To mark last month’s release of The Beatles’ 1968 animated movie ‘Yellow Submarine’ on DVD and Blu-ray, ‘Conspiro Media’ grabbed the opportunity to chat with artist, author, researcher and radio-host Robert Richard Hieronimus Ph.D. His 2002 book, ‘Inside the Yellow Submarine: The Making of The Beatles Animated Classic,’ has been dubbed, “an indispensable companion to the movie.” It not only features exclusive interviews with all the principle creators of the film and an intricate account of the details behind the making of it, but also a unique analysis of the esoteric, symbolic aspects within the movie itself. In fact, the occult archetypes that Hieronimus believes are bubbling beneath the Yellow Submarine’s waters are what initially sparked his interest in the movie. Given his life-long devotion and interest in symbols and ancient knowledge it should hardly come as a surprise either. In 1969, he founded the ‘AUM,’ America’s first state-approved school of esoteric studies which granted certificates in the occult sciences, mystic arts and religious metaphysics. In 1981, he received his Ph.D. for the doctoral thesis, ‘An Historic Analysis of the reverse of the American Great Seal and It’s Relationship to the Ideology of Humanistic Psychology.’ Furthermore, his research on the Great Seal of the United States has been used in the speeches, literature and libraries of the White House, the US State Department and the Department of Interior. A member of “a number of secret societies,” his expert knowledge and understanding of symbols and the occult has led to regular TV appearances in a number of documentaries and/or news-shows on the BBC, the Discovery Channel, the History Channel, the SyFy Channel and FoxNews (to name a few). He’s also an artist, having established a long career as a muralist and painter. His occult and symbolic murals include a 2,700 square-foot work known as ‘Apocalypse,’ which was completed during 1968-1969 at the John Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. Another of his works, the ’Historic Views of Baltimore 1752-1857,’ is now housed in Maryland’s War Memorial Building.
Speaking exclusively to ‘Conspiro Media’ last month, Hieronimus talked about the impact the ‘Yellow Submarine’ movie had on him after first watching it back in 1968. He said, “when I started to see all of the symbols in the film… I thought to myself, ‘these Beatles are brilliant! They are Multi-Levelled, they’re Multi-Consciousness, and it seems to me whoever it was… that thought up this movie was multiple genius!’”
The film tells the story of The Beatles’ efforts to rescue an underwater world known as ‘Pepperland’ from the music-hating Blue Meanies who’ve invaded it and transformed it from a colourful, beautiful paradise of happiness into a grey, barren, depressing wasteland. A sailor by the name of ‘Old Fred’ manages to escape in a yellow submarine which is perched on top of a Mayan/Aztec-like pyramid after he‘s called on by the mayor of Pepperland to get help. He travels to Liverpool where he successfully persuades John, Paul, George and Ringo to join him. They board the submarine and embark on a surreal journey which takes them through the Sea of Time, the Sea of Science, the Sea of Monsters, the Sea of Nothing, the Foothills of the Headlands, the Sea of Holes and the Sea of Green before finally arriving in Pepperland. They eventually win over the Blue Meanies with a combination of music, positivity and Love.
In an article on his website 21stCenturyRadio.com, Hieronimus explores some of the symbols in the film and any possible hidden meanings:
The very title of the film can be seen to represent the act of creation, or creativity. Throughout history Yellow has been used to symbolize the sun, fire, spirit or mental activity. It represents an active, outer-directed, centrifugal force, or masculine energy, expansion. Submarine could be considered a symbol for matter or the body. It is necessarily linked to the symbol of water, which throughout history has been considered representational of lunar or feminine energy. It is a passive, intuitive, centripetal force. The submarine is also something that dwells within, hidden and internal rather than external and obvious. By combining the two words “Yellow” and “Submarine”, one can see a pairing of opposites or a balance between spirit and body, sun and moon, or a uniting of male and female, which is an obvious symbol for the act of creation that produces a unity or oneness.
BEATLES AND BEETLES There is an ancient Egyptian beetle-headed god, named Khepera, who represented the rising or morning sun. To the Egyptians, the beetle or scarab was an all important symbol of profound meaning.
