“Nevermind” by Leonard Cohen (2014)
Your victory was so complete
That some among you thought to keep
A record of our little lives,
The clothes we wore,
Our spoons, our knives.
Film noir is depressing. There’s no avoiding that.
“It is often described as essentially pessimistic,” says Wikipedia. “The noir stories that are regarded as most characteristic tell of people trapped in unwanted situations (which, in general, they did not cause but are responsible for exacerbating), striving against random, uncaring fate and frequently doomed. The films are seen as depicting a world that is inherently corrupt. Classic film noir has been associated by many critics with the American social landscape of the era—in particular, with a sense of heightened anxiety and alienation that is said to have followed World War II. In author Nicholas Christopher’s opinion, ‘it is as if the war, and the social eruptions in its aftermath, unleashed demons that had been bottled up in the national psyche.'”
In Nic Pizzolatto’s universes, everyone is corrupt—and if they’re not really corrupt, they seem to be. His worlds are certainly pessimistic, filled with people “trapped in unwanted situations.” And his characters are absolutely alienated, with “demons bottled up in the psyche.”
It’s classic film noir. And that’s why many viewers gave up on this season long ago. It’s just too damn depressing.
But the viewers who love this genre—people who think deep thoughts, who are interested in complexity—are also usually the most secretly hopeful people around. Because those who can see the darks and lights of the world with sobering clarity are also usually the most appreciative of the light. They need it a little bit more.
The end of the first season of True Detective was ultimately positive. This was also true of many of the classics: “Film Noir is often said to be defined by ‘moral ambiguity,’ yet the Production Code obliged almost all classic noirs to see that steadfast virtue was ultimately rewarded and vice, in the absence of shame and redemption, severely punished (however dramatically incredible the final rendering of mandatory justice might be).”
And so the payoff is just around the corner. Only two episodes left.
For the first time this season, in “Church in Ruins” we got a taste of true villainy, some idea of who will be the “vice” of this chapter. Here, at the “sex party,” Antigone Bezzerides, undercover as her sister Athena, finds Tony Chessani and Blake Churchman (who we already knew were involved in these events) with Osip, McCandless (the head of Catalyst), Vinci policemen and Geldof, who’s running for governor.
Pizzolatto’s played with vocabulary a lot this season, but his most esoteric line yet is delivered in this episode, when McCandless, in what I assume to be his home office—this must be his house, where the party’s taking place—says to Osip: “Full moon is the best time to ratify alliances.”
Based on this season’s timeline, it’s now January 23, 2016, during the full moon, which shows up rather prominently as our three heroes make their getaway. And there’s one group in particular that historically likes to set up its meetings during full moons.
“In the early days, many Masonic lodges used to organize their meeting nights to coincide with the phase of the full moon,” says the blog All Things Masonic. “This had a lot to do with the fact that transportation was very poor then. Getting from home to lodge was often a problem. Having lodge the same night as a full moon was to help ensure the brothers traveling to and from lodge would have the advantage of the bright moon to aid them in navigating the rough country roads and footpaths.”
With everything we’ve talked about this season—the Greek and Egyptian mythologies, the Aztecs and Mayans, the Biblical references, Christian mysticism, the references to immortality and the afterlife, the emphasis on eyes and animal symbolism and especially the references to cults—of course these powerful men who are “pulling all the strings,” as was once said about Ben Caspere, are Freemasons. It’s the only thing that makes sense, the only group that holds every one of these topics within its basic tenets.
And if you think researching Freemasonry is easy, think again.
Here’s a brief explanation of who these guys are.
There are more than 4 million Freemasons in the world, and 12,000 Masonic Lodges in the United States alone. Each state has one Grand Lodge, which is an organization of all the lodges in that state. According to a Grand Lodge in Colorado, “Membership demands are few, but firm. Freemasonry is not a religion, but a man who wants to become a Mason must have a belief in a Supreme Being. He might refer to him as God, Jehovah, Allah or any other familiar name of the Deity. His guide for living may be the Holy writings such as the Bible, the Tora or the Koran. Freemasonry encourages every member to be active in the faith of his choice. The important thing is that the Brother realizes he is part of an ordered universe….The lodge lets men associate with other men of integrity who believe in things like toleration, trust, charity, truth and knowledge….Another reward is our philanthropic work. Masonry focuses on specific needs, always humanitarian. Of course, being a Mason does take time, which means one or two nights a month, along with 24 hours a day. Those two evenings a month can extend into more time should the member pursue a leadership role. As for the 24 hours a day it simply means that Masonry is a way of life that stays with you every waking hour.”
Pay attention to that two-nights-a-month part. Freemasons always meet at night, and in secret. And, apparently, often during a full moon (makes that whole Luna Park poster in Aspen Conroy’s foyer make sense now, right? Luna means moon in Latin).
So here we have a brotherhood of men, one that goes back centuries. In the Middle Ages, when monarchs and churches ruled Europe, this was a pretty essential thing. The men who wanted to be able to think for themselves and not be controlled like sheep wanted a place where they could talk about ideas. Nothing wrong with that, right? We’re talking the time of Sir Isaac Newton here, the start of the Renaissance—when Greek ideologies were uncovered, when original thought and creativity helped us make progress as a species more than religion could (up to that time, the only literate people were royalty and the clergy). This is the kind of stuff nations are built on—and, in fact, many of our founding fathers were Freemasons (if you’ve seen that Nicolas Cage movie or The Da Vinci Code, I’m guessing you know this already). So our nation was built on this kind of secular, science- and reason-based thought. But it goes back even further than that. And that’s where the problems come in.
