The Inverted Spirituality of Avatar: Elevating Collective Consciousness to the Level of Divinity

Avatar is without a doubt a film of high caliber, incorporating relevant social, moral, and spiritual concerns within its story. However, in spite of many positive aspects of the film, there are certain themes presented throughout the story that may mislead the audience into viewing the enchanting world of the Na'vi as a metaphor for a necessary course of action to take for humanity to shake off its present maladies of a highly self-centered, technocratic society, in exchange for a more group-based, nature-centered collective.

In this futuristic story, the advanced human civilization extends its aspirations of progress to a planet called Pandora, seeking to displace the local tribal people, the Na'vi, in hopes of mining a lucrative mineral dubbed 'unobtanium'. In order to facilitate diplomatic relations with the natives, the human team of scientists devised the Avatar program in which they upload their consciousness into laboratory-created bodies, which are a hybrid species of human and Na'vi DNA, called Avatars. The protagonist of the story, Jake Sully, becomes the most promising Avatar of the team , who is the means by which the earthlings, or 'sky people', aspire to find a compromise between the two cultures.

In the film we also find the lead scientist, Grace, who at first impression seems condescending and overly-critical, but later shows to be a key figure for the audience to identify with and learn from, as she becomes more involved with the native society and religion of the Na'vi. Just as some anthropologists such as Michael Harner have come to adapt the worldview of the shamanic people they have studied, Grace eventually comes to understand the Na'vi's world not through the detached analyses of science, but by direct experience with their Mother Goddess, Eywa, who is 'made up of all living things'.

The film's antagonists, ex-military commander turned corporate mercenary Colonel Quaritch and Resources Development Administration representative Parker Selfridge, depict and personify two evils of modern society: unmitigated genocidal warfare directed against indigenous, traditional societies and industrial exploitation of nature. We know these character types well, as we have seen them not only in current world events, but throughout modern history as well.

The past centuries of globalization have been nothing more than the systematic conquering and assimilation of traditional spiritual-based societies into the secular, utilitarian globalist empire. Whether they be the indigenous tribes of the Americas, Africa, or Oceania, the story has always been the same: white people invade a foreign land, exploit the local resources and bring devastation to the native 'savage' people, indoctrinating any survivors into the Western way of life. The events in Avatar act as a metaphor for our own destructive history. The indigenous have no need for 'light beer and blue jeans', as Jake remarks; their way of life is perfectly whole and balanced as it is, with no need for modern interference.

James Cameron likely borrowed the name Avatar from popular computer jargon for an internet user's alter-ego; however, it is important to note the original meaning of the word. In the Hindu tradition, the Avatāra is a divine being who descends into the world of manifestation, providing teachings of the highest Truth to a people drowning in spiritual ignorance.

In the case of the movie, the role of the Avatar is quite the reverse, as Jake is merely a bumbling neophyte in the world of the Na'vi, who becomes open to learning about their traditional way of life, and eventually overcoming his 'insanity', that is, his lifelong conditioning of the modern worldview.

In turn, we discover an alternative to the modern nightmare of pillage and impossible goals of endless economic growth at the expense of the environment. We learn about the traditional way of life of the Na'vi people, which is, in reality, a way of life similar to that which we humans had lived for countless centuries before the advent of the 'Age of Reason'. It is a society in which every facet of the community revolves around an age-old spiritual tradition, living in balance with Nature and communing with unseen forces from other realms.

What we find through the explorations of Jake and Grace, is that nature is not a blind process of mechanical multi-cellular functions, but a network of intelligence, united through a field of spiritual energy.

Na'vi Tree of Souls

The Na'vi people have the ability to commune with this force, which is manifest in all lifeforms, with the 'All Mother' of nature, Eywa, residing in their sacred tree. What we witness in the story is a ritual of collective prayer and union with the Mother Goddess, as all the members of the Na'vi tribe unite with the planet and engage in a sort of collective trance. Remarkably, the scenes featuring group prayer around the Tree of Souls bears a striking resemblance to the 'Monkey Chant' practiced in Bali, which is a modern adaptation of the older sanghyang ritual, in which participates induce trance through dance, inviting entities to temporarily possess their bodies in hopes of warding off evil.

