UPDATE: May 12, 2011
The post below is from May, 2010, just prior to the series finale. Looking back, this entire post was unknowingly a partial discovery of the meaning of the number 4 in the series 4,8,15,16,23,42. To read an updated version of this blog in context with the rest of the numbers explained, fast forward a year to this blog: LOST: Australia is the Key to the Whole Game.
Original blog from May 10, 2010
LOST is mystery at its finest. If you haven't already, watch JJ Abram’s TED Talk on his mystery box. Let me echo some of the sentiments from that talk that set the framework for what I am about to say...
There are times when mystery is more important than knowledge.
Mystery is the catalyst for imagination.
And then, finally, there’s this idea - stretching the sort of paradigm a little bit - but the idea of the mystery box. Meaning, what you think you’re getting then what you’re really getting.
That last statement resonates deeply - “what you think you’re getting, and what you’re really getting.”
Let's take a simple example of a mystery box within LOST. Let's take Charlie Pace. Do you remember his middle name? It’s Hieronymus. Charlie’s middle name, which has not been focused on for more than 3 seconds in the entire series, is nevertheless a large mystery box. And its contents are hidden in plain sight before our very eyes.
The name Hieronymus refers, in part, to a sixteenth century mathematician named Gerolamo Cardano, or in Latin, Hieronymus Cardanus. Hieronymus Cardanus invented something called the Cardan Shaft, or as we call it today, the Drive Shaft. Drive Shaft is the name of Charlie's band.
But that's not all Hieronymus Cardanus invented. He also invented a method of hiding secret messages in plain sight known as a Cardan Grille. This method involved writing a short story (the message) and embedding it into a larger story - a good story - so that the secret message was hidden in plain sight before your very eyes, while at the same time being so organically embedded in the larger and engaging story that you don’t see it - unless you have the Cardan Grille.
Here the writers are inserting their very philosophy of how to create a good mystery into the mystery itself, embedding it into the story organically in something as simple as a character’s middle name.
With this philosophy of storytelling in mind, I would like to share with you what I believe is a very skeletal reconstruction of the Cardan Grille for LOST - the Drive Shaft of its storytelling methods and of the story itself.
If you wanted to create one of the greatest mysteries ever, you might do what I think the writers of LOST did - study the history of mystery. If you do so, you will find yourself taking an ancient journey through the longstanding traditions of the mystery schools. These orders, what some might call cults, would accept initiates and walk them through successive degrees of disclosure. Those who participated in these schools had to be patient and willing to accept the slow process by which the mysteries were revealed.
The primary method of revelation in these schools was symbolism - emblems that at first made no sense to the recipient. After much reflection and experience, these symbols would begin to take shape and convey deep meaning. The slow, meditative process of discovering the symbol’s meaning worked a transformation in the student - a transformation that is never experienced if the meaning is conveyed using mere words.
Mystery schools have evolved into today what we would call mysticism. Mysticism, as defined currently by Wikipedia, is “the pursuit of communion with, identity with, or conscious awareness of an ultimate reality, divinity, spiritual truth, or God through direct experience, intuition, or insight.” While mysticism is more mainstream in Eastern cultures, it is largely foreign in the West.
Mysticism focuses on experience versus exposition. Intuition versus intellect. Emotion over empirical evidence. A Christian mystic, for example, would be far more interested in spending a day praying and meditating than in attending a Bible study that explains how to pray and meditate.
There is a particular modern mystical order that survives today around the world who call themselves Rosicrucians. The primary flavor of this order in the United States is the Ancient Mystical Order Rosae Crucis, or AMORC. By their own admission, this order is devoted to "study in mysticism, philosophy, Egyptology, art, music, science, and history."
The core philosophy of communication for Rosicrucians may be summed up in this statement from AMORC's Rosicrucian Podcast Two Practical Principles...
The only manner in which man's subconscious may receive any impressions is in the form of non-words, images, and symbols. The subconscious speaks only the language of the symbol and it only understands the language of the symbol. If one desires to communicate with the subconscious, the message must first be transformed into a symbol or an image before it may be released. When we desire to impress any impression on our inner selves, we must first visualize this message in all its detail and provide it with an emotional charge.
A search of the forums today will show that some have pointed out possible Rosicrucian symbolism in LOST, including Juliet’s Brand, references to the numbers, references to its founding by doctors, the Rosicrucian focus on the discovery of Atlantis, etc. Some have even pointed out what I discovered - that in California there is a Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum with a four-toed statue of Tawaret guarding the entrance.
While these connections are interesting, they don’t prove any definitive wholesale connection with Rosicrucianism. After all, there are thousands of mystery boxes, easter eggs, or whatever you want to call them in the LOST story. And millions of people have connected their meaning with just about everything under the sun.
Whichever side of the debate over the connections with Rosicrucianism you fall, the additional facts below, all presented in previously released episodes, will either convince you or at least bring you to the table in hot debate. My premise is that Rosicrucianism is the primary library from which the writers researched and wrote the story of LOST.
