An allegory is defined as a story that can be interpreted to reveal a hidden meaning. (The synonym of ‘parable’ is the favored term for fictional comparison toward spiritual concepts.)
The Wizard of Oz is a classic piece of literature that has been assigned several allegories by individuals who see hidden meanings in his iconic work. Frank Baum, author of the Wizard of Oz books, stated that he wrote the stories to entertain children. But allegories abound interpreting his fantasy story as commentary on political, economic, cultural and spiritual environments. Proponents of these interpretations claim that like many other writers, Baum used his writing to communicate his opinions as a latent, cryptic message behind an entertaining children’s story.
One such group claiming Baum’s work as a spiritual allegory is the Theosophical Society who report that Baum was a member and claim that he received his inspiration to write the Wizard of Oz series from the Collective Consciousness as a means of providing a symbolic journey to enlighten the spiritual quester. Since I have been exploring alternative spirituality, especially claims of hidden mysteries and esoteric knowledge, I found this perspective interesting and in many ways similar to my own thoughts. Following is the parable of the Wizard of Oz from a Theosophical perspective.
Kansas and the Land of Oz
Reality is dimensional and it is the conscious awareness of the mind that determines the status of what is real. The reality of black and white Kansas as opposed to the colorful dreamlike place of Oz signify the altered states of reality. Of note is that Dorothy is in Oz questing to return to Kansas which is symbolic of the return of the soul to the home of origin after travelling through a land of imagery, good and evil characters and challenging adventures. (Seems to nicely tie into the gnostic assertion that the kingdom is within, and new age thought that we are spiritual beings having a material experience.)
In the story Miss Gulch represents those who place high regard in the law and their entitlement within the law. It matters not that the law does not always represent truth or the moral conscious. That Miss Gulch wants Toto destroyed as due process of the law because he had bitten her represents the fundamentalists and literalists in religions who often base what is ethical or moral strictly on the word of the established religious law, abdicating their responsibilities as ethical human beings.
The cyclone represents the catalyst in our lives, usually a traumatic event that causes inner conflict and in turn pushes us forward into a different direction. Without these events we become stymied in a course of mindless routine. As is often the case, traumatic events such as divorce, death, loss of job or lifestyle force us to reassess our life journey. It is neither an act of good or evil, but merely the force that redirects us into the next phase of our lives. In the story, the cyclone transports Dorothy to the Land of Oz where she begins a journey of discovery and eventually returns to Kansas understanding that the desires of her heart have always been in her “backyard.”
As the house is swept up into the cyclone Dorothy peers out the window to see the images of the carnage caused by the cyclone. She sees a buggy, a tree, a henhouse, a crowing rooster swirling around outside of the window. The window represents the inner consciousness, the dream state where the unconscious and the conscious parts of our awareness meet and suggests that symbolism can provide answers and meaning.
The dog Toto represents the intuitive inner self. Throughout the story Dorothy has conversations with Toto, questioning and using the dog as a sounding board to focus her thoughts and direct her path. When the dog barks at the Scarecrow, Dorothy tries to ignore him suggesting that the intuitive self realizes reality in a way that the logical self does not comprehend. The dog barks at the curtain and eventually the wizard is exposed as a fraud suggesting that the inner self provides intuition that guides the awareness of truth. It is the dog by running away that causes Dorothy to abandon the balloon ride back to Kansas, which represents the intuitive self as knowing the truer path.
The Munchkins represent the spiritual ideal of the inner child state. The hidden inner self that is free to live in the moment without the weight of emotional baggage. The state where as the Munchkins would say, truth is “Morally, ethically, spiritually, physically, positively, absolutely . . . true.” Another line of thought holds that the Munchkins being held in servitude to the Witch of the East represents the masses being held in servitude to the doctrines of organized religion.
Glinda the Good Witch
Glinda represents the divine spark within that balances, supports and guides the spirit on the quest. Symbolic of light and goodness, she guides Dorothy in the beginning and the end of the journey, leaving Dorothy to traverse the yellow brick road in a journey of self discovery.
The Yellow Brick Road
The yellow brick road is the path of enlightenment. It is long and often winds through treacherous places exposing us to complicated obstacles issued from the shadow self or adversary which seeks to complicate or end our journey.
The Silver Shoes
In the book Dorothy receives silver shoes. (In the movie they are change to ruby slippers for aesthetic purposes.) The silver shoes represent the Silver Cord inspired by the bible which is thought to be the link between the physical self and the astral soul. It could also be symbolic of the desire to purify and refine, as in refining silver from lead to create a pure organic substance. The meaning of the silver shoes is to represent the journey of discovering the purity of the soul on a journey of enlightenment.
The Tin Man, Scarecrow and Cowardly Lion
Each of these characters desires something from Oz to make them feel better about themselves. The Tin Man wishes to have a heart, the Lion wishes to possess courage, and the Scarecrow wants a brain. The traits that are sought after are the desirable traits that humans most seek to possess, which are love, wisdom and courage. Each character believes that he lacks these traits but throughout the story each shows that they already possess them. They do not know their true self but rather the shadow self that they project as true.
The Wicked Witch of the West
Dorothy accidently kills the Witch of the East when her house lands atop the witch signifying that we often overcome our spiritual obstacles through seemingly random choices. However, Dorothy must consciously seek out the Wicked Witch of the West. The Witch of the West represents the shadow self, the adversarial nature that is always trying to “get us” through sabotaging our efforts and spiritual connection.
“She (the Witch of the West) looked down at Dorothy’s feet, and seeing the Silver Shoes, began to tremble with fear, for she knew what a powerful charm belonged to them. At first the Witch was tempted to run away from Dorothy; but she happened to look into the child’s eyes and saw how simple the soul behind them was, and that the little girl did not know of the wonderful power the Silver Shoes gave her.”
The Emerald City
The Emerald City is built with emeralds, but Oz requires that all persons entering the city put on green glasses so that the city seems much greener. This represents religion’s attempt to fool the masses into thinking that organized religion enhances and conditions the spiritual journey. The city is made of pure emeralds and does not need anything else to enhance its appeal, but the wizards of religions need to make us think differently.
In the story Dorothy is looking for the great and powerful Oz as a supreme all knowing being. When she first encounters him he appears to her as a floating head surrounded by smoke. (In the book he appears as the head, a fairy and a monster, differing how he appears to each of the questers.) He demands that Dorothy and her companions meet his requirements in order to be proven worthy before he will address their needs. This represents the monotheist version of the one Abrahamic God who considers us unworthy and demands conditional obedience before he will accept us into his presence.
Eventually, thanks to the persistence of Toto, Dorothy sees that the Great and Powerful Oz is merely an illusion created by an ordinary man standing hidden behind a curtain.
The Balloon ride back to Kansas
When Toto runs from the balloon Dorothy chases after him and loses her chance to return to Kansas with Oz. This represents the idea that the intuitive self will guide us away from the misconceptions of organized religions and show us the true path to find the Source within ourselves. Glinda the good witch informs Dorothy that she has had the power all along but she would not have believed if she had merely been told. To return home all Dorothy needed to do was to rely on her silver shoes, or the spiritual connection that she possesses within herself. The balloon ride represents the wizards of religion promising us a trip to the divine when we alone have the power to make the journey back to the Source.
Dorothy: Oh, will you help me? Can you help me?
Glinda, the Good Witch: You don’t need to be helped any longer. You’ve always had the power to go back to Kansas.
Dorothy: I have?
Scarecrow: Then why didn’t you tell her before?
Glinda, the Good Witch: Because she wouldn’t have believed me. She had to learn it for herself