Shamanista, mama, elder, metastatic cancer survivor, SoulCollage® facilitator, Sagittarian in the Ophiuchus window, snake clan, scar clan, and a whole lotta other labels that don’t really contain me.
SPOILER ALERT! THIS REVIEW OFFERS SIGNIFICANT DETAIL OF THE STORYLINE OF FROZEN II.
There’s a running joke in my family about how I see everything as “shamanic.” Perhaps there is some validity to this, as we do tend to see everything through the unique lenses we wear, and mine are unapologetically shamanic. I remember reading that the original Frozen offered a theme of homosexuality, and I didn’t resonate with that at all. So apparently the Frozen saga is in part successful because of it’s ability to speak to grown-up people exactly where they are. This review I offer is entirely shamanic.
Shamanism as a practice and a specific role in the community is defined herein as the bridge between the Spirit world and the material world. More than just accessing alternate realms, the shaman acts as an intermediary in service, and often has direct contact with Spirits, ancestral and otherwise. With a distinctly shamanic consciousness the shaman intentionally accesses the Spirit realm for the benefit of the people the shaman is serving.
In Frozen we learn that Elsa is born with an extraordinary gift, water magick really, in the form of ice. She loses her parents as a child (a shamanic initiation of sorts), and isolates herself as a result. This isolation is in part due to her grief, but more so the result of her grief expressing itself through her uncontrolled magick. She has no control of her emotions, and her innate magick is triggered by her emotions. Elsa unintentionally harms those she loves most because she has no self-control. Elsa’s isolation confuses and frustrates her younger sister Anna, who ultimately grows up alone and parentless.
Anna becomes a mirror of the Wounded Healer, with a compassionate, feminine impulse to nurture, to mother her older sister- the heart. But she has an innocence that seems untouched (or perhaps more healed) by the tragedy of being abandoned by both her parents to death at an early age. Elsa, on the other hand, is significantly traumatized by the death of her parents. As the older sister, the one who will inherit the throne, and the one with an uncontrolled and deadly magick, Elsa is significantly missing mentorship, elderhood, direction, and a sense of belonging. She is left to her own in a deep existential crisis- her very existence threatens to annihilate those she loves most. Anna is all she has left, but being Queen, Elsa is charged with a huge task.
In Frozen II we likely see a circular completion of some type of shamanic initiation. The story starts with what appears to be Elsa’s adjustment to life as Queen. She’s obviously tamed her magick to the degree that she can serve and not cause harm to others. All is well in Arendelle.
But this is quickly challenged as Elsa begins to hear a distant voice. This ‘siren’ who sings to her is persistent and mysterious, and ashamed and confused, Elsa doesn’t tell Anna of what she hears. This singing siren overcomes Elsa to the degree that she can no longer resist the call. By all modern standards Elsa would be diagnosed with some form of psychosis, and her abandon of her responsibility as Queen of Arendelle in order to chase the call heard by no one else might also be diagnosed as an acute manic phase of bipolar disorder. Awoken to the siren’s call and knowing no one else but she hears it, Elsa sings this song as she leaves her sleeping sister behind and forges ahead totally alone into possibly an altered state of consciousness:
(By the way, the lovely and sublimely shamanic individual Aurora offers her vocals to the F2 track as she did for Disney’s Dumbo as well).
It is in this altered state, this psychedelic reality, that Elsa experiences the imagery that will also guide her forward. This imagery comes in the form of symbols- elemental symbols. Symbols are a significant aspect of expressing the unconscious and according to Jung join us all in the vast river of the Collective Unconscious. Armed with these sacred symbols and unable to ignore the persistent siren’s call, Elsa decides to follow the enchanting voice until she locates its' source. A treacherous Hero’s Journey ensues. Voices and imagery that no one else sees or hears, an obsessive compulsion to run headlong into danger- yep, by all psychiatric standards we’d diagnose Elsa with a significant psychotic disorder (likely Schizoaffective, Bipolar Type). It's not uncommon in contemporary, non-animistic cultures to define 'shamanic behavior' through a lens of mental illness.
Accompanied by Anna, her Wounded Healer twin flame, Anna’s hopeless sidekick version of Simon the Cyrene, Kristoff, his faithful companion Sven the reindeer, and the magickal snowman that everyone loves, Olaf, Elsa uses her intuition and magick to break through the cursed fog wall to get into this mysterious and dangerous forest that she has known since childhood was off-limits. Upon entering the crew encounter an indigenous people who are deeply connected to the land and their own story. These people of fictional Northuldra, the area north of (fictional) Arendelle are likely representative of the Sami people, who are real-life animistic/shamanistic indigenous reindeer herders of Northern Scandinavia. Disney reportedly was sensitive to the cultural appropriation issues this time around. Interestingly, Kristoff’s clothing in both Frozen and Frozen II lends itself to traditional Sami attire. The crew also encounter a group of Arendellian soldiers, people who have justly and faithfully defended the only people and life Elsa and her crew have ever known- even with swords and to the point of death. A bit of history outlining the animosity between the Northuldrans and the Arendellians ensues and we quickly see the familiar trespass of the colonialist agenda against a native people.
