Water, Ash = Life, Death

At this point in the show, I think some of the revelations we seek will be found in the imagery and use of objects and symbols more than straight out verbal answers. I think we’ll have plenty of those, but in my continued appreciation for the writers/producers attention to details that go beyond the verbal clues, here is what I have been thinking about. No straight out theories, just general observations…

I was reading a newspaper the other day and an article about Ash Wednesday caught me eye. Not because I grew up Catholic, but because of the word “Ash” and how that is a modern mystery in my Lost-obsessed mind. Have we talked about this here yet?

From my recollection of the importance and use of ash in the Catholic church, ash was used as a symbolic marking on the foreheads of believers who celebrate Lent, the season preceding Easter Sunday. Believers would wear the ash as a symbol of their guilt, sins and ultimately, their repentance. I can get back to the Lent/Easter thing later, but I keep coming back to the purpose (and source) of ash. In another post of mine I talked about how I think that the vial that Richard showed young Locke (“Cabin Fever”) is ash and I am pondering how/why ash keeps a Smoke Monster away, especially considering that Ash and Smoke are both by-products of fire. So far we have seen ash serve as protection. How do protection and repentance connect? Both of those things represent LIFE. If you follow the meaning of repentance in the Catholic church’s use of ash, repentance is connected with life, i.e., you repent from your sins and you gain renewed life. “The wages of sin are death…”-type of life. The protection from Smokey with the ash has obviously been that your physical life is preserved (albeit momentarily for many at this point.)

There are many other images or meanings behind ash – “ashes to ashes, dust to dust” prayer at funerals, the cremation process, even ash trees. Just throwing that stuff into the mix for consideration because ultimately, my mind keeps going to images of life and death. My thought is that ash is something that has dual meanings – sometimes life, sometimes death.

After “What Kate Does” I made a few comments here and there that the water was bugging me. Yes, the healing fountain thing was murky, but we kept seeing plenty of other images of water. (Examples: filling up canteens, Sawyer threw the engagement ring into the water, Jack’s reflection in the water.) I was intrigued. My first thought was that Sayid’s ‘infection’ came via the water that was meant to give life. I didn’t have any logical clue as to how a Smoke Monster creation can also travel via the water, but all the intentional images of water seemed important. Still, to see how the life-giving/life-saving water has now changed to something else is obviously something we’ve noticed.

After thinking more about the ash and realizing it is an image of duality, we now have also seen water as an image of duality. Sometimes life giving, sometimes life taking. (Charlie. Sayid. Dogen…)

The connection of water and death/life that I am realizing to be most important at this point is the actual water that makes the island an island. I am convinced that we will eventually learn about what the island is. But first, we have to recognize that the water has been what has kept EVERYONE trapped for the duration of this show. For Jack, the ocean that kept him isolated on that island for Seasons 1-4 was like a kind of hell for him. To go really obvious here, didn’t Flocke/”Evil Incarnate” tell Sawyer he was trapped and just wanted “to get the hell off this island” and never look back. (Funny how much that sound like Jack.)

Anyway, my point is this…

We have seen ash used as a ring of protection around the cabin. A ring of ash was apparently surrounding the Temple keeping Locke out. But the ultimate “ring” we have seen keeping people “trapped” is the water surrounding the island. Not to forget that the fact that it is an island, a land mass surrounded by water, has made it inaccessible (or protected) for Widmore or others hoping to find it. We can’t miss the fact that the water surrounding it is what contributes to its powers in one way or another.

So the duality of these images of ash and water and their connections to life and death reminds me of one of the main themes of duality on the show. Chief has a great post worth reading on “what defines good/evil?” Seriously, there is good stuff there. Read it. That post had me thinking again on how we really can’t define who represents what exactly.

Perhaps the battle isn’t necessarily between “Good” and “Evil” at this point. Perhaps the struggle is between “Life” and “Death”… Jacob represents life and MIB death. Neither is good, neither is bad. Both are necessary. It fits into the theme of reincarnation, it fits with themes of redemption. From a quick recollection of actions/behaviors, it fits with Jacob’s attributed “healings” and Smokey’s killing rampages. It fits what Sayid has become (always has been) and it fits the conversation on the beach from MIB, “Do you have any idea how badly I wanna kill you?” line. I know it could seem overly simple. I’m not proposing it to be an ultimate answer of any kind. But it does put a new spin on the unanswerable “good” vs. “bad” dilemma.