While the Freemasons who met in the Middle Ages and up through the 1700s were doing so to escape religious persecution and class bias, they were mostly “masons” by name alone—many of them hadn’t laid stone or built anything whatsoever. They were intellectuals. But the guys who started this whole thing were true construction workers, who actually did build the lofty cathedrals of Europe, like Notre Dame and Chartres. And their need for this system was quite logical.
They were freelancers in a union. Since they traveled for work, they often needed a place to stay, to eat, and the lodges on the construction sites provided that. They were away from their families a lot of the time and needed companionship, and when they came to a job site, they needed to inform the people there of their work experience, which they did via secret codes. Freemasonry was a beneficial invention for them, in what was often a very dangerous world. It provided security.
But when they talk about symbols and codes, one has to wonder, where do they come from? Why do they need to be secret? And if they are so insistent on their members believing in God, what is their definition of God? And how could a system that started out as logical, or necessary in the pursuit of free thought, stay pure so many centuries later?
There is a story that the Freemasons got many of their symbols and rituals from a group of men called the Knights Templar. These were, according to a History channel documentary on the topic, “the pope’s warriors.” During the Crusades, the Knights Templar (think the old knight in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade) traveled to the Holy Lands and killed a whole lot of people (mostly Muslims) in order to protect it. Supposedly, they kept their horses in stables built upon the ruins of what was once the Temple of Solomon, of Biblical fame. These knights were living in poverty when they got to the Holy Lands, but came back very wealthy men; word was, this was because of the ancient treasures and secrets they uncovered there, namely the Holy Grail.
Once they were back in France, about a decade later, the Knights Templar employed Freemasons to build the cathedrals. These Freemasons became part of their guild, so they shared the secrets they uncovered in the Holy Lands with them. The king at the time got kind of fed up with the Knights’ unexplainable wealth and threatened by their power—they were essentially starting banks—and on Friday the 13th, he had them all killed in their homes. Supposedly, some of them survived (by this time, their numbers had spread). The Knights and Freemasons who made it out alive had to meet undercover and in secret, even more so than before. The church at the time was accusing them of heresy.
So what was in those ruins of the Temple of Solomon? It’s said that they found ancient knowledge, about the true nature of God—texts written before the New Testament; Egyptian ideas about the universe; Platonic rules and principles; Greek mythology; astronomy, astrology and geometry. And, some say, texts about nature-based religions. When the Knights Templar combined these ancient ideas and scientific knowledge with the Freemasons’ logical principles, it’s pretty plain to see how they could grow to see themselves as the end-all, be-all of the universe. Just as Meister Eckhart focused on the God within the man (which got him into trouble with the church), Freemasons wanted their members to be the best men they could be, to develop their own immortal spirits and intellects as much as possible. They emphasize things like living a moral, informed life, separate from church doctrine. It’s sort of the cult of the individual to the extreme.
And in developing each man’s spirit, each man has to die and be born again, and learn to see with the eye of God instead of his own two mortal eyes.
In the words of Frank Semyon, how’s that again?
Hang on because this can get a bit complicated. But Freemasons see it all as quite simple. They think the universe is not really chaotic at all. They refer to God as the Grand Architect. It’s as though there are mathematical and symbolic explanations for how everything is orchestrated, much like how bricks and stones can hold together a building.
And to them, we are made of the same materials as that building, as our world. As in, our bodies are microcosms of what’s around us. Well, I’ll let Richard Cassaro, who wrote Written in Stone, explain: “The ancients believed that we humans, since we live inside the universe and not apart from it, are composed of the same duality or ‘pairs of opposites’ as the universe. As above so below, they said. They believed this duality was manifested in the perfect left/right symmetry of the human body. We have two hands, two arms, two legs, two feet, two eyes, two ears, and so on—in other words, a sun half and a moon half. Our right side is male, our left is female. Ancient societies always recognized a balance here. ‘In ancient times men fought with their right arms and defended the vital centers with their left arms…The right half of the body was regarded…as offensive and the left half defensive,’ writes Manly Hall. The ancient Mayans believed the same, as did the ancient Egyptians: ‘As is the case in many ancient and modern cultures, the right side was deemed to be more auspicious than the left…The texts speak of the king’s powerful right hand; the right ear is associated with hearing and wisdom; and the right eye is the more important, with the right eye of the god of the heavens being the sun and the moon the left…During the Old Kingdom, the male figure often stands or sits to the right of the female…’ writes Richard Wilkinson in Symbol & Magic in Egyptian Art. Later in history this doctrine was inherited by the Freemasons….
“This male/female breakdown has secretly been expressed in countless Renaissance portraits and esoteric sketches. The idea that our physical bodies are composed of opposites explains the age-old idea that there’s a ‘devil’ on our left shoulder (tempting us to do evil) and an ‘angel’ on our right (telling us to do good).
“If the Doctrine of Duality teaches that we have a male/right side and a female/left side, then where does the number three come into play? [Think of the yin/yang symbol.] Just as the circle is older than the yin and the yang which it generates and encompasses, so the number three teaches that we are older than the body which we temporarily possess. That is to say, we humans are more than just twin opposing halves of an animal body. There is an older part of us, an eternal part that ‘generates’ the twin dualities. Deep inside, we are this older part—it is our eternal spiritual soul at the core of our being. Think of your spiritual soul as being the circle (the Tao) while the material twin halves of your body are the yin on one side and yang on the other. Just as the the circle (Tao) is older than the yin-yang duality inside it, so we—our souls—are older than the left/right duality of our physical body; we existed before the body’s birth and we’ll live on after its death. The ancients believed that, having fallen from our eternal spiritual home in ‘heaven,’ we now suffer amnesia; we are unaware of our eternal spiritual nature, cut off from our powerful inner spiritual identity. The soul should be thought of as an immortal god, according to the ancients….Freemasonry was founded not just to put Man in touch with his soul, but to help him rediscover its higher powers, powers now temporarily covered up by the body. How does man rediscover his soul? By perfectly balancing our own twin animal halves—our right and left.
