Buffy’s Birthday: January 19, 1981 and Astrology

buffy birthday, buffy summers birthdayEditor’s note: Want to contribute a guest blog post? Contact us.

By Samuel Scott

In the Season 4 episode “Doomed,” Buffy tells Riley — in a sarcastic way when he asks her, “What are you?” after seeing her in battle for the first time in the prior episode “Hush” — that she is a “Capricorn on the cusp of Aquarius.” Although there is a little uncertainty about Buffy’s birthday (see later), it has been deemed by Joss Whedon and “Buffy” fandom that the date is January 19, 1981. In other words, Buffy Summers is thirty-one years old today (and only four months younger than I, so I could always related to what the characters were going through in their lives).

While we at BTVS online usually publish serious, philosophical essays on the themes of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” in honor of Buffy’s birthday, I wanted to explore something more whimsical: What does Buffy’s astrological birth-chart say about her — and do the events of the series fall in line with what it says? Of course, I neither endorse nor condemn astrology — this is only for the amusement of fans like myself. Happy Birthday, Buffy! Note: The website’s programmed analysis is in italics, and my thoughts after each section are in plain text.

Buffy’s Birth Chart

To start this experiment, I visited this website, which I chose merely because it was the first to come up in a Google search for “online astrology birth chart.” I entered Buffy’s birth-date and place of birth (presumably, Los Angeles), and the website created this chart:

 buffy birthday, buffy summers birthdayObviously, I have no idea what the chart means, so I will copy the website’s automatically-generated analysis and then comment on each point on whether the show supports the character description.

Sun in Capricorn

She is honest, reserved, circumspect, honorable and strong-willed. Quietly ambitious within the realms of the possible, she likes and takes on responsibility. She can work in the social domain.

Weaknesses: a bitter, hostile, disagreeable and mistrustful mind.

Is Buffy honest? The answer might be “no.” Sometimes she hides her actions and situations, like when Angel came back to earth in Season 3 and when she had come back from heaven in Season 7. Buffy hides information whenever, in her opinion, it helps her or it would avoid causing pain to her friends. Reserved? Before Buffy was called as the Slayer, she was a popular cheerleader (and she initially hoped to regain such esteem in Season 3, like when she and Cordelia fought to be homecoming queen). These are not characteristics of a “reserved” person. However, after she arrived in Sunnydale, she was largely relegated to the “dorky” cliches in high school. Still, she is indeed honorable. For example, she adheres to a moral code — she will not, for example, kill humans (like Ben in Season 5) or a chip-impaired Spike. Buffy is also strong-willed — note her threat to kill any Scoobie who tries to kill her sister Dawn in the finale of Season 5 — and her ambition and responsible behavior is exemplified in her constant acceptance of her duty whenever a threat arrives. Also, despite her somewhat seclusion in high school, she could still “work in the social domain” like in gathering the senior class together to fight the Mayor in the finale of Season 3.

Is Buffy bitter? By the end of Season 7, she had definitely changed from a chipper, sarcastic teenager into a serious, dour young woman. Buffy is definitely “hostile,” as seen as when she rhetorically asks the Scoobies whether she always uses violence to solve problems (even worldly ones). Still, she is not usually disagreeable and mistrustful — she implicitly trusts her friends, rightly or wrongly, until she has no choice but to do otherwise.

Moon in Cancer

She is likeable and sociable. Very sensitive to environmental conditions and surroundings. She likes home, habits, comfort and her little world. Large families.

Weaknesses: subject to family circle, indolence, inertia. She is impressionable and too sensitive. Family problems.

Buffy, in terms of personality, is likeable and sociable. Although she was never very popular in high school in general, she usually interacted with her classmates in a positive way (perhaps because she was saving their lives). She is indeed sensitive to her environment; any criticisms of her friends and classmates would usually affect her mood. Buffy indeed likes comfortable things like home and habits, but it is her curse to never to be able to enjoy them fully. And it goes without saying that she had “family problems” with her estranged father, a mother who initially did not know her full identity, and then a mystical little-sister.

Mercury in Aquarius

Likes everything that is new and original: is an innovator. Values her independence and liberty of action greatly. She initiates projects, she is individualistic, idealistic and humanitarian. Likes intellectual discussions.

Weaknesses: argumentative, bickering and eccentric.

Buffy has all of the positive characteristics mentioned in the first paragraph. After all, she almost always followed Giles’ orders whenever she was going to do them anyway, and she quit the Watchers’ Council in Season 3. Thereafter, she would ask Giles for advice, but she would always decide what to do herself. Buffy is always idealistic since, as Faith said while playing her in Season 4, she would think, “You can’t do that — it’s wrong!”

However, Buffy does not like “intellectual discussions” — Willow was always the “brains” of the group — and she was not the most argumentative of the Scoobies. That, perhaps, was Xander.

Venus in Capricorn

Loves are sincere. She is basically attracted to those with problems, which complicates life because she takes on those people’s problems. Her feelings are deep, stable, solid, definite. She is not very expansive and can be melancholic.

Weaknesses: she has a tendency to hold back emotions, she is too reserved and is frightened of being disappointed in love.

