The Gospel according to "Frozen II" (or, why Elsa is Jesus)

(This post is still under construction. I will work on it more in the coming weeks.)

(This post contains spoilers. Go watch "Frozen II" before you read it)

(pic: Elsa's birth)

Introduction: thesis and disclaimers

First, I'm going to give the same disclaimer that I gave in "The Gospel according to Disney's "Frozen"". Like the first movie, Frozen II is not explicitly "Christian" in the way that a movie like "The Passion of the Christ" is. Frozen II makes no explicit, definitive statements about real-world Christianity. Like other great works of art, it can be - and has been - interpreted in may different ways, ranging from insightful to ridiculous, and it has different meaning for different people. You don't have to see it with a Christian interpretation. But if you want to look into the deeper layers of its meaning, it's there, infused throughout the whole story. 

In fact, Frozen II is quite remarkably Christian in one very important sense: its whole universe is built from the ground up with a singular purpose, to place the Christ-figure of the story at its very center. Such stories are quite rare. Sure, there're many stories that'll dabble with a Christ-figure: they'll perhaps have a character walk on water, or perform a heroic sacrifice (tvtrope links). Such references often do not reach any serious level of depth. But in Frozen II, every major piece of its lore is there to connect its Christ-figure character to the Son of God and Man.

Who is this character? Who could it be but Elsa? Frozen II is fundamentally about her: her calling, her journey, her transformation and acceptance into her true role in the universe. And Elsa is Jesus: or more precisely, her role as the Fifth Spirit is analogous to Jesus's role in the real world. This analogy is, of course, bound to be slightly imperfect, but the points of similarity are numerous and profound, and occupy crucial points in the story.

What I'm saying is that Elsa is one of the clearest case of a Christ-figure that I have ever seen in any work of fiction. This level of similarity to Jesus himself - close but not exactly the same - actually creates a problem of its own, and necessitates another disclaimer. Here it is:

I most seriously urge you not to get your Christology from a Disney movie. If you want to know about the real Jesus, go read the Bible. Yes, Elsa has some major points of similarities with Jesus, and we should employ such points to illuminate our understanding for them both. But keep in mind that there are some dissimilarities as well.

So, is Elsa really that much of a Christ-figure? To the point that the film's entire world is built around this analogy? To the point that it merits a warning not to carry it too far? You'll see. A strong music beats at the heart of this claim. Let us follow its call.

Superficial observations:

We'll start by clearing some superficial observations out of the way. (pics) Yes, like Jesus, Elsa can walk on water. That was a cool scene at the Dark Sea. We can check off that box. She also raises Olaf back up from from his death, like how Jesus raised Lazarus and some others. Another box checked off there.

And one of the most striking images of Elsa is her as a white rider, saving Arendelle from its destruction at the end. This depiction fits well with Christ on a white horse, as he'll appear when he returns at the end of this world (Rev. 19:11-13).

At a deeper level of similarity is Elsa coming back from the dead, after being frozen. In any given work of fiction (including, incidentally, in Frozen I (link)), it's a fair guess that the character that comes back from the dead is the Christ-figure in that story. After all, Jesus's resurrection is THE single event that validates Christianity's claims. So this is definitely worth noting. But the movie itself doesn't dwell on this too much, probably because it wanted to keep the fact that Ahtohallan is God (link) in the background, in keeping with its puzzle plot. So, while I will mention that this is important, it actually doesn't provide a whole lot of evidence for my claim that Elsa is Jesus. It's important from the side of Christianity, but not as much from the side of the movie, so that leaves it as a middling piece of evidence in matching the two.

But at this point, we already have enough evidence to say that Elsa is a Christ-figure. In any other work of fiction, such a concentration of evidence would be enough to say that this interpretation is a legitimate contender. But for Frozen II, we haven't even really gotten started yet.

The issue with the kinds of observations presented above is that they're not at the heart of the movie. They're fundamentally not what the movie is about. As mentioned before: Christ's resurrection is absolutely critical for Christianity, but the movie doesn't spend too much time exploring the implication of Elsa's resurrection. Nor is the movie fundamentally about how Elsa can run on water, or whether Olaf will come back from the dead. So what we need to do is to get to the deep questions, the questions that he movie really cares about - starting with "why was Elsa born with her powers?"

What caused Elsa's birth?

The key scene for this question occurs right after Anna and Elsa discovers that their parents died en route to Ahtohallan, while looking for answers about Elsa. She's upset, feeling responsible for their deaths. Anna and Elsa then have this conversation, which is incredibly dense in its references to Jesus:

Anna: Yelena asked, why would the spirits reward Arendelle with a magical queen? Because our mother saved our father. She saved her enemy. Her good deed was rewarded with you. You are a gift!
Elsa: For what?
Anna: If anyone can resolve the past, if anyone can save Arendelle and free this forest, it's you! I believe in you, Elsa. More than anyone or anything.

So, Elsa is born as a gift, out of love for an enemy - and Anna responds to her by believing in her. The parallels with Jesus is clear. He, too, was born as a gift (John 3:16, Rom. 6:23), out of love for his enemies (Rom. 5:6-11) - and we respond by believing in him (Acts 16:31, Rom. 10:9).

Elsa was born to Iduna as a reward for saving Agnarr, her enemy: the son and heir to the throne of King Runeard, who attacked her people. Even just saving a friend is a rare noble deed, although close friends do occasionally save one another. But Iduna demonstrated a remarkable righteousness, in that she loved her enemy enough to save him in battle. And Elsa is born as an eventual result of that love, even as Christ was born to us while we were still sinners, and naturally God's enemies (Rom 5: 6-11).

Furthermore, Elsa is born to right an ancestral wrong: the original sin by King Runeard. From the perspective of all the non-Arendellians - the Northuldra, the elemental spirits, and Ahtohallan - there were two Arendellian monarchs who established a new kind of relationship with them. The first was King Runeard. The second, and last, is Queen Elsa. The first monarch murdered the Northuldra leader, bringing hostility and war. Through that one man, sin entered and killed their whole relationship, ruining everything. But the last monarch became a life-giving spirit, and restored that relationship. In Runeard, all is lost, and in Elsa, all is found.

Likewise, Jesus was born to right an ancestral wrong: Adam's original sin. From God's perspective, there are two humans who established a new kind of relationship with him. The first is Adam. The second, and last, is Jesus Christ. The first man violated God's direct command, and brought sin into the world. Through that one man, sin - and its consequence, death - spread to everyone, and ruined everything (Rom 5:12). But the last man became a life-giving spirit, and restored our relationship with God (1 Cor 15:45). For in Adam, all die, even as in Christ all shall be made alive (1 Cor 15:22).