“This ‘balance’ of ‘three’ is expressed in Freemasonry geometrically by a triangle….A triangle’s apex is higher than, and centered midway between, its twin lower points. Similarly, your soul is higher than, and centered midway between, your opposing animal halves. ‘By the mere fact of being in this dualistic world every living being, whether a Mason or not, walks upon the square pavement of mingled good and evil in every action of his life…he who aspires to be master of his fate and captain of his soul must walk upon these opposites in the sense of transcending and dominating them… He must become able to rise above the motley of good and evil, to be superior and indifferent to the ups and downs of fortune, the attractions and fears governing ordinary men and swaying their thoughts and actions this way or that. His object is the development of his innate spiritual potencies, and it is impossible that these should develop so long as he is over-ruled by his material tendencies and the fluctuating emotions of pleasure and pain that they give birth to,’ writes W.L. Wilmshurst in The Meaning of Masonry. We see this idea illustrated on the Tracing Board, which takes the form of an ancient pagan temple, a fitting design since this is an ancient pagan teaching.
“First, note the black-and-white checkerboard floor, which as Wilmshurst tells us symbolizes ‘the square pavement of mingled good and evil’ that each of us must ‘walk upon’ during life. Second, see how the twin pillars align with the sun and moon above them, denoting the ‘pairs of opposites.’ Third, see how the tops of the twin pillars form the two lower halves of a triangle. Fourth, look at the apex of that triangle, and notice the luminous eye pattern above it. Why an eye? What does the eye stand for?
“The answer is, when you are able to live a life in which you have perfectly balanced your opposites, you become illuminated or awakened. When this happens, a mysterious, hidden eye opens in you. Plato called it the ‘Eye of the Soul,’ and we see it in Masonic architecture inside a triangle. ‘.. in every man there is an Eye of the soul which…is far more precious than ten thousand bodily eyes, for by it alone is truth seen,’ Plato wrote in The Republic. ‘The Eye of the soul… is alone naturally adapted to be resuscitated and excited by the mathematical disciplines.’ Located in the center of our brains, Plato’s ‘Eye of the Soul’ has historically been called the Mind’s Eye, Inner Eye and Third Eye (Third=Masonic Three). This Mind’s Eye or Third Eye is still not recognized by Western medicine. Most medical books carry only a brief description, referring to it as the ‘pineal gland’; however, our ancestors knew much more about it, depicting it symbolically on the human forehead in art and literature.
“When our Third Eye opens, we are able to ‘see’ our soul within. It’s then that you discover a conscious ‘deity’ held captive within you—your true self. We term this deity our ‘soul,’ but it’s really a fallen god, fallen because we don’t realize we are eternal gods who are only temporarily clothed as animals. Whereas the Masonic Triangle symbolizes the union or balancing of opposites, the Masonic ‘Eye in the Triangle’ symbolizes the awakening of our Mind’s Eye that occurs when these opposites are united or balanced. An age-old spiritual custom, the act of ‘Awakening Our Third Eye’ is still practiced in the East: recall the sacred Third Eye (bindi) dot mystically worn by Hindus….The Third Eye in the Triangle thus signifies an illuminated human being who has united his opposites and found the middle path; and who is thus able to see his ‘soul within’ and consequently knows he is a ‘god’ temporarily wearing animal clothing. This is what the age-old system of Freemasonry is all about―teaching man to become the spiritual soul/eternal god that each one of us is deep inside.
“Interestingly, the rare coincidence of the Sun and Moon being equal size in our heavens [visually speaking] allows us to enjoy solar eclipses, an event where the sun’s disk becomes covered or ‘occulted’ by the moon’s disk. The two briefly appear united; a ‘union of opposites,’ you might say, which circumstance seems to form a single, giant radiant eye. Doesn’t the solar eclipse look exactly like an eye? Astronomers of all ages have cited the illustrious ‘eye’ effect of eclipses, and many say it looks like some mysterious kind of All-Seeing Eye staring down at us.”
Oh, so that might explain this, in the opening credits (which I previously called just a sun):
In order to become a Freemason, a man must go through a ritual in the lodge in which he re-enacts the tale of Hiram Abiff, one of their most important icons, and he metaphorically dies. He is blindfolded in this ritual. And as the brothers around him lift him up from the ground via the sheet he’s lying on, he is “raised from the dead.” His blindfold is removed. And whereas he used to view the world with his own two eyes alone, he now sees it via his third eye, the eye of his spirit. The eye of God.
Frank explains this moment best in “Church in Ruins,” when he says to Stan’s little boy, “Sometimes—sometimes a thing happens, splits your life. There’s a before and after. I got like five of them at this point. And this is your first.”
Frank’s not talking about Freemasons here. But it’s the same concept. When the Freemason metaphorically dies and is born again, it’s his before and after. His life is split into two parts.
Ben Caspere is a fairly good example of a man who might have been desirous of combining his male and female sides. He is described as passive, as “liking to watch.” And when he was found on the side of the road on the morning of October 28—during a full moon, I might add—his male genitalia were missing, as were his eyes.
