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“Lights” is the newest music video from the phenomenally popular South Korean K-pop group, BTS. Its main theme is the question “What is love?” to which there is a response: “your Light lights the way for me . . . no matter how far apart we are.” If you haven’t heard of BTS you are probably over 25. Please scroll to the bottom for more background on who they are. 

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L-R: V/Kim Tae-hyung, Suga/Min Joon-gi, Jin/Kim Seok-jin, RM/Kim Nam-joon, JHope/Jung Ho-seok. Bottom: JK/Jungkook/Jeon Jeong-Guk, Jimin/Park Ji-min.

In addition to expressing their extraordinary talents, highly developed skills, and social consciousness, their works are filled with heart-felt messages mixed with complex symbolism that I appreciate based on my over 50 years as a Jungian-based tarot reader and symbol interpreter. 

As others have noted there are so many levels of meaning to the song and video “Lights.” If you can’t see the English subtitles in the video, be sure to turn on CC (closed caption). Please watch.

Whether consciously intended or not, the movie theatre depicts Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. Only instead of viewing reflections on the wall we have the modern analogy of viewing a film being projected. UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_5c41This leads to the question: What is Reality? Plato said we are limited to perceiving existence through our senses, which can easily be misled.

The Allegory of the Cave

In Plato’s allegory, prisoners are chained in a cave so they only see images projected on a wall formed by statues moved in front of a fire, and they hear only echos from sounds made by those moving the statues. They think these illusions are reality. One of the prisoners escapes and, coming out of the cave, first perceives reality as shadows, then as reflections in a pool, then stars and moon, and finally the sun. This is the role of the philosopher who must subsequently return to the cave to free the other prisoners. Unfortunately, as his eyes are now accustomed to the sun, the philosopher can’t see in the dim light of the cave, so the other prisoners think his explanation of the true reality is crazy and kill him. This video presents a more hopeful view of humanity connected through sound and light internalized.

In the movie video, the youngest BTS member, JK/Jungkook goes to the theatre where he finds himself alone. Others arrive in the lobby but on the way to the screening room seem caught in a time freeze. Jin (the oldest member of BTS) is the only one who can walk through this frozen timescape. He seems, like Plato, aware of some overriding reality and may be a stand-in for the Philosopher-King, Bang Si-hyuk, head of their management company. V looks for a way into the theatre which he finds only when Jimin shows the way through a wall which opens into a ray of light. In the theatre, JK turns and looks into the light of the projector. He leaves the theatre but outside he is immediately frozen in place—unable, perhaps, to grasp the exterior light of reality. V joins him and is likewise frozen. Cut to JK asleep in the theatre with the other members where Jin wakes him. Outside again, Jimin “walk[s] forward without fear,” knocking both V and JK awake. The boys in the theatre watch this scene on the screen. Later we see all but one of the boys lying in a circle in a parking lot. Only one of the members, Suga/Min Yoongi, is “sleepless,” separate from the others where he realizes that the lights and connections are not lies, “They made me stronger.” As his eyes adjust to a greater reality he sees past the shadows, to the stars. (Are these Plato’s steps to the sun’s “reality”consciousness or are they the ‘light bombs’ waved by fans in concerts?) All the members return to the theatre to watch the film that now shows them running outside in the parking lot lit by street lamps (a new light in the darkness). It seems that even when they close their eyes they can see the light that is the true light connecting them. Jungkook, who initially entered the theatre alone, could represent the ‘personal us’ who must be “woke” to the reality not only of Plato’s starlight and eventually the sun, but, heartened by RM, to the sustaining connection with others.

Other Levels of Meaning

1. What ARMY means to BTS. On its surface this is an uplifting love song by BTS to their millions of fans, known by the initials A.R.M.Y., in deep appreciation for their love and making it all happen. BTS acknowledges, with every award and in their social media commentaries, that their achievements are due primarily to ARMY. “No matter how far apart we are, your light shines on me. . . . We are connected.” Even when the members of BTS are ill or tired, they can continue to grow and perform for the sake of ARMY.

2. What BTS means to their fans, ARMY. Many of the song’s lyrics seem taken directly from comments by fans, quoted by BTS members as what has touched them most: “I feel sick [of it/reality], helpless right now. . . [Then] I hear your voice.” “When I close my eyes, in the darkness your light lights the way for me.” In the song, JHope seems to speak the words of those deeply affected by BTS: “I want to face my loneliness and color my reality, losing and gaining, pursuing something every day.” Fans are heartened by BTS’s reaction to bullying, mistakes, stress, social inequality: “I believe things will change. No one is perfect. . . . Even this moment has its own meaning . . . we are connected by sound.” One of the founding principles of the group was that the youth of today need “a hero who can lend them a shoulder to lean on.”

