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Blood & Symbolism

Early cultures considered blood to carry our vital energy. To realize how people and animals slowly lost their life while haemorrhaging made ancient folk believe blood to be the primary substance. Looking at old Greek or Germanic mythology, man is supposed to have been created from the blood of gods. Even the Old Testament says that man is made of flesh and blood. It is a special matter, obviously.
Blood stands for passion, war, life force, secret to the genesis of life in general, sexuality, fertility, emotions of various kinds, death, bonds of a family (“blood is thicker than water”)…

In ancient times, blood was used in rites of sacrifice – as part of a religion, e.g. animal sacrifices were practised to appease the gods or to influence the course of nature. Human sacrifices also took place, for instance in the old civilizations in Mesoamerica, like the Aztec culture, mostly within religious rituals. 

According to Christian belief, the idea of atonement and union via blood is of central importance. It is the blood of Jesus who shed it to deliver all mankind from their sins. During Holy Communion – symbolically – Jesus’ blood is drunk as a sign of renewal of the bond between God and humankind, the (quite bloody) sacrifice of Jesus made this possible. The Eucharistic wine actually becomes the blood of Jesus, making him present during mass physically and spiritually, based on the rites of the last supper “This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you”.

In contrast to that – within Judaism, even consuming the smallest measure of blood is forbidden, as blood is regarded to be a sacred element, a divine element, and has to be returned to God, not consumed. Its importance can also be found in Exodus, as it repels – being smeared on doorposts –  the angels of death.

It’s dark red colour has also become a symbol of its own, also for lust, beauty, anger, sin, bloodshed, pain, guilt, and more. But also for courage and sacrifice. Red is a colour to be found in many flags today, often symbolising the blood, courage and blood of those who defended their country, and marking the Communist ideology. In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter, it symbolises the sin of adultery, in Stephen Crane’s Red Badge of Courage a Civil War soldier learns the significance of courage. 

In Supernatural – should we say it? – blood has been of major importance. And somehow, I thought, perhaps the writers might not have been entirely sure where to go with it. We were informed by Ruby that Sam “didn’t need the feather to fly”, but later he had to ingest a huge amount of demon blood to be able to contain Lucifer (and Dean, standing by his brother, helped him get it – thus the blood, also, became some kind of perhaps twisted tool for the brothers for having each others’ backs again). 

We have seen him use his powers in Nightmare like a punch, in a moment of despair when he experienced the vision of Max shooting Dean. The phenomenon of psychokinesis or telekinesis has been reported to appear during moments of high emotional stress, according to parapsychological research, the so-called “spontaneous psychokinesis”, denoting the sudden movement of objects without deliberate intention. Scientists believe those to be effects of a process in the subconscious. For Sam, clearly, it was the fear of losing his brother. His visions, surely preparing in his subconscious mind, striking out to his conscious thoughts and manifesting fully with emotions.

At that stage, Sam had already experienced an evolution of his abilities – from dreams to nightmares to visions while he was awake. But he had also seen what someone like Max’ brother could do with it, honing his powers to manipulate others. For Sam that was not an option. It might well be that he was afraid that he could actually become evil like Max’ brother (and for that reason, among others, didn’t even think of training), as he was certain that every person, everyone, was capable of murder. 

After Azazel’s demise these powers were gone. So Sam thought until Ruby informed him they were only dormant, waiting to be explored. At that point, Sam was not ready to listen to Ruby, she had to wait until he was desperate enough. That Sam had waited too long with that (and thus was not able to save Dean) must have spurred his guilt and drove him right into the arms of Ruby, once she had proved to him that she could be trusted (and she could – she saved his life, taught him with patience and skill, gave him support in a way Dean would have and a twisted sort of love, even. She could be trusted because she wanted to reach her goal and would have never done anything to jeopardise that. Her goal, though, was not of the trustworthy kind.)

Perhaps it had not taken much to convince him of the need for blood – knowing that he had once had abilities, he was led to believe that demon blood would help him get stronger (and fast). After getting it right for the first time, he was easily hooked – because, let’s not forget, he was in a state of mind he would have done anything to get revenge.

Perhaps, had Sam began to train on his own, he might have discovered of what he was capable. But the thought had not even occurred to him. 