From Angel to Parker to Riley to Spike, Buffy is always attracted to dark men with “problems.” Angel was a tortured vampire, Parker (claimed) that he had emotional problems, Riley had a double life as a military commando, and Spike has his complicated past as well. Buffy definitely “takes on those peoples’ problems” because she has the “weight of the world” on her shoulders. As seen in the last two seasons of the show, she was very depressed and “melancholic.” And after her experience with Angel in Season 2, Buffy was skeptical of future relationships.

Mars in Aquarius

She uses her aggressiveness in a social battle for freedom, or independence or adventure, but always linked to society. Likes adventure, independence. Disturbances, changes, upsets.

Buffy is definitely aggressive in a way that is linked to society (in terms of helping it), and her life is full of “disturbances, changes, upsets.”

Jupiter in Libra

A high liver with a sweet, attractive and sunny disposition. Likes justice, which she trusts. She knows how to forgive completely.

Weaknesses: she can have problems, because she gets involved in doubtful situations through trusting too much.

For most of the series (perhaps the first four seasons), Buffy usually had a “sunny disposition.” She also believes in justice, as demonstrated by the aforementioned refusal to kill Ben in Season 5. She also forgives all the time (Xander’s insults of Angel, Willow’s trying to destroy the world, and so on).

Saturn in Libra

Recognized for her seriousness, moral qualities. She is respectable, conscientious.

Weaknesses: not open to new ideas.

Buffy was certainly “seriousness” and “respectable,” particularly in her role as a quasi-general in Season 7. However, a question remains as to whether she is “open to new ideas” — does she always do what she thinks is best, or does she take other ideas into account?

Uranus in Scorpio

Intelligent and subtle. Adores research, inquiry, investigation. Very sensual.

This might be one that is completely off. Buffy, for all of her positive qualities, was never the most academic of the bunch. Still, she was “sensual,” as seen in the sexual scenes with her, Angel, Riley, and Spike.

Neptune in Sagittarius

Likes long voyages, things foreign, water.

This seems completely irrelevant.

Pluto in Libra

Brings changes.

Buffy certainly brought changes to the nature and the duties of the slayer line.

Interplanetary aspects

The interplanetary aspects have a strong influence on the character and disposition of the individual and, consequently, on her destiny.

The conjunction aspect is variable and depends above all on the nature of the conjoint planets.

441 Conjunction Jupiter – Saturn

She is serious, patient, honest, hard-working, orderly. Her judgement is good and she thinks over things. She pursues her objectives to the bitter end, always knowing when to choose the right moment. She is upright and respects the law.

This is entirely accurate — whenever Buffy develops a plan, it is almost always the right one (excepting the one time in Season 7 when she led the potentials to a massacre).

359 Conjunction Mercury – Mars

She likes to discuss, likes polemic. She has good judgement and is determined. She is a worker and has lots of energy. She has a lively intelligence and goes to the heart of things.

Buffy does always talk out her plans with her friends and usually has good judgment.

237 Sextile Sun – Uranus

She is above all independent and original. She likes change, reforms, she is allergic to everything routine. She has a strong personality, and has many friends.

As we see in the Season 4 finale “Restless,” she is the (first?) slayer who was original and independent in behavior. She has a strong personality that is embedded in her persona, and she depends on her friends. She may have been the first slayer to have real friends.

-183 Opposition Sun – Moon

-131 Square Moon – Pluto

She has problems in love. She is jealous, her self-esteem is often quickly held up to ridicule.

Of course, Buffy has never had a simple love-life. She also takes it to heart whenever someone, like Cordelia, ridicules her.

-121 Square Venus – Saturn

This aspect sometimes means unhealthy sensuality. She is hard, and does not know how to express her emotions. She is frightened of showing her love, and this leads to disappointments, break-ups, lack of satisfaction. It is likely that she had problems with her mother, who did not know how to love her or give her self-confidence. She doubts, is suspicious and jealous. She will learn how to be happy in love, to be at ease with herself and to control her jealousy in the second half of her life, thanks to an older person, who gives her self-confidence back to her, so she can then trust others.

Joyce Summers, Buffy’s mother, certainly did not know how to give her confidence since she did not know that her daughter was the Slayer for more than two years. Buffy also had difficulties in finding love after her relationship with Angel. The jury is still out as to whether an “older person” (Angel, Spike?) will help her to become more self-confident so that she can become more trusting in relationships.

-113 Square Venus – Jupiter

She is nonchalant, pretentious, full of self-importance. She likes what is beautiful and sometimes ostentatious, and spends lots of money for the sake of appearances. She likes to please and has numerous amorous adventures. She is unfaithful and undergoes tribulations in love.

Buffy does like “what is beautiful” and “spends lots of money for the sake of appearances” — after all, she usually wore designer, expensive clothes in the program. However, she did not have “numerous amorous adventures” — she is not the type to have, for example, many one-night stands (Parker, notwithstanding).

111 Trine Mercury – Saturn

102 Trine Mercury – Jupiter

She is intelligent, has big ideas: she is tolerant and has a strong sense of justice. She has good judgement, good sense and has her feet on the ground. She has the \”gift of the gab\”, and likes to speak, she also likes literature. She is erudite and will normally be successful socially.

While Buffy is not “intelligent” in an strictly-academic sense, she usually does have big ideas, good judgement, and good sense when it comes to making battle decisions and navigating friendships. As every fan of “Buffyspeak” knows, she (along with most of the Scoobies) do have the a “gift of the gab.”

