Pagan TV Club: American Horror Story Coven

(Every late Wednesday night I’ll be posting my thoughts, 500 words or so, on American Horror Story: Coven. Feel free to chime in with your thoughts on the show in the comments section! This isn’t a review, just some thoughts on the first episode, and it contains spoilers. To understand it, you also probably have to watch the show.)

I’m not arrogant enough to think that I can claim ownership of the word “Witch.” Witch and witchcraft have several different definitions depending on the circumstances, so to see it used in a fictional context like American Horror Story does not immediately anger me. What does bother me is bad history and instances when Modern Witchcraft is blended with fairy-tale or horror movie witchcraft. So far AHS Coven has kept its witchcraft campy and has refrained from making its witches completely “good” or “bad.”

What will probably bother me as the weeks move along is the show’s portrayal of Voodoo. As we all know Voodoo is a real religion and that religion has been called Voodoo for at least two hundred years now. Witch has always had several definitions, Voodoo not so much, tread cautiously here American Horror Story. The witch hysteria that gripped Salem Massachusetts in the 1690’s is also used as a jumping off point in the series, so far I’m giving that a pass, but we’ll see how it develops over the season.

My reservations gotten out of the way, Coven was a breezy and enjoyable seventy minutes of television. For basic cable, the production values are rather high, and the casting and performances are both top notch. (In fairness to everything else on television, you aren’t going to top Jessica Lange, Kathy Bates, and Angela Basset, it’s just not possible.) After one episode I’m not really sure where things are going yet, but I’m certainly interested in seeing where it heads up. My wife really enjoyed both seasons one and two of American Horror Story, I thought both of them were a bit tedious. Between the witch’s Hogwarts, fictional Voodoo, and the recently unearthed Delphine LaLaurie (Kathy Bates) there’s enough going on that I can’t see myself getting bored anytime soon.

AHS is meant to be a “scary” television show, and there were a few chilling moments. The opening segment with Bates’s Delphine LaLaurie* torturing and abusing her slaves made my skin crawl. Equally horrifying was a roofie enabled rape scene. Two scenes highlighting the worst of humanity and all in the first thirty minutes, I like supernatural horror, being reminded of how terrible human beings are, well that’s why I watch the news. As a real Witch I’ll say that seeing a “witch” murdered by a mob of angry snake-handling (I presume they are) Christians was a shock to the system and given today’s political environment perhaps not totally out of the question. It’s also worth pointing out here too that there are still many people throughout the world murdered on a yearly basis for practicing “witchcraft.” As Fiona Goode said on the show “when witches don’t fight, we burn.” I’ll always take the reminder to be vigilant.

(One paragraph with The Witches of East End: East End is the forgotten step-daughter of the latest TV-witch craze and with good reason. These are soap-opera witches and I mean that in mostly the worst way possible. If you’ve been jonesing for the next Charmed this is probably it, gods help you and this show. About the best thing I can say about it is that one of the main characters is named “Freya.” At least this show is not going to make anyone think that the witches are the bad guys.)

Favorite Lines:

“Don’t make me drop a house on you.”

“When witches don’t fight we burn.”

Random Observations from the wife and I:

“Is she old enough to be half naked on screen and having sex . . . oh wait, that didn’t last very long.”

“Great, witchcraft is a genetic condition.”

“And she’s taken away by the Men in Black!”

“Hogwarts meets Amadeus!”

“I think you can tell how bad ass they are by the length of their heels.”

“See you can be a Witch and a scientist, I’m not alone!”

*Delphine LaLaurie was a real historical personage who tortured her slaves, and as long as she’s never turned into a sympathetic character I’m fine with the inclusion.


For more on American Horror Story: COVEN from Patheos writers, check out the show’s topic page on the Patheos Entertainment channel.

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About Jason Mankey

Jason Mankey has been involved with Paganism for the last twenty years, and has spent the last ten of those years as a speaker, writer, and High Priest. Jason can often be found lecturing on the Pagan Festival circuit, so you might just bump into him. When not reading and researching Pagan history he likes to crank up the Led Zeppelin, do rituals in honor of Jim Morrison (of The Doors), and sing numerous praises to Pan, Dionysus, and Aphrodite. He lives in Sunnyvale CA with his wife Ari and two hyper-kinetic cats.

  • Ian Elliott

    The entertainment industry loves to dump on Voodoo, which incidentally is called Vodun. Even Avatar did so, where Sigourney Weaver says “This isn’t pagan voodoo; this is real.” This is because the industry is full of phony liberals. They are oh-so-enlightened and tolerant when it comes to fashionable matters, but there is always an out-group they continue to dump on. I haven’t watched AHS and probably won’t, but it may have the positive effect of interesting people in the subject of witchcraft and pagan religions in general. Harry Potter had that effect.


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