X-Files Epidode that Infuriated Witches
Article ID: 1908
Age Group: Adult
Days Up: 7,294
Times Read: 30,957
Author: Peg Aloi [a WitchVox Sponsor]
Posted: February 2nd. 1997
Times Viewed: 30,957
by Peg Aloi & Wren Walker
Shock, horror and a deep sense of betrayal were but a few of the emotions that the Witches' Voice Staff experienced while viewing the X-Files segment that aired on November 10th. The trailers that were shown during the week had given us a slight sense of unease, but we were totally unprepared for the literal bloodbath that would follow. The use of leeches was not the only sign of a medieval mentality. Almost every reference that was made about Witches and Witchcraft could have come straight from the pages of the Malleus Malificarum.
How could this happen? What possible motive could there be in portraying Witches in this hateful manner? Where is the entertainment value in depicting the followers of a peaceful and gentle religion as being obsessed with blood sacrifices, murders and conspiracies? The reason certainly can not be connected to a lack of research. The references to various well known names connected with the Craft and the depiction of actual symbols and tools of Witchcraft were too numerous to be the result of ignorance If there is any doubt that Witches and Witchcraft were the target of this episode, please read Peg Aloi's listing of the sometimes subtle, but all too often flagrant use of an extensive knowledge of our beliefs. So if they did their research and the truth is indeed "out there", what were they trying to say here?
What they DID say was this: Witchcraft is the same thing as "Black Magic", Witchcraft is connected to demon possession; Witches believe that blood sacrifice gives one the "highest power possible"; that Witches use herbs for evil purposes ( ala Exodus 22:18) and hexes are our way of influencing friends and winning great cheekbones.
(Chairperson - Witches' Vox)
(c) Nov. 10th, 1996
Peg's List of Stuff
You asked for it, you got it! Here is a partial list of religious, spiritual and occult references, allusions and connections to be found in the infamous "Pentagram" episode (also known as "Sanguinarium"):
(See "Notes" below for a detailed analysis of the following) (Also, as of 12-5-96, I have updated these notes to reflect comments from others and my own second thoughts.)
1. The Bible ("Vanity, Vanity, all is vanity" from Ecclesiastes) and plastic surgery
2. Satanism (The S Word); why is it hinted at but never actually used?
3. Some significant names of interest: Shannon--Irish river goddess (Celtic Mythology)
4. Rebecca Waite, Nurse (The Salem Witch Trials--Rebecca Nurse; tarot--Rider-Waite)
5. Jack Franklin; Lucifer; City of Angels Medical Center (fallen angel = Lucifer)
6. Stephen King's "Carrie" and pig blood
7. Medieval Witchfinder's instrument: Ken Russell's "The Devils"
8. Leeches, used by medieval doctors, and by Rebecca Waite
9. 1953 Gardner Street: Doreen initiated by Gerald in 1953
10. Pentagram, inverted, "goat of lust"
11. Pentagram = black magic = sorcery = witchcraft???
12. Blood--Aztec temple motif--Lady Bathory
13. Blood and Witchcraft: legitimate connections to use of blood in ritual
14. Blood and black magic: blood sacrifice
15. Hospital phobias; visceral fear of needles, anaesthesia, etc.
16. Crescent moon drawn on scalp patient's head
17. Rebecca spits out pins, like Updike character in "The Witches of Eastwick"
18. Belladonna used for "hexing rituals?" Why not mention use as flying ointment?
19. Dr. Hartman: God creates in His own image, "we" create in "ours"; who are "we?"
20. Tiny fork (trident) used to reveal (peel off) Franklin's old face
21. Authenticity of Rebecca's altar stuff, spell work
22. Significance of Samhain; why incorrect pronunciation???
23. How paranoid can we get about this?
1. The Bible; specifically Ecclesiastes 1-12-8. The Latin quotation, "Vanitas Vanitatum" translates as "Vanity, vanity, all is vanity, " which is also translated in some versions of the Old Testament as "All is futility." Though the obvious reference here is to plastic surgery, it is worth noting that introductions to this chapter of the Bible refer to it as "this difficult book displays the dark philosophy of one who sought to find peace apart from God, but in the end realized that only futility is to be found there...wealth, wisdom, polularity and pleasure all put down as so much vanity...only when Man turns from this world to God will he find true happiness." (From The Living Bible) If we consider the primary philosophy of the Church of Satan, that all of life should be given over to the pursuit of pleasure, this is a very disturbing connection, and could cause Witchcraft to be easily confused with Satanism. (Note: several people have written to point out that, when viewed in the mirror, this spells out "Mutatinav Satinav" which sounds like "Mutation of Satan." I don't know what to think of this, really.)