3. What each of the boys mean to each other. As the person singing changes (watch the lyrics video to see who is singing what), I hear the words as a conversation in which they voice projected concerns about their future (eventual disbanding as they face required military service) as well as reassurances that they will always be connected to each other no matter how far apart. Will this phase of their life seem like a dream later on? How do their BTS personas fit in relation to both an earlier and later life of each of them? Their leader, RM walks toward the inside light, “I can see there’s light inside that will overcome even the future. . . . Everyday take a step to grow up.” He seems to show the way through future crises (spilled popcorn and movie ticket confetti). 

With these three items we see BTS, ARMY and the members of BTS all connected by sound (matter) transmuted to a psycho-spiritual light for them to follow through the darkness (the unknown, sadness, depression, etc.). These themes apply equally to each of us: what keeps us moving ahead despite social constrictions, mistakes and troubled emotions? What do we gain from our inner journeys and reflections?

The Maknae

4. What the Maknae (youngest members) mean to each other: L-R: Park Jimin, Kim Taehyung, Jeon Jungkook.

hugs

In the music video they are presented as a triad with Jimin as a catalytic particle, opening hidden doorways and waking Jungkook back into time/space. In countless fan videos the “skinship” (hugging, touching, etc.) of these three is minutely documented looking for evidence of their real relationship(s). By featuring the puppy-dog playfulness of these three the movie video producers are making the most of these fan-tasies. Jimin may represent compassion as the way past limitations that block or freeze us. But, is this just their public personas—simple fan service or a manufactured entertainment drama—confusing and fulfilling the dreams of fans? The fan service among the three is explicitly apparent in this concert video in Japan, deliberately enticing the crowd to go wild.

In ultra-conservative South Korea it seems unlikely that any LGBTQ pairings in mainstream idol-dom will be able to declare their love, even though BTS is outspoken in its support of the LGBTQ community. Is BTS speaking to this when they say: “Let us walk forward without fear, you and I”?

Mikrokosmos

5. What Carl Jung’s concept of the unconscious—symbolized by the watery film projection at the beginning—says about how we individuate: to live life awake versus asleep. Here we see them exploring the unconscious/dream world or “liminal” [threshold] state via the projections of others onto their public masks/personas. How do we move past the money ATM machine and the theatre of idol-dom to cross a greater threshold to spreading the light of knowing and loving our true Self and being truly open to loving others? Remembering, “It’s okay sometimes to show weakness. It’s okay to be you.” In their last album, Map of the Soul: Persona they began a depiction of the path of individuation and we are invited to share their journey via social media in a way never experienced before. It is believed that there will be more albums based on Jung’s ideas in the future.

6. What the Time/Space continuum of quantum physics and/or multiple/parallel universes of String Theory means to us as individuals. This is depicted by time stopping for some of the group while others move outside of frozen time. They also seem to be jumping back and forth in time (time may be an illusion anyway). We all live in parallel, entangled universes. Just so are sound, song, and music a world-wide entanglement force from whence we may be “woke” to the Light. We are wave AND particle, sound and light, matter and spirit, individual and connected.

These last two items form a modern psychomyth based on Plato’s tale – a cinematic drama for our time. We also see an evolution in BTS since 2013 with their focus on the stresses of youth and the all-too-real generational barriers, then moving on to a broader themes of mental health and “Love Yourself,” and then to the “Mikrokosmos” of Map of the Soul, and now are standing at a threshold where we are all part of a connected universe—lights in an infinite web. “Mikrokosmos” is one of the most uplifting songs you can possibly imagine, featuring an early hymn to the same Lights and sung at the closing of all their concerts this year (watch it also on fancam from the Los Angeles Rose Bowl, see especially 8:35 where the crowd goes wild as Jungkook comforts a crying Jimin). Here are the lyrics and who sings them:

Additional Symbolism

Much of the symbolism appears in earlier videos and enlarges on those themes (search youtube and twitter for more), but here are a few things to note:

  • The story connects with the AU (alternate reality storyline(s) found in the many other music videos they’ve produced) – not covered here.
  • The theatre is the same as the one in “Boy With Love” – but they are now inside (psychological interior). Direct image references to Wings and Love Yourself albums (among others).
  • Outside the theatre: Stars = ARMY light bombs = guidance systems. Lines on ground in parking lot = directions in space/time.
  • Projector = projections. Being underwater = in the unconscious.
  • Sound & Light –
    • Video and performance require both. “To create sound waves, light must interact with a medium. This medium must be large enough to propagate the waves over any great distance.” George Talon on Quora.
    • “The relationship between sound and light is like sea and earth. Sound is the various waves of sine wave signals, and it arrives to human ears like the wave of ocean hit the shore. Light is also a form of wave that is visible on human eyes, and brings life on every creatures on the earth.” Syd Crimston on Quora.
    • “Sound and light are similar in that both are forms of energy that travel in waves. They both have properties of wavelength, freqency and amplitude. Here are some differences:
      • Sound can only travel through a medium (substance) while light can travel through empty space.
      • Sound is a form of mechanical energy caused by vibrations of matter. Light is electromagnetic energy caused by interacting electric and magnetic fields. 
      • A light wave is a transverse wave, meaning that its displacement is perpendicular to its direction of travel. (Picture a sine wave or an ocean wave.) A sound wave is a longitudinal wave, meaning that its displacement is the direction it travels. It’s also called a compression wave. Picture a Slinky toy (spring) being stretched and compressed longitudinally.
      • Light travels much faster than sound. It travels at a speed of about 300 million meters per second, while sound travels at about 340 meters per second depending on altitude and air temperature.”

About BTS

Something special happened when Bang Si-hyuk handed the keys to their own future to the six youths who formed a group around the genius 16 year old rapper, RM/Kim Namjoon. Bang looked for talented boys who were self-motivated and gave them an unheard of amount of independence and creative input, plus a lot of his criticism. Their singing, rapping and dancing as well as staging are all outstanding. Winning awards around the world, while singing in Korean, their songs are upbeat, inspiring and socially conscious.

I first became interested as they based their last album, Maps of the Soul: Persona, on the concepts of Carl Jung and an earlier album referencing Herman Hesse’s Demian. The use of symbolism and social commentary in their videos is matched by their deep compassion and love for self, each other and fans (known as ARMY). Currently ranging in age from 21-26, these seven young men have lived together 24-7 for seven or more years. They write most of their own lyrics, produce solo material, and share their lives through social media to an extent never seen before. They’ve spoken before the U.N. and were featured on the cover of Time magazine as one of the “100 Most Influential People in the World” (with twice the number of votes as any other person). They just completed a world tour of the U.S., London, Paris, Sao Paulo, and Japan, performing to 15 sold-out audiences in the world’s largest stadiums. You might have seen them perform on scores of TV shows this year in the US. If you want to know more, I recommend the “CBS report on BTS’s phenomenal rise to fame “, and Vox’s “The key to BTS’s success: emotional resonance, sincerity, and an ARMY of fans”.

P.S. My dream is to someday do a Jungian Tarot reading with Kim Namjoon.

Added: Besides Bangtan Boy Scouts, BTS also stands for Beyond the Scene. Here’s the ‘behind the scene’ video for Lights through which you can get a little sense of their individual personalities.

This tarot reading addresses a particular piece of music and its composer/lyricist, however it is not necessary to be familiar with the work. I wrote the article to demonstrate how tarot cards can add insight and dimension to any project or experience. It helps you think outside the box and consider the deeper significance, inner ramifications and choices available in any situation. I originally intended to read from a Jungian point of view, but, lacking a dialog with Agust D regarding what he sees in the tarot images, that seemed overly invasive and not respectful. I truly want this to be an honoring of this amazing rap artist, while trying to understand more deeply what he is expressing in Korean but that I hear only in translation (yet isn’t everything a translation and projection?). I will be addressing the reading directly to the public voice (Persona) in this piece.

In doing this kind of reading, spread position meanings are derived completely from the situation itself and can specify particular things you want to examine or they can be open-ended like, “7 Things  I Need to Know” (or to include or to consider). Try it for examining a dream, a text, a project or a life situation.

c6%pjwDCQs6zAwQEXXdZVA_thumb_59f0In this primarily-solo rap album Min Yoongi (BTS stage name Suga) is showing one of the many sides of himself—songwriter and soloist Agust D (which is the reversed spelling of DT (Daegu-Town) SUGA. The album speaks primarily of his painful yet determined evolution from small-town rapper to international idol.

In an autobiographical storyline, Min Yoongi, from a poor family in Daegu, South Korea, leaves home to get into the music business in Seoul. He describes the hardships he goes through after leaving behind the “fried rappers” to become a pop idol: “I slept less and moved more than all of you.” (Even now he describes his days as eat, sleep, work.) In the process the hometown “Min Yoongi” dies off as these other Personas are born. (Persona is a Jungian term for the social mask(s) one wears in order to fit in.) However, in finding success he discovers that “behind the famous idol rapper stands my weak self / it’s a little dangerous” and he wonders, while admitting to contemplating suicide, if the depressed, compulsive self is “the real me.”

