Archive for the Sacred Narratives and Lost Category

Communion, Community and Redemption in “The End”

Posted in Sacred Narratives and Lost with tags , , , , on May 26, 2010 by SCS

“Let no one build walls to divide us
Walls of hatred nor walls of stone
Come greet the dawn and stand beside us
We’ll live together or we’ll die alone”

Billy Bragg,“The Internationale”


The last 15 minutes of the finale left me speechless. Mostly, I was surprised by my own reaction. Typically, I’m turned off by anything so blatantly sentimental, but I was sincerely moved, awed by the emotional power of those last few scenes, which were intensified even more by the subtle tenderness of Vincent’s entrance. I realize that, despite my recent criticism of everything Lost, from hokey dialogue to implausible motives, I still feel a deep connection to these characters. Much has already been said about how the finale, and the series in general, is fundamentally a character-driven story. But it wasn’t just the individual personal dramas that moved me; it was the return of a few very fundamental themes, most notably, redemption through community. Emotional interdependency and salvation through a communion with others drives this episode and, arguably, the entire narrative.

“No one does it alone, Jack”

Christian Shephard

Jack’s transformation from doubting Thomas to savior was compelling by itself. He journeyed from being a reluctant leader to a prodigal son and, finally, a man of faith. From there, he was able to see that he had a purpose, that there was an order to the universe and that he was chosen to protect it from chaos. As Damon Lindelof said in an interview and I will paraphrase here, the metaphysical conflict has shifted from faith versus reason to order versus chaos. The Smoke Monster threatened to destroy everything and send them “all to hell,” as Isabella (Richard’s wife) told Hurley. Granted, we did not get an explicit answer about what exactly would happen, but we can assume that by destroying the monster, Kate and Jack  might have very well saved the world, and that whatever Jack did with the giant cork, he preserved the island. Jack did all of this selflessly; he served as the sacrificial lamb for all of humanity.

Jack’s Redemption

Jack became a willing participant of an extraordinary community, a kind of microcosm of the world, and worked with this group to shift the paradigm of the island. He had to accept, not only his role as a leader, but his function as savior. Quite literally, he did all of this “in communion” with others. So it was not only Jack that was redeemed, but everyone who cooperated in the greater cause. And they all achieved a sort of salvation, or at least authorization to “move on,” by re-assembling the group in the afterlife and by remembering the significance of their lives together. This theme—redemption through community—has arisen throughout the series, most notably in Jack’s “live together, die alone” speech, so it is no surprise that it plays such a crucial role in the resolution of the plot.

It makes sense too, within this context, that Hurley has been appointed as the next Jacob. He understands the value of community and how, if done right, a collaborative effort can elevate human beings. Recall his very first job on the island—to distribute food to the “masses”—and remember the golf course he made to ease the tension within the group and bring them all together.  He is clearly in communion with others. What many of us didn’t realize before, including me, is that being in communion with the island is not as important as emotionally connecting to others.

Hurley Organizes a Golf Day

The episode’s inherent message is that social collaboration and emotional engagement are the keys to redemption and a “life after death.” Christian tells Jack that all of his friends have come together “to remember;” they have constructed a shared space together because “No one does it alone.” Like Jesus and the disciples gathered at the last supper for communion, in anticipation of renewal and transcendence, the Lostaways gather to create a place for  their own salvation, even if being saved is simply “letting go.” (Remember the “Lost Supper” image?)

Hurley Distributes Food to the Castaways

“When I’m tired and weary

and a long way from home
I reach for Mother Mary
and I shall not walk alone”

—–Blind Boys of Alabama, “I Shall Not Walk Alone”

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Previously Spoken on Lost: Recurring Dialogue

Posted in Sacred Narratives and Lost, Season 6 Lit with tags , , , , , , , , on April 7, 2010 by SCS

“The journey is the thing, of course.  We could have been told six years ago the exact manner in which this epic would end.  But the journey is the thing.  We have found new ways of relating Lewis Carroll and Stephen King and Shakespeare and Greek and Egyptian myth into our way of looking at the world.”1

So said Pearson Moore last week in his incredibly enlightening analysis of “Ab Aeterno.” And in response to Moore’s bit of wisdom, I offer a brief literature lesson here as a device to examine “Happily Ever After.” Also featured are some speculations about the three Charlies (my “Charlie Trinity” theory) and a bit of commentary on true love and John Lennon.