52 Trine Moon – Uranus

She is imaginative and has the Moon’s intuition complemented by Uranus’ independence and originality. Her life is out-of-the-ordinary, with lots of changes and a great knowledge of the world not through reading but through personal experience. She likes the sensational, new things. She acts instinctively, but fortunately has a good sixth sense. She likes to be surrounded by original people, artists.

From organizing the students to battle the mayor in Season 3 to uniting the Scoobies spiritually to defeat Adam in Season 4 to changing the Slayer Line forever in Season 7, Buffy is certainly imaginative and original. (In Giles’ heartwarming words in Season 7, her idea was “bloody brilliant.”) Her out-of-the-ordinary life does change, and she uses her personal experiences and instincts in the fight against evil. Buffy also was surrounded by “original people” including a werewolf, a lesbian witch, and demon-turned-human, and a military commando.

52 Sextile Neptune – Pluto

37 Trine Mars – Jupiter

She has a good sense of organization, she is jovial, frank and sincere. She is full of dynamism and over-abundant energy. She loves life and takes all it has to offer. She likes sports and the outdoor life. She is successful professionally and emotionally. She usually has lots of children.

Buffy always brings energy and organization to her duties as the Slayer, but it is not clear whether she likes sports and outdoor activities besides her regular training. In addition, she is likely not “successful” in her emotional (she was never truly happy until the end of the last episode) or professional life (demons never stop coming, and one day she will die — for real). And I am not sure that Buffy, after all of her failed relationships and general attraction towards dark, damaged men, will ever get married — let alone have “lots of children.”

34 Trine Mars – Saturn

She is energetic and determined. She has strength and resistance, ability and patience: she is tough, and sometimes insensitive, and puts all her energy and talents into overcoming all the obstacles to her success. She is obstinate, calculating, does not take on anything without having thought of all the possible consequences, she can take all the time in the world and never loses patience to achieve her objectives. She is not particularly popular in her circle, but is feared and respected.

All but the last sentence is “spot-on.” In almost every big battle, she is a tough, emotionless general who develops a thought-out plan and then tells everyone how it will play out. See her terse comment in the finale of Season 5 that she will kill anyone who tries to save the world by killing Dawn, and her role as almost a literal general in regards to the potentials in Season 7. But the last line is incorrect — she was (usually) very popular “in her circle (of Scoobies),” even though she was never very popular in high school. Still, she was always respected by everyone (if not often liked by people in general).

-12 Square Sun – Pluto

This aspect means fights and setbacks. She is presumptuous.

The constant rise off new vampires, demons, and Big Bads shows that her life is indeed full of “fights” and “setbacks.”


Again, this post is not meant to be a serious, astrological study; I am nothing even resembling an astrologer. I thought it would just be fun, in honor of Buffy’s birthday today, to see what her birth-chart profile may say. If anyone who is an actual astrologer has any thoughts, please feel free to give your thoughts in the comments!

The Controversy of Buffy’s Birthday

The first time that Buffy Summer’s birthday is mentioned or shown is in the Season 1 episode “I Robot, You Jane.” One of Sunnydale High’s computer whizzes, who is under the control of a demon that has infected the Internet, pulls up Buffy’s records. In two different views of the computer, we see two different dates (for some reason):

buffy birthday, buffy summers birthday

If you look closely (or perhaps click), you will see that the two dates are October 24, 1980 and May 6, 1979. However, this detail has been disregarded (see IMDB and here, and Whedonesque).

 Samuel Scott is the founder and publisher of Buffy the Vampire Slayer Online. You can follow him on Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, and Twitter as well as on his personal website.

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How Jewish is Willow Rosenberg?

willow rosenberg jewishEditor’s note: Want to contribute a guest blog post? Contact us.

By Samuel Scott

In “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” the character arc of Willow is that which changes the most. However, in contrast to most commentaries on the development of her character, the primary issue might not be her extrovert or introvert personality (depending on the season) or her transition into a lesbian. Her relationship with Judaism also needs to be addressed.

When we first meet Willow in the first episode of Season 1 after a short conversation with Xander in which he gets her to tutor him in math, Cordelia sees her at a Sunnydale High School water-fountain and comments on her manner of dress. Willow meekly remarks that her mother chose the outfit, and Cordelia responds, in a manner that is as witty as it is insulting, that it is nice that Willow has “seen the softer side of Sears” (in the context of an advertising tagline at the time):

willow rosenberg jewish

What we see is the personality and style of Willow in what can be deemed “B.B.” — “Before Buffy.” And that context can be viewed as somewhat religiously Jewish. In religious Judaism, girls and women are expected to dress in a manner that is termed in Hebrew “tzniut (modest).” The specific laws are complex, but they can summarized by the following characteristics:

  • The body from the collarbone to the elbows and to the knees must be covered by loose-fitting clothes
  • As a result, the only skin that can be shown at the maximum is from the collarbone to the top of the head, from the elbows to the fingertips, and from the knees to the feet
  • Skirts (knee-length, at least) are mandated over pants and shorts because they are loose-fitting
  • Married women must cover their hair as well

For a real-world example, one can see this store that sells clothing to religious, Jewish women. Based on what we see early in Season 1, Willow’s dress certainly matches this description. Moreover, Willow’s behavior and personality “B. B.” is undoubtedly influenced by her family and their Judaism. Willow tells Buffy that she must go to Xander’s house each year to watch “A Charlie Brown Christmas Special.” When Xander mentions the “Christmas spirit,” Willow says, “Hanukah spirit — not everyone worships Santa.” When Buffy and Willow use a spell to prevent the evil Angel from entering the latter’s house, Willow remarks that her father would not like his daughter nailing crucifixes to her bedroom wall.

