For those of us not wanting to wait ten months until October, I would highly recommend watching the Netflix adaptation of Archie Comic’s The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. While I do have issues about portraying witches as exclusively Satanists (a Christian branding), the show has peaked my interest enough to want to write about it. While there’s a whole list of things up to discussion:
- the similarities between this world’s Church of Night and other religion’s (Christian) structure and hierarchy
- hypocrisy of church leaders
- complete devotion to a deity
- Free Will vs. subservience to a “higher plan”
- lack of progressive male characters
- the degrees of feminism
- the traditional symbolism behind witches (and the irony of them blindly following a male god)
I would like to focus on the humanism of the witches. I don’t mean Sabrina’s literal half-humanness. I mean “human” in the general term, regardless of their lifespan. Sabrina and the other characters demonstrate they are most powerful when they find a common ground and call upon each other for aid not a deity (God or Satan).
This community of humans (mortal and witch) is painfully evident in Chapter Six: An Exorcism in Greendale. When Sabrina finds out that Suzie’s Uncle Jessie is being possessed by the demon Apophis, she decides the best way to prevent her friends from being infected themselves is to perform an exorcism. Questioning the possibility of witches using exorcisms, Prudence (a fellow classmate) answers with:
Exorcisms are a Catholic rite. In which male priests call upon the False God for assistance to expel demons.
Her professor, Father Blackwood, adds (repeatedly) that witches aren’t allowed to perform exorcisms because of the above definition. Not only is it in bad taste for a witch to interfere in mortal affairs, it’s also frowned upon to fraternize with Christian powers given their allegiance with the Dark Lord. This definition of an exorcism is revealed to be incomplete.
At the climax of the chapter, Sabrina confronts Apophis to exercise it from Uncle Jessie. She, however, isn’t alone, and it’s not God or Satan whose presence is required for a witch’s exorcism. Turns out, there is a rite created by Sabrina’s father exclusively to be performed by a witch:
“Unlike the Catholic exorcism, which draws its potency not on the priest performing it but from the False God, Edward’s rite relies on the power of the individual witch challenging the demon, and on the continuum of … witches that predate us all.”
The revelation about this hitherto unknown work of Sabrina’s father is what compelled me to write this article. Sabrina’s successful exercising of the demon comes not from the power of a supernatural force but from the strength and magic of the witches present (herself, Ms. Wardwell, her aunts Hilda and Zelda) and those not present. Those past witches from the shade (among them Lilith, Morgan la Fey, Anne Boleyn, and Artemis) are evoked with the incantation “visit us sisters, intercede on our behalf!” The combined efforts of the “humans” vanquish their foe completely autonomous of any supernatural force.
In a story where so many of characters hold such a high reverence (and fear) of their god the Dark Lord Satan, they are still able to match and defeat an ancient demon without his help. It relates perfectly to another story about another magical world. Yes, I mean Harry Potter. I’ve written before about Harry’s highest moment as a wizard when he conjured the Patronus charm at the end of Prisoner of Azkaban. In that article, I explained how this moment was the embodiment of Jo’s philosophy about the huge appeal and interest people have in magic. In an Interview with Oprah, Jo paraphrases a popular notion that “in magic, man must rely on himself” meaning that magic empowers us to shape our world without the aid of another. Isn’t that precisely what took place during the exorcism of Uncle Jessie? It’s why I love when stories which employ magic often showcase this distinguished humanistic trait–the appeal to oneself or a community of others to find one’s best self, rather than reaching out to an ambiguous supernatural being, whose identity varies depending on whom you ask.
Honorable mentions of humanism amongst the witches include the quite graphic chapter following the exorcism–Feast of Feasts–when the witches literally fed off another to survive the winter and when Sabrina and her two best friends Suzie and Roz form WICCA, a group to protect girls and other outcasts in the school from bullies.
Unfortunately, this championing of witches for humanism is voided. By the the manipulation of Ms. Wardwell, Sabrina is forced to sign The Book of The Beast in order to save Greendale from the cull of the Red Angel of Death. Sabrina summons the bluebell hell-fire to burn the Greendale 13, vengeful witches who were released in the first place by Ms. Wardwell. In the end, Sabrina had to channel the power of a deity to become victorious. However, I’m looking forward to Part II. There are many questions left unanswered, and I need to know! I think the story will turn around in favor of humanism again. Surely events will unfold and secrets revealed that will challenge Sabrina to outwit the Devil himself.
feature photo: Archie Comics