Khepera was among the original creation gods in Egyptian mythology, and like the rising sun with which he is identified, he was said to be self-created, born of his own substance. The scarab was held as a symbol of resurrection and fertility as beetles were believed to be the incarnation of Khepera. Beetle amulets were worn to attract the power of this god and secure his protection. Khepera is also shown as the “generator” god with a beetle-head seated in the phantom or “spirit” boat, like the “Sunboat of Ra”, the Egyptian Sun God. Many other deities also had their “spirit” boats. Note the parallel between The Beatles afloat in a “Yellow Submarine” and the creator god Khepera with a beetle-head seated in a “spirit” or Sun boat. There is no reason to believe that whoever came up with the name “The Beatles” was consciously intending to link their name with the Egyptian god of rebirth, but conscious or not, they chose a name which reflected what they were to accomplish – the act of creation. Later in life, John Lennon is reported to have become interested in world mythologies and especially in Egyptian magic. He may have begun to realise that symbols carry psychic energy even when they have not been consciously selected. Some might say synchronicity (meaningful coincidences) played a role in the naming of the most revered rock and roll group in history. Like attracts like.
THE HERO’S JOURNEY: SEPARATION, INITIATION AND RETURN The storyline of Yellow Submarine lends itself easily to a comparison of what Joseph Campbell referred to as the “Monomyth” or the Hero’s Journey. There are three stages to the Monomyth that are used to describe the evolution of the hero: separation, initiation and return. During separation, Campbell explains that the individual rejects the social order and retreats inward or regresses. He reassesses his beliefs and moves toward the centre of his being. The second stage of initiation marks a clarification of his difficulties and an encounter with dark and terrifying forces. The candidate is victorious over them and feels fulfilled, harmonised, and whole. In the third stage of return, the hero is reborn into the physical world and applies the knowledge he has gained to the world he lives in. He rejects his self-serving and self-centring tendencies and shares his “treasure”, or new awareness, with the rest of society. The hero has become self-actualized, and he dedicates himself to a task outside of himself, serving society.
THE YELLOW SUBMARINE FOLLOWS THE HERO’S JOURNEY Separation: The Yellow Submarine with Fred aboard leaves Pepperland (from a pyramid-like launch-pad) in search of help.
They travel to Liverpool, which can be translated as “the pool of life”, where they are joined by four more heroes and they embark for Pepperland, completing the separation stage.
Initiation: The now five heroes must pass through the seas of illusion, symbolising the selfish desire worlds of sensations, passions, instincts and the beast within. In Nowhere Land they encounter the Boob who fixes the engine and joins the team, bringing the number of heroes up to six, suggesting a reference to humanities sixth sense.
It is the balance of energies and its six member crew that allow the Yellow Submarine to travel safely through the seas of illusion and escape from the vengeance of the Blue Meanies.
Return: The Sub returns and brings music and love back to Pepperland, where the heroes transform their enemies into friends. They share their new awareness with the rest of society by combining music with the words: “All you need is love.” Ageless wisdom teachings and creation mythologies from all around the world describe how life was formed in the universe through a cosmic sea. The Yellow Submarine can be seen as a vehicle that travels through the ethers of these waters. It achieves its goal by one person going out in the Sub into the world of matter, leaving the beleaguered paradise, the utopia of Pepperland, and going into the physical world, obtaining help (The Beatles and The Boob), then returning to share the wisdom gained by the experience that “all you need is love” and music. While not the conscious intention of its Co-Creators or Lennon and McCartney, it could be why this film appeals so strongly to so many of us.
You can read the article in it’s entirety here:
As the closing paragraph of the above article suggests, Hieronimus isn’t wholly convinced that The Beatles played an active role in implanting occult symbols or hidden meanings into the film. He told ‘Conspiro Media,’ “the truth was, they had nothing to do with it. All they did was create four songs because they were required to – to put in the film. They were never really interested in this film until they got to see some of the final work and then they fell in love with it. And then they wanted to be involved, but it was just too late to put their real stamp on it from that standpoint.”