Balinese Monkey Chant

What we see here is a parallel to popular ideas found in chthonic religions, as mentioned in a previous article. This branch of spirituality is earth-based, focusing on the divinity of Nature and typically encompasses collectivist tendencies and petitions to lower-level entities for assistance. This is not to say that these practices are entirely negative; however, when incorporated into a modern setting by means of New Age, Neo-Pagan, or Wiccan movements which lack any age-old foundation, what we often find are distortions or parodies of real traditions -- which are increasingly becoming extinct as the modern global empire extends its grasp on any remaining traces of traditional societies. In place of genuine spirituality, we find sentimental delusion in its place, oftentimes assimilating a mixture of various traditions into a syncretic mush of watered down doctrine.

These modern spiritual movements, together with scientific philosophies like the Gaia hypothesis, have been gaining increasing acceptance in the public. While seeming to be peaceful, nature-friendly ideologies, what we have is in fact a body of teachings that suits the intentions of the global elite: uniting the people through a new, worldwide doctrine, whereby the Earth is venerated and individuals conform to the new order of collectivity and dependence on the global system, or risk the very survival of our species, as they would have us believe. Public statements promoting a new worldview incorporating balance with nature (especially in terms of human population) have been promoted by such elites as Ted Turner, Bill Gates, Henry Kissinger, Al Gore, and the Rockefeller family, and can be seen on the ominous Georgia Guidestones, which not only call for a global reverence of nature, but also the drastic reduction of the human population to under 500 million.

Instead of a call to return to traditional ways of life, which are inherently in balance with nature, the government and media encourage us to 'Go Green!', as if driving hybrid cars and paying carbon tax will magically fix our environmental problems. The problem is not simply the unsustainability of modern industry and environmental devastation; the problem is our very way of life and the modern worldview that has formed it.

Avatar does well to provide a clear example of the madness of the modern world; however, the solution it subtly offers only acts to direct the public further towards embracing the concept of planetary collective consciousness as religion. The move toward collectivity is a tendency to reduce individuals in a society into a hive mind. By contrast, a transcendent spiritual path seeks union with the divine Absolute, not assimilation into the material-based collective.

Taking traditional cultures such as Hindu and Native American civilizations as an example, Mother Earth has her place and receives respect, but without ignoring the Father of creation, that is, the absolute, transcendent quality of existence, which supports all of manifestation while simultaneously remaining whole and apart from its creation, residing in an unchanging infinite center, where all worlds are contained simultaneously in one eternal moment.

Earth-based ideologies are certainly not wrong in declaring a change in humanity's maladaptive relation to Nature, nor are they wrong in saying that the Earth and all life are sacred and that there exists a conscious, living force in all things, of which we are all a part. Rather, the core problem rests in the substitution for the Earth as the supreme principle, rejecting any celestial-oriented practices, such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, and esoteric Christian, Jewish and Islamic traditions, which seek liberation from the limited realm of manifested existence by ascension to higher states and ultimately realizing union with the Absolute.

In Avatar we find no mention of a Father deity or any possibility of ascension into higher realms. This concept of ascension is often represented by the World Tree in traditional myths, such as Yggdrasil in Nordic legends, Ashvastha in Hinduism, or the Wacah Chan of the Mayans. In the film we do find a sacred tree; although, it incorporates more of an underworld quality than anything, as it represents only the collectivity of ancestors of the people and the Mother Goddess in whose presence they all reside.

