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.

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.

  • Mikal

    I haven’t really followed any of the AHS stuff and the wife is more into disney than anything that involves blood or scary plots, but I’ve heard decent things about this one. I’m not sure I’ll watch it all that much, but it might be worth catching if nothing else is on.

  • Christopher Scott Thompson

    I saw season 1 of AHS. Liked it a lot, but considered it more of a postmodern comedy/parody than true horror.

  • AHighcrest

    Last night, after watching the first episode of Coven, I tweeted this, “Yesterday’s stars, pretty teenagers, predictable plot, cliches + stereotypes, boring costumes, gore porn; #Coven in a tweet.” Tis applicable here as well.

  • ibejedi

    I watched this after reading where you mentioned it in another blog post. (I didn’t watch the other seasons). The gore itself doesn’t bother me, but the psychological horror is something I’m not always able to deal with, due to anxiety issues. However, the camp factor and over the top feel of the show helped remind me, “It’s not real, it’s not real”.

    I did enjoy it, and I’m interested to see where it goes. I do always fear that this type of thing just feeds into all the negative stereotypes that Wiccans and Pagans already have to deal with. Loved the “drop a house on you” line; and your observation about the opening sex scene — Love it!

  • Genna Hoggins

    Ok…now that I have actually watched all three of the ‘Witch’ shows that have premiered in the two weeks, I can comment.

    American Horror Story – Coven – I totally agree with you on the slave torture of Delphine LaLaurie. Rather disturbing. I am intrigued thus far. We will see if the show continues to hold my attention. The burning of the girl by the snake-wielding maniacs is, in my opinion, a reminder of how disconnected from the mainstream some parts of society still are and how even to this day, we must sometimes be wary of exposing ourselves. I was intrigued by the portrayal of Marie LaVeau in this episode. I do look forward to seeing where they go with this.

    The Witches of East End – kind of like ‘Practical Magic’ meets ‘Charmed’. After reading a little of the book, I am curious to see how far they will deviate, and how much of the Norse mythology they will put into the show to explain the characters backgrounds.

    The Originals – This is on the CW, so expectations are not too high, but I am entertained thus far. I do like their portrayal of the witches in that one, as, thus far, it seems to be the closest to reality… Yes, there are vampires and werewolves, but the witches are the underdogs in this one.

    • JasonMankey

      My wife has “The Originals” on the DVR, but as it’s a spinoff of the Vampire Diaries and I’ve never watched that show . . . well I just can’t see picking this one up.

      I am still watching “Sleepy Hollow” and thought episode three was a big improvement over the second one. Though the crazy way that show mixes religious traditions often makes me scratch my head.

      • Genna Hoggins

        I have never watched The Vampire Diaries, though a friend of mine keep telling me that I should, of for nothing else than the eye candy…probably won’t….But I was not aware that the Vampire . That said, I no trouble picking this one up. I am interested to see how the witches are going to weather the storm in this one.

  • Mar Clandestino

    I really enjoyed the show, for that it really is worth. I look forward to reading your weekly reviews as well as I like the discussions the show is bringing. I couldn’t help but think of Countess Bathory when the story was being unfolded for LaLaurie. Regarding the aspect and their coverage of Voodoo, I’m having some premature good feelings about because they did a short video “inside look” at what Voodoo really is, with some good commentators on it.