So, as we see, Willow — whether on her own, solely as a result of parental influence, or some combination of the two — is initially religiously Jewish to some degree as evidenced by her dress and behavior early in “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” But the initial question is: How much? Most likely, Willow and her family is not Orthodox. Although her dress and the fact that she does not date in the beginning of the series is quite Orthodox, the fact that she attends a private school is atypical for Orthodox Jewish families (who almost always send their children to private, Orthodox Jewish schools). In addition, she eats the same food as everyone else at school and elsewhere — meaning that she does not keep kosher. Moreover, her mother, the one time we see her, does not dress modestly or wear a hair covering (as a married, Orthodox woman would). The fact that the Rosenbergs only had one child would also be atypical.

However, Willow seems to be religious enough in the beginning of the series in a way that is likely not Reform. Reform Jews, to varying degrees, are more accepting of Jewish celebrations of Christmas (as, in their view, a secular, national holiday rather than a purely-Christian one), even to the extent of putting up  Christmas trees deemed to be “Hanuka bushes.” Moreover, no Reform Jew would dress as modestly as Willow did in the first episode of “Buffy.” So, after eliminating the two extremes of Jewish practice — Reform on the left and Orthodox on the right — we are left to say that Willow was, at first, a Conservative Jew.

As we know, Willow eventually begins practicing witchcraft towards the end of Season 2 and becomes steadily more-adept and stronger as the series progresses — to the point of almost destroying the world in Season 6 (see the picture below) and then changing the nature of the Slayer Line in Season 7’s finale of the show.

willow rosenberg jewish

But the question remains: How did, or did not, Willow change as a Jewish woman?

First, it needs to be said that Willow remains a Jewish woman. Judaism itself defines a Jew as someone who is born to a Jewish mother or who converts to the religion — and once a person is a Jew through either of these two means, it cannot ever be voided. (Reform Judaism also includes people born to a Jewish father who were raised as Jews, but that is an issue for another time and place. The issue of what constitutes a “proper conversion” is also controversial and not relevant to our discussion here.) A Jew who decides to follow another religion is, in Jewish terms, still a Jew, but an apostate Jew.

Still, it seems that Willow never did officially convert to another religion. Here a distinction needs to be made between “witchcraft” and “Wicca,” even though “Buffy” uses the terms interchangeably. “Witchcraft,” in modern, so-called “neo-pagan” terms, is a practice of magic that involves the invocation of various deities merely as tools to achieve a purposes without worshiping them. “Wicca,” in the same terms, is a religion and theology that does worship a god and goddess and may or may not involve the practice of magic. In every instance throughout “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” Willow does the former but not the latter. What Willow does is a practice rather than a religion — she only casts spells; she does not worship any deities.

As a result, we can say that Willow never formally turns her back on her Judaism by joining another religion (regardless of the fact that, at least according to traditional Jewish thought, a Jew is always a Jew, no matter what). However, a more-interesting question is what status a person who engages in her lesbian, magical practices would have within Judaism.

First, lesbianism is not forbidden in Orthodox (or other religious) Judaism. The prohibitions in the Torah (the first five books of the Hebrew Bible that comprise the Written Law in Judaism) states the following in the general, English translations:

  • “Do not lie with a male as one lies with a woman; it is an abhorrence” (Leviticus 18:22, JPS translation)
  • “If a man lies with a male as one lies with a woman, the two of them have done an abhorrent thing; they shall be put to death — their bloodguilt is upon them” (Leviticus 20:13, JPS translation)

The verses (emphasis added) state literally that only male-male sexual intercourse is forbidden; the Torah says nothing about female-female sexual acts. In Orthodox Judaism, lesbianism is not assur (“forbidden” in Hebrew) — it is only frowned upon since the ideal goal is for men and women to marry, have children, and raise families. (Non-Orthodox variants of Judaism, of course, have more permissive views.) In fact, it is reported that even some Orthodox Jewish girls in religious schools named seminaries experiment with lesbianism, perhaps because they cannot date and become sexually involved with boys until they are married, or at least engaged. (See a controversial, Israeli-French film that explored this topic.) Regardless, we can state that Willow’s realization of her lesbian feelings barely — or in no way — affects her “status” or “behavior” in terms of Judaism.

willow rosenberg jewish

However, Willow’s practice of witchcraft is more complicated in the context of Judaism. The Torah states the following:

  • “You shall not tolerate a sorceress” (Exodus 22:17, JPS translation)
  • “Let no one be found upon you… who is an augur, a soothsayer, a diviner, a sorcerer, one who casts spells, or one who consults ghosts or familiar spirits, or who inquires of the dead. For anyone who does such things is abhorrent to the Lord…” (Deuteronomy 18:10-12, JPS translation)

Still, the ideal law was not always followed in practice. The Talmud — the so-called Oral Law that is the equal of the Written law of the Talmud — tells of many rabbis performing acts that could be viewed as magical. (See an interesting academic essay on witchcraft in early Judaism that argues, among other points, that there may have been a gender and class bias in this distinction — common, poor women were viewed as witches while male, prominent rabbis were seen as acting on behalf of God.) After all, the Hebrew Bible is full of stories of the Israeli people backsliding and worshiping other gods, among other related practices.

