Chilling Adventures of Sabrina was one of 2018's most highly-anticipated TV releases, so naturally, we’re on our third re-watch of the series already and have had plenty of time to dissect the series' many intricacies and gaffes (Ben Button was already dead! Alice Cooper is a witch!) With the holiday special coming up, we’re already preparing for more adventures with our favorite Satan-worshippers and the mortals who love them. The bonus episode’s surprise announcement was a relief after reports arose that legal issues regarding a statue of Baphomet might force Netflix to remove the show from its servers in conjunction with a $50 million lawsuit from the Satanic Temple.
Chilling Adventures is filled with religious iconography ranging from occult inventions to ancient figures from the rabbinic Talmud, and even after a dozen years of religious studies classes, I still didn’t understand about half of the references I did manage to catch during the show’s first ten episodes. After scouring the internet for season two theories because I’m impatient, I realized that these little details might be the key to figuring out what comes next for Sabrina Spellman. Thus began my deep dive into religious tradition, ancient tall-tales, and Netflix screengrabs. The nuns from my high school would be so proud. Read on to learn about the religious iconography on Chilling Adventures, whether you want to learn more about the rich and wickedly beautiful history of our world, or you just can’t justify watching the series for the fourth time.
You may recognize this demonic little goat thing from the opening credits of American Horror Story: Coven. Also, American Horror Story: Apocalypse. Basically, if Baphomet doesn’t end up being important in Greendale, there’s a good chance you’ll still catch it on your TV screens somewhere along the line on Ryan Murphy’s intricate horror anthology. Fans of Chilling Adventures, however, will probably best know Baphomet from the Satanic Temple’s lawsuit. While understanding where Baphomet came from will not, in fact, make why the Satanic Temple thought they were entitled to $50 million any clearer, this demonic figure is notable for not actually being found in any religious text, anywhere. According to the BBC, Baphomet’s origins can be traced back to the late days of the Knights Templar, one of the many sects of devout Catholics in the second century who thought the Crusades were a good idea. The Knights were taken down in a petty display of political opportunism that led to trials where the knights were, more or less, forced to publicly admit to false accusations aimed at their religious and political fidelity. Meanwhile, no one seemed to care about true accusations surrounding the fact that they murdered millions of Muslims in cold blood. Baphomet specifically wasn’t mentioned by any of the Knights during their sham trials, where there was very little consistency regarding which idol the Knights supposedly were worshipping. Scholars believe that the concept of “Baphometh,” as it was spelled back then, was a corruption of the word “Mahomet,” the prophet Muhammad. The word was found in ancient accounts of the Knights praying to Baphometh before going into battle, and at the time, Islam was perceived as the idol worship of Muhammad.
Baphomet, as it’s seen now, didn’t come to be until the 1800s, when occultist Eliphas Levi used the goat-headed figure as “a collective representation for all the magical icons from earlier polytheistic or animistic traditions that survived the spread of Christianity,” such as Pan (like the Labyrinth) and Banebdjedet. Why Levi chose to use Baphomet as its moniker is unknown, but the image of the beast itself contains references to the Reformation occultist Hermes Trismegistus, who came up with the phrase “As Above, So Below” and its accompanying hand gesture, to ancient Greek Harolds and Hermes, and a caduceus which symbolizes reciprocity. In all of the talk about the satanic goat, however, there’s basically no information about what it has done or what it actually represents. Baphomet was finally linked to Satan through Aleister Crowley, one of the best known European heretics, who associated it with secret worship and suppressed knowledge, ostensibly because of its assumed attachment to Catholic heresy in the Knights Templar.
The church on Chilling Adventures doesn’t share a name with the actual Church of Satan started in the 1960s by Anton LaVey, probably because the creators wanted to avoid a lawsuit, ironically. The Baphomet statue involved in the lawsuit isn’t even actually associated with the Church of Satan, but instead, is used by a different occult group called the Satanic Temple. Based on reports from Syfy, the two groups have beef with each other, with the Church of Satan accusing the Satanic Temple of using cheap publicity stunts to gain notoriety, and the Satanic Temple not actually classifying themselves as worshippers of Satan. The Satanic Temple’s website FAQ even needed to include a section clarifying that they aren’t just a giant media stunt. The statue used on Chilling Adventures does bear a remarkable resemblance to a statue used in one of the Satanic Temple’s “campaigns,” while the Church of Satan uses Baphomet on its logo, the Sigil of Baphomet. While the sigil itself hasn’t been seen on Chilling Adventures, and we’ve talked enough about Baphomet considering it seems like it was pulled out of thin air and history means nothing, aspects of the sigil have been incorporated to the plot of the show.