When analyzing a work of literature, it’s always important to identify any recurring images, words or phrases. The repetition draws attention to a particular theme or character and deepens the meaning of a narrative by connecting different points in the story. The same holds true for any narrative, including the televisual kind.  But no one needs to tell this to a Lost fan. We all know that any given episode, especially in season 6, reveals ample evidence of the overarching themes of the show. “Happily Ever After” is unique in that it also  features a barrage of regularly spoken phrases.

Here are just some of them, in no particular order, with their corresponding themes in parentheses. Notice that the themes are packaged neatly within the phrases (or images–see below):

  • Desmond: “It’s always a choice” (free will)
  • Charlie: “Not Penny’s boat” (impending doom)
  • Eloise: “What happened, happened” (predetermination versus free will)
  • Desmond: “What (the bloody hell) do you know about sacrifice?” (sacrifice)
  • Driveshaft: “You all everybody” (collective conscious? Meaninglessness of modern man?)

Images and other themes….

  • Framed picture on Widmore’s wall: the scale (balance, dualism)
  • White rabbits (mystery, scientific innovation, the nature of time)
  • Dreams, visions—Charlie’s, Daniel’s (prophecy and fate)
  • Repetition of Names: The Charlie Trinity

Although we have seen duplicate names throughout the series (two Thomases, two Sarahs, two Emilys, etc.), none of them are as significant as the Three Charlies. The presence of this trinity has a great bearing on the shape of Desmond’s life, whether in one universe or the other. The most famous trinity known to modern Western civilization is, of course, the holy Trinity, but certainly the term can apply to any three-fold entity or triad of significance.  This particular grouping of three, in respect to Desmond, certainly can be compared to the sacred version: Charles Widmore is “the father,” Charlie Hume is “the son” and Charlie Pace, the Holy Spirit.  Charles is very much like an Old Testament god and father, committing questionable acts of violence and aggression for the “greater good,” especially towards Desmond. Charlie Hume represents the child as savior (of Desmond) and love in its purest form, and Charlie Pace acts as a guiding spirit, relaying important messages in mysterious, and even cryptic, ways. Recall, too, his ghostly (or angelic?) visitation to Hurley.  In the original time line Charlie saves Desmond and connects him to Penny, as bearer of her message. In the so-called ‘alternate time line,’ Charlie tries to save Desmond by telling him about “the truth,” which apparently is “spectacular consciousness-altering love” (indeed, love across the universes) and providing revelation through sudden, violent chaos, a la Flannery O’Connor style.  Again, he steers Desmond toward Penny by acknowledging that she’s out there for him to find. This metaphysical family is a web that at once supports Desmond and also frustrates him. Desmond is not at all “free of attachments” as sideways Widmore suggests, but very much bound to this triad of Charlies. Think about this: after leaving little Charlie behind in the original time line, Desmond travels to the parallel universe only to be charged with babysitting another Charlie.

  • Romantic Love

Lastly the theme of “true love” should be addressed. I suppose it is possible that “consciousness-altering love” might turn out to be the savior after all. If ever there were “soul mates” we can find them here. The idea that Desmond falls in love with Penny in a completely different universe, before ever meeting her, is extraordinary. Although this kind of love is even less likely than John Locke rising from the dead, I can’t help but hear John Lennon singing “Limitless undying love/ which shines around me like a million suns/ It calls me on and on across the universe.” So here is a sentimental tribute to Penny and Des, courtesy of the Beatles.

Images of broken light which
dance before me like a million eyes
That call me on and on across the universe
Thoughts meander like a
restless wind inside a letter box
they tumble blindly as
they make their way across the universe

Jai guru deva om
Nothing’s gonna change my world
Nothing’s gonna change my world
Nothing’s gonna change my world
Nothing’s gonna change my world

Sounds of laughter shades of life
are ringing through my open ears
exciting and inviting me
Limitless undying love which
shines around me like a million suns
It calls me on and on across the universe

Essentially, nothing can change Desmond’s world; he will always find Penny, no matter the universe. Personally, I don’t think the theme of romantic love (or any mushy stuff) blends well with cool narrative devices like the manipulation of the space-time continuum. But considering there is a trinity of star-crossed couples in this episode—Daniel and Charlotte, Charlie and Claire, Desmond and Penny—it is certainly significant to the shape of the plot.

