Understanding the Human Condition Using ‘The Wizard of Oz’

Telling the story of "The Wizard of Oz" in a remote aboriginal Taiwanese temple sparks one philosopher’s journey to delve deep into a secular myth and explore the ultimate questions of origin and the inner hero in all of us.

| March 2013

Answer the call to transform yourself and your world with The Wizard of Us: Transformational Lessons From Oz (Atria Books/Beyond Words 2012) by Jean Houston. If a Hero’s journey awaits all of us, then this interpretation of the deeper messages within the classic The Wizard of Oz can awaken the profound adventure of self-discovery and new potential.  This thoughtful, layered guide offers new understanding of the human condition, the importance of myth and the critical nature of our role in creating a better world.  The following excerpt is taken from the introduction. 

Some years ago, I was sent to Taiwan on a traveling seminar with a small team sponsored by The Institute of Cultural Affairs International. We were to study the island nation’s remote peoples and explore areas that few urban Taiwanese and even fewer tourists ever got to see. Surrounded by mountains, we were caught one night in a raging typhoon that seemed endless. We huddled on the slate floor of an aboriginal temple while rain dripped onto our faces through cracks in the stone roof. Great sheets of water fell from an infinite sky that had become an ocean. Lightning illuminated the dark temple every few seconds, allowing glimpses of what appeared to be shrunken heads hanging from the ceiling. (In fact, that’s exactly what they were: shrunken heads.) Another flash, and a carved effigy of an ancestor loomed out of nowhere. Yet another blast of light, and a mask of demon power grimaced against the night.

My stomach was heavy with gristly snake meat. It was swimming in gluey poi paste that had been wrapped in a steamed banana leaf. The dish had been part of the festival dinner kindly offered to us by our hosts, members of the Hakka aboriginal village. They regaled us with songs and dances reminiscent of the Polynesian culture from which they were descended before coming to live in the center of Taiwan a thousand years before.

Having sought refuge with us, they explained the shrunken heads: “Oh, those are souvenirs of earlier days when we were headhunters.” The last head had been acquired in World War II when a poor Japanese soldier stumbled upon their encampment, to his everlasting regret.

Incessant rain pelted the roof. In the midst of Nature’s fireworks, our host declared that there was no point in trying to sleep. His grandmother, a spiritual leader of the community, sat beside him. She was a tiny woman, probably close to ninety, and a formidable presence. Her quick, little hands worked away at some beaded handicraft while her grandson translated her remarks.

“Bring in the teapot,” she ordered. “This is a night for stories.” She turned her matriarchal eye on me, and she commanded, “You must tell us a story from your own land.”