Astrological Concepts in Disney’s Artwork by Konstantinos Gravanis

(first published by «The Astrological Journal», Volume 55-Number 6, November/December 2013, p. 33-36. Konstantinos Gravanis was awarded the first prize for this essay at the 2013 Young Astrologers Essay Contest organized by the Astrological Association of Great Britain.)
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(Illustrations: (C) by Ilias Anastasiou, all rights reserved)
Synopsis
The following essay offers genuine insights into Walt Disney’s astrological concepts. Its introduction summarizes the common astrological background of ancient myths. The first part highlights archetypal planetary symbolism found in various Disney full-lengths, while the second interprets the all-time classic film Fantasia (1940) as an astrological allegory of the “Music of the Spheres”.

Introduction to astro-mythology
sketch_1aAstro-mythology was a common type of allegorical teaching in antiquity, especially in ancient Greece. The Twelve Olympians were aligned by philosophers and astronomers with the zodiac cycle¹, attributing each solar month to a deity. Homer’s gods and goddesses were interpreted by mythologers as planetary personifications², and even Aristotle³ mentions old traditions -considered by him as reasonable and wise- identifying the mythical gods as allegorical representations of the heavenly bodies.
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The twelve labours of Hercules (The Lion of Nemea, The Bull of Creta, etc.) were fixed in number by epic poet Peisander (7th century BC) who divided his book (“Heraclia”) in twelve parts. According to Porphyry⁴ and Eusebius⁵ the hero’s adventures allegorize the path of the Sun through the signs of the zodiac in heaven. This wonderful everlasting story was created as both an astronomical allegory and the solar hero’s path to heroism, glory and wisdom, an esoteric journey of self-knowing, self-improving, self-fulfilling, and finally self-sacrificing⁶.
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Homer’s Odyssey seems to be another mystic astrological allegory. Ulysses’ adventures, before returning to Ithaca, are exactly twelve in number and were interpreted by Georgios Planas⁷ as the hero’s allegorical journey through the zodiac. Apart from Homer’s Epic the author analyzes a wide range of universal myths, starting from the Indian Epic of Ramayana and the Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh, and highlights the same astrological patterns throughout Mythology of all ages!
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It is interesting to observe that in his first quest Ulysses fights against a war-tribe, the Cicones (Aries), a ‘martial’ theme of rage, war and polemic tactics. His next station is the land of the lotus-eaters (Taurus), a peaceful and relaxed race of people who ate the local lotus, a narcotic fruit that kept them in slowness and apathy.
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sketch_2aThe hero’s allegorical journey through the zodiac continues until he reaches his twelfth and last station, the land of the Phaiakians (Pisces), a maritime folk who descended from Poseidon. Ulysses shipwrecks to their land, all alone and desperate. Fortunately, they are uttermost friendly towards all visitors, giving Ulysses everything he needs and returning him to Ithaca by one of their ships. In the end of the story, however, the Phaiakians are punished by Poseidon not only for helping Ulysses but because a long time ago they were warned not to be excessively helpful towards other people⁸.
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Part I.
Walt Disney’s animated stories retell classical myths, fairy tales and traditional folklore. They often present dark themes of sorcery, witchcraft, evil deities and death, but always conclude with the triumph of the forces of Good.
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Many of the studio’s classical films can be described as allegorical tales of ‘initiation’ and the archetypal hero’s path to knowledge and virtue: Snow White and Pinocchio end with the death and resurrection of both protagonists -the latter sacrificing himself to save his father. The Little Mermaid is inspired from the archetype of the Mermaid, a mythical creature representing duality, while Donald in Math Magic Land presents Donald Duck’s initiation in the Pythagoreans’ music and mathematical theories.
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The most important -but as yet unnoticed- esoteric aspect of Disney’s visual art is the astrological. His work’s content often seems to draw from the astrological tradition, either purposefully -and by design- or due to an unintentional depiction of each planet’s traits (the heavenly bodies as the collective forces of the Unconscious).
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sketch_3aLet’s analyze for example his most brilliant venereal story: Snow White. The heroine is blessed with the greatest beauty, gentleness and charm, unspoilt from evil. Her songs attract all animals and cause a magical harmony in nature. Doves -the ancient symbol of Venus⁹ ¹⁰- are all around her imitating her rhythmical voice; the prince of the tale falls for her at once and even dwarf Grumpy -who is always angry- finally accepts her with love!
