In which we’re visited by the Grim Reaper, the original vampire baddie Vlad the Impaler and the Hindu shapeshifter rakshasa. Plus, we play with a Ouija board and learn how to make Abramelin Oil.
We had a phase in college when we’d whip out the Ouija board and try to talk to the spirits we were sure roamed our dorm. A group of my friends was sitting around the board when I walked in one night. Nothing was happening.
I took a seat — and suddenly the planchette started darting around, spelling out a story of a young girl who had drowned.
Of course everyone thought I was nudging it along, so they had me sit the next round out. The planchette didn’t budge.
“See?” one of them said. “He was totally pushing it.”
“I’ll tell you what,” I replied. “I’ll go back in, but I won’t touch it.” And I left my fingers hovering an inch or so above the planchette. It started darting around again. Everyone freaked out — and my connection to the spiritual realm was undisputed.
S2E1: “In My Time of Dying”
Where it’s from: All over the world
Description: The reapers of Supernatural can alter perceptions. So this one appears to Dean as a pretty girl since he didn’t like her natural (spectral, freakyass) form.
Typically, the Grim Reaper is depicted as a skeleton wearing a black hooded robe, often carrying a scythe.
The ep also mentions fetches. These creatures from English and Irish folklore look just like you, but the time you see them makes all the difference. If you see your double in the morning, good news! You’re going to have a nice long life. See a fetch at night, and you’re soon to be a goner.
Queen Elizabeth I of England was shocked to find a corpse lying on her bed. Upon closer inspection, she saw that the body was identical to her own. She died shortly thereafter.
What it does: What do you think the personification of death does? It kills you, duh.
If you’d like to communicate with someone who’s died, do like Sam and break out the Ouija board (oh, I’m sorry, I mean the Mystical Talking Board).
The Ouija board debuted in 1891, and for $1.50 you could have the opportunity to answer questions “about the past, present and future with marvelous accuracy,” according to an ad at the time.
Victorians were obsessed with spiritualism and occultism.
“Communicating with the dead was common — it wasn’t seen as bizarre or weird,” explains Robert Murch, who has researched the history of Ouija boards.
How to defeat it: You can’t kill death, silly.
The fellas mention a couple of items they learn are used to summon a demon. Oil of Abramelin is on the list. It’s a hoodoo formula named for its inclusion in a medieval grimoire called The Book of the Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage, written by a man with the unfortunate appellation Abraham of Worms. He was a 15th century Jewish Kabbalist who adapted from the Jewish Holy Oil of the Tanakh. Moses whipped up a batch in the Bible’s Book of Exodus.
Old Wormy said that the oil is a part of rituals that involve “the gifts of flight, treasure-finding and invisibility, as well as the power to cast effective love spells.”
The sex-crazed ceremonial magician Aleister Crowley believed Abramelin Oil “consecrates everything that is touched with it.”
There’s a lot of talk about variations on the recipe, some of which resulted from a French dude’s mistranslation. Here’s one that seems legit (and not overly archaic).
- 4 parts cinnamon bark quills, reduced to powder
- 2 parts myrrh resin, finely ground
- 1 part calamus chopped root, reduced to powder
- half of the foregoing total weight olive oil
The mixture is macerated for one month, then decanted and bottled for use, producing a fragrant oil suitable for anointing the body. It may be applied liberally, after the manner of traditional Jewish holy oils, such as the one that was poured on Aaron’s head until it ran down his beard.
Daddy Winchester also wanted acacia. And though he had lied about the reason he wanted those ingredients, acacia is more likely to be used for protection than for summoning a demon. The bush has become a symbol of renewal, strength and purity, as well as immortality due to its evergreen nature, according to Building Beautiful Souls. It was common in Hebrew tradition to plant an acacia at the head of a person’s grave. The instructions for Noah’s Ark were written on acacia wood. And in Tibet, acacia incense wards off evil spirits.
The only way you could really beat death is to make a swap — a life for a life. John sacrifices himself to get the reaper off Dean’s back.
S2E2: “Everybody Loves a Clown”
Monster: Rakshasa, a Hindu monster
Where it’s from: India
Description: These demons can shapeshift into any animal or monster they wish. Sculptors were told to carve them with a “terrifying appearance, complete with fearful side tusks, ugly eyes, curling awkward brows, and carrying a variety of horrible weapons.”
