Bobby Olkowitz
Neverending Story
January 12, 2012
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Neverending Story Spiritual Symbolism
    I had the pleasure of watching this fantastic, genius work of art today for the first time since I was a child. When I first saw the film, I was but a youth and enjoyed the movie for its entertainment and vivid portrayal of fantasy, and of the traditional “hero” narrative. After many years and extensive research plus experience of spirituality and esotericism, I have watched this cinematic with a new found admiration for its content, symbolism, and story. The Neverending Story was originally a book written by Michael Ende, a German born artist and student of anthroposophy, which is the belief of possible direct connection with the hidden realities and God, through inner spiritual work, and eventually merging the inner world with the physical reality. His study of anthroposophy explains the immense amount of esoteric symbolism in The Neverending Story.
    The movie begins with a boy, named Bastion, who awakens from a dream and proceeds to tell his materialistic, realistic father about its contents. The father represents material and exoteric belief systems, the left brain, even criticizing Bastion to, “get your head out of the clouds, and plant your feet on the ground.” Bastion, here, represents imagination and creativity, the right brain. The word Bastion evolved from the French word, bastir which means to build, and is defined as a protrusion of a fortress to aid the defenders and ward off the attackers. Throughout the movie, Bastion is symbolic of the conscious mind, the observer of phenomena, at first just in the physical world but eventually in both the physical reality and realms of the subconscious. In the dialogue with Bastion’s father, we learn here that the mother has died, and it greatly affects Bastion. On his way to school, Bastion is stopped by three bullies, who throw him in the garbage dumpster and call him names. The choice of having three bullies can represent a multitude of things, but one interpretation is that they are symbolic of the three vices which constantly thwart the conscious mind, which are ignorance, lust, and passion (my Masonic brethren, read between the lines to see the symbolic connection). After fleeing from the bullies, Bastion ends up in a bookstore in which the old owner stops him from taking a special book. Secretly, the owner really wants Bastion to take the book, and when he turns his back, Bastion is gone, book in hand. The old store owner is symbolic of the keepers of esoteric wisdom. They do not release their hidden wisdom unto the world, but only unto those who seek it, are pure of heart, and are ready to receive the wisdom. The symbol on the book is that of a double ouroboros. The single ouroboros is a snake biting its own tail, in the form of a circle. The double ouroboros represents the infinite balance of the upper and lower natures of a being. Bastion runs to school, and skips his math class to run up to the school’s attic and read the book. Skipping math class is emblematical of throwing aside logical, left brain, limited teachings for creative, right brain, unlimited thought; reading in the attic is symbolic of the initiate who retreats from the world to learn and progress in his spiritual studies. We have seen this in almost every religious Saviour or prophet around the world, from Jesus to Buddha to Mohammed to Joseph Campbell. Once Bastion begins reading the book, from this point on in the movie, we switch between the book’s narrative and Bastion’s “real life” narrative. In the book, we are introduced to a world called Fantasia. Fantasia is symbolic of the sub-conscious mind. It represents imagination, creativity, and the astral planes. We first meet a few mythological, fantasy-themed characters in a tropical forest. The “mad hatter” who rides a racing snail, says he is from the west, the direction of the element of water. The troll and bat are from the south, the direction of the element of fire. The humongous rock giant says he is from the north, the direction of the element of earth and “evil”. The rock giant is first to mention the antagonist of the movie, called the “nothing”. The nothing devours all creation and leaves nothing behind. It is symbolic for the esoteric concept of the “primitive evil”, which is called Chaos, Hyle, or the Ain. Chaos wishes to dismantle all creation back into the infinite.
We learn that these three characters are heading East to the Ivory Castle where the Empress lives, the apparent ruler and soul of Fantasia, seeking her help. The East holds much symbolism, some of which include the rising sun, God, Jesus, Horus, light, creation, hope, and birth. The East is also symbolic of the element of air. We are shown a glimpse of the Ivory Tower, which is lit up with bright light, upon a mountain, has a river flowing beside it amongst a lush forest, and is in front of the rising sun. On top of the Ivory Castle are three touching circles, forming a triangle. This represents a multitude of symbolism, such as, the Holy Trinity, the first three spheres on the tree of life (Kether, Chokmah, and Binah), the three symbolic supports of Freemasonry, and the Father, Mother, and Son. Above the three circles is a fountain inside a lotus flower. Above the fountain is a rose. This refers to a form of the rosy cross, the origin of life, the union of opposites and the phallus and yoni united. The Empress is not only a tarot card representing fertility, femininity, and the giver and womb of life, but in Fantasia she is the ultimate ruler of the realm. In the castle, we learn that a hero named Atreyu is on his way to begin his quest to save the Empress, who has fallen ill. A young boy dressed in garb similar to a Native American’s and who looks exactly like Bastion, enters through the crowd. After being laughed at, he finally gains respect and is told he must divest himself of his weapons and company to succeed in this quest. Atreyu represents the conscious observer of the subconscious realms, the astral planes and dreams. At first separated from Bastion, symbolic of our lack of control over our dreams and the astral, but ultimately we are both Atreyu and Bastion when we understand and gain control. The quest Atreyu embarks on is emblematical of our search for inner wisdom, and ultimate union with God. We must do this by ourselves, without any weapons or armor. Atreyu is given a double orouboros necklace to guide him on this journey, the same symbol on the cover of the book. It should also be pointed out that only one who is innocent, pure, courageous, and like a child (as Jesus says) can be successful and merge with God.