"you're a gift", "I believe in you, Elsa" - right before connection with the fifth spirit

As the Bible passages linked above should convince you, these are not trivial connections. "Love your enemies" is one of the most important and distinctive of Jesus's teachings, and Christ as the "Second" or "Last Adam" is a major theme in Christianity. These are both paralleled very closely in Frozen II, where a major plot plot is the circumstances and reason for Elsa's birth.

What is Elsa's role?

But we are still only just getting started. Yes, the reason for Elsa and Jesus being born line up quite nicely. But what is that reason? What is Elsa's role in the "Frozen" universe, and her life's purpose? That's the heart of the movie. That's what we need to dive into.

Elsa is the Fifth Spirit - a bridge between humans and the magic of nature. Her role can be analyzed piece by piece, by looking at the nouns in that description: "human", "nature", "bridge", and "magic".

First, "human". As the Fifth Spirit, one of Elsa's roles is to bring reconciliation to the humans - to right the wrong that severed the relationship between Arendelle and the Northuldra. We briefly touched on this above, when we spoke of her role as the "Last Adam". The eventual goal here is succinctly stated by Queen Anna at the end of the movie, in her role as the "human" half of the Fifth Spirit: "our lands and people, now connected by love". In Elsa and Anna, there is no distinction between Arendelle and Northuldra (Rom 10:12): they are one in the Fifth Spirit. They are descendants and heirs to both peoples, and to them belong the heritage and cultures of both of their parents (Gal 3:29).

In fact, if there is any further group out there who presents a dividing wall of hostility between them and the Fifth Spirit, you can bet that Elsa and Anna will break down that wall and reconcile with them too (Eph 2:13-14). For in Christ, there is neither Arendelle or Northuldra, nor Jew or Gentile, nor Greek or barbarian or Scythian. Neither is there slave or free, nor male or female. For everyone who's connected by love to the Divine Bridge are one (Gal 3:26-29, Col 3:11, Act 10:34-48).

Again, as the preponderance of Bible verses referenced above should convince you, this is a major part of why Jesus came into the world. And it correspondingly serves as one of the major pillars among Frozen 2's themes.

Second, "nature". In the beginning, the elemental spirits of nature lived in harmony with the Northuldra. It was charming, magical. But King Runeard's original sin caused the elemental spirits to become enraged, and they turned themselves against all humans. When they awaken later, they're still hostile - some murderously so. But Elsa is the Fifth Spirit. She is their rightful ruler, as the center of the symbol of elemental unity, and the one to whom they need to be aligned. As such, the enraged elemental spirits are naturally and quickly tamed by her.

Likewise, in the beginning, Adam and Eve lived in harmony with nature in the Garden of Eden -and  it was "very good" (Gen 1). But Adam's original sin caused nature itself to be cursed and corrupted, and since then, humanity and nature have been at odds against each other (Gen 3:16-19, Rom 8:20-21). But Christ is the Creator. He is the rightful ruler of nature, as the firstborn over creation, and the one by and for whom all things were created (Col 1:15-17). As such, nature itself longs to be set right through his redemptive work (Rom 8:20-23).

Again we see that Elsa's role in the story correspond directly to Jesus's role in real life. They are the unifier of people and the ruler and tamer of nature.

Next, "bridge". As the Fifth Spirit, Elsa and Anna together form the two sides of the connection between humans and nature. They are, together, builders of that great bridge. The title of "The Great Bridge-Builder" is a very old one. You may better recognize it in its Latin form: Pontifex Maximus.

Let's go over a little bit of historical background. In the days of ancient Rome, "Pontifex Maximus" was the title of their "greatest priest". That is what the words literally mean. A moment's reflection here will tell you that "pontifex" then must mean both "priest" and "bridge-builder". And of course, that makes sense. Priests are those who bridge the divide between gods and men, and act as the mediator between them. This title was later appropriated by the Catholic Church for the Pope - you may recognize "Supreme Pontiff" as being essentially the same in meaning.

But, of course, by now you should not be surprised to learn that this was a title for Jesus before it was ever a title for the Pope. Christ is our Great High Priest (Heb. 4:14) - the one who bridges the gap between us and God (Rom 5:1), and allows us to approach him with confidence (Heb. 4:16).

So like Jesus, Elsa is the bridge - the bridge between humans and the magic of nature. But if Jesus is the bridge between us and God, then where does God fit into the description of the Fifth Spirit? This requires us to ask the most important question about Elsa: who, and what, is she? Answering this question will bring us to the last remaining noun in the description of the Fifth Spirit: "magic".

Who, and what, is Elsa?

In "Frozen"'s universe, all magic flows from Ahtohallan. As hinted by young Anna's question ("Ahto-who-what?") that's echoed later by Olaf, Ahtohallan is a "who" before it is a "what". In fact, "Ahtohallan" - or the entity behind it - is nothing less than the God of the "Frozen" universe. I've written a whole separate post (a systematic mythology of the "Frozen" universe) where I explain all this, which I highly recommend you read - but the key points are as follows:

Elsa is the Fifth Spirit in a manner analogous to the other elemental spirits: meaning, she is the representative, or incarnation, of the "fifth element" - the element associated with the God "Ahtohallan". That is, just as Gale IS air, and Nokk IS water, Elsa IS Ahtohallan. They are of the same substance: Air from air. Water from water. And so, magic from magic, and God from God.

Likewise, Jesus is of the same substance (Homoousion) as his Father: God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God (Nicene creed).

Furthermore, Ahtohallan is Elsa's "mother" in several different ways: one, because as God, she's mother to all of existence. Two, because she's the "mother" of the Fifth Spirit, in that the Fifth Spirit is her incarnation. And three, because Elsa's mother Iduna was chosen by Ahtohallan to give birth to the Fifth Spirit. This makes Elsa the "daughter" of Ahtohallan.

Jesus is also the "Son of God" in similar ways. He is eternally begotten of the Father and therefore of one Being with him (nicene creed), and was made incarnate by being conceived in the virgin Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit (apostle's creed).

This means that the Fifth Spirit is a being with two natures - and this is represented in multiple ways. First, Elsa and Anna are the two sides of one bridge: Elsa is magical, and Anna is ordinary. Second, they are descended from two separate lineages: the more magical Northuldra, and the more ordinary Arendelle. And lastly, Elsa herself is one of the five elemental spirits, but also fully human. So, the Fifth Spirit is the daughter of Ahtohallan, but also of two ordinary human beings: Iduna of Northuldra, and Agnarr of Arendelle.

