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 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 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.
Na'vi Tree of Souls
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.
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.
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.