Awakening Spirit

“And the call isn’t out there at all
It’s inside me
It’s like the tide
Always falling and rising”

From “I Am Moana (Song of the Ancestors)”

Forget the Disney synopsis, this movie is about our current moment and the awakening of Spirit in our lives and society. I know because it calls to me and it has no doubt called many others, though they may not sense the same spiritual currents pulling viewers along. I’ve seen the movie’s effect on my pagan friends, read the reviews and watched reaction videos on YouTube. It’s all there, if you can see beyond the Disney/Pixar gloss.

Moana is the story of a girl chosen by the ocean and of a Goddess who forgot her heart due to the theft of a broken hero plagued by insecurity. It is the archetypal Fool’s Journey in the Tarot, itself reflective of Campbell’s monomyth. Because it borrows from such ancient structures, it shines its wisdom on these precarious times. In the end, Moana is about how to mend the relationships between humanity, our myths and culture, and the natural world around us.

We are called to remember, to reclaim, and to restore the intricate bonds that have always sustained our species. As we piece back together the broken pieces of our collective soul, we then rebuild our identity with the world around us.


Perhaps unsurprisingly, the main question of the narrative is about identity. Though the quest of self-discovery is prevalent in all coming-of-age plot structures, it is specifically poignant here. It is not just the titular character who must discover herself, but her people, Maui, and even the Mother Island Herself.

All of it stems from a very human origin: Maui’s abandonment as a newborn and his craving for validation in the heart of humanity. This is what led him to steal the Heart of Te Fi Ti, causing the Goddess to forget herself and become the demon Te Ka. This is what caused the sickness plaguing the world and the rise in monster attacks. Eventually, it is what led Moana’s people to forget their ancestral ways and give up the sea.

Similarly, many of us have forgotten our ancestors, and thus, we have forgotten who we are. Humanity increasingly identifies itself with the creature comforts of capitalist civilization, ignoring the ecological price we must inadvertently pay. We forget how to live in groups, even as we are crowded and surrounded by our fellow humans daily. We have gained a global perspective, but continue to ignore the moral imperative of such knowledge in the practice of compassion. We are, in effect, de-centered and unbalanced.

Some would even say we are diseased and that our actions have become the symptoms of a spiritual sickness. How else do we explain our aversion to act, when we know the cost of inaction? How do we explain the way so many insulate themselves from reality? Threatened by an invisible malady, we sever ourselves from others and even the notion of others. We turn inward and insist on caring only for ourselves, at the cost of extinction, societal unrest, justice, and even interpersonal relationships. We live as if constantly experiencing trauma.

What is worse, while we operate from this place of fear, our actions originate from a place of the (wounded) ego, and are bound to be ineffectual. We seek relief, gratification and validation, like Maui. And the few brave Moana’s out there shoulder the burden of our mistaken sense of self. They become cheerleaders to our deflated spirits, spending great effort just to remind us who we used to be and could be again.

If the movie tells us what’s wrong, then do we heal ourselves?

First, we must face defeat. The edifice of ego we’ve constructed–Maui’s heroic identity–must crumble to reveal the truth of our naked soul. This process will hurt, appear entirely adversarial, and we will likely shout slogans like #resist and #impeach until we realize we battle not “the enemy” but ourselves. Defeat may come all at once, or in worsening stages. It will seem overwhelming. In defeat, it is important to remember that this is all a process and that we’re participating in a global, spiritual moment of revelation. Let it be.

Second, we’ll be called to accept our collective shadow selves. These monsters that have brought us low, sabotaged our success, and damaged the facade of ego, are us. These are the neglected part of our consciousness, grown ferocious and determined to reach the light of actualization. Their power is fear and we’ve been guilty of giving in for too long now, burying our heads in the sand because we feel cut off and powerless. Remember, we exist because of a myriad of relationships across society, nature, and beyond.

Third, we must summon the ancestors’ wisdom. With the lesson learned before, this step will flow naturally for some. Others will doubt and deride the “woo woo” feeling of it all, as if skepticism ever moved anyone to take action. No matter what you believe, you are made up of others. The line of your ancestors shaped and molded you into who you are today through biology and the legacy of their culture. Strive to cultivate this perspective of time, where all things derive and are influenced from what came before. Seek out these ancestral ways in your family’s history, in music and language, politics and religion.

Fourth, we’ll be challenged to live in a world without boundaries. Part of our ancestral wisdom is a pagan radical alignment with the natural world, from where we take everything needed to survive. But this is also a challenge, and perhaps the greatest of all challenges. Humanity is neither the pinnacle of Creation, nor even specially blessed, save for one thing: we have the power to act as stewards and thereby enrich Nature. It is here that we realize with visceral horror what has been done to the planet. It is here where our survival becomes inextricably linked to every stream, tree, and animal. This is the “new consciousness” being revealed and perhaps our only chance for a future on planet Earth.

Finally, we must strive to never forget. A transcendent experience is nothing if not shared, or at least cultivated. Personal change alone cannot bridge the chasm between us. Healing will only stagnate thus. Moana’s people went on to cross the Pacific Ocean and settle Hawai’i, becoming one of those most expansive cultures in the world. But first, Moana had to help her people to remember themselves, their ancestors, and their place in Nature. Together, then, we must revive a semblance of the Old Ways, updated for today, and serving the future generations to come. And we must pass it on, not just as fragments of insight and recipes for enlightenment, but as a thriving culture.

Locked and dying out in Motunui, Moana’s people were transformed, exploring beyond the horizon and establishing themselves on new islands. Today, across our endangered world, we must follow suit and reach for the stars above.

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