A Wiccan Responds to True Blood Season Four

by JoHarrington

A television drama is not the best source for learning about any religion, but it's probably the one with the biggest reach. This was my creed, and its people were murderous.

The fourth season of 'True Blood' caused a stir amongst the Pagan community. Prime time television had shown a Wiccan coven wreaking havoc with black magic.

Not since 'MacBeth' have witches met with such deadly intent, toppling leaders and manipulating minds for miles around. Nor was this some blasted heath in Scotland. It was right in the center of downtown America.

Was it scare-mongering? Anti-Pagan rhetoric on a show which should know better? A play on stereotypes for mass entertainment? Or just entertainment?

A Wiccan High Priestess and a Fan of True Blood

Who am I to even address this issue?

Image: Jo Harrington WiccanI feel that I have a foot in both camps. Having only recently discovered True Blood, as its sixth season is about to air, I've spent a fortnight avidly getting up to speed. Episode after episode, season after season, I've watched the storyline reach this point quite naturally.

Then there they were. Wiccans. I didn't see that one coming. I approached it as a fan, with no warning at all that my religion was about to take center-stage in a major story arc. I saw it play out. I watched season four to the very end, before making any snap judgements.

I am a Wiccan High Priestess. I swore my first oath before the God and Goddess over twenty years ago. I've initiated others in my turn. Nor am I prone to kick-jerk reactions. I wouldn't deserve the triangle over my pentacle if I was; and Janet Farrar certainly wouldn't have confirmed that it was there.

I've stood in the midst of burgeoning 'witch wars' myself, and I've always done my best to bring things back down to Earth. I hope to do the same now. Though admittedly none of those were quite so dramatic as what happened in True Blood season four.

True Blood Fourth Season on DVD

Please Note...

This Wizzley article contains spoilers for True Blood's 4th season. If you prefer a spoiler-free review, click below instead.
A spoiler-free review of the fourth season of True Blood. The immortal power of vampires meets its match, when the witch wars start in Shreveport.

What Actually Happened with Wiccans in True Blood Season 4?

Wicca in Louisiana is nothing like what I'm used to here in Britain...

Image: Marnie and Antonia in True BloodIn the back of the Moon Goddess Emporium, in Shreveport, Louisiana, a Wiccan coven meets, apparently every night.

The High Priestess is a rather weak and fluffy woman named Marnie. There appears to be no High Priest at all. The coven itself appears fairly representative. It's not all stick thin teenage girls in Gothic make-up. It could perhaps do with a few more men, but otherwise realistic.

We join them as a member wishes to introduce his boyfriend. He brings his cousin, who is allowed to just sit in the room, reading a magazine, about a foot away from the edge of the circle. Interesting in terms of how that would work energy-wise, but still within the realms of possibility. If you have a rather weak and fluffy High Priestess.

The coven all sit cross-legged on the floor. Candles are lit in pots in front of each member. They all hold hands and chant. Marnie is upset that her pet budgerigar has died. Its corpse is on a block in the center of the circle. As the Wiccan coven continues its chant, the lifeless bird suddenly twitches and flies out of the circle. It immediately crashes back to the ground. Though briefly reanimated, it's now dead again.

The True Blood universe supposes that vampires are integrated with society. A human member of the coven is secretly a vampire spy. She reports this occurrence to the vampire king. Such necromancy is bad news for the Undead. It allows witches to control them. A vampiric sheriff is dispatched to basically intimidate the Wiccan coven into disbanding.

Marnie panics at his arrival. She's bitten by the vampire, but only as a warning. She sneaks away and starts cutting lines into her forearm, begging the Goddess for assistance. Suddenly Marnie's whole aspect changes. She begins chanting in Latin. Her eyes blaze, with flames reflected within them, and her hand rises. The vampire sheriff has his memories wiped clean away. He's kicked out onto the street not even knowing his own name.

As the episodes go on, Marnie demonstrates several such powerful spells. She's able to mind-control several vampires, while causing the flesh of another to start rotting. Marnie also gains the ability to protect the whole block around her New Age shop with a wall of pure sunlight. She uses a 'repelling spell' to clear the whole neighborhood of human beings, in order to initiate a witch war against vampires without witnesses.

True Blood: Pam Versus the Witches

This is a representative scene. It shows Marnie both as herself (a Wiccan HP) and possessed by an older witch. NB: There is strong language in this clip.

The climax of her power comes at a tolerance festival. Marnie uses her mind-controlled vampires to attack and kill dozens of humans in attendance. She castigates them as 'vampire sympathizers'.

It eventually emerges that a 17th century witch named Antonia, who was burnt at the stake by the Spanish Inquisition, has possessed Marnie's body. It's her spells that are being unleashed upon the vampires. It's revenge. It transpires that the Inquisition was infested with vampires.

By now, her own coven is questioning Marnie's violence. In response, Marnie magically shields the shop, so that any Wiccan wishing to leave is burned. When they all try to charge her, she uses her telekinetic powers to pin them to the wall. A young Wiccan woman named Casey attempts to flee. Marnie stabs her to death with an athame.