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The Wicked Queen of the tale is a malefic character full of narcissism, envy and lust, representing the ‘shadow’ face of the Venus archetype. Almost exactly the same female persona is found in Witch Jadis from the Narnia Chronicle, ‘Venus Infernal’, according to C.S. Lewis¹¹, chthonic deity of erotic lust and death, similar to Mesopotamian goddess Ishtar (Astarte).
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Grimhilde’s magic mirror depicts the zodiac cycle and stands out as the most emblematic venereal symbol of narcissism and vanity. She constantly asks him who is the prettiest and when the mirror replies that Snow White exceeds her in beauty she explodes in anger.
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sketch_4aAnother venereal symbol of the film is the deceitful apple offered to Snow White by the Witch. We can instantly recall the forbidden apple in the Garden of Eden, often allegorized as sexual temptation and moral fall, as well as the Apple of Eris, a symbol of female vanity that led to the famous beauty contest between Hera, Athena and Aphrodite.

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Disney’s second classic full-length was Pinocchio, a story related to planet Mercury, the Eternal Child. Especially in Carlo Collodi’s book, Pinocchio is portrayed as a disobedient child who lacks morality and keeps lying. He avoids going to school, disorientates from his daily routine and finds trouble by messing up with unknown people. His only moral guide is the famous “talking cricket” -renamed by Disney “Jiminy Cricket” (a name that probably derives from Gemini, Mercury’s sign)- Pinocchio’s consciousness who teaches him how to distinct good from evil and helps him transform into a real boy!
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sketch_5aThe famous Alice in Wonderland transfers us into a dream-like, surreal world connected to the astrological Moon. The esoteric reflection of the Moon corresponds to the soul’s level of archetypal phantasies, desires and fears, which are mainly expressed in the world of Dreams¹²! Therefore, since a child’s fantasy is deeply connected to the bizarre, paradoxical realms of the unconscious, Alice can be viewed as an ideal lunar story The young girl feels constrained within the rational environment she has been raised and visualizes a world of her own, where everything will be nonsense, a world lacking seriousness, rule and meaning, an absurd universe of pure fantasy!
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The Lion King, one of the studio’s more contemporary films, bears an undisputable solar seal. In its beginning all animal species gather to honour the royal birth of lion Simba, a birth straightly aligned with the rising of the sacred Sun, the ruler of the physical world. The film expresses a Shakespearean tone -by retelling the story of young king Hamlet- and emphasizes on themes of leadership and kingship, bravery, good-heartedness and fair judgement.
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One of Disney’s darkest films is TheHunchbackofNotreDame, a story full of saturnine elements, based on Victor Hugo’s novel. The famous hunchback is kidnapped during infancy by an evil monarch, and is imprisoned by him in the church of Notre Dame, because of his monstrous appearance. He is raised up in the cold isolation of the dark tower, despising himself and afraid of the outside world. His daily duty is ringing the bell of the church, accompanied by three rocky statues (his personal demons) which come alive and talk with him.
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sketch_6aDuring the Feast of the Fools, a revival of the Saturnalia Roman festival¹³, Quasimodo decides to visit the outside world but ends up being humiliated by an ecstatic mob because of his looks. The film is rich in anti-racist messages and focuses on gypsy Esmeralda’s fight against the authoritarian monarch and Quasimodo’s inner change, breaking his “chains” of self-loathing and fear of the cruel world in which he was born.
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Finally, the short-story Firebird from Fantasia 2000 presents an impressive plutonian theme. Actress Angela Lansbury introduces this segment, which focuses on “life, death and renewal” and presents the absolute destruction and rebirth of Nature. During the dead winter a female spirit, the Spring Sprite, rises and gives life to all nature. Everything springs to life, apart from the arid top of a mountain which proves to be a ‘sleeping’ volcano. The destructive Firebird, the giant phoenix-like villain of the story, awakes and hunts the spirit down, leading to her killing and the disastrous burning of all nature. Finally, though, the spirit is resurrected with the help of an elk, gradually flourishing and restoring all nature’s vitality, fertility and beauty.
