great Author has a message to get across and He has to
use the instrument at hand. I happened to be that medium,
and I believe the magic key was given me to open the doors
to sympathy and understanding, joy, peace and happiness.
Although it is little known, Baum had some involvement which what defined magick and the occult in his day. He was a member of the Theosophical Society, and seems to have had a long association with the group before actually joining it. Significantly, it was after this spiritual purusit that he wrote the Wizard of Oz. His son has said that Baum was no slavish Theosophist, and whilst believing in reincarnation (and that he and his wife had been together in previous lives), he did not believe in the transmigration of the soul from animals to humans. Baum did concur with Theosophists in seeing existence on Earth as only one step on a great ladder that passed through many states of consciousness, through many universes, to a final state of Enlightenment. He also believed in the principle of Karma, and that many of the world prophets and religious teachers took their inspiration from the same source.
There is no suggestion that Baum wrote the Wizard of Oz as an intentional magickal allegory, or as anything more than a modern faery tale. A quote from an article he wrote as the editor for The Aberdeen Saturday Pioneer, shows that he was, however, well aware of the potential of such a lterary form: There is a strong tendency in modern novelists toward introducing some vein of mysticism or occultism into their writings. Books of this character are eagerly bought and read by the people, both in Europe and America. It shows the innate longing in our natures to unravel the mysterious: to seek for some explanation, however fictitious, of the unexplainable in nature and in our daily existence. For, as we advance in education, our desire for knowledge increases, and we are less satisfied to remain in ignorance of that mysterious fountain-head from which emanates all that is sublime and grand and incomprehensible in nature. .
TRAVELLING OVER THE RAINBOW
The title of this article, Somewhere over the rainbow, although coming from the movie adaption of the story, and not from the book itself, makes a perfect illustration of the shamanic themes of the Wizard of Oz. The kingdom of Oz lies somewhere over the rainbow, and so it is over this rainbow that Dorothy symbolically travels to reach it; a patently shamanic motif. Throughout the world the rainbow is seen as a magickal bridge between this world and the next: the concept is found in Australia, Indonesia, Melanesia, Hawaii, Japan, and in the legends of the Maori of New Zealand. Similarly, the Turkic language employs the same word for rainbow and bridge. Amongst the Yurak-Samoyed, the shaman's drum was called the bow, whilst the Turks and Uigur tribes regarded the drum as a celestial bridge. In northern Europe, the rainbow formed the bridge of Bifrost, which was said to stretch from the edge of Nifelheim, and across the heavens (which made it analogous with the Milky Way). This celestial bridge was, in turn mirrored in the underworld by the crystaline, black rainbow of Gjallarbru; the bridge that crossed the river of Giall.
But it is not via the rainbow that Dorothy travels to Oz, but through a cyclone which carries her, and her house, into the air and miles away from Kansas. This too is an important shamanic motifs. In the Finnish Kalevala, a whirlwind formed by the dark goddess Louhi carries the divine smith Ilmarinen down to the Finnish hel Pojhola. Elsewhere in Europe, this maqickal vortex appears as the maelstrom of the Hvergelmir well, which sucks all the waters in the world's oceans down to Helheim, and then back up again. It was through this well that shamans were able to drown into Hela, or in the case of sailors, journey to the queendom of her aquatic aspect, Ran. This same whirlpool appears in the legend of Odysseus, under the name Charybdis, and also in the traditions of Borneo as a whirlpool island, through which access could be gained to the land of the Pleiades.
In the story, Dorothy assumes the role of the shaman on a journey into the otherworld, in which she encounters aspects of her self, who assume the form of her companions she meets along the way. These are represented by the four elements: Dorothy herself is earth, while the Cowardly Lion is fire, the Scarecrow is air, and the Tin Woodman is water. Dorothy seeks to return home to Kansas (while the Scarecrow seeks a brain, the lion seeks courage, and the Tin Woodman desires a heart), and to do this, she and her companions must travel to the Emerald City at the centre of Oz, to ask assistance of the great wizard of Oz. It is not just for the convention of story-telling that the journey has to be made, but rather, it is the journey itself that gives the four travellers what each of them desire. Upon her arrival in Oz, Dorothy learns that the kingdom is divided quarternally, with each direction ruled by a witch. The Witch of the North, and Glinda, the Witch of the South, are good witches, while the witches of the east and west are not so good. The witch of the west has a particularly helish resonance, having only one eye, and attended by forty wolves and forty crows, as well as a swarm of black bees.
Upon her arrival in Oz, Dorothy kills the wicked witch of the east with her falling house, and in some respects, takes over her role, because only a great witch could have killed another such as the witch of the east. She cements this role by taking the silver shoes (transformed famously into ruby slippers in the movie version) of the eastern witch. These shoes have a mythic resonance, recalling the Rökkr hel-skos, which Scandinavian dead were given to travel the helvegr on their way to Helheim. Later Dorothy finds that the shoes are indeed magickal, and it is through them that she is able to return home. This theoretical gift from the eastern witch is complemented by a gift from the northern witch, who kisses Dorothy on the forehead, leaving a round shining mark, which acts as protection. The similarity of this mrk to the bipdu or third eye is obvious, and it signifies the true beginning of Dorothy's journey into Oz, and into herself. Another gift comes from the witch of the west, in the form of a magickal hat which commands the winged monkeysl this is reminiscent of the shamanic hel-kappe.