Similarly, Jesus also has two natures. He is the Son of God from his Father, fully divine and perfectly God. He is also the Son of Man from his human mother, fully human and perfectly man (Athanasian creed). So Jesus is both the Son of God and Son of Man.

Let's put it all together: Elsa is the incarnation of Ahtohallan itself. She, together with Anna, is the Fifth Spirit - fully human, but also a divine elemental spirit. Her unique identity enables her to fulfill her role: to unify all things to herself and thereby to Ahtohallan, by taming the elemental spirits of nature, and bringing harmony to the people groups.

In the same way, Jesus is God incarnate. He is the Son of God and Son of Man. His unique identity enables him to fulfill his role: to reconcile all things to God, by redeeming all of creation through his work (Col. 1:19-20), and uniting all the people groups of the world to himself (Eph. 2:11-22).

All this gives Elsa the right to bear some new titles. Some fans have taken to calling Elsa a "goddess", but I often reply that she is at LEAST that: "goddess" is in fact too low of a title for her. According to all that I've said above, Elsa is in fact the Christ-figure of the "Frozen" universe, and there is NO title which is too lofty for her. To her belongs the name above all names, and all the most beautiful, most excellent titles. As Quintessence Incarnate, she is the Queen of the Elements. She is the former Queen of Arendelle, and the Protector of the Enchanted Forest. She is Pontifex Maximus, by virtue of being the Daughter of Arendelle and Northuldra, but also the Daughter and Avatar of Ahtohallan.

And that, fundamentally, what Frozen II is all about. The person and nature of the Fifth Spirit is very heart of this movie, that explains everything else about it. Likewise, the Incarnate Jesus Christ - God himself becoming flesh and dwelling among us (John 1:14) - is the very heart of Christianity. The Incarnation is the miracle that explains all other miracles, and everything else about our universe. So at last, in these deepest questions we can ask about the person of primary importance, Frozen II and Christianity are in full agreement.

The Key

What more can I do to show that Elsa is a clear Christ-figure? Of course, we cannot expect the creators to come right out and say it: that would ruin the work, as providing the one true interpretation for the film would turn it into propaganda instead of art. But what else could they have done, to leave absolutely no ambiguity that they intended this interpretation?

Well, if there were an Christian element in the story that clearly laid out all the key components of the story, that might do it. And ideally, this couldn't be just any element: it would have to be unambiguously, explicitly Christian. It would have to be crucially important to the whole story. And it would have to directly correspond to all of the major components that we laid out above, in answering all of the film's major questions. If such a thing could be found in the story, I would say that's pretty convincing. And, of course, such a thing in fact exists.

Vuelie is effectively the theme song not just for Frozen II, but for the whole franchise. It is played three times in the movie itself - including at the very beginning and the very end, bracketing the whole movie. It is played twice in Frozen I, again at the very beginning and end. It also played in the first trailer for Frozen II. No other song is played so completely so many times in Frozen II or in the whole franchise.

Now, dedicated fans will already know that Vuelie is based on the Christian hymn "Fairest Lord Jesus". You can kind of hear the similarities it in some parts of the melody, especially when the Northuldra sing it, and it is absolutely unmistakable in the full version of the song (link). Okay, so that's a crucially important, explicitly Christian element - but have you looked at the lyrics to "Fairest Lord Jesus"? Many versions of the song have extended lyrics that iterate on its themes, but the core message of the song can be found in the simple original lyrics, (as found on Wikipedia):

Fairest Lord Jesus, Ruler of all nature,
O Thou of God and man the Son,
Thee will I cherish, Thee will I honor,
Thou, my soul’s glory, joy and crown

Beautiful Savior! Lord of all the nations!
Son of God and Son of Man!
Glory and honor, praise, adoration,
Now and forever more be Thine.

What does this song say about Jesus? What roles and identities does it ascribe to him? When you strip it of its artistic flourishes, it says that Jesus is:

1. Son of God
2. Son of Man
3. Ruler of all nature
4. Lord of all the nations

And, by God, isn't that the exact the story of Frozen II? For how does the movie present Elsa? From the titles I ascribed to her above, she is:

1. Daughter and Avatar of Ahtohallan,
2. Daughter of Arendelle and Northuldra
3. Queen of the Elements
4. former Queen of Arendelle, and the Protector of the Enchanted Forest.

Or, in terms of the summary of Elsa's identity and role:

Elsa is the (1) incarnation of Ahtohallan itself. She, together with Anna, is the Fifth Spirit - (2) fully human, but also a divine elemental spirit. Her unique identity enables her to fulfill her role: to unify all things to herself and thereby to Ahtohallan, by (3) taming the elemental spirits of nature, and (4) bringing harmony to the people groups.

You can also think about this in terms of the world-building for the movie. Remember when I said that the whole universe of Frozen II is built with the singular purpose of placing the Christ-figure at its very center? Well, if your goal was to tell the story of "Fairest Lord Jesus", with Elsa at the center, then what would be the minimum set of components you would need to build for this world? You would need:

1. "God" (for "Son of God")
2. "Man" (for "Son of Man")
3. "nature" (for "Ruler of all nature")
4. "nations" (for "Lord of all the nations")

And what did we actually get in the movie?

1. Ahtohallan
2. the expanded backstory of Elsa's ancestors: Agnarr, Iduna, and Runeard
3. the four elemental spirits
4. the Northuldra

This all makes prefect sense if Frozen II drew its primary inspiration directly from "Fairest Lord Jesus", and was explicitly constructed to parallel its contents. And I believe that's exactly what happened, for it nearly ONLY makes sense that way. Because this theory not only explains the themes, plot, and the world-building of Frozen II, but also its flaws. Have you wondered why Frozen II doesn't develop any of its new characters very much? Or why it doesn't explore the meaty topics that it brings up, like ethnic bigotry? Because they were never the main focus - their actual purpose is to stand in for the "nations" component in "Fairest Lord Jesus". Have you wondered why Frozen II chose to introduce so many different components, leading to the common criticism that its mythology is too crowded and confusing? Because if you're going to tell the story of "Fairest Lord Jesus", you can't drop any of its components. Have you wondered why there are so many difficult and confusing questions around Ahtohallan and the Voice calling to Elsa? Because they are the "God" component of the story, and as such are the most mysterious and abstract.

