Finding self-empowerment and wisdom in the occult
One thing is for sure: watching Netflix’s witchy, violent new reboot The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina with my not yet seven year old daughter won’t win me any Parent of the Year awards anytime soon. It wasn’t five minutes into the series before the surprise murdering began and my daughter dove for the blankets.
Not just a little violence — and not “safe” violence, either. At one point early in the show Sabrina’s aunt Zelda casually murders her sister Hilda with a shovel, buries her body in the garden, then cooly remarks to the dirt and blood drenched Hilda who digs herself out that evening:
“You take longer to resurrect every time, sister.”
I couldn’t reach for my daughter’s eyes fast enough, because it was just so out of left field.
“JUST TELL ME WHAT’S HAPPENING!!” she hollers from beneath the blankets, where terrifying images have driven her to hiding but the suspense has her locked into the plot.
Still: it was her idea to watch it. She saw the title card on my Netflix profile and immediately demanded,
“Ooo, what’s that Sabrina show?”
So we watched the trailer, enthralled, and I absent-mindedly murmured “oh yeah, this is totally not appropriate for kids…”
“It’s okay,” she immediately countered. “I’m big. I won’t be scared.”
“I dunno,” I say eyeing her. “This show has some really…scary stuff…”
“I like scary. I won’t have nightmares,” she concludes firmly. “Just let me watch it.”
How could any red blooded, woo-woo leaning child of the 80’s raised on her father’s Terminator double features say no?
No, it probably wasn’t the most upstanding of parental acts — but it was extremely fun. It’s a phenomenally well written show with an impeccable cast, and a story that hooks and arcs in just the right places. I’m beyond pleased to see Miranda Otto, aka LOTR’s Eowyn, play an imposing and morally dubious Aunt Zelda beside Lucy Davis’ sublime Aunt Hilda, and also to see Keirnan Shipka of Mad Men step into a leading role. It made us laugh — Madame Satan imperiously and half drunkenly dropping into everyone’s nightmares was a page right out of Spongebob Squarepants. And yes, of course it scratched that wicked nostalgic itch by remolding the cheesy laugh track cult classic of my middle school years into something with genuine depth.
But perhaps most relevant to my daughter and I (aside from the fact that we have a black kitty just like Salem), it had the happy side effect of articulating to my daughter the nuts and bolts of a lot of the weird spiritual stuff I’ve been up to lately myself.
“Oh, see that?” I found myself saying. “He just cast a circle of protection. Open clockwise for power, counter clockwise to close for protection. Just like I do when I meditate. Now no bad spirits can enter.”
“Oh, okay. I see,” she says.
Or when Sabrina and her aunts are banishing the demon from her friend’s uncle Jesse.
“Oh, hear that??!” I say, clapping my hands with excitement. “She’s calling on powerful goddesses she knows — and now Zelda is calling on the names of her own grandmothers. Just like I do — which is why I named you after your great-great-grandmother. Because their names are powerful. See? They’re giving her some of their power so they can fight the demon.”
“Okay, I guess that makes sense,” she says.
Or whenever a character goes astral projecting.
“See that? Their bodies aren’t really there; it’s just their spirits. That’s what you can learn to do when you learn to meditate really well.”
She glares at me dubiously. She hates it when I encourage her to meditate.
Or when she turns to me and asks,
“So, is Sabrina’s Aunt Zelda good or bad?”
To which I’m delighted to reply,
“I know, right?! Looks like a little bit of both. What do you think?”
It’s that — that nuanced nature of real people and events which defy black and white categorization — which is so hard to teach your children in today’s climate of red v blue. It’s a nuance which magic and many expressions of spiritual occultism embrace, and which — despite the show’s overtly cartoonish depiction of a fictional “Chuch of Night” — is depicted elegantly by the complexity of Sabrina’s characters and story.
This is underlined by Sabrina’s choices; specifically her quest to reject the binary choice between living the life of a mortal or a witch, and to instead find a third path — one which is aligned with Sabrina’s status as half witch half mortal.
She’s a bridge between worlds.
Everyone tells her she must choose between parts of herself, and reject the rest. But she doesn’t comply. She insists on forging a new path.
That’s a message worth wading through really well done blood and gore effects and terrifying demons to get to. I think so, anyway — at least, it is for those ready and willing to make the journey.