His two eyes through which he viewed the world as just a man, not as an eternal god, according to Masonic beliefs.
This eye symbolism has come up throughout the series, and in each episode it gets more prevalent. In this one alone, we have a scene where Ray goes to visit his wife’s true rapist. As the rapist walks in, his eyes are cut off by the top of the window, just like each characters’ eyes are obscured in this season’s promotional posters. Ray says to him, “I needed to look in your eyes. It was you. And you don’t even look like him, either.” The rapist says back, “Who? My eyes look the same as yours, if you ask me.” Ray tells him, “They’re gonna burn you,” and he replies, “That remains to be seen.” Ray says, “Well you better hope they do. Key on my eyes, dipshit, see if I’m whistling Dixie.” Then he threatens to cut off every part of his body with a cheese grater.
When Ray and Paul arrive outside the “sex party,” after following Ani’s bus, Ray says, “All right, I want all eyes on her.” Then there’s roast pork on the table—its head has no eyes (the pig could also be a reference to crooked cops, of course, but more importantly, it symbolizes the devil—the lord of the flies). After seeing this in a drugged haze, Ani turns around and walks into one of the tuxedoed pig-like guests, who says that when he saw her, he thought to himself, “Now there is a real woman, not like these little girls. Oh, they try to make like they understand but…it’s just empty eyes.”
Empty eyes. Like Caspere’s? Like Stan’s? Like every man’s, if he’s not a Freemason?
When they reach the upstairs-orgy section of the house, he says, “You care to watch for a while?”
Also, note what Frank calls the money he has to offer in exchange for Irina Rulfo’s whereabouts. “A flat G.”
Now let’s go back and review the eye symbolism we’ve had in episodes previous.
In the opening credits, each character repeatedly opens his or her eyes. Then, in episode one, we have Antigone’s one-eyed Cyclops-looking knife dummy. And when Eliot Bezzerides preaches at the Panticapaeum Institute, he says, “When you see only with God’s eyes, you see only the truth.” Then, when he talks to Ani, he says he’s recently talked to Athena, his other daughter. Here is the way he describes her, “Clear eye, has a job.” “Clear eye,” singular, not “clear eyes,” plural. And then of course we have Caspere with his hollowed-out sockets.
Episode two starts with the two water stains on the ceiling that mimic Caspere’s eye sockets (which, as far as we know, Frank hasn’t seen—so why would they be haunting him?). Dr. Irving Pitlor covers his “pin eyes,” lest they betray him, during his entire grilling by the two cops. He reveals them as they leave his office, because he’s recognized Ani from his old communal-living days (you know, back when he and Mayor Chessani and Caspere and Ani’s dad, Eliot, were buds, hanging out at Chessani’s Lodge—a Masonic Grand Lodge?).
I talked a bit in my recap of that episode about the Hanged Man, about the story of the Norse god Odin having one of his own eyes removed before volunteering to be hung upside down by one foot (he’d hoped he’d acquire insight into the prophecies of his people’s doom). Did anyone notice this episode the length of rope hanging on the wall in that shed in Guerneville? (Last week, I thought it was a goat mask used by the Yaqui Indians, as described by Carlos Castaneda.) This rope could be what someone tied up Caspere with. The duct tape on the chair was surely wrapped around his wrists at some point, according to the coroner. And the blood in the shed was identified as testing positive for gonorrhea, which makes me think Caspere’s favorite prostitute, Tascha, likely died there.
There was little about eyes in the third episode, except for a comment made by Veronica Chessani, that her marijuana was “medicine for her eyes.” Pizzolatto planted a book on Ray’s coffee table about Meister Eckhart in this episode, though, a Christian mystic who was accused of heresy around the same time the Knights Templar were. He taught that “The eye through which I see God is also the eye through which God sees me.” We saw the nightclub Lux Infinitum for the first time this episode, which has a logo that resembles either a full moon with a cloud going across it or a blinking eye. At the time, I said its name meant infinite luxury, but now I think it may mean infinite light. In Mackey’s Encyclopedia of Freemasonry, Lux is “Latin for Light. Freemasonry anciently received, among other names, that of Lux, because it is that sublime doctrine of truth by which the pathway of him who has attained it is to be illumined in the pilgrimage of life.”
The fourth episode brought up the concept of reincarnation, when Eliot told Ray he must have had hundreds of lives; this is also something believed by Freemasons. As for eye symbolism, we have Frank’s comment about “losing his vision” out by the avocado plants (and an open avocado? also looks like an eye); the blinking-eye symbol at the Lux, preceded by a round tattoo on Paul’s lover’s bicep that looks like an eye that’s wide open (or a full moon); Ray’s telling Paul that the paparazzi and gossip reporters lie without blinking, then telling him “All that stuff is dust in your eyes. Blink it away, man”; Frank’s use of the word “louche” (which besides meaning “disreputable” also means “blind in one eye”); Frank’s seeing two stains on a tablecloth that resemble the watermarks on his ceiling and Caspere and Stan’s missing eyes; and Betty’s evil eye necklace.
In the fifth episode, Dr. Pitlor is caught reading Carlos Castaneda, who talked a lot about “seeing.” What he says about men shapeshifting into crows could also be applied to the Freemasons’ secret rituals: “‘Crows fly in groups. A crow can go safely into any place without attracting attention. But you did not change, nor did you stop being a man. There is something else.’ ‘Can you tell me what the something else is, don Juan?’ ‘Perhaps by now you know it yourself. Maybe if you were not so afraid of becoming mad, or of losing your body, you would understand this marvelous secret. But perhaps you must wait until you lose your fear to understand what I mean.’”
