The Parable of the Three Hour Tour:
The Gnostic Gospel of
Of Gilligan's Island
In 1945, near the Egyptian village of Nag Hammadi, a poor farmer, while digging for natural fertilizer near the banks of the Nile, happened upon a two thousand year old mayonnaise jar. Sealed in the jar was a collection of gospels, proverbs and apocalyptic writings dating back to the third century. This collection, now known as the Nag Hammadi Library gave us our first accurate glimpse of an esoteric, heretical branch of Christianity known as Gnosticism. Until this discovery, the Gnostics were only known to us from the writings of those who sought to suppress them. However, the theosophic scope and power of their hereto unknown religion has gone on to inspire the works of many of this centuries greatest thinkers, including Carl Jung, Joseph Campbell, Bill Moyers and Sherwood Schwartz, the visionary creator of Gilligan's Island.
Gilligan's Island is obviously didactic in it's intent. It's episodes are far too unrealistic to be taken literally. Why did they bring so much luggage on a three hour tour? If they are so close to Hawaii, why is the island uncharted? Why can they make a radio out of Gilligan's dental filings and are yet unable to fix a small hole in a boat? Clearly Gilligan's Island is meant as a series of pedagogic fables, but to what end?
Several treatises have been written to explore this mystery. The popular theory that it is intended a medieval morality play warning against the dangers of the Seven Deadly sins, is an obvious work of faux scholarship and will therefore be given no more attention in this magazine, which prizes itself on its solid academic integrity. Another tractate, claiming that Gilligan's Island is a Marxist parable, has more weight. Only the rich have names. The workers are known only by their occupations: the skipper, the professor, the gilligan. Also, like the Communist Manifesto, the farming class is strangely forgotten. The explains Mary Ann being referred to as "And The Rest" in the opening credits. However, when viewed with an eye to the Nag Hammadi Library, the series' intent is perfectly clear. Gilligan's Island is beyond the faintest doubt a forum for Gnostic sermonizing.
Gnosticism veers from Christianity on several keys points, not the least of which is its perspective of the Creation. In the Gnostic belief, a perfect, omnipresent, inconceivable God exists in the Pleroma outside, but containing, time and space. His creations are spiritual beings which reflect various aspects of divinity and can be viewed as hypostases of Himself. One of these hypostases is Sophia. She gives birth to a son, without the permission of her consort and hides this creature, known as Yartabaoth, outside the Pleroma. Yartabaoth, ignorant of the true Divinity, arrogantly believes himself to be the only god.
He then creates the physical universe in much the same manor as the Old Testament's Yahweh, with whom the Gnostics identify Yartabaoth. Because of his fallen nature, Yartabaoth's creations are chaotic abortions. Mankind, however, is made animate with Sophia's breath, and therefore possess a higher nature than Yartabaoth.
The Tree of Knowledge contains the feminine spirit of the Pleroma, and Yartabaoth forbids man to eat from it because he fears that he will be subsequently recognised as an imperfect perversion of God. The serpent of Genesis, and Christ himself, are sent from the Pleroma to lead man back to the perfect nature of the True God, outside the snares and trappings of the illusory physical word. This path is found, we are told, within ourselves.
In the Parable of Gilligan's Island, the Mainland serves to represent both God and the Pleroma from which mankind has been cast away. The Tropic Port, of which we learn in the opening theme, is an echo of Sophia, who exists on the metaphoric edge of the Pleroma. The SS Minnow, the tiny ship that carries the castaways irrevocably from the Mainland, and comes from the Port just as Yartabaoth comes from Sophia, is Yartabaoth himself. This is made clearer by the ship's name, the SS Minnow. Gnostics and Christians alike used the fish as a symbol representing the Lord Christ. A minnow, of course, is a small fish, the implication being that Yartabaoth is only a diminutive parody of God.
The Ballad of Gilligan's Isle, after introducing us to the SS Minnow then goes on to say, "The mate was a mighty sailing man, the Skipper brave and sure." This is an obvious falsity. Gilligan, the aforementioned mate, is ectomorphic and clumsy. Whilst the Skipper often displays startling degrees of cowardice. His ridiculous fear of voodoo leaps to mind as an example. These two untruths echo Yahweh/Yartabaoth's lie to Moses; "I am the Lord thy God; thou shalt not have other gods before me."
There are seven castaways on the island: Gilligan, the Skipper too, the Millionaire and his Wife, the Movie Star and the rest. The number is no accident. The Hypostasis of the Archons, one of several gnostic works chronicling the creation of the Earth, says that Yartabaoth first creates seven consorts to aid him in genesis. These beings, the Archons, are created in chaos, much like the storm that blows the SS Minnow off course. The Archons carry out the tasks of creation just as the Castaways build a settlement on the island, both attempting with often perverse results, to make order out of a situation that must by its own nature be chaotic.