On her journey into Oz, Dorothy is accompanied by her dog Toto. Although Toto is a diminutive and rather scrappy dog, he is thematically the same helhound seen in other cultures, and responsible for guiding dead souls, or shamans, into the otherworld. In Rökkr kozmology, he is Garm; to the Greeks he was the three-headed Cerberus; the Egyptians knew him as Anubis; while the Etruscans pictured the underworld boatman Charon with wolf ears.
In a later tale of Oz, where Dorothy returns to Oz, she is once again accompanied by a shamanic animal guide, Henrieta the Hen. In the Orphic mysteries, for example, the cock was a bird of resurrection and was sacred to Asclepius, who was able, for as long as he himself lived, to raise the dead. In medieval superstition, it was believed that the crowing of a white cock, a red cock, and a black cock announced that the souls of the dead were leaving the earth. This same pattern is visible at the opening of Ragnarok, where the cock Fialar first crows, followed by the rusty-black cock in Hel, and finally Goldencombe, the cock of the north, announcing that penultimate departure of souls, the battle of Ragnarok. The cock was, thus, regarded as the guide of departed souls, and was understandably associated by the Greeks with the goddess Persephone and the psychopomp Hermes.
To reach the Emerald City, Dorothy travels upon the yellow brick road, a thematic extension of the rainbow bridge that we have already considered. The road can be read as a form of the Milky Way, which features in almost all shamanistic: cultures as the path of the dead, where travelling it allows one to enter the realm of the dead, or equally, to enter the realm of the gods. Vrou-elden-straat (Frau Hela's Street) as the Milky Way is called in Holland, is the Helvegr, the road to Hel; although Dorothy's yellow brick road can be compared to Gjallarbru also, since the bridge is golden. When Hermod, the messenger of the gods, travelled nine days along Helvegr to visit Hel, to bargain with Hela for the soul of Balder, he was making a shamanic journey along the Milky Way, riding on the horse Sleipner (metaphorically a shamanic drum). The gate of Hel would, then, have been on the edge of the sky, where the Milky Way intersected with the zodiac band. This is similar to how Romans thought souls ascended into the sky through the sign of Capricorn, and then descended via Cancer, at the opposite end of the Milky Way. Importantly, in Rökkr astrology, Cancer is represented by the river of Gjall.
On her way through Oz, Dorothy encounters races of people not too dissimilar to the magickal races from European myth. Like so many things in Oz, these races are classified along elemental lines: The Munchkins are blue and live in the east of Oz, the Winkies are yellow, and live in the west; and the Quadlings are red, and live in the south. All the races are short, and act almost as elementals or daevas. The similarity with devas is significant, because of the way the land of Oz, which Dorothy enters significant;y from the east, resembles a mandala, with the four differently coloured lands at each corner, and the Emerald city at the center. As a Theosophist, Baum would have certainly been aware of mandalas, though whether he consciously set out to emulate one when he created Oz is a matter of debate.
At the centre of both Oz, and the story of Dorothy, is the Emerald City. The idea of an emerald city at the centre of the world relates not only to shamanic kozmology, but to the mythos of the hollow earth, which can be entered through the holes at the poles. These holes are associated with a green light, which also appears in alchemy as the green ray, which gives spiritual illumination. In Iranian mysticism the world mountain, in the words of the French scholar Henry Corbin, is: "Sphere of Spheres, surrounding the totality of the visible cosmos; an emerald rock, casting its reflection over the whole of the mountain of Qaf, is the key-stone of this celestial vault, the pole." In Chinese kozmology, also, the pole star is made of a green stone, jade. Similarly, in the poet Dante's polar journey set forth in the Divine Comedy, when he reaches paradise beneath the stars of Ursa Minor, his love Beatrice appears robed and veiled in green, with her eyes shining like emeralds.
The green light of the Emerald City, and the hollow earth, is the light of the aurora borealis, or the northern lights, which is created when solar particles are trapped within the upper atmosphere of the earth's gravitational field, and gravitate towards the poles. Here, they appears like a vast green curtain, dancing across the sky. In Rökkr kozmology, the green light is the light of the giantess Gerda, daughter of Angrboda and Eggthir. In one myth, the Vanir god Frey sat on the throne of Odin, from which it was possible to see the whole world, and looking north, he saw Gerda emerge from her fire-ringed castle. She was tall, with arms that gleamed like silver, and when she raised them over her head, the sky filled briefly with her brilliance. The site of the castle of Gerda is, of course, the north pole, and a version, like the Emerald City, of the paradisial otherworld; making the green light Another manifestation of the Sun at Midnight.
When Dorothy and her companions finally meet the wizard of Oz, they find that he is not really a wizard, but a humbug from Omaha, who has managed to pretend he is a great wizard for many years. And although Dorothy thinks this is terribly dishonest, Oz reveals that the secret to performing magic is being thought that you can perform magick. If the people around you think you you are a great worker of magick, half the work is done. On a more reputable note, Oz also teaches that what those things that the Scarecrow, the Woodman, and the Lion seek are all within them already. To be intelligent you only have to think you are intelligent; to have a heart, you only have to acknowledge that you have a compassionate heart; And to have courage, you simply have to believe that you have courage.