RANDOM UNPREDICTABLE EVIL
Do you ever feel like the writers of Supernatural have climbed into your head, and decided to write episodes based on what's happening in your life at that moment?
Okay, it's not like I'm battling a bunch of Alpha monsters (although I have encountered many of them at work over the years"¦ And you can count on that as a future article!). And, I don't have to worry about tackling The Mother of All, because in my house, that's me!
But I have been grappling with issues like "What is a soul?" "What does it mean to have one?" And of course, the ever popular, "Why do bad things happen to people?"
Why are these issues coming up in my house?
Simple really. Our family dog died, and then I decided to take my 9 and 7 year old daughters to a play about the Holocaust. Way to push the fun-meter into the Red Zone!
Let's take the dog first. I like to think maybe our dog was a skinwalker, like the one in "All Dogs Go To Heaven". One friend actually described him as the most "human" of any dog she'd ever met. He was a big, gentle mutt, and very protective of our daughters. When they were newborns, he would refuse to go out at night, as if he was worried that something might happen in his absence. When I would take them for walks, he would always position himself between the stroller and any stranger we might meet. He was clearly ready to defend his family, his pack. (And, just as an aside, I can totally see Dean as a family dog! Of course, in his case he'd be like The Shaggy D.A., able to talk and make quips, while still walking on all fours, and wagging his tail. Think of it as the Disney version of Supernatural. And... I just gave myself an idea for another article!)
We had to put our dog down because of a large, inoperable tumour, which was causing him almost constant pain, and robbing him of his mobility. (He truly loved to run and play.)
Here's where we get to the soul of this story. (Small pun to relieve tension.) When my husband and I got home from the vet's office, I was fascinated, and intrigued by my girls' reaction.
Their first question was "What HAPPENED to him?" They wanted to know what it was like when the vet gave him the shot (especially if he was in pain), and what happened to his body. They needed the cold, hard facts.
The next question was the same one, but with a different inflection. This time, they asked "What happened to HIM?" They wanted to know what happened to his soul. Our conversation was much like the debates we've had on the WFB, regarding Sam's soul "“ what it is, and who are you when you have one, or don't have one. My girls were really asking about the fate of our dog's essence, the fate of the intangible bits which defined his personality.
They also wanted to know if he was in Heaven, if they'd see him again, and whether he was at peace. It gave us a long night of crying and talking about how people and pets live on after they die, as long as we say their name and share stories and memories of them.
For the record, I believe he had a pure soul, because he was all about love. And, I do believe dogs go to Heaven, where they run, fetch and lick themselves to their heart's content!
Shortly after that, and still with the subject of souls on our minds, I took my daughters to see a play called "Hana's Suitcase". It's based on a children's book, which in turn is based on a radio documentary. "Hana's Suitcase" tells the true story of one little girl in the Holocaust. Talk about a shining soul! She was special and marvelous, in the way every child is special and marvelous. That fact alone makes her pointless death at Auschwitz all the more tragic.
Of course, when you introduce subject matter like this to kids, they're going to ask the tough philosophical and theological questions, like "Why do bad things happen to good people? Is there evil in the world? What is evil?"
So, the upshot is that all this talking about life, death, the soul, and evil (on blog sites, and at home) has me"¦ well, thinking about life, death, the soul, and evil.
Something Wicked This Way Comes
For a variety of reasons, "Something Wicked" has always been one of my favourite episodes. I love the introduction of the very adorable WeeChesters. I cherish the rationale it offers as to why Dean always followed his Dad's orders. And, I love the glimpse we get of Dean's fragile sense of self-worth. It's a character trait still at play in Season 6.
What I really, really appreciate though is the way it depicts the fears of children. There is the fear of disappointing a parent and losing his approval. There is the fear of someone you love dying. (That was another amazing moment around the death of our dog. My older daughter burst into tears when she connected the dots, and realized if her dog had died - and she had loved him fiercely - then, so could her parents and sister. It was a brutal dose of reality!) Finally, through the Shriga, we get the child's fear of the unknown, and the dangers lurking there.