Consider the following. The first examples, if left to stand alone, could all be stricken from the record as coincidence. However, if you follow them in succession they will become increasingly harder to dismiss.
Rosicrucian Orders operate on a 108-year cycle
Every 108 years the order is “reset.” This hearkens back to the button in the Swan and how it had to be pressed every 108 minutes in order to “save the world.”
The Legendary Founder of Rosicrucianism is Christian Rosenkreuz
This could be the reason Jack’s father is named Christian and why his character is so pivotal to the story.
The Year 2004 was the 400th Anniversary of the Discovery of Christian Rosenkreuz’s Secret Tomb
2004 was the year of the plane crash.
The Autumnal Equinox is a High, “Holy” Day to Rosicrucians
This day is listed as the only annual public ceremony for AMORC and is also celebrated worldwide. It is a memorial service to pay homage to all Rosicrucians past and present “who have dedicated themselves to carrying on the Rosicrucian teachings and traditions.” (see podcast Autumn Equinox on iTunes in the Rosicrucian Podcast).
Oceanic Flight 815 crashed on September 22, 2004 - the autumnal equinox.
Magnetism and Energy Play a Central Role in Rosicrucian Philosophy
The mysterious pockets of energy on the island and the role of magnetism and its effects on time travel and human consciousness are pulled from this teaching.
The Black Smoke Monster
Rosicrucian Philosophy says the following about discarnate spirits.
The man who has lived a clean and spiritual life, after passing out at death remains but a short time in the lower part of the desire world. As soon as he has freed himself from his physical body he quickly rises into the finer matter of the desire world. But the man who has never known what a pure life meant, who had not thought of life beyond the grave, is like the thick, black smoke: he hovers close to the physical plane. He prefers to cling close to his old haunts, especially if he has a grudge against someone on the earth plane and wishes to get even; then he will remain earthbound until he has succeeded in revenging himself upon the other fellow. He will hover about spiritualistic seances or the place where his enemy lives until he has succeeded in influencing some weak or negative person to carry out his plan of revenge.
Thanks to my friend Michael H for showing me this.
The American “Pope” of Rosicrucianism is Christian Bernard
Bernard is a character in LOST, and he happens to be married to a woman named Rose.
The Primary Symbol of Rosicrucianism, the Rose Cross, is Central to LOST
Consider the following examples where the rose cross, or rosy cross, was displayed right before your eyes - even if you didn’t see it.
Annie’s Birthday Present to Ben
In The Man Behind the Curtain we see a simple nod to the rose cross, with the present being a box wrapped in blue ribbon. The blue ribbon intersects to form a cross in the middle of the box’s top. A blue bow culminates the intersection, forming a rose cross. The emotional charge that accompanies the symbol is Annie's birthday present to Ben - she and she alone seemed to care about him on this day and year's later Ben still carries the gift with him.
Hurley’s Heartfelt Moment at Libby’s Grave
In Everybody Loves Hugo, Hurley removes a dead flower and replaces it with a new one. The flower is placed with the bulb leaning on the center of the cross, forming an obvious reference. The accompanying emotional charge is Hurley's longing to be with Libby again, even if it is from beyond the grave.
The Most Central Rose Cross of All
In every episode where we have been aboard Oceanic 815, whether in the primary or alternative timeline, we have always seen Jack in Row 23. Picture him seated next to the window to his left and staring out. What does he see every time? The wing of the airplane. Now picture Oceanic 815 from above. Jack is seated on Row 23, where the wing intersects the fuselage. The airplane itself forms a cross, with Jack along the center of the cross in the left column of seats. Across the aisle from him, in the center column of seats, is none other than Rose Nadler.
Oceanic Flight 815 is a Rose Cross. It has been hidden in plain sight for the entire series.
Though absent and in the bathroom in most cases, seated in the very center seat of the airplane is her husband, Bernard, a nod to the current head of AMORC, Christian Bernard.
Not only is Flight 815 a rose cross, but true to the philosophy of Rosicrucianism, the symbol itself has been presented to us in all of its detail simultaneously with a high emotional charge - the plane crash - the singular most important event of the entire story.
The Beechcraft as a Rose Cross
If Oceanic Flight 815 is a Rose Cross, what about the Beechcraft?
Consider this. In Deux Ex Machina, as Locke and Boone are searching for the airplane in Locke's vision, they stumble upon a set of rosary beads, which leads them to a body hanging in a tree. They continue their search and find the airplane, lodged in the tree canopy. Boone climbs up and inside, and in the center of the plane discovers a number of Virgin Mary statues, all stuffed with heroin.
The numerous Virgin Mary statues represent the prayer of the Rosary. In the Rosary prayer, there are anywhere from 50-72 Hail Mary petitions uttered by the participant. Boone even throws down a crate full of the Virgin Marys to Locke and says, "Here's your sign."