In a magickal encounter in the cursed forest Elsa discovers many Spirits. The four elemental Spirits play an important role. Elsa comes to interact with the unique personalities of each of the Spirits of air, fire, water, and earth. The very basis of shamanism is working with Spirits. Elsa’s command of ice (water, which we are reminded a few times in F2 holds a memory) is evident. She even rides Nokk, a mythical and shapeshifting water horse. And she seemingly without fear rushes in to tame the out of control fire Spirit, which true to the elementals, is in the form of a salamander. That leaves air and earth, which Elsa also encounters. The earth Spirits are giants and she and then later Anna use them rather effectively to carry out a Frodo-and-the-ring kind of mission that becomes clear as the story unfolds. But there’s a mysterious fifth element that presents itself from that unconscious, pre-knowing place. It exists only in imagery, and it haunts Elsa after she discovers that the four symbols represent the four elementals. This mysterious fifth element is at the center, the one that holds them all in place.
And again, guided exclusively by a singing voice only she and now the tamed fire Spirit can hear, Elsa presses on through dense forest and unusual Spirts, always guided by the siren’s call. It’s interesting that of all the elemental Spirits it is the tamed fire Spirit now in her pocket (the antidote to her potential trigger, which could result in her uncontrolled magick, wherein she uses water to solidify/freeze people into stone like Medusa). Indeed, much of sorcery begins as uncontrolled unconsciousness. But Elsa clearly exhibits more self-mastery in Frozen II, although her magick occasionally does spontaneously produce some further clues to aid her in this quest to find the source of the haunting song. Anna is not happy that Elsa rushes headlong into danger, as she did when she was taming the fire Spirit. But it appears that in Spirit Elsa finds companionship. While Anna displays unyielding love and commitment, which Elsa needs to carry out her mission, the Spirits understand her in ways the ordinary human cannot. This too is the essence of shamanism- when ‘home’ is felt equally or moreso with Spirit than with the corporeal.
Elsa soon rids herself of Anna and presses on alone- a necessary separation. It becomes clear that the song is coming from Ahtohallan, an uninhabited, dark, and icy island across the Dark Sea. Elsa’s biggest challenge yet- she must cross this Dark Sea alone to get to this dark and mysterious island to uncover the source of this haunting invitation. She is warned by memory of a song her mother sang to her as a young girl, and also by the Northuldran people that she must be careful not to drown at this dangerous island.
Once she arrives at Ahtohallan, Elsa does what she does, and catharts her innermost process through song:
While on the small island Elsa discovers the siren’s song is that of her deceased mother. She is happy to gain a deeper sense of who she is, which has been strengthening throughout the journey. Ancestral healing, bridging of realms, and continual work with the support of ancestors is also a staple of shamanism. So we are seeing a theme that is consistent with shamanic initiation and practice. While at Ahtohallan Elsa encounters a deep darkness, an abyss that challenges her in, and she accepts without hesitation. This is the pivotal moment of shamanic initiation- the moment when death and resurrection is imminent. A true shamanic initiation on every level of the thing. This always happens in darkness, in the deepest pit, the underworld. No one but the initiate can attest to it. All the while the Wounded Healer (the twin flame) is simultaneously experiencing her own darkness in the form of a deep cave- again, the cave is so archetypally figurative of the shaman (Michael Harner has a book titled Cave and Cosmos, Sandra Ingerman has a YouTube series with Renee Baribeau called The Shaman’s Cave). This too is an initiation, the moment the wounded becomes the healer. Just as Elsa’s initiation sets her path, Anna’s equally sets her own. Both sisters are irrevocably changed. As Anna gets the courage to come out of the depths of the cave, alone and facing a bleak future, she sings her way out:
Let us not forget that Anna has had a long history of death initiation herself. But the sisters, while separate and unique in their personalities and behaviors, are also entwined in a symbiotic way. They are like two halves of a shamanic whole- the mage and the wounded healer. Without the compassion of the wounded healer, the mage is not the shaman, but the sorcerer. This is evidenced by Elsa’s grandfather, King Runeard, who in a vision Elsa hears saying, “Magic makes people feel too powerful... too entitled. It makes them think they can defy the will of a king!” It’s his reason for not trusting the Northuldran people, who know magick and immediately identify Elsa’s ‘gifts’ as such. So Elsa needs Anna as the other half of the shamanic equation. And likewise, Anna is the Samwise Gamgee to Frodo. Anna equally needs Elsa so that she can fulfill her role.