On a personal level, this episode reminds me one of my big fears, a fear that persists to this day. It's a fear of the autumn wind - those winds that blow through the streets on October evenings. Perhaps it's the way they rustle the dead leaves. Perhaps it's the way they carry some misplaced hint of warmth, when the rest of the air is cold and biting. Whatever it is, those winds unsettle me. Scare me. Make me scurry from car to house while looking over my shoulder. As a little girl, I would feign sleep so my dad would have to carry me from car to house. Snuggled against his chest, I felt protected and safe. All these years later, those winds still make me feel vulnerable, and defenseless.
To me, those winds feel wrong, and oddly malevolent. They have a shape, a mass that I never feel in the icy chill of winter gusts, or the soft, scented breezes of summer. Autumn winds feel animated, like something is being carried on them, catching a ride on them.
Whenever I am caught out in one, my pulse quickens. I get goose bumps. The hair rises on the back of my neck. I rush for cover, muttering to myself "Something wicked this way comes." I hurry my children inside, all the while keeping a tight grip on their hands. And I double check that I've locked the windows, and bolted the doors.
Just Random, Unpredictable Evil That Comes out of Nowhere and Rips You to Shreds
I probably wouldn't have to work too hard to persuade you that Season Two's "Houses of the Holy" is a pivotal episode. It hints at the possibility of angels, mentions the power of the demon-killing Archangel Michael, has Sam praying, and even allows Dean to entertain the idea of the existence of a higher power, named God. And just as importantly, it has this powerful exchange, which speaks volumes about the role evil has played in the brothers' lives, and their understanding of it.
Dean: Okay, all right. You know what? I get it. You've got faith. Hey, good for you. I'm sure it makes things easier. I'll tell you who else had faith like that. Mom. She used to tell me, when she tucked me in, that angels were watching over us. In fact, that was the last thing she ever said to me.
Sam: You never told me that.
Dean: What's to tell? She was wrong. There was nothing protecting her. There is no higher power. There is no God. I mean, there's just chaos and violence, and random, unpredictable evil that comes out of nowhere and rips you to shreds. You want me to believe in this stuff? I'm going to need to see some hard proof. You got any?
Dean's request for the proof of angels eventually comes in Season 4, starting with "Lazarus Rising" when he meets Angel of the Lord Castiel who tells Dean "I'm the one who gripped you tight and raised you from Perdition." So far Castiel is pretty much a good guy, although very much a warrior, and a soldier. He's cute, but he ain't no cuddly cherub (fourth class, once removed, useful only on Valentine's Day!). It remains to be seen whether Castiel stays on the side of the Winchesters. Sometimes, I get the sense Sera, Eric and even Ben Edlund are hinting his loyalties may change. So, at this point, it seems the Winchesters have yet to find proof of any truly benevolent entities, deities or higher powers.
Evil, on the other hand...
Most of us don't have daily run-ins with the evils of the Winchester world. We don't see a lot of vampires, werewolves or demons. But, we certainly hear the word "evil" often enough. And it is interesting how we use these words to define certain vices, "the demon drink", "the evil of gambling".
"Evil" is what we call all manner of tragedies, disasters, and people. One of its most common usages is in conjunction with crime. Through my work, I've encountered a variety of crimes, from vandalism, to murder, robbery and assault. I've also met their frequent companions "“ poverty, neglect, substance abuse & addiction problems, untreated mental health issues, homelessness, and government inaction.
Studies and stats suggests most crime is due to some combination of the above. Add in rage, passion, fatigue, alcohol, ideology and almost anything can happen. In fact, sometimes you don't even need to add in those factors.
Pamela Murphy, a professor at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario has done some fascinating research on the subject of fraud. Her research shows that, when there is opportunity, motivation and the ability to rationalize their actions, a surprising number of people will commit the crime of fraud.
And what allows us to convince ourselves that we're really not doing anything wrong? I think her six simple categories hold true for the commission of many crimes.
1. Pleading ignorance.. "I'm not hurting anyone."
2. Shifting the blame.. "Everybody does it."
3. Compare this little crime to a bigger one.. "That's nothing compared to.."
4. Moral justification.. Reframe the crime as having a worthy purpose.. "This is
wrong, but it's okay because it's protecting the business, my job and my
5. Give it a different definition, so it doesn't sound so bad.. "This is just thinking
outside the box."
6. Make the victim take the fall.. "She had it coming." (Very common excuse in
cases of sexual assault.)
