Never Love a Supernatural Man

I will never love a supernatural man.

Obviously if my husband said to me one day, “Beloved, I’ve been hiding it from you all this time, but I need you to know… I am a vampire,” I wouldn’t dump him. I mean, I’ve survived for almost eight seasons, so I probably won’t die in the final battle. (Don’t tell that to Anya, though.)

But if for some bizarre reason, I found myself on a desert island populated with vampires, werewolves, witches, demons, and demon hunters, I would flat out refuse to date a super-powered man without taking some steps to protect myself. If the sexiest vampire there said to me, “Hey, baby, you wanna mosey on down to the cave with fresh water to watch the stars come out?” I’d make him sign a pre-dating contract that would go something like this:

1. No matter how many nasty-happies it would give me to bite you, I recognize that you, Kristin, are not dinner.

2. I swear that if we get pelvic, I will not lose my soul and kill your friends.

3. If somehow we fall madly and tragically in love, and then some supernatural antagonist starts pursuing you with all the dedication of a depressed teenage girl deprived of Ben & Jerry’s, I swear that I will, without angst or delay, turn you into a vampire so that you can defend yourself.

If he refused to sign my contract, I’d tell him to go sun himself.

And werewolves? Come on. I love dogs, but I’m not going to date one. Kibble breath first thing in the morning? Ew. Plus, they’re always exploding into wolf-form before they attack things, but they seem to get their asses handed to them most of the time. I don’t need a man with a built-in fur coat, especially when he’s just going around getting beat up by the cooler monsters.

The worst of the lot, though, might be the demon-killers. At least a monster is capable of protecting you with tooth and claw, but those hunter-guys have only guns and knives. Plus, they attract danger. When they’re not seeking out the baddies, the baddies are grinding them to a bloody pulp or dragging them into hell. And the mortality rate for love interests on Supernatural is shockingly high: if I ever meet a sexy guy who says he hunts ghosts and ghoulies, I will run far, far away. After I kick him in the shins to debilitate him so he can’t chase me, that is. (Running away is foreplay, you know.)

No, I’ll take a nice, well-adjusted human, thank you very much. I recommend you do the same.

Freudian Friday: Religion in Urban Fantasy

Throughout season four of True Blood, my constant refrain was, “This has to be offensive to Wiccans.” From what I know of Wicca, necromancy and murder aren’t high on the list of healthy pastimes.

More prayin’, less slayin’!

Now that season five has rolled around, though, my refrain is, “Whoa, this is super-offensive to Christians!” The vampires worship Lilith and call the “vampire bible” the true sacred text? Yikes.

It’s gotten me thinking about the treatment of religion in works of urban fantasy. Most universes with demons, ghosts, or witches tend to look toward Judeo-Christian mythology and either corrupt it or use it to ‘preach’ to the audience. On the other side of the coin, we have worlds like the ‘Buffy-verse,’ where Wicca is synonymous with the practice of actual magic and there’s very little worship involved. Religion seems to inform these universes by adding a vocabulary and a mythology rather than shaping them with any remnant of accuracy. And that may not be acceptable to viewers with strong religious belief, of any creed or pantheon.

While we can’t treat religion with kid gloves, we should ask: how far is too far?

Note: this blog post will deal mostly with Christian and Neopagan traditions, only because those are the religions with which I am most familiar. Please, if you can think of additional shows with treatments of additional faiths, leave a comment!

Let’s look at a few portrayal of religion in televised urban fantasy (and/or sci-fi):

Operating within the Judeo-Christian mythology, the Winchesters fight demons, ghosts, pagan gods (who inevitably eat humans), witches (who deal with demons), and even angels. Season five deals with the battle between Michael and Lucifer (yep, that Michael and that Lucifer), who want Dean and Sam respectively as their “vessels.” The boys end up locking both Michael and Lucifer into “the cage,” some trap in hell from which even an archangel can’t escape.

