With its memorable story and its cast of colorful characters, the Wizard of Oz quickly became an American classic. More than a hundred years after the release of this book, kids everywhere are still enchanted by Oz’s world of wonder. Few, however, recognize that, under its deceptive simplicity, the story of the Wizard of Oz conceals deep esoteric truths inspired by Theosophy. Here we’ll look at the Wizard of Oz’s occult meaning and its author’s background.
Although the Wizard of Oz is widely perceived as an innocent children’s fairy tale, it is almost impossible not to attribute a symbolic meaning to Dorothy’s quest. As in all great stories, the characters and the symbols of the Wizard of Oz can be given a second layer of interpretation, which may vary depending on the reader’s perception. Many analyses appeared throughout the years describing the story as an “atheist manifesto” while others saw it as a promotion of populism. It is through an understanding of the author’s philosophical bckground and beliefs, however, that the story’s true meaning can be grasped.
L. Frank Baum, the author of the Wizard of Oz was a member of the Theosophical Society, which is an organization based on occult research and the comparative study of religions. Baum had a deep understanding of Theosophy and, consciously or not, created an allegory of Theosophic teachings when he wrote the Wizard of Oz.
What is Theosophy?
The Theosophical Society is an occult organization, mainly based on the teachings of Helena P. Blavatsky, which seeks to extract the common roots of all religions in order to form a universal doctrine.
“But it is perhaps desirable to state unequivocally that the teachings, however fragmentary and incomplete, contained in these volumes, belong neither to the Hindu, the Zoroastrian, the Chaldean, nor the Egyptian religion,.neither to Buddhism, Islam, Judaism nor Christianity exclusively. The Secret Doctrine is the essence of all these. Sprung from it in their origins, the various religious schemes are now made to merge back into their original element, out of which every mystery and dogma has grown, developed, and become materialized.”
-H.P. Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine
The three declared objects of the original Theosophical Society as established by Blavatsky, Judge and Olcott (its founders) were as follows:
“First — To form a nucleus of the Universal Brotherhood of Humanity, without distinction of race, creed, sex, caste, or color.
Second — To encourage the study of Comparative Religion, Philosophy, and Science.
Third — To investigate the unexplained laws of Nature and the powers latent in man.”
-The Theosophist, vol 75, No 6
The main tenets of Theosophy are thoroughly described in Blavatsky works Isis Unveiled and The Secret Doctrine. At the core of Theosophical teachings are the same tenets found in many other occult schools: the belief of the presence of a “divine spark” within every person which, with the proper discipline and training, can lead to spiritual illumination and a state of virtual godliness.
Another important principle found in Theosophy is reincarnation. It is believed that the human soul, like all other things in the universe, go through seven stages of development.
“Theosophical writings propose that human civilizations, like all other parts of the universe, develop cyclically through seven stages. Blavatsky posited that the whole humanity, and indeed every reincarnating human monad, evolves through a series of seven “Root Races”. Thus in the first age, humans were pure spirit; in the second age, they were sexless beings inhabiting the now lost continent of Hyperborea; in the third age the giant Lemurians were informed by spiritual impulses endowing them with human consciousness and sexual reproduction. Modern humans finally developed on the continent of Atlantis. Since Atlantis was the nadir of the cycle, the present fifth age is a time of reawakening humanity’s psychic gifts. The term psychic here really means the realization of the permeability of consciousness as it had not been known earlier in evolution, although sensed by some more sensitive individuals of our species.”
The ultimate goal is of course to return to the state of divinity from which we’ve emerged. The same tenets (with subtle variations) can be found in other schools such as Rosicrucianism, Freemasonry and other orders teachings the Mysteries.
L.Frank Baum, a Notable Theosophist
Before writing the Wizard of Oz (or even contemplating becoming a children’s story author), Baum held many jobs – one of which was editor of the Aberdeen Saturday Pioneer. In 1890, Baum wrote a series of articles introducing his readers to Theosophy, including his views on Buddha, Mohammed, Confucius and Christ. At that time, he wasn’t a member of the Theosophical Society but he already showed a deep understanding of its philosophy. Here’s an excerpt of his “Editor’s Musings”:
“Amongst various sects so numerous in America today who find their fundamental basis in occultism, the Theosophist stands pre-eminent both in intelligence and point of numbers. Theosophy is not a religion. Its followers are simply “searchers after Truth”. The Theosophists, in fact, are the dissatisfied with the world, dissenters from all creeds. They owe their origin to the wise men of India, and are numerous, not only in the far famed mystic East, but in England, France, Germany and Russia. They admit the existence of a God – not necessarily of a personal God. To them God is Nature and Nature is God…But despite this, if Christianity is Truth, as our education has taught us to believe, there can be no menace to it in Theosophy.”
-L. Frank Baum, Aberdeen Saturday Pioneer, January 25th 1890
In another of his “Editor’s Musings”, Baum discusses the use of mystic symbolism in fiction, something he accomplished ten years later with the Wizard of Oz:
“There is a strong tendency in modern novelists towards introducing some vein of mysticism or occultism into their writings. Books of this character are eagerly bought and read by the people, both in Europe and America. It shows the innate longing in our natures to unravel the mysterious: to seek some explanation, however fictitious, of the unexplainable in nature and in our daily existence. For, as we advance in education, our desire for knowledge increases, and we are less satisfied to remain in ignorance of that mysterious fountain-head from which emanates all that is sublime and grand and incomprehensible in nature.”
At the end of this article, Baum goes into an all-out plead for more occultism in literature:
“The appetite of our age for occultism demands to be satisfied, and while with the mediocrity of people will result in mere sensationalism, it will lead in many to higher and nobler and bolder thought; and who can tell what mysteries these braver and abler intellects may unravel in future ages?”
-L. Frank Baum, Aberdeen Saturday Pioneer, February 22nd 1890
Two years after writing those articles, L. Frank Baum and his wife Maud Gage joined the Theosophical Society in Chicago. The archives of the Theosophical Society in Pasadena, California recorded the start of their membership as September 4th, 1892. In 1890, the Wizard of Oz was published. When asked about how Baum got his inspiration for the story, he replied:
“It was pure inspiration…It came to me right out of the blue. I think that sometimes the Great Author has a message to get across and He has to use the instrument at hand. I happened to be that medium, and I believe the magic key was given me to open the doors to sympathy and understanding, joy, peace and happiness.”
-L. Frank Baum, cited by Hearn 73
The Wizard of Oz is much appreciated within the Theosophical Society. In 1986, The American Theosophist magazine recognized Baum as a “notable Theosophist” who thoroughly represented the organization’s philosophy.
“Although readers have not looked at his fairy tales for their Theosophical content, it is significant that Baum became a famous writer of children’s books after he came into contact with Theosophy. Theosophical ideas permeate his work and provided inspiration for it. Indeed, The Wizard can be regarded as Theosophical allegory, pervaded by Theosophical ideas from beginning to end. The story came to Baum as an inspiration, and he accepted it with a certain awe as a gift from outside, or perhaps from deep within, himself.”
-American Theosophist no 74, 1986
So what is the esoteric meaning of this children’s story, which came to Baum as a “divine inspiration”?