In the Hindu epic, the Ramayana, Hanuman, the monkey god, enters a town full of rakshasas:
“Some of them disgusted the eye, while some were beautiful to look upon. Some had long arms and frightful shapes; some were very fat and some were very lean; some were mere dwarfs and some were prodigiously tall. Some had only one eye and others only one ear. Some had monstrous bellies, hanging breasts, long projecting teeth and crooked thighs; whilst others were exceedingly beautiful to behold and clothed in great splendour. Some had two legs, some three legs, and some four legs. Some had the heads of serpents, some the heads of donkeys, some the heads of horses and some the heads of elephants.”
What it does: Well, they devour people. And sleep on beds full of insects.
Rakshasas are ruled by their 10-headed king, Ravana, arguably the main villain in the Ramayana. “He was possibly a wonderful leader,” writes Vampires.com. “He was also a murdering rapist who ate people.”
“Rakshasas are notorious for disturbing sacrifices, desecrating graves, harassing priests, possessing human beings and so on,” according to the New World Encyclopedia.
How to defeat it: A rakshasa’s power grows in the evening, and they’re at their strongest during the dark of a new moon. But they disappear with the rising of the sun.
On the show, they must be invited in, like some vampire legends.
The Brothers Winchester kill the rakshasa with a dagger made of pure brass.
If you play D&D, here are the stats for a rakshasa. Not only can you fight them, you play a rakshasa character!
They don’t give out medals for dungeon masters extraordinaire…but if they did, my friend Mike would receive one. I asked him what he thought about rakshasas in the world of Dungeons & Dragons.
“Rakshasas are one of my fave monsters!” he said. “They focus on stealth and deception, they possess both powerful magical abilities and immunities, and they can more than hold their own in physical combat. If you’re looking for a big bad for a story arc, rakshasas are the perfect masterminds.”
Description: You all know what vampires look like. For more background, we first covered vampires on Supernatural in this post.
What it does: Here’s where we get into moral ambiguity: What exactly makes something a monster? Are vampires inherently evil? What about the ones in this brood who don’t hurt humans but instead drink cow blood? (Does it matter that they do so mostly so there aren’t missing people that will lead hunters to them?) Discuss amongst yourselves.
As for our modern vampire folklore, many trace it back to the man who became Dracula: Vlad III, known as Dracul (Drăculea in old Romanian). He also earned the name Vlad Tepes (which translates to “the Impaler”). That gives you an idea of his favorite hobby.
Born in 1431, Vlad was the prince of Wallachia in what is now Romania. He might not have been the monster we’ve all been taught to believe.
“His preferred method of execution, impalement, wasn’t just a sadistic way to get rid of his opponents; it was also a good way to scare them away,” Florin Curta, a professor of medieval history at the University of Florida, told Live Science.
His habit of impaling Ottoman invaders was a form of psychological warfare used to level the playing field with an army much larger than his own. It doesn’t quite explain why he used that horrific means of death on Saxon merchants and local nobles he feared would question his authority. (He’s said to have invited a large group to dinner, had them stabbed and then impaled their still-twitching bodies.)
Some say his cruelty went even further. “He would impale women for nothing, his reason being they weren’t working hard enough. Some say he took sexual pleasure from this. He even impaled the children and the elderly because to him, they were useless,” according to The Good, the Bad and the Monstrous.
Apparently, it wasn’t the only way Dracula punished his enemies, according to the website Vlad the Impaler. He also was fond of “cutting of limbs, blinding, strangulation, burning, cutting off noses and ears, mutilation of sexual organs, scalping, skinning, exposure to the elements or to wild animals and boiling alive.”
There’s evidence that Vlad would insert the spike through his victims’ rectums and angle it to avoid hitting the vital organs so the person would live as long as possible.
One of the myths surrounding Dracula is that he drank the blood of his enemies. Turns out the original source, a German poem, actually says he really just liked to wash his hands in the blood of his enemies before he ate dinner. Bon appétit!
How to defeat it: If you’re in danger, cut its friggin’ head off. –Wally