He became some kind of vampire, depending on the blood Ruby offered him, drinking it – mostly – directly from her veins (surely with a sexual connotation), sometimes from a bottle (that probably used to contain holy water). When we look at the myth of vampires we see outsiders (and they have been considered metaphors for people living outside of society), monstrosities. The greatest “monster”, though, is the one you can sympathise with. You know why they are what they are and you understand them, although they do horrific things. 

As most of you may know, vampires are those creatures of myth and folklore that survive by feeding on the life force of the living, mostly on blood. It seems that people of all ages believed in creatures of this kind, but the idea of the vampire, as it has been popularized by Bram Stoker and his successors is rooted in the legends of the Balkans. However, in ancient times, the term or the idea of the vampire, as we know it today,  was a different one. Drinking of blood was attributed to demons, sometimes the devil. For instance the Hebrew Lilith, ancient Greek Lamia, in any case a creature of power who was gaining more of it by drinking blood, the life essence itself. According to the Kabbalah, the angel Samael merged with Lilith (who was considered to be one of four demonic queens). Apart from her, Samael is believed to have mated with various female demons, known as succubi.

We find several of these elements embedded in Sam’s story and his ‘vampiric’ self, well, the one depending on blood – or believing to depend on blood. Demon blood. He was ready to take Ruby’s bait and succumbed to it. Although he had decided to never go there again, he learned that he had to drink quite the amount of demon blood to be able to contain Lucifer. To be able to fight him, eventually.

Many have been irritated by this fact and Sam’s choice, and – in defence of the younger Winchester – I’d like to offer one of many thoughts (though I have done so various times before in other articles) and link this to the idea of purity and its connection to blood as depicted in the Bible, particularly in Revelation and Leviticus. Clean and unclean are important factors there – God/clean, Satan The Deceiver/unclean. Apostles, false apostles. Angels. Demons. 

Blood is a powerful symbol in Revelations. Among other metaphors, it also serves as a symbol of Christ’s death, as “the blood of the lamb”. Christ’s blood is efficacious for redemption and freedom from sin, thereby being a metaphor for gaining purity. Purity derives from what the Lamb has done – His sacrifice. Washing their clothes in blood people become clean, purified. 

In ancient Christian or Jewish tradition blood itself is neither positive or negative, its meaning depends on who touches it and how it is utilized. In Leviticus it is said “the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have assigned it for you upon the altar to effect purgation for your lives, for it is the blood that effects purgation”. Blood being the only element powerful enough to effect purification, as interpreted by theologists.

Lifting the curse

In the wake of this thought – Sam drank the blood to conquer Satan, thus perform a purifying act. He was ready to sacrifice himself in the process (and did), to even risk becoming evil (since he didn’t know what that amount of blood would do to him). 
The curse of the demon blood in his body, the one Sam could take out of his system, the one linked to the destiny intended for him became Sam’s sword to fight Lucifer. Sam, believing in destiny (or, well, believing) at first and for a long time, then rising up against the prospect, made one important decision in the end – he would lift the curse holding him prisoner by embracing it and using it for the greater good. Again. For months he had done nothing but.  

Sam’s thoughts changed in the end. From the notion to be the “least of each of you” to the security of knowing that he would do anything to save his brother and the planet for that matter. The power of situation is capable of transforming people and make them do seemingly bad deeds, even if they are essentially good. I think, because Sam at his core is a good, honourable soul, he didn’t become a victim of evil in the sense of becoming evil himself. 

It was his decision. He could have blamed it on the blood alone, thus detaching himself from his deeds, but he didn’t do that. Sam took full responsibility. He made the decisions. He paid for them. I can’t imagine the amount of courage that takes. The blood had been a tool to achieve what he hoped to be right, but essentially – apart from all the other symbolic contents blood owns – the demon blood represented Sam’s doubts, anger and downfall and his redemption, his decision to sacrifice himself. The unclean purified. The family bond strengthened again (even in death). What more could we ask?

Thank you. 