In addition, the heroin within the statues serves as a symbol for not only a rose, but a full rose cross.
Further strengthening this theory is the voice on the radio. As Boone attempts to make a distress call, he hears someone else on the radio. That voice is later revealed to be Bernard.
And finally, inside the Beechcraft is Eko's brother, wearing the cross that Eko once wore - and would wear again.
And the high emotional charge to ensure that the symbol is delivered to our subconscious? Boone's death. The Beechcraft falls, mortally wounding Boone. And where does the plane land? It lands on top of the question mark. The question mark that represents J.J. Abrams' mystery box. The one he purchased at age 14 and never opened. The one that symbolizes to him the very essence of mystery.
The question mark - the symbol for mystery and perhaps the symbol for "What in the world is LOST all about?"
The question mark sits atop the entrance to the Pearl Station. Perhaps this signifies the Pearl of Great Price - the ultimate prize. The gem of the entire story. The Rose Cross.
If you remember, in Deux Ex Machina, Locke claimed that what was inside the Beechcraft was the key to opening the hatch. But Locke didn't seem to find anything. He went back to the hatch after delivering Boone's broken body to the camp and fell to the ground, his face staring at the dark entrance to the hatch, crying out to the island to understand.
And it was then that the light came on. God, out of the machine. Discovered because Locke had to carry the cross - the rose cross - with him. He had to walk under the weight of the disappointment and suffering of what he expected to find, and what he did find. What he did find was brokenness and loss in the cross that he carried, but in carrying it and falling down and experiencing his lowest moment, a light came on from below. And that light helped Locke, the rose who carried the cross, begin to unfold and bloom and see the results of his faith come to fruition.
So What's the Point?
The point of the Rosicrucian philosophy and symbols in LOST will be debated for years to come. My own view is this: Rosicrucianism is a modern derivative of the ancient mystery schools. These schools, then and now, were devoted to helping humankind find the true meaning and purpose to life. This purpose goes beyond the pursuit of fame, fortune, power, and pleasure. That purpose lies in discovering our true selves, and this purpose is not discovered in the shallow, external offerings of life. Think Desmond and his pursuit to earn Mr. Widmore's approval and the right to drink that Scotch. That is an empty, shallow dream. The true dream is true love - the pursuit of giving yourself unselfishly to other people (like Penelope) and to God Himself.
Happiness and truth are not found in receiving. They are found in giving.
This is precisely why the Man-in-Black is about to lose. He tried to kill the candidates. But how did the candidates who died actually leave this life? Sayid gave his life by running away from the others with the bomb. He protected them by giving up his own life. Jin chose to stay with Sun and die with her, keeping his marriage vow "'til death do us part." And Locke - good Locke - he sacrificed his life, too. He was told that to save the island he had to bring the other candidates back - and the only way he could do that was to die. And even though he didn't understand it, he chose to accept his mission. He chose to sacrifice his life for their sake. Ben was merely the instrument of that sacrifice, just like he was with Jacob.
Jacob himself gave his own life, though the Man-in-Black thinks it was his doing. In the opening scene of The Incident, Jacob is in the heel of the statue of Tawaret weaving a tapestry. He emerges from his meditation to find a fish - a fish that he trapped and killed. He inserts the knife into the fish twice - once in each breast - in order to filet it. Then he places it on the fire and he eats it. He even offers some to the MiB.
This is a parable of Jacob's death. It is he who wove the tapestry of the story so that it would work out this way. It is he who laid the trap. It is he who allowed himself to be stabbed - twice in the chest - just like the fish. It is he who allowed himself to be placed on the fire - just like the fish.
Jacob laid down his life for his friends - and so did Locke, Sayid, and Jin.
The rose cross symbolizes this sacrifice and the key to happiness and purpose on earth - sacrifice. The cross is unwanted. It is difficult to bear. It represents pain and suffering - something we think we have to avoid in order to find purpose and happiness. But in the end, those that choose to deny themselves and pick up this cross and make sacrifices for others - they find true happiness. They do not die on the cross. They unfold as a rose, full of life, and become something beautiful to all who see them.
This is the story of Jesus. This is the life that Jesus asked his followers to live - to deny themselves daily, pick up their cross, and follow him. Western Christianity has largely abandoned this central truth in favor of driving to church once a week, passing the homeless and helpless who need them, and sitting in a pew to listen to dogma. But the real message of Christianity is mystical - it is the search for true purpose in identifying with Jesus and experiencing Him by denying ourselves, taking up our cross, and following him.
As Richard Alpert said in Ab Aeterno when he handed Isabella's cross to the doctor, "Now you have everything." The cross is everything. The rose on the cross - is you.
Greater love has no one than this, that he lays down his life for his friends. John 15:13 (NIV)
Then he said to them all: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me." Luke 9:23 (NIV)