Lost Symbology

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)

The BaGua

Lost BaguaOne 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 Dharmacakra

DharmacakraThe 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.

The Cross

crossThis 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”.

The Hieroglyphics

HieroglyphicsThese 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.”

Jack’s Tattoo (Chinese Characters)

Jack's TattooAnd 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.”

Juliet’s Mark (Origin Unknown)

Juliet's MarkThis 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.


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43 Responses to Lost Symbology

  1. Tina says:

    Juliet’s mark looks like an upsidedown modified Viking Futhark Rune. Specifically the hagall which translates to the letter ‘H’ and means hail.

    It also looks alot like a distended Wheel of Life with the single ray being longer than the rest.

    I think the implications of the mark tend towards the idea of the mark of Cain and are more significant than the origins of the mark itself.

  2. AnotherOther says:

    Wow, thats alot of good info. Thanks!

  3. MasterPo says:

    Regarding Julliet’s mark some thoughts:

    1) If it is a Mark of Cain it isn’t very noticable being on the small of her back. While the Bible didn’t say where Cain was marked, if others are to see it and know what he’s done then it can be concluded the mark is obivious. But not hers.

    2) I have seen similar symbols as part of animation. It reminds me of in Star Wars (the original movie) when the rebels show an animation of dropping a charge down the shaft into the Death Star and having it explode. Similarly, looks like animation I’ve seen that illustrate underground nuclear explosions. It could be symbolic that she “burst” out of some excepted norm of behaviour.

    3) The 8 points with one point longer than the others could symbolize her leaving the symetry of the other 7 (ie. she deviated from the norm).

    4) We don’t know what made the mark. We assume some kind of branding tool. But what if it’s something else? Like a laser, or a chemical burn, or a burst of radiation? The shape could be part of inflicting some other internal injury upon her. Time will tell on that.

  4. Cecilia says:

    Cool thoughts everyone, thanks. I especially liked the Star Wars reference (silly yes, but they are always doing cute things like that, and we already know they are fans of Star Wars)… and the point about the asymmetry of the last ray. The Others don’t seem to tolerate “different” people very well, do they? All very Orwellian…

  5. Tina says:

    I had another thought about what made Juliet’s mark–in Thailand they do sesame oil tattoos that leave a mark like that, no color just a welt that eventually fades down to a dull abrasion. Its a sort of invisible tattoo. Also interesting, in Thailand tattooes are given extremely sacred or magical significance, often supplying the bearer with ancient protection or special abilities…

    just thoughts from a tattooed girl herself.

  6. Andreas says:

    What I didn’t get about Jack’s tattoos is that he got Chinese characters tattooed in Thailand. Maybe it’s just that Chinese characters are trendy, but it felt a bit strange in my opinion.

  7. ACog says:

    Did I miss something, or did we only see part of Jack’s tattoo last night? It looked to me like he only got the Chinese characters in Phucket, and that the top part of his tatoo remains unresolved (other than a brief comment by the Sheriff about the “5” and the stars being “cute.”) Was that comment intended to let us know to disregard the rest of the tattoo as insignificant?

  8. lac says:

    my only thoughts on Juliette’s “mark” are that in its basic form it looks like an upside-down cross…which is a symbol for the anti-christ/anarchy right? or perhaps i’m just getting way too religious about it…

  9. shauna says:

    isn’t juliet’s mark just a slightly altered version of the Dharmacakra? i agree with the comment about the one longer line being something that makes her different than the others. also, they definitely left out the meaning of the rest of jack’s tat.

  10. lac says:

    just found this…check out the symbol for “fate”….


  11. AnotherOther says:

    And also, in a podcast, Damon and Carlton confirmed that a tattoo on his forearm referenced the Flame Station and we’d find out more about that in Season 3. I thought that’d be last nite, but I guess not.


  12. Cecilia says:

    Andreas: A large percentage of Thai natives are ethnically Chinese, and even many that aren’t still speak/read Chinese.

  13. Andreas says:

    [quote comment=”41103″]Andreas: A large percentage of Thai natives are ethnically Chinese, and even many that aren’t still speak/read Chinese.[/quote]

    Oh alright, that makes a bit more sense then!

  14. theOtherdave says:

    [quote comment=”41105″][quote comment=”41103″]Andreas: A large percentage of Thai natives are ethnically Chinese, and even many that aren’t still speak/read Chinese.[/quote]

    Oh alright, that makes a bit more sense then![/quote]

    OK I just commented elsewhere that there seemed to be another inconsistancy regarding Chinese vs Thai. But thanks for answering my confusion.

  15. Cog says:

    Juliet’s marking looks to at least contain, in part, an upside down cross.

    Commonly, religious symbols turned upside-down are used in Satanic worship, the most common being an upside-down pentagram and an upside-down cross.

    I’m probably way off here, but I guess it’s possible that the symbol is something turned upside-down to tell people: this is an evil person, stay away from her.

  16. matrixtrain says:

    Another thought that flows with Tina’s comment:
    Juliets mark looks like an easter (or ressurection) cross inverted (those are crosses with beams of light or energy flowing out of them). Perhaps a mark of evil? I also like the point that we shouldn’t assume that it’s a simple brand.

  17. sukotto says:

    there seems to be some ‘star’ stuff in this episode. the six pointed star on her back looks like a falling star, just like juliet herself.

  18. xwaver says:

    I suspect that the point is not the shape of the mark, so much as the implication: If “only fools are trapped by time and space” and Achara’s warning about the mark “defining” someone is accurate, the Others have just consigned Juliet to a particular fate that is inescapable. She is no longer free to choose her own. For another perspective, see also the Jewish prohibitions on tattoo and body modification.