Comments  

Randal
# Randal 2010-09-08 11:03
Typical Jas, always trying to find excuses for your beloved Sam. ;-)

Great stuff as usual (stop making us look bad!) and I think people often overlook just how profound the idea of demon blood as infection really is. Sure, Sam espouses his anger directly in Metamorphosis, but to have that *constantly* drumming in your head, day in and day out, his anger is understandable, and this anger fueling what he thought was right is as well.

Yes, the road to hell is paved yadda yadda yadda, but the psychological impact of that infection, physical *and* mental, is beyond even something like the plague. That'll kill you; this keeps you alive.
Yvonne
# Yvonne 2010-09-08 14:22
Facinating stuff.
I would also love to see that initial conversation between Ruby and Sam. What a great flashback for S6, if possible. I'm deathly curious to see what Sams relationship to blood is after his time in hell. Does he still desire it? Since downing so much to take in Lucifer, can he control it as a tool without the need? I'm reminded of 'My Bloody Valentine' when we saw Sam, creature like, scenting out demons to feed on. Gross, but what a fearful power.
For that matter, how will demons now feel about Sam? Hate enough to hunt, or so much fear of this vampire that they flee? So many questions! And few comments on what you wrote. Brilliant, interesting and got my noggin to running. I apriciate you likening his experiance to a rape victim. Correct me if I'm wrong, but don't some rapees also become rather promiscuous after? "I'm already defiled, lost control, so I will control this area by CHOOSING to involve myself." It could be Sam followed this line of feeling.
One last eager question for the future season. I'm wondering if Sam's romantic life may not be influenced by it being a trigger for wanting blood.
Bevie
# Bevie 2010-09-08 14:24
A great essay, as usual from you Jas.

I have to admit I do not like Sam drinking blood, draining innocent nurses of their lifeforce, or continuing on with it after Ruby said he did not really need it. That is the one thing in the past two seasons that I have not been happy about. And that is part of the reason (aside from the brotherly relationship rift) that season 4 and 5 are my least favourite seasons. Don't get me wrong. Seasons 4 and 5 of Supernatural are worlds better than any other tv show!

The other psychic kids did not need to drink human blood to kick start their powers. Ava said the switches just start to turn on with a little practice. Look at what Ava could do, and Jake and the others. I would not have been upset if Sam had gone in that direction with his powers, but that's not how the writers wanted it, so I certainly can live with it. Just wish they hadn't gone that way. But that's just me, don't forget. Only one opinion among many.

Always love your essays Jas. ;-)
elle2
# elle2 2010-09-08 16:58
Jas,

As usual a well-thought out and researched article. I'm so glad you took on this idea.

I'm of the opinion that the idea of Sam and the blood grew beyond what the writers' ultimately were able to handle clearly, however, that does not detract, for me at least, from my enjoyment of the growth of the idea from I guess AHBL I when we realized demons blood had been dripped into baby Sammy's mouth.

Despite all it's twists and turns it was integral to the story even as it got confusing. The joy in the storyline was watching Sam, especially in Season 4 and the beginning parts of Season 5, as he struggled with do I or don't I, do I tell Dean, how do I hide it and now, how do I overcome it. It was a difficult line to tread for the character, the actor and the writers.

It will be very interesting to see where Season 6 goes with this idea. Is Sam 'cured'? Does he still have visions? Are all of Azazel's machinations and Lucifer's designs now kaput since Lucifer is back in the cage and in essence the 'curse' has been brought to a close? Don't know. We'll get an inkling as the season unfolds. I for one am very much looking forward to the unfolding of the mystery (actually, all of the mysteries it seems) in Season 6.

Thanks for putting in this effort, I know you've been working on it for quite some time.

:-)
CitizenKane2
# CitizenKane2 2010-09-08 19:29
I enjoyed reading this insightful article. :-)
Jasminka
# Jasminka 2010-09-09 09:32
Hello Randal, Yvonne, Bevie, Elle2 and CitizenKane2 ! Thank you for your comments!

Well, Randal, what can I say? Guilty as charged? I often feel the need to defend the folks I love, real or fictional… You are so right, it is a very profound idea – the infection with demon blood. It’s guaranteed to chill your blood.

Yvonne, you’ve read my mind with your questions concerning Sam and his relationship to demon blood after his stint in hell. Personally, I wouldn’t mind that storyline to re-surface. Let’s hope for some great flashbacks. And for some romance (but that’s just me… even if it brings triggering the trauma, ah, well, don’t we always fall for the suffering Winchester, we sado-masochists , we!)