As a sub-plot, we have followed the progression of Jesús Velásquez. He's one of only two male members of the coven, but it turns out that he had his own magic outside of Wicca. He is an hereditary Mexican brujo, who has avoided his grandfather for twenty years. Jesús fears the old man's black magic.

But once Marnie grows decidedly dark herself, Jesús and his boyfriend rush down to Mexico to get advice from grandad.  There is animal sacrifice and the faces of the brujos become demonic. 

Back in the siege at the Moon Goddess Emporium, Jesús is one of those coven members being held hostage. He uses the corpse of Casey to initiate the blackest of Mexican magic. The Spanish witch possessing Marnie is ejected from her body, causing the defensive shields to collapse. With vampires and humans alike now able to enter the shop, a battle ensues and Marnie is killed.

Jesús Velásquez True Blood Trading Card

Unfortunately for the coven, it didn't end there. Jesús's boyfriend, Lafayette, is a natural medium. As the couple lay down to sleep that night, the ghost of Marnie returned to possess him. She began her murderous campaign all over again using his body. 

It started with stabbing Jesús to death, licking his blood from the knife so to imbibe his powerful brujo magic. Practically unstoppable now, she captured two vampires and tied them with silver (these creatures are vulnerable to silver in this show) to a stake. Not the usual stake for vampires, the one for witches, as in burned at the...

So rapt in her own power, Lafayette-possessed-by-Marnie didn't notice a single Wiccan lady encircling the whole scene in salt. Without actually doing anything else, this created an energized Wiccan circle. It was Samhain (pronounced Sammer-ha-en in True Blood). The Wiccan Holly called upon her ancestors, who all came through the veil.

The ghosts dragged Marnie from Lafayette's body and took her through the veil. End of the witch wars.

Were You Troubled by the Wiccan Portrayal in True Blood?

If so, which aspects in particular disturbed you? If not, why not?
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Did True Blood Malign Wicca in Season Four?

I'd argue that Wiccans were generally shown in a good light. It was actually a back-handed dig at Christianity again.

Image: True Blood CovenOne of the biggest complaints by the Wiccan community is that True Blood portrayed us as murderous manipulators. It's a fair enough concern.

The most cursory examination of the history of witches will quickly show how dangerous such charges can be. The Burning Times looms quite large there. Hundreds of thousands of suspected witches were tortured and killed. In the modern day, people have lost their jobs, had their children taken into care and suffered other social exclusion due to being 'outed' as witches.

However, did True Blood actually depict us like that? I watched a Wiccan coven do its best to stop an out of control, possessed High Priestess. One of them was killed in the process. At the finale, it was a savvy Wiccan who harnessed the Sabbat, at Samhain, to call for reinforcements. She saved the day.

The real message, as far as I interpret it, is much more subtle. It said that Wicca is so ineffectual, that it doesn't stand a chance against the real thing. That being, in this instance, the kind of magic that got you burned at the stake in 17th century Spain, or is happening right now in Mexico. If anything, it's not anti-Wicca, it's anti-Latino.

It also implied that those targeted by the Spanish Inquisition really were powerful witches, capable of mind manipulation, murder etc. That's an unsettling suggestion for an historian, but even that was qualified. The witch Antonia was a gentle woman, who healed people and delivered babies. What upset her was rape, torture and being fed upon by vampire priests. It was being burned at the stake which really turned her magic bad.

Let's also look really long and hard at the effective magic in True Blood. Give or take Christian Witchcraft circles, where have you ever seen Wiccans crossing themselves? Every strong spell invoked a Christian saint, angel, God or the Holy Spirit. This was not Wicca. It was witchcraft with Christianity at its root.

Was Wicca maligned?  No. It was dismissed. It had no power. The message of True Blood season four was this: beware any Christian spell delivered by Spaniards or Mexicans. Now that is truly dangerous.

My Wiccan Concerns

However, there were three points which did raise my eyebrows as a Wiccan.

  • The first was the propensity of Wiccans to self-harm at every given opportunity in the name of religion. No! My Goddess does not require anyone to carve gashes into their arms for anything. That was irresponsible dramatic license.
  • The second was the use of the athame to stab someone. I realize this was an obvious plot device, but I just didn't like it.
  • The third was the bird coming to life. There was no possession explanation there. That actually was presented as Wiccan magic. It just worries me that the casual viewer might believe that we have that kind of power.

    As Prof Ronald Hutton once said, only one thing stands between us as a society now and that during the Burning Times - belief. As long as the general population doesn't truly believe that we can curse them, then no-one ends up on a bonfire.

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Where Were the Wiccans During Season Two?

I'm not talking about in the show, I'm referring to those of us watching it. When I read blogs and forum posts ranting about how True Blood shouldn't pick on a religion, I scrolled back a bit. I was looking for the same kind of rhetoric during season two.

