"Stranger in a Strange Land," the ninth episode of the season (and third in the succession of new, uninterrupted episodes), is a strange, subtle tale of how Jack acquired his distinctive tattoo, and quite a bit more. This episode doesn't overtly point to the many useful references like past episodes have, but despite the seemingly closed narrative, there is plenty going on beneath the surface. In my book
I warn against looking too deeply into something and finding references to it everywhere; Hurley does this on occasion, and certainly the Lost
audience does. Generally, it's a good idea to try to find secondary evidence to back whatever theory one puts out; there seems to be plenty of secondary evidence for what follows.
The title of the episode echoes Robert Heinlein's 1961 novel Stranger in a Strange Land. Heinlein's science fiction narrative is about a man named Michael Smith who is raised by aliens on Mars, and returns to Earth as an adult. He can't understand human language, rules, sexual practices, property rights, and other cultural traits, and has superhuman abilities he picked up on Mars that appear magical to others, but are actually science. Of significance is the church Smith ends up establishing to repair the flaws he sees in humanity, the Fosterite Church of the New Revelation; repairing the flaws of humanity was also the Dharma Initiative's charge. The Fosterite church becomes a massive cultural power, not unlike today's Protestant megachurches, yet much of this church's proceedings are mysterious and esoteric; the faithful learn the Martian language, learn superhuman abilities, and are initiated in mystical ceremonies. This mystical side of Heinlein's novel bears a resemblance to a pre-Masonic cult called the Rosicrucian Order ? more on this in a bit, since it becomes the hinge for this episode, or at least for this reading of the episode. Smith's teachings also echo, in a roundabout way, the idea found in both Buddhism and Gnostic Christian traditions that the divine/godhead is found everywhere and in everyone, it's just a matter of grokking it. (This is actually where grok comes from; in the Martian language, it means something like "to drink," and everything that groks has god in it; since plants, animals, and people all drink, they all grok god, whether they know it or not.) We often see Dharma Initiative members bowing in namaste to each other, which is a recognition of the divinity in the other person.
The title of the episode also recalls Exodus 2, when Moses meets the priest of Midian and has a son by one of the priest's daughters. They name the son Gershom, which means "stranger" or "alien," because as Moses says, "I have been a stranger in a strange land." Moses, of course, was the exiled leader of the Israelites, an angry individual, and was never quite one of them. When the Israelites complain of thirst, Moses gets miffed and goes to god with the complaints. God has Moses bang a rock with a rod and water flows from it, but because of his quick temper and disbelief that the Israelites would be provided for without Moses's intervention, Moses gets banned from the Promised Land. After all, the only person god says he loves in the bible is Jacob, another biblical figure referenced when Karl mutters a line from the overstimulation chamber, "God loves you as he loved Jacob." Jacob, the forefather of Moses, was among other things a trickster ? god loves a joker, or maybe just a good joke.
With Moses we get an alienated leader with a quick temper, and that's Jack all over. (It's important to remember that at this point Jack has been imprisoned and angry only for about a week; after five months of seeing nothing but angry Jack, it can start to seem like he has one emotional level, but when taken in the context of about seven days of psychological mindgames and imprisonment, it makes more sense.) Jack and Moses also share another characteristic as resident aliens among their respective groups. Moses was raised as an Egyptian, but comes out as a Jew. He was never quite an Egyptian, and coming from Egypt as a leader, he was never quite one of the former-enslaved Jews. Sigmund Freud took this a step farther in his final book Moses and Monotheism, where he argues Moses was always an Egyptian, but of a select sect of Egyptian monotheists separate from the polytheists who operated as a governor of the Jews. Jack, likewise, was never at home with his own upbringing and station in life, and raged against his father. But when he leaves that world behind (and heads to Phuket, and later the island), he also cannot fully be part of the group he's joined.
Which brings us to Jack's funky tattoo. Narratively, we're still not privy to what the five stars are for, but they could refer to the five seconds Jack will allow fear to enter his life before he banishes it. However, Isabel claims the Chinese characters read "He walks among us, but he is not one of us." An enterprising person at Lostpedia who knows Chinese already translated the characters as a section from Chairman Mao Zedong's 1925 poem "Ch'ang-sha," which reads "Eagle high up, cleaving the space." Maybe Isabel's translation was a poetic interpretation, and Jack informs her that what she read isn't what the words mean. But the tattoo came with the actor; Matthew Fox was inked up when he joined the cast, and rather than cover the marks, the writers decided to work them into the storyline; Lost has always had a flexible narrative. Even though we don't have the full tattoo story, we know that they came from Achara, the artist in Phuket whose work "is not deprivation, it is definition." Achara, Jack's lover in Thailand, has a gift to see who a person really is, and she engraves that into the person's skin. In Hinduism, Achara is also the highest form of Dharma, which suggests the person Achara may be connected with the Dharma Initiative. As a tattoo artist, perhaps she inked up Tom, who has a tattoo on the left side of his chest near his shoulder. This hasn't really been shown, but in the final episode of season two, Tom's tattoo can be glimpsed as the wind blows his shirt about while he stands on the dock. At any rate, Jack is marked, not unlike Juliet and her seared brand.