It’s often said that Freemasons have pursued their own versions of sorcery—because their rituals are so secretive, their belief system has continually been questioned throughout the ages, and because some of their ancient teachings involve pagan gods, they are also often accused of practicing dark arts. Listed in the endnotes for Robert Anton Wilson’s Cosmic Trigger is this account: “Robert Anton Wilson became an adept student of Aleister Crowley [a Freemason and supposed practitioner of black magic]. In 1970, at the behest of Alan Watts, he began investigating Aleister Crowley and soon ‘plowed his way through’ all of Crowley’s books still in print and initiated a correspondence with Crowley’s former student and disciple, Dr. Israel Regardie. Wilson writes, ‘I … began experimenting with the methods of magick training given in Crowley’s books. Many of these exercises were frankly borrowed from Hatha Yoga, in which I already had some experience; some were similar to methods of tribal shamans, such as Don Juan Matus, whose training of the anthropologist, Carlos Castaneda, is full of Crowleyan techniques; others came from Tibetan and Indian Tantra, the art of turning sexual ecstasy into mystic mind-expansion.’ Wilson and Timothy Leary became good friends since their first meeting at the Millbrook Ashram, in 1964, while Wilson was on a writing assignment for The Realist. Up until Leary’s death in 1996, they inspired and influenced each other in innumerable ways.”
So I’m seeing two viable possibilities here. Either Theodore Chessani, the mayor’s dad, started up a Freemason Lodge in the early part of the 20th century and the junior Chessani, Austin, ran it into the ground by the 1980s, making it a place that represents all the most tawdry parts of Freemasonry, such as sex parties and hiring prostitutes (some sects have been accused of this over the years)—this might explain Pitlor’s comment about the family being “highly inventive.” Or, the Chessani Lodge was turned into a Freemason meeting grounds by Austin himself in the late 1960s because he was hanging out with Timothy Leary types, doing lots of drugs and reading a ton of Castaneda, and it became a place that has twisted Freemason tenets in the worst possible ways, emphasizing the personal empowerment and masculinity parts and de-emphasizing the parts about being charitable to your fellow man. (Because he and all the men in Vinci are definitely not pros at that.) And now, under the supervision of his lunatic son, the Lodge’s parties are beginning to seem downright evil.
Either one of these story lines might explain the title of this episode, “Church in Ruins.” And who appears to be running the administrative side of this church? Blake Churchman.
But what about all the crow symbolism this season? Does Freemasonry have a connection to crows? There’s a carrion crow in this episode, when Ani’s memory flashes back to the moment her molester led her to his creepy 1970s van, promising to show her unicorns. And Ani is pretty much dressed like a crow, in head-to-toe black (including her wig). But of Freemasonry’s many, many symbols, I haven’t been able to locate any reference to crows or ravens. There is, however, a prevalence of what they call the night crow: the owl.
Marian T. Horvat, Ph.D., writes in her article “The Owl, Symbol of the Freemasons” that “the owl’s symbolism with the occult and secret knowledge has a long history. Since the times of the Greeks and Romans, the owl–ruler of the night–was a guardian of the underworlds. An owl was always on the shoulder of Minerva and Athena, goddesses of wisdom and learning, symbolizing the occult knowledge of the pagan gods.
“Since the Illumninati pretend to be the wise rulers of the planet, maintaining and passing on the secret knowledge of the ancient deities….the owl became one of their symbols. Its unblinking large eye represents the all-seeing eye of the Illuminati that never closes.
“Because the owl’s eyes seem to not move, it moves its neck to turn its head completely around to see, another sign of the occult sects which, through their initiated agents, can see where normal men cannot. And, like the owl, the Freemasons gather in secret, far from the light of day.
“Freemasons also consider the owl a symbol of reincarnation: since it is awake at night they consider it a symbol of the soul that has left a dead body and remains in the night, waiting to reenter another body that is being conceived. For them, the owl symbolizes metempsychosis, which is their theory of reincarnation of souls.”
So how strange is it then that when Frank and his gang, dressed all in black like a murder of crows, break into the apartment in El Monte this episode to look for Irina Rulfo, the first thing Frank sees is a small shrine to Santa Muerte, and in the shrine are a few candles (La Santism Muerte, Santo Nino), a crucifix, a bowl of lemons, a Naja (the Navajo version of the horseshoe—a crescent-shaped feminine symbol that I wrote about here), a smudge stick, roses in a crescent shape on the wall (natch) and…an owl?
The owl is there, in this mostly Christian and certainly goddess-oriented shrine, because it is also a Christian symbol: “It can be confusing to the modern mind to find that in the medieval bestiaries, a bird whose primary representation was evil could nonetheless have a secondary meaning representing Christ or something good,” Dr. Horvat writes. “This remarkable flexibility came from an understanding that every creature made by God could represent some aspect of Him, albeit small, and have a quality that reflects Christ Who became man to save the world from sin. Therefore, despite the primary negative connotations, the owl was also the sign of solitude and meditation in medieval monasteries, because it was known to stay in the same place for a long time. It flees from the light, in the sense that it does not look for the glory of human praise. In this sense the owl appears at times in scenes of hermits at prayer.”
Frank casually picks up one of the candles, with a look of disgust on his face—a Santa Muerte. But what he maybe should have picked up was the Santo Nino candle, considering Frank’s backstory and what Santo Nino represents.