What about the movie’s producer, Al Brodax or director, George Dunning? Can they offer any explanation for some of the movie’s most intriguing images, such as the Mayan/Aztec-type pyramid with it’s Yellow Submarine capstone? Or what about the team of writers and animators? Did they consciously set out to create a film with hidden meanings and esoteric imagery? Well… apparently not. All the key crew members have maintained there was no deliberate attempt to implant hidden allegorical themes within the movie. ‘Yellow Submarine’ art designer Heinz Edelmann told Robert Hieronimus during interviews for his landmark ‘Submarine‘ book, “I knew that part of my subconscious would go into these things, but I chose to disregard that. I simply did not want to know what’s happening. I mean, otherwise, I couldn’t have done the work. I simply chose not to know what subconscious influences and things went into the work.” Animation director Bob Balser told Hieronimus, “many times it’s very interesting when somebody does something, and they have somebody else look at it, and freely see or analyse it. I know that a lot of little kids look at ‘Yellow Submarine’ and just love it. It works on so many levels… it was a synergy between all of these creative people coming together. It’s something I never really thought about until this moment…” But what about the movie’s animation director, Jack Stokes? What was he suggesting when he told Hieronimus, “I don’t think there’s any different (meanings). There are one or two little types, I suppose you might say, in there…“ Was he implying that there may indeed have been a few conscious attempts to include hidden sub-texts within the movie? He continued, “it’s kind of an adventure story. I mean, the first part was basically a travelogue, and the second part was an adventure story. If you would like to think about ‘Lord of the Rings‘, or something of this sort, it’s really, basically, the same thing.” Interestingly, it’s been widely reported that The Beatles were so keen to appear in a movie version of Tolkien’s classic tale sometime during the late 1960s, that they approached Stanley Kubrick. It’s said Lennon was a big fan of ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ which was released in April 1968, just three months before ‘Yellow Submarine,’ and met with the movie’s legendary director who ultimately dismissed the idea as “un-filmable.” Hieronimus – in the main – doesn’t believe that the team behind the making of the ‘Yellow Submarine’ were consciously attempting to communicate an esoteric message via the use of occult symbology. In a 2008 article for ‘Octopus’s Garden’ magazine he wrote, “is it unfair to interpret symbolic meaning in The Beatles ‘Yellow Submarine’ film when most of the co-creators swear there was no time for such deep thinking? Perhaps. And yet, interpret we always seem to do with the Beatles, as if we can’t help it. It is my contention that a force greater than those who co-created ‘Yellow Submarine‘, greater even than the Beatles, was at work on this project.”
Of course, it’s no secret that The Beatles were interested in esoteric subject matter. The song ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ from their ‘Revolver’ album was inspired by the Timothy Leary book ‘The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead,’ and George Harrison wrote ‘The Inner Light’ after reading passages from the Chinese classic text ‘Tao Te Ching.’
Interestingly, the furore surrounding John Lennon’s remarks in a 1966 magazine interview that the Beatles were “more popular” than Jesus Christ was partly inspired by a book he was reading at the time by Hugh J. Schonfield titled, ‘The Passover Plot’ which claims that Jesus faked his own death on the cross and his subsequent resurrection in order to become King of the Jews on Earth. It’s widely known that Lennon was a voracious reader with an interest in a wide variety of subjects including ancient history, religion and the occult. During the 1970s, he also explored numerology with his wife Yoko Ono and visited the pyramids of Egypt.
It’s generally assumed that the Beatles were first introduced to these concepts by the well-to-do intellectuals they befriended during the mid-1960s such as author and former art gallery owner, Barry Miles. However, there’s strong evidence to suggest their fascination with ancient mysteries and the occult goes back much further, back to their days in Liverpool when they were still struggling, penniless young musicians barely out of school and when the word “Beatles” was yet to be uttered. How or where did these working-class provincial lads acquire such knowledge at such a young age, and how does this connect (if at all) to the occult symbolism in the ‘Yellow Submarine‘ movie? The details surrounding this intriguing and overlooked episode in the Beatles’ story is discussed in the ’Conspiro Media’ interview with Robert Hieronimus as well as some of the occult symbols hiding in plain sight within the film. He also talks about his long and often rocky dealings with The Beatles’ company, ’Apple,’ and the friendly and fruitful relationships he’s forged over the years with some of the Beatles’ trusted inner circle including the bands’ long-time PR man Derek Taylor and famed record producer Sir George Martin (who contributed the introduction to Robert’s celebrated ‘Yellow Submarine’ book). He relives the night when he successfully assembled together most of the original crew members of the movie for a 30th anniversary reunion TV special at the BBC’s legendary Maida Vale Studios, and he also talks about the “genius” of ‘Yellow Submarine’ art designer Heinz Edelmann who died in 2009. However, the interview begins with memories of his early days as an album-cover and poster designer with ‘Elektra Records’ when he shared his knowledge of occult symbols with some of the biggest names in Rock music history, including Jimi Hendrix.
Incidentally!… Listen out for some exclusive never-before-heard news related to the Beatles at the end of the interview!
** The interview was recorded on June 26th 2012
Don’t forget, you can check out Robert’s weekly radio show every Sunday at 8PM – 10PM EST at his website, 21stcenturyradio.com