Wizard of Oz

A number of writers in recent years have pointed to a spiritual message in The Wizard of Oz. The MGM film of The Wizard of Oz contains only one reference to religion. When Almira Gulch confronts Dorothy's aunt and uncle about Toto, Aunt Em tells Miss Gulch, "I'd tell you what I think of you but I'm a Christian woman." The spiritual interpretations have not been limited to Christianity, though. In several books published in the last couple of decades, L. Frank Baum's story has been interpreted as a Christian search for redemption, a Buddhist quest for enlightenment, a New Age spiritual pilgrimage, a secular myth, as well as a critique of organized religion in general.

According to William J. Bausch, the elements of a spiritual journey are "the holy discontent, the call, the beginning of the venture, insight and allies." [1]Because all of these elements are in place in The Wizard of Oz, Bausch uses this familiar story of Dorothy's trek along the yellow brick road to shed light on how people can successfully negotiate their own spiritual journeys. Despite the familiarity of life in Kansas, Dorothy wondered what life offered beyond the bounds of her experience—she wondered what was "over the rainbow." According to Bausch, this was Dorothy's holy discontent, and her call to action took the form of a tornado. He suggests that many of us experience similar feelings, but our call to adventure is often more subtle than Dorothy's. Often, a person has to reach some sort of impasse in their life to spur them to begin their own spiritual journey. We must face the challenges of the spiritual journey, much like Dorothy confronted her own demons ("lions and tigers and bears, oh my!"). She soon realizes, however, that she can't take this on alone and she finds companions to accompany her on her journey. Bausch argues that we need a "faith-sharing community—people who think the spiritual life is real."

Interestingly, most of the spiritual interpretations of The Wizard of Oz do not take a Christian perspective. Joey Green suggests that The Wizard of Oz illustrates the Buddhist search for enlightenment in his book The Zen of Oz: Ten Spiritual Lessons from Over the Rainbow. Glinda, the Good Witch of the North, is the Zen master who sends Dorothy on her journey down the yellow brick road toward enlightenment. Dorothy's search for self-discovery inspires others along the way, and they learn to leave their conscious yearning behind. Dorothy eventually achieves satori and finds oneness with the Universe, or as it is expressed in Baum's story, she finds her way home. Green's ten spiritual lessons from The Wizard of Oz are his interpretation the major themes and events of the story, illustrating some aspect of Buddhist practice and belief. Dorothy's ruby slippers represent the "inner spark" we all possess. Glinda tells Dorothy never to let the ruby slippers off her feet, meaning that Dorothy should not let go of her passion for life and her potential for enlightenment. To "Follow the yellow brick road" serves as Dorothy's mantra on her journey. Dorothy's return home—her awakening—symbolizes her enlightenment. [2]

In Spiritual Journeys Along the Yellow Brick Road , Darren John Main suggests that The Wizard of Oz contains a timeless truth that transcends culture. Dorothy's journey is the sort of archetypal pilgrimage found across all religions. Revealing a distrust of organized religion, Main suggests that the wizard represents Dorothy's religion. He quotes from How to Talk Dirty and Influence People by Lenny Bruce, "people are leaving the church and finding God." [3]To Main, the purpose of following the yellow brick road is to find one's own spiritual path—and the journey is the destination. Dorothy represents the soul and her ruby slippers represent our "spiritual inheritance," a gift that each soul is given. The Good Witch of the North provides Dorothy with guidance but allows her to make her own discoveries. To make this journey, Dorothy needs to draw on her intellect (represented by the Scarecrow), her love (represented by the Tin Man) and her courage (represented by the Cowardly Lion).

Jesse Stewart makes a similar argument, suggesting that The Wizard of Oz serves as "a map for the modern spiritual journey." [4]Dorothy is an orphan and longs for her true home. In a sense, argues Stewart, we all experience this "longing of life"—we are all spiritual orphans searching for our true home. [5]Toto is Dorothy's dearest companion, so when Almira Gulch threatens to take Toto away, Dorothy experiences a crisis that sets her off on her journey. She gets caught in a tornado that takes her from her outer world (Kansas) to her inner world (Oz). Dorothy's inner and outer worlds are connected, and Oz contains reflections of the characters and events of her life in Kansas. The death of the Wicked Witch of the East symbolizes the end of Dorothy's dependence on others and her decision to go off on her own. Once in Oz, though, Dorothy's desire is to return home, bringing together her inner and outer worlds. Glinda, the "wise one," instructs her to "follow the yellow brick road," which spirals outward, in contrast to the inward spiral of the tornado that brought Dorothy to Oz. These spirals represent chaos and creativity, one of a number of dualities that Dorothy encounters on her journey. Along the way Dorothy meets characters that each represent a part of the physical body, though incomplete. The Scarecrow represents the head, but it is lacking a brain, the Tin Man represents the chest though it lacks a heart, and the Cowardly Lion stands for powerful limbs despite the lack of courage. These characters also each represent a part of Dorothy's "threefold soul:" thinking, feeling and will. Just as she must bring together her inner and outer worlds, Dorothy must integrate these parts of her soul. Dorothy must overcome a number of challenges to achieve her awakening, her "higher self realization." All of these images taken together form a mandala symbolizing Dorothy's journey.

It is interesting to note that most of the recent books emphasize Dorothy's success in completing her spiritual journey, but one of the first analysts to look at The Wizard of Oz from a spiritual perspective saw it as a critique of organized religion. In "Waiting for Godoz: A Post-Nasal Deconstruction of The Wizard of Oz" (OK, so the title is a bit much), David Downing notes that like many people, Dorothy is dissatisfied with her life and longs for something more. Downing suggests that her desire to find something better "over the rainbow" is the sort of escapism that organized religion indulges. But Dorothy soon finds that that her fantasy world, Oz, is even more flawed than the real world. She sets off on a "grail-like quest" with companions, all of whom have a similar sort of spiritual emptiness. They go to meet the Wizard in a cathedral-like setting, but they discover that his image is an illusion. Downing asserts "The implication is that the religious quest fulfills psychological needs regardless of its actual truth." [6]

1. ^ William J. Bausch, The Yellow Brick Road: A Storyteller's Approach to the Spiritual Journey (Mystic, CT: Twenty-Third Publications, 1999), p. 16.
2. ^ Joey Green, The Zen of Oz: Ten Spiritual Lessons from Over the Rainbow (Los Angeles: Renaissance Books, 1998).
3. ^ Darren John Main, Spiritual Journeys Along the Yellow Brick Road (Tallahassee, FL: Findhorn Press, 2000), p. 39.
4. ^ Jesse Stewart, Secrets of the Yellow Brick Road: A Map for the Modern Spiritual Journey (Hygrene, CO: Sunshine Press Publications, 1997), p. 10.
5. ^ Stewart, pp. 13-18.
6. ^ David Downing, "Waiting for Godoz: A Post-Nasal Deconstruction of The Wizard of Oz" Christianity and Literature 33 (1984), pp. 28-30, quoted in Paul Nathanson, Over the Rainbow: The Wizard of Oz as a Secular Myth of America (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1991), pp. 11-13.


  1. the symbolism i think is about the bankers in this country and the take over of washington...the man behind the curtain, ect

  2. Great post!
    looking forward to reading the next one