The Polanski Code
New Page -- 2 February 2007
The Ninth Gate is a film by the well known director, Roman Polanski. The Polanski Code -- this webpage -- is Laurel Whitney's continuing analysis of the movie and the book on which the movie was based. This is the eighth section of nine, in which Ms. Whitney relates the contents of the movie and book to the Qabala and The Tree of Life. The nine sections include:
IMPORTANT NOTE: The Engravings from the book, The Dumas Club, and the movie, The Ninth Gate, can be found at An Eclectic Historian.
(6/20/9) Make that Apocalyptic Productions, for the movie version (but you will have to buy the book for the novel's version). (An Eclectic Historian is not currently on the web.)
It is strongly recommended that you print out these pages (all 18) and use them in the process of reading Ms. Whitney's essay. In addition, version of the Tree of Life used by Ms. Whitney can be viewed at: http://www.thelemapedia.org/index.php/Image:Tree_simple.gif.
A WARNING -- other than "abandon hope all ye who enter here" -- is that you might want to see the movie before reading the essay, inasmuch as the analysis pretty much gives away the plot, like who gets killed and who doesn't.
This section might in fact be considered to be the Executive Summary. The intriguing part is that The Polanski Code may turn out to be more interesting than The DaVinci Code -- one being forward looking and the latter being pretty much history.
VIII. THE POLANSKI CODE
CORSO'S RUN - The Journey in the Film
In addition to showing the audience the symbolic images representing the journey through the Nine Gates, director Roman Polanski also presented us with two 'real-life' variations on this journey: one a truncated AT version made by Boris Balkan (which we followed during the interpretation of the symbolism of the engravings), and the other the successful LCF journey which Corso was able to make with the help of 'the girl'. Following is a summary which correlates the characters and plot points of the film with the stages of Corso's journey as they are represented in the symbolism for each of the 'Nine Gates'.
THE FIRST GATE - Malkuth/Materialism: Andrew Telfer
I don't think it's a coincidence that this film begins with an *actual* hanged man whose suicide suggests that a materialistic lifestyle is, in the end, not enough in itself to sustain the will to live. This is the ultimate dilemma faced by the knight in the AT engraving of the First Gate who travels towards the castle with four towers, symbolic of the material treasure of the purely material realm of Malkuth. Dean Corso never met Andrew Telfer, but as 'the man who had everything', yet still couldn't find a reason to stay alive, who remained unsatisfied or even despaired despite his material success, Andrew Telfer provides a good example of the state of consciousness of the person who eventually feels compelled to set out on the quest for spiritual treasure. And Corso's mindset at the beginning of the film seems to have a lot in common with the kind of bleak outlook which apparently drove Andrew Telfer to kill himself.
The one thing that we know he did before committing suicide was to sell the copy of 'The Nine Gates' which he had originally bought for his wife. He knew how much she valued it, so we may assume that the Baroness Kessler was right when she said "That creature Liana married him for his money. If he ever finds out what his wife is up to at these gatherings (of the Order of the Silver Serpent), he'll probably kill himself." Corso may also have been right when he confronted Liana at the chateau: "He sold (the book) to get back at you. What happened? Did he catch you with that albino?" It seems that Liana must have managed to get Andrew to fall in love with her and then cold-bloodedly proceeded to exploit his fortune and betray his trust. So apparently it was a failure of love which drove Andrew to kill himself.
And where do we find Dean Corso at the beginning of the movie? He lives in a fairly nondescript apartment, doesn't seem particularly concerned with appearances, apparently has no love interest in his life, and has problems with addiction, being a chain smoker and drinking not just for recreation but simply to be able to cope with his life. He admits to Bernie that he 'screwed' another book dealer by deliberately overestimating the value of a collection, a petty cruelty which brought no profit to himself except the satisfaction of knowing that it made life more difficult for his competitor. Although he has a congenial relationship with Bernie, he doesn't budge an inch when Bernie makes a friendly case for a higher percentage on a book deal. Corso practically never smiles, and seems to spend most of his time conducting his business and drinking. When Balkan guesses that he doesn't have any friends, Corso responds "That makes two of us". Corso apparently has a fairly cynical view of life, doesn't appear to get much satisfaction out of anything and shows clear signs of being depressed. When Balkan asks "Are you a religious man, Mr. Corso -- I mean, do you believe in the supernatural?" Corso replies "I believe in my percentage."
Andrew Telfer owned the book 'The Nine Gates' for years but never discovered the true nature of its contents. Corso is apparently ready enough to change that when the book crosses his path, it becomes the catalyst for a series of mysterious events which intrigue him enough to put him on the 'upward' path on the Tree. This is the first essential step in a journey which will bring him to the symbolic spiritual posture of the Tarot's hanged man and, for the first time in his life, into a conscious partnership with his Guardian Angel/Higher Self/Soul. The First Gate engraving is the first one that we see in the film when Balkan is showing the book to Corso in his library and Corso is about to accept the assignment to track down the other two copies, and about to begin the journey that will ultimately take him to the very top of the Tree.
