Beyond Material Waters: Exploring the Spiritual Patterns of Authority in 'Master and Commander'

By MatTehCat | The Cat's Mewsings | 1 Jul 2023

  "He who conquers others is strong; he who conquers himself is mighty." - Lao Tzu     




Can we truly escape the demands of authority? "Master and Commander: Far Side of the World," a 2003 historical fiction film directed by Peter Weir and adapted from Patrick O’Brian's novels, offers valuable insights into this question. Set against the backdrop of the Napoleonic Wars, the film delves into themes such as hierarchy, leadership, authority, chaos, and Man’s struggle against his primal instincts. It serves as a unique connection between the contemporary world and the realm of the spiritual, with its two main characters, Stephen Maturin and Jack Aubrey, embodying these contrasting realms. Today, I aim to explore the metaphysical elements within Weir's film, shedding light on the blurred line that separates a tyrannical ruler from an admirable leader. Drawing inspiration from Julius Evola's works, I will endeavor to unravel the intricate tapestry of the film, revealing the metaphysical themes that underscore the enduring nature of authority.    


So the Story Goes:

Regarding the plot: Captain Jack Aubrey commands HMS Surprise and faces the daunting task of intercepting the formidable French privateer Acheron. Unyielding in his determination, Aubrey steadfastly refuses to abandon the pursuit, even when Acheron inflicts substantial damage through an ambush. Subsequently, evading relentless pursuit, Surprise sets sail for the captivating Galápagos Islands, where Aubrey firmly believes Acheron will unleash its fury upon the esteemed British whaling fleet. Indeed, Acheron's relentless onslaught mercilessly decimates a hapless whaling vessel, disrupting Surprise's plans as they valiantly rescue the survivors.

Despite enduring setbacks along the treacherous journey, Surprise resolutely perseveres, contending with the arduous trials of crew discontent and the encroaching specter of superstition. In a calamitous twist of fate, Maturin, the ship's wise surgeon, is accidentally struck by a bullet, forcing him to perform surgery on himself. Uncovering the disconcerting revelation of Acheron's lingering presence, they boldly engage in a momentous battle, employing an ingenious ruse. Emerging as the triumphant victor, Surprise deftly captures Acheron, and both vessels undergo meticulous repairs. As Acheron sets sail, after discovering the French captain is still alive, Aubrey swiftly alters their course, setting the stage for a renewed pursuit brimming with relentless determination.


A Universal Worldview:

Before proceeding, it is necessary to address a problem related to Evola's metaphysical metathesis: his worldview encompasses more than just the physical body; it extends into the realm of abstract concepts and universal patterns. While studies in neurobiology and cognitive neuroscience are valuable, they are insufficient to fully understand Evola's presentation when interpreted as a shamanic practice. It is vital to recognize that the patterns Evola identifies are not solely reducible to materialistic components or a social structure for interpretation.

Flora and fauna continue to exhibit identifiable patterns within Evola's framework, even without human observation. Chemical processes and the alchemical framework deeply intertwine with these patterns, governing the emergence and functions of living organisms. In this sense, the patterns precede the organic and material components and are necessary for a complex structure's constitution. While neurobiology and social structures can provide a basis for interpreting the universal pattern of relations Evola presents, the absence of these interpretive methods does not negate the external reality of the immaterial substructure or, more accurately, superstructure.

It is also necessary to understand that these patterns exist independently of the observer, exerting their influence and manifesting within the observer's perception. One can understand them through the cognitive architecture of the brain in conjunction with a social framework; however, the origins of these patterns are not solely rooted in neurobiology or social structures. They possess a spiritual and universal nature that enables the mind to emerge and self-reflect upon them.

Therefore, what is observed through one's senses and interpreted through social structures reveals a mind-independent, spiritual, and universal world. By acknowledging the existence and significance of these patterns, we can gain insight into a reality that transcends individual perceptions and aligns with Evola's metaphysical metathesis.


A Mesocosom: 

Considering the preceding discussion, in the film "Master and Commander," we observe a microcosm that mirrors the hierarchical structures in the world and Man's society. The efficient functioning of the ship relies on proper leadership, discipline, and service. However, when these elements are lacking, the potential for mutiny arises. For instance, Midshipman Hollom's failure to effectively lead his men and inappropriate behavior led to confusion among the crew regarding their positions on the ship.