Lastly, consider when Vuelie is played in the movie: The first time is at the very beginning. This establishes that the movie is going to be fundamentally about this song, about the "Son of God and Son of Man". This is Elsa's identity - and as such, the movie is about how she fulfills the two roles specified in the song: to become the "lord of all the nations" and "ruler of all nature".

The next time we here Vuelie is when the Northuldra sing it to Elsa and Anna, as they accept the two sisters into their tribe. This instance of the song is bracketed by two events: right before, Elsa announces that "our mother was Northuldra". And right after, she promises that "I will free this forest, and restore Arendelle". What is she doing? She is fulfilling one of the two Christological roles in the song. As Jesus is "Lord of all the nations", Elsa is becoming the leader, reconciler, and uniter of Arendelle and Northuldra, in announcing that she is descended from both peoples, and promising to solve both of their problems.

The third and last time that the song is played is at the end of the movie. Elsa is travelling to Ahtohallan, and the four elemental spirits are finally all in harmony with her, each paying tribute to her through their service and affection. Again, what's going on here? She is fulfilling the second Christological role in the song: as Jesus is the "ruler of all nature", Elsa is finally taking her place as the Queen of the Elements.

And - that's the whole movie. It's all laid out in this song. "Vuelie"/"Fairest Lord Jesus" serves as the blueprint for the entire film, in much the same way that "All is found" does - except on a deeper and broader level. They point to the idea that Ahtohallan is God, and Elsa is Jesus.

Show Yourself

Now, you may have read my previous post - The Gospel according to Disney's "Frozen" - in which I said that we (humanity) are Elsa. But how could that be, if Elsa is Jesus? Well, one possible answer is that interpretations can change between a movie and its sequel - but I think there's a better one available: both interpretations are true.

Obviously, Jesus is unique and no other human being should claim to be him. Fortunately, Christ's warnings on this are clear, and sane people generally don't need to worry much about making that mistake. However, we Christians are to imitate him - to follow his example and try to become more like him. And how far can we go in this endeavor? Every Biblical answer here seems to be "far more than what you thought possible". And so, both of the above interpretations are true: Elsa is Jesus, and also us Christian imitating him.

This means that every major beat in Elsa's story is ours as well, in our journey to become more like Jesus. We are called to a great adventure - to leave behind our old life, and follow the divine call into the unknown. We are to carry out the ministry of reconciliation - between people, nations, and all of nature. And we, vicariously through Christ, can even claim the superlative calling and powers of the Fifth Spirit, described in the very climax of the movie. For you who are found in Christ are to:

Show yourself: you are the light of the world, placed on a stand to shine on everyone.
Step into your power: the same power that raised Christ from the dead is at work within you, and you have all authority in heaven and earth behind you in carrying out your commission.
Grow yourself into something new: For anyone who is in Christ is a new creation. We are all growing into him who is our head.
You are the one you've been waiting for all of your life. you are God's workmanship, chosen in Christ Jesus before the foundation of the world, prepared in him to do good works, which he prepared beforehand for you to do.
Oh show yourself: let your light shine before men, so that they see your good deeds and praise your father in heaven.

You are the ones. You are a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people chosen to be God's own - that you many proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness and into his marvelous light. If you felt any love for Elsa, or any kinship or empathy with her as she accepted who she is as the Fifth Spirit, those feelings are not confined to just within the movie. Her identity and roles are real in our world, and it is yours as well in Jesus Christ.

And that's the story of "Frozen II". Elsa is Jesus: the child of both divinity and humanity, bringing reconciliation to all peoples and nature. For anyone in Christ, that work is our work as well, as we love and emulate the Son of God and Man. And so, in this way, "Frozen II" echos, quite directly, the one eternal story in all of existence.

You may next want to read:
A systematic mythology of the "Frozen" universe
The Gospel according to Disney's "Frozen"
Another post, from the table of contents

A systematic mythology of the "Frozen" universe

(This post contains spoilers. Go watch "Frozen II" before you read it)

Introduction and thesis

Frozen 2 is out now, and given this blog's history with the first movie, it was perhaps inevitable that I write on it. While the general consensus is that this sequel is quite good, there is nevertheless a persistent criticism which says that the movie is muddled and confusing in its mythology and exposition. Now, while I can see that the movie perhaps tried to do a little too much, I disagree that the mythology is fundamentally inconsistent or messy: A proper understanding of the movie's mythos will clear up most confusions, answer many persistent questions, and reveal the coherent center that holds it all together. My goal here is to explain that mythology.

Let us start from the bottom up: when we consider the hierarchy of magical power in the "Frozen" universe, we get something like this, from the lowest to the highest:
1. Ordinary people and beings: in increasing order, these are the Arendellians and Anna, the Northuldra, and the Trolls and Grandpabbie. Now, some of these have some knowledge of magic, and can take advantage of it in their surroundings. Grandpabbie can even manipulate it to some extent. But none of them seem to be inherently magical by their nature, like...
2. The four elemental spirits: they represent and control their corresponding elements in their local surrounding. King Agnarr, in telling his story of the Enchanted Forest, says that they are the most powerful of the spirits - but of course, his knowledge, especially at this time, is quite limited. They are certainly powerful, but they need to be brought in alignment with...
3. Elsa, as the Fifth Spirit: she tames the four elemental spirits, and serves as the bridge between humans and the magic of nature. But the source of her power is...
4. Ahtohallan: Ahtohallan is stated to be the source of all magic (including Elsa's), hold the answers and the path, and where "all is found". The power here is such that it can even freeze a post-"Show Yourself" Elsa, who is otherwise clearly the most powerful being in the "Frozen" universe. 
This much is all shown pretty clearly in the movie. But it's also somewhat unsatisfactory. With just this, some key questions remain unanswered, like "how did Elsa thaw after being frozen in Ahtohallan?" and "what was that voice calling Elsa?" All this and more can be cleanly resolved with a single, simple hypothesis, which actually has a great deal of support in the movie itself. The hypothesis is just this:
There is a being of great power "behind" or "within" Ahtohallan - someone who possesses an incredible degree of consciousness, intellect, and agency, has clear moral priorities and goals, and is responsible for most of the key plot events in the movie. In other words, "Ahtohallan" is not just a place. It - or the being behind it - is something more like "God".
Now, the movie doesn't explicitly tell us exactly what this being is: there are many hints that it's a singular entity, but theoretically, it could also be a council of more powerful elemental spirits, like the elder siblings of the four elemental spirits we see. It could even be a whole cosmological hierarchy of celestial beings, like what they have in the Marvel Universe. The details here are not important: what matters is this being's personhood, power, and morality. So mostly for the sake of parsimony, I will assume that this being in question is singular, and simply call it "Ahtohallan".