2. Speaking of Satanism, the "S" word is never actually mentioned; this is annoying, since the mere mention of Satan worship would make it relatively easy for Witches to spell out the basic differences between worshipping the devil and what Witches actually do. But since Satanic content is merely hinted at (as when the killer is carving the word "Shannon" on the stone pentacle and our first view of this looks like the letters "S" and "A" just as it cuts to a commercial), that makes it far less easy to point to this as a simple example of confusion or mis-identification or sloppy research. Instead, the meanings are very blurry here.
3. Speaking of "Shannon" (the name of a doctor that was almost murdered by Franklin), it is the name of an Irish river goddess, along with Banba, Boann and others who represent sovereignty. The X-Files often takes great pains to use significant character names, so this may or may not be of importance. We could not determine what its specific meaning might be.
4. Speaking of significant names, how about (Nurse) Rebecca Waite? There is the obvious reference to Rebecca Nurse, executed in Salem Village as a Witch, though she was a pious Christian (this echoes the martyred death of this character in the episode, since she was ostensibly trying to "protect" potential victims with Witchcraft, yet was then murdered by Jack Franklin; hence, she was a "good" Witch wrongly blamed for the killings, then killed before she could help Mulder stop the real killer.) Her last name, Waite, might possibly refer to the Rider-Waite tarot (Waite worked with Aleister Crowley); or might be a pun on "wait" or might not mean much at all...
5. Here's another name for you: Jack Franklin. Jack being a common name for the devil. At the end of the episode when he has become Dr. Hartman, he goes to work at the "City of Angels" Medical Center; as in fallen angels; as in Lucifer...see how subtle this is? It's like "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon" only much more insidious.
6. Speaking of bacon, the scene where Rebecca starts spitting up pins showing her covered with blood, has her looking very much like Sissy Spacek in the last moments of the film "Carrie" when she has been drenched with pig blood...(no big deal about the pig thing, just my own joke, but the obvious visual nod to this film is of interest...)
7. Speaking of other films about witches, there is also another moment very reminiscent of Ken Russell's excellent film "The Devils" about the heresy trial of Urbain Grandier in Renaissance France; the silver dildo-like instrument that Dr. Franklin telekinetically (like Carrie, eh?) transports to the gut of Dr. Shannon is a contemporary version of an uncannily similar instrument used by witchfinders to "examine" Vanessa Redgrave's character Sister Jeanne of the Angels in that film...
8. Speaking of medieval doctors (the "legal" occupation of most witchfinders), what was up with those leeches? If Rebecca was a "good Witch" then why was she putting leeches on that patient? Yes, she formed a protective pentacle on the patient's chest, but LEECHES??? Try lipstick next time, Rebecca. (Note: Some folks have writtento tell me that, in fact, leeches ARE occasionally used in hospitals these days; as are maggots. Okay, but do they always have to be applied in a pentagram shape?
9. Leaving cinema behind for the moment, let's look at the "1953 Gardner Street" address flashed on screen as a location. The Gardner reference is obvious, but the only significance we could determine for 1953 is that it was the year Doreen Valiente claims to have been initiated by Gerald.
10. Okay, now on to Wicca: Fox Mulder did say the pentagram was a symbol of "protection and positive power used to control the elemental forces." Bravo, Mulder! He is portrayed as being well-read on the occult and Wicca in particular. Though he oddly refers to the inverted pentagram as symbolizing "the goat of lust attacking heaven with his horns." WHAT?? Also leaving out the fact that some Witchcraft traditions use the inverted pentagram to signify the Second Degree...We are also troubled that a pentagram above Rebecca's front door is viewed by Mulder and Scully as "probable cause;" it is in fact significant in this murder case, but the thought of other law enforcement officers doing the same in crimes where pentagrams were NOT inscribed oin peoples' bodies, makes us nervous. Again, the lack of clarity here is troubling; does being a Witch make someone a criminal suspect? We think that was implied here.
