The Mythology of Supernatural
The Signs and Symbols Behind the Popular TV Show
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A look into the paranormal legends and lore features on the hit television show Supernatural.
From angels to demons, The Mythology of Supernatural explores the religious roots and the ancient folklore of the otherworldly entities that brothers Sam and Dean Winchester face on the hit television show Supernatural-and that have inhabited the shadows of human imagination across countless cultures and centuries.
Goofer dust . . . Oh, you boys think you know somethin’ about somethin’ but not goofer dust?
Goofer dust is a powder used in voodoo, a religion brought to the Caribbean islands and southern United States by African slaves. The word goofer is believed to have derived from the Kikongo word Kufwa, meaning “to die”.
While Supernatural portrays goofer dust as a substance that wards off demons, its traditional voodoo use is nothing of the sort. Goofer dust is a mixture of various ingredients, commonly believed to include things like white and/or black salt, sulfur, ashes, ground–up snakeskin (some sources say skin that is shed; others say you must actually skin a snake), powdered animal or human bones, iron shavings from a blacksmith’s anvil, dried or ground–up manure, and graveyard dirt.
While Sam and Dean might not have touched the goofer dust George gave them if they’d known about the manure, it is actually the last ingredient, graveyard dirt, which seems to have the most influence on how the dust is used. Some sources say any dirt from a cemetery will do, but others claim it must be dirt from an actual burial plot. Either way, the idea is that spirit energy is taken from the dirt and mixed with the energy of the salt as a catalyst for all sorts of spells—love spells, good–luck spells (a favorite among gamblers), minor curses, or even spells meant to kill. The nature of the spell often requires dirt from a particular type of cemetery or grave site. For example, a love spell might require dust from the grave of a sibling, child, or close adult relative of the person casting the spell as these spirits would want the person to be happy and loved. Spells meant to cause injury, misfortune, illness, or death may require dirt from the grave of a person who died from illness, was murdered, or committed suicide, or dirt from a graveyard reserved for criminals. However, as with many magical practices, voodoo dictates that malevolent or harmful spells, which often require conjuring some pretty nasty spirits, may eventually backfire on the ones who cast them.
The one real–world voodoo use of goofer dust that most closely matches its portrayal in Supernatural is a basic spell of protection. In this case, the dust must include dirt from the grave of someone who loved the person to be protected. Another recipe for this protective dust offers broader protection, requiring the dust to be blessed by a voodoo priest and sprinkled with holy water. However, goofer dust is not normally used in voodoo to bar demons or spirits. This is probably because most voodoo spells involve contractual agreements with various spirit entities. A priest might tick off a spirit by barring it one day, and then be unable to invoke that same spirit later on when it is needed for a different type of spell. Voodoo is all about playing the politics of the spirit realm.
Heavy Metal: Iron
About three thousand years ago, iron forever changed the face of human civilization. It replaced bronze as the primary metal used for making tools and weapons. Unlike the much softer bronze, iron was hard enough to easily chip most types of stone without taking any severe damage. Aside from being used for making tools and weapons, the element of iron has a long history of supernatural lore.
In European folklore, iron offers protection against fairies and other mythical creatures. Such lore claims that iron is especially dangerous to these creatures and that they can be harmed or even killed by merely touching the element. The powers of witches, for example, can be dispelled by tapping them on the forehead with an iron rod, while certain elements of werewolf lore (which, of course, did not make their way into the Supernatural mythos) claim that one can force a werewolf back into its human form by throwing an iron rod over its head. These sorts of stories may have resulted in the practice of enclosing cemeteries in wrought–iron fences in order to keep evil or troublesome spirits from disturbing the restful dead.
Sam: What should we do?
In the episode “Clap Your Hands if You Believe” (6–09), the use of iron as a weapon against fairies is integrated into the mythos of the show. However, the writers took it a step further and integrated other forms of “sacred metals,” such as silver. When the fairy folk came into contact with a number of different types of metal, it would burn their skin.
Some remnants of these beliefs about iron can still be found today. Ever heard the term lucky horseshoe? Believe it or not, the idea of lucky horseshoes gets its origins from a particular story from European Judeo–Christian folklore. This story, which dates from around 959 CE, tells of an encounter Saint Dunstan once had with the devil. Saint Dunstan, long before he became the archbishop of Canterbury, made his living as a blacksmith. One day, the devil came into Dunstan’s shop and demanded that his horse be shoed. Seeing the devil for what he was, Dunstan grabbed an iron horseshoe and his tools, pinned the devil down, and nailed the horseshoe to the devil’s cloven–hoofed foot. The devil cried out in pain, begging Dunstan to remove the shoe. Saint Dunstan refused to remove it unless the devil agreed that he would never enter any home or structure that had a horseshoe hung over its door. The devil begrudgingly agreed, and Dunstan removed the shoe and put the Prince of Evil out on his butt. This story is the reason why, to this day, you see a horseshoe hanging over the door of many houses in Europe.
Based on its universal portrayals in lore, it would seem that most spirits and demons have a natural aversion to iron. The use of iron on Supernatural is no different. By striking a spirit or ghost with an iron object, a hunter can temporarily dispel its form. While this is rarely a permanent measure, it’s a good way to buy some time while the hunters try to find the spirit’s physical remains to “fry up extra crispy.”
The use of iron has even been incorporated in modern theories about the paranormal. The premise of how it works, however, has been updated. As will be discussed in further detail later in this chapter, spirit entities are believed to use electromagnetic energy in order to assume their forms (causing spikes on an EMF reader). Iron is said to act as a conductor, “grounding” the spirit’s electromagnetic energy. When touched by iron, the spirit’s electromagnetic energy would be drained or dispersed. The spirit is then forced to manifest its form all over again.
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