But how can we know that this is all true? Let's dive in.

What is Ahtohallan?

We start with the very first mention of Ahtohallan in the movie: when Queen Iduna says "only Ahtohallan knows", right before she sings "All is Found". This is an important line, as it's repeated later by Honeymaren during another key expositional scene about the Fifth Spirit. Notice that this line immediately ascribes consciousness to Ahtohallan: it knows things. Note also the parallel with the common saying "only God knows" or "God only knows", associating this "Ahtohallan" with divinity. These are the first things we learn about Ahtohallan, before we even learn that it's a river or a glacier.

Soon after, Iduna sings "All is Found" - and this song is full of crucial information about Ahtohallan. "In this river all is found". She contains "the answers and a path for you". "She will sing to those who'll hear, and in her song all magic flows". She is called "mother" - like how God is called "Father". It is very clear that Ahtohallan, as described in this song, is far more than just a river. The claims about her are plenary in scope, and she is again ascribed personhood - a mother who knows things and sings to you.

Digging a little deeper, into the real-life lore behind the movie itself, reveals far more. "Ahtohallan" is a strangely specific name - contrast it with the other generic place names in the movie, like "the Enchanted Forest" or "the Dark Sea". This specificity, in addition to further implying personhood, comes to us because it has a basis in real life: Ahto is an actual god in Finnish mythology. A god of the sea, who dwells in his sea-castle called Ahtola. "Halla" is Finnish for frost. This cannot be a coincidence: the creators of the movie must have intended it. Now, I don't speak Finnish, but it's pretty clear that "Ahtohallan" can mean something like "frozen sea god", or "the god who dwells in the frozen waters". This gives us a direct link between "Ahtohallan" and divinity, along with the power, consciousness, and agency that it implies. With all this, I think it's best to think of Ahtohallan the glacier as a numinous place - something like a natural temple to the god "Ahtohallan".

Next, let us consider the Voice: the "ah-ah ah-ah" that calls out to Elsa, whom she initially calls "secret siren" during "Into the Unknown". Who, or what, is calling to Elsa? What is the nature of the Voice? One obvious answer is Ahtohallan itself: after all, we just got through the line in "All is found" where it says that Ahtohallan will sing to those who'll hear. But could it possibly be Iduna, whose image appears in Ahtohallan when Elsa finally gets there? Could it be Elsa herself, according to some interpretations of "Show Yourself"?

Well, one of the highest authorities you can go to for an answer to these questions is Aurora, the Norwegian singer who sang the Voice. According to her, "my character, in the movie, it's not human at all. It's kind of both more ancient than humankind, and bigger than what people can ever become - except for Elsa".

That is an amazing statement. What do you call something like that, except a god of some kind? This immediately eliminates both Iduna and Elsa herself as the source of the voice - for they're both human, and neither are more ancient than humankind. Or, if you insist that the Voice was from Iduna, you can only do so by placing something divine within or behind her: either she was something far beyond what she appeared to be in the story, or there was some kind of god who was using her, to sing the Voice through her to Elsa. Indeed that seems to be the likeliest explanation: the actual sound of the voice belonged to Iduna, when she called out to Gale the wind spirit to help her save Agnarr. Then Ahtohallan used this sound to call out to Elsa more than 30 years later, as the Voice. Any way you slice it, the implication that the Voice is divine is completely unavoidable, based on Aurora's statement. And Ahtohallan stands as the only possible candidate for its origin.

Now, in the interview mentioned above, Aurora mentioned Elsa as an obvious exception to "what people can ever become". Of course, Elsa is special. She's the Fifth Spirit - someone with a cosmic role in the Frozen universe. But what does it mean to be this Fifth Spirit?

In real life, the idea behind the four elemental spirits - those of earth, air, water, and fire - comes from ancient (primarily Greek) thought. Many people think of "Avatar: the Last Airbender" or the "Final Fantasy" series when they hear of these elements, but all such pop culture references trace back their origins to the ancient Greeks, who believed that all natural phenomena were explainable with some combination of these four elements.

They also believed in a fifth element, called aether, or quintessence (literally, "fifth essence"). This element was held to be categorically different from the other four. The first four were natural; the fifth was super-natural. It was held to make up the celestial spheres, which were not subject to corruption and decay like the world of the four mundane elements. It was held to be the air of the gods - the pure substance which filled the space where they dwelt. It was held to be a god in and of itself. Needless to say, this element was strongly associated with divinity.

Now, consider: if Elsa is the Fifth Spirit in a manner analogous to the other elemental spirits, then what is her corresponding element? It must be this divine fifth element. She is the representative, or incarnation, of this element, like Gale is an incarnation of the wind, and Bruni the salamander is a representative of fire. This implies that this "fifth element" exists in the "Frozen" universe - an element with strong associations with divinity, the substance of the gods themselves. Again, Ahtohallan - or the being behind it - is the most natural thing that comes to mind.

There is one more strong hint about this godlike being in the "Frozen" universe. Remember the scroll that Anna discovers in her parent's shipwreck, the one contained in the waterproof cylinder?

This is one of the most mysterious and significant things in Frozen 2, and yet it's only on screen for a moment. The decipherable, English words in the upper left corner - confirmed by the characters to be in Iduna's handwriting - clearly indicate that this scroll is somehow related to Elsa and Ahtohallan.

Now consider the pictographic symbols which make up the rest of the scroll. For whatever reason, Iduna and Agnarr believed that these symbols had tremendous meaning. That they held the key to the nature of Elsa's powers. The royal couple risked, and lost, their lives based on this information, believing that it would help Elsa.

But can we decipher these symbols? Of course, with something like this it's impossible to be certain, and my conclusions here are bound to be tentative. But if you spend just a little bit of time looking at the scroll, it's hard to shake the compulsion that it tells a fairly simple story. The first symbol, in the upper left corner, is that of a human-like figure. This figure appears multiple times throughout in various poses, indicating its importance, and implying some kind of activity. The elemental symbols for earth, air, water, and fire appear very early, and they're later combined or arranged in different ways in the second row. Then the third row shows plants, fish, animals, and humans. I mean, it certainly looks to me like the story of "God" creating the world, using the elements to create ever more complicated things, culminating in the creation of people.

The forth row and further are harder to see and decipher, but I think that the first symbol in that forth row - the hexagon with the squiggly line going through it - might be the "river" Ahtohallan, providing us with the direct association. Combined with the last few symbols of the third row, the story here might go something like "... and after God created humans, he came to rest in Ahtohallan".