After a tumultuous encounter with a storm and while pursuing the Acheron, a crew member is lost at sea, requiring the ship to sever ties with him to ensure the ship's and its remaining crew's survival. Following this event, the vessel becomes motionless for several days, during which the crew begins to ponder the existence of a cursed individual,i.e., a "Jonah," among them. They blame Hollom for their misfortune, leading to a growing frustration within the crew, culminating in one crew member assaulting Hollom.

To restore discipline, Captain Aubrey must flog the crew member who attacked Hollom. The punishment reminds him and the crew of their place within the hierarchy. During a conversation with Captain Aubrey, it becomes apparent that Hollom has failed to establish a functional and efficient hierarchical structure. Hollom's inability to accept that he may not possess the qualities of a leader leads him to believe that he is cursed, the crew's "Jonah." Tragically, Hollom succumbs to his despair and throws himself into the sea.

Despite Hollom's demise, the crew mourns his loss, and Captain Aubrey leads the men in prayer, seeking forgiveness from both Hollom and God. This act serves to reestablish a divine hierarchy. Serendipitously, after the prayer, the wind picks up, enabling the crew to resume their pursuit of the Acheron.


Dark Waters:

The film's opening immerses the viewer in a frame akin to a spirit overlooking dark and abyssal waters. Throughout "Master and Commander," the ocean is depicted as a turbulent and unpredictable force that constantly challenges the crew of the HMS Surprise. These dark waters evoke uncertainty, depth, and incomprehensibility, symbolizing the aqua materia—the material waters—rather than the vita aqua—the spiritual waters. Consequently, they represent death rather than life.

If the crew and their captain fail to overcome the treacherous waters, they risk succumbing to them. The final battle between the HMS Surprise and the Acheron exemplifies this existential struggle, resulting in the loss of several crew members. As a solemn consequence, the bodies of the fallen sailors are consigned to the deep, further emphasizing the symbolic association of the film's waters with death.



A Place to Call Home:

As the film unfolds, the symbolism of the ship HMS Surprise becomes evident, representing not only England but also a broader representation of one's nation, its people, and the world itself. The ship exists as an entity that traverses the abyssal and dark waters, evoking a sense of mortality and the inevitability of death. Throughout the film, the crew rarely lands on shore, except for a brief visit to the Galapagos Islands, where they spend only a few days. However, the Galapagos Islands are a wild and untamed place filled with primal potential and vibrant life. It does not provide a stable foundation on which a person can establish a permanent existence. Instead, the islands serve as a temporary sojourn. In contrast, the home and anchor for the crew are the HMS Surprise, representing their sense of stability and belonging.


The Unity of the Solar and Lunar:

Aubrey embodies traditional and conservative values, portraying a solar figure who represents the ego of the body, the nation, and the world. He leads with a sense of order and discipline, but his ego is susceptible to inflation. In contrast, Maturin is a lunar and intellectual character. Counterposing Aubrey throughout the film. Maturin's influence compels Aubrey to reflect as he remains connected to the earthly realm and finds rejuvenation in the living world. When Aubrey's ego exceeds its limits, Maturin grounds him. These dynamics create a balance between the solar and lunar aspects. Additionally, these patterns can be seen as part of an ouroboric matrix, symbolizing the cyclical nature of human suffering and the desire to overcome it, as exemplified by the Acheron or "The River of Woe," which holds central importance in the film.


Ouroboric Suffering:

The film "Master and Commander" revolves around the conflict involving the Acheron, a ship whose name translates to "River of Woe" in Greek. Depicted as a formidable vessel with an impenetrable hull crafted from two types of wood, the Acheron is impervious to cannon fire. Throughout the film, the HMS Surprise and its crew engage in a cat-and-mouse game with the Acheron, employing deception and tactical maneuvers. This constant pursuit and evasion symbolize a broader struggle against suffering and adversity. The film's conflicts stem from this ongoing struggle, which continues after the plot's conclusion. Therefore, the Acheron not only represents the central conflict in "Master and Commander," it embodies the ouroboric matrix, symbolizing the womb where Man’s eternal struggle occurs. By evoking the concept of the Acheron, the film underscores the enduring nature of human challenges and the perpetual quest to overcome them.

