So I just finished binge watching American Horror Story Coven. I don't pay for cable and so I had been waiting for it to come out on Netflix. Many of my Facebook friends wanted a response there but I think a paragraph or two would not be enough for me to convey my thoughts so I decided to write a blog to flesh out more of my opinion about it. My lens is not that of a movie critic or Hollywood person, it is of a person who is part of an initiatory tradition of Witchcraft and a student of the occult. For my more diligent and hardcore readers please feel free to skip this post because it really is an opinion piece and your millage may vary. Also if you have not seen this series there will be SPOILERS so turn back before it is too late!!
In a nutshell we see that the story revolves around a coven of witches descended from the witches of Salem and who are now living in New Orleans. They are lead by a narcissistic, vain and sociopathic head witch called the "Supreme" otherwise known as Fiona Goode. Fiona seems to only want to run around and preserve her beauty as well as kill off her would be successor as Supreme because ....there can be only one! There is a witches academy run by Cordelia Foxx who also happens to be Fiona's daughter. There is no surprise that the mother daughter relationship is a mess and so is the school. At this point there are only four student witches and a fifth independent, Zoe who is a regular suburban girl, Madison a druggy movie star, Queenie the only black witch, Nan who is a special needs girl with Down's Syndrome and later Misty who wanders in from the Louisiana Swamp. Each of these girls has their own specific gifts and talents and each draws their own lines in the sand as they decide to clique up and show down to see who will be the next Supreme.
|Fiona Goode artist unknown|
If the bickering and backstabbing of the girls were not enough for conflict in this series we must throw in some true enemies for good measure and since we are in New Orleans let us say Marie Laveau and her Voodoo crew. You see Marie sold her soul to Papa Legba, who seems to resemble and behave more like Bawon Samdi but that is beside the point, in order to gain immortality and power. The house of Witchcraft and the house of Voodoo have had a truce for a while now but as you can imagine Fiona goes and screws it up because she wants to be immortal and beautiful like Marie Laveau. And Fiona in her screwing up of things digs up Marie Laveau's old enemy that she made immortal, the chilling Delphine LaLaurie (who was a historical figure), in order to trade her for the beauty potion except that backfires because Laveau is not amused. I sort of got lost on the whole Madame LaLaurie bit because the character only seemed to be there to add lots of mean gore!
Anyway like a good ole' gang turf war folks get killed on both sides and just when things are starting to get really bad we see that there is another enemy that both houses will have to worry about. The witch hunters!!!! Descendants no doubt of Cotton Mather and Matthew Hopkins ready to burn and kill some modern witches yet again! I was kind of hoping that they would refer to and use the Malleus Maleficarum in their hunts but alas no. Alliances switch and the two houses come together to sort themselves out and survive the hunters. They easily dispatch the hunters in an anti-climatic bloodbath over whiskey. After some more backstabbing by Fiona and later her death wherein she declared no successor, the Coven prepares to test for the next Supreme but they all have to go through the test which is unprecedented in Witch history class. Then white witch Stevie Nicks (right she has to be a "white" witch cause she's nice or something) sings a cool witchy song and they start the trials. At this point we are suppose to root for our favorites, hopefully no one was rooting for Madison because she was way to cardboard cut out bitchy. As they go through them it turns out that Cordelia, Fiona's daughter, is actually the next Supreme surprise, surprise!! And only two girls to survive are Zoe and Queenie who were the most fleshed out character wise. Cordelia ends by reaching out to girls all over the country who may be witches and invites them in the most McWiccan way possible to "come out" and live in harmony at the school where they will be safe and cherished hopefully not letting them in on the murderous and haunted past of the house. Amen and Blessed Be. Sigh.
|17th century witch burning|
First of all besides all the plot holes, I thought there were only the five to seven witches at the academy left but no there seem to be a bunch all over the country.It is odd that there seem to be no witches in Europe or Asia or Africa. Because I suppose only American white girls can be witches with the exception of Queenie who is black but a Voodoo but not, gah I am still confused. Also there is this council of Elders which all get killed but there seem to be others out there in the wilds they allude to, so not sure what that was all about. I was also not sure if there was only one coven with a Supreme or if each coven had a Supreme. And I felt bad for Marie Laveau even though she was a crazy bitch as well. See she was outgunned. She was the only one doing magic in her house and there were a bunch of witches gunning for her.