In addition, there is one more place in the movie where these symbols appear: in the credits, as decorative flairs around the names, roles, and titles of the people who created the movie itself. This again reinforces the idea of this scroll being associated with the 'creation of the world', in the meta, fourth-wall breaking sense.

Now as I said, there are a lot of uncertainties around this, but if the story in that scroll is anything like what I have described above, it says some very important things. It tells us that the creator-God of the "Frozen" universe, who created the elements and all things through them, is now directly associated with Ahtohallan and Elsa. If so, then we will have found a key aspect of this mysterious being behind Ahtohallan.

So then, let us summarize what we have so far. Scattered throughout the movie and its associated real-life materials, "Ahtohallan" is hinted or described as:
  • Knowing things. At least all past things, and possibly everything, period.
  • Singing to those who'll hear
  • The source of all magic, including Elsa's magic
  • Containing the "answers and a path for you"
  • Containing "all"
  • A mother
  • A 'god of the frozen sea'
  • Not human
  • More ancient than humankind
  • Bigger than what humans (except Elsa) can ever become
  • The incorruptible, supernatural substance of the heavenly spheres and the gods
  • Creator of the elements, and the world
Is that enough to call it a "god"? I should think so - that's a lot of characteristics, which imply a lot of power (source of all magic), consciousness (all-knowing mother), and agency (creator, singer). It may even merit being called "God", although that's still tentative.

Atohallan's actions

But even so, you may be saying, "okay, that's a lot of hints and descriptions, but why doesn't this 'Ahtohallan-as-god' actually appear in the movie? Why don't we see it act directly in the story? In fact, if it's really that powerful and important, its actions should be really big and obvious! They should be unmistakable! There should be, like, a giant, glowing sign that lights up the sky when it..."

Exactly three times in the movie, Ahtohallan does act directly in the story, without using intermediaries. Each time, this action is punctuated by the giant, glowing symbol of elemental unity that lights up the sky. Every one of these three actions are immensely significant, occurring at key moments in the story. They involve incredible foresight and planning, the effects of great power, and a clear set of moral goals and values, as Ahtohallan achieves for itself things that no other agent in the story - not even the elemental spirits or Elsa - could have accomplished. They are a signal to the audience to pay attention: they would be 'deus ex machina' moments, if the "deus" - Ahtohallan - wasn't well-established in the story.

First, consider the sign itself: the symbol of elemental unity is the most important symbol in the story. It serves as a logo for the movie. In the credits, it's the first thing that shows up, adorning the names of the two directors, Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee. As such it is the "highest" symbol that exists in the movie. It has been mistakenly called a snowflake, but it's not hard to figure out what it actually means.

The symbol consists of the four elemental crystals, oriented to be in alignment with a fifth shape in the center - the fifth element, which is what Elsa steps into during "Show Yourself". The symbol basically expresses the ideal that the four elements should be in alignment with the fifth. Or, remembering that the four elements represent the world, and the fifth element represents heaven or divinity, it's basically like a prayer - saying "[God's] will be done on earth, as it is in heaven". The job of the Fifth Spirit is to bring about that alignment. And when the symbol simply appears in the sky apropos of nothing, it is Ahtohallan itself bringing about that alignment, directly and forcefully.

Let's now look at these "acts of Ahtohallan" in sequence, where this symbol appears in the sky. The first of these is the sealing of the Enchanted Forest, as a consequence of King Runeard's treachery, the following battle, and the resulting rage of the elemental spirits. There are several things that happen here. First, the raging elemental spirits are recalled, vanishing from the world for many years. Second, young Iduna is chosen as the eventual mother of the Fifth Spirit, in recognition of her heroism in saving Agnarr. Third, the task of the Fifth Spirit - of righting this wrong - was likely fixed at this time, along with the specific requirement of destroying the dam. And lastly, the forest is sealed with the mist, preventing anyone from going in or out, until the coming of the Fifth Spirit in the fullness of time.

Now, consider the plan behind these actions. Consider its complexity and foresight, in looking 35 years ahead: this plan calls for Elsa and Anna to be born, grow up, survive the events of Frozen 1, and become the kind of women who can accept their roles and successfully bring down the dam. The relationship between Iduna and Agnarr was probably planned and arranged for as well, to ensure that the Fifth Spirit was descended from both the Northuldra and Arendelle. All this requires an extraordinary, farsighted intellect.

Consider also that this plan needs an intricate, precise power backing it up, to observe and subtly control all the relevant events over those 35 years. And in terms of raw magnitude, more impressive still is the power to recall the raging elemental spirits, which necessarily requires a strength that lies amply beyond theirs. The mist, too, requires an incomparably strong power that exceeds Elsa's ice magic: for if you recall, Elsa fired off one of her ice blasts into it, only for it to just bounce off.

Lastly, consider the moral values expressed in this 'first act of Ahtohallan': it shows a dedicated concern to the harmony among nature and peoples. It shows a respect for the free will of the human agents in the story. It shows an appreciation for love - especially the love for an enemy - and a hatred for treachery.

Now, who could have carried out this 'first act'? Who in the story has the requisite foresight, power, and morality at this point? Elsa wasn't even born yet, so she's out. Iduna was one of the objects in the plan - something that is acted on (observed and rewarded), rather than the active agent. The same is true for the four elemental spirits: they are enraged by the humans fighting, and this is one of the things that needs to be set right. They themselves cannot be responsible for the plan to fix everything, as they're one of the things that needs fixing. Furthermore, we see quite a bit of these spirits over the course of the movie, and nowhere do they display the required degree of awareness, planning, or power. They seem to have, at best, a human-level intelligence, and they're mostly reactive, rather than proactive, in nature. They are powerful in that they're the embodiments of the natural elements, but their power only extends to their own elements in their immediate vicinity. So who else is left as the active agent except Ahtohallan?

In short, this first act of Ahtohallan requires nothing less than planning and enacting the whole story of the movie. Only Ahtohallan - who, as "God", has authorial, story-shaping powers - could have carried it out.

The second act of Ahtohallan happens right after Elsa accepts her calling in "Into the Unknown". It is no less impressive in the depths of the thoughts behind the action. Elsa accepting her call triggers the awakening of the elements, and they seem, at the moment, to be angry, requiring evacuation of Arendelle. However, we later learn that this was all for the sake of the Arendellians. That the elements actually intentionally evacuated Arendelle without harming anyone, so that the dam could later be destroyed without the loss of Arendellian lives.

