Chilling Adventures of Sabrina

Real witches and pagans break down Netflix's Chilling Adventures of Sabrina

Contributed by
Nov 17, 2018

A customer walked into The Green Man in Los Angeles and asked for help — she had a collection of crystals from various places and had forgotten what each of them were.  Shana Leilani, a witch who works at the shop, was happy to identify them. The customer grew curious — what kind of store was this, really? A metaphysical store, Leilani explained. As in magic. As in witchcraft.

“I tried to say it in a very gentle way because I knew she obviously didn’t really understand what that was,” Leilani recalls. “But then she burst into, ‘Oh, so you’re Satanists, and you’re all going to hell!’”

It’s common to mistake witchcraft for Satanism. In fact, it’s been done ever since medieval clerics first wrote about the imaginary cult of witches as Devil worshippers in such demonological texts as the Errores Gazariorum, the Fortalitium Fidei, the Formicarius, and the Malleus Maleficarum. That last book connected (mostly) women to the same imaginary practices once imputed to early Christians in ancient Rome: cannibalism, child sacrifice, sexual perversion, and the worship of evil.

Pagans, witches, and Satanists are used to hearing these stories, which is why Leilani was patient when she told her customer that, “No, I do not eat babies; I do not ride on a broom.” But this traditional stereotype of witches as Satan worshippers persists not only in the public imagination, but also throughout popular culture and horror iconography.

The latest example? In Netflix's Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, based on the Archie Comics series, witches worship the Dark Lord, sign their name into the Book of the Beast, and attend black masses and other unholy rites (including feasting on human flesh) at the Church of Night.

Since actual pagans, witches, and Satanists practice none of these things, SYFY WIRE decided to call up a few of them and get their help in separating some of Sabrina’s fact from fiction.

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina

Credit: Netflix

COULD IT BE... SATAN? 

First, let’s get the S-word out of the way and define a few other terms. For the most part, “pagan” is an umbrella term for anyone who follows an earth-based or nature-based religion with multiple deities (duotheism and polytheism), or who recognizes a divine feminine (the Goddess). Not all pagans are witches, and not all witches are Wiccan. And the majority of pagans, Wiccans, and witches have nothing to do with Satan, which is a Christian construct.

“Most of them don’t believe in Satan or the devil,” Leilani says. Neither do most Satanists.

“It’s a pretty common misconception that Satanism is like Christianity, but instead of God, they worship the Devil,” says Lilith Starr, founder of the Seattle chapter of the Satanic Temple. “But we don’t believe in a literal Satan. We don’t believe in supernatural forces.”

While there are some cultish Satanists who do believe in a literal Satan, most Satanists would actually subscribe to Father Blackwood’s original hard sell, when he tried to convince Sabrina to sign up for a Dark Baptism — their belief system is based on free will, self-empowerment, and consent. Those ideals are espoused in the real-world Church of Satan and in the Satanic Temple, where the idea of a fallen angel is an abstract concept.

Sabrina’s Church of Night is more like a reverse Christianity — an organized religion with a patriarchal governing body, a (Satanic) Bible, 13 Commandments to live by, and above all, one (male) deity.

“I don’t have a problem if they want to worship Satan,” Dakota Bracciale says. 

Bracciale is a witch who recently led a public hexing of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh at Brooklyn’s Catland Books (where poppets were utilized in much the same way that Madam Satan uses them). “But I do have questions. Why are they trading one patriarchal figure for another? And if you’re still within the wheelhouse of Christianity, are you really exploring spirituality at that point?”

Apart from Beelzebub himself, Sabrina also features a few lesser demons and with the character of Madam Satan, the show also invokes the name of Lilith, a controversial figure. 

“There’s a lot of folklore surrounding Lilith,” Bracciale says. “You can go either way. Either she’s like a deity, a goddess, or she’s the mother of demons. She’s the first woman ever created, but she wouldn’t submit to Adam, so she had to leave the Garden of Eden. And when God sent an angel to see what she was up to, she was birthing demons into the world. So she’s a super badass figure, a defiant, unconquerable woman who makes herself evil to fight the patriarchy!”  

Not everything popularly associated with Satanism is actually Satanist. The pentagram, for example — a representation of the elements of earth, air, fire, water, and spirit — is a symbol of balance and protection.

“Hollywood took the pentagram and turned it upside down and made it a sign of evil,” Leilani explains. “It’s almost like the inverted cross — you see it and you automatically go, ‘Bad.’”  

Similarly misunderstood, Starr explains, is the Sabbatic goat Baphomet, whose appearance in the foyer of the show’s Academy of the Unseen Arts is currently the subject of a Satanic Temple lawsuit against Netflix. The Temple sees Baphomet as a symbol of religious liberty and is upset that it is now being associated with Sabrina’s brand of faux-Satanism and could possibly contribute to yet another Satanic panic.

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina

Credit: Netflix

PRACTICAL MAGIC

Okay, so they’re not Satan worshippers. So what do witches do? Paintings depicting early ideas of witches — from John William Waterhouse’s The Magic Circle to Goya’s Witches’ Sabbath — now fill the walls of Sabrina Spellman’s home, but real modern witches, operate a little differently. Some practice Strega. Some are Druids. Some follow different paths.

