Use of unusual symbols to convey cryptic messages is nothing new for LOST. Andreas always has good thoughts on the episode, and I asked him if I could fill in some other thoughts on some of the representational graphic elements we’ve seen throughout the series. (Click on the titles below for the Wikipedia or Lostpedia entries that go into more detail)
One of first symbols we saw was the bagua, which is a Chinese Taoist symbol with a yin-yang in the middle–it became the basis for the DHARMA Initiative logo, and was even seen two weeks ago as an Easter Egg in “Not in Portland” (on Rachel’s bedstand). The basic interpretative meaning, as with most things having to do with Taoism, has to do with balance and relativism of the inner spirit with the outer universe, and the eight sets of trigrams on the side are used in geomancy (determining destiny, feng shui, and so forth). The dots in the center of the yin-yang show that few things are pure, and that there is a little light in dark, a little dark in light, and that both are needed for balance. I go into a little more detail about my own thoughts in my binary code theory from last year.
The bagua is not the only 8-sided figure seen on the show with significance. There is a repeated motif of 8-sided symmetrical shapes, from the atrium Michael is seen standing within in “Special” to the university building Donovan comes out of in “Flashes Before Your Eyes”. Figures similar to this were seen on Isaac’s wall in “S.O.S.” and exactly like that pictured here as flashed pictures in “The Lost Experience”‘s psychology testing video. While the bagua is a complex figure, the Dharmachakra is a bit more simple, appearing just as a wheel with 8 spokes, much like a compass rose (LOST, anyone?). This symbol has its roots in Buddhism and Hinduism, with the 8 ‘spokes’ representing the 8-fold path to inner peace and enlightenment.
This is a symbol that obviously most people can recognize as Christian in significance (though crosses have a long and varied history in many other cultures), and as representing the sacrifice/crucifiction of Jesus Christ. The Christian symbols on LOST are almost too many to name, but just dealing with the cross alone, the most notable was Eko’s pendant cross, which in the story, passed hands several times. It went from him to his young brother, then back to Eko, temporarily to Locke, and then back to Eko’s grave–representing the passing of faith between characters. Eko also carved a small cross on his stick (along with tons of scripture); he told Claire, “These are things I need to remember”.
These symbols were a big mystery when they were first presented in “One of Them”, following the first down-past-zero countdown. Back then, people scurried to find their meaning online and through Egyptian hieroglyphics translaters, with one of the most popular literal translations ominously having to do with death. Since then, the writers revealed their “true” definition for the show at Comic Con this summer: “Underworld”. According to what is discovered in “The Lost Experience”, they are also representative symbols for the Valenzetti Equation, which predicts the apocalypse. Coupled with Rachel Blake’s nickname, Persephone (from Greek mythology, the goddess who got kidnapped to Hades), I think the concept is “going to hell and back.”
And finally, we get to the symbols from this week’s show. The tattoo Jack has on his shoulder is actually a real life tattoo of actor Matthew Fox, but the writers incorporated this into the plot (I’ve created a JPEG image for this blog, so people don’t have to download special software to read the Chinese characters). However, it’s interesting that they had Isabel translate them into something quite different from their literal meaning. The actual translation is a line from a poem by Chairman Mao Zedong (“Eagles high, striking the void”), which has some interesting connotations in itself about being a master of one’s own fate (there’s that theme again). As a reader of some Chinese, it was curious to me why they went to such lengths to incorporate their own custom line, “He walks among us, but is not one of us,” which matches very closely to the title, “Stranger in a Strange Land.” This title is both a reference to the Exodus 2:22 passage and to a popular science fiction novel of the same name by Robert Heinlein. The important theme throughout, I believe, is isolation of someone in Jack’s position–I’ll have to look this up later, but I believe there is a quote that goes something along the lines of “One cannot lead one’s peers”… or then, there is always the more popular, “It’s lonely at the top.”
This is the one that’s got me puzzled. I haven’t seen a symbol quite like this, and I’d appreciate input into what it could be a reference to, or if it’s just a unique symbol to LOST (there are lots of symbols that are star-like, with 8-rays, but not that many with a single asymmetric ray). I’ve heard comparisons from Wiccan octograms to Tarot cards to the Scarlet Letter, but perhaps the most convincing possibility for a reference is to the Mark of Cain, again, from the Bible. God marked Cain not only as a shameful curse, but also to warn others that he was not to be killed (the Bible never describes what the actual mark looked like). This seems an almost direct parallel to what Juliet is going through with Ben (who appears to be nearly-omnipotent in the Others’ ranks). It’s also a good excuse to give Jack and Juliet common ground, as they are both “marked” and reprived, abandoned or ostracized from their respective societies.
Just a bunch of thoughts on what we’ve seen so far. Please send us your thoughts on the symbols, especially if you think you know something special about Juliet’s mark!
EDIT: We’ve had some very interesting ideas and great thoughts added to our comments section, including someone who found this fascinating blog article.