11. Scully then observes that it makes no sense to use the pentagram here if this is a positive symbol (right on Scully!); but then Mulder says "it does make sense that witchcraft or black magic could find a theatre in a place like this preying on the weak and vainglorious." So there is confusion here, equating these two terms, "witchcraft" and "black magic." No good excuse for that, guys! Mulder also uses "sorcery" interchangeably with "witchcraft" and "black magic, " as well as calling Rebecca a "practitioner of ritual magic, " then "a practicing Witch." Lots of terminology thrown around here, but no clear-cut attempt to sort out the jumble of meanings and implications assigned to each one...and why is so much care taken to be accurate about other details, like the calendar of Festivals, or the meaning of the pentagram, but not the inherent differences between Witchcraft and black magic??? (Note: We also find Mulder's use of language like this, i.e. "Weak and vainglorious" to be rather uncharacteristic; and Duchovny and Anderson at times do seem to be going through the motions in this episode; did the actors have problems with this script?)
12. Speaking of implications, the very authentic depiction of Rebecca engaged in a ritual of protection, wherein she is performing candle-magic while chanting in a foreign tongue, is followed by her emergence (Carrie-like) from a tub of blood to kill Franklin with a ritual knife/athame (presumably because she, as a "good Witch, " is helping "protect" people). This scene's art direction is stunning and frightening. A pure white bathroom with sunken tub (a la Marat-Sade) shows blood dripping from the tap to fill the tub to the rim. After Rebecca jumps from the tub to attack Franklin, the blood splashed across the floor and steps leading up to the tub platform makes the set look very like an Aztec temple (it is said the Aztecs practiced blood sacrifice). The image of Rebecca swimming through the tub of blood is eerily reminiscent of Lady Bathory, a countess in 15th century Europe who attempted to preserve her youth by slaughtering and then bathing in the blood of hundreds of young virgins. (This is of course also related to the plastic surgery motif; a sort of technological vampirism for ensuring eternal youth.)
13. The uncomfortable connection of witchcraft to blood (since we are so often wrongly and absurdly accused of drinking blood, eating babies, etc.) is made more problematic because blood is revered as a powerful substance in our religion and has its magical uses; also, this episode was so horrifically bloody that Wren and I felt sick. The film "Paradise Lost" shows how a lawyer attempts to convict Damien Echols of murder by describing the blood loss of one of the victims and suggesting that, since blood is considered a powerful thing in his religion (Wicca), he must have committed the murders to somehow appropriate and "use" that blood. We see several images of pentagrams drawn in blood in this episode, making an inescapable connection to the pentagrams that actual Witches often do trace on the floor for ritual purposes.
14. At one point Mulder says "it's not medicine, it's blood sacrifice, " then calls blood "the most potent offering in black magic." Again, a possible opportunity here to confuse Witchcraft with so-called black magic; try explaining legitimate uses of blood in ritual magick to non-Pagans who have seen this show! Good luck...
15. In addition to the disturbing gore and blood, this episode very effectively preys upon our very common phobias and fears about hospitals and surgery with Stephen King-like expertise. The opening scene shows a patient undergoing a routine cosmetic surgical procedure being brutally murdered by a supposedly-competent doctor. All this happens amid scenes of surgical instruments, needles, rubber gloves, etc. By beginning the show in such a manner, putting viewers on edge and made to feel uncomfortable in such a visceral way, the later images of witchcraft also create unease, particularly when coupled with violent murders like the one in the opening scene. This first scene is unbelievably terrifying, and made more so by the fact that (in California at least) liposuction is a very common and usually-harmless procedure.
16. But Dr. Lloyd does not murder the liposuction patient in that opening scene; he mistakenly ends up killing the scalp reduction patient (but not without first sucking all the fat from his body); we know it's a mix-up because we see a man's scalp; but wait! There's a crescent moon drawn on his scalp! Is that for the surgeon to know where to cut? Hmm...(Note: Someone wrote to say that, yes, in fact, markings of this kind are used for this sort of procedure.)