[The members of the K-pop group, BTS, have been very outspoken about their emotional anxieties, depression, fears and failures in an effort to bring self-understanding and love to South Korea’s highly-pressured and suicide-prone youth. BTS are also very much into the psychology of Carl Jung.]

If the rap at the beginning is too heavy for you, jump to minute 15:37 or later as the storyline evolves (but you’ll miss how it all develops).

I created the spread positions after listening to the album for the first time, using the themes and refrains that stuck with me most. For instance, Agust D says, “I always prepare two masks” — so I started with two Personas. I drew the cards, then went back to the album to pick up quotes and refine my initial interpretations. [From this point on I’ll address most of my comments directly to Agust D/Suga/Yoongi with a few clarifications for my readership.

The question to the Tarot is, “What do I, Agust D, most need to know?”

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1-Persona: Agust D – 4 of Wands

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_mini_3654This card, depicting a harvest celebration, is about completion. It could show both an arriving and a leaving. We see the fruits of one’s labor and people dancing and welcoming on the far side of a gateway. Doing this album is a completion of a cycle, a rite of passage for Agust D. You are stepping over a threshold into a wider world of success and recognition (welcomed with laurels by the fan group, ARMY) but not before looking back at your roots. Agust D is the role you assume when doing the album that is a compilation of your rap name and your BTS name. The 4 of Wands declares it to be a transition piece, just as the name you used is a transition name. As a four it suggests establishing a firm base for future creative (Wands) endeavors.


2-Persona: Suga – 9 of Wands

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_mini_365d.jpg[Suga is his BTS stage name.] On this card we see suspicion, weariness and the expectation of difficulties from the “haters”.
“I show the defensive side, hiding my true self.” But, like an old soldier, there’s also strength of character developed through training and discipline.
As a nine (which refers to the 9-Hermit card) you find that independence of thinking can be isolating, but it also yields the courage to stand up for your beliefs and convictions. The head bandage indicates your past wounding that you carry with you, even in the Suga Persona. It is Suga who admits “My address is idol, I won’t deny it.” Being an idol brings with it a lot of attacks along with the responsibility of those depending on you.


3-Dream: 6 of Pentacles reversed

unadjustednonraw_thumb_362b.jpgThe 6 of Pentacles depicts the “haves” and the “have nots.” The Dream is the achievement of the seemingly impossible and that all the hardships, represented by the beggars, will be over. “It sucks to not know what to do with your life.” Given the card’s reversal, instead of being content with a little, the Dream is about imagining the improbable and going for it. There is an early refrain of, “Give it to me – money, fame, anything’s alright.” So the card refers to reversing one’s fortunes, to not be a beggar at life’s table. Near the end of the album you directly speak to Dream in a formal prayer/invocation style: “Dream, May you be treated warmly wherever you may be. May you be in full bloom at the end of these hardships.” Dream responds in kind, ending with, “I will be with you at the birth and end of your life. Your beginnings are humble, so may your future be prosperous.”
Also, this card may refer to giving away the album for free.


4-The Piano: Queen of Swords reversed

unadjustednonraw_thumb_3623.jpg[This position actually refers to a separate Suga solo piece: “First Love,” in which he names a brown piano as his childhood companion. it is alluded to late in this album but occurred to me right away as I was planning the spread positions.]
When upright, the Queen of Swords is the divorced or widowed woman. When reversed she indicates ‘No judgment’. Thus the piano represents unconditional acceptance. So, this reversal says that you can never divorce the piano (or the music), and it won’t leave you. It’s the place where you can let your guard down. With the piano you can control grief and resist sorrow. Being reversed the woman appears to look into the past and so points to childhood’s mother issues. It might reference the rejection of your dream by your parents as part of what has made you you.


5-“So Far Away”: 7 of Wands reversed

unadjustednonraw_mini_365b.jpgThis is a repeating phrase referring back to the dream. When upright the card is about overcoming the odds against you as the man fends off the objections of others with his stick; when reversed it is turned more inward. Focusing all your energy on developing your talent you originally cut yourself off from home and developed a social phobia as a way to fend off disapproval of your choices and poverty. Barricades allow time and space for reflection, but “my arrows miss the target of human connection.” Despite “the wall I built in front of myself,” you cry, “Don’t abandon me.” Connection is not as far as it seems. Anger and aggression can be overcompensation for perceived vulnerability. Perhaps it’s time to tear down the walls that keep you far away. As the title/theme of the final song it strikes a positive note heralding the removal of defenses, walls, and barriers between people. It may also indicate how far you’ve already come from the negativity of those who thought your dreams were crazy.