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This marvelous story retells the ancient allegory of Persephone -Nature’s Soul- and her abduction (death) by god of the Underworld Pluto. The astrological Pluto is described as “the dormant volcano who operates so far below the surface of life”¹⁴, while the firebird is associated with the mythical phoenix bird that is cyclically regenerated or reborn.
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Part II.
The astrological allegory of Fantasia
It may be hard to tell whether the basis of some of Disney’s films in astrological symbolism was intentional or unintentional. In one specific case, though, the coincidence factor seems highly improbable. And that is the incredible Fantasia (1940).
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sketch_8aWalt Disney’s collaboration with legendary British orchestral conductor Leopold Stokowski led to the creation of this amazing piece of art, a unique dialogue-free masterpiece which consists of seven short animated numbers set in eight classical pieces of music.
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In-depth analysis of the film reveals a deeper layer of meaning: an allegorical representation of the celestial bodies of antiquity, the Seven Heavens of ancient religious cosmology (Sun, Moon, Mercury, Mars, Jupiter, Venus and Saturn).
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This well-hidden theme pays tribute to the Pythagorean concept of the Music of the Spheres and was probably inspired by Gustav Holst’s famous Planets suite (which Stokowski had conducted in November 1934¹⁵).
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Each part contains not only plenty of symbols straightforwardly related to the celestial spheres (and deities) but even direct references and depictions of them:

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sketch_9a“Toccata & Fugue”- Solar theme
The Sun is Toccata & Fugue’s main reference and symbol. Johann Sebastian Bach’s absolute music is interpreted in abstract shapes and images, celebrating the reign of the eternal visible Light.
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Segment images
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‘’The Nutcracker”- Lunar theme
The moody Nutcracker suite depicts the creative forces of Nature and the change of seasons. Its dream-like content presents a fantastic naturalism inspired by the fluid, ever-changing Moon.
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Disney had also animated Claude Debussy’s Clair de Lune -which was probably the initial lunar theme of Fantasia- a romantic forest story on a full moon night, but decided to remove it.
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Segment images
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“The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” – Mercurial theme
A nine-minute story based on Goethe’s poem, which was inspired by Lucian’s story Philopseudes (Greek for “Lover of Lies”). The segment begins with an alchemical work. After a while, Mickey Mouse, the mercurial, child-like hero, steals his master’s hat and tries to reproduce his magic. Feeling exhausted, he falls asleep; his personality is ‘divided’ by escaping his physical body and wandering through the astral plane.
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Planet-god Mercury was regarded as the protector of alchemists and magicians, as well as the master of the astral body. According to Homer, he is the mediator between life and death, awareness and sleep. The planet’s retrograde motion symbolizes -among others- the resting period for each individual, the ‘division’ of personality and the return to the realms of the unconscious.
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Segment images
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sketch_9aa“Rites of Spring”- Martial theme

A scientific theme of evolution and the Darwinian “struggle of life”. The segment starts with a space-travel ending in our solar system and focusing at a red planet! The prehistoric Earth is tormented by geological disasters which lead to the birth of organic life. Living creatures constantly battle for survival and domination.

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Gustav Holst’s epic Mars: The Bringer of War was influenced by Stravinsky’s Rites of Spring, which leads to the conclusion that Stokowski probably proposed the latter to Disney as a perfect piece for the Mars tribute.
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Segment images
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“The Pastoral”- Jovial theme
Beethoven’s jovial theme of happy feelings in a higher sphere of life. The story takes place in a valley near mountain Olympus. Baby Pegasus horses learn to fly, centaurs and centauresses randomly meet and flirt with each other, with the assistance of joyful cupids and fauns, leading to a dionysiac party of drinking and dancing.
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In the middle of the story, god Jupiter appears in his kingly manner and interrupts the party by blasting thunderbolts. The disaster soon ends as Jupiter gets tired and falls asleep. Nature restores its former state and everyone is delighted with joy!
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Segment images
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“Dance of the Hours”- Venereal theme
An unforgettable caricature of comic ballet, a number full of grace, harmony, narcissism and erotic desire. Disney loved the way Hyakinth Hippo -the Venus-like protagonist- “lampooned centuries of paintings of the Toilet of Venus”¹⁶.