Moreover, the Talmud is also full of rabbis who warn the Jewish people against the supposed fallacies of witchcraft, astrology, and charms, but these exhortations reflect the fact that the need for such warnings existed — in other words, that a belief in such things, and the practice of them, persisted among Jews untold centuries ago just as they did among other peoples. So, we can state that the practice of behaviors like those done by Willow in “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” have always, to some degree, been practiced by some number of Jews, for better or worse (in rabbinical, Orthodox, Jewish opinion).

But what becomes more interesting is Willow’s evolution in Season 7, after she tries to destroy the world magically at the end of the prior season after the shooting death of her girlfriend, Tara. While Willow is rehabilitating in England with Giles, she realizes that “everything is connected.” Such a statement could be viewed as pantheistic — and decided not traditionally Jewish — but it could be interpreted in the context of Kabbalah, the mystical side of Judaism based largely on the Book of the Zohar (and which is not what Madonna and others purport to follow). Kabbalah views God through a series of interconnected emanations from the unknowable Keter to Malkut, which is the physical world itself. This is depicted in the Tree of Life:

 willow rosenberg jewish

In such a context, Willow could be recognizing that all of her power — and all of the world itself — is collectively the final emanation from the source (God) itself. Later, when Willow reaches the height of her power in the series finale while imbuing all potential slayers with the power of the actual slayer, she calls out “Oh… My… Goddess!”

willow rosenberg jewish

While the mention of “Goddess” is most likely a pop-culture reference to the god and goddess that the aforementioned Wiccan religion worships, since Willow never actively joins that religion — as I have previously argued — I argue as well that it is a realization of the feminism aspect of God in the Kabbalah tradition of Judaism. In this construct, the initial construct of God (Keter) is genderless. However, the next two emanations — Hokmah and Binah, respectively — are male and female. It is the union of those two emanations that gives “birth” to the rest of God and the physical world itself. (This is a mystical reason why Judaism reveres and encourages the marriage of men and women — the unity reflects the nature of God.)

In fact, the recognition of the dual aspect of God is what may have allowed Willow to reach her powerful level in Season 7. In an overly-simplistic synopsis, Willow in Seasons 4 and 5 may be viewed as “feminine” and “loving” (one partial aspect of the Tree of Life in Kabbalah). In Season 6, she focused on the “male” and “judgmental” aspect. In Season 7, she was able to incorporate both parts into a healthy, complete whole (while saving and transforming the world at the same time).

How Jewish is Willow Rosenberg?

From all of these analyses, we can conclude the following:

  • Willow began “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” as what could be considered a Conservative Jew
  • Her realization of her being a lesbian had no bearing on her identity as a Jew
  • Her development into a witch did not “disqualify” her as a Jew based on how the people and religion define the term
  • Willow’s practice of magic may run afoul of what traditional Judaism mandates as far as what Jews can and cannot do, but it is consistent with what some Jews, in the past and today, have practiced (for better or worse, in the traditional opinion)
  • It can be argued that Willow practiced elements of Kabbalah, which has been consistent with the practices of a minor, subset of religious Jews

Out of all of the major characters in “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” it has often been mentioned that the character arc of Willow is the one that changes the most. However, most commentators have mentioned only her extrovert/introvert personality or her transition into a lesbian. My goal here is to address the same issue in the specific context of Judaism.

Samuel Scott is the founder and publisher of Buffy the Vampire Slayer Online. You can follow him on Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, and Twitter as well as on his personal website.

Like this post? Submit it to Whedonesque!


“Buffy” and Prophecy: Free Will Versus Determinism

buffy prophecy, buffy prophecy girlEditor’s note: Want to contribute a guest blog post? Contact us.

By Samuel Scott

“Some prophecies are a bit dodgy. They’re mutable. Buffy herself has thwarted them time and time again, but this is the Codex. There is nothing in it that does not come to pass.”

— Giles, “Prophecy Girl”

The definition of prophecy is two-fold – a prophecy, according to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, contains one or both of the following: a foretelling of future events through supernatural means or the communication of divine will. (One does not always necessitate the other.) Within the universe of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” the nature of prophecy focuses on the former and raises interesting questions regarding the Buffyverse’s view of free will, determinism, and related themes.

First, we need to list the prophecies that were communicated in “Buffy” – for the purposes of this essay, I am excluding those in “Angel” – by either humans or demons (source):

  • The Slayer Prophecy (“Into every generation she is born: one girl in all the world, a chosen one. She alone will wield the strength and skill to fight the vampires, demons, and the forces of darkness; to stop the spread of their evil and the swell of their number. She is the Slayer.”)
  • The occurrence of the Harvest (quoted by the vampire Luke in the first episode of Season 1)
  • The rise of the Anointed One (from the Writings of Aurelius)
  • The identity of the Anointed One as a child vampire (from Isaiah 11:6)
  • The rise of the Master and the death of the Slayer, who was Buffy at the time (from the Pergamum Codex)

Interestingly enough, all of these prophecies occur in Season 1 – when the themes and foes took on a mythic dimension rooted in prophecies from long ago. (Conversely, most, if not all, of the ideas and enemies later in the series were more focused on present-day causalities and not stemming from age-old prophecy.)