Sources:

1. Pearson Moore’s “Cultural Inversions”

http://www.sl-lost.com/2010/03/27/siempre-juntos-part-ii-cultural-inversions-in-lost-609-by-pearson-moore/

Self as Savior

Posted in Sacred Narratives and Lost, Theories with tags , , , , , , , on March 31, 2010 by SCS

Hello readers! Please check out my latest commentary, “Self as Savior: A Theory,” on DocArzt:

Self as Savior: A Theory

It’s not a response to this week’s episode, which I found rather bland after “Ab Aeterno,” but a loose prediction of how things will shake down as the series comes to a close. Please leave comments there (docarzt) or here. Thanks for reading.

Put a Cork In It: Job, Dante, and the Ninth Circle of Hell

Posted in Sacred Narratives and Lost, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 25, 2010 by SCS

The only thing more interesting than a story set in hell is a story that might be set in hell. “Ab Aeterno” features not only a timeless narrative theme–the nature of evil–but also a classic literary device–ambiguity. Let’s face it: the writers of Lost intentionally leave things open to  interpretation and I doubt that even “The End” (the series finale) is going to change that.  However, I don’t think that Jacob and the Man in Black are supposed to be morally ambiguous figures; if there must be a devil, it’s pretty clear who plays the role of “El Diablo” here. But the most interesting part of this episode is the uncertainty that Richard raises about the nature of the island.

The island as cork (courtesy of abc/Disney)

The following passages will consider the nature of evil, and various notions of hell, in literary and mythological terms.

The Book of Job

The biblical book of Job chronicles the test of the human spirit, illustrated by one man, an exemplary figure in God’s eyes. The story is structured around a debate about human nature between God and Satan. Satan challenges God, claiming that Job is only a good man because he is wealthy, secure and surrounded by friends and family. If he were challenged by poverty or illness, Satan argues, Job would curse God and turn away from him. In essence, Satan believes humans to be selfish beyond all hope. There is no use redeeming man.

I’m not the first to acknowledge the similarities between this biblical text and the discussion between Jacob and the Man in Black. I have compared many Lost scenes to other religious stories, but this one seems to fit these two characters best. In this book, both Satan and God resemble the gods of ancient Greek and Roman mythology who are not necessarily all-powerful. Jacob and the Man in Black do have their own special powers, but they are both limited in what they can do. Jacob tells Richard that he can’t step in and make people do the right thing. They have to figure it out for themselves. In the same way, both God and Satan seem to agree that if people know they are going to be rewarded for worshiping God, their motive is a selfish one, making them unworthy of redemption.

According to Robert Sutherland, author of Putting God on Trial: The Biblical Book of Job, “The implicit restriction that Satan places on God is that God is prohibited from explicitly giving Job the reason for suffering. The concern is that any disclosure of a reason behind suffering might give Job a selfish motive to worship God and ultimately to manipulate him. If Job is truly the man God believes him to be, then Job will worship God regardless of what God might do for him. And so, Satan leaves the presence of God in heaven to create Hell on earth.” The idea that God’s people can’t know the reason for their suffering seems to resonate with the experience of being lost and the the experience of watching Lost. Viewers don’t understand their reasons for suffering much more than the characters do, but those who develop faith in themselves, and in the right leaders, seem to do okay. (Think Hurley).

Also notable in the book of Job is the man himself, in comparison to Richard Alpert. Like Job, Richard suffered the loss of his home and family (Isabella), an unjust punishment, and physical torture. At his darkest moment of despair, the Man in Black comes to him and unchains him. This recalls God’s command that Satan may do whatever he wants to Job except kill him or “lay a hand on his person.” Perhaps, Richard was on the brink of death when the Man in Black came to him. He wasn’t allowed to let Richard die and go to hell, but he could tempt him and lie to him as much as he wanted.  “It’s good to see you out of those chains” is code for “welcome to the playground of good versus evil. Game on!” It’s also interesting that Job lived for 140 years after the end of his trial and Richard, too, has lived for 140 more years.  This can’t be a coincidence. Looks like somebody’s been reading the bible…

Lucifer's fall to earth created an island

Lucifer’s Fall and the Making of an Island

According to Christian lore, Lucifer (Latin for “light-bearer” or “light bringer”) was a fallen angel, cast down from heaven. He has also been referred to as “the Morning Star” and it seems appropriate here to recall the creepy rendition of “Catch a Falling Star” from the post-massacre scene at the end of “Sundown.” In Dante’s Inferno, Lucifer’s expulsion from heaven and fall to earth displaced a large chunk of earth which was thrust up to the surface, forming an island called Purgatory. Despite the writers’ denial of the Lost island as Purgatory, it’s always interesting to consider it as a metaphorical Purgatory, where the tension between good and evil is revealed. With this image of displaced earth forming Dante’s “Purgatorio,” should we envision it as a place that keeps Satan and all of his evil suppressed, (or corked)? Does Purgatory maintain balance in the universe? Does it act as a threshold between earth and hell? More important, will everyone fall into hell if the evil is unleashed, as Hurley suggests?

