“Don’t be afraid of the dark? Are you kidding me? Of course you should be afraid of the dark, you know what’s out there!” Dean Winchester – Monster Hunter in Supernatural
I don’t know about you, but I am definitely a fan of the new show “Supernatural.” And as someone with an interest in folklore and the occult, I was particularly fascinated with the concept for this show; two brothers hunting monsters and demons. Sure, they hunted some of the typical stuff, like vampires, but was the show based on actual folklore, or just the imagination of creative writers?
I decided to find out for myself, and armed with my faithful monster and folklore guides, I put “Supernatural” to the test and rented the first season on DVD.
In the pilot episode, Sam and Dean go to investigate a “woman in white.” In this episode they stated that a “woman in white” was a woman who killed her own children because she found out her husband was unfaithful. After killing her children she then committed suicide, and appearing as a ghost woman in a flowing white dress, she haunts, stalks and kills unfaithful men.
One of the dedicated fans of Supernatural actually was able to provide insight for me on this episode (thanks!), and steered me to Wikipedia and La Llorona, the Weeping Woman, or Woman in White.
Originating in Mexico, the tale of La Llorona is indeed a sad one. A beautiful young woman marries, has children, then finds out her husband has left her for another woman. In a moment of insanity, she kills her children (usually by drowning), then realizing what she’s done, she kills herself only to roam for eternity searching for her children.
So, in this particular episode I would have to say that their “woman in white” is definitely based on authentic folkore.
Also in the pilot episode, Sam corrects a young woman wearing a pentagram when she states she wears it to scare her parents with “all that devil stuff.” Sam says to her “actually, it means just the opposite – a pentagram is protection against evil – really powerful…”
This is true. The symbol of the pentagram, also known as the seal of Solomon, or Solomon’s shield, has been found throughout the middle east as far back as 4,000 BCE, and was even drawn upon walls as protection from evil. It was at one point the official seal of Jerusalem and it was not until the middle ages in Europe that it was seen as a sign of the magic and the devil.
Episode 2 – “Wendigo,” follows the brothers are they track their father, and happen upon a small town in Colorado where several campers have mysteriously disappeared from an area known as “Black Water Ridge.” They determine that a Wendigo is the cause of the mysterious disappearances. In this episode they state that a Wendigo, whose name means “evil that devours,” was once a hunter or a frontiersman who was forced through extenuating circumstances to eat human flesh to survive. Once a human has eaten human flesh, it gains superhuman powers of speed, strength, immortality and an insatiable hunger. Neither guns nor knives can kill it, so it must be burned.
All references I found to the Wendigo, are from North American lore, particularly Canada, Wisconsin and Minnesota. According to the local folklore, the Wendigo was once a hunter or frontiersman, and turned to cannibalism to survive. They have superhuman speed, strength and live for a very very long time. I found only one reference to them being killed, but the weapon was not named.
Episode 3 – “Dead in the Water,” takes the brothers to Lake Manitoc, Wisconsin. There they investigate the accidental drownings of several townsfolk and discover a vengeful spirit at work. They say to get rid of a vengeful spirit calls for digging up the corpse, putting salt on it and burning it.
I was unable to find anywhere any folklore related to salting and burning the corpse of a vengeful spirit (hmmm… there is just no way to say that without it sounding a bit strange). Though there are tales of burning the corpses of vampires, and salt has been used throughout the ages for its protective qualities. Most traditional means of getting rid of angry ghosts involves exorcisms and banishings, all done without the need to do anything with the corpse, but instead using ritual tools.
Overall, I would have to say that “Supernatural” tries to use traditional folklore monsters, and traditional means of dealing with them. Of course I’m only reviewing the first three episodes (for today), and you can be sure that more will follow! I think that so far “Supernatural” is proving itself to be a fabulous show for both the folklore lover and the inner monster hunter in all of us.