the wizard of om

Is the classic Hollywood tale really a plot to disguise ancient yogic teachings and indoctrinate the masses in the key to enlightenment?

illustration by Sherwin Tjia

excerpted from the print magazine…

As a child growing up in the Fraser Valley of British Columbia, I recall riding in the back seat of an orange Plymouth as my parents take the family on a country drive at dusk on a moonlit night. No matter which direction the car turns, the full moon follows me. I watch it through the back window, urging it to come closer so I can touch it. Not daring to speak and break the spell, for I think it must be Glinda the Good Witch of the North. She will wave her wand over me and take me far away: ?Behind the moon, beyond the rain. A place you can?t get to by boat or by train.?

Years later, a student of yoga, I again watch the film The Wizard of Oz, this time agape at the obvious similarities between it and the classic yogic journey to liberation. Can it be that what is arguably the most beloved film in American history is an allegory for the yogic quest?

The film was released by MGM in 1939. It was based on the book by L. Frank Baum, published in 1900 long before most people had even heard of yoga. Yet the yogic references are so strong I wonder if this story is part of a secret Hollywood plot to disguise ancient teachings as a mega-musical and indoctrinate the masses in the key to enlightenment? Liberation for the little guy. Subversive.

I have an eerie feeling I am uncovering the hidden truth that yoga is an unheralded influence on the twentieth-century North American psyche. Millions of people have unwittingly absorbed the steps to liberation clearly spelled out in The Wizard of Oz.

* * *

At the end of the film, Glinda tells Dorothy, the young heroine who has lost her way home, ?You don?t need to be helped any longer. You?ve always had the power to go back to Kansas.? Dorothy then understands she never really lost this power but had to learn to believe in herself. She returns to Kansas by tapping together her ruby slippers and repeating, ?There?s no place like home.?

There?s no place like OM. The yogic symbols in Oz seem obvious to me: the good witch appearing as a mass of light; the wicked witch as the dark side of the mind; the Yellow Brick Road that begins as a spiral path of light leading Dorothy to her destination; the need for brains, heart and courage as companions; the monkeys as the monkey mind that hurtles us off course; the wizard as the guru figure; rubies as the wish-fulfilling gem. The list continues.

But my theory on Oz and OM seems not to have occurred to anyone I speak with. Am I deluded? So begins my investigation to vindicate my imagination. My first clue is a vague reference on the Internet to the author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz having an interest in Vedanta. Aha! Baum must have been one of the Hollywood Vedantists in the 1930s along with Aldous Huxley and Somerset Maugham.

* * *

I track down Baum?s great-granddaughter, Gita Dorothy Morena, who maintains the family interest in Oz. She lives near San Diego where her great-grandparents used to holiday a hundred years ago. A psychotherapist and author of the book The Wisdom of Oz, she uses the story as a therapeutic tool. She says, ?My life has been quite parallel to Dorothy?s. As a young child when my mother read me the Oz stories I thought they were about me.?

It turns out that in 1892, before he began writing The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, the first of his fourteen books about Oz, Baum became a member of the Ramayana Theosophical Society in Chicago. He is known to have agreed with the Theosophists? beliefs in karma, reincarnation, varying states of consciousness and that a common creator exists behind all religious teachings. While not technically a ?yoga? organization, the Theosophists were the earliest group of any size in North America to openly adopt yogic thought and practice, in particular the quest for enlightenment.

The story of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz came to Baum one evening as he told stories to his four boys and the neighbourhood kids. ?It was pure inspiration. It came to me right out of the blue. I think 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.?*

* Michael Patrick Hearne, ed., The Annotated Wizard of Oz (New York: Clarkson N. Potter, 1973).

Hardeep Dhaliwal is a writer living in Vancouver.

Copyright ©2007 ascent magazine, first Canadian yoga magazine, yoga for an inspired life