Avatar, The Last Airbender: A Critique

By Marcia Montenegro
First written March-July, 2007 (page 1 of 2)

"Avatar, the Last Airbender" is a television series that first appeared on a popular children's channel. It is also a video game and is available in video stores. Aang, a child Avatar (term explained below), is an airbender – he has paranormal powers over the air element. His quest is to learn how to master the other elements, earth, water, and fire, so that he can bring the four nations (each associated with one of the four elements) back in harmony (they were put out of harmony by the Fire Nation, which went on the attack).

This article is divided into three parts: Part one is an observation of the material on the Avatar Website, with comments. Part two is an evaluation of several episodes of the Avatar cartoon from the DVD, "Avatar, Book 2: Earth, Volume 1." Part three gives conclusions. The comments, evaluation, and conclusions are based on a Christian perspective. This assessment was made because there are specific spiritual dimensions to the Avatar program, and Christians are mandated to evaluate such spiritual data and claims. Note: When occult magic is referred to, it will be spelled "magick."

Brief Summary: Both the Avatar website and the Avatar episodes support belief in reincarnation, the use of occult magick, paranormal mastery over the elements, contact with the spirit world (spiritism), and the worship of spirits/gods.
 

Part One: The Avatar Website

Below are 10 observations based on the Avatar website at http://tinyurl.com/nf2be.  Click on "For a full summary" on the home page to access the information being referred to (as of May 31, 2007, this information was on the website).

Avatar: The term "Avatar" is a Sanskrit term meaning "descent." It is used in Hinduism to describe the incarnation of a Hindu deity, usually the god Vishnu, who visits earth to help humanity at a crisis point. Vishnu has allegedly appeared nine times in various guises (including as the Buddha) throughout history, and will come again. However, the term "avatar" has migrated into popular alternative spiritualities and usually describes a spiritually advanced being that comes to earth to guide people, sometimes without the need for birth; the Avatar merely incarnates at will as an adult. ("Avatar" is also used to designate a computerized personal image used for online identification, no doubt deriving from the original meaning of incarnation). The "Avatar" cartoon features a child Avatar named Aang.

Observation 1: The nations are divided into four groups and named for the four elements - water, earth, air, and fire.

Comment: The four elements are an integral part of occult practices such as astrology, modern Witchcraft, magick, and several others. Merely having the nations represent the four elements is not in and of itself necessarily a concern. However, combining this fact with other aspects of the series ties it into an occult worldview.

Observation 2: The Avatar website states this:

"Within each nation, there is a remarkable order of men and women called
the "benders" who can learn to harness their inborn talent and manipulate
their native element. Bending is a powerful form combining martial art and
elemental magic."

Comment: A common definition for ritual or ceremonial magick (occult magic) is "to
bend reality to one's will" so the term "bender" here certainly evokes that concept. According to the website, these people "manipulate their native element" using martial arts and "elemental magic." This means they are engaging in magick. The term "elemental magic" is actually used in occult magickal practices, usually to designate the spirits, deities, or energies of the elements being summoned or invoked in magick. These spirits, or deities or energies of these elements (often called "elementals"), are summoned in order to serve or be used by the occult practitioner who is invoking them.

Observation 3: A Dec. 1st episode was called "The Guru." A "guru" is a Hindu spiritual teacher for people seeking enlightenment. Part of the summary of that show states, "Aang receives guidance from Guru Pathik at the Eastern Air
Temple."

Comment: The hero is receiving guidance from this guru, clearly indicating that such guidance is helpful and to be sought out. Gurus are not fantasy figures but exist today, especially as part of Hindu beliefs. In 1980, I read an autobiography by Yogananda, a guru who came to the U.S. and died in the late 40's. I was very influenced by his book, Autobiography of a Yogi, which is still in print, by the way. Many of my friends were followers of various gurus such as Muktananda, Rajneesh, Sai Baba, Da Free John, Maharishi, and others.

Observation 4: The website states:

"Starting with the mastery of his or her native element, the Avatar learns
to bend all four elements. Throughout the ages, the countless incarnations
of the Avatar have served to keep the four nations in harmony."

Comment: The Avatar masters all four elements through using paranormal means, i.e., magick. This also mentions "countless incarnations." The Avatar episodes clearly teach a belief in reincarnation as there are repeated references to Aang's previous lives.

Observation 5: The website states:

"Aang is the last airbender; the world is depending on him to save their
planet. Aang woke up from an one hundred year sleep when Katara and Sokka
came and found him inside an iceberg. Aang is just a kid and he must do
everything he can to save the world. Aang is the last airbender and he must
do what he can to save his new home, Earth and the world around him."

Comment: Aang is an Avatar and must save the world. This is what Avatars do according to Hindu teachings.

Observation 6: About halfway down the website is the heading "The Spirit World" which states this:
"Beyond the Avatar world, a totally different universe, called the spirit
world, exists. Inside the spirit world, the spirits can see you, but they
are invisible to the human eye, as well as creatures. The Avatar is the
bridge between this world and the real world, and Aang travels to it when he
needs help. Here is a list of some of the spirits we have met so far."

Comment: This is spiritism, contact or communication with spirits, clearly forbidden in God's word in Deut. 18.10,11; Isaiah 8.19, and several other places.

Observation 7: One of the spirits who helps Aang, the child Avatar, is Roku. From the website:
"Avatar Roku is actually a spirit. He and his giant fire-breathing dragon
inhabit this world [i.e., the spirit world], and assist Aang when he's in need. They can either guide him in the right direction, or provide him with valuable information he can
use throughout his journeys."

Comment: Here is further endorsement of spiritism as a good practice.

Observation 8: Here is what the site says about Tui, the "moon spirit:"
"Waterbenders draw their power from this spirit."

Comment: This describes magick as well as invoking a spirit or false god.

Observation 9: This is what the website says about La, the spirit of the ocean: "The water tribe greatly appreciates, and even idolizes, this spirit."

Comment: It sounds like the water tribe worships the spirit La. This makes La a (false) god.

Observation 10: On this page http://tinyurl.com/yvw6xe comments from fans reveal their views of how the Avatar series connects to the real world of animism and the paranormal. These comments were made about the episode "The
Spirit World, (Winter Solstice Part I)."

Comment from fan: "Aang refers to Appa and Avatar Roku's dragon as animal guides. This is a clear reference to familiars, servants of supernatural beings, such as witches and wizards, who were usually animals. Such species were commonly
black cats, snakes, toad or frogs, and owls. Like Avatar animal guides, these creatures usually displayed high intelligence and wisdom almost equal to that of their masters, if not above an average human, despite their animal origin."

Comment from fan: "The giant wooden panda found in the center of the devastation looks similar to some totem poles in northern Native American tribes, or like old shrines dedicated to the kami in the Shinto religion. These carvings were to house a spirit or pay homage to them in some way to keep them from causing trouble."
 

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