THE SECOND GATE - Chesed/Higher Feeling: Victor Fargas
The symbol of the engraving for the Second Gate is the Hermit, whose inner search takes him on the path from the balance point of the Soul at Tiphareth to Chesed, the realm of Higher Feeling. Victor Fargas lives alone in his fine old family mansion which has seen better days and the almost empty main floor of his home suggests that he has survived for some years already by selling off its furnishings, artworks, and some of his collection of rare antique books. He is unassuming, kind to Corso, and philosophical about the decline of his fortune. Some have mentioned that the face of the Hermit figure in the engraving resembles Fargas, and since the Hermit's face was not modified from the original book version, this probably means that the role for the film was cast based on this resemblance.
Fargas is a cultured man, plays the violin, and cherishes his few remaining fine crystal glasses for their beauty and workmanship rather than their monetary value. His appreciation of fine music and art is a Higher Feeling function and he seems to value his occult books in the same way, as rare 'art objects', without investing himself intellectually in exploring their content. His copy of 'The Nine Gates' is a treasure of his collection for the quality of its workmanship, its notoriety and its great rarity. This is why he tells Corso that he won't sell it at any price, even though he must realize that if he did sell it, he could live the rest of his life on the proceeds.
The Baroness tells Corso that Fargas is an 'unbeliever', but this is an oversimplification because Fargas is not indifferent to the content of the book. When he asks Corso what he's looking for in comparing the two books and Corso replies "I'm not sure", Fargas says "Some books are dangerous -- not to be opened with impunity." It is as Corso is comparing the engravings in the two books that we first see the Second Gate/Higher Feeling engraving of the Hermit, and then the Jester and maze of the Fourth Gate/lower mind, and this combination seems to reflect very well the way that Fargas' consciousness looks at the book.
Balkan is a good example of one way in which the lower mind/ego relates to the subject of 'the occult' (which simply means 'hidden' teachings). He embraces his own idea of it in the delusional belief that it will provide him with a secret way to get what he desires and to gain power over others. Fargas is an example of the other typical lower mind/ego reaction. He fears and avoids the subject altogether because of the common misconception that all of its students are like Balkan. Desire and fear are the unavoidable stock-in-trade of the ego and lower mind until the union of the ego and the Soul introduces into the equation the Love of the Soul which tames desire, casts out fear and greatly expands the capacity to understand.
Corso begins by taking Balkan's assignment for the money (desire), and when his apartment is ransacked, Liana attacks him, and Bernie is killed and left in the pose of the Hanged Man, Corso naturally reacts with fear and wants to quit. Balkan's offer of a lot more money puts him temporarily back on the job (desire again). Then, after a Ceniza twin indirectly warns him of 'danger descending from above' just before the collapsing scaffolding barely misses falling on his head, and after he encounters 'the girl' again and understands that she will be accompanying him on his assignment, hist curiosity starts to get the better of him as he begins to realize that there may still be important dimensions of life which he hasn't yet discovered.
From then on he becomes motivated more and more by a powerful Higher Mind-based will to know the secrets of the book for their own sake. Corso's feeling state vacillates between desire and fear until he sees that he is being drawn into a partnership with 'the girl' who seems to be guiding and protecting him through his adventures. At that point he begins to trust in her guidance and to go willingly wherever it is that she's leading him, regardless of the circumstances, a change which reflects his transition to the value system of the Higher Feeling nature.
THE THIRD GATE - Yesod/Sexuality: Liana St. Martin Telfer
The information given earlier on the symbolism of the Third Gate described the ideal situation in which the sexual desire nature of Yesod collaborates with the lower feeling nature of Netzach with the subconscious participation of the Soul at Tiphareth to produce the phenomenon of 'falling in love'. Seeing the qualities of one's Soul reflected in the 'Beloved' and pursuing a union with this 'Beloved' is the most common way in which the ego is led into an ultimate union with the Soul. But we actually first see the Third Gate engraving in the shop of the Ceniza Brothers and as we will see below, this symbolically represents the perspective of the ego's lower mind. On this lowest ego level, the experience of Yesod may simply involve a physical interaction without much personal feeling entering into it (let alone any Higher Feeling), either strictly for pleasure or as a way to achieve power, money, or some other ego goal.
This was the nature of Liana's original 'relationship' with her husband and was also the basis of Corso's coupling with Liana. She was using her sexuality as bait to get Corso to help her get her book back, while he was simply giving in to the opportunity for a casual sexual interlude. He had no intention of stealing the book for her and when she found she'd been tricked, she attacked him. Just as the Ceniza twin warned when we first saw the engraving for the Third Gate, one who ventures too far on this path for strictly ego-gratification purposes must expect the likelihood of 'danger descending from above'. In Corso's interaction with Liana, the aggressive nature of his willingness to cheat her out of the agreed 'payment' for her sexual favors was reflected back to him in the form of a liquor bottle descending on his head.
In just the way depicted by the LCF Third Gate engraving, Corso was eventually drawn by the girl into a partnership with his Soul. However, it wasn't until he came to the point of the Ninth Gate that he experienced the true, sacred, tantric aspect of the energies of Yesod -- which drew on both the lower and Higher Feeling energies which had been kindled between them -- to carry Corso across the Abyss and into temporary ego death and union with Spirit.