Murphy's research, sadly reminds me of a fascinating interview I heard with a professor who was researching mob violence, especially crimes committed during war, like mass rapes. His findings were stunning because they showed that, in the anonymity of a group, many people will quickly give over to their base instincts. Even the meekest of men, who would never have considered themselves capable of such an act of violence, can be persuaded to let their darkest side see the light. It's kind of reminiscent of the way demonic possessions are portrayed in Supernatural.
I think it's true that almost all of us are capable of doing horrible things, if the trigger is powerful enough. Perhaps it would be killing another person in self-defense, or in defense of a loved one. Perhaps it would be taking part in the mob scene, rather than standing aside from it, and afterwards wondering why you didn't step away. Who knows how any of us will react in a given situation? Hopefully, we never have to find out.
In the end, I think many awful things are caused by simple human failings, like greed, lust, power, revenge.
But then I think of certain events, and crimes and I find it difficult to come up with any other explanation, aside from the existence of Evil.
There are several examples I could use. There's the serial killer who keeps his victims alive for days, in fear of death but hope of salvation, before finally murdering them. There's the pedophile, who kidnaps, assaults and kills children. There is the abusive authority figure (priest, teacher, coach) who leaves a tragic trail of rage, broken lives, and suicide in the communities he travels through. And there is, of course, the Holocaust.
For me, a more current example of evil is the Rwandan genocide of 1994. There were just so many brutal deaths in such a short time. I remember trying to get my head around the fact it was neighbours picking up machetes to hack apart the parents, and children living next door.
We heard a lot about the genocide in Canada because it was a Canadian, Lt.General Romeo Dallaire who was leading the United Nations force in Rwanda, when the massacres started. He was interviewed often on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation current affairs program "As It Happens". It was his way of trying to tell the world what was going on; his way of trying to get someone, anyone, to help him stop the bloodshed. Sadly, for all intents and purposes, his desperate pleas fell on deaf ears.
Dallaire is a remarkable man. He's resembles a real-life Sam or Dean in what he has experienced, and the toll it has taken on him. In fact, he could probably give them lessons on healing, hope and getting through the horrors of Hell. But, his Hell was here on Earth.
The unimaginable, yet real violence he witnessed in Rwanda caused him to suffer a very public case of Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome. He was found drunk, and hiding under a park bench. But he got treatment, recovered and wrote "Shake Hands With The Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda". In painstaking detail, his book shows how, if given permission and a few more resources, Dallaire and his troops might have been able to stop the genocide far sooner.
I am still haunted by certain paragraphs in the book. The title comes from this passage. He is recounting his first meeting with 3 young leaders of the Interahamwe, the group which organized the genocide, and armed civilians so they could kill more efficiently.
Dallaire writes, "The 3 young men had no particularly distinguishing feature. I think I was expecting frothing at the mouth, but the meeting would be with humans (Afterwards) I felt that I had shaken hands with the devil. We had actually exchanged pleasantries. I had given him an opportunity to take pride in his disgusting work. I felt guilty of evil deeds myself since I had actually negotiated with him."
Kind of sounds like Sam and Dean negotiating with Lucifer doesn't it? That excerpt also reminds me of Dean's pithy, but perceptive comment in The Benders.
"Demons, I get. People are crazy".
Since reading Dallaire's book, what has lingered with me, is the suggestion that the real evil of the Rwandan genocide was not only the brutal deaths of nearly 1-million men, women and children, or the violent rapes of countless women, and girls. Instead, it was also the world's response, or more accurately, the lack of response. And, in the years since 1994, it's become accepted that the twin evils of colonialism and racism also played a significant role in this gruesome killing spree. Would swifter and more pronounced action been taken if the victims lived in the Developed World, and were white? Tough question, but most experts believe the answer is yes.
Rwanda happened 50 years after the Holocaust, when the rallying cry had been "Never again." We were supposed to have learned from that tragedy. The evil is that we so obviously did not.
Remember those eerie October winds I mentioned? In my more fanciful moments, I sometimes wonder if what I'm really feeling is not a wind, but instead, the breath of Evil. Through that soft exhalation, it disperses its contagions, which blow around the world, and lie dormant, like a deadly plague, until time, conditions, and the required personality come along. And then we find ourselves hoping for a saviour - real or fictional - to lead us out of temptation, and deliver us from Evil.