You know those people who stand up in sacrament meeting and give a talk or testimony where they basically give a synopsis of a movie you’ve never seen and then attempt to draw all kinds of parallels to gospel truths?
I’m about to be one of those people.
Except that you’re not here to worship and take part in a sacred ordinance. So feel free to find an exit if this isn’t your jam.
On Friday, I became one of the last people on the planet to see Frozen 2. I had the pleasure of sitting next to a darling four-year-old girl who was seeing the film for the fifth time and knew *all* of the songs by heart.
Also, I’m not afraid to admit that seeing this movie was a spiritual experience for me.
This film has a lot going for it: an 80’s Queen/Chicago style ballad, Olaf’s hilarious emo poetic maturity, and a predictably strenuous hero’s (er, heroine’s) journey.
In the end, the movie was, to me, about one thing: the Divine Feminine.
If you’re not comfortable with an open discussion about Heavenly Mother because you a) think that women who preoccupy themselves with such topics have too much time on their hands and/or questionable testimonies or b) think I’m cuckoo-for-cocoa-puffs, then feel free to either a) move on or b) think of this analysis in whatever terms you’re comfortable with.
If you’d like a brief introduction to the beloved doctrine of Heavenly Mother, you may want to read the short gospel topics essay, Mother in Heaven.
I’ve recently been undergoing a spiritual journey of sorts. I described this awakening to one friend as “the MTC of my life.” I know that could mean very different things to different people, so I’ll clarify: my time in the Missionary Training Center was positive, happy, and transformative as so many parts of the gospel seemed to suddenly come together, clicking like pieces of a puzzle to reveal a picture I hadn’t previously seen or understood in its wholeness. It was also a time where despite a dawn-til-long-past-dusk focus on the gospel for six intense weeks, there never seemed to be enough time to study, discuss, or absorb all of the things I wanted to.
I’m right back there now – except that I am also mothering three young children, going to appointments, driving carpool, making dinner (sometimes?), and otherwise occupied by the responsibilities of my current life.
Each early morning and late into the evening I pull out my ridiculously tall stack of scriptures, study materials, and notebooks. I can’t remember the last time I watched something on Netflix. I honestly don’t even care. Obviously I still hit the cinema on occasion when something really calls to me. But more than anything, I am hungry for gospel study, discussion, spiritual understanding, and am noticing symbols of truth everywhere: from my dreams to (apparently) Disney movies.
This is a sea change. For the better part of the past three years, I’ve been in a period of slowly rebuilding foundational beliefs while trudging out of the wasteland of tested faith. But suddenly I seem to have reached a new plane where checklists are gone and I’m actually starving for this stuff. The foundation is laid and I can’t build or scaffold quickly enough.
Initially, I thought, “what is even happening to me?” And now I’m like, “whatever, I’m leaning in.” It’s a good place to be.
There are several things about this current journey I’m on that make it different from previous periods of spiritual saturation in my own life, but one is an undeniable tug to understand more about my identity and purpose specifically as a woman. Along with President Nelson’s call to understand more about our divine power as women, it seems that there is a cultural shift towards exploring these topics more openly. Thankfully.
It’s really a glorious thing to begin to understand and embrace the concept of a loving Mother in Heaven. I’m happy that my spirit, along with a generation of women around me who aren’t afraid to say so, seems more ready to embrace and share some of the truths we are discovering about our rich divine heritage and destiny as daughters of Heavenly Parents.
Frozen 2 opens with young Anna and Elsa’s mother singing to their cherubic faces about a river full of memory where the north wind meets the sea. The lyrics tell us that it’s a river that holds all kinds of answers about Elsa’s identity and power, and ultimately her future path. There’s no need to draw too many conclusions about the unspoken meaning of this river, because by the last verse of the lullaby, she’s referring not to the river holding memories, but a mother holding memories.
The song tells us that the river/mother (called Ahtohallan) sings to those who hear. Elsa is admonished that in order to find these answers – this truth about herself – she will have to overcome fear and hardship. Inherently we know that the river/mother truly exists but is considered by the everyman as inaccessible and the journey to reach her, dangerous. But the song promises that as long as Elsa doesn’t know the truth the river offers, she will never feel completely settled in her identity.
This is true for all of us. Joseph Smith taught, “If men do not comprehend the character of God, they do not comprehend themselves.” It makes sense then, that women especially, feel drawn to know and understand the character of their Divine Mother.
Elsa is told she must dive deep into Ahtohallan to find answers, but there’s also a condition – she must not go too deep, or she’ll drown. Paradoxically, the words of the lullaby reveal to Elsa that when all is lost, all will be found.
And this is just the first song.
This song does a beautiful job not only of providing some stunning imagery and foreshadowing, it seems to make sublime references to the same call to understand feminine identity that I am feeling alongside so many believing women around me. Elsa will find the truth of her power by overcoming some serious opposition to get to and eventually unlock the hidden mystique of Ahtohallan – that majestic and powerful river mother that calls to her in a way that not everyone understands.