THE FOURTH GATE - Hod/lower mind: The Ceniza Brothers
Although we don't actually see the engraving for the Fourth Gate of Hod/lower mind until Corso visits Fargas, the subject itself is raised just before that when Corso makes his trip to Toledo, Spain to the workshop of the Ceniza twins. Director Roman Polanski included an interesting detail in the film which is repeated in a slightly different form both times that Corso is walking down the alley towards the Ceniza Brothers' shop. On his first visit, we hear a woman's voice calling out from somewhere on the right side of the alley and then a young boy comes running from Corso's left and crosses in front of him, answering "Si, si, mama!" When Corso returns the second time, we only hear the young boy's voice calling "Si, si, mama!"
This might simply be something which has a personal meaning for Polanski. But the fact that it was repeated twice gives it some importance and it can also be seen as reinforcing another clue which he gave us about the symbolic identity of the Cenizas, the fact that they are twins. 'The Twins' is a name associated with the astrological sign Gemini which is ruled by Mercury and symbolizes the lower mind. Mercury, also known as Hermes, is sometimes called 'the puer', symbolically a boy or youth who doesn't grow up. Gemini traditionally rules the Third House of an astrological chart, just to the left of the bottom center point of the chart, and just to the right of the center point is the Fourth House which is traditionally ruled by the sign Cancer, the sign of the Moon, which is associated with the Mother. The Ceniza Bros. shop was located to the left of the alley from where the boy ran and the twins' trade also involved books and the written word, both ruled in astrology by Gemini and Mercury and symbolized in Qabalah by Hod/Mercury/lower mind.
We have already covered Corso's transition from lower mind to Higher Mind but there is one more symbolic point here. The Ceniza Brothers' shop (as a symbol of Gemini/lower mind) was the source from which Liana originally acquired her copy of the book, the same copy which ended up in Boris Balkan's hands. As one of the twins observed when Corso told him of the book's new owner, "Each book has its own destiny." Apparently it was the destiny of the Ceniza Brothers' copy of the book to be owned by people who saw it and valued it only from the perspective of the lower mind and used it only to serve the desires of their egos and since Balkan had it with him in the castle, its final end, like his, was complete destruction by fire.
As we will see when we get to the Eighth Gate, the Baroness at least made an attempt to develop her Higher Mind functions though she ultimately failed and she never made the transition from lower feeling to Higher Feeling. And judging by the position of the book where Corso left it on the Baroness' desk, we can assume that it too was entirely consumed by fire. Fargas saw his copy and valued it from the perspective of the Higher Feeling function of the Soul, and from what we saw of him, seemed to have developed at least that half of the functions of the realm of the Soul. Perhaps this is why his copy was only half burnt. The Ceniza Brothers' shop will play one last symbolic role when Corso returns to find the genuine Ninth Gate engraving, representing the final stage in the transformation process which will be described in "Is that it?" We will consider then one possible reason why Polanski directed one of the twins to drop ashes all over the book when Corso first brought it back to them.
THE FIFTH GATE - Netzach/lower feeling: Bernie the Bookseller
We first see the engraving for the Fifth Gate when Corso brings the book to Bernie's and asks him to hide it for him. Corso's apartment had been ransacked while he was at the research library where he had just briefly seen the same mysterious girl who was at Balkan's lecture. Corso wasn't sure at that point who was after Balkan's book, but it was clear to him that somebody was. Bernie was impressed by seeing the infamous book whose value he estimated at 'a million dollars' and as he leafed through it, we saw the Frontispiece, the Fifth Gate engraving of the man counting out his gold with Death lurking over his shoulder, and finally the Hanged Man of the Sixth Gate.
We talked about the transition from lower feeling to Higher Feeling when we discussed the Second Gate above, but Corso's reaction to Bernie's death was the first time that his previously dominant ego-based, lower feeling value system, centered on profit, was challenged by the shock of a personal loss. When Corso came out of the bookshop after finding Bernie hanging like the Hanged Man, he was clearly shaken, enough to call Balkan to tell him he was quitting. Only when Balkan told him to 'add another zero' to the dollar amount of his fee, was the financial incentive impressive enough to keep him on the job.
Corso's motivation shifts away from the financial when he partners with the girl, (and as we will see, this is correlated with the Sixth Gate symbolism of the Hanged Man). Money finally becomes completely irrelevant to him at the point when, not yet having received his check for his assignment, Corso pulls a gun on Balkan at the castle in an effort to take the engravings away from him. As Balkan understands, Corso is unable to use a gun in cold blood (having developed too strong a Higher Feeling function), and he is finally only able to shoot Balkan as an act of compassion when he sees that Balkan is burning to death.