Back then, it was Christianity under the spotlight. This brand of fundamentalism owed more to Westboro Baptist Church, than the nice people in the church down the road. Except they were preparing for actual genocide.

There is more than a hint of hypocrisy about us all screaming discrimination now, when we watched season two in silence.

True Blood 4: Behind the Scenes: Witches

The show's creator Alan Ball explains his vision behind the use of Wicca in this season.

Wiccans, Why So Serious?

It wasn't a perfect prime-time television representation, but it also wasn't all that realistic.

In retrospect, my feeling is that True Blood didn't accurately depict the Wiccan religion, but nor did it purport to do so. 

If viewers believed that they were seeing real witchcraft here, then they'd also have to believe that shape-shifters run bars, werewolves are building our houses, vampires are running around unseen and the local drug dealers can all turn into panthers.

This is a fantastic world. Its story-lines are overblown entertainment. It's not meant to be realistic. My feeling is that some things can be taken too seriously.  The True Blood Wiccan furor is one of those times.

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Updated: 05/12/2013, JoHarrington
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JoHarrington on 02/05/2014

Hear, hear Frank, and thank you. :)

frankbeswick on 02/04/2014

I cannot comment on the show, but I have a firm belief that if you portray any religion you should portray it honestly, in its good and bad points , and you should research it before you write. It is easy for adherents of a badly portrayed religion to finish up as victims. We are a long way from witch hunts, but not far enough

JoHarrington on 02/03/2014

I've since read the books, and they were much better in terms of cohesive storyline. Though the way the fey were depicted was pretty similar there too.

Maybe it's just that you and I are entrenched in a Welsh view of the fey. Ours tend to be a lot darker and downright dangerous at times. We call them things like 'The Mother's Blessing' and 'The Beautiful People' just to appease them. There was none of that in 'True Blood'.

I still enjoy the show, but my absolutely obsessive love affair with it waned after this.

Aww! I can just imagine you in that shop. In fact, I can really imagine it, with much tittering. I've got a little more distance, so I can see the cuteness in people thinking that we can levitate and stir our tea remotely. People just want a little magic in their lives, and maybe dream that, if we can do it, then they can too.

(So you didn't let on that we actually can levitate then? >.> )

Shonna on 02/03/2014

I wasn't terribly impressed with how the Faerie were depicted nor the Wiccans/Pagans, it seemed a real mish-mash and that no-one on the writing staff really had a clue what they were writing about - in the end, however, it's a television show - I stopped watching after 4. It all seemed to be more of the same and though I didn't think of the HPS as fluffy at the time, more just inept, I had the feeling of "careful what you wish for" and "Ah, so let's not forget what can happen when you dabble..." plenty of ignorance - and after working in a metaphysical bookstore in the years after "The Craft" came out, "Excuse me, can you teach me how to levitate?" or "What's a love spell? Can you show me how to do one on this guy?"

No. I've become a little harder when it comes to things like this....people are fascinating creatures - will believe whatever you put in their way to believe....even if it's blatantly fiction (Charmed, anyone? Practical Magic?) I had a kid watch me stir my coffee once to see if I did it like Sandra Bullock in Practical Magic...ugh....they will believe what they want. If they see something perpetuating a certain aspect of the myth as it were, they may just choose to latch on to that ignorance and fly with it. Then comes the education campaign of those who are calm enough to do so. While season four didn't feel blatantly disrespectful it felt ignorant on a lot of levels and I haven't really had the urge to watch more since.

On the bright side...at least they're not sparkly.

JoHarrington on 05/16/2013

Were they Team Bill? By season three, things are edging towards including Eric too. I've heard others saying that seasons 1-3 were so-so, but four really nailed it. For me, things did cool somewhat in season four, but I've reached the end of season five desperately wanting to see season six.

I don't think any religion gets a particularly good airing in True Blood. It's consistently used as a way of exploring corruption and other bad things.

All Wiccans are witches, but not all witches are Wiccans. Ditto brujos.

Ember on 05/16/2013

I have some friends who are really into the show, but they said it lost something in the 3rd season, and continued to go down hill from there. Some of them say they didn't make it through the fourth, and others say they're up to date but not terribly interested in the next season. I dunno, maybe it has to do with little things like this? I wasn't even aware of it.

I like your comments on religion in general being poorly portrayed. I could folks who may have been upset at the portrayal of Christianity accepting the portrayal of Wicca as true and accurate without a second thought. So I just think it is good that you're able to maintain an objective view through your annoyance and the like :D

Would you say a witch who identifies as Wiccan is completely different from a 'witch' of some type from another culture, such as the brujo for Mexico. Bruja does just mean witch in Spanish, although I'm sure there are plenty of hispanic tales related to these. But they're none too different, you know, from any other folk tale I've ever read.

JoHarrington on 05/16/2013

I really recommend it. As you can tell, I've fallen hook, line and sinker for it, even with its dodgy Wicca information.

HollieT on 05/16/2013

The more I read about True Blood, the more intrigued I become. You are tempting me! I think my son would also be really into this. :)

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