Dante’s Inferno

“Midway on our life’s journey, I found myself/ In dark woods, the right road lost

Such begins Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy, section I, Inferno, an allegorical journey exploring the nature of evil. Inferno describes a descent into the nine circles of hell where Virgil, the classical Roman poet, serves as tour guide. Similar to Dante,  Jack Shephard finds himself in the “woods,” “midway on life’s journey,” a life that seems to be humming along just fine (on a superficial level, at least) until the plane crash.

“Abandon all hope, you who enter here”

These words, familiar to even modern readers, are inscribed on the gates to hell in Dante’s Inferno. There is no escape from this city and those who enter might as well leave any shred of hope at the door. Richard conveys a similar message to the other characters in the opening scene of “Ab Aeterno,” as his faith quickly disintegrates upon the death of Jacob. So when he says “we are in hell” he is speaking the truth, in the sense that hell is a state of mind devoid of all hope.

The third circle of hell

Though it’s been acknowledged many times before, I feel the need to include the Cerberus bit once again for anyone who missed it. Cerberus, a monster originating in Greek mythology, is also a resident of Dante’s Inferno. It is described as a “three-headed dog-like beast who guards the gluttons.” Recall that in Lost the vents from which the Smoke Monster escapes are called “cerberus vents” and that the Smoke Monster has been referred to as a “security system” or guardian of the island.

Episode 9

In this depiction of the afterlife, Lucifer is a prisoner and forever fixed in the ground of the ninth circle of hell. This is the final and lowest level of hell, and stands in stark contrast to the next scene when Dante ascends to the surface of the earth saying, “To get back up to the shining world from there/ My guide and I went into that hidden tunnel…/Where we came forth, and once more saw the stars.” Richard also ascends out of his hell, after his faith is restored by Hurley and Isabella. Note that we are in the “ninth circle” of Lost as well–that is, the ninth episode into the season. Will we ascend into the clear light of day…with more and more answered questions?

Lucifer held prisoner in the ninth circle of hell

Thanks for reading. There is so much more to say about this episode but it will have to wait for the book.

Measuring Evil: Sacred Scales and Final Judgments

Posted in Sacred Narratives and Lost with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 5, 2010 by SCS

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.”

Revisiting “The Substitute”: Of Ladders and Loneliness

Posted in Sacred Narratives and Lost on February 23, 2010 by SCS

Okay, folks. Here’s a quick review of the literary allusions from last week, before we move on to tonight’s episode and its bookish Easter eggs.

It has been suggested that the two ladders we saw in “The Substitute” represent the two time lines or parallel realities. Will one of them break or become unstable? Will the characters have to be rescued from one reality and pulled into the other?

These ladders bear an obvious reference to Jacob’s dream depicted in the book of Genesis. First, Jacob goes “out from Beersheba, and…toward Haran” where he places a stone beneath his head and falls asleep (a dreaming stone? A stone of destiny?). Although I imagine this “stone” to be more like a brick, it’s hard not to identify it with the white stone that Smocke grabbed from the scale and threw into the water, explaining to Sawyer that it was an “inside joke.” But back to biblical Jacob: he dreams of a ladder (or a stairway) “set upon the earth, and its top reached to heaven… the angels of God ascending and descending on it.” And then God speaks to Jacob. He says, “I am with you, and will keep you, wherever you go, and will bring you again into this land. For I will not leave you, until I have done that which I have spoken of to you.” Yet another sacred narrative to ponder!

George, rabbits, loneliness, corruption….