To understand the nature of prophecy and determinism in “Buffy,” it is important first to determine the sources of the prophecies. Giles, Angel, and other “good guys” quote the Bible and writings by humans. The Master and Luke quote writings that are either from unknown (and presumably evil) sources or from the vampire Aurelius. Second, it is crucial to understand that nearly all of the prophecies – from both the “good guys” and “bad guys” – proved to be accurate in their depictions of events to come:

  • A single slayer had been born in every generation
  • The Anointed One did rise
  • The Anointed One was a child
  • The Master broke free, walked the earth, and killed the Slayer (Buffy)

(The only exception was the Harvest, which Buffy prevented from occurring in the second episode of the first season. The issue of the Slayer Prophecy in light of the events of the final episode is something that I will discuss later.)

As we can see, all entities in the Buffyverse, regardless of their good or evil intentions, have access to writings by people and demons that used supernatural means to foretell future events, whether good or evil, with an extremely-high degree of accuracy. This infers that some unknown entity (perhaps God and/or The First on each side) knows what is most likely to occur – but not definitely occur – in the future, and various people and demons have had been able to use metaphysical processes to ascertain and communicate that knowledge.

This fact is troubling in light of the age-old debate over free will versus determinism (religious or otherwise). Free will can be described as “the ability of agents to make choices free from certain kinds of constraints.” In the Buffyverse, are humans and demons merely predestined to act out prophecies, or do they choose to perform actions (or not to perform the actions) that will make prophecies come (or not come) to pass? If the former is accurate, then there is no free will in “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” because our aforementioned entity (or entities) has already decided what will occur. If the latter is true, then free will is still a major determinate in this fictional universe.

Perhaps for the better, it is clear that Joss Whedon’s world in “Buffy” seems to favor the latter, albeit in a certain context. All of the prophecies told by humans come to pass; not all of those told by demons occur (see the failed Harvest). This is evidence that demonic prophets are less accurate, and that the supernatural source of those evil prophecies – whatever it may be – cannot predetermine the events in the world with absolute certainty. In sum, the prophecies of the “good guys” cannot be thwarted and always come to fruition – but those of the “bad guys” can be deterred through free will and direct action. If one choose to place the Buffyverse in a western, Christian context, then it could be surmised that “good guy” prophecies come from an omnipotent, all-knowing, and all-powerful God while those from the “bad guys” comes from a Devil-like figure who is less-omnipotent, less knowing, and less powerful. (See a prior essay on the myth of Creation in “Buffy.”)

The best example, of course, is the second part of the Season 1 introduction. Buffy, along with her newly-assembled team of Scoobies, kills Luke, stops the Master from rising, and thereby prevents the Harvest from occurring. Prophecy – or, more accurately, the unknown source of that prophecy – does not constrain these active agents from preventing it from being fulfilled.

However, just because the prophecies of the “good guys” always come to pass does not mean that they cannot be changed. In the Season 7 series-finale (the Buffy episode “Chosen”), Buffy and Willow alter the prophecy of “one girl in all the world” to one that says all “potential” slayers will be “chosen” as well. As Giles states in Season 1, these prophecies are indeed “mutable.”

In the end, this shows that Buffy Summers was not only a slayer and teenage girl – she was a prophet herself as well.

Samuel Scott is the founder and publisher of Buffy the Vampire Slayer Online. You can follow him on Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, and Twitter as well as on his personal website.

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The Joss Whedon Way of Life

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By Charles Lincoln

I like three TV shows more than all others. Those are “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Angel,” and “Firefly,” all produced by Joss Whedon. Since I first watched them with my father before I turned ten, these shows have helped me to develop a way of life, an understanding of where I live somewhere between the good and the evil, the living and the dead, the past and the present.

Don’t make fun of me; in the words of the seal of the Order of the Garter: Honi soit qui mal y pense (“Shame on anyone who thinks it bad”). “Buffy,” “Angel,” and “Firefly” teach some very consistent lessons: (1) you never know for sure who your real friends are because (2) you never know for sure what’s true and what’s a lie and (3) for those very reasons, you should always be forgiving and tolerant of others, no matter what they do, because you may need their help someday.

Whedon’s TV philosophy really does teach a great deal about the gray scale, about the gradations between good and evil people and positive and negative actions. “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” was the most popular of these shows, possibly because of the attractive young women who took the lead roles but also because of the consistently-intelligent dialogue and the fact that, unlike so many TV shows and movies, the characters had a certain emotional and social authenticity to them that people could easily (at least for me) relate to.

To my mind, Whedon’s mix of grim realism, humor, and melodrama resembles the style and content of nineteenth and early twentieth-century works such as Charles Dickens’ “Christmas Carol” and Gaston Leroux’s “Phantom of the Opera,” which are also some of my favorite prose writings. The mixture of mystery and horror and music (particularly in the “Buffy” musical “Once More with Feeling” from Season 6) can even be favorably paired with Mozart’s “Magic Flute” or to Shakespeare’s “The Tempest.”