Yet, emerging from the cave alone Anna is clear what she needs to do. All of Arendelle stands in the path. Stepping into her own power, Anna shows she is ready for the leadership role that awaits her. In the third act, without expectation Elsa suddenly emerges and comes to the aid of Anna and all of Arendelle. Anna attributes the saving of Arendelle to Elsa, but Elsa reminds Anna that she too did a great work and that while Elsa may have saved Arendelle, Anna saved Northuldra. Elsa then tells Anna that they together are a bridge- another shamanic reference, as the shaman is considered the bridge between the Spirit world and the material world. In this case it is not just Elsa who is the bridge between the worlds, and Anna who is a bridge with her sister, but together they are a bridge between the past and the present, and between two cultures of people who held a lot of animosity and distrust towards one another. Together they potentially bring multi-leveled healing. And it's interesting that the storyline has Anna serving in Arendelle while Elsa retreats to the Enchanted Forest to live among the Northuldran people- the indigenous, animistic people who understand magick.
While some may not see the clear connection with shamanic initiation in Elsa and Anna's combined stories, one thing is clear about F2: it is full of magick, Spirits, working with Spirits and allying with them, curses and clearing them, ancestral inheritance and clearing, bridging, and animistic, indigenous culture.
A Note About Elsa’s Sexual Orientation
Because Frozen II fits the classic Hero’s Journey it’s not hard to understand why so many people can relate to the story and the storyline is resonant with such diverse subcultures. It’s common knowledge in modern shamanic culture that throughout history many cultures have embraced the queerness of their shamans, including homosexuality and transgenderism. So it's not as if Elsa is a lesbian and not a shaman, because these aspects of experience and identity are distinct, but they can overlap too and may share a closer relationship (correlation) than other overlapping characteristics. I’m not certain why the LGBTQ community believes Elsa to be a lesbian, as I don’t relate to the story through those lenses. But I would assume that it’s in part due to Elsa’s differentness (queerness), her magickal powers serving as an allegory for non-heterosexual identity. I would also assume it’s because Elsa shows little (if any) interest in men. Neither of these characteristics change in Frozen II. However, it does seem a bit of a stretch to assume magickal powers are allegorical for sexual orientation. I tend to assume that things are as they clearly are in this case- Elsa was born with magickal powers and she has spent her entire life up to our entry into her story learning how to tame them, how to have self-control, and how to wield that kind of power consciously. For many people on a path towards shamanic service the path can be incredibly intense and demanding. It can be like a priesthood of sorts, requiring an unwavering focus. Deep inner work like this can become distracted and derailed by complicated intimate relationships, and we see Elsa even withdrawing frequently from Anna. So I tend to see Elsa not as a lesbian, but as a shamanic individual on an intense path potentially leading to shamanic service. As royalty she's already been conditioned to know her role in life is to be of service, and her magickal ability only defines this service more clearly. The idea of Elsa being a lesbian is not entirely denied by the Directors of F2, but it’s not supported either. Either way, if Elsa is a lesbian this potentially only adds to the likelihood she's a shamanic individual.
Relevant Interesting Facts
There are a few things I’d like to point out about Frozen II, which inform the idea that Elsa and Anna are both shamanic individuals.
First, there is a Norse myth about 'giants', the jötnar. But in particular there is an Icelandic myth that giant trolls would come out of the mountains to hunt at night, and when they were caught by the sun they were turned into stone. The earth Spirits in F2 are giant, grumpy, stony beings. There are several Icelandic stony monuments that legend says were trolls caught by sunlight. And in F2 we know the Northuldra people are known as the “people of the sun.” We also know the Northuldra people represent the Sami people, and recent archaeological discoveries of Iceland suggest the Sami were the first settlers in Iceland. Likewise, the sun’s warmth will melt ice and Elsa, who is the ‘Snow Queen’, just might benefit from leaning into her Northuldran lineage. The Sami, like may animistic, indigenous cultures, have a rich shamanistic tradition. The Sami people are also known for yoiking, which is their unique cultural way of singing. Here are two distinct types of yoiking.
It’s also interesting to note that the Frozen graphical title was all ice, while the Frozen II title seems to be more stony in quality. Perhaps Elsa is getting more earthy? Perhaps she is thawing out? I would be excited to see what a Frozen III might reveal about Elsa's transmutation and continued development.
The graphic for Frozen II is clearly not a snowflake, as universally snowflakes are six-pointed. All the snowflakes appearing in Frozen were six-pointed. The graphic for F2 shares a striking resemblance to the Vegvisir, the Icelandic/Viking Runic compass. The Huld manuscript indicates of the Vegvisir, "If this sign is carried, one will never lose one’s way in storms or bad weather, even when the way is not known." The new symbol for F2 looks like a snowflake at first glance, but contains the unique symbols in each of its quadrants (themes of 4). This symbol has multiple representations of 4, and has 8 points, not six. Obviously each of the 4 symbols represents one of the 4 elements. Some have theorized that the inner design of the 4 elemental symbols can be loosely translated from the Elder Futhark Runes. Symbols often have similarities across cultures, or as in the case of the swastika, can be appropriated and overlaid with entirely different meanings. One intriguing aspect is that the diamond-in-diamond symbol closely resembles the Native American symbol for the medicine man.