We can go through the usual list of candidates to see that Ahtohallan alone could have been responsible here: Iduna is dead: she's out. Elsa may have triggered the awakening, but she certainly isn't planning on destroying a dam that can wipe out Arendelle at this point. The four elemental spirits are nowhere to be found in this scene. They presumably awakened in the Enchanted Forest. Furthermore, they're still actually enraged at this time: when they encounter Elsa later, they each begin by starting a fight with her. Nokk the water horse outright tries to drown her at first. The earth spirits very nearly kill Anna several times over, simply for her disturbing their sleep. Clearly these four elemental spirits have no special concern for the well-being of Arendellians, until they're tamed later. So when the symbol of elemental unity appears at the end of "Into the Unknown", the only being who could have foreseen the destruction of the dam, and also cared about Arendellians, is Ahtohallan.

Of course, there is a great deal of raw power displayed here in orchestrating the elements in this way. But more impressive still is the moral component of this plan, which is very carefully calculated. This is what really sets this action well beyond the reach of the four elemental spirits, who never exhibit such careful moral concerns, or the depth of thought that it requires. Consider: Ahtohallan must have known, even at this early point, that Anna would sacrifice the physical city of Arendelle, but not the lives of her citizens, to fulfill her task. In fact, in guiding her decision by evacuating the city, it reveals it's own moral preferences to her. It, too, values human life, and will not demand their sacrifice. But it does consider the willingness to sacrifice material things to be a key part of doing "the next right thing". Again, only Ahtohallan, as "God", could have such intimate knowledge of Anna's internal moral thought processes, and interact with her in such a subtle and sublime way.

The last act of Ahtohallan is in the climax, right after Anna manipulates the earth spirits to destroy the dam. Elsa unfreezes, and the Enchanted Forest is freed from the mist. Again, it's easy to see that Ahtohallan alone could have been responsible. It can't be Elsa: she's dead at this point, frozen by Ahtohallan's magic for going too deep. And since Ahtohallan is the source of all magic, who else can thaw what it has frozen? The four elemental spirits have no such ability, and they (except Nokk) are quite clearly shown to be in the "audience" when that third symbol flashes up in the sky. They're looking on that symbol of elemental unity as spectators, rather than as the active party that brought it about. The earth spirits, in particular, were stupidly trying to kill Anna right before this, and seem to be genuinely surprised when they realized that their actions had other consequences. This does not at all accord with the profound thoughts involved in the other instances where the symbol of elemental unity appeared in the sky. So the four elemental spirits cannot have been the ones responsible. Indeed the only sensible interpretation of these events is that it was Ahtohallan acting directly in the world - rewarding the Fifth Spirit for completing its task, and freeing the forest from the mist seal.

Miscellaneous questions

So, that is the overall case for "Ahtohallan" being "God" in this universe. We've gone over a ton of reason for thinking so: it has the necessary characteristics to be "God", and it acts in a manner befitting "God". But we're not quite done yet.

There are some important, persistent questions that come up about the "Frozen" storyline and its universe, which I present below. Some of these questions have already been answered above, in the natural course of explaining things. Some of it can be answered by just carefully thinking about the story. Other answers are of dubious certainty. But, as the last point of evidence that 'Ahtohallan is God', some of these key questions can only be answered convincingly by this interpretation.

Who or what was the Voice that called to Elsa?
It was Ahtohallan, using the call that Iduna used at the moment of her heroism.

It couldn't have been Iduna herself, based on Aurora's explicit statement that the Voice is not human. Nor could it be Elsa's memory of her, since the Voice has new lines when she sings in "Show Yourself", which were never spoken before.

But why does Ahtohallan use Iduna's voice to call to Elsa?
Because when Iduna called for the wind spirit to help her save her enemy, she demonstrated the harmony among nature and peoples that Ahtohallan so greatly desires. That's why she's chosen as the mother of the Fifth Spirit, and why Ahtohallan eventually calls to Elsa using her voice - because Elsa is being tasked with replicating what her mother did, but on a much larger scale.

But what does Elsa think she's hearing? When she sings "Show Yourself", who is it that she expects to find? Who does she actually find?
Elsa is searching for something that she doesn't quite understand. So she calls it by many different names: "the Voice", "secret siren", "someone out there who's a little bit like me", "Fifth Spirit", "a friend I've always known", "a dream I can reach but not quite hold", "the answer I've waited for all of my life", and "mother". Some of these names are more right than others, and they're all right in some ways.

Whatever this entity is, Elsa is hoping that it can answer her lifelong questions about her powers and her role in the universe - and how that ties in with Arendelle, Northuldra, the elemental spirits, and the past.

In "Show Yourself", Elsa goes to the glacier Ahtohallan, and asks to meet this entity that's been calling to her - and finds (or is found by) the God Ahtohallan. This God is like all these things that Elsa thought she was looking for, in some important ways. Ahtohallan is like the Fifth Spirit, in that the Fifth Spirit is Ahtohallan's incarnation into Frozen's world. Ahtohallan is like Elsa herself, because Elsa discovers that she is herself the Fifth Spirit. Ahtohallan is like a mother in at least three different ways: one, because as God, she's mother to all of existence. Two, because she's the "mother" of the Fifth Spirit, in that the Fifth Spirit is her incarnation. And three, because Elsa's mother Iduna was chosen by Ahtohallan to give birth to the Fifth Spirit.

And by finding Ahtohallan, Elsa finds all the answers to the questions she's been asking, and the path forward in her life's purpose. She is the Fifth Spirit, with the power and duty to restore the harmony that was broken by her grandfather, by uniting the peoples and the elemental spirits to herself and thereby to Ahtohallan.

Why did Elsa freeze in Ahtohallan?
It's a well-known trope that it's unsafe to get too close to something truly holy. Now, I don't think this was a direct, specific action by Ahtohallan, like the times we see the symbol of elemental unity in the sky. I think that, as a general rule, there is a limit to how far anyone can go in Ahtohallan, before they're overwhelmed by its power or holiness. That's the reason for the general warning in "All is Found". But Elsa had to travel to that point to find the truth.

How did Elsa un-freeze?
Through a direct action by Ahtohallan, and signified as such by the symbol of elemental unity appearing in the sky. Ahtohallan was rewarding the Fifth Spirit for completing its destined task.