You’re right, the phenomenon of rape victims becoming promiscuous after the event occurs at times. In my line of work, I’ve encountered it mostly with people who have been raped or abused as very young people (boys or girls, actually) which resulted so very often in a personality disorder. It’s not really frequent with grown up ‘rapees’. But it might be, that Sam also took control because of what you mention here. To at least take some control.

Bevie, hey, you are entitled to your opinion, dear, of course! I have to admit, I didn’t like the idea of Sam doing what he did, but I loved the storyline a lot. It provided a lot of the stuff I love about a good story. I’m sorry that you were disappointed in some aspects of the storyline, and I think you’re in good company, as many fans responded to it with sceptisism. It’ so okay, Bevie! Hopefully the writers will go into a direction now you will be able to thoroughly love.

Elle2, I am equally curious about the upcoming twists of the story! I would love to see powers in Sam, and perhaps – should the writers go through with it – they will learn from the difficulties they had following that storyline and make it more coherent.
I owe you one for the idea! Thanks.

CitizenKane2, always happy when you like what I come up with.

Thank you all so much! Cheers, Jas
Karen
# Karen 2010-09-09 09:33
Hi Jasminka
I love the title!
Oh the fiendish Demon Blood and the trouble and controversy it has caused.
In season 4, I was intrigued by its story line. Even though I hated what it was doing to Sammy, I understood its purpose. And when they revealed that the blood was never needed, that it was basically a placebo to help Sam accept his powers. It really took me by surprise and I was very excited. I thought for sure we were going to finally see Sam use his powers without the blood.
But in Season 5 they didn’t go that route. Only in My Bloody Valentine and Swan Song did his powers resurface and of course it was only after he drank the blood. So the story line kind of lost its appeal for me.
Thanks for the wonderful article Jas it was very insightful.
BagginsDVM
# BagginsDVM 2010-09-12 22:51
I've been on holiday (including in Vancouver for the con!) then busy with work, so I'm just now catching up with reading the articles here.
I have to admit I never liked my Sammy drinking blood, but you are right, Jas, it does make for a fascinating story line. I too am curious to see if Sam will still have powers this season, & would love to know exactly once & for all if he truly needed blood for his powers or not.
Suze
# Suze 2010-09-13 05:21
Always a sucker for a bit of vampire action I loved the blood-addiction story line, but I see the stuff as a bit of a smokescreen for our Sam's inner self ... He doesn't actually need it to give him the powers but he needs to think that he does because then the scary mojo comes from the demon-juice and not from him. His subconcious won't let him use them without the blood as an excuse. Or something.

Anyway, it could have been so much worse ... Imagine Sam hooked on shoes and chocolate instead! FAT BLOKE AVERTS END OF WORLD WHILST OBSESSING ABOUT SLING-BACKS ... Can't see it catching on, somehow. ;-)
Jasminka
# Jasminka 2010-09-13 13:47
Karen, BagginsDVM and Suze, so sorry for responding a bit late to your comments!

Karen, thank you for appreciating what I did here even though you were not really taken with that story line in the end! I was also hoping to see more of Sam's powers without any blood influence... well, we don't always get what we like...

Dawn,you were in Vancouver?! Wow, lucky girl! I hope you had some fantastic moments there!
I am not sure if the writers plan on working in Sam's powers some more. Personally, I'd love that.

Suze, a sucker for vampire action? Pun intended,eh? You know I thought about that thought, too, that Sam needed the blood to relieve himself of the responsibility -but then I thought, I don't believe that Sam would do that. not even subconciously. So, I disagree at this point, so sorry, dear.

And - yes: The fat bloke- idea sounds terrifying! ah, I see a parody coming up...

Thanks so much, folks, cheers, Jas
BagginsDVM
# BagginsDVM 2010-09-14 13:01
Yes, I was in Vancouver, & it was awesome to be in the city where the show is filmed. I even spent the money to get photo ops so I could actually meet the guys for a few seconds & it was worth it. I hardly even remember the actual experience - it was like a dream! total fangirl moment- but the pics prove that I was there!
Dawn