Anna and Elsa live among their father’s people in Arendelle. Their paternal line is familiar and well understood, they identify with it. Their mother, Iduna, descends from The Northuldra. The Northuldra, as a people, represent the maternal force, a branch of their heritage that to this point, has been hidden from the daughters’ knowledge and view. The Northuldra are enshrouded in a thick mist – a literal veil that separates them from the rest of the world.
In present-day Arendelle, Elsa begins to hear the siren song of Ahtohallan on the regular. No one around her can hear it, but she can. It is calling to her and she thereby feels called to answer its beckoning. She wants to stay in the comfort of what she knows, the truth of what everyone around her already believes and accepts. She wants to ignore the whispers of Ahtohallan. But she just can’t.
Elsa’s resistance to go beyond what she has already fought to accept (see: Frozen) is real. It runs deep. She has already been through one unrivaled journey, just to understand her place among her father’s people. Now she feels called to seek something more. She wonders if this is just a distraction, but ultimately decides to seek after this voice who might be “someone out there who’s a little bit like [her].”
This is where I think of all of the amazing women around me and on the internet who are actively seeking and sharing truths they find about Heavenly Mother. They hear the call and can’t sit back in the comfort of what is commonly and generally accepted. Perhaps they are a little afraid of what they might be risking if they follow Her voice. But it’s undeniable. They feel called, like Elsa, into the unknown. Embarking on a journey to find Her, we hold onto the little that we have, hoping it will lead to greater knowledge and understanding about ourselves as we come to know Her.
Elsa’s journey begins. She goes beyond everything she’s ever known, following the voice that leads her along.
When she comes to the Dark Sea, which looks cold and foreboding and very much lives up to its name, she uses the gifts she already knows she has to make progress and overcome obstacles. It’s not easy and doesn’t come all at once, but she is diligent and persistent.
At one point Nokk, a horse made of water, appears and it’s clear that Elsa can’t quite figure out what to do with him. Initially, she even seems frightened by this mysterious saving aid. Finally, she recognizes Nokk as an additional gift, tames the horse and he is the very thing that allows her to proceed. To me, this is symbolic of how we are often blind to our own spiritual gifts. They start to manifest themselves and we’re not sure of what to make of them or how to use them. But often they come at just the moment they are needed and when we begin to figure them out, they can make all the difference in aiding our progress.
At last, Elsa arrives at Atohallan.
Elsa is excited. She’s nervous, but she feels the tender comfort of a familiar presence. She begs the source of the voice to show herself. Elsa proclaims that she is ready to learn. As she moves further into the frozen river, Elsa hears her mother’s voice beckon her home, inviting her to step into her power. Ultimately the lesson and truth Elsa seeks are revealed: she herself holds the power she is seeking – it’s within her. As we seek to know and understand the Divine Feminine, I think we also learn this truth. Heavenly Mother is not a mysterious force so much as She is a familiar one, present and manifest in each of her daughters.
In an expression referencing the ultimate female archetype, Mother Eve, Elsa dives deep into the river – not heeding the admonition by her mother in the opening lullaby, but doing what is needed to obtain requisite knowledge for the kingdom to survive and progress. Elsa, in a single act, breaks the law to fulfill the law. Her deep dive into the river helps her discover the truth about herself and how to preserve her people. This action also ultimately results in Elsa’s death. In this moment of juxtaposition and fulfillment, all is lost and all is found.
Elsa communicates to Anna that she is gone. Anna is paralyzed by her deep grief, but despite lost hope and terrifying isolation, follows the whisper in her soul to move forward and just focus on one step at a time. She sings “The Next Right Thing,” which is a song I can’t stop listening to and really want someone to create a beautiful interpretive dance around so I can further bask in its heartbreaking beauty.
When the sisters separate before the final leg of Elsa’s trek to Atohallan, it may seem that Elsa’s journey to follow the feminine voice and understand more of her power, is a solitary one. But Anna finds herself on a journey of her own, with a guiding voice helping her discover her own special gifts of courage and resilience. We don’t know the quality or source of the voice that speaks to Anna, but could she have heard the Divine Feminine calling to her in a different way, speaking to her in a language she could understand? Anna’s journey is different but uniquely important. She digs herself out of the abyss of encompassing grief and makes her way towards the light, listening to the voice within and doing the next right thing.
Speaking not to Anna and Elsa, but to all women, everywhere, President Nelson recently said, “Your personal spiritual endeavor will bring you joy as you gain, understand, and use the power with which you have been endowed.”
The sisters of Frozen 2 individually follow the motherly voice that calls them to develop their specific gifts, find their individual missions, make sacrifices, and ultimately link themselves back to their maternal heritage.
Knowing our Mother may reveal our power, or it might simply give us courage to take the next right step on our unique path. But for all of Her daughters, following the call to truly know our divine maternal heritage will help us know and further understand ourselves.