The Divine Masks of Ernie and Bert
We have always been fascinated by the great mysteries of life, and the vast wonders of existence which escape the reductive, dissembling scalpel of science. One of our most cherished pastimes is struggling with the riddles of the universe, and contemplating the irrational. Like the endless procession of philosophers and theologist before us, we have asked the great questions: What is God? Where did we come from? Do we have free will or are we guided by the hand of Fate? Is there life after death? And, of course, the greatest mystery of all, How are Ernie and Bert related?
For as long as I have been alive, this enigma has baffled me. Are they children or adults? If they are adults, why are they so small? If they are children, where are their parents? Do they have jobs? If not, how do they pay their rent? I have heard it insinuated, if not out right declared, that Ernie and Bert are lovers. Gossipy claptrap! They sleep in twin beds! It is also rumoured that Bert is Ernie's uncle. Twaddle! They are the same size, for starters! What's more, they are completely different colours, an unlikely occurrence in blood relatives. This latter theory is seemingly endorsed by the CBC Canadian Sesame Street Department. This transparent cover up prompts another question: What is our government trying to hide?
In exploring the Ernie/Bert Conundrum we must begin with their totem objects: Ernie's Rubber Duckie and Bert's Paper Clip Collection. Rubber Duckie is clearly a phallic symbol, indicating the Ernie's make up is of a masculine nature. Ernie's sings "Rubber Duckie, joy of joys/ When I squeeze you, you make noise." Squeezing is an action of contraction and destruction, but from that destruction, comes creation in the form of noise. This echoes the Judeao/Christian God creating the universe out of darkness by the power of the Word. "In the beginning there was darkness, and God said let there be light, and there was."
Also "joy of joys" is a phrase used by Handel in the Messiah Oratorio to describe Christ the Redeemer. Are we then to equate Ernie with his Rubber Duckie to the crucified messiah? The cross, is also a phallic symbol, after all. As hesitant as I am to make this statement, perhaps it is not as heretical as it may at first seem. Christian teaching tells us that the Lord's death on the rood, brought us redemption and new life. Is this so different from Ernie creating life by the death like contraction of Rubber Duckie?
Rubber Duckie is also close cousin to Mjolnir, the legendary hammer of Thor, from Norse Mythology. Thor was given Mjolnir by the dark elves who dwell deep under Midguard, the land of men. These dark caverns are symbolically equivalent to Ernie's water filled bathtub from which Rubber Duckie rises. One of Mjolnir's magically properties is the ability, not only to destroy life but too create it. An example of this power is recorded in the Prose Edda. Thor, in order to feed himself and his companions, slays his two goats with Mjolnir, skins them and roast them over a fire. The bones are piled on the empty hides after the feast and Thor resurrects the beasts with a second blow from his hammer. Mjolnir is an instrument of death and rebirth just as rubber duckie is a tool of squeezing and noise.
Another mask of Ernie is the Hindu god, Siva the Destroyer. Siva is often depicted as the cosmic dancer, dancing a foxtrot of destruction and resurrection. He is symbolized by a phallus known as the Lingam, which is often sculpted on a base known as the Yoni, which symbolizes the vagina. From this we can conclude that Siva the Destroyer, although male, possesses attributes of the female, and is, to employ a colloquialism, more than just a man. This is also true of Thor, who once, in order to retrieve his stolen hammer, disguises himself as the goddess, Freya and offers himself as a bride to the thief. Mjolnir was traditionally used to bless a marriage, so when it was taken from its hiding place, Thor threw off his maidenly disguise and slew the robber bridegroom and other guests. Ernie is an androgynous god as well. He wields the phallic Rubber Duckie while bathing - the bathtub is a vulva symbol. Note the startling similarity to the Lingam and Yoni.
Having identified Ernie as the divine creator/destroyer, we turn to Bert and his totem object, the paper clip collection. Bert's paper clips are strung together like a chain, which is symbolizes the cycle of the harvest. Further proof of this association can be found in examining Bert's head, which is the shape and colour of a cob of corn. Sir Frasier in his learned study of mythology, The Golden Bough, lists several animals that various primitive cultures consider divine symbols of the harvest. One entire chapter is devoted to the Rooster as Corn God. Another of Bert's passions is ornithology, specifically the study of pigeons. Male pigeons are known as cock pigeons, or roosters. What's more, Bert often performs a dance called The Pigeon, just as many primitive tribes costume themselves as animals and perform rituals to bless the various stages of the harvest.
In ancient Egypt, the god associated with the harvest was Osiris, who was murdered by his brother and dismembered. His wife, Isis gathered together the pieces of the slain divinity and resurrected him. In Hindu mythology, the Osiris myth is echoed in that of Parvati, a beautiful maiden whose body is scattered over the earth, and where the pieces fell, crops grew. Parvati is one of the main consorts of Siva, and she is the Yoni from which the Lingam of her husband springs. The Norse goddess of the harvest is Sif, a stunning woman with long blond hair. Her hair is stolen by Loki the trickster god, who then, in atonement for his crimes, convinces a dark elvin smith to build her hair of fine gold. In addition to the new hair, which represents the reaping, harvest and replanting of crops, Loki has the smith forge several other mystical objects for the gods, not the least of which is Mjolnir, Thor's hammer. Sif, of course, is the wife of Thor, as Parvati is the wife of Siva, and as Ernie is partnered to Bert. (Incidentally, Thor is usually depicted as having bright orange hair. As previously noted, Sif's hair is yellow. Note that this orange and yellow hair pigmentation perfectly matches the skin colouring of Ernie and Bert, respectively.)
I do not mean to imply that the union of these two Sesame Street Divinities is of a sexual nature, although both are of ambiguous gender. (Ernie's androgyny has been discussed. Bert, like most harvest goddesses is of feminine temperament. The fact that he is portrayed as male, in a divine role normally attributed to female goddesses, should be enough to illustrate this corn god's androgyny.) Rather, the union of Ernie and Bert is a symbolic one. They are above classification by age, or sex, or genealogy, because they are not personification of human qualities. On the contrary, they are embodiments of the divine cycle. Ernie are Bert are nothing less than the twin faces of the circle of life and death, as viewed by the Hunter (Ernie) and by the Harvester (Bert) and like all holy mysteries, they are masked in simpler guises, so that we narrow-visioned mortals may better accept the greatness of their mystery.