Why was the mist placed, then removed, over the Enchanted Forest?
It was a direct action by Ahtohallan, and signified as such by the symbol of elemental unity appearing in the sky. Now, we have to speculate a bit about why it acted the way it did, but I don't think it's hard to figure out: Ahtohallan values harmony among the people and nature, so it doesn't want their conflict spreading out from the Enchanted Forest - especially when the four elemental spirits themselves are enraged. There was probably a protective intent for the Northuldra as well, as they were severely weakened by the death of their leader, the dam crippling their lands, and the vanishing of the elemental spirits.

So it seals off the forest  - for containment, quarantine, and protection - until everything could be set right through the actions of the Fifth Spirit.

Why does Elsa have ice powers, when she's the Fifth Spirit?
Because Ahtohallan is a frozen glacier. Note that this is quite accidental: if Ahtohallan had settled in a volcano, Elsa might have had fire powers instead. Intrinsically, Ahtohallan is unlikely to have any particular preference for any one element. In any case, Elsa's powers come directly from Ahtohallan, rather than from any of the elements.

What is the relationship between Ahtohallan and the four elemental spirits?
Ahtohallan is their creator, and the source of their magic. They are meant to be in harmony with humans, one another, and Ahtohallan itself, but when that harmony is broken, Ahtohallan has to take more direct action in incarnating the Fifth Spirit, to bring them back into harmony.

How could Elsa leave her kingdom and her sister behind at the end of the movie?
Because a divine calling is one of the very few things that can override a sister's duty to her family, and a monarch's duty to her kingdom.

Why is Elsa travelling to Ahtohallan at the end of the movie? And why does she look so happy?
Because she is the Fifth Spirit, the incarnation of Ahtohallan itself. Ahtohallan is where she feels the most at home, as it's her "mother", her "God", her natural "element", and her very identity.


Thank you for reading through all this. I hope that this interpretation clears up any confusion you've felt about the mythology of Frozen II. Thinking through all this and writing it all down has certainly cleared things up for me. I think that, with all this, we can confidently say that the mythology of Frozen II is not incoherent or messy. We see that it is actually deep and rich. It may be initially hard to understand, but all of it can be explained in a clean, simple way: Ahtohallan is effectively "God". It acts directly in the story at crucial, clearly marked points. Elsa is its "representative" or "incarnation" as the Fifth Spirit. The four elemental spirits are to be in harmony with her, and also with humanity through her. This interpretation explains most of the confusing things about the movie, leaving everything clear and coherent.

By now - in fact, for some time now - you may have noticed the Christological and messianic themes that have been building up. They've quite frankly become too much to ignore. So in the future sometime, I will write a follow-up to this post, exploring how Elsa is Jesus.

You may next want to read:
An analysis of "Let It Go" in Disney's "Frozen"
The Gospel according to Disney's "Frozen"
Another post, from the table of contents

Transmitting the image of God

This is a short follow-up to my work on Interpreting the Genesis creation story, exploring what it means for us to be made in the image of God, and how that image gets transmitted, particularly in relation to any possible "non-Adamic people", and how we are to treat them. I already discussed this at length the above work, but I want to pull in some more examples and applications for it here. It's only a partial exploration of this profound concept, as it relates to the Genesis creation story.

I believe that God imparts some of his image on everything he creates. C.S. Lewis says as much in Mere Christianity, explaining that even empty space is like God in its hugeness. Above and beyond that, I think certain physical things have a certain intrinsic, structural capacity to bear the image of God. So, for instance, empty space is mostly lacking this potential, while a pen and paper have more potential, and a computer program greater potential still. A complete human being has the greatest potential for bearing the image of God: in fact, we know that it’s perfectly sufficient, because it was made specifically for that purpose: to bear not just any image of God, but God himself, in the Incarnation.

Now, as God’s image bearers, we all have a duty to be like him, to the extent that we are able. So like God, we are to emit the image of God to all that we create, influence, or beget, to the fullness of the recipient’s potential.

Of course, this is somewhat speculative, but I think it gives us an excellent guiding principle - not just for the question on non-Adamic people, but for all kinds of questions we may encounter in the future.

So: can we exploit non-Adamic people? Absolutely not. They are fully capable of receiving the image of God, and we have a moral duty to impart it to them. Thereafter they become fully our equals, and we are to treat them as such.

Can we exploit farm animals, for food, materials, or labor? Well, they are not capable of receiving the full image of God - but even to them, we are to impart it to the extent that we are able, to the limits of their capacity. This then prohibits senseless cruelty or needless slaughter of such animals, but it allows for them to be sacrificed for our sustenance, to better maximize something like the ‘total image of God in the system’. Meanwhile, we are to look for ways to better understand and care for the animals under our control, reduce their suffering, and increase their overall capability for the image of God - but of course, such things have to be constantly balanced against other things we can do with our finite capacity, like respecting the image of God in a fellow human who’s going hungry.

How should we treat our pet dogs or cats? Or how about a more intelligent animal, like an elephant or a dolphin? Again, they're not capable of receiving the full image of God, but we are to impart it to them to the extent of their intrinsic capacity. And I think it's pretty clear that we can be quite successful in this endeavor: our dogs can really be good, or really bad. The same mandate which requires us to emit the image of God to other humans demands that we do the same to our pets, that we should try to make our dogs “good boys” or “good girls”.

What happens if we develop ‘true AI’, whatever that means? Or what if we meet space aliens who seem as intelligent as we are? The answer is the same: impart to them the image of God, to the extent that we are able and they are capable of receiving. We then prioritize the total system to maximize this image of God.

In Isaiah’s vision (Isa. 6), the seraphim that stand around God’s throne call out to EACH OTHER, and say, “holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”. Meaning (I think), they’re constantly revealing and receiving the image of God to and from one another, in a way that each individual is uniquely capable of revealing and receiving.

Now admittedly, in my previous work, I had assumed that the "people outside the garden” were simply not made in the image of God. I realized that this was an oversight upon reading Dr. Swamidass's book. But keeping my above answers in mind, I think it's clear that such "people outside the garden" -

  • have the image of God to some extent,
  • are capable of receiving it to the full extent,
  • are lacking some part of the full image of God, in comparison to Adam,
  • and are also missing Adam's original sin - that particular marring of the image of God that resulted from him eating from the forbidden tree.
But overall, I think that the more work needs to be done to strengthen the answers we can give with respect to how we should treat the "non-Adamic people". In fact, I don’t think there’s a limit to how strong we can make the case to love, respect, and uplift such people, hypothetical though they may be. To me, this is VERY closely related to what Christ did for us, and how we are to preach the Gospel.

You may next want to read:
Interpreting the Genesis creation story
A book review: The Genealogical Adam and Eve
Another post, from the table of contents