october 2009

The Theosophical Foundations of L. Frank Baum's Wizard of Oz
By Wayne Purdin

The Wizard of Oz is an allegorical tale of the soul's journey along the spiritual path, which in the story is called "the yellow brick road." In Buddhism it's called "the golden path."

Seventy years ago, MGM released The Wizard of Oz, which the American Film Institute voted #6 out the 100 best motion pictures of all time. Although it lost out to Gone with the Wind as Best Picture for 1939, it won two other Oscars and was more popular as a rerun on television.

I think part of the tremendous appeal that The Wizard of Oz had on viewers young and old were the timeless truths contained in the symbolism of its plot and characters. This spiritual symbolism was infused into the story from the author's profound understanding of Theosophy. Not many people know that L. Frank Baum was a Theosophist and used his stories to illustrate the teachings of Theosophy. In the October, 1986 edition of The American Theosophist, John Algeo, vice-president of the International Theosophical Society, wrote "Further evidence for Baum's involvement with Theosophy is found in his children's books, especially The Wizard of Oz. Indeed, The Wizard can be regarded as Theosophical allegory, pervaded by Theosophical ideas from beginning to end."  Katherine M. Rogers, in her biography of Baum, wrote: "Theosophy was to influence the development of Baum's fantasies through its affirmation of a reality beyond the everyday visible world; its vision of a cosmos in which physical and spiritual reality were part of one great whole, filled with beings seen and unseen and governed by the same physical and moral laws of an all-embracing divine order. Baum's fairies and fairyland are so concretely realized because as a Theosophist, he believed they had spiritual or subjective reality. In his imagined world, which is not sharply distinguished from the world in which we live, divine or at least extraordinary presences are all around, many of whom devote themselves to watching over children and other living things."

The Wizard of Oz is an allegorical tale of the soul's journey along the spiritual path, which in the story is called "the yellow brick road." In Buddhism it's called "the golden path." In Spiritual Journeys Along the Yellow Brick Road, Darren John Main suggests that The Wizard of Oz contains timeless truths that transcend culture. Everything in this story is an allegory. Kansas represents the physical plane of existence. Oz represents heaven or the etheric plane, particularly the Emerald City, which is like an etheric retreat. Oz is surrounded by a deadly desert of shifting sands, which in the teachings of Theosophy is called the ring-pass-not between the etheric and other dimensions. As Baum lay on his deathbed, his last words were, "Now we can cross the shifting sands [to Oz]." Dorothy travels to Oz "over the rainbow" or what some esoteric teachings call the "Rainbow Bridge" to higher dimensions. For the Theosophists, the seven rays of the rainbow would correlate with the seven paths of service that each one must master before he is to ascend the earth plane. There are seven steps of initiation in which we have to journey in order to return to God. The Theosophists also had a system where each one of the rays correlated with each of the seven chakras or energy centers in the human body.

Her journey can be seen as a near-death experience and her adventures there as preparation for returning to schoolhouse Earth and passing her tests. The cyclone represents the cycles of karma as we make mistakes, learn lessons and pass tests the next time they come around. The cyclone spirals upwards as we progress through various cycles on the path. It's significant that the yellow brick road begins as an outwardly expanding spiral. The spiral is a symbol of the evolving self, portraying the way people move beyond and then return to certain core issues as they develop. As you go up the spiral you return to the same issues again and again. As you go up, they are at more refined levels of experiences. Familiar difficulties occur, but at higher level on the spiral. So, at times we are embedded in psychological issues during a developmental stage and when we progress on the spiral we get new tasks and challenges. So it is accumulative.

Unlike Dorothy's other companions, Toto isn't lacking anything. He represents Dorothy's animating spirit, which the soul needs to achieve wholeness and eventually ascend.

Oz proper is part of the lower etheric and the lands that surround it, beyond the deadly desert, are part of the astral plane, inhabited by evil creatures. So it isn't perfect. Once she gets there, Dorothy realizes that she doesn't belong there and that she has to find her way back home." In the end she comes to the realization that "you don't need to travel over the rainbow to find your heart's desire," you can find it "in your own backyard." In other words, we don't have to have a near-death experience, but our ordinary lives can provide us with the opportunities and tests to develop our soul, go within and change our drab existence into a luminous magical world. Ultimately, we must integrate the physical with the etheric. Toto, who acts as a catalyst to get Dorothy away from the storm cellar, into the upward spiraling cyclone and into Oz, comes from the Latin "totum," meaning "whole." Unlike Dorothy's other companions, Toto isn't lacking anything. He represents Dorothy's animating spirit, which the soul needs to achieve wholeness and eventually ascend. In Baum's sequels, Dorothy becomes a princess of Oz and is able to travel back and forth at will. She is at home in both her inner and outer worlds.

