I think we’re property.
– Charles Fort
In an earlier post I mentioned the Gnostic underpinnings of the pilot of HBO’s new hit series Westworld. In episodes since, that broad theme has persisted – but perhaps more interestingly, it has also been overlaid with some distinctly Fortean themes.
Perhaps the most obvious came at the end of episode 2, when Maeve (Thandie Newton) – who is only familiar with the 19th century world she believes she inhabits – wakes while on the operating/repair table inside the futuristic, technologically-advanced Westworld HQ, with two figures standing over her and an incision in her stomach. Forteans would have immediately recognised the similarities to the archetypal ‘otherworldly journey’, a narrative that is present in stories told by everyone from shamans to ‘alien abductees’.
For instance, ethnographers have collected testimony from traditional shamans in which they tell of being cut, or dismembered, by spirits during their otherworldly journeys. “I have five spirits in heaven who cut me with forty knives,” according to one. Another said there were three ‘black devils’ who “cut his body to pieces” and threw “bits of his flesh in different directions”. Another said the spirits “cut off his head, which they set aside.”
One Australian Aboriginal initiate told how, during his trance, an old man…
cut out all of his insides, intestines, liver, heart, lungs – everything in fact – and left him lying all night long on the ground.
I was in a foetal position, my back to them. They were doing something to my spine. My entire spine was stinging and cold. It was awful! It felt as though they were going inside my body with some very sharp instrument and inserting it between my flesh and my skin.
Another abductee tells of being in a “shiny and metallic-looking” room that “contained what looked like equipment.” Multiple beings surrounding him performed tests and inserted needles into his body.
DMT-induced otherworldly trips appear almost as a mash-up of shamanic and abductee experiences. During his famous study on DMT, Dr Rick Strassman reported that one volunteer, as soon as they had been given the injection of DMT, described what happened immediately after with these words:
WHAM! I felt like I was in an alien laboratory… A sort of landing bay or recovery area. There were beings… They had a space ready for me. There was one main creature, and he seemed to be behind it all, overseeing everything…. I couldn’t help but think ‘aliens’.
Were the Westworld writers explicitly modelling Maeve’s experience on alien abduction reports? It seems a distinct possibility when we consider the scene in which a doll is dropped by a Native American child, which appears to depict a Westworld employee as they often appear to remove Host’s bodies from the park: dressed in a hazmat suit. This appears to be a reference to the (real-world) Hopi kachina doll tradition, which are said to represent “the immortal beings that bring rain, control other aspects of the natural world and society, and act as messengers between humans and the spirit world.”
And this certainly fits within that Gnostic framework I mentioned previously, as well as the seminal Charles Fort quote at the top of this piece.
[T]here are some who can see them. It’s a blessing from god, to see the masters who pull your strings.
Hector, in Westworld
I thought I was crazy…and *this* [pointing at sketched image of Westworld employee in Hazmat suit] was standing over me. And then it was as if it never happened.
– Maeve, in Westworld