by Mark Stavish
Abaddon, She’s Just Misunderstood
“Supernatural has everything. Life. Death. Resurrection. Redemption. But above all, family. All sorts of music you can really tap your toe to. It isn’t some meandering piece of genre dreck. It’s… epic !” – Calliope, “Fan Fiction”, Season 10/Episode 5
I wasn’t always a fan of the television show Supernatural. In fact, I watched a few episodes when its first season originally aired and was indifferent to the story line. It was not until about three years ago when a friend sent me a DVD containing two episodes—“As Time Goes By” and “Everybody Hates Hitler”—that I began watching it. Or rather I marathon-viewed seasons on Netflix.
(Please be advised that the next few paragraphs contain “spoilers” of the show!)
“As Time Goes By” introduces us to the demonic bad girl “Abaddon” and to the secret society known as the “Men of Letters.” The Men of Letters are an occult order that provides (or rather “provided,” as they were ultimately wiped out by Abaddon) information to “Hunters” so they could do their business. Hunters, as the name suggests, hunt down and kill demons and other things that go bump in the night. The heroes of our show, Sam and Dean Winchester, are third-generation Hunters.
However, it was “Everybody Hates Hitler” that hit home. You see, this episode takes place in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. It just so happens that I was born and raised in Wilkes-Barre, and lived there for a few years in the mid-1990s. During that time, I was running an esoteric group (complete with a working temple) involved in research for the Occult Research and Applications (ORA) Project of The Philosophers of Nature (PON). I was interviewed at the time for a documentary on the Nazi-occult connection being produced for the History Channel. I also wrote an article entitled “Occult Reich” which I sent the producers a copy of; amazingly, the documentary ended up nearly identical to the article in content and flow. It was during this time that I also began working on a short story about a golem. The golem is said to be a magical being brought to life by rabbis who have knowledge of the Kabbalah. The purpose of the golem is to protect Jews during times of crisis. The last golem is said to have been made in Prague by Rabbi Lowe.
Now, let’s fast forward to 2013—more specifically, to Season Eight/Episode Thirteen of the television show Supernatural. Here we have an episode that takes place in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, focused around a secret occult society, a rabbi who makes a golem, and occult Nazis. A large part of the episode takes place in the local university library, particularly the reference section. Now, this is important. There is only one university specifically in town, and it was in the library where I worked during my freshman and sophomore years in college (in the media portion of the reference section). It is also named after John Wilkes, the city and university’s namesake. What makes this more interesting is that John Wilkes was a member of Parliament during the American Revolution and a supporter of the colonies, but was also a member of the infamous Hellfire Club—a secret society with possible occult practices (along with general debauchery). It was the arrest of Wilkes that precipitated the decline of the Hellfire Club, but by no means its extinction. A large statue of John Wilkes stands upon the grounds of Wilkes University, directly in front of the library.
Coincidence you say? The power of a thought-form? Great creative minds thinking alike? Possibly one of the above or outright theft; either way, it is good grist for this week’s column.
Monster of the Week
The general theme of nearly every supernatural-oriented television show has been the utilization of the “monster of the week” scenario, wherein a monster is encountered and defeated in under an hour of screen time. The monster-of-the-week format worked well for Kolchak the Night Stalker (1974-75) and the two made-for-television movies starring Darren McGavin that preceded it (1972 and 1973). Night Stalker is often believed to have been the inspiration behind The X-Files (1993-2002) and X-Files, of course, was the show that nearly single-handedly defined the 1990s and the culture of modern conspiracy theories. Prior to that, Rod Serling’s Nightgallery (1970-1973) brought the viewer an anthology of horror, some of it deeply rooted in real occultism, such as “The Return of the Sorcerer” starring Vincent Price and Bill Bixby, and at least three episodes based on the writings of H. P. Lovecraft, with the word Cthulhu being said (possibly for the first time on national television when it aired on November 10, 1971) in “Professor Peabody’s Last Lecture,” starring Carl Reiner as Professor Peabody. While some would argue that Lovecraft and the various editions of the famed Necronomicon (a possible partial influence of “The Return of the Sorcerer”) inspired by him are not “real occultism,” authorities such as Kenneth Grant (1924-2011) and practitioners of Chaos Magic would disagree.
In several articles I have spoken about the media, and popular media in particular, as vehicles for positioning archetypes within the contemporary mind. Recently, an older article on the role of Batman – The Dark Knight as embodiment of the state of “guardian” was re-posted, much to the enjoyment of several readers. Additionally, this theme was addressed in greater detail in The Inner Way – The Power of Prayer and Belief in Spiritual Practice (2014). Many television shows from the 1990s to present, in particular those that deal with the supernatural (although not necessarily the occult, such as Highlander, in which our hero is over 240 years old, a theme picked up by the recent television show The Immortal) also embody our aspirations and ways of realizing them, as well as our fears and methods of resolving them. Some do this in surprising way, such as the television show Charmed (1998-2006). For all of the criticism aimed at it, including pot-shots from “real witches,” the show’s longevity is a testimony to its popularity, a popularity that after the second or third season relied on the quality of its writing, story arc, character development, and fundamental premise: that of the happy ending. That was the secret. As I discussed in detail in last week’s article, beyond “boobs and the book,” the strength of the show was that in the end, everyone was happy. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, (1997-2003), another all-time favorite, and its spin-off Angel (1999-2004) relied on the same strength to move beyond the “monster of the week” format that nearly all supernatural shows are initially based on and—if not careful—die of as well. Instead of the happy ending, it was existential angst that drove our human characters: humans that felt alone and abandoned in a world where violence, death, and evil were only a breath away. God was an absent father, and Mother Earth a “hell-mouth” that spat out its refuse on a regular basis. Here, human beings had to solve their own problems without help from the invisible (or at least without help they could trust on a regular basis).
However, it is Supernatural (2005) that has seemed to outlive all of them, and much to my surprise at that. Going on its twelfth season, the show gives no signs of stopping, despite stopping “THE Apocalypse” on a regular basis. Unlike its other supernatural predecessors (family friendly shows such as Warehouse 13 [2009-2014] or The Librarians [2014-2015]), Supernatural can be graphic in its violence, crude in its language (for broadcast television), and is willing to venture into the depths of individual despair and desperation. Hemlock Grove (2013), a show filmed in Ontario but set in my home state of Pennsylvania,[i] and Grimm (2011), a cop crime-thriller that focuses around monster-related themes, may be similar in this way. Constantine (2014), based on the DC comic book Hellblazer, is a recent addition to the list of demonology- and occult-focused television programming where the hero is damned, but seeks to protect the innocent from the forces of evil as an act of repentance.
It is this repentance—be it in the form of salvation or illumination and what it means to you—that we will examine next week in Part Two.
[i] Some people claim that Pennsylvania may be the most haunted state in the union, but I think Connecticut gets the prize for paranormal craziness per capita and per square mile.