“Angel, a character of immense complexity, parallels Goethe’s Dr. Faustus on the one hand and Mary Shelley’s Dr. Frankenstein on the other in so many, multifaceted, ways.  For some reason, I deeply identify with Angel, the vampire/monster, and I dare say that I think he is both a more realistic and a more sympathetic character than either Faust or Frankenstein. Like Faust and Frankenstein, Angel experiments with his own identity and ability to manipulate the world using his special powers; that, I feel, is a projection of human desires. Unlike Faust, Angel suffers a curse, which is the restoration of his soul to atone for his crimes, rather than the damnation of his soul to do so, but “Faustian bargains” (i.e. compromises) are still an everyday part of his life.

By contrast, “Firefly” (and the later “Serenity” film) is devoid of supernatural events or characters and more similar to Dickens’ “A Tale of Two Cities.” There is an interesting, if somewhat tangential, sub-theme in these shows that mind-altering drugs create monsters. The simple truth is that Whedon connects traditional and modern values and problems.

Charles Lincoln is nineteen and currently a college student. He grew up in Austin, Texas. Charles’s first language is English, and he is fluent in Greek and Spanish. His e-mail is c_lincoln (at)


Five by Five: Faith, Angel, and the Stages of Grief

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By Samuel Scott

The five stages of grief (known in academics as the Kubler-Ross Model) are fairly well-known, and they have often been used in television dramas within an episode or multiple-episode arc. “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” is no exception. The experiences and action of Faith — a so-called “rogue” vampire slayer who was portrayed by Eliza Dushku — from “Buffy” Season 3 and 4 to “Angel” Season 1 show that creator Joss Whedon, Dushku, and his team of writers surely used the model as the inspiration for the complex character’s change and growth from an off-kilter teenage girl to a mature young woman who voluntarily surrenders herself to the police to atone for her misdeeds over a year.

1. Denial. In the Season 3 episode “Bad Girls,” Faith accidentally kills the deputy mayor of Sunnydale by staking him through the heart. He had seemingly “come of of nowhere” while Faith and Buffy were methodically slaying vampires in assembly-line fashion, one by one. See the episode:


The dialogue between Buffy and Faith demonstrates the latter’s state of denial after the initial shock of her (involuntary) deed. Here are the relevant excerpts:

  • Buffy: “How are you?”
  • Faith: “I’m all right. You know me.” (Obviously, Faith is not “all right, and she surely knows that fact.”)
  • Faith: “There’s nothing to talk about. I was doing my job.”
  •  Buffy: “Sooner or later, we’re both going to have to deal.”
  • Faith: “Wrong.”
  • Buffy: “We can help each other.”
  • Faith: “I don’t need it.”
  • Buffy: “Faith, you can shut off all the emotions you want, but eventually they’re going to find a body.”
  • Faith: “… there is no body. I took it, weighted it, and dumped it. Body doesn’t exist.”
  • Buffy: “Getting rid of the body doesn’t make the problem go away.”
  • Faith: “It does for me.”
  • Buffy: “Faith, you don’t get it. You killed a man!”
  • Faith: “No, you don’t get it. I don’t care.”

2. Anger. In the following episode (“Consequences”), we see Faith entering the second stage of grief over her action — anger — in an increasingly-strong way:


First, Faith makes comments to Buffy that reveal, particularly in her tone of voice, a surge of inherent anger on her part:

  • Faith: “So, you’re going to rat me out, is that it?”
  • Buffy: “I can’t pretend to investigate this. I can’t pretend that I don’t know.”
  • Faith: “Oh, I see. But you can pretend that Angel is still dead when you need to protect him?”
  • Buffy: “If we don’t do the right thing, it’s only going to make things worse for us… what we did was…”
  • Faith: “Yeah, we… you were right there beside me when this whole thing went down. Anything I have to answer for, you do to. You’re a part of this, [Buffy], all the way.”

Later, Faith’ makes comments to the detective investigating the killing of the deputy mayor that are as aggressive as they are disrespectful. Then, she tries to get Giles to blame Buffy in a way that combines both her anger and her denial in the early parts of the five stages of grief. See this dialogue between Buffy and Giles afterward:

  • Giles: “She’s unstable, Buffy. She’s utterly unable to accept responsibility.”
  • Buffy: “She’s freaking…”
  • Giles: “She’s in denial. There is no hope for her until she admits what happened.”

Eventually in the same episode, Faith tries to kill Xander after he tries to help her, she attacks Wesley and the other Watchers’ Council members who try to take her away to England, and then she slays Mr. Trick when he and his cohort of vampires attack the two slayers. Faith, of course, eventually joins the mayor in his plot to ascend and become a demon, and all of her violent actions in Seasons 3 and 4 can be sourced to her inner anger at her killing of the deputy mayor.

3. Bargaining. After awaking from her coma in “Buffy” Season 4, temporarily taking over Buffy’s body, sleeping with Buffy’s boyfriend Riley, saving innocent churchgoers from a team of vampires, and then starting to remember her humanity, Faith takes a bus to Los Angeles. The resulting plot is detailed in a two-episode arc in “Angel” Season 1, and the first is “Five by Five”:


Throughout the episode, Faith does actions that can be described as a “murderous calling-card” — she wants Angel to find her, in other words, for reasons that shortly become apparent. She attacks a man near the bus stop, agrees to kill Angel in exchange for money from the evil law-firm Wolfram & Hart, provokes Angel in two initial confrontations involving a crossbow and gun-play, assaults Cordelia, and then kidnaps and tortures Wesley.