According to Wikipedia, “Santo Niño de Atocha or Holy Child of Atocha is a Roman Catholic image of the Child Jesus popular among the Hispanic cultures of Spain, Latin America, the Philippines and the southwestern United States. It is distinctly characterized by a basket he carries, along with a staff, drinking gourd and a cape with the shell symbol of a pilgrimage to Saint James. Devotion to Santo Niño de Atocha originally began as a Marian devotion with a medieval statue of the Madonna and Child in Toledo, Spain….The image of the Divine Child was detachable, and devout families would often borrow the image of the infant when a woman was about to give birth to her child.
“In the 13th century, Spain was under Muslim rule. The town of Atocha, now part of Madrid’s Arganzuela district, was lost to the Muslims, and many Christians there were taken prisoners as spoils of war. The Christian prisoners were not fed by the jailers, but by family members who brought them food. According to pious legend, the caliph ordered that only children under the age of 12 were permitted to bring food. Conditions became increasingly difficult for those men without small children. The women of Atocha prayed before the statue of Our Lady of Atocha at a nearby parish, a title of the Blessed Virgin Mary, to ask her son Jesus for help.
“Reports soon began among the people of Atocha that an unknown child under the age of twelve and dressed in pilgrim’s clothing, had begun to bring food to childless prisoners at night. The women of the town returned to Our Lady of Atocha to thank the Virgin for her intercession, and noticed that the shoes worn by the Infant Jesus were tattered and dusty. They replaced the shoes of the Infant Jesus, but these became worn again. The people of Atocha took this as a sign that it was the Infant Jesus who went out every night to help those in need.”
Frank is someone who often talks about how desperately he’d like to have a son, an heir to pass his riches to. The Santo Nino candle represents the baby Jesus helping out those who were imprisoned—something Frank could have definitely used when he was locked in a basement with no food or water or electricity for six days as a child.
I’m guessing Irina has this candle in her shrine for two reasons—Santo Nino would be a saint revered by prisoners, and given what we know about her, she likely has loved ones in jail; or, considering that Santo Nino is a candle given to women who are about to have a child, Irina Rulfo is pregnant. Which would make her murder all the more tragic, especially given Frank’s inability to conceive.
Speaking of Rulfo, even the names Pizzolatto chooses for his characters are symbolic on this show. We already talked about Blake Churchman, and Vera (whose last name we learned this episode is Machiado—which means hatchet…so her name literally means the “hatchet of truth,” which Ani uses to chop her way out of a house of liars). And we talked about the Greek symbolism in his choosing the names Athena and Antigone earlier on. But what about Rulfo? Not the most common name, right?
Rulfo could be a reference to one of Pizzolatto’s favorite writers, Juan Rulfo, whom he talked about in an interview with The Last Magazine over a year ago: “Pizzolatto speaks with even more familiarity and expertise on the specifically Southern literary tradition he comes from: ‘There’s a kind of vaguely papal idea of some canon of “Southern Writers”—as if the South were a single place without the nuance and mutability of its separate components, but within that canon there’s a lot of Sacred American Treasures I consider pretty mediocre, though I’ll never ever be more specific than that,’ he says. ‘The Mexican writer Juan Rulfo was closer to my idea of the South.'”
Juan Rulfo was an esteemed Latin American author who wrote a mid-century novel called Pedro Paramo, “about a man named Juan Preciado who travels to his recently deceased mother’s hometown, Comala, to find his father, only to come across a literal ghost town─populated, that is, by spectral figures.” Korean writer Ken Eckert considers the tale an example of purgatory: “Rulfo’s Pedro Páramo has been read as archetype, capitalist critique or modernist surrealism. Its religious interpretations have generally seen the novel as pessimistic and its characters damned. However, the text gains clarity and religious meaning once Comala is understood as a Christian purgatory with an indeterminate geography, physicality and time, and we realize that Juan arrives already physically dead. Some of the novel’s characters spiritually stagnate or decline, but others are purified and attain self-understanding.”
Sounds a lot like the characters on this show. I have to hope that we will see that kind of purification and self-understanding in Ray, Ani and Paul, and maybe even Frank, in the next two weeks.
Ray has a major breakthrough this episode. After he confronts Frank in his kitchen (where the floor is coincidentally covered in black and white tiles), he realizes that Frank is right about him—that he always had the potential to kill a man. He’s now on the hunt for the man who gave Frank the wrong information all those years ago, and when he meets his wife’s true rapist, he threatens to kill him, too. He’s on this path of white-hot rage. He’s about to be evicted from his home, and he’s taking part in this Caspere murder investigation (which is now really just a search for state government and Vinci police collusion) because he’s been promised aid in getting his kid back. But midway through all of this, he realizes his ex-wife is right, too. Maybe it’s in Chad’s dismissal of his stealth bomber, which Frank calls “The Spirit” and Chad only sees as a weapon of destruction. Maybe it’s in the awkwardness of being watched by a court-appointed chaperone. But Ray decides—after dousing himself with booze and cocaine and the Rolling Stones and tearing apart his entire living room, all his models, his dreams of what Chad’s boyhood could become (so much better than his own)—to let Chad go. (Note how scratched up Ray’s knuckles are during his phone call to Gena—almost identical to how they looked in his prophetic dream. And he is also later running in the woods this episode, which his dream dad predicted. We’ll probably see that happen one more time by season’s end.)