6-Greed: The Chariot

sgwyhe3krscum7zsxyteyw_thumb_366b.jpgYour desire to make it big was a kind of greed that got you moving. “I thought I better get out of Daegu.” Greed is like a vehicle you ride to success. Greed is also the charioteer: “The greed that . . . devours and sometimes collars me.” “Hungry for money” to pay for classes and living expenses (10 people living in 2-rooms) you got a delivery job–running non-stop from dawn to dusk. The Chariot suggests the real greed is for victory, mastery. It becomes the vehicle to one’s destiny. The armor worn by the charioteer is like the masks worn to protect your most vulnerable self. In a delivery accident you crushed your shoulder, seen as the moons on the shoulders of the Chariot. You told no one so as not to be dropped, proclaiming instead, “See me in one year . . . on TV.”


7-Real Success: 6 of Wands reversed

unadjustednonraw_mini_3651.jpgUpright we see a leader and his followers. The reversal of this card of leadership and success seems to point to a holding back from taking on these roles in BTS. Agust D/Suga may have the potential to be a front-line dancer and to perfect singing skills. But you have chosen mostly not to step into leadership roles. Is this from weakness or is it a path chosen in order to focus and develop other parts of yourself like supportive producing skills? It’s been said that you don’t push for bigger parts in the BTS songs so I tend to think it’s the latter. We see fear of the success that greed brings, “The monster named success that I traded my youth for, he wants more wealth.” This card suggests that true success is not found in rising from the bottom to the top. You might be asking, “How is success like a Trojan Horse, how is it transitory or ultimately defeating?”


8-Depression and Loneliness: 8 of Swords

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_3640.jpgLike the figure who is bound and blindfolded, the big question here is “How does this tie you up and hamper your progress?” The Swords behind the figure represent a mental condition, a state of mind, and therefore beliefs and opinions that keep you hemmed in and feeling weak. The feet are free; you could walk away, but instead you sabotage yourself. What core beliefs imprison you? In the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, from which this deck came, this is a card of initiation, reflecting the state early in the ritual in which you are admonished to “Quit the Night and seek the Day.” It is really about the potential of insight gained when there is seemingly no way out.


9-Fans, Friends, Family: Temperance reversed

unadjustednonraw_thumb_3660.jpgI call the figure on this card ‘the Healing Angel.’ Ultimately it is about compassion, while the reversal points to imbalance or perceived conflicts. The reversal indicates you must first find inner compassion for yourself. Lines such as: “Passion died and comparing myself to others became my daily life,“ and “I don’t even know myself so who can know me,” say you have trouble accepting the healing and love of others, hiding behind words like “I don’t give a shit.” Suga is sometimes referred to as the angel of the group, but Agust D can’t see himself that way. Instead he declares, “If my misfortune is your happiness then I’ll be unfortunate” (ties back to the imagery of the 6 of Pentacles reversed). It’s interesting that this card of healing ends up in the bottom row that depicts, literally, the most wounding. It also indicates that true healing comes from within, “My pride that said I sold out has now become self-respect.”
Temperance is also a card of creativity – the ability to combine different things into something new: “The roots of my creativity has tasted the sweet, bitter, and shit of this world.” You are able to share this healing mix with others. You say to fans, friends, family, “Sorrow created me, look at me closely,” Ask yourself, “What stops me most from healing and accepting friendship?


It is the Suga Persona (in spread position 2) who recognizes in the Nine of Wands (that refers back to The Hermit card) that “I’m the cause of all these issues, so I’ll stop on my own.” Only you can walk away from whatever limits you as in the 8 of Swords.

Wands is your strongest suit indicating you are driven by your creative desires. Two Sword cards show of your difficulties that are more mental. The sole Pentacle is in the central “Dream” position suggesting by its reversal that material rewards are not really what the dream is about. The final two cards are from the Major Arcana or Trump suit, showing how you triumph. They describe harnessing or combining your opposing “sides” and resources in light of your highest purpose (the Star and the Sun that crown each figure). There are no Cups reflecting the lack of personal connection experienced at this stage of the journey, however the final song appears to herald a change in this.

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Mary K. Greer has made tarot her life work. Check here for reports of goings-on in the world of tarot and cartomancy, articles on the history and practice of tarot, and materials on other cartomancy decks. Sorry, I no longer write reviews. Contact me HERE.

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