That’s dancing on the line of what may be offensive to some viewers, Christian and Neopagan, but the real rub comes from the show’s treatment of God: he’s missing. Portrayed as an absentee father who never appears in the show and causes endless speculation among viewers, God has washed his hands of the whole race and no longer acts even in the capacity of a deistic “divine mover.” And Jesus? The elephant in the room, so to speak, is never even mentioned.

Angels are not soft and fluffy.

True Blood
As mentioned above, we had a season in which Wiccans appear as harmless Goddess-worshippers and quickly fall under the management of a true witch who wields the power of necromancy and harbors a serious vendetta against vampires. Now we’re learning that the Vampire Authority is split between those who worship Lilith by rote and “terrorists” who fight in Lilith’s name to institute the factory-farming of humans. They quote scripture, too.

Characters frequently pray and ask for God’s protection against the supernatural, but we rarely see truly “good Christian” behavior. Our only experience with a pastor is a man who has an affair with a main character’s mother and later performs an exorcism. That’s… not very inspiring.

It seems that True Blood is an equal opportunity offender.

One believer tortures another.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Buffy exists primarily in a dualistic, secular-humanistic universe. There is a First Evil, but the power of Good and the power of Evil are accessible to humans. The Powers That Be employ and equip champions like Buffy and Angel to fight Evil, but other humans are perfectly capable of fighting against evil without supernatural powers. I’m down with that—I really enjoy system built from the ground up, and this one is such that most dualist believers can place their personal mythology around the show’s framework, while non-believers can watch without offense.

But then there’s the whole sticky wicket of Willow’s “Wicca” and subsequent addiction to magic, which I’ve written about before. The conflation of Wicca and “Powers of Darkness” probably isn’t appreciated by practitioners of a religion that aims to harm none and live in harmony with nature.

Willow prepares to sacrifice a lamb as part of a spell to resurrect Buffy.

Confession: I’m not a Charmed fan. I never watched it as a teen, and when I tried to watch it as an adult, it just didn’t click for me. (I believe the words “sooooo cheesy” came out of my mouth repeatedly.) The show uses Wicca/witchcraft and Wiccan/witch synonymously, even though the characters operate within a Christian framework. Angst follows when a protagonist who identifies herself as Christian discovers that she’s a witch—even though she’s a witch that fights demons.

The show jams Christian mythology and dualism together with so-called Wicca (which is duotheist, not dualistic) and witchcraft, and the resulting blend tastes a little sour to me. The internet is rife with diatribes from both religions, complaining about how the show is Satanic or just plain inaccurate. (Aside: if you like Charmed, please tell me why. I’m always willing to be convinced.)

I’m not sure how they end up reconciling witchcraft to a Christian outlook.

The X-Files
This show spans way too many episodes and monsters-of-the-week for me to discuss them all, but a recurring theme is Scully’s semi-devout Catholicism at war with the things she sees in the show. The show takes that juxtaposition seriously, and it deals with the ongoing battle of how people explain the presence of great good and great evil in the world.

Although the show portrays witchcraft as a “black art” at times, it also presents a villain from Orthodox Jewish mythology: perhaps, like True Blood it offends across the board. That said, I believe that the show portrays supernatural or religious power as good or bad, depending on what the user makes of it. In this universe, Christians are just as likely to do evil as witches.

Mulder and Scully continually debate the merits of belief in a higher power.

Doctor Who
The X-Files‘s stance brings us to our final example, the classic British sci-fi show that perpetually looks askance at religion. Religion is forbidden on shuttle platforms, along with weapons and teleportation. The universe’s Big Bad, the Daleks, are the ones who kill because of belief and blasphemy. The Doctor himself treats religion with disdain, attributing to it more death and woe than many other human practices. While a discussion of religion in Doctor Who could run textbook length, I think it’s sufficient to say that religion occupies a fraught position in that war-torn universe.

The Doctor mocks the “impure” Daleks, whose own technology does not recognize them.

That’s just a sampling of portrayals of religion in urban fantasy and/or sci-fi, and it doesn’t even include books. What do you think, readers? How well does religion stand up in a world of magic and mayhem? What other shows treat faith with finesse or with brutality?