The best thing it fits in with though is the possibility of “resurrection” entering the picture. (Keeping in mind that the belief in Christ’s resurrection power is directly tied into the ashes used on Ash Wednesday.) For some of us who think that we haven’t seen the end of the old and very dead John Locke, it could be one of the ultimate final acts in this struggle.

Share with fellow Losties

Written by


I really am from Portland.

8 thoughts on “Water, Ash = Life, Death

  1. kimberly, fantastic post you’ve got here..i love this stuff..
    When you say ash has dual meanings of life and death, i think of ash being the product of refinement; because it is refined, and impurities are burned off, it is pure, which makes me think of symbolizes death in the aspect of it is the breakdown of what once was alive, such as burned wood in a fireplace..water of course is life giving and life as we know it cannot exist without water..
    But water has the property that it can be impure, unseen toxins or germs instantly turn what was once life giving into poison..

    What I find interesting lately about Lost is that it is connecting the purity and power of these 2 elements of water and ash to other people or entities. Jacob dies, the water becomes unpure. Dogen dies, the ash now has lost it’s protective power. I suspect, for these 2 island elements to become pure and having power again, something or somebody must become alive, resurrect, or be born(for the water..) and for the ash to protect again; something or somebody must die, as a sacrifice.

  2. I appreciate the shout out. That post/question you refer to had some great incite through the comments posted.

    Along with what you’re getting at here, you seem to be symbolizing these two important elements rather accurately.

    I’m still wondering, to this day, what the importance was of Ben pulling that drain plug to awaken Smokey. The WATER had to do something. We could forever say that Smokie was just playing Ben all along and he wanted Ben to think that Ben was in control of it. That’s all fine and plausable. At the same time though, the room that Ben was in to summon Smokie wasn’t built by Dharma, or anyone else of this century. It appeared to be as old as the temple, meaning it had importance of some kind.

    There must be a connection between water and Smokie. Ben’s act of draining that water HAS to have some significance. It’s an easily overlooked segment of the 4th season simply because of all the freighter BS going on at the time.

  3. You know I love a good theory that ends in a return of John Locke…great stuff Kim.

    I really like your relationship of life and death to the water and the ash.

    Unless I am correct about Jacobs ash being what is used as protection, which it seems at the time I am not…there are two seperate instances of ash being important to the story…one being what is used to take make ‘circles’ to keep MIB out, and the other is Ilana taking Jacobs ash…

    One thing about water, remember, water is necessary for life as we know it…so either the water is a symbol for that, or it is going against the grain and saying to let go of rules that we know…in my opinion of course.

    I have to read through this again…but I have also been considering that water, the ultimate and infinite looking glass is nothing more than a portal or barrier for some to “find themselves” and the ash is a barrier for keeping MIB from where he wants to go…
    It makes me question the water around the isalnd and the “radius” that Faraday spoke of…Maybe its not that the island is an island that keeps MIB…maybe its that it has more to do with what the ash is, and its relationship to how the fence is used to keep people/the monster out…

    Very sorry…I strayed from the original post…but you have me thinking about this ash and water meaning…

    Great thoughts all around…Im interested to see the signifigance on the show when it plays out…

  4. @Chiefof16
    Hey man, I’m glad you brought up the water hole again. I agree with you, it HAS to be significant.. Here are some thoughts; remember in that same episode when Alex was forced to turn off the sonic fence for Keamy and his crew, she inputted a code which rang Ben’s phone warning there are intruders coming? I’m thinking the water hole is a similar system, yet ancient and with its own smokey defense system..the water flushing sends a signal to the temple, which somebody posted there sends Smokey to the area where the flush occured..
    I’m thinking perhaps there are an array of these water holes throughout the island, surrounding the temple much like the sonic fence surrounds Dharmaville..

