10 Secret Reasons Why The Avengers Is the Best Superhero Film

According to Boxofficemojo.com, Marvel's The Avengers ranks as the third most successful film of all time with a global haul of $1.5 billion. Rotten Tomatoes notes the alignment of critics (92% approval) and audiences (96%.) Like other epic fantasy franchises at the top of the list -- from Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings to Harry Potter and The Matrix -- The Avengers resonates universally with audiences and critics across the globe because of its exciting reinventions of classical mythology, religious metaphor, and esoteric symbols.

What follows is my attempt to unpack some of these references and describe what I believe to be their cumulative effect: The Avengers is the best superhero film yet made, both in its entertainment level and moral values. Over at the Weekly Standard, Jonathan V. Last and Travis D. Smith can have their debate of Batman vs Spider-Man. The Avengers rise over them both, providing a much richer fantasy for young people to embrace as they begin the journey toward adulthood.

1. The Invigorating "Live to Rise" Theme Song Explicitly Reveals the Film's Hidden Hermetic Goal: Directing the Viewer to Understand Their Life as an Expression of the Rise, Fall, Death, and Resurrection of the Sun.

The lyrics to the new Soundgarden song -- embedded above -- used prominently in the film's advertising and closing credits:

What if all you understand,

Could fit into the center of our hand,

Then you found it wasn't you,

Who held the sum of everything you knew,


Like the sun we will live to rise,

Like the sun we will live and die,

And then ignite again,

Like the sun we will live to rise again,

Dr. Israel Regardie's The One Year Manual: Twelve Steps to Spiritual Enlightenment offers a series of short chapters with practical exercises for improving one's life. The book distills a lifetime's worth of engagement with Hermeticism to transform a spiritual practice cloaked in mystery and confusion into an accessible tool for those of all faith traditions.

The book's exercises involve instruction in prayer, relaxation, rhythmic breathing, meditative ritual, and the development of concentration. Throughout the text Regardie draws from ancient Egyptian, Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and scientific traditions to show how one can plug in any deity and use the book's rituals to help grow closer to one's conception of the Higher Power.

My friend Rob Taylor suggested The One Year Manual to me last December and I experimented with its techniques throughout 2012. I agree with the author that the book's first exercise -- the Four Adorations -- is the most essential and the only one to practice daily, which I do:

In former great ages, man realized intuitively his relationship to nature and to the living universe in which he lived and was a part. He felt his unity with all the elements. In the fullness of his life he worshipped the Sun as a visible symbol of the unknown God in whom we live and move and have our being. It is axiomatic that light is life and both are dependent upon the Sun — which thus becomes a vital symbol of God.

In our modern scientific age of gadgets and things, with our unnatural way of life divorced from contact with the dynamic root of things, we may once more progress towards the full awareness of the source of life and love and liberty, we make ritual gestures of affirming a link between the Sun and ourselves. Upon the basis of these gestures of adoration, every act in life may be dedicated in such a way that living itself becomes sanctified and transformed.

Though God is a unity, the Sun, as a symbol of God, appears differently at each of its four daily stations — dawn, noon, sunset and midnight. Therefore an adoration is directed towards the Sun at each of these four stations.

At dawn, or upon arising, he should perform whatever abulations are customary and then turning towards the East, say audibly:

Hail unto Thee who art Ra in thy rising,

Even unto Thee who art Ra in thy strength,

Who travellest over the Heavens in Thy bark

At the Uprising of the Sun.

Tahuti standeth in His splendour at the prow

And Ra-Hoor abideth at the helm.

Hail unto Thee from the Abodes of the Night!

Much of the symbolism inherent in this simple adoration may be missed by the student for some considerable time. It does not matter just yet. But this should not be permitted to serve as an obstacle to daily practice, nor to deter him from adoring God in the form of the rising Sun every day of his life.

Regardie then explains how the prayer changes at each time of day with different Egyptian gods representing the sun later at noon, sunrise, and night. Here's a hieroglyph depicting the image of the prayer and the deities referenced: Tahuti (Thoth, the ankh,) Ra-Hoor (Horus the Hawk-headed), and the sun deity Ra (the solar disk):

And here's another depiction, reminiscent of Indiana Jones and Raiders of the Lost Ark:

The great value of the "Four Adorations" comes not in the words of the prayer or the Egyptian gods Regardie suggests. Evangelical Christians could just as easily substitute God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. What matters is how the prayer -- adapted from the ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead -- breaks up the idea of God into multiple parts, asserting that individual deities can only express aspects of a Transcendent God existing beyond human comprehension. We can only hold pieces of God in our head at a time.

What if all you understand,

Could fit into the center of our hand,

Then you found it wasn’t you,

Who held the sum of everything you knew,

Here we see the mechanism for the gradual transition from polytheism to monotheism. It's not just a matter of belief in one god versus the worship of many. The revolution came not in the idea of a single deity, but an abstract deity defined not in a single symbol -- like a Golden Calf -- but in the ongoing transformation of one symbol into another. In the Judeo-Christian monotheism that arose out of the polytheism of the Mediterranean world, God was not a Thing. God was the invisible process through which nothing transforms into something. God isn't a man sitting up in the clouds or an animal-headed supernatural being sailing across the sky in a boat. God is the four-fold process we see manifest in the rise of the sun and the turn of the seasons. And the more we worship this process -- Regardie recommends stopping at the same time every day for a moment of reflection and devotion -- the more we can apply it to transform ourselves and our world.

Its with this Hermetic understanding -- God as a process of continual death and resurrection, "Like the sun we will live to rise again," -- that I approach the heroes and villains of The Avengers with the Tarot deck in hand. The cards each represent aspects of this process of transformation. They are not a fortune-telling or future-predicting device any more than the future changes when the individual seeing the cards chooses to respond to the reminder of the values they represent.

The next 8 pages will each focus on the mythological significance of each hero and villain in The Avengers. The conclusion will explore what story pours out after all these elements liquify in the blender of cinema. My apologies for the length -- this is really more of a short ebook rather than a long article. Caveat emptor.

We begin first with the film that carved a space for Marvel at the box office, 2008's Iron Man and its brilliant, capitalist-hero Tony Stark, an exciting reinvention of the suit of Swords (spades in the playing card deck) fueled by a $140 million budget.