Notably, the sigil also includes Hebrew letters for “Leviathan” and the names Samuel and Lilith. Leviathan is the name of Ambrose Spellman’s familiar, which comes from a sea monster referenced in the Christian Old Testament (which, to the truly uninitiated, is also the Jewish Torah) in the Book of Job, Psalms, the Book of Isaiah, and the Book of Amos. Ms. Wardwell’s familiar, Stolas, is also named after an ancient figure, but seeing as its owner is evil, Stolas, understandably, comes from much darker origins. Stolas is a Great Prince of Hell from the anonymously authored demonology index, Ars Goetia.
Like many of the occultist references on Chilling Adventures, there are little to no actual religious texts from which the original icons were drawn. A lot of occult and satanic iconography and legends seem to have been created out of thin air by random people (many of whom were trying to start their own religion in the 19th and 20th centuries). For example, the upside-down cross seen as a satanic cross in Ms. Wardwell's house and on a lot of heavy metal CD covers was originally known as the Petrine Cross. The Cross of Saint Peter is an upside-down cross because Catholic tradition claimed that Simon Peter the apostle was crucified upside-down because he believed he was unworthy to be crucified in the same way as Jesus Christ. It is used by the Papacy to represent Peter along with the Keys of Heaven. However, in the 20th century, it became associated with Satanism because of pure conjecture in modern society and grew in popularity. Satanic Temple spokesperson Lucien Greaves claims the Petrine cross was interpreted this way because it's how Satan would perceive the cross from underground, but its pretty clear that the current meaning just comes from people who didn't know what they were talking about and co-opted an innocuous symbol.
In all fairness, this does leave a little to be said about the nature of all religious doctrine and religious tradition in the first place. Regardless of what you believe or how old the origins of your beliefs are, there will always be something tainted by unreliable oral tradition or political machinations, showing why it is important to understand the historical context of religious texts and see where their traditions overlap (which is also kind of fun!).
The Church of Satan’s seal also includes the names Samuel and Lilith. Samuel, the main archangel of death in Talmudic Jewish texts, hasn’t been mentioned on Chilling Adventures yet, but viewers might know Lilith better as Ms. Wardwell. Speculated to also be a hidden character on this season of American Horror Story, the historical “Madame Satan” is best known as a Midrashic “First Eve,” Adam’s first wife in Genesis 2. The Jewish Women's Archive explains that Lilith rejects Adam’s domineering behavior, runs away from Eden, gets mad when Adam takes a second wife, and then starts using her sexuality as a weapon and killing children.
If you’re wondering, “What the hell (pun intended) is Genesis 2?”, then you probably haven’t heard of the Talmud, a collection of writings that include Rabbinic Judaism's oral traditions in the Mishnah and an explanation of the Mishnah in the Gemara. These writings come second to the Torah and are considered “commentative and interpretive” in the mainstream form of Judaism, which is Rabbinic Judaism.
Lilith’s first appearances actually come from Babylonian demonology as a killer of infants, and her myth later spread into the world of Egyptians, Israelites, the ancient Hittites, Greeks and possibly in a one-off reference in the Bible (Isaiah 34:14). Lilith is only seen as “Madame Satan” in a mystical Spanish text from the twelfth century called the Zohar, where she is Satan’s wife. The real takeaway from this one is that the idea of strong women has been demonized (literally) by over seven different religious traditions.
Eagle-eyed fans might have noticed that the abandoned train station in which the Academy of Unseen Arts is hidden is named “Gehenna Station.” Since nothing on Chilling Adventures is a coincidence, it turns out that Gehenna is the Jewish equivalent to Hell. While many of us (myself included) were taught that Jewish people don’t believe in Hell, ThoughtCo explains that rabbinic Judaism does believe in a version of Hell called Gehenna, which is also mentioned in the Christian New Testament. Gehenna was the place where children were sacrificed to the god Moloch to the south of Jerusalem, which led to it being deemed cursed and becoming a figurative equivalent to Christian Hell, complete with fiery furnace imagery and an immeasurable underground location where the wicked are doomed for at least a portion of their afterlife. Funnily enough, the Hebrew Bible’s equivalent to Gehenna, Sheol, is closer to the depiction of mortal-limbo seen on Chilling Adventures, while Limbo itself is a non-scriptural Catholic concept. The more you know!
When Sabrina is choosing whether to follow the Path of Light or the Path of Night, Ambrose suggests that Sabrina takes a bite out of a Malum Malus. This is probably pretty similar to the biblical exchange between Eve and the Serpent in Genesis, considering that malum malus is just “evil apple” in Latin. That’s right, when deciding whether to follow the path of light or dark, Sabrina is advised to take a bite out of the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil.
I guess not all of the references on Chilling Adventures of Sabrina could be as straightforward as this one. Here’s to all of the new hidden references sure to come in their Christmas (excuse me, I mean, “winter solstice”) episode on December 14 - and on season two next year.