Herein lies the larger, wilder connections: The brand Juliet is given on the small of her back looks more or less like an asterisk with an extended ray along the top and an extra ray bisecting the middle, for eight points all told (and eight is the second number in Valenzetti's sequence).
It almost resembles a Chi-Rho, but that lacks the extra ray and has that extra loop at the top. Juliet's mark doesn't seem to occur as a regular symbol in any particular religious system associated with the narrative, but it does resemble an upside-down Rosicrucian cross, which brings us back to Heinlein's novel and opens up the episode's referential characteristics.
The Rosicrucians were a mystical sect of occultists from 17th C. Europe who followed a 15th C. German seer named Christian Rosenkreuz. There are still sects around today, and one called the Golden Dawn included members like William Butler Yeats and Aleister Crowley. Yeats even based his book of esoteric wisdom A Vision on the knowledge he gained from that Rosicrucian society. Rosenkreuz is said to have traveled to the eastern lands and learned the secret wisdom of harmonic science from mystics in the Middle East and North Africa. When he returned, he founded the Fraternity of the Rose Cross, an order which incorporated teachings from Sufism, Kabbalah, Christian mysticism (Gnosticism), alchemy, astrology and numerology. The Rosicrucian order is believed to be a possible origin for Freemasonry as we know it today; in the Scottish Rite, an initiate who reaches the 18th degree is called a Knight of the Rose Cross. The Rosicrucians also figure into Umberto Eco's book Foucault's Pendulum; not only is Eco's name evocative of a certain Nigerian warlord, but the narrative is an exercise in complicated plots, credulous audiences, and esoteric knowledge. The book follows three publishers who decide to construct an alternative history based on secret societies, and find that their fake history becomes increasingly plausible to members of other secret societies. These others then go after the three in order to find out what more secret knowledge they have, including the secret treasure of the Knights Templar. Part of the book's game is that the reader is presented with both factual, historical knowledge and creative spin on that knowledge, so the reader, not unlike the audience of Lost, has to search for the hidden reality behind what's presented. It's an exercise in heuristics (D.H.A.R.M.A.: Department of Heuristics And Research on Material Applications).
The Rose Cross was not so much a Christian symbol as an occult tool. The Rosicrucian cross contains eight rays, with the bottom ray extended. One use was to cast sigils, a form of sympathetic magic. A rose-like mandala would be laid out with the eight-rayed rose cross in the center. The "petals" of the mandala would have letters on them. One would then start in an inner petal near the cross, and trace out a word, like a connect-the-dots game. The shape that emerged was the sigil, which would be used to try to affect some material change in the world (i.e. placed in something, focused on, etc.). Something similar occurs in Gnostic astrological charts, where depending on the input factors, a certain sigil-like pattern is traced out on the chart. A modern U.S. Rosicrucian order called the Rosicrucian Fellowship (1911) created the following chart when it first broke ground for its building in Oceanside, California:
Compare this chart to the blast door map:
The lines from the Rosicrucian chart and the blast door map are nearly identical (and, as it happens, resemble the shape of the Millennium Falcon).
Between Juliet's mark and the Rosicrucian astrological chart, there seems to be some link. But there's more: The Rosicrucians also were followers of the Greek mathematician Pythagoras, who also held to a very mystical cosmology. Pythagoras believed in the transmigration of souls, sacred geometry, and that concepts and matter could be represented numerically. At this point, the Valenzetti equation should come to mind, because that's exactly what each of the 4 8 15 16 23 and 42 numerals are meant to represent.
"Stranger in a Strange Land" didn't directly take us deeper into the mythology of the show, but it did offer some intriguing mazes to get lost in. These suppositions may be entirely wrong, but there are road signs pointing towards supporting evidence. And even if it is wrong, this is part of the fun of the Lost narrative ? you fall down the rabbit hole and there's no telling where you'll end up.