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Monday, December 25, 2023

The Most Famous Reindeer's Hidden Meanings


Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is a much-loved character this time of year. In 2023, stories about the origin of the iconic denizen of Santa's Village have made the rounds on social media, a testament to the endurance of his appeal. Back in 2020 I revealed the esoteric meanings behind Rudolph and his friends in what was, at the time, a little bit of silliness for the season catered to those with weird occult interests. As I sit on Xmas morning, the sun not up yet, typing these words, I wonder at the logic of making a Xmas post ON Xmas... But time isn't real; and 2020, 2023, or 1939 or 1964 may as well all be Now. I had meant to write more about Rudolph this Xmas season, but stress, pain, and social obligations prohibited it. A final and deciding stumbling block came in the form of self-doubt, and questioning whether anyone would want to read this. I apologize for the "inside baseball" here- or perhaps inside reindeer games- it is uncharacteristic for my blog, but not entirely unrelated to the core themes of Rudolph. Perhaps in the writing, as is often the case, I will work through it- and hopefully you the reader benefit as well.

The esoteric meanings behind the story were borne out of a half-joking tweet, but as has been established on this blog before jokes contain their own manner of profundity. One might consider it a central thesis of my work writ large. Having fun with these ideas, approaching them with wonder, curiosity, and above all playfulness and humor often brings unexpected and mind-boggling results. Further, as I explained on the most recent Holy Donut Revival Hour, even the silliest and most peripheral bits of popular culture contain elements of, and thus are part of, our modern continuation of the age-old storytelling that comprises myth, magic, folklore, and consciousness. Even if it began entirely as a joke, in the numinous sphere of ephemeral meaning divorced from the exoteric, materialist source material of the subject, even a character developed as an advertising gimmick can- and is- a powerful memetic and magical force.

With that, our examination of the famous reindeer and his titular proboscis begins. The following relates exclusively to the 1964 Rankin/Bass television movie version of the story.

I described Rudolph's nose as allegorically being the Rose of the Rose Cross- an arcane symbol, the origins of which are so ensnared in modern myth-making by various lodges and orders that sorting it all out here would be too disruptive. What was meant by that, and what I hoped to clear up, is that the color of his nose is but one of the esoteric hints- it's not only red, but shiny, and glowing. The red nose is not reflecting light, it is self-illuminated. Other symbols could stand in just as easily as the Rose; the Sacred Heart of Christ, for instance. That might be an apt one, being that this is a Xmas special we're referring to that seems to exist in a universe entirely bereft of Jesus talk. When we meet Rudolph it is shortly after his birth in a cave, which is also pregnant with mystical significance. Before his shockingly bright nose is revealed, it is established that Rudolph is exceptionally bright himself. He responds to his name and can speak right away- even knowing the name of Santa without being told. He's praised for his intellect but shunned for his, as Sam the Snowman puts it, "non-conformity".

A nose is not a Sacred Heart or a Rose, but it's more meaningful than it might seem on its face. Never underestimate the metaphysical properties behind the Mystical Pun. Rudolph is praised for what he "knows" but is shunned for his "nose". His radical, intuitive understanding of the world is deemed heretical, and eventually he resigns himself to exile. Santa appears and after shunning the light of Rudolph's "blinkin' beacon" sings a little song about being the "King of Jingling" before making an exit. Thus the highest authority in the land, the King, has dismissed our young hero... perhaps because he fears the light of truth. Santa's domain is fairly small, and is surrounded by harsh winter lands where Abominable Snow Monsters lurk. He takes on a demiurgic quality which is appropriate when you consider that gnosis is what the esoteric meaning of the nose is.

Sam the Snowman, who we glossed over above, is a sort of genius loci or tutelary spirit of the Christmas Tree Forest. He's an elemental or nature spirit, albeit a young one, who acts as storyteller and singer. He briefly involves himself in the narrative toward the end, but mostly seems to live apart from Santa and the elves.

Of the elves, the one most important to the story is Hermey. He is unhappy making toys and wishes to become a dentist instead. His name of course calls to mind the Greek god Hermes, among the most significant figures in myth and magic, from whom we get the word "Hermetic". He is unlike the other elves because he feels the pull of his higher self, and knows that he can and must do the Great Work of integrating the practical and spiritual parts of himself. The choice of dentistry alludes to Hermes as well since modern medicine uses the caduceus as a symbol, the rod with snakes Hermes was said to carry. This itself is odd since the symbol should be the Rod of Asclepius, which only has one snake- but considering the demands put on Hermey for production of toys, with his attention towards helping people, it might be worth considering- especially later on.