Normally, such actions could be described merely as evil deeds done by an evil person. But, in “Five-by-Five,” one scene shows the deeper subtext. After a round of torturing Wesley, Faith sits on a windowsill, playing with a piece of bloody glass, and stares longingly into the empty, night space. Her body language clearly communicates that she wants someone to come and that he has yet to arrive — and that person, as viewers know, is Angel himself.

When Angel does appear, Faith’s immediate response is, “About time, soul boy. Ready to play now (emphasis added)?” She had clearly waited for him. After they begin fighting, Angel tells her in a knowing fashion, “You think I don’t know what you’re after? I do.” Faith seems to gain the upper-hand in the fight and then yells at him, “You can’t take me… no one can take me!” Faith is separating herself from the world and humanity for a reason that is shortly revealed.

However, as the episode reveals, Angel was not fighting to win. Sensing an impending victory, Faith exclaims, “You don’t know what evil is… I’m bad!” She tells him, “Fight back!” Angel responds, “I know what you want, and I’m not going to do it. I’m not going to make it easier on you.”

And at this point at the end of the episode, we see Faith finally entering stage three of the grieving process. After starting with denial and anger a television season earlier, she then enters the bargaining phase with this phrase: “I’m evil… I’m bad… do you hear me? I’m bad… Angel, please, just kill me. Just do it…” Faith is bargaining with Angel to kill her to end the pain of her trauma and grieving (and everything she had done in this episode, in my view, was done to provoke him to do exactly that). And then, when he refuses, she collapses in his arms in the rain in the turning-point of her psychological healing:

faith angel five stages of grief

4. Depression. The final episode of the “Angel” Season 1 two-parter is “Sanctuary,” and it opens with Angel and Faith riding down an elevator at the vampire’s mansion:


Faith is quiet, sullen, and pale. She goes to Angel’s bed, holds herself, and is then wrapped in blankets that the vampire had given her. When Angel tells her, “You rest now; I’ll be close,” she is stoic and does not respond. The following morning, she does take any of the doughnuts offered by Angel, and all she eats later is a bowl of popcorn. (A lack of appetite is a symptom of depression.)

Then, when Faith tries to leave, we see the following dialogue:

  • Angel: “You go out that door now, you’ll be running for the rest of your life, and my best is, it’ll be a short one.”
  • Faith: “Doesn’t matter.”

In addition, other comments by Faith reveal her inner depression at all of her actions over the past year:

  • “Why are you being so nice to me?”
  • “How do you say, ‘Gee, really sorry that I tortured you nearly to death’?”
  • “It hurts; I hate that it hurts like this.”
  • “There’s nothing I can do for you, [Buffy]. I can’t ever make it right.”

5. Acceptance. While dealing with her depression and long-standing grief, Buffy and a team from the Watchers’ Council both arrive in Los Angeles separately, looking for for Faith (for different reasons). The L.A. police department is also searching for her after her earlier assaults and the outstanding warrant from Sunnydale.

After talking with Buffy and hiding from the Watchers’ Council’s assassins, Faith disappears. Then, after the battle has ended, we see later that she is sitting in the police department in handcuffs. With one sentence, Faith finally accepts both what had happened to her and the pain and suffering that she had caused to those who had tried to help her: “I’d like to make a confession.”

At the end of the episode, Wesley tells Angel that he did the right thing in trying to help Faith, who will sit in a jail cell until several seasons later, even after all she had done. (Wesley later helps Faith to escape after Angel turns evil, and then she returns to Sunnydale to help Buffy in Season 7 of that show.) Angel responds:

  • “I didn’t do it; Faith did… I hope she’s strong enough to make it. Peace is not an easy thing to find.”

faith angel five stages of grief

Faith’s journey in “Buffy” Season 3 and 4 and “Angel” Season 1 is less about the plot and more about character development. It is a testament to the creativity of Whedon and his team — as well as Dushku’s ability as an actress — that they were able to take a standard plot-device and turn it into something completely original, new, and dramatic over a year spent in Faith’s five-step grieving process.

Samuel Scott is the founder and publisher of Buffy the Vampire Slayer Online. You can follow him on Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, and Twitter as well as on his personal website.

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Would Aristotle Say that Buffy is Ethical?

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By Samuel Scott

When I was a freshman journalism-major at Boston University in the spring of 1999, one of the required liberal-arts courses was “Introduction to Ethics” since reporters, of course, should strive to be ethical. One of the texts that I have always remembered was Aristotle’s “Nicomachean Ethics,” and Book Three details with the philosopher’s view of “voluntary” and “involuntary” actions and the ethics associated with each. (My professor back then had opened his discussion with, I believe, this rhetorical question: “Am if I kill a man while drunk, was my action ‘voluntary,’ and am I ethically responsible?”)

Recently, I started watching the second and third seasons of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” again, and I started thinking about these issues while seeing Buffy “kill” Ted and Faith kill the deputy mayor of Sunnydale. In Nicomachean ethical terms, I wondered, were their actions voluntary, and are the two slayers ethically culpable in either or both of the circumstances?

Buffy’s Voluntary and Involuntary Actions

First, of course, we need to define our terms. For the sake of brevity, I will state Aristotle’s discussion of the ethics of “voluntary” and “involuntary” using the following summary from the study notes of Gradesaver (the following are direct statements from the guide, with my few clarifications in brackets):

Involuntary action:

  • An involuntary action is