THE SIXTH GATE - Tiphareth/The Soul: 'The (Mysterious) Girl'
From the time that Corso first meets with Balkan, takes possession of the book, and accepts his assignment to track down the other two copies, the character identified only as 'the girl' is always somewhere nearby. She's at Balkan's lecture, at the research library, and we see her feet outside the window at Bernie's when Corso stashes the book there. [She's the one squashing out a lighted cigarette which had just been dropped, while the litterer was most likely 'the albino'.] We don't see her in Toledo, but she apparently was there since Corso runs into her on the train from Toledo to Sintra. This is the point at which he finally understands that she will be accompanying him on his journeys [albeit for reasons he doesn't yet understand. Corso is assuming that she is working for Balkan, but later at the St Martin Castle, when he accuses her of having been working for Balkan, she answers, "I thought you were the one working for him."]
On the plane from Sintra to Paris, Corso makes one of several attempts to get the girl to explain to him who she is and what role she is playing. When he asks her who was responsible for Fargas' murder, she says "He's dead - who cares?" He replies "I do, It could have been me." Girl: "Not with me to take care of you." Corso: "Oh, I see, you're my Guardian Angel then?" Girl: "If you say so." Corso: Someone's playing a game with me." Girl: "Of course. You're part of it, and you're getting to like it." Earlier, she told him that she was a student "in a way", and we see her reading a book on how to influence people. This is pretty much all that she tells Corso about herself, but in the context of the journey described by the engravings, her role is clear.
At first, when Corso is dealing with the ego functions of the lower mind (the research library and the Ceniza Bros.), lower feeling (Bernie) and sexuality (Liana), the girl either seems absent or Corso only catches glimpses of her and when he tries to find her, she disappears . But from the time that he visits Fargas, representing the first Soul level sephira of Chesed/Higher Feeling, the girl starts to take charge of Corso's journey and they begin to act as a team. At first the girl plays a protective role and does the bulk of the fighting but gradually, although it's clear that she is always potentially stronger than Corso is, he grows into being more of an equal partner. By the time they arrive at Liana's chateau, Corso is the one taking the initiative. When the albino is escorting them at gunpoint down to where he is instructed to kill them, it is Corso who throws him down the stairs and knocks him unconscious. Corso does this all on his own, a milestone which the girl acknowledges with obvious approval and satisfaction. In the context of self-defense, this is a legitimate exercise of the power of Geburah.
Earlier, when Corso first expressed his admiration and gratitude to the girl for fighting for him against the albino down by the river, we saw the bond of Higher Feeling growing between them. It was at this point that the girl looked lovingly at Corso and drew with her fingers three vertical lines on his forehead with her own blood, the central line extending down his nose. There is a long spiritual tradition of marking the forehead as a sign of spiritual protection and initiation in both Eastern and Western traditions and three vertical marks on the forehead is the traditional Hindu sign of initiation of those who worship God in the form of Vishnu, the Preserver, whose qualities (like those of Chesed) are kindness and mercy. Such marks are also worn as a reminder of the consecration of the body as the temple of the Spirit, and in Corso's case might represent a sign of his initiation into Higher Feeling and the realm of the Soul. [Corso's blood stained forehead is not immediately cleaned.]
In the context of the Tree of Life, the three symbolic marks might also refer to the three Transcendent Creative energies of the Supernal Triad (which, when the body is superimposed on the Tree, are located in the head). The elongated center mark might symbolize the Central Pillar which extends downward from the highest central sephira of the Godhead, Kether/Crown, representing the route of the path of return which Corso is traveling. The girl begins as a symbolic figure who models for him the qualities of the Soul which he will gradually grow into, but once Corso has achieved the union of his ego and Soul, the inter-dimensional figure of the girl remains a symbol of the non-dual Spirit. It is his union with her in this capacity which will carry him across the Abyss and into union with the Spirit with the opening of the Ninth Gate.
THE SEVENTH GATE - Daath/Ascension: Corso & The Girl, Inc.
We first see the Seventh Gate engraving (the disciple surpasses the master) after Corso has made an end-run around the fierce, hyper-vigilant secretary at the Kessler Institute and is showing the Baroness the variations in the engravings. "Variations?" she says, "If that were true, it would be a revelation..." which, given the symbolism of the Ninth Gate engraving, is an interesting choice of word. The integration of ego and Soul which is depicted in the engraving actually represents a consolidation of all of the functions of the seven lower sephiroth of the Tree. Since we are now describing Corso's journey, all of these energies would be a part of his consciousness and this integration would prepare him for a entirely new way of experiencing life.
Corso demonstrated his determination to go beyond the world as he had been capable of understanding it in the past when, after the interrupted ceremony at the chateau, he *had* to chase after Balkan as the latter left with the engravings on his way to the castle. The fact that, as the girl pointed out, he was now 'out of a job' meant nothing to him compared with his desire to *know*. Corso has a final moment of doubt about the girl because she stopped him when he tried to prevent Balkan from strangling Liana. It's true, as the girl said, that since Balkan had now killed someone in front of witnesses, Corso would be 'off the hook' for Balkan's earlier murders of Fargas and the Baroness, but there is also a symbolic aspect to this death. In terms of Corso's experience with her, Liana represented the negative exploitation of lower feeling and sexuality to serve the purposes of ego. Now that Corso has achieved the union of ego and Soul and become conscious of his Higher Feeling function, this is a kind of experience which will no longer be possible for him.