    Atreyu rides his white horse off through many different landscapes, symbolic of the endless realms of dreams and imagination. At this point we are introduced to another antagonist, this time a physical being, the evil wolf. The evil wolf is out to kill Bastion, symbolic of our own fears and limitations. Atreyu, after unsuccessfully searching the landscapes for the cure, dismounts and walks with his white horse through the swamp of sadness. The white horse eventually sinks into the swamp and dies, leaving Atreyu by himself. He stumbles upon a large mound in the middle of the swamp of sadness, who is the “ancient one” who holds the knowledge of the cure. A large turtle emerges and the hill was his shell. The turtle is allergic to the boy, and keeps saying “I don’t care about anything” and “What’s the point of trying?” This allusion is to the parts of our mind or others who are lazy, pessimistic, and weak or to the branch of philosophic thought which believes life is meaningless. After telling Atreyu the Southern Oracle knows the cure, he then states she is 10,000 miles away, disheartening the boy. The Ancient One submerges and Atreyu continues through the swamp of sadness, draining his energy, and eventually sucking him down below the surface. The swamp represents depression, sadness, and the peril of basking in these thoughts, which can literally stop your progression in life and possibly lead to suicide or death. Just as the boy is almost fully submerged, the evil wolf dashes and leaps at him, but instantly the clouds clear of sunlight and Falkor, the luck dragon, swoops down and saves Atreyu. Falkor is silly, intelligent, hopeful, courageous, morally good, and represents both our Higher Selves and the Fool tarot card. This scene is symbolic of just when we think we have hit rock bottom and there is no hope, our Higher Self, or inner light, emerges and save us.
I believe this scene is emblematical of the death and ascension of the soul, for Atreyu wakes up clean, healed, and cuddled next to Falkor in outer space, like a child in his father’s arms (Lower Self in Higher Self’s arms). Also, Falkor states that he has brought Atreyu 9,891 of the 10,000 miles needed for his quest. 9,891 adds up to 9, the number of the moon, sub-consciousness, Yesod, and creation completed. The reason Falkor, or the Higher Self, did not bring Atreyu all the way to the Southern Oracle was because Atreyu (us) has to complete the journey by himself and pass the tests without help. Here, we meet two gnomes who live in a cave, a man and his wife named Engywook and Urgl. These names are close to “energy work and Uriel (angel of element of Earth).” Engywook is drawing a picture of a Kerub, who is the first gate or test Atreyu must pass through. Engywook represents the Alchemist, his house is full of flasks, potions, books, and alchemical experiments. Urgl is symbolic of reality and objectivity. Both gnomes together represent the Alchemical Marriage, of body and soul, man and Divine, male and female, and subject and object. The gnomes are extremely excited to see Atreyu, and instruct him on how to get to the Southern Oracle, who resides in an valley after passing through two gates or tests successfully. The first test is walking through a narrow corridor in between two Golden Kerubs. One needs self-confidence and courage; otherwise the Kerubs open their eyes and shoot light at the stranger, killing him. The Kerubs can see directly through to one’s heart, and we are shown a knight in armor who is killed trying to pass through, emblematical that even strong physical armor cannot save you if you have a weak heart or are fearful. The two Kerubs and the narrow corridor is the picture on the Moon tarot card, which is the passageway from physical life to the higher realms. The two Kerubs have two large wings each in the shape of a crescent Moon, and are also statues on the Ark of the Covenant in the Bible. The second test Atreyu must pass is the Magick Mirror, which reflects the true self, and can be very frightful to people who deny parts of their past and sins they have committed. Esoterically, the Magick Mirror is known as the dweller on the threshold, who is the worst aspects of our personality in demon form. To accept and understand this part of ourselves and merge with it is the only way we can pass through, creating unity from duality.
Atreyu runs into the valley and stops before the two Kerubs. Engywook becomes frightful and doubts him, but Falkor says he knows the boy will do it and is always optimistic about him. Atreyu begins to fear and doubt himself after seeing the skeleton of the dead warrior. The Kerubs eyes begin to open and Atreyu finally gains the inner strength to run through, just missing the bolts from the Kerubs. Now treading through a snowstorm, Atreyu encounters the Magick Mirror. After looking deep inside, his reflection becomes transparent and he sees Bastion looking back at him. Throughout the movie, effects from Bastion’s reality are experienced in Fantasia and vice versa, hinting at the connection between reality and the sub-conscious. Bastion is at first scared, but continues reading and Atreyu walks through the mirror, symbolically merging with Bastion, or in esoteric terms, the consciousness of the physical self is merged with the consciousness of the sub-conscious realms. Atreyu enters into another narrow passageway with two Kerubs like before, except now they are blue and the sun is shining in the far background, and he finds out the Kerubs are the Southern Oracle. They are symbolic of the secrets of our sub-consciousness we may discover through union with our physical consciousness. The Southern Oracle tells Atreyu that only a human boy must rename the Empress to save her. After they tell him the secret, they begin disintegrating.