When I looked at the magic itself it was interesting because Marie seemed to have to go into a trance and call down spirits and her powers involving Necromany and Nigromancy were off the charts bad ass. She had sold her soul to the Devil (Legba) which will get Christian folks panties all in a bunch but is actually an important part of African folk magic traditions involving power and the Spirits. IF it scares you read about it and fill in the gaps in your knowledge. Anyway the witches on the other hand seemed to all be naturally gifted for magic and it just flowed through them and with training and control and exercise they were able to focus and build their power. They seemed to call on Spirits, I think I heard ....wait for it.....Hecate...mentioned once but I was unsure. So we are seeing a juxtaposition of different magical theory and how one may affect change in the world be it in natural abilities or in the use of pacts with Spirits. Seeing that these nuances were here did make me happy as did some of the herb lore such as the use of asofoetida for banishing the evil dead! Go American Horror Story Coven's research team!!
I was however, disappointed with the total lack of creativity on the part of the writers in that they TOTALLY ripped off other witch movies and horror movies. I can just hear the team discussing how to appease the banal plebeian masses by throwing in cliches like oh how about zombies. Yeah "The Walking Dead" show is kicking ass and taking names so throw in some zombies...hey Marie Laveau....Voodoo....Zombies....Fuck YEAH! And to make it even better we will have one of the girls kill them with a chainsaw because America loves sexy chicks who kick ass and no one will remember Bruce Campbell and the Army of Darkness! Boo, Hiss American Horror Story!!! Bad kitty BAD!! There were also clear rip offs of "Practical Magic" in the Herbarium of the house as well as the fact that the main set was an uber huge and witchy house. And it is a coven of bitchy girls with too much power, no real training and a token black girl...which we have all seen before because that was the plot of "The Craft"!! This movie was like a mishmosh of witchy and horror movies that we known and love with the violence and gore that American Horror Story is so well known for. I think though that this is their weakest season yet sorry to say. I was hoping for more but alas it was not to be.
|Bruce Campbell "Army of Darkness"|
So did I like it? Well yes as a fan of horror I did in a lukewarm way. It was entertaining and even though there were things I knew were going to happen like, oh yeah Queenie changing sides and going to the house of Voodoo, I was still entertained albeit with annoyances along for the ride. The end really got me too because it made no sense. They seemed to first say that there were barely any more witches left and then all of a sudden there are dozens of them! I suppose it is a silent juxtaposition of traditional initiatory witchcraft and Wicca. One is secret, hidden and has very few and the other (as a religion) is open and there for all the masses. And seriously so many people do not take into consideration the four powers of the Sphinx! If you would like to know WHY it is important to be silent about your witchcraft and keep hidden please read this article here.
However, entertainment and cringes aside it is interesting to see how popular culture views the witch. Both horrible and beautiful, deadly and alluring, the fascination is still there. I wish that American Horror Story would have done more in depth research about witchcraft (remember this was about Witches not Wiccans) but then how could they? With so much that is hidden in traditional witchcraft and held as oral lore there really are few books to turn to and no real easy pointers to who is or is not a traditional witch. What this show was doing was trying to turn a profit and appeal to the American masses (whom are not witches) and that is fine. It really is not fair for me to bash them for not knowing what "true" or "traditional" witchcraft looks like because well it is hidden and esoteric and scary and not for the False. In terms of Wicca, well I am not Wiccan, so I will let the Priestesses debate whether or not the story was accurate or fair in regards to them. So another story in the pop culture of witches. We have gone from nightmarish hag riders to bitchy girls fighting over guys and trying to defy Old Man Saturn himself it seems. I just wish the writers would have kept out so many cliches and rip offs of other movies but that means that what we (as witches) are really up to is still a big mystery...... hidden in plain sight and that is fine by me.