    What was different about Smokey during that episode is that it seemed much more mechanical..a weapon used against the enemy. It didn’t discover people and examine them, it was targeted toward people it was told to attack..Which makes me think the water has something to do with that too. Perhaps there is an agreement with Smokester that if you give him fresh temple water, he will come to your assistance..(dumb haha a stretch there..)

    Kimberly sorry to detract from your post by talking about mechanics of Smokester, instead of the symbolism..

  5. bobt, your comments are insightful and right along the lines of the thoughts I was having about ash & water. I’m glad you brought up the things you did about impurities and power and how they might be restored in purpose.

    No problem talking about the watering hole and possibilities. I had been thinking about that previously (around the time of Sayid’s ‘resurrection’) and that was part of why I thought that Smokey and the water had a connection. There seems to be something missing in the ‘elements’ though since we have water and smoke, but maybe not… thus the idea that the water surrounding the island is so important.

  6. AES – I know what you mean about the two different kinds of ash we’ve seen. That’s why I started looking at ash as a whole image rather than trying to figure out the source of the ash. It seemed like something the writers could want us to do: look at something that we actually know about as the “clue” rather than getting caught assuming that the mystery is in where it came from in relation to the island. (Hope that makes sense.)

    To go along with your “Lost Libs” fill in the blanks, I was thinking how water and ash images provide an opportunity to do that little psychological exercise of word association… so I say “ash” you say _________; I say “water” you say __________. It takes it all back to perspective, but I think both words eventually lead back to the life and death themes.

    The thing I forgot to bring up about Jacob and MIB perhaps representing Life and Death is the statement from Jacob: “It only ends once…” compared to MIB’s “It always ends the same.” Isn’t this yet ANOTHER reinforcement towards reincarnation and the power of life and the power of death if reincarnation is at work in the characters lives? (I say “power of death” because at that point, death isn’t final.)

    [And one other little side note about reincarnation relating to possible imagery: the use of circular/wheel images that obviously have some power connected to the island and the Losties lives – the FDW and the Lighthouse compass wheel thing. I know it’s a total tangent from my post, but since it’s my post I thought I would put it somewhere.] 🙂

    The more I have thought about Life & Death ‘battling’ each other (as opposed to good & evil) I realized it puts an interesting spin on the issues surrounding island pregnancies. The island was seen as a healer for some yet not for others…could it be more the representation of the forces of Jacob and MIB at work? It’s not that I want everything to relate back to them as deities of sorts, but it’s something to consider.

    And about John Locke… I would much rather see a resurrected John Locke than aliens. 🙂

  7. You say water, I say life…you say ash, I say cigarette or wood…not that I smoke or burn things (not that I dont either)…but to put it in context, yes death is appropriate, lol, sorry…still trying to recover a sense of humor here…

    Honestly, I love the association that you present. Its so simple, but overlooked trying to uncover things we simply cannot at this juncture.

    As for the plug/Bens releasing the monster…good point there Chief, in another life I painted and mixed paint…the first thing we did every morning was “purge” the machine, meaning to basically pull the plug and open up the nozzle/hose…in this case vents…I know its stupid, but associate it with the “purge” from the show…and I see it as a clue to possibly the monster having final say in the purge of the DI…

    This plug was something that actually made me question the island being surrounded by water being what contains MIB…if it is a way of releasing the beast, then what good would ocean do?
    To relate the wheel/images to your post, we have also remember how the mirror reflects off of the background of the seemingly infinite ocean…Im really starting to lean towards the water as a type of portal…even if maybe just for seeing the other side…

  8. AES – I feel like I wrote a follow-up comment to this way back when, and it didn’t post. Oh well.

    Anyway, I wanted to come back to this because of the water thing after this Ab Aeterno episode. I had just told people about the water/life/death thing as part of the struggle between Jacob and MIB when the “baptism” scene with Richard happened. Do you realize what Richard said, “I want to live…” and that is what made Jacob stop?

    Okay, but now…read your last comment about a plug and the water…and wow. 🙂 Fun stuff!

Leave a Reply