Freudian Friday: The Winchester Boys

Those are some good looking guys.

We’ve been on a Supernatural kick.

I did not expect to like this show. We were looking for something new to watch and Drew said, “You might like Supernatural. It’s sort of urban fantasy and sort of soap opera-y.” (I’d just given up on The Vampire Diaries and was in drama-withdrawal.)

We gave it a try, not expecting much… and, despite a few cheesy moments, we were completely hooked. The brother relationship is realistic, the paranormal stories are often freaky, and the soap opera drama is pretty minimal—and it doesn’t hurt that the cast is ridiculously attractive.

So, if you’re not a CW-watcher, here’s the scoop on Supernatural: After their mother died when they were a kid, Sam and Dean Winchester were raised by their father to be “Hunters” : sort of like all-purpose Ghost Busters who deal with ghosts, ghouls, demons, vampires, werewolves, zombies, angels, and, well, everything. Dean steals Sam away from college to hunt for their father, and they have a lot of arguments about whether or not they should take orders from the missing man who raised them to be soldiers.

The first few seasons involve the brothers’ hunt for the demon that killed their mom, and the discovery that said demon was trying to turn Sam into the Anti-Christ Demon-General. Many crazy hijinks, the death (and resurrection) of each brother, and big adventures ensue.

I’m currently in Season 5, and the focus of the plot is, well, the Apocalypse. Sam accidentally set Lucifer free, and we’ve learned that he (Sam) is Lucifer’s “Vessel” (aka “meat suit”), while Dean is the Vessel for the archangel Michael. The angels are fighting to win the Apocalypse, the demons are trying to, well, end the world, I guess, and no one cares what happens to the humans in the meantime. And the two Biggies need the Winchesters bodies to fight their big boss battle. Apparently.

Need a second to catch your breath? Okay. Here you go. Ogle away:

The Winchesters and their semi-fallen angel sidekick, Castiel.

So, we have a lot going on there. Judeo-Christian mythology obviously plays a huge part in the show, but God in all his forms seems to have left the building. He’s an absentee father whose two oldest sons (Michael and Lucifer) have been fighting over what’s important.

Ultimately, it’s a show about sibling rivalry: older, rule-abiding Dean and younger path-forging Sam, fighting over whose approach is right. Sam walks a fine line, even (SPOILER) ingesting demon blood to enhance his psychic demon-fighting powers. Dean, though (SPOILER) corrupted during his time in Hell, ultimately believes that doing what is right will save the world. Meanwhile, Angel Michael does the will of a Father he no longer knows, while Lucifer broke away from the other angels because he believed their vision—and their father’s vision!—had been clouded. (So he claims, anyway.)

It does raise a lot of important questions: Do we do as our parents tell us, or do we try to blaze our own trail? Do the ends justify the means? What role does free will have in a world where beings far more powerful than us can claim our bodies for their own purposes?

Since it’s Freudian Friday, we have to talk about the whole father-issues bit. The parallel is not hard to spot: hard-ass John Winchester putting the fight before his own sons and absentee God putting his Creation before his children. (This is all debatable, of course, and I’m not here to talk theology: this is a fictional show, people. Remember that before you get upset.) Dean and Sam, and Michael and Lucifer, are struggling to deal with their father’s choices, and, in that struggle, they have to learn how to follow their own consciences. The show’s ultimate question is how to carry the burdens our parents left us.

We can’t entirely blame the fathers, though. All of these men (human, angel, devil, or otherwise) do have free will. They choose for themselves how to approach their battles, and although they may have taken birth order attitudes toward the world, they each take repeated tumbles from the posts they were raised to sit.

Phew. That’s pretty heavy stuff for what seems like a lightweight show.

What do you think, readers? How do Sam and Dean carry their father’s torch? What do you think of their attitudes and approaches to the battles they fight? Why have they fallen into traditional birth order roles, and how have they broken out of those roles?