17. Speaking of weird ways to die, how about those pins Rebecca spits out? Mulder explains this as a phenomenon common during cases of possession. Readers of "The Witches of Eastwick" by John Updike will recall a spell cast on a character where pins and other objects are thrown into a cookie jar "baptized" with her name; whenever anything is tossed into the cookie jar, it comes out her mouth...
18. Speaking of indigestion, it is not unknown to herbalists and doctors that belladonna is often used for stomach complaints; but Mulder's offhand comment that it is used in "hexing rituals" seems terribly contrived. What about its use in flying ointment? What about the plant's name, which derives from the fact that women used to take it so their pupils would dilate, making them look more beautiful? (bella donna = beautiful woman) This use would certainly relate to the plastic surgery schema. These are both far more interesting details about this plant than the obviously-sensational one the writers created for this script. Even Stephen King got more creative with it in "The Mangler."
19. Speaking of Beautiful People, the comment made by Dr. Hartman in the last scene is problematic, to say the least. He says "I like to say, that whoever God didn't get around to creating in His own image, it's our job to recreate in ours." By positing "God" against "ours" the implication is that Dr. Hartman is somehow an arch-rival, enemy, nemesis, call-it-what-you-will, of God; hence, The Devil. See the Lucifer/fallen angel reference in #5. So even if the "S" word (Satan) is never used, this hint is too heavy-handed for comfort.
20. Speaking of the Devil; why does Dr. Franklin use a tiny FORK (trident?) to peel his face off in that grossest of all scenes? He had a room full of surgical instruments and he used a miniature trident; does he carry them around, in case he has to eat small hors d'oeuvres? Very disturbing image (but effective, wasn't it?).(Note: A medical student wrote to say that this instrument is used in surgery to peel back skin or muscle tissue.)
21. Speaking of accessories, Rebecca's altar paraphernalia were very authentic looking, and included not just many, many red candles but quartz crystals, a crystal ball, goddess statues, and a calendar of Pagan festivals (called "seasonal high holy days" by Mulder). She also looked very much like a witch performing magic; trancing out, breathing deeply, weaving cords, cutting hair, chanting a spell. The thing is, WE DO THIS STUFF; we just don't jump into bathtubs full of blood immediately afterward, to lie in wait for psycho plastic surgeons...but how does the average X-Files viewer know the difference? How does a non-Pagan understand the subtleties and complexities of our religious practices by watching a show like this? A show that is respected by Pagans and non-Pagans alike for its high-quality writing, directing, acting and production, yet which, going against all previous treatment of this subject, has recently chosen to portray our religion in terms that are at best ambiguous, and at worst dangerously inaccurate?
22. And what of the last victim's birthday? Hallowmass, The Celtic Feast of the Dead, as the crucial date for the evil surgeon's "rebirth" and renewal? Too horrible to think they were consciously using that symbology. Samhain was pronounced "Sam-Hane" by Mulder, inexplicably; both the character and the scriptwriters seem to have done enough research to know they should use the Gaelic pronunciation; the fact that they didn't meant to me they wanted audiences to actually recognize the word they SAID as one many people have SEEN in print, associated with Hallowe'en; I pictured this whole scenario, where they had a production meeting, with David Duchovny wanting to pronounce it correctly, but with the script editors and producers saying no, leave it recognizable, that'll cause even more confusion/prejudice/bigotry/hatred toward Witches BWA-HA-HA-HA...evil laughter...
23. Maybe I am reading too much into all of this...you think??? So one last observation; hast ye all noted that the screening date of this episode falls upon the TRUE Samhain? In otherwords, the New Moon that falls more closely exactly between The Autumnal Equinox and the Winter Solstice? That puts the true hoiliday, in terms of astrological energy, on November 10, 1996 at 11 PM; though many celebrated Samhain on October 31 this year, as they always do. If Fox and the creators of "The X-Files" are indeed aware of this, as some of us are, it is the final coating of the knife with poison before it is slowly and deliciously twisted in...a final, cruel and arrogant slice of betrayal.
(Media Coordinator - Witches' Vox)
(c) Nov. 10th, 1996
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