by N.A. McDermott
Ghosts, ghouls and things that go bump in the night are the stuff of nightmares for most of us, but for Supernatural‘s Sam and Dean Winchester they are all in a day’s work. While every show of this nature has a mythology at its heart, the Monster of the Week episodes provide the day-to-day antagonists for our heroes to deal with. In the four years that Supernatural has been on our screens, the Winchester brothers have encountered more creatures and entities than even the wildest imagination could conjure. From the initial concept of two brothers whose mission statement of “saving people, hunting things” mostly ran to urban-legends-come-to-life and standard horror-genre monsters, the range now includes pagan gods, sirens, shtrigas, ghouls, tricksters, and, most frequently, demons and angels.
Early episodes of Supernatural were based around Sam and Dean Winchester’s search for their missing father, dealing with cases pertaining to urban legends that they encountered along the way. While these included such well-known American lore as The Woman in White, Bloody Mary and the Hookman, horror staples of vengeful spirits, vampires and poltergeists also made it into the first season. However, the writers did not limit themselves only to urban legends and standard horror fare. They expanded the remit to deal with lesser-known beings such as life-inhaling shtrigas and shadowy daevas, as well as one first-season episode (“The Benders”) in which the bad guys were merely very-creepy humans with no supernatural powers whatsoever.
Season two continued in a similar vein, with zombies, werewolves and a djinn (genie) being added to the collection of evil spirits and shapeshifters. Demons also became more prominent in the show’s mythology in the aftermath of the first season’s cliffhanger. The third season was also rife with demons, after many took the opportunity to escape from Hell when an entrance gate to the Pit was opened at the end of season two. However, it still included changelings, vampires, witches and a manipulative crocotta despite its shortened length due to the Hollywood writers’ strike. Season four saw the introduction of angels to the Supernatural roll call of entities. The season was very mythology-driven and largely centred around a Heaven-versus-Hell battle to stop Lucifer from rising. There were several non-mythology episodes which dealt with a flesh-eating rougarou, ghouls, a shapeshifter with a fondness for old monster movies, magicians who delve too deeply into the black arts, and a siren.
As the seasons have progressed, the show’s mythology has become more established, with demons and now angels becoming the most common foe for the boys. When demons made their first appearance in the show’s fourth episode (“Phantom Traveler”), viewers had no idea that they would become an integral part of the show. There was no indication at that point that the shadowy figure standing over Baby Sammy’s cradle in the Pilot would turn out to be Azazel (Yellow Eyed Demon), who was the main source of the Winchesters’ bad luck since their mother’s first encounter with him in 1973. There have been four types of demon on the show. Red-eyed or Crossroads demons make deals with the needy and greedy in return for their souls in ten years’ time (if they are lucky) or in one year (if they are Dean Winchester). Black-eyed demons, like Meg and Ruby, are the most common type. Yellow-eyed demons are charismatic and manipulative and white-eyed demons seem to be the most powerful, with Alastair being the chief torturer in Hell. Making deals with demons is a Winchester weakness, and all except Sam have been successful in their attempts.
Angels have proven difficult to trust, as they too have their own agendas and are not above manipulating humans to achieve their goals. Since the introduction of Castiel at the beginning of season four, it was clear that cherubs on fluffy clouds were not what the Supernatural writers were trying to portray. Their version of angels is emotionless, aloof, hard-nosed and cruel. Far from trying to stop the rise of Lucifer, the angels fully intended for it to happen, with some angels (Uriel) even pledging allegiance to Lucifer. Castiel, wh o pulled Dean from Perdition, is showing more emotion towards humans as time passes, and now finds himself torn between his heavenly duties and his increasing loyalty towards Dean. Zachariah, on the other hand, is still hard to read, and, beyond admitting that the angels wanted the final seal to be broken, his true colours have not yet been revealed.
While American folklore has provided much material for the writers on Supernatural, with Native American lore such as the Wendigo being included, they have also borrowed from European and Asian sources in creating stories for the show. Pagan gods featured in “A Very Supernatural Christmas”, and the changelings in the season three episode “The Kids Are Alright” are common in Western European folklore. Scandinavian legends provided the background for both the Vanir featured in “Scarecrow” and the Trickster from “Tall Tales” and “Mystery Spot” (partly based on Loki). The soul-eating crocotta that featured in “Long Distance Call” was taken from an Indian myth and reworked for the show’s purposes, and the shtriga who inhaled the life-force of sleeping children in “Something Wicked” is based on an old Albanian fable of a witch which sucked the blood from small children as they slept.
Supernatural has always given its own twist to the legends used in the show, but several of the monsters that have been featured have been portrayed differently to the established lore. One example occurs in the fourth season episode “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Sam Winchester”, where the brothers tackle the demon Samhain. Samhain is actually a pagan feast marking the start of winter and the time when the veil between the living and the dead is at its thinnest, and is the source of many modern Halloween traditions. However, the writers decided to use a long-debunked theory that Samhain was the god of the dead, perpetuated by Godfrey Higgins in an 1827 book. This may have suited the show’s mythology but left many of those familiar with the pagan feast baffled. The crocotta in “Long Distance Call” is another example. The Indian legend tells of a dog-wolf creature that either digs up the dead or lures animals or humans to their deaths, while the creature featured in the episode was human-like. The reason for the latter can most likely be attributed to the show’s time and budget constraints, which don’t allow for expensive or extravagant special effects.
Supernatural’s monsters of the week have ranged from the sublime (demon Alastair, Scarecrow) to the ridiculous (killer, racist monster truck anyone?). Season five is now upon us and most of the show’s emphasis will again be on the Apocalypse and the continuing Heaven-versus-Hell battle. However, there are bound to be plenty of episodes that feature other monsters with no part to play in the mythology, but who will challenge the Winchesters’ hunting skills and entertain the viewers.
N.A. McDermott is a Supernatural fan who enjoys writing occasionally, mostly poetry, in her spare time.
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