It is an interesting detail that Corso gets into Liana's car to chase Balkan but the girl makes no move to go with him and only hands him his coat and satchel. Still dressed in his black ceremonial robe disguise, Corso peels out to chase Balkan but when Balkan fords a large stream, Corso's borrowed car stalls out in the middle of it. Symbolically, the 'vehicle' of a so-called 'devil-worshipper' is not adequate for the journey which Corso is destined to take. He abandons the car, takes off his robe, discovers Liana's gun in the pocket of his coat, and returns to his hotel to regroup.
Corso gets his shoes cleaned for a fresh start, gets directions and makes his own way to the castle, first hitching a ride on a truck which is hauling large logs, a symbolic equivalent of Corso's own present condition: a resource which has grown to maturity over many years until it was ready to be harvested, stripped of its non-usable parts, and is now on its way to undergo a metamorphosis of form to become part of an entirely new structure. Corso then continues in the back of a small truck carrying sheep and hay. This is perhaps a reference to the Nativity, since the goal which Corso is approaching is a significant new birth into an experience where, like a baby, he will be starting over 'at the bottom' again. The symbol of Tiphareth/Soul in his present world is that of a King, while in the new world which he will enter, it is the King as Divine Child. Corso covers the last distance on foot, arriving at the castle just as night is falling, a reflection of the black color of Daath and the symbolic state of darkness in which he will finally cross the Abyss at the Ninth Gate.
THE EIGHTH GATE - Geburah/Higher Mind/Will: Baroness Kessler & Secretary
We get a brief first glimpse of the engraving for the Eighth Gate ("Virtue lies defeated") in Balkan's private library when Corso first accepts Balkan's assignment. We next see it when he visits the Baroness at the Kessler Institute, and he is in fact looking at this engraving when he is knocked unconscious from behind. It is my understanding that the decision to modify the engravings to resemble film characters wasn't made until after filming for the movie had already started, so it's possible that the casting director for the movie may have had this in mind, but to my eye, Simone, the Baroness' formidable secretary-from-hell, bears an uncanny resemblance to the strapping swordsman in the original book version of the engraving.
This is only fitting since she is a very effective example of one of the major functions of Geburah/Higher Mind: a vigilant, unbending, militant determination not to allow anyone undeserving to proceed any higher on the path of return. In the context of the individual's Geburah function, this would be the faculty of mental and moral discernment, not accepting, condoning or acting on unworthy ideas.
I'll just mention one other symbolic touch which Polanski added concerning Simone. When Corso arrives for his original appointment, we see that the secretary has an orange, and as he's leaving, we see that she has peeled the orange and makes a tentative effort to hide it as he walks past. On Corso's second visit, as he's running down the stairs away from the fire, he literally runs into Simone who is returning from lunch and knocks a bag of oranges from her hands, sending them bouncing down the stairs.
Following the rule that when some apparently random detail is repeated twice it may not be random, I looked for some symbolic function of oranges and found it in the context of the Godfather movies where it serves as a warning of imminent death. If you enter the words "Godfather," "oranges," and "symbols" in a search engine, you'll find examples and discussion about this death symbolism. I thought this was particularly ironic since it is a widely held opinion that the film many believe to be Polanski's masterwork, 'Chinatown', would have won the Oscar for Best Picture of 1974 if it hadn't been up against Godfather II that year. Perhaps this was Polanski's way of having a little fun with one of Coppola's recognized 'serious' symbolic devices. In the 'Ninth Gate', Simone doesn't die but the Baroness does.
There are indications that the Baroness had attempted to develop her Higher Mind functions. She apparently studied the book over a period of years, calling her knowledge of it "profound". She wrote a biography of its author, and her copy of the book was stuffed full of notes. The latter might be an indication also of her apparent lack of a developed Higher Feeling function since she seemed to have no appreciation of the artistry which the book represented in its workmanship and didn't respect it as an art object. But though you might expect a student of an 'occult' subject like 'the devil' to have at least a passing familiarity with the symbolism of the Tarot and the Tree of Life, the Baroness apparently never understood the true meaning of the engravings. Perhaps her preconceived ideas and romantic notions about having 'seen the devil' when she was fifteen years old prevented her from coming to any deeper level of understanding.
She tells Corso that her younger years were devoted to something very similar to the kind of theatrical rituals that we saw at Liana's chateau. It's not clear whether the Baroness became disenchanted with this before or after she sustained her crippling injuries, or if she just decided that her 'orgy days were over'. She ended up devoting her life to using what knowledge she had to making large sums of money writing books about 'evil' and 'the devil' -- and thereby subverting her Higher Mind function to serve her lower feeling material desires.
The Baroness would be a mirror image of Fargas' equally one-sided development except that she seemed to experience a failure of the will to move forward in the development of Higher Mind. She gave up and settled for exploiting her partial knowledge for money, and I see this failure of will reflected in her crippled body and particularly in her partially amputated right arm, the arm which should be wielding Geburah's sword. This is poignantly obvious in the scene in which she sharply orders Corso out of her office, pointing her poor stump of an arm towards the door. Simone seems to be the human equivalent of a prosthesis, the Baroness' 'good right arm'.