The World Tree

It might be suggested that the two worlds in Avatar, Earth and Pandora, could serve as a metaphor for a journey from the physical realm into the astral plane, considering the magical quality of the world of Pandora with its floating mountains and telepathic trees; however, it must be understood that the astral plane is merely the intermediary world to be traversed on the path toward the true spiritual realms of the formless causal plane and beyond, the astral dimension being a chaotic, dream-like realm of illusions, where a traveler encounters both good and evil forces. To relate the two worlds in Avatar to a metaphor of ascension from a lower domain to a higher realm would not only be an incomplete comparison, but in fact a total inversion.

Within the story's context, the sky realm and its people are seen as evil to the Na'vi, as are their so-called Avatars, or 'dreamwalkers', whose presence does not provide peace as a true Avatāra would, but instead harbors displacement and assimilation of the native people. This inversion of symbolism used in the film, representing the upper realm and its celestial savior as maleficent and the lower realm of the earth as holy, further conditions the audience to fall under the film's suggestion that the path of ascension is to be rejected and replaced by worship of the Earth. As a leading example for the audience, the hero's role becomes that of the Antichrist, who leads the masses out of the blindness of scientific materialism, only to shepherd them into the dark side of the subtle realms beyond. Afterall, it was not until the story's hero began to change his former ways and sever his ties with the sky people that he could be initiated into the pantheistic cult of the tribe.

To the film's credit, one concept taken from traditional spirituality is the idea of the 'second birth'. Early in the movie, as Jake prepares to embark on his journey into space, he recounts how 'One life ends, another begins'. Later when he gains acceptance into the Na'vi society, he learns how 'everyone is born twice', once at birth and again at initiation into the tribe. And finally, at the film's conclusion the hero permanently leaves his human body behind, becoming reborn as a true Na'vi. What this alludes to in initiation traditions is the rite of 'ego-death', in which the spiritual aspirant sheds his old, limited identity, bringing about the 'second birth' in which one's true nature is realized. Jake's transformation into a Na'vi is an allegory to this rite, however, considering the earth-based practices of the Na'vi, there is no real concept of rebirth into a higher state of being; therefore, the film's depiction lacks any spiritual significance, in the true meaning of the word.

In the midst of our present age of ignorance, there is trap set for those who finally awaken from the dream spun by a materialist worldview: as soon as a person realizes the blindness of the modern mentality and breaks free from the bindings of 'rational' thought and discovers the reality of the supernatural, he more than often stumbles into one of the myriads of misguided 'spiritual' practices found so easily nowadays. Often having long rejected and forgotten his own religious upbringing, erroneously thinking it to have contained nothing of value but childish superstitions and outdated moral codes, our new aspirant finds himself enchanted by the revised worldview cast before him by a group who seem to hold profound knowledge and experience of the world beyond. What is not portrayed on the surface, or oftentimes not even consciously understood by the group members themselves, is that the domain they value is not the upper realm, but in fact the subterranean realms, or underworld, indicated by the desire for guidance from subconscious forces (as opposed to supra-conscious) and reverence for the collective consciousness. Contrary to New Age sentiments, forces and entities that come from beyond are not always compassionate beings of love and truth; these so-called spirit guides are oftentimes inchoate thought-forms created by the subconscious or even low-level entities masked by the guise of friendship.

The french metaphysician René Guénon provided sound advice in saying "it is impossible to be too mistrustful of every appeal to the 'subconscious', to 'instinct', and to sub-rational 'intuition', no less than to a more or less ill-defined 'vital-force' -- in a word to all those vague and obscure things that tend to exalt the new philosophy and psychology, yet lead more or less directly to a contact with inferior states. There is therefore all the more reason to exercise extreme vigilance (for the enemy knows only too well how to take on the most insidious disguises) against anything that may lead to the being to become 'fused' or preferably and more accurately 'confused' or even 'dissolved' in a sort of 'cosmic consciousness' that shuts out all 'transcendence' and so also shuts out all effective spirituality." (The Reign of Quantity & the Signs of the Times, 1945)

