Follow the Yellow Brick Road, for it is “The Path,” that golden road to awakening and homecoming upon which so many of us are consciously or unconsciously journeying. Thus Dorothy’s awakening is chronicled in the well-known spiritual allegory, The Wizard of Oz.
Yes, I'm speaking of the very same (1939) movie, the one that you likely watched in annual television reruns throughout your childhood. Surely you recognized its deep allegorical messages, did you not? Well, I didn’t, so I was stunned to discover it in a new light while reading the book to my children.
In planning Tayu’s recent Spiritual Film Festival, we considered such classically spiritual films as My Dinner With André, Meetings with Remarkable Men, an interview with the Dalai Lama, and so forth. However, since Tayu's emphasis is on spiritual work in the midst of everyday life (“making the ordinary extraordinary”), we decided that popular mainstream movies were equally appropriate.
Our choices, Pleasantville, Harold and Maude, The Kid, and The Wizard of Oz were all found to be brimming with allegory and afterward fueled wonderful, lively (not overly-intellectual), and engaging discussions.
Presumably you're already quite familiar with Oz, so that I’ll not spoil any surprises by revealing the plot herein. Dorothy (Judy Garland), an innocent and inexperienced little girl (who might represent Essence ), lives in the drab, colorless land of Kansas (the state between incarnations) but dreams of a land “over the rainbow, where skies are blue” (Earth).
A cyclone (the circular cycle of reincarnation) whisks her and her dog Toto to the far-away land of Oz, where her house lands, crushing the wicked witch of the East, whose ruby slippers Dorothy inherits as her birthright.
When my children were babies, I often wondered if they were somehow closer to God than I, and if they knew things that were forbidden me (evidence of which might make another article some day). Likewise, Dorothy was immediately visited and advised by Glinda, the good witch of the north, who might represent God or divine inspiration.
Just as the sun is born each day in the east and dies in the west, so Dorothy finds that she must travel from East (birth) toward West (death) in order to fulfill her all-consuming desire to return home to Kansas.
Dorothy is crowned King and her arrival is celebrated by the Munchkins in a fashion akin to the celebration of the birth of a new baby. Then she is escorted to the yellow brick road which begins as a spiral (reminiscent of the cyclone). Thus she embarks on the bright, clean, golden path of a human lifetime amidst the bright colors, exotic flowers, and strange creatures which might symbolize the many sensations, temptations, distractions, and joys available to any spirit living through an earthly body.
Such joys and distractions are particularly illustrated by the field of poppies, which could signify not just drugs, but all the identifications to which the human form is prey. If unwisely indulged in, these identifications have the potential to lure us from the path and put us to sleep. These identifications include food, sex, money, physical sensations, material possessions, strong attachments to persons, objects, or ideas, etc.
Just as in real life, the Yellow Brick Road forks, and choices must be made. At that point, Dorothy discovers her intellect in the form of the Scarecrow. Just as my own Android (ego-mind) attempts to bolster my image in other's eyes, Scarecrow vainly tries to bluff the crows. He frequently trips himself as does my own mind. His biggest fear is fire, for the flame of enlightenment is death to the ego.
Scarecrow's ability to be re-stuffed with fresh straw reminds me of the mind's many little “I”s, each of which is only transitory but thinks it is the true self. For me, this concept is most frequently demonstrated by the "I" who resolutely decides at night that he will awaken at 6 a.m. for exercise and meditation, only to be superseded by the morning “I” whose priorities turn out to be quite different.
In my own life, the awakening of compassion and empathy for others came some time after the advent of intellect, as does Dorothy’s discovery of the Tin Man, whose longing for a heart symbolizes the “emotional center.”
Tin Man’s plight arose because he accidentally chopped off parts of himself and had them replaced with metal. Perhaps he disassembled himself by dissembling (lying), which caused him to “lose heart.” When I have lied, I’ve sometimes had a similar sense of necessarily “walling off” (e.g. rationalizing) or hiding a portion of myself.