The Caduceus / Rod of Asclepius is represented in the modern day by the barber's pole, with a spiral of red on a white background. In earlier times the barber also acted as a doctor, and if you had tooth troubles you'd go to him. 

Hermey abandons his post realizing that he will never fit in as a toy maker. His refrain of "you can't fire me, I quit!" calls to mind Milton's verse attributed to Satan- "Better to reign in Hell than to serve in Heav'n." Hermey strikes out in an attempt to be independent, taking charge of his own life, even though the path of least resistance would be to live a comfortable, albeit disingenuous life under the rule of King Santa in the toy shop. He and Rudolph team up as a pair of Misfits- outsiders- and venture into the pleroma beyond the material mundane sphere of Christmas Town. 

Before long they meet Yukon Cornelius, a prospector looking to make his fortune with Silver and Gold. His name calls to mind the influential polymath and occultist Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa. Agrippa was a soldier, a lawyer, and an academic whose occult writings influenced major figures in magic from the 16th century on; ultimately he warned against meddling with dark forces, and in Yukon Cornelius we see an adventurer who is protective of his new chums and very familiar with the Abominable Snow Monster, or "Bumble". With his guidance and knowledge, Hermey and Rudolph are saved from the grips of the beast. Now a trio, they are cast adrift in the arctic on a homemade iceberg and brought to the Island of Misfit Toys.

The island itself is more of an underworld than anything. Here we meet the Damned. The toys here are cursed to never find a home in the land of the living, and since our heroes are mortal they are refused harborage on the Island by King Moonracer. Moonracer appears as a winged lion, recalling the lammassu of ancient Assyria. These protective deities were depicted in reliefs and statues in ancient times, often at gateways and entrances to cities. The protector King of the Misfit Toys in this sense stands at the boundaries of mortality and damnation, but seemingly offers a third path- one of immortality. He is certain Rudolph is destined to return home, the prodigal son, and "go down in history" as a timeless figure. He only asks that Santa find homes for the residents of the Island. 

Internet meme culture in recent years has focused quite a bit on a more cynical reading of the concept of non-conformity central to the story. While the point may be accurate, it is more useful perhaps to think in terms of exaggerated allegory. The essence of the tale, as convoluted and borne out of commercialism and ham-fisted sentiment as it may be, is a journey of self discovery and self empowerment. Rudolph confronts his fears and is momentarily bested by the devilish Bumble. The "abominable" scary step out of the comfortable but meaningless rigamarole of living a lie is vanquished, and literally defanged by Hermey. Thus the fears and anxieties keeping our misfits from becoming their best selves are transmuted. The beast is tamed; and for good measure, Cornelius appears to martyr himself for the cause. Of course, he rises again, because Bumbles bounce.

The trio end up saving Christmas. Rudolph's illumination guides the King (Santa), Hermey is granted a dentistry practice, and the Misfit Toys get picked up and dropped off with children who will accept them. The seeds are planted, each Misfit Toy proselitizyng the usefulness of non-conformity- and hopefully, teaching that self-actualization is a goal worth pursuing for the betterment of all. Yukon Cornelius, meanwhile, does strike it rich on a Peppermint Mine. This brings us back to the Caduceus, as candy canes also visually rhyme with the barber pole. The humble Bumble is giving a job trimming Christmas trees. All is well at the North Pole.

There are many other directions one could take, and much more minutiae that could be dissected in just this silly little animated Xmas special. This form of analysis could also be applied to virtually any piece of media. Is it what the creators of the special, or the characters or the song intended? Most certainly not. Am I simply spinning esoteric nonsense out of a kid's TV special from the 60s? Yes. But that doesn't make it less valid, nor does it really constitute "nonsense". It simply IS. The threads and themes that weave their way through our collective psyche, from the most ancient and sacred to the most modern and profane can never be adequately or sensibly mapped out. Rather they can only be gleaned peripherally, notated partially, and hinted at jokingly. Occult secrets rarely need to be actively hidden. They seem so absurd and silly from a materialist perspective they are shunned like a shining red nose. So this Xmas, and through 2024, I wish you all the best in finding these truths for yourself. Be empowered and find the other misfits. Spread your weird far and wide, and if you're barred from reindeer games go start your own.

Merry Weirdmas, my friends.