The silver slippers, which she gets from the Wicked Witch of the East, represent our direct connection to the white fire of Mother Earth through the base chakra, which is the seat of the kundalini energy. Dorothy does not know that the shoes have power, and that they can take her home. In the same way, most people are unaware of the kundalini power asleep within them. From the Wicked Witch of the West, she gets the golden cap that can summon the flying monkeys to do her bidding. The golden cap represents the crown chakra or our direct connection with God, who can send us angels when we make the call.

Dorothy's journey is the sort of archetypal pilgrimage or quest found in many myths and folktales. To make this journey, Dorothy needs to draw on and develop her intellect (the Scarecrow), her heart (the Tin Man) and her courage (the Cowardly Lion). Jesse Stewart, in Secrets of the Yellow Brick Road, writes that they represent Dorothy's "threefold soul: thinking, feeling and will." In Theosophy, this is called the "threefold flame." However, it is an unbalanced and weak threefold flame. The Scarecrow should represent wisdom, but he's brainless. The Tin Man should be the love flame, but he has no heart, no feeling. The Cowardly Lion should be the decisive, determined and courageous will, but he's spineless. And they don't work as a team. As she must bring together her inner and outer worlds (Oz and Kansas), Dorothy must integrate and balance these parts of her soul. In the process, she overcomes a number of challenges to achieve her spiritual alchemical transformation.

Thus, Dorothy and her three companions represent the evolving soul, and Glinda, the Good Witch of the North, is the higher self, which is already perfect.

Thus, Dorothy and her three companions represent the evolving soul, and Glinda, the Good Witch of the North, is the higher self, which is already perfect. Glinda gives her a kiss on the forehead, which leaves a round, shiny mark. She tells Dorothy that this mark will protect her from all harm. This is like the circle that was painted on the foreheads of the righteous in Ezekiel 9:6 to protect them from death. The circle has always been used in magic and spiritual work for protection. It's also symbolic of opening the third eye, so she can see her way through dark times on her journey. This scene illustrates the importance of contacting the higher self. When Dorothy and her companions take a shortcut through a poppy field, symbolizing mind-altering drugs, which some people think they can use as a shortcut to the etheric dimension, Glinda intervenes and wakes them from their stupor.

The Wizard of Oz is a tale of a soul caught in despair and how the protection and guidance of the higher self and the action of a balanced threefold flame can get that soul to the point of initiation where she must confront the shadow self or dweller-on-the-threshold. The Wicked Witch of the West represents the dweller, and Baum clearly indicated this when he had his illustrator William Denslow show the witch sitting on the threshold of a doorway. The doorway leads to Dorothy's initiation. Carolyn Myss, in Spiritual Alchemy, sees the witch as the embodiment of Dorothy's fears that she must face and overcome. But according to Theosophy, the dweller can be any negativity that keeps you from passing an initiation, for it is the sum total of all the negative momentums you haven't overcome in all your embodiments.

Dorothy's three companions want the wizard to grant them what they're lacking, and Dorothy wants him to send her back home, but he tells them they must first kill the Wicked Witch of the West. He does so because he has no real power and hopes the witch will get rid of them. Princess Ozma, the rightful ruler of Oz, is the true spiritual alchemist of Oz and, in later sequels, uses her magic powers and guidance to help Dorothy. In Baum's final book, Glinda of Oz, he introduces "the Adepts," beings who have acquired supernatural powers through studying the occult laws of nature. These are like the true spiritual alchemists, such as the master Omraam Mikhael Aivanhov, who have transformed themselves and who guide the spiritual transformation of mankind. The wizard represents the false gurus who pretend to be spiritual masters but who haven't even mastered themselves.

So Dorothy and her companions bravely enter the witch's territory. The Scarecrow, Tin Man and Cowardly Lion work together and develop their latent qualities to defend themselves against attacks by the Wicked Witch of the West. They are attacked by wolves, crows, bees and Winkies. When they are attacked by the flying monkeys, the Scarecrow loses his straw (nerves). Dorothy is imprisoned in the witch's castle. Dorothy is forced to confront her dweller on her own and uses the power of water, her emotions or heart chakra, to destroy the wicked witch, and the power of the golden cap, her crown chakra, to take her and her friends back to the Emerald City. However, she still is unaware of the kundalini power in her silver slippers, her base chakra, because she asks the wizard to take her home in his hot air balloon. Was Baum making a pun here that the wizard was full of hot air? When her catalyst Toto causes her to miss her ride, she despairs until her higher self shows her that all she had to do was click her silver slippers three times while saying "There's no place like home." Clicking the heels three times indicates that it's a sacred ritual because many sacred rituals repeat actions or words three times in honor of the trinity.

The Wizard of Oz is one of the most popular modern American folktales because it give us hope. It not only shows us that love conquers all and good can defeat evil, but it shows us how—through a balanced concerted action of a developed threefold flame under the protection and guidance of our higher self.

"True evolution consists in learning to make use of words, either spoken or written, with a divine end in mind, in other words to use elements of the Word solely to create what is right, good and beautiful."—Omraam Mikhael Aivanhov

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