    No matter what the mark is, it is a Seal that keeps her trapped.

  19. Dan says:

    I think we’re supposed to assume the “5” tattoo that Jack has represents his philosophy on fear, where he counts to 5 and then stops being afraid, which was mentioned, i believe, the episode when he worked on Ben.

  20. losty says:

    I think the main reason for this episode dealing with Jack’s tatoos was more to do with explaining Matthew fox’s tattoos than anything else. We have been seeing them since episode 1 so it was about time we knew why an up tight surgeon had such markings. This is just the writers “tying up loose ends”. And as we know they are very tidy!

  21. hmmmmm says:

    new sneak peak preview

  22. Tina says:

    I hate that I know this, but for the record in real life, Matthew Fox’s “5” tattoo is to mark his appearance and time spent on “Party of 5”. I doubt that particular tattoo has anything to do with the storyline of Lost, if it did, they would have referenced it in what I affectionately call, the tattoo episode.

    I think that XWaver makes a really good point by mentioning that whatever Juliet’s mark is, its function is to define her and keep her trapped in her current state. If we consider the implications of Jack getting his tattoo from a seer-like Thai tattoo artist and bear in mind the mystical nature of Thai tattoos, this idea makes a ton of sense!

  23. Tina says:

    Some Thai Tattoo Facts:

    In Thailand, alot of tattoos are done by Monks. These tattoos are believed to be either sacred or magical There is a belief that they can protect the bearers from evil spirits and even physical harm. The ink itself often contains various elements from nature believed to have magical or sacred properties and the symbols themselves often have ancient spells or poems written into them. It is customary for the person being tattooed to bring some kind of gift or offering to the tattooer (not neccessarily a monk) in return for the protection or powers the tattoo supplies. Sometimes, sesame oil tattooes are applied, which leave a welt like mark, but remain almost colorless on the skin.

    Tattooing is seen as sacred act for the person being tattooed, a way to define visually the person they are, wish to be, or imagine they are.

  24. LostBear says:

    hey everyone, my first time posting but i couldn’t help adding to the great notes here. someone else posted a link to this site a few weeks ago also. http://www.powells.com/blog/?p=1862
    The author posts some absolutely fascinating information about the possible origin/explanation of Juliette’s mark and how it ties in nicely with the blast door map and the title of the ep in reference to the Heinlein work.
    A lot of great insight and theories by you all, I sometimes feel like a “stranger” myself when reading as I am obviously not nearly as smart and intuitive as most of you!

  25. LostBear says:

    sorry guys, the full link is http://www.powells.com/blog/?p=1862

    i told you…not so smart. 😉

  26. Cecilia says:

    Thank you Tina and Lostbear… that’s great research, and it was a cool read. I think you guys are on to something. In fact, I’m going to link the Powellbooks link to the main article, that was a pretty cool analysis, and the shape is eerily similar to the configuration on the blast door map. Who knows?

  27. theOtherdave says:

    [quote comment=”41263″]sorry guys, the full link is http://www.powells.com/blog/?p=1862

    i told you…not so smart. ;)[/quote]

    Ohhh very good article!!!!!
    Thanks LostBear!

  28. spinpapi says:

    Juliet’s tat appears to be an inverted crucifix, crossed out with an X. I’m sure it’s not as simple as that, knowing this show, but in some ways it makes sense as the Others seem to be on some mission (at least in their minds) to stamp out evil. “We’re the good guys, Jack.”


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  30. carebare says:

    i agree with the above posts… to me it looks like an inverted cross and the dharma wheel combined. this would bring in obvious references to Christianity and Buddhism which are already all over Lost.

  31. theOtherdave says:

    LostBear looks like I’m going after Eco’s book Foucault’s Pendulum. Intriguing story with lots and lots of mystery.
    Did you notice Lost fans posted on the Powells blog?

  32. joe says:

    the eight pointed star has an elongated top ray because it’s falling. i think it’s the mark of the fallen star–the devil.

  33. Brent says:

    also looks a lot like the scientology cross. granted that was basically stolen from satan.occult worshippers but it looks a lot like it

  34. Lesley says:

    Cecilia, excellent analysis and the icing is J Woods interpretation! This show just continues to blow my mind!

  35. Hugo says:

    The “mark” on juliet kinda looks like the dharmacakra
    only striped of some parts.
    kinda like Juliet if you ask me.

  36. tony says:

    Do you realise that Dharma is the god of Justice and since all of the characters have in some way committed or have been related to the commissioning of crimes is the island some kind of prison of people that self sentenced themselves by their jilt.

  37. soularheart says:

    Hi, I don’t know if this has been mentioned before or not, but the tattoo-girl was asked by Jack to write the way she saw him, since she claimed to see people for who they are! And in my opinion “He walks among us, but is not one of us” can have something to do with the whole latest time-travelling revelation! That Jack is there at that moment on a journey from another time and she manages to see that while he himself is unaware of that at the time being!

  38. carebare says:

    tony, at first i was going to disagree with you because dharma is pretty much the teachings of the Buddha.. but then i looked into it and you’re right! in Hinduism, the god Dharma was the god of justice and the Dharma to that religion are the teachings from this god (from what i could tell). i haven’t noticed any other hindu references in Lost, but this could be an interesting start to get us looking at yet another realm of symbolism and beliefs.

  39. carsick says:

    Didn’t the tattoo artist say when she looked into Jack that she saw a leader?
    Wouldn’t a leader walk among us but not be one of us?

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  42. Keith says:

    Has anyone noticed that the mark branded on Juliet’s back is similar to the symbol branded into the tree that Juliet goes to for medicine to help Claire in the episode “One Of Us”…


    Not that I have any explanations as to what it represents…

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