Sam… Blood or No Blood? That Is The Question…  

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In the beginning, the world of Supernatural was somewhat black and white, more or less –there were things that were good, things that were evil. Human/not human. Plain and simple. But things changed. Our heroes got engulfed in evil circumstances, they, forces of light, did bad deeds, also. Especially Sam has been eyed with a huge amount of criticism for using demon blood over and over again – not only by his brother within the story, but by many fans as well, following his path with trepidation. 

After another discussion on the matter in another thread, Elle2 approached me with the question how I would look at the whole issue, and her idea sent my brain spinning. So, this is dedicated to my writers’ team companion here at the Winchester Family Business with a huge thank you for the inspiration.

Yes, Sam and the Demon Blood. Sounds like an essay, alright. That matter provided us with many apprehensions watching our favourite show, didn’t it? Personally, I loved that storyline. It was mysterious, thrilling and attractive from my point of view. There was a danger about Sammy we had not witnessed before, and I truly fell for that part of the story. Also, it gave Jared Padalecki many moments to stretch his acting muscles. 

Well, Sam… Sam had been fed with the demon blood as a baby, according to Azazel, “better than mother’s milk”. We saw wee Sammy lick off the drops of blood from his tiny lips and he didn’t seem to mind. And why should he? The taste of fresh blood is sweet, a bit coppery (before you ask – I remember the taste well from injuries I sustained in my life).

Then, there was a long pause before Sam came into contact with blood again – through Ruby. Unfortunately we were not shown the first time Ruby spoke to Sam about drinking her blood. I would have loved to see his reaction to the invitation. Judging from what we know of Sam, he probably was grossed out at first, but then – under the influence of his thirst for revenge and his pain because Dean was in hell and Lilith the only game in town – he re-considered it. At that point and in the desperate state of mind the Winchester was in, he would have done anything. If he couldn’t get Dean back, at least heads would roll. One in particular.

If we look at the characters from season one, Dean had been the skeptic, only believing his own eyes, defying faith in general. He didn’t trust God or any deity else for that matter. God had not been there when their mother had met her death on that ceiling. There had been no angels watching over Mary to protect her, no higher power to save her. She died horribly and Dean lost his faith, albeit he probably was too young to notice that. Much later he understood what this experience meant to him, as he explained to Sam in Houses of the Holy

Sam, on the other hand, was a believer. He used to pray every day. He needed that. “I wanted to believe so badly. It’s so damned hard to do this, what we do. All alone, you know. And there’s so much evil out in the world, Dean, I feel like I could drown in it. And when I think about my destiny, when I think about how I could end up (…) I needed to think there was something else watching, too, you know? Some higher power, some greater good. And that maybe I could be saved.” (Houses of the Holy) 

Defilement

He might not have wanted it, but Sam actually believed in destiny at that time. He was certain that his path was mapped out for him in a way he might not be able to change. Several times he implored Dean to kill him before he flipped. He was downright terrified. This was not just a pair of shoes he could exchange for another. The blood he had been fed with as a child was inside him – impossible to be taken away: “I’ve got demon blood in me, Dean. This disease pumping through my veins and I can’t ever rip it out or scrub it clean. I’m a whole new level of freak. And I’m trying to take this…. This curse… and make something good out of it. Because I have to.” (Metamorphosis)

You can’t lift a curse. You get out of its way, as we learned from Dean in Bugs. If Sam believed to be cursed, as he suggested various times throughout the show, he didn’t see a way to get rid of it. Except using it for the greater good – exorcising demons without killing the victim. Slaying Lilith and execute revenge – and stop the apocalypse as a bonus. So he believed. It’s not only that he was made believe by Ruby. To my mind he actually needed to believe this to not feel utterly useless, to not put all the blame on his shoulders. There was more on them anyway. He embraced that chance, perhaps hoping to find some peace in the end. He didn’t know that he would break the final seal (just as Dean didn’t know that the first time he picked up a knife in hell to torture a soul he broke the first one. Alpha and Omega).

After the encounter with the rougarou, Sam stated that he didn’t want to use the powers anymore, to somewhat defy his pending destiny, but I think deep down he didn’t believe he could. And, at that point, perchance he didn’t truly want to, as his mind was still set on killing Lilith, all that wrath inside was eating away at his soul.