The characters proceed along the increasingly pot-holed and weedy path, which I'm sure we can all recognize in our own lives. There are also dark, spooky forests to be traversed, just as we each must traverse our own griefs and “dark nights of the soul.” I see the need for such trials to add depth to the movie plot but have often failed to appreciate the similar “mixed blessing” of difficulties when they have arisen in my own life.
In one particularly dark forest, the seekers are attacked by the Cowardly Lion. In seeking courage and embodying strength and action, the lion fits into a conceptual triad as the body or “moving and instinctive center.”
The division into three distinct centers (intellectual, emotional, and physical) fits nicely with Fourth Way ideas about the make-up of the human organism, but this tripartite differentiation is also found in other contexts. For example, 4H, the organization for young farmers, derives its name from the same distinction: Healthy Head, Heart, and Hands.
The companions journey westward to see the Wizard. He is a guru whom they believe has the power to grant their wishes, as if a Teacher could bestow awakening without real effort on the student’s part. Instead, the Wizard sends them to conquer the wicked witch of the West, who represents death or the fear of death. Dorothy eventually accomplishes this with water, symbolizing cleanliness and hence purity or truth (true perception/ awakening).
Dorothy returned to the Wizard but found him to be a fraud, or “humbug,” just as students of a spiritual teacher must discover that all the external theater of incense, shaved heads, special robes, gongs, and ideas themselves are in fact just “smoke & mirrors.” Dorothy recognizes this because her instinct, in the form of her dog Toto, pulled back the Wizard’s curtain to reveal the truth.
By his own admission, the Wizard is “a bad wizard but a good man.” He does, in fact, show Dorothy’s companions that they already had all they need and had but to believe in themselves (with token trinkets as “reminding factors”). He then floats “homeward” in a balloon, leaving Dorothy to find her own way “home,” as we all must. The teacher can lead the student to the edge of the cliff, but the student must jump (the leap of faith) for himself. The strongest parallel in my mind is the departure (death) of our founder, Robert Ennis, whose balloon lifted almost four years ago.
The Wizard informed Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Lion that they already possessed what they thought they lacked. The lesson here seems to be that things are not always what they seem – an important concept in unraveling the mysteries and attaining objective knowledge of one’s own being.
The Emerald City is green, a color associated with growth & vitality, and is bejeweled, as befits the value of a Teacher and a Teaching. Although discarded in the movie, the book created this hue by requiring all within the city to wear glasses. While ostensibly to protect eyes from the brilliance, they were clearly green-tinted to actually create the city’s hue.
Everything, of course, looks green through green glasses, which is akin to the Bible's “seek and ye shall find.” That is, we find whatever it is we look for (and, conversely, fail to notice what we don't look for). Be it justice or injustice, a half full glass or a half empty one, providence or lack, acceptance or rejection, truth or untruth, I've certainly found this to be true in my life and in my observations of others.
Finally, Dorothy is aided by Glinda, the good witch of the North (divine inspiration), who shows her that she has had the means to return home all along by merely releasing her attachments to Oz, fixing her attention on Home, and clicking together her ruby slippers three times. Just as a spiritual student gains his freedom not by acquisition but by paying attention and the casting off of burdensome attachments and falsehoods, so Dorothy returns to Kansas by a simple exercise of the ruby slippers, which were her birthright and her connection to the earth. Their red color, opposed to the Wizard’s green, express Dorothy’s individuality, although they would have appeared black through the Wizard's green glasses. I prefer this to the book’s silver slippers which, like a mirror, would tend to reflect surrounding colors instead of being steadfastly unique.
Read the book, and there you’ll find that the flying monkeys demonstrate karma and that another ally, the good witch of the South, might be intuition. In the book, field mice save the lion from the poppies. This is a common parable which shows that many small acts, or perseverance, can be more powerful than a mighty beast: a valuable notion for spiritual work in the midst of daily life.
The newfound insights into this familiar old movie have demonstrated to me that if one looks for spiritual lessons, then life is filled with them.
(Credit is due to several authors, most notably John Algeo, whose excellent and most helpful article can be read at www.theosophical.org/oz.)