I’m gonna come clean and be honest with you. I haven’t finished Sabrina. I didn’t really like it. I can’t quite understand the giant hype and all the various pagan blog types commenting on it. I wanted it to be less Euro-centric, less 50’s, less about sin and wrongness, and dear gods, I would have loved less women groveling at the feet of a ridiculous Goat-y Satan.
But it’s okay, fear not. I won’t be spending 1000 words telling you why to put down the remote and go do something productive with your life. Instead, I just want you to switch shows. I know you can, because Sabrina is on the same service as the show I want you to watch. Take a deep cleansing breath if you need to, because here’s the thing It’s a kids cartoon show.
However, if you want a show that models realistic interactions with spirits, a story that talks about appropriation and representation, and characters that learn deep lessons about how humans ought to interact with the non-human and ecologies that surround us, you gotta watch Hilda.
Hands down, Hilda is one of the best ever representations of how to actually interact with the spirit world. As I watched the first few episodes I couldn’t help but text some of my religious nerd friends and tell them they had to watch it. The lore is spot on and interpreted in such amusing ways. To explain all I need is two words: Elves and Contracts.
In the show the main character is a little girl who loves the woods. The cabin she and her mother live in gets trashed by invisible forces and a tiny letter informs them that they must leave. Hilda is lucky enough to have one kind Elf inform her that the spirits who have been sending nastygram legalese letters the size of postage stamps are Elves, plural. She discovers a whole other civilization of invisible spirit people with little houses, lives, and hierarchies and these Elves are hilariously contract obsessed.
For anyone who’s ever worked with elven spirits, whether they were fancy Lord of the Rings style spirits or tiny Shoemaker types, they all are obsessed with rules, etiquette, and contractual obligation. This show is a laugh riot for for people who work with spirits because the depictions ring so true.
The Wood Man is a spirit that randomly wanders into their house and clearly has very different social ethics than the humans he’s interacting with. Hilda and her mother are confronted with a being that finds them offensive. They have to deal with a cultural understanding vastly different than their own. I laughed and my kids laughed because we get it. Dealing with spirits is exactly like that. They are alien to us and our understanding. Our assumptions about what is polite and what is impolite are often embarrassingly wrong. In our attempts to interact with the spirits that live on the land with us we often stumble or get frustrated.
As a Spiritworker, much of what I do is mediate between the human and the non-human. There’s a lot to mediate. Our human lives are vastly out of balance. We use more than our share. We unthinkingly destroy ecosystems. We live in sprawling suburbias that are slowly devouring farmland and wild spaces.
More than that, as modern humans we desperately need narratives and models that depict living with the non-human in a healthy way. We live in a world where many Christians still see any kind of spirit that is not “angelic” as evil. The atheistic alternative to religion totally ignores the idea that there are intelligences other than human. Like the Lorax, someone needs to speak for the trees, and Hilda is a delightfully informative and inspirational voice.
Here are characters who love the woods and realize maybe the best thing they can do for the land they love is to move to the city. They discover there is a vast world of non-human sentience just waiting to be understood and that it’s everywhere. Spirits are in cities, forests, houses, libraries, and all the places humans are. They discover that building friendship and mutual respect is key to interacting with all kinds of people. These are stories that are far more powerful and useful than any faux-feminist horror story where “strong women” all work for some masculine force of evil. It’s certainly not a good representation of paganism, with the occasional “Wicca” word thrown in for modern seasoning. Sabrina is like a less funny version of The Office mashed up with Harry Potter.
I hope you watch Hilda with your kids, your friends, or at least your cat. Enjoy it. The music is great, the animation is adorable, and most of all, the story is a chance to imagine a world where we might just discover what balance with the earth looks like.
As always, many thanks for reading and sharing. If you find my work useful, please consider signing up over at my Patreon to support the work I do.