At the beginning of the film, Corso was apparently so disinterested in the subject of metaphysics that Balkan's lecture actually put him to sleep. But maybe it was just Balkan's particularly shallow and skewed viewpoint that didn't appeal. By the time Corso arrives at Liana's chateau, he is completely motivated by his desire to know the secrets of the book and is willing to do whatever it takes (within the limitations of what his Chesed Higher Feeling function will permit) to achieve that. His one Geburah failure, a lack of discernment, is what makes him susceptible to being knocked unconscious from behind in the Baroness' library.
Corso had enough clues by then to have figured out that Balkan was closely following him and was probably responsible for the murder of Fargas. He knew that the LCF engravings had been removed from the Fargas copy of the book before it was burned, and that Balklan was an obvious suspect. Balkan knew that Corso was at the Institute during the lunch hour when the secretary was absent [he had in fact told Corso to go there at that time], and Corso's intuition should have told him that Balkan wouldn't settle for a simple description of the variations in the Kessler copy. Even if, at this point, Corso also suspected the 'albino', Corso still should have thought to take more precautions than he did.
In the description of the engraving of the Hermit, we noted that in addition to the inner knowledge that the Hermit seeks which leads him to the Higher Feeling function of Chesed, he also needs to integrate into his consciousness his natural animal instincts which warn of danger, as symbolized in that engraving by the little dog. We see that Corso has not yet accomplished this when, despite the fact that his life has been threatened more than once, he sits with his back to the door in a strange place and apparently doesn't register the approach of danger which should have been signaled to him by his aura/energy body in the form of a prickling feeling at the back of the neck.
After he regains consciousness and escapes the fire -- as he is across the street recovering at the fountain -- we see a larger, more imposing version of the Hermit's little dog standing nearby, apparently giving Corso a hard look and a message which I will translate here from the original canine body language: 'Tsk-tsk. If you want to fare better in the future, you'll have to remember to pay more attention to me."
THE NINTH GATE - Crossing The Abyss: Corso & The Girl, a joint venture
Corso's first stop, after he accepts the assignment from Balkan to examine the other two copies of the book, is a research library where we see him looking first at the Frontispiece engraving of Balkan's book and hear him translating to himself 'Sic Luceat Lux, Thus let the Light shine'. Next he removes a large volume from the shelf, sees 'the girl' facing him as she replaces a book directly on the other side of the stack, and when he opens his volume, we see the engraving for the Ninth Gate in which the woman riding the Beast resembles the girl. And although it is the AT version of the engraving that we see then, with the castle in flames, in the genuine LCF engraving which Corso recovers at the very end of the film, it is the Light which the Frontispiece is referring to which we see shining from the castle.
The girl appears as a more-than-human but personalized symbol of the spiritual evolutionary force which accompanies Corso from the very beginning of his journey to discover the meaning of the book to the point at which she takes him 'across the Abyss' in front of the flaming castle. She then directs him to the location of the genuine Ninth Gate engraving, and it is Corso alone who makes the journey 'back from enlightenment", which is the subject of "Is that it?" below.
In addition to the progression from fire (AT) to Light (LCF), there is another very interesting and parallel symbolic detail in the Crescent Moon which, as the book puts it, 'hides the woman's sex' in the AT engraving, but which disappears in the genuine LCF version. I understand the Moon in this context as the balance point (Yesod/Moon/Sexuality) of the Lower Triad of the Tree, representing the perspective of the ego's sexual, lower feeling and lower mind functions. As we saw in the discussion of the Third Gate, without the participation of the Higher Feeling function of the Soul, the sexual energies serve only the desires and purposes of the ego, and their energetic 'frequency' is confined to a level at which they symbolically create heat but no light.
Once the union/Conjunctio of ego/Moon/Yesod and Soul/Sun/Tiphareth has been achieved, the engagement of the energies of the Higher Mind and Higher Feeling nature raise the frequency of the sexual energies to the point of being able to carry the traveler who is prepared to undergo this experience, across the Abyss and into ultimate Union with the Transcendent energy of Spirit under the guise of its last and finest veil of form: Supernal Light. This ascent of the sacred kundalini energies which the ego calls 'sexual' but which express themselves at all levels of human experience (as conceptualized in the inter-dimensional energy system of the chakras), is the goal of the Eastern practice of Tantra. But as symbolized by the kundalini serpent on the Tree in the Frontispiece, this energy also rises naturally as the journey up the Tree progresses whether special practices are followed or not. In the context of this higher experience of the sexual energies, the ego's typically either repressed or prurient attitude towards the subject of sexuality is no longer present and so the Moon, its symbol, no longer appears in its previous strategic location in the genuine LCF engraving.
As Corso leaves the castle after the fire which Balkan set has spread, we see seven separate flames shooting out of the castle windows behind him, perhaps symbolic of the full function of the seven lower sephiroth of Corso's inner Tree which he has now attained. As Corso and the girl engage all of these energies in raising the kundalini force through the seven inter-dimensional chakras, we see the emergence of three new flames in the castle behind them, symbolic, I believe, of the union of Soul and Spirit, the union of the seven lower sephiroth with the three Transcendent energies of the Supernal Triad of the Tree. This represents the re-uniting of all of the energies of the Tree with the 'crossing' and annihilation of the Abyss.
