Song Analysis

Past the Mission

Monday 8 August 2011, by Cécile Desbrun

“’Some things only She knows.’ There is a power that the feminine energy holds that hasn’t been claimed, especially in religious mythology. ‘Past the Mission’ is claiming that, I guess.” (The West Australian, August 11, 1994)

“In New Mexico, there’s a big Pueblo nation there, Native American. And there are a lot of missions where the Spanish, the Conquistadors, came in. And they really stripped the native peoples of their culture and forced them to worship. And when I saw the missions, you just see. They’re very beautiful but this is where a whole culture was really lost.” (Simon Mayo Show - March 30, 1994)

In 1993 after the end of the Little Earthquakes tour, Tori rented an old hacienda in Taos, New Mexico, to write and record her second album, Under the Pink. The area has a strong Native American but also Spanish vibe as conquistadors such as Cortez went there to christen the tribes. As an American woman of Cherokee descent, Tori was of course very interested by the local history and culture. She spent a lot of time with the native people in the different pueblos of the area and was inspired to write the song by observing this “hybrid” culture since she found out they had a “mixture [...] for their traditions as well as for christianity." [1] This influence can be strongly felt in the music as well as in the music video by Jake Scott but it was also of great importance in the lyrics.

Though it doesn’t directly refers to Native Americans and the conquistadors, “Past the Mission” emphasizes the way the Church, the “mission,” has erased all passion from its teachings and made sexuality - and women’s sexuality in particular -sinful. Instead of presenting a balance between the male and female principles, the Christian Church got rid of the divine feminine to build its foundations on a patriarchal base. Although pretty cryptic (Tori argued the song was more of an “impressionist painting” the listener had to crawl into), the lyrics evolve around the relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene. In the Bible and gospels recognized by the church, the Magdalene is a sinful prostitute redeemed by the Christ and who became one of his many followers. However, in 1945, a set of Gnostic scriptures were found in Nag Hammadi, including a gospel attributed to Mary Magdalene. The 16-page text, which has been extensively studied and commented by theologists and scholars worldwide ever since, as well as three other aprocryphs gospels, shed a new light on this feminine figure: it is revealed she was actually Jesus’ favorite disciple. He privately revealed to her secrets that he didn’t reveal to his other disciples - which started a dispute with the apostle Peter - and personally chose her to run his church... something that of course will never happen.

Though the exact relevance of these texts are up to debate, they were at least authentified as copies of originals dating back to the same era of the official gospels and proved out to be a valuable testimony of some of the Early Christians traditions and beliefs. Beliefs that were deemed - and still are to this day - as heretical by the church. Rumors and legends about the true relationship between Jesus and the Magdalene, which already existed in the Middle Ages, started to develop strongly in literature (The Christ’s Last Temptation by Nikos Kazantzaki in 1951), speculative history books and esoteric/Freemasonic circles. The particular book (which was later dubbed one of the greatest hoaxes of the 20th century when the major external source the authors relied upon turned out to be a complete make-up) which inspired Tori for the song was the 1982’s bestselling book Holy Blood, Holy Grail. Written by Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh and Henry Lincoln, the book (which was a major inspiration for Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code) begins its research in Rennes-le-Château in France, goes through a lot of historical periods with a lot of information on the Cathars, the Knights Templar and the Merovyngians to eventually speculate that Mary Magdalene was pregnant with Jesus’ child and fled to the South of Gaul after the crucifixion to hid from her attackers, who wanted to suppress knowledge that Jesus had sexual intercourse with a woman and had a child from this relationship. The authors also speculate that the legendary Graal was not a bowl but Mary Magdalene herself because she held the Blood Royal, Jesus’ blood - his child, and that this child later ‘gave birth’ to the Merovyngian dynasty. Though the book lost a great part of its relevancy when Pierre Plantard’s hoax was uncovered in 1993 (the bits about a so-called ancient secret society named the Prieuré de Sion and most of the Merovyngian part), other books and studies relying on other sources talked and speculated about the legend of the Magdalene fleeing to Les Saintes Maries de la Mer (the name’s location was given after the supposed venue of three Maries, including the Magdalene) to hide her child. Having quite an obsession with the Magdalene, Tori will write the song “Marys of the Sea” in reference to this legend.

But back to “Past the Mission.” The song revolves around the feminine (the Magdalene) and masculine (Jesus) principles the narrator explores to learn how to integrate this balance in her own being and thus welcome back the “hot girl” she was before this part of her was severed by her religious upbringing. Tori being a minister’s daughter who grew up in quite a conservative environment, she of course drew a lot of inspiration from her personal experience, which is here intertwined with her interest for the Magdalene, history and archetypes. About the alleged relationship between Jesus and the Magdalene, Tori declared in February 1994 to Axcess Magazine: “Of course, I believe they were together. Of course, I believe they were a couple and she understood things. She represents the goddess, the female, the feminine’ the joining, the equality. ‘Some things only she knows.’ And until we acknowledge there are some things only she knows - and there’s some things only he knows too - and until we have that mutual respect, there’s that prison tower, and there’s that mission, and the hot girl got lost somewhere in between.”

That quest for a balanced and fulfilled sexuality also echoes back to the consequences of Tori’s rape when she was 22. After having dealt with this trauma she had silenced for years in Little Earthquakes’ “Me and a Gun,” Tori revealed in interviews a part of her had been unable to open up emotionnally and sexually to her longtime partner Eric Rosse. She described the album’s theme as being mainly about healing and recovering parts of herself, and “Past the Mission” is one of the songs mainly dealing with this core subject. “The idea is to rescue myself from the role of a victim. That I have a choice left. Though I can’t change what has happened, I can choose how to react. And I don’t want to spend the rest of my life being bitter and locked up. That’s also the thought behind the phrase ‘past the mission/I smell the roses’,” she explained to NRC Handelblad in January 1994.

To create an echo with the joining of the feminine and masculine principles, Tori invited Nine Inch Nail’s leader Trent Reznor to lay backing vocals in the chorus. He joins his voice to hers in a subtle way, singing the same lyrics: “Past the mission/behind the prison tower/Past the mission/I once knew a hot girl/Past the mission/they’re closing every hour/Past the mission/I smell the roses.” Tori pointed out that it was important to have this “raging man, but being very supportive of the woman ” [2] in her song. “It kind of breaks my heart when I hear him sing with me, ‘I once knew a hot girl,’” Tori revealed to the Baltimore Sun in January 1994. “Where is she now? She can come back again. It’s that same thing, where in ‘Pretty Good Year’ and ‘Past the Mission’ and ‘Space Dog,’ where everything is reclaimable.” In that sense, the song is not hopeless and emphasizes the life and uncharted territory that’s located “past the mission.” Even though the narrator is far from having healed all her wounds, she’s able to smell the roses, which is a victory in itself.

information sources

The Baltimore Sun, January 30, 1994.
NRC Handelblad, January 31, 1994.
Axcess, February 1994.
Schwann Spectrum, Spring 1994.
Simon Mayo Show, March 30, 1994.
B-Side, April/May 1994.
The West Australian, August 11, 1994.
Really Deep Thoughts fanzine, Winter 1995.
VH1 V-Spot Boxset, April 2007.
C-Notes, October 30, 2007.

[1VH1 V-Spot Boxset interview, April 2007.

[2B-Side, April/May 1994.