“You ask three witches a question, you’ll get five answers,” Daniela Yumiko Masserang, a very up-to-date witch herself, says.

Witches might be mildly irked, if not offended, by the liberties Sabrina takes with their practices, but they also understand the need for drama in the era of peak TV, and realize that actual witchery probably wouldn’t provide much of it. “Nobody would watch it if Sabrina were just taking an herbal bath,” says Bruja Brittany Bella Graham

Leilani says, “The appeal of witchcraft is dangerous and sexy, but real witches are more like your grandma.”

Or like Aunt Hilda, who seems to be the favorite depiction of real-life witchery. A kitchen witch who focuses on healing, who has studied herbalism, who cares about karma. A lot of what she advises is good (salt baths, reversing candles, etc.), but some of it is a little... off.

Take the tonic that Aunt Hilda makes for Sabrina to “purify” her body before the Dark Baptism. Or actually, don’t take it. It combines real herbs found in witch apothecaries, but then tosses in ones that are “totally toxic” and as well as fake Satanic ingredients invented over the years for movies like Rosemary’s Baby.

“I was like, ‘Who’s consulting for you guys? You got about five percent right and then you went off in this whole different direction,’” Leilani says. “I really hope some dumb teenager doesn’t try drinking this. You better really know your dose, or you could end up killing yourself.”

Another practice, mirror scrying — when Madam Satan enchanted the mirror to spy into Sabrina’s house — also has a less fantastical corollary in the real world. Think of it more like staring into the clouds and spotting shapes in the clouds. Same concept, but with a black mirror and a lit candle. Hold the flame close to the mirror, “and you start to see things,” Leilani says. Just not into Sabrina’s house.

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina

Credit: Netflix

SPIRIT GUIDES AND FAMILIARS

Cousin Ambrose uses it to go on a date. Sabrina uses it to confront a demon who has possessed her friend’s uncle. Aunt Hilda does it to go and chat. Does astral projection really work like that? Not necessarily. If you leave your body to go and explore, it’s usually to visit other realms, not to pop around Greendale. In shamanistic practices, it means journeying into the upper, middle, or lower realms.

“From a shamanic perspective, you can go into different dimensions, into different galaxies,” shaman Kay Dougherty says. “I could go to the Andromeda galaxy. I could project and go there. It doesn’t really matter, how far you go. The idea is that your consciousness is subtle enough to be able to do it because fundamentally, we’re all interconnected.”

“I have astral projected before,” Graham says. “It wasn’t intentional. It’s kind of like an out of body experience, and you’re kind of looking back at yourself, like, ‘What’s going on?’ But nobody has ever seen me.”

Astral projection, as Sabrina attests, is also dangerous. “It’s like leaving your keys in the car, with the car door open,” Leilani says. (Her husband has a tendency to do this accidentally in his sleep, so she made a pouch of protective herbs to put under his pillow). “You’re not going to be able to accomplish much, other than have a trippy dream that you have to try and figure out its significance,” Leilani says.

A spirit guide, or protective spirit, could help on the journey, but that’s not likely going to be your familiar, which is just a “magically inclined animal,” Leilani says. Familiars can assist you in your magical workings, but they are not the spirits of goblins, as Sabrina suggests. (“That’s just stupid,” she laughs). However, where Sabrina gets it right — at least with Sabrina and Salem’s bond — is that the relationship should be a pact between equals.

“That meshes with my personal experience in working with spirits, and that was nicely done,” Masserang says. “They give you something, you give them something back. If someone’s talking to Thor about the weather, if they want it to rain or not rain, they might say, ‘If you do this for me, I’ll do you a favor. I’ll honor you.’ That could be singing a song or pouring out a bottle of mead.”

But during Sabrina’s exorcism scene, Sabrina, her aunts, and Madam Satan call on a litany of spirits, without offering anything in return. Their list is impressive — from historical icons to fictional figures to goddesses to their own ancestors — but confusing.

“It was a really huge mash-up of different pantheons,” Leilani says. “I’ve never been to a ritual where you’re calling on different ones at the same time.” And some of the names were women who had been accused of witchcraft (and even executed for it), but the assumption has been that they were wrongly persecuted. Sabrina is suggesting otherwise.

"The historical reality is that a lot of the time, the people who were executed simply got on the wrong side of the wrong person,” Masserang says. “They were maybe a bit strange, or practiced the wrong religion, or even just the wrong brand of Christianity, or were just a little old lady widower with a suspicious amount of money and a pet cat.”

Especially curious is that the exorcism ritual called upon Lilith as its very first name – a woman, or goddess, or demon, or witch, depending on your interpretation, who was not a spirit but who was standing right there in the flesh. (Madam Satan, when asked who she is in the finale episode, states, “I am the mother of demons, the dawn of doom, Satan’s concubine, I am Lilith, first wife to Adam, saved from despair by a fallen angel… I am the future queen of hell.”)

Even if Sabrina didn’t know Madam Wardwell’s true identity at that point, she should have realized that the rite wasn’t quite right. (“If I was going to do that exorcism, I wouldn’t call on Lilith for it,” Leilana says.)

Perhaps Madam Satan, too, takes some creative license.


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