In interpreting the expressions which we see on Corso's face and the variations in the ways in which the girl appears to him, remember that there is a part of him, his ego function, which temporarily enters into darkness at the crossing of the Abyss which the ego/lower mind experiences as 'death'. When this function 'resurrects', it will take a new form, as we will see next in The 'Journey Back From Enlightenment'.
"IS THAT IT?": And What's With All The Shells? - The Journey Back From 'Enlightenment'
From the dramatic high point of the Conjunctio with the blazing castle in the background, the film next takes us to ordinary daylight and the mundane front seat of a car which, for the first time, Corso is driving with the girl as a passenger. Corso has apparently recovered from his metaphysical rite of passage, but this appearance is deceiving. He will be in a state which is a psychologically protective form of denial and the spiritual equivalent of physical 'shock' for at least several days during which time he will act as if everything is 'back to normal' while being acutely aware, deep within his own psyche, that it is not.
Corso asks, almost flippantly, "Is that it? Is the game over?" The girl answers that it's over for Balkan but not for him. Corso asks why Balkan didn't succeed. The girl explains that the Ninth Gate engraving was a forgery. Corso immediately responds "Where's the real one? I want it." And as the audience metaphorically leans forward as one, in anticipation of this long-awaited moment of revelation, the girl says "You're running low on gas" and they pull into a Shell station. (What?!)
The unsubtle appearance of the Shell logo in the film has been speculated about at IMDb, and it may be true that Polanski received a handsome fee from Shell for product placement. But if so, I have to give him credit for using Shell to achieve his own purposes as much as Shell used the appearances in his film to achieve theirs, because, in the context of Corso's journey of return on the Tree of Life, the word 'shell' has another meaning.
There are various versions of the symbolic location and function of the shells (called 'klippoth' in Qabalistic tradition). Some see them in the form of a 'shadow Tree' in which each sephira has a corresponding 'shell' version whose energy is fatally unbalanced so that it produces evil effects instead of good. Others see the lowest world of Assiah (the Tree of the material world on which Corso has been journeying) as itself representing the realm of shells since the Divine energy which originally descended from its Transcendent Source has reached, in Assiah, the point of maximum incarnation into form. At this lowest level of the Tree, the Divine nature of Creation may be virtually undetectable from the perspective of ego consciousness and the world, as the ego experiences it, may appear to be something more akin to Hell.
The fear of Hell and the desire to escape it was certainly a motivating factor for Christians in medieval times who made long journeys to certain spiritual destinations in order to atone for their sins or gain spiritual merit. The large scallop shell which the Shell company adopted as its logo is also probably the best-known form of pilgrim's badge which signified that a Christian had completed a pilgrimage to the popular shrine of St. James (in Spanish, Santiago) at Campostella, Spain. So to recap, the first two associations with this shell symbol are to an experience of a form of 'Hell on Earth' and a determination to undertake a sometimes arduous journey in order to escape 'Hell'.
The first time that we see the shell symbol is on the grounds of the Fargas mansion where it is a central decorative motif on the fountain/pool where Fargas' body was discovered. The second time is on a small sign outside Corso's hotel in Paris where he goes to visit Baroness Kessler. In both cases, Corso was leaving behind the ego's perspective of this world as a form of 'hell realm', and making a journey that would help him to escape the ego realm of 'Hell'. Fargas represented the function of Higher Feeling, Corso's first contact on his journey (other than the girl) with the realm of the Soul, and the Baroness represented at least a partial achievement of the function of Higher Mind, also in the realm of the Soul. And now the third encounter with the shell symbol comes as Corso is preparing to make a transition which will take him out of the world of Assiah, the realm of shells, entirely.
This refueling stop also gives the girl an opportunity to disappear, since Corso now has everything he needs in order to complete his journey and must proceed from this point on his own. She leaves him one last direction on where to find the genuine Ninth Gate engraving, in a note written on the forged copy and stuck under his windshield wiper, saying "Ceniza Bros."
As the Phoenix From Its Ashes, So Rises "The Star"
As Corso is walking down the alleyway to the Cenizas' shop, we hear once more the young boy's voice, 'Si, si, Mama' but it sounds farther away this time, almost like an echo or a memory, and when Corso arrives at the shop, he sees that it has been vacated and is being dismantled. All the books are gone and the two workmen who are removing a last tall bookcase (men with different last names, so they are not twins), don't speak Corso's language and have nothing useful to tell him. The answer he's looking for comes unexpectedly from *above* the place where the previous books were. As the bookcase is tipped over, a paper floats down from its top -- the genuine engraving of the Ninth Gate showing an 8-pointed star (or Sun, which is also a star) shining from the castle.