In many ways, Sam actually reacted like a victim of rape would: after finding out about all the details of his being blood-fed etc, he felt dirty, violated by demons when he was just a helpless baby, incapable of resisting. I wouldn’t be surprised if Sam had felt the need to stand in a shower for hours and to wash himself clean, knowing however that it wasn’t possible – much like a rape victim can’t wash off the invisible fingerprints burned into her skin by the attacker.

Because of that knowledge (and the experience of the blood drinking as an adult and thereby continuing to pollute himself probably made him feel unworthy and bad) he felt detached from the ones closest to him. He saw himself as a freak. And though he spent a lot of time with Dean, he tried to avoid his company, too, as it reminded him of what he was doing with Ruby in the dark – the secret he kept from his brother.

Getting to know what had been done to him as a baby and what he was able to do when he followed Ruby’s advice disrupted what he knew to be his world and home. In the aftermath of a traumatic event, like rape, the victim often feels numb, unable to express what they feel, but feel dirty beyond description. They feel detached from others and often have a sense of a foreshortened future. 

Sam reacted similarly. He was also quiet certain that he, in all probability, would not live long. He didn’t tell Dean right away when he learned the truth from Azazel in All Hell Breaks Loose. He kept this secret, just like the odd rape victim would do – as he felt unclean, ashamed, abused, humiliated, petrified. The amount of embarrassment might have been too much to even let his brother, the person nearest to his heart, in – possibly for fear of losing him. Under this pressure he showed irritability and outbursts of anger, hyper vigilance and felt guilty. My God.

The confidence Sam used to have, even under the impression that his father preferred Dean, the kind of self-esteem that enabled him to leave his family in pursuit of a life of his own, began to crumble after he had been informed of those demonic plans that placed him at the head of an army supposed to bring about the downfall of the world as we know it. The boy king. What Sam had taken for granted up to that moment was taken away from him. In a sense that was a turning point for Sam Winchester.

It didn’t really help to find out that Dean had sold his soul for him. So – not only did Sam feel responsible for the deaths of his mother (who stumbled in on them as Azazel did his blood feeding) and Jessica (who got in the way of the demons’ plans), later for instance for the death of Madison whom he couldn’t save and for Brady’s doom (who had been one of his best friends and who was used by demons because of that fact). People close to him were moving targets, always had been apparently, and he had not noticed that. How could he have known?

But his sense of integrity and honour made him feel guilty about it and helpless – after all he became more and more afraid of his destiny, as it seemed that nothing he ever did changed it. On the contrary – Sam realized how methodically the plan for his future had been thought through. It burst out of him in a drunken state in that hotel when he made Dean promise to kill him, should the day of change come. It made him cling to the idea that drinking blood would somehow help him defy at least a part of it and eventually save his brother, it made him decide to take on Lucifer and use what was foretold (that he was Satan’s vessel) against evil. 

Finding out that his fate had been decided for him long before he was born must have served as a knife to his guts. To that were added those unpleasant truths like the role of Brady in his life and those others that died along the way. That blade was even more twisted in his flesh as Sam understood how much force the evil side was able to muster up only to claim him. No price seemed too high, even they would sacrifice themselves, like Ruby did – for instance undergoing substantial torture at Alistair’s hand for remaining loyal to Lilith… 

But before his eyes opened to those terrible facts, he came to use demon blood, offered to Sam in a state when he was at his lowest. After experiencing the loss of Dean countless times in Mystery Spot he had to face truly losing him. He had agreed – desperate and too late – to Ruby to show him how to save Dean in No Rest For The Wicked. That was another breaking point – he was incapable of protecting Dean, later he was unable to make a deal that would set his brother free. All there was left to him was to enroll on that kamikaze trip of his: get the demons to kill him eventually, since he couldn’t bear the pain (which he tried to drown in booze, anger and sex), but – that was the plan – to take Lilith with him. Win-win.

Sam was highly suicidal at that point. And had he not had the idea of finding Lilith and making her pay, he might have killed himself. However, that is not the classic Winchester way, but suicide rarely is. It serves only one purpose: to end a kind of pain that appears unbearable (it can also be an aggressive act to inflict pain, of course, but that was not the case here). Ruby offered him a way to achieve exactly that. All he needed, according to her, was a significant amount of blood.

What is it about this matter that grosses people out in the way it does sometimes? Blood, well, that’s as symbolic as it gets, probably the most powerful human symbol of them all.


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.