The Island, an Eden-like paradise on which the castaways are stranded, is to be understood as the physical world in which humanity is trapped. The series makes frequent reference to the isle's lack of civilization; "Like Robinson Carusoe, it's primitive as can be." Yet, elements of civilization are abundant: the radio, the Professor's lab equipment, Ginger's endless succession of evening gowns, the record player. Even an automobile made from bamboo and coconuts makes an appearance. As the civilized Mainland is a representation of the Pleroma, then we must assume these civilized objects which the series' very theme song professes to be wanting, must therefore be the essence of the True God that was born into each human when Adam and Eve where made animate by Sophia's breathe and ate of the Tree of Knowledge.
Each episode sees the seven Castaways attempt to escape from the Island and fail. Obviously, we are meant to understand their attempts as a symbol of mankind's yearning to rejoin the True God. Their failures to reach the mainland are intended as cautionary tales to guide our own spiritual journeys. For example, the Gospel of Thomas says, "If the owner of a house knows that a thief is coming, he will... not let him dig into his house... and carry away his goods." Yet this is exactly what Gilligan does when he allows a monkey to break into the supply hut and carry away all the canned corn beef.
Elsewhere in Thomas is the saying, "Jesus said,`Blessed is the lion which becomes a man when consumed by a man; and cursed is the man whom the lion consumes, and the lion becomes a man.'" This sentiment is central to the episode in which Gilligan mistakenly believes a lion has devoured the Skipper because it is sitting on a wash tub under which the Skipper is caught.
The Book of Thomas the Contender says, "Woe to you who love intercourse and filthy association with womankind... because the power of your bodies will make you suffer." This is surely what we are to learn from Gilligan's inevitable cerebral collision with a coconut tree every time he is aroused by Ginger's lascivious attentions.
Further illustrations of Gnostic morality as repeated in episodes of Gilligan's Island are too abundant to delve into here. However, it would be remiss to conclude the exploration of these comparisons without a close study of the series' handling of the Gnostic Christ.
The Christ Story is explored in the episodes dealing with the personage of Wrong Way Feldman, a world famous stunt pilot whom the Castaways discover on the other side of the Island. His airplane's cross shape, and Feldman's vocation as a Pilot are obvious in their symbolism. That he is found already living on the island, and yet comes from the Mainland by way of the sky is a tribute to Christ's nature, which is at once mortal and divine. This too is easily discernible.
On a more subtle note, Wrong Way is played by a younger actor in an false beard, meant to convey the impression of advanced years. Instead, he appears ageless. This is attributable to a description of the resurrected Christ from the Apocryphon of John. "I saw in the light a youth who stood by me. While I looked at him he became like an old man. And he changed his likeness again... There was not a plurality before me, but there was a likeness with multiple forms...".
The Castaways attempt various manipulative modes of persuasion to induce Feldman to rescue them with the aid of his plane, but he will not. He seeks a refuge from the perfidy and hurried callousness of the world, and yet the Castaways have created the same tainted atmosphere on the island. To placate them, he instructs Gilligan in the art of flying, an act which invokes images of Christ instructing the apostles. However, their foul behaviour eventually drives him from the island for motives similar to those of which Christ speaks in the Apocryphon of James; "Now I shall ascend to the place from which I came. When I was eager to go, you drove me out, and instead of escorting me, you pursued me." This act of martyrdom, forsaking his own happiness to rescue the Castaways, and that it's instrument is the cross-shaped airplane, echoes Christ's crucifixion.
Feldman returns in a second episode, just as the divine figure he represents rises from the dead, which in the Gnostic teaching is meant to show us the way to our own spiritual resurrection. That a full episode is dedicated to Feldman's return is due to the comparatively large number of gnostic scriptures which deal with the teaching of the resurrected Christ.
Feldman's sentiment, his sermon, can be summed up in Christ's words from Gospel of Thomas. "If your leaders say to you, Behold the Kingdom is in the sky, then the birds will get there before you. If they say to you, It is in the sea, then the fish will get there before you. Rather the Kingdom of Heaven is inside you, and outside you. When you know yourself, then you will become known... if you will not know yourselves then you will dwell in poverty and it is you who are that poverty." The message being that the Castaways are trapped by their own desire to be off the island. This prevents them from realizing that they already have the means. It is, after all, only a small hole in the boat that wants mending. By the same token, it is due to our obsession with the physical world, Yartabaoth's misguided creation, that we are blinded to the seeds of divinity which exist within us all.
Feldman departs a second time. His final lesson for the Castaways arrives in the form of a message in a bottle which Gilligan finds on the banks of the lagoon. Surely this is a none too subtle reference to the wise Gnostic Scriptures that were discovered in an old jar by the Nile and which make up the invaluable Nag Hammadi library.