'The Star' is the 17th Trump of the Tarot's Major Arcana, and is traditionally represented as an eight-pointed star accompanied by the naked figure of a woman with two pitchers, one pouring water into a pool and the other pouring water onto the land. This is a symbol of uncertain derivation which can be seen as the agency of Soul uniting the realms of matter and Spirit -- just as the Soul mediates between the ego realm of matter and the Supernal realm of Spirit on the Tree. The eight-pointed star is a symbol of fullness and completion, and has been associated with the eight basic trigrams of the Chinese 'I Ching' whose combinations produce the full cycle of 64 hexagrams. These hexagrams represent all possible interactions between the dual, polar energies of active/solar yang (solid line) and receptive/lunar yin (broken line), all of the interactions still being recognized as reflections of One underlying Unity.
The eight-pointed star is also traditionally used in representations of the Star of Bethlehem (the birth of the Christ child who was both human and Divine) and is identified with regeneration and rebirth into Spirit. Its related form, the octagon, is considered the intermediary form between the square and the circle (symbolically uniting the four and the three, matter and Spirit). It is also the traditional shape of baptistries and baptismal fonts in which the body is sealed with the sign of Spirit through the agency of water. So in addition to the symbol of Transcendent Light/Spirit emanating from the (material) castle in the genuine engraving, we have a reference which is, significantly, not to the transcendence of matter and ego, but rather to the underlying *unity* of ego/Soul/Spirit and of the outer material form of Creation and the Divine Creative energy which informs and animates it.
Why did the Ceniza brothers forge the ninth engraving? 'The twins', as a symbol of the sign of Gemini, represent the ego's lower mind, the duality consciousness of the Beast, and from the perspective of this lower mind -- in terms of its autonomous existence -- the end of the journey *is* annihilation. Polanski gave us a clue to this in the name Ceniza which means "ash" and in the one twin who smoked and rather spectacularly dropped ashes all over the precious book.
At that time, only one victim, Bernie, was associated with Corso's relationship with the book, but there were four more yet to come: Fargas, Baroness Kessler, Liana, and Balkan himself. The number five in this context perhaps symbolically relates to the five physical senses on which the consciousness of the lower ego mind is based as it was in the case of the five crenellations which marked the exit from maze of the lower mind in the engraving for the Fourth Gate. Considering that Aristide Torchia, the author of the lower mind/AT versions of the engravings -- and all three of his books -- were reduced to ashes, (except for the Higher Mind/LCF engravings which were rescued by Corso), it may be more than coincidence that there is a Spanish idiomatic expression "tener el cenizo" which means to have bad luck or to be jinxed.
In the Christian Ash Wednesday liturgy of repentance (from the Greek 'metanoia', a change of mind and heart), when a cross of ashes is inscribed on the forehead, we are told, "remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return". This is a reminder to the consciousness of the lower mind/ego/body to align itself with the purposes of Soul in preparation for its Easter resurrection into Spirit. When consciousness no longer looks out from the limited vantage point of the lower mind, but from the enlightened perspective of the Higher Mind, the shop of Gemini, which represents the old limited vision, is symbolically vacated -- its view of the world is no longer adequate. Only once this shift has occurred, is the true vision revealed from a symbolically 'higher' source (the genuine Ninth Gate engraving floats down from the top of the bookcase, *above* where the books used to be).
The castle which Corso enters at his journey's end is a version of the symbol of The New Jerusalem. Like "Solomon's Temple", the Temple "not made with hands", it exists at once as both "Macrocosm" (the perfect Creation) and "microcosm" (the individual enlightened consciousness). The essence of our Being and of the created world has always been Divine. Only the temporary, limited perspective of our ego-bound consciousness has prevented us from experiencing this truth. Once Corso is able to look at last through the eyes of the Spirit/Soul, he experiences what was always there for those 'with eyes to see': the Divine Light of Heaven which continually blazes from the heart of all created forms.
'The Kingdom of Heaven is spread upon the Earth...' (The Gospel of Thomas)
I believe that Francisco Sole, the designer of the original engravings, Arturo Perez Reverte, the author of the book 'The Club Dumas' and Roman Polanski, both as director of the film 'The Ninth Gate' and as co-writer of the screenplay with John Brownjohn and Enrique Urbizu -- all deserve our gratitude for their parts in making available to a wider audience the basic outline of this inspired and inspiring traditional wisdom teaching.
The simple interpretation which I have given only barely scratches the surface of the riches to be found in the study of the Tree of Life. There are lots of resources on the Tarot and Qabalah available online and I encourage those of you who found this analysis interesting to begin your own journeys of exploration. I believe there is only one ultimate and sure solution to the precarious state of the world as it appears today, and that is the spiritual evolution of consciousness, one person at a time. If you have ever felt the desire to become part of the solution, I hope you will feel inspired to take up the essential portion of world-changing power which has been entrusted to you, and begin.
Copyright, Hesper79, Anchorite's Cell, L. E. Whitney, September 2005 (Revised December 2006), All Rights Reserved. Reprinted here with permission.
Note: In addition to making comments and suggestions via the Feedback mechanism for this website, one can also make comments directly to the author, Laurel Whitney, at email@example.com. Comments worth sharing with others may be included in The Ninth Gate Commentaries.
Note: In addition to making comments and suggestions via the Feedback mechanism for this website, one can also make comments directly to the author, Laurel Whitney, at firstname.lastname@example.org. Comments worth sharing with others may be included in The Ninth Gate Commentaries.
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