Ray sees that it’s in his child’s best interest to be apart from his current mess of a life. And more than that, he asks Gena to never tell him about his origins, knowing that if Chad sees that he was the product of rape, he might question the worth of what his real dad gave him and question his father’s manhood. And if he finds out that his father tried to kill the man who raped his mom and failed, well, what then? So Ray lets him go…and what could be more selfless than that?
As far as the totems in Ray’s house this episode, Pizzolatto gave us a poster of a very depressing and desolate 1931 Edward Hopper painting called Hotel Room, which only further impresses upon the viewer Ray’s lonely state of affairs (he mirrors the subject’s body language on his own couch during his meltdown). And on his living room table is a very visible copy of Gomorrah, the journalist Robert Saviano’s account of the Italian mafia, which he infiltrated in the 1990s. Here’s the New York Times description of it: “In ‘Gomorrah,’ Saviano charts the Camorra’s involvement in the garment industry and its grip on the port of Naples, where 1.6 million tons of Chinese merchandise are unloaded a year—and another million pass through without a trace, evading taxes. In mapping out the Camorra’s control over garbage and industrial waste removal, as well as drug dealing, construction and public works fraud, Saviano considers human rights indicators….and economic ones….Drawing on trial transcripts and his own reporting, he explains the internecine battles between rival factions of the Di Lauro clan for control of the region’s drug trade.”
Sound like anyplace familiar? Either Ray is studying up on how to reveal the wrongdoings of Vinci higher-ups or he’s learning how to best infiltrate Frank’s group of not-so-reformed mobsters and later tell the story. Unfortunately, despite having written a best-selling book, Saviano has had to live with constant death threats and a police escort ever since its publication, though. Something for Ray to think about.
As for Ani, she also has a breakthrough this time. In order to find her missing person and learn the truth of what is going on behind the scenes with these powerful, sex-crazed men, she must face what she fears the most in life: powerful, sex-crazed men. She’s the only one of the three cops able to infiltrate this party, so she faces her fear. Note what Frank says to Ray in the opening sequence of this episode: “On the ropes ain’t the same thing as bleeding out—you know that.” In an earlier episode, Ani told Ray her reason for carrying around knives: “Could you do this job if everyone you encountered could physically overpower you? I mean, forget police work, no man could walk around like that without going nuts….I’d still carry them if I wasn’t on the job. Fundamental difference between the sexes is that one of them can kill the other with their bare hands. Man of any size lays hands on me, he’s gonna bleed out in under a minute.” And when the Russian guard twice her size tries to strangle her with his bare hands, that’s exactly what happens—he bleeds out in under a minute from his knife wounds. Her training pays off.
Know that thing about how what you resist persists? Antigone is probably terrified of going to that party at all, much less knife-less. So every piece of dialogue spoken by Paul and Ray mirrors that fear (and we have to assume at this point she likely experienced sodomy as a child, and their choice of words reflects that):
Paul: Sure you want to work this party?
Ray: It’s your ass, is what he means
Paul: We’ve got your back, we’ll double-tail the bus.
Here’s a transponder.
Ray: Stick that somewhere…like in your shoe.
Anyone pick up on the name of the club, where Ani gets patted down? It’s the Kali Klub. As in Kali the mother goddess, whom we talked about two weeks ago. She’s a goddess of transformation.
We don’t see much as far as character development in Paul this episode, except that he gracefully uncovers the source of the blue diamonds via his very unwanted desk job. It’s interesting that the murdered owners of Sable Jewelry were named Osterman—it means “east” in many languages. Considering what we know about the largely Russian origin of blue diamonds, and Osip and the Eastern Bloc girls, it would make sense if these jewelry store owners were also Russian. Some are saying they think the two orphaned kids are Chessani’s son and daughter, but I’m thinking that might be a long shot. Tony’s still one of my prime candidates for the raven-headed killer though, based on their discovery of the torture shed and its proximity to what is probably Chessani Lodge.
Frank had a growth-filled episode, too, in which it became all the more clear how much the player is now being played. And I think much of Pizzolatto’s intent this season is to make that kind of mobster imagery a bit hazy. Is the mafioso always the bad guy? Maybe not.
This season of True Detective is ultimately about the chaos inherent in any organized secretive group, whether it’s a New Age cult, a Masonic brotherhood, a corrupt government, crooked cops, the mob, a human trafficking ring, impoverished and disenfranchised Mexican drug dealers or even one’s own family. Because it all starts there, at least for these characters. If a person is fleeing from dysfunction, he or she will inevitably be attracted to another dysfunctional group. Because until they are functional on their own, they will keep trying to fix themselves and everyone around them. Until they can see their part in what happened to them as children, forgive themselves and forgive their transgressors, they will keep revisiting the scene of the crime. They will be blinded to what is real and who they truly are, because all they will be able to see is a victim. People like this have to be wary of any group that promises to open their eyes to the truth or protect them from their enemies or empower them. They already contain all those possibilities within them—they don’t need a group to do it for them.
It’s what Athena means when she tells Antigone that she’s a woman drowning on dry land. Her adult defenses are a direct result of her desire to protect that inner child.
A lot of people, like these characters, walk around in a haze just to face their realities, and their realities just keep getting worse because they’ve limited their abilities to see the truth and to do anything about it. If they want to really feel alive, they have to be brave and pursue what they want to do, no matter the costs. And not run away from their childhoods just because they caused them pain. Pain is not the enemy—repression and avoidance are.
And pain is exactly what Ani and Ray face this episode. Really, that kind of self-truth is the only spirituality you need. I think that’s what Pizzolatto’s getting at.