In “The Substitute” we see our third Steinbeck reference. Recall the scene when Ben is leading Sawyer over the ridge to show him the second island in “Every Man for Himself.” Sawyer quotes Of Mice and Men (“that little place you always wanted, George?”), only to later be outdone by Ben’s quote from the same book: “A guy goes nuts if he ain’t got nobody. It don’t make no difference who the guy is, long as he’s with you. I tell you, I tell you a guy gets too lonely and he gets sick.” Though less obvious, Dharma station #5,“The Pearl,” (the one with the pneumatic tubes), is another reference to a work by John Steinbeck. This novella (of the same name) is a story about a poor man who finds a magnificent pearl and instantly becomes a man of great wealth.  This blessing soon turns to a curse as he discovers how easily riches can “corrupt and destroy.” This brings to mind both Hurley’s “bad luck” and the MiB’s outlook on the nature of men. Lastly, Sawyer returns to Of Mice and Men in “The Substitute” as he follows Smocke through the jungle. Shortly before threatening to shoot Smocke, he provides a  brief summary of George and Lenny’s story. A short preface in the Bantam Book paperback edition sums up the relevant theme nicely: “This is the great American novel of loneliness, of love and need, of homeless and rootless men who have nothing but each other.” This succinctly describes the vulnerable condition of not only the castaways, but also the humanity that Lost allows us to see in even the most damaged antagonists like Ben. Loneliness and the fear of being isolated (literally on an island!) is one theme that deserves further examination.

Circle of Ash: Protector of the Innocent?

Posted in Sacred Narratives and Lost on February 16, 2010 by SCS

Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return. (Common utterance during the ritual ash-marking of Ash Wednesday; origin: Genesis 3:19)

The mark of Ash Wednesday

courtesy of abc television
Ashes as protection–courtesy of abc television

Slaughter old men, young men and maidens, women and children, but do not touch anyone who has the mark. Ezekiel 9:5

I’ve been thinking about the protective circle of ash used to guard against the Smoke Monster.  First, I wonder what particular type of ash has these supernatural powers. What material do they burn in order to create special ashes? (Some have speculated that it is volcanic ash.)

The first reference that comes to mind is Ash Wednesday, day one of Lent in the Christian tradition. The ashes used to mark the foreheads of those attending an Ash Wednesday service come from the palm fronds of the previous Palm Sunday.  Celebrated one week before Easter, Palm Sunday marks the day Jesus returns from the desert. Clearly, here is an example of ash made sacred. It is handled with special care–ritually burned, blessed and stored for almost a year. Is this tradition somehow reflected in Lost?

In the Catholic Church, Lent is a time for repentance, and the ashes, placed on the forehead in the shape of a cross, represent the brevity of life and inevitability of death.  “Remember, man, that dust thou art, and unto dust thou shalt return.” (Genesis 3:19)  Ashes are a symbol of sorrow and penitence, so why do we see them used as a source of protection in Lost? To answer this question, I turn to the Book of Ezekiel.

The following passage makes me wonder if the sign of the cross, which was initially used on public penitents, was taken from this story.

Then the Lord called to the man clothed in linen who had the writing kit at his side and said to him, “Go throughout the city of Jerusalem and put a mark (an X or T-like figure)* on the foreheads of those who grieve and lament over all the detestable things that are done in it.” To the others he said, “Follow him through the city and kill, without showing pity or compassion. Slaughter old men, young men and maidens, women and children, but do not touch anyone who has the mark. Begin at my sanctuary.” So they began with the elders who were in front of the temple. Then he said to them, “Defile the temple and fill the courts with the slain. Go!” So they went out and began killing throughout the city. (Ezekiel 9: 3-7)

*Ezekial 9:4 — in the original language “put a mark” on read as “taw a taw.” Taw is an X or a cross-like figure.

The protective mark here is not necessarily of ashes, but it prefigures the cross of Ash Sunday, a much later development in the history of the Church. Together, the notion of sacramental ashes and the story of God’s premeditated slaughter, imply that ashes have the power to mark the innocent and spare them from the wrath of God.

Here is another passage from the Old Testament that might shed some light on the tradition of ashes imbued with holy power.

“And all the Israelite men, women and children who lived in Jerusalem prostrated themselves in front of the temple building, with ashes strewn on their heads, displaying their sackcloth covering before the Lord” (Judith 4:11)

courtesy abc television

Reading the season premiere through this biblical lens, we would cast the Smoke Monster in the role of God and the inhabitants as a population of sinners and strays on the one hand, and faithful believers on the other.

I’m sure there are other sacred traditions in which ashes are a central part. Does anyone know of a significant story (religious or not) in which ash is a prominent image?

Lostpedia has this to say about the possible meaning of the ash:

Note that in a large amount of lore, salt and dust- like substances are placed in circular form around places such as homes to ward off or keep out certain things or beings.

I’ll have to examine this “large amount of lore” and see what I can find…