In the fantasy world of Avatar, Jake shed his old identity to become part of a better society in a more promising world, but in our modern society, this is often not the case for one who attempts an analogous path. There are many pitfalls when seeking a genuine spiritual practice. These days it is all too easy to be seduced into an ideology without understanding its real implications and consequences. The path becomes all the more obscure when the misguiding forces are those most easily accessed by the public, especially seemingly ideal conditions presented in a fictional world on the big screen. While the events in Avatar provide a very real look back on ourselves and the degenerative history of the modern world, the alternative spirituality presented in the film should by no means be understood to be ideal. As the world's largest grossing movie of all time, Avatar has moved scores of people, some perceiving the film as merely Hollywood entertainment, while others understanding the film's call for a real change in the world. In either case, the world of Pandora appeals to us deeply, even if only on a subconscious level, which makes the film's use for social programming all the more feasible. Following Avatar's message of collectivism and Earth worship will only, in a sense, open 'Pandora's Box', and lead us further down the path of degeneration, as we shun the spirit of destructive materialism, only to embrace the demons of the chaotic psychic domain which will only act to keep us further bound to lower realms, obstructing our ascension to the highest of truths.


Joanna said...

wow, this is incredibly insightful. what i noticed was contradictory in the movie was we Jake Sully dominated he's flying dragon thing... the idea was that they become one, but after he "conquered" the beast, he was like "now you're mine or now i own you" or something to that extent. Anyway, that really bugged me, so your comments to him being more like an antichrist make sense to me, though i don't think that was James Cameron's intent.

anyway, i really enjoyed your analysis, thanks for sharing!

Inner Peace 1979 said...

"Jake's transformation into a Na'vi is an allegory to this rite, however, considering the earth-based practices of the Na'vi, there is no real concept of rebirth into a higher state of being; therefore, the film's depiction lacks any spiritual significance, in the true meaning of the word."

I partially disagree with this statement because the fact that he was permanently restored as a Na'vi includes the fact that he was reborn three times, into a culture of ahigher spiritual awareness than that of the 'sky people' - higher, not the highest though.

It basically boils down to having some true spiritual value but it's practical effect in the audience is so opposite to what it could be that is sad and borders the ridiculous. Instead of people understanding the deeper message of the movie, as incomplete a spiritual path as it is, what you see all over the WWW is a mish mash of fan made Na'vi.
People «avataring» themselves, Avatars having sex in an IMVU sort of game, cosplay any and everywhere on the planet, the list goes on.
What is slightly disturbing about this fad is that people are unaware that while they're having [their innocent] fun they're also taking part of a subtle mass Burnaysian hysteria, in which the reject their own humanity.

The audience's emotions have also been thus manipulated in the motion picture to rejoice as they see the Na'vi fight for their freedom and planet and killing: humans. Agreed the humans they're fighting represent deprevity and sadicist entities; which doesn't alter the fact that the aduience, and even myself admitedly felt that surge of emotion while watching the battles the evocate the Native American's battles against the Wasichu ( the white man)...

This movie may be inspiring but it also contains these misconceptions to say the least, or these dangerous distortions to go a little farther...

Thanks for your article, indeed insightful and full of relevant references.
All the best ^^

Thaddeus Griebel said...

You make a good point. Getting an audience riled up over the death of humans is a disturbing idea, especilly the frequency which it appears in so many movies. What we have here is yet another film that gives the message that human nature is inherently cruel and selfish; although it would be much more precise to see the Na'vi as a reflection of ourselves from ancient times, that our 'insanity' as a species is a consequence of modernity, not our genes. That is not to say that pre-modern times were entirely peaceful (of course there were still wars and conflicts); however, the modern shift into secular materialism and its ensuing chaos has accentuated our 'fall' even further, and repeating the idea over and over that we are inherently evil, instead of acknowledging our spiritual nature, only makes matters worse.

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