A couple other thoughts to end with this week—despite their obvious differences, there are some blatant similarities between Freemasonry and the more Christian/Aztec-based goddess religions we’ve seen in recent weeks. For example, the Aztecs and Mayans used the X symbol a great deal in their iconography. The Freemasons have, too, but for different reasons. For the Mayans, the X is a type of cross that symbolizes time. But for the Freemasons (and also the Egyptians) it’s a symbol for the afterlife. Note how mummies are often placed in their tombs. They look like this:
So it’s interesting to find the X symbolism there in this episode—in the lattice-work in Stan’s house, in the crossed beams of the construction yard where Frank and his posse find the slain Irina Rulfo. And at the sex party—the drug Ani’s forced to take is Molly, otherwise known as MDMA, and often referred to as “X.” Even her dress has an X shape to it:
And if you really want to get deep into this, look at the position Caspere’s Santa Muerte figure was placed in. Usually this figure has both hands outstretched, but not this one. His Santa Muerte has her hands crossed, in an X shape.
And that Cisco Kid who previously seemed so harmless? In this episode we have him cleaning his knife, eerily smiling—strange for the character his creator, the author O. Henry, described as “that small slayer of men who never smiles.” In O. Henry’s short story that originated the character, “The Caballero’s Way,” the Cisco Kid was known for his prowess for killing. He did it just for the love of it, O. Henry wrote. But he never killed a woman, only men. Later in the story, though, the Kid cons a military man into killing his one true love. Because he could no longer trust her once he realized she was in cahoots with the police.
“Bitch was working for cops,” as the man in “Church in Ruins” so eloquently explains.
Until next time, “By all means. Find Friends.”
*Just a few additional thoughts after watching episode seven, “Black Maps and Motel Rooms”:
After grilling Vera over coffee, Ani learns this episode the name of one other woman in Tascha’s pictures—Laura. When Ray looks at the photo later, he tells Ani that the girl she’s calling Laura is actually named Erica, Caspere’s secretary. So is there a chance, then, that Erica is the Laura of Leonard and Laura—the two kids orphaned by the jewelry store burglary in 1992? Perhaps her foster parents changed her name to Erica. And she tracked down Caspere for revenge after all those years, getting a job as his secretary to get close to him.
Erica was the first person they talked to in episode one, after Caspere went missing. She seemed oddly timid and meek, but it wasn’t anything anyone would have paid attention to. She said she’d only been working there six weeks—long enough to learn enough about Caspere to have him killed. But the murderer in the bird mask was male, not female. We’ve ruled out everyone we saw in that first episode, because they wouldn’t have been available to be driving that car. Blake tells Frank that nobody knows who killed Caspere—apparently that was not part of their plans.
The guys over at Bustle have a very interesting theory, which is that if Laura is the secretary, then maybe Leonard is the set photographer on the movie Caspere set into motion—this happened around the same time Laura/Erica would have started working for Caspere. It seems it wouldn’t have been that difficult for Leonard to steal that car. The way the camera zooms in on the photographer when he’s talking to Ray, and Ray asks him what the movie’s about and he says it’s an “end of civilization revenge flick.” Revenge flick. That would be what he and his sister were after.
He also quickly deflects attention away from him when Ray asks if he knows Caspere. He mentions how the director went to parties with him all the time. Also, I’ve been saying for a while that I found it strange that Caspere’s secretary was walking around that movie set the same day Ani and Ray were there. Maybe it was just unfortunate timing, and she says she was just taking care of some tax agreements. But as they walk away, she turns and looks behind her and then has a sigh of relief. What was she looking for behind her? Maybe her brother?
Anyway, I think this theory holds some weight, so I’ll be looking into this some more in the next few days…in addition to all those roses in those hotel rooms.
As far as the Freemasonry goes…well Eliot does tell Ani this episode that those guys were close, in a “secretive way”…
“Take Me to Church” by Andrew Hozier Byrne (2014)
My lover’s got humor,
She’s the giggle at a funeral,
Knows everybody’s disapproval,
I should’ve worshipped her sooner.
If the heavens ever did speak,
She’s the last true mouthpiece.
Every Sunday’s getting more bleak,
A fresh poison each week.
“We were born sick,” you heard them say it.
My church offers no absolutes,
She tells me, “Worship in the bedroom.”
The only heaven I’ll be sent to
Is when I’m alone with you.
I was born sick,
But I love it.
Command me to be well.
Aaay. Amen. Amen. Amen.
Take me to church,
I’ll worship like a dog at the shrine of your lies,
I’ll tell you my sins and you can sharpen your knife,
Offer me that deathless death,
Good God, let me give you my life.
If I’m a pagan of the good times,
My lover’s the sunlight,
To keep the Goddess on my side,
She demands a sacrifice.
Drain the whole sea,
Get something shiny,
Something meaty for the main course.
That’s a fine-looking high horse,
What you got in the stable?
We’ve a lot of starving faithful.
That looks tasty,
That looks planty,
This is hungry work.
Take me to church,
I’ll worship like a dog at the shrine of your lies,
I’ll tell you my sins so you can sharpen your knife,
Offer me my deathless death,
Good God, let me give you my life.
No Masters or Kings
When the Ritual begins,
There is no sweeter innocence than our gentle sin.
In the madness and soil of that sad earthly scene,
Only then I am human,
Only then I am clean.
Ooh oh. Amen. Amen. Amen.
Take me to church,
I’ll worship like a dog at the shrine of your lies,
I’ll tell you my sins and you can sharpen your knife.
Offer me that deathless death,
Good God, let me give you my life.