The Chilling Invocations of Hecate

Season 3 of The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is a potion with good intentons at best (they do pave the path to hell in this one, after all), and a mess made of of random pieces of folklore at worst.

For entire episodes, the progression of the plot – in parts an endless and largely randomized sequence of MacGuffins mixed with Twilight-esque teen drama in an attempt to keep its core audience of 16 year old girls hooked – was nothing much to write home about, as was the reduction of basically every male character in the show to not much beyond eye-candy.

Then, for the very last episode, the show’s original creator Rob Seidenglanz comes back and delivers a finale that manages to pull off all of the many, many plotpoints the story has been cramming into its episodes so far – twisting and turning like a snake battling its impending doom brought about by a horde of spiders.

Stirring the Brew

The unchallenged high point this season reaches is Zelda’s passionate speech on her sister’s grave, invoking the moon as the goddess Hecate after the coven has spent the entire season trying to figure out whom to pray to after it has been crossed and abandoned by the very cores of their belief system made up of a mix of Christian devil-worship and – oddly enough – elements of Wicca and celebrations rooted in the eclectic practices of modern witchcraft.

What adds further to this somewhat-messy concoction of rituals and beliefs is that the villains in this season happen to be the Celtic-inspired “Pagans”, who just happen to be members of a spooky travelling carnival, their appearances clearly based on the “Gypsy” stereotype. These Pagans recite their spells in Irish Gaelic, celebrate Ostara (literally Easter in its original pagan origin), have a kill-all-humans-to-save-nature agenda and worship a wooden structure known as the “Green Man.” Who, upon blooming from the sacrifice of virgin blood, turns the population of Greendale into ravenous plant zombies.

To make this brew taste even odder, their leader, doubling as a carnival barker, is later revealed to be the madness-inducing god Pan himself, who stems from Ancient Greek mythology. This seemingly random mix of ethnicities and religious influences mostly exists to drive home the Coven’s core problem:

The witches have become utterly oblivious to their own origins, clinging to the belief system they have been indoctrinated with from birth, ultimately stuck in rituals and structures that have crumbled around them. The likewise rejection of both communities in spite of their common roots and waning numbers ends up spelling doom for them, not withstanding Hilda’s attempts to appease and pacify the Pagans into a sort-of peaceful coexistence.

The Coven is still stuck in its patriarchally-structured worship of Lucifer, and as such, strongly based on the biased and condescending attitude displayed by Christian communities towards practitioners of other religions. Zelda Spellman’s attempt of reforming the Church of Night from a paternalistic, mysoginistic power scheme into a matriachally reigned witches’ coven by substituting Lucifer with Lilith as the new center of worship has failed, largely due to Lilith being still loyal to Lucifer – and pushed from the throne by Sabrina herself, who now tries to juggle her trials to become Queen of Hell with her normal teenag drama and her witch duties. She is already living a sort-of-trinity, figuratively – and, as we see later, literally – splitting herself into three parts in her inabilty to compromise on anything.

Meanwhile, her aunt Zelda, experiencing the painful sting of loss, finds her well-needed epiphany in a simple image from her past: that of the Triple Goddess, personified by the three phases of the moon: maiden, mother, crone.

Mother’s Day for Goddesses

This is where the legends are merrily blended together again – Hilda, after the harrowing experience of being turned into a spider by the pagans and mercifully killed by her sister, finds her true strengt to name herself the “Weaver” – Loosely based on Arachne, who, according to Greek myth, had been turned into the first spider on earth by Athena – for weaving a tapestry depicting the sins of the Olympic gods. Hilda’s redemption arc is cruel and ultimately satisfying to watch, as we see the awkward, insecure and ambition-less younger sister of the Spellman matriarch step into a power she always possessed. The maiden, of course, is the now the virgin Queen of Hell, who is crowned and rises to the throne in a scene-by-scene citation of the crowning ceremony from Elizabeth (1997).

Hecate is often credited as being the oldest known deity in human history. Her story is ambiguous – she has no concise myth attached to her, but is revered as the protector of the hearth and home as well as the patron of women, usually depicted with a bowl of eternal fire. She may have no real lore behind her, but that makes her versatile – she is the ultimate mother goddess, and can be worshipped for anything from fertility and childbirth to bountiful harvests to the unyielding protection of the hearth and home.

And Zelda, the mother figure of the series, after struggling with finding meaning in her old faith for the entire season, has found it – not in grandeur and in scheming, but in humility before community, womanhood and all its struggles. Her prayer to Hecate is an emotionol peak of a series that, for a large part, has jumped around stale “find this magical object to unlock XYZ” narratives, and receives a well-needed dash of emotional pull from the raw energy Miranda Otto puts into her invocation.

On another note – Mother’s Day has kinda fallen short this year due to the crisis that currently has the world in its grasp, this speech would serve as a phenomenal gift – to mothers, maidens and crones alike.

For a quick recap on the sequence in question, you can watch it here (if anyone can provide a transcript in the comments, I’d be incredibly thankful):

This speech is not just a plot device to explain the revival of a character previously killed off by the writers. It is an actual prayer, a testimony of belief – not in a higher power to magically make one’s problems disappear, but a prayer to oneself. It calls our own powers, the fight against the feeling of powerlessness and the seizure of a strength that has been denied us, by being tought of and treated as less capable, less valuable, and ultimately less deserving of attention and success than our male / able-bodied / straight / cis / white counterparts. It is a prayer for marginalized people from all walks of life, not just women per se. That being said, workplace discrimination, unequal pay within the same job and medication being produced with nothing but male probands to avoid the problems caused by hormonal differences are all still a thing in 2020. And even though all those issues might pale next to the global threat that COVID-19 is posing right now – there will be a time after the pandemic, and the challenge to reinstitute the rights we are all foregoing in an attempt to slow down its spread. Hecate’s invocation goes out especially to those in precarious and abusive living situations, who now have no place to go to.

Don’t forget who we are, especially in these times where every bit of kindness makes a difference. But don’t either forget about your anger, and about your right and need to stand up for yourselves and those around you.

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