At this point the nothing has taken over most of Fantasia. Falkor takes Atreyu across the realm into the “Sea of Possibilites”. Falkor loses Atreyu in the storm and he awakens on an island beach amidst the Sea of Possibilities, without his necklace. In the meantime, Falkor is searching for him. The Sea of Possibilities represents Binah or the abyss on the Tree of Life, the consciousness and possibility of all. The island is symbolic of Kether or Chokmah on the Tree of Life. The only way to pass through or pass the tests of the abyss and Binah is to dissolve one’s ego and merge with the all, defeat one’s fears, and reform on the other side or the island; this must be done without the Higher Self, which is why Falkor is separated from Atreyu at this point. The nothing has almost completely devoured Fantasia. On the island, Atreyu sees cave-drawings of his past, present, and future. This is emblematical of the Akashic Records, a location in the upper realms like a library of all the events, thoughts, and experiences of creation. As Atreyu looks at the drawings, he sees one of the evil wolf. To make things worse, the evil wolf emerges from a cave behind him. The wolf mocks and threatens Atreyu, but surprisingly gives him some helpful information. The evil wolf represents the Devil tarot card. Summarized, it means that even evil is a tool of God to teach goodness, but evil for its own sake is destructive. The wolf says that he is the evil servant of the nothing, and helps the nothing because weak minds are easy to control and dominate. He also informs Atreyu that Fantasia has no boundaries, which Atreyu must reach to find the human boy (Bastion) needed to name the Empress, and it is made up by people’s hopes and imaginations. Then the wolf leaps at Atreyu, but Atreyu stabs him in the heart with a sharp rock, killing him. Falkor finds the necklace in the sea and saves Bastion just as the nothing destroys the island and everything else. Flying through space, Atreyu and Falkor search for the Ivory Tower, and find it floating amidst the ruins of Fantasia in space.
    Everyone and everything has been absorbed by the nothing except the Empress, Ivory Tower, Atreyu and Falkor. We meet the Empress for the first time inside her chamber. She is a young girl, adorned with a crown and her skin looks white symbolizing purity. Her chamber is emblematical of the alchemist’s bridal chamber, where the union of male and female take place. The chamber is filled with light, and Falkor waits outside symbolizing the Higher Self cannot help at the point. Bastion in his reality realizes he knows the Empress’ name and must call it out to save Fantasia, but hesitates because his father criticized his imagination; symbolic of mainstream belief against esoteric teachings. Once Bastion basks up the courage, he screams out “Moon Child”, the new name of the Empress. After a screen of blackness, the camera zooms out showing the Empress and Bastion amidst darkness, and the Empress is holding a glowing grain of sand. This scene is symbolic of the union of male and female, producing a child, the glowing grain of sand, or life. It also represents the union of the conscious and sub-conscious minds and the Great Work completed. The Empress says, “In the beginning there was darkness.” The first verse of Genesis should immediately come to the forefront of the mind. She says that in the beginning only a grain of light is present, and gives it to Bastion. He asks her if the whole journey was worthless, and she responds it isn’t, and that only through wishing and this tiny grain of light can the universe be fashioned again. Spiritually, this is emblematical of Purusha (God) awakening from his slumber, and recreating reality through his memory and vision. This emotional scene is the crowning of the prince (Tiphareth) unto the father’s throne (Kether). Bastion is told he has to rebuild Fantasia with his mind and has an unlimited amount of wishes. Next we see Bastion riding upon Falkor in the physical world, and they chase the bullies into the same garbage dumpster they threw Bastion into. Bastion has become the Esoteric Magician, the controller of the elements, manipulator of reality, consummator of the Great Work, and possessor of the wisdom that thoughts and dreams must begin in the subconscious to manifest in the physical world. Now, he can do anything and everything.
The Neverending Story is a classic and invaluable film for both the occultist and average person. The symbolism and storyline is so deep, insightful, and entertaining that it can be watched again and again without boredom or complete understanding of the symbolism thereof. I have shown how this film expresses symbolism of the Kabbalah, Mystic Buddhism and Hinduism, Christianity, Freemasonry, Esoteric Spirituality and Occultism, psychology, philosophy, death, immortality, Alchemy and the Great Work, and consciousness and sub-consciousness. Only through uniting the consciousness and sub-consciousness can we complete the Great Work, enabling us to become Master Magicians and completely empowering us to understand and control reality, and also our lives path.