Our final image is represented by the following structure:



Man Born of Fire:

The last two elements symbolize the head of the figure and the solar ego (The Flower of Life or Key to Life (Evola, p. 88)) and Ares, representing passion and will. In "Master and Commander," these elements play a significant role in the characters' struggle against the Acheron or suffering. Through intense physical combat and the testing of their bodies and willpower, the crew of the HMS Surprise, along with Captain Aubrey and Maturin, undergo a transformative process, giving birth to a new ego and a renewed sense of self. This combat catalyzes the dissolution of the impurities of their souls, leading to the emergence of a stronger and more resilient self.

We can observe a prime example of this transformation when the promotion of First Lieutenant Pullings to the captain of the Acheron takes place, along with the orders to sail to Valparaiso. This promotion signifies his personal growth and demonstrates how the challenges faced on the HMS Surprise have shaped him into a capable leader. However, Captain Aubrey's discovery that the French captain is still alive aboard the Acheron pulls him back into conflict with suffering. This turn of events highlights the cyclical nature of human development through adversity.

The film concludes where it began: with the HMS Surprise chasing after the Acheron, serving as a powerful metaphor for the perpetual cycle of human suffering and the ongoing journey to confront and overcome challenges. It reinforces the idea that personal growth and transformation are continuous processes that persist throughout life, fueled by the struggles faced along the way.


A Ship's Body:

At the beginning of this piece, I posed the following question: Can we escape authority's demands? Given Man's eternal struggle against pain, suffering, woe, and corruption, the answer is no. The lack of proper leadership often leads men to turn against themselves, exemplified by the crew of the HMS Surprise and their treatment of Midshipman Hollum. However, it is crucial to recognize that Man's need for authority can also corrupt him, as emphasized by Maturin's rebuke of Captain Aubrey.

To better understand the conclusion to this question, let us delve into the relationship between Man and his body. The ego, positioned at the head, represents authority, relying on the spirit for guidance. For the ego, engaging in spiritual practices and respecting the divine become essential to avoid descending into corruption.

Moreover, the ego requires a heart symbolizing the passions and warrior spirit within Man. To effectively serve these passions, the ego must also be in service to them. Metaphorically, the cannons on Aubrey's ship embody the heart, and the captain's leadership plays a pivotal role in disciplining the crew and effectively utilizing these passions. Without proper maintenance and the guidance of the captain, Aubrey's ship would lack the ability to defend itself and, thus, imperil itself. In other words, for the ship to maintain balance and protection, the captain's leadership must align with and serve the passions and strengths of the crew.

The passions, represented by the heart, require nourishment, ammunition, and a well-fed crew to act effectively within the hierarchical body. The nutritional or metabolic system must maintain these passions, enabling them to serve the body in return. A crucial role is also played by the crew's hands, symbolizing the body's lower and ambulatory parts as they gather essential resources and nutrients for the body's overall function.

Balance is necessary within this hierarchy for the system to function smoothly. Should any aspect become overinflated or fail to fulfill its role, the entire system would be at risk, risking a collapse into the sea's dark depths. The struggle of Man vividly portrays the inescapable nature of authority's demands. To navigate this eternal struggle successfully and to avoid succumbing to corruption and suffering, it is crucial to have proper leadership and maintain a balanced hierarchical structure.



In conclusion, "Master and Commander" offers significant insights into Man’s eternal struggle and position in the world. The film can be viewed as a mandala, representing a formula for establishing a proper hierarchy. While I have not fully explored all the potential symbolic elements in the film, such as the relationship between Dr. Stephen Maturin, Midshipman Lord William Blakeney, and the Galapagos beetle, which hold great potential, I believe I have effectively conveyed the film's overall worldview. The weltanschauung derived from "Master and Commander" urges us to contemplate the importance of hierarchy and its necessity.

The contemplation of hierarchy and authority is crucial for modern Man, particularly given his increasing sense of individuality and disillusionment. When one finds themselves in this state, it is prudent to establish a proper hierarchy within oneself. Once Man sufficiently establishes this internal hierarchy, they can reflect on appropriately organizing the external world, purging it of unnecessary elements, and overcoming personal limitations. Through the continuous spiritual struggle against his primal instincts, and in accordance with them, man can progressively rejuvenate and transform his existence.

Confronting the eternal struggle against suffering and corruption, "Master and Commander" reminds us that the path to harmony lies in embracing hierarchy within ourselves, navigating the turbulent waters of existence with balanced leadership and a steadfast spirit.


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Evola, Julius. The Hermetic Tradition: Symbols and Teachings of the Royal Art. Inner Traditions International, 1995.

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