Measuring Evil: Sacred Scales and Final Judgments

First, let’s examine the episode title. Sundown or “dusk” is a period between lightness and darkness, a possible reference to the fuzzy area between good and evil, a zone where Lost tends to dwell at times, at least where its characters are concerned. It is also notable that the Jewish Sabbath begins at sundown and that the Christian messiah, Jesus, was taken down from the cross and buried before sunset, as it was required by law. With this in mind we might wonder, what will happen during the next three days on the island? If Jacob is the ultimate Christ figure of the island, will he be resurrected as an all-powerful deity and save the true believers? It’s clear that most fans would be sorely disappointed if Lost turned out to be a simple Narnia-like Christian allegory. I contend that this is certainly not the case, but that the religious images and narrative references are always significant. They are weaved together so that one mythological storyline never gains too much strength or holds more sway than another. Rather, they work together to create a textured mystery that always feels a bit sacred.

So, what other sacred narratives can we revisit to help us interpret “Sundown”? It has been mentioned by other fans that Jacob and Smocke reflect the ancient Egyptian story of Horus and Set (or Seth). Unlike many early polytheistic stories, this one clearly defines a “primal duality” which was later interpreted as a battle between good and evil. Like many monotheistic faiths, it promotes the notion of pure goodness being embodied by one deity and pure evil embodied by another. Horus, the falcon god and representative of goodness is frequently seen holding the shen ring which is, notably, a symbol of eternity. Shen means “to encircle.” This particular hieroglyphic symbol was written on the stone that Ilana pushed to open the Temple’s secret Scooby door.

The falcon god Horus with shen rings in his talons. Inside the Temple walls, Ilana finds the shen ring: this symbol can be seen on the stone that leads to an escape passage.

Set, god of sky and storms, was Horus’s evil counterpart. These two gods, of course, represent the theme of polarity that has been tirelessly accentuated in recent episodes through the relationship between the benevolent Jacob and the “evil incarnate” Smocke. But I think we should return to the episode title in order to temper this idea. Remember that sundown is a middle place between light and dark, good and evil, high and low.

St. Michael Weighing the Souls

Another significant motif we should examine here, as well as in a study of “The Substitute,” is the final judgment and the image of the scale. Recall Dogen’s words to Sayid: “For every man there is a scale. On one side is good and on the other, evil.” Apparently Sayid’s scale is off kilter in a bad way.  But before we determine which is “the wrong way” in Dogen’s eyes, let’s take a look at some cultural references to the old-fashioned balance scale.

Ancient Egyptian weighing of the heart--See Ammit on the right waiting to devour those souls who don't pass the test

In Medieval times, St. Michael was considered to be the guardian of souls. Many works of art depict him weighing souls on a balance scale. In the 15th century painting provided (see directly above the Egyptian work), you can see a devil, perhaps Satan, lying underneath the left pan, coaxing the souls toward him and acting as a magnet to weigh the scale in his favor. Another story involving scales is the ancient Egyptian judgment of souls in the underworld or Amenty (literally “the place where the sun sets each day”). Anubis weighs the heart of each soul against the weight of a feather and Ammit, a fierce goddess with a head like a crocodile’s (possibly with four toes?), eats the souls of those who don’t pass the test.

courtesy abc television

A very similar process takes place during the cycle of reincarnation, according to Tibetan Buddhism. Shortly after death, the soul is faced with a scale—on one side there are black pebbles, on the other white ones. If the scale tips too much in the “wrong direction,” the soul will be tortured and punished by the terrifying “Lord of Death.” But first, the newly-dead must look into a mirror that reflects the “naked soul” including all of its hidden faults and deepest desires. (Recall the magic mirror in the lighthouse where Jack’s deep-seated longing to find a true home is revealed to him.)

Cover of Deep River, published by New Directions, 1995

As for the featured book of the week, Chad Post at Three Percent, has been saying that Deep River would be used in “Sundown,” but, personally, I could not see Dogen’s book well enough to read the title. Good old Lostpedia confirms that he is, indeed, reading Deep River, a novel by Christian Japanese novelist Shusaku Endo published in English in 1995 by New Directions. “It is a novel about four Japanese tourists on a trip to India,” who each eventually discover an individual spiritual purpose for the trip.

And while I’m on the topic of featured books, I just want to thank “Doc” Jensen at EW for this bit of bookish cheerleading from his article on“The Lighthouse.” Go literary references Go!

This is why it’s actually important to read the literary references that Lost gives us, because a mere Wikipedia summary of Through The Looking-Glass doesn’t tell you about the kittens and their color coding. It also doesn’t tell you this: the title of the book’s first chapter is ”Looking-Glass House.” Which totally evokes the title of last week’s episode (”Lighthouse,” also awkward for its missing/implied ”The”), not to mention the Lighthouse itself, which was less notable for being a beacon for bringing ships to the Island than for the magic mirrors in its tower — for being a real ”Looking-Glass House.”

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