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Segment images
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sketch_7a“Night on Bald Mountain” & “Ave Maria”- Saturnine theme
The last number combines Night on Bald Mountain and Ave Maria. According to narrator Deems Taylor, “musically and dramatically, we have here a picture of the struggle between the profane and the sacred”. Chernabog, the ‘Black-God’, summons evil spirits under his command and raises pandemonium, a mixture of the Witches’ Black Sabbath and Dante’s Inferno. The greatest animated villain of all times represents the archetype of “The Great Malefic” and “Old Devil” Saturn, nocturnal planet of death and tormentor of souls.
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The dawn signifies Chernabog’s defeat by the forces of Light. The final long scene ends with the reappearance of the Sun, indicating the renewal of the circle in a higher level. The allegory of the Soul’s journey through the Heavens concludes with its ascent to a higher octave, the ‘eighth sphere of the fixed Stars’, the eudemonic state of Paradise.
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Segment images
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References & Notes
1) Plato, Laws: 828 c-d, Phaedrus: 247a.
2) Heraclitus (the Allegorist), Homeric Problems: 53-57.
3) Aristotle, Metaphysics: 1074b. See also Plato’s Laws (821b-d, 886d, 966e-967d). The Athenian refutes the claims of materialistic philosophers that the stars are ‘soul-less’. Plato identifies the heavenly bodies as ‘gods’, highly intelligent and ensouled Beings, an opinion shared by Aristotle and many other philosophers.
4) Porphyry, On Images: Fragment 8.
5) Eusebius, Praeparatio evangelica: 3.13.17.
6) See also Alice Bailey, The Labours of Hercules: An Astrological Interpretation.
7) Georgios Alvarado Planas, The zodiac cycle in Universal Mythology. New Acropolis (1998).
8) Homer’s Odyssey, Book 13: 149-183.
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9) The astrological Venus as Gustav Holst’s “Bringer of Peace” and “the Universal Peacemaker”, planet of love and civilized resolution. Her sacred animal is the dove, the biblical animal that announces the end of the great cataclysm. In the New Testament the Holy Spirit is represented by a dove. This mysterious Spirit has been interpreted by Augustine and Gregory Palamas as the Divine Eros, the Spirit of Love which unifies the Father and the Son.
10) Fabius Fulgentius explains that “they place doves under the patronage of Venus, for the reason that birds of this species are fiercely lecherous in their love-making” (Mythologies: 2.1).
12) Carl Jung valued the archetypal content of Alice in Wonderland. He identified a typical infantile motif in the dream of growing infinitely small and infinitely large, exactly as where Alice eats the two magic mushrooms (http://www.csulb.edu/~csnider/Lewis.Carroll.html).
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13) The Feast of the Fools was one of the most popular medieval festivals around Europe, celebrated between late December and Epiphany Day (6 January). It was a revival of the Greek festival Kronia and the equivalent Roman feast of the Saturnalia, attributed to god Saturn. The feast’s concept was the return to Saturn’s Golden Age of Equality. All slaves gained liberty for that short period and became equal with their masters (Saturn was considered, among others, planet-god of slaves and socially oppressed groups).
14) Bil Tierney, Alive and Well with Pluto: Transits of Power and Renewal: 91. Llewellyn (1999).
16) John Culhane, Walt Disney’s Fantasia: 174. Abrams (1983).
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Biographical sketch
Konstantinos Gravanis was born in Athens in 1982. He is a market researcher, statistician and author. During the last ten years he has conducted extensive independent research in the astrological background of Universal Myths and Symbols. He has also explored the esoteric aspects of the Homeric Epics, Plato’s dialogues, the New Testament, Renaissance paintings and Shakespeare’s plays.
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His first book is entitled «Astrology & Esoteric Philosophy in Homer», published in Greek by Pyrinos Kosmos (2011). Homer’s epic poems are interpreted as major Allegoric works which cover a wide range of ancient scientific knowledge and esoteric wisdom (with a special emphasis in astrology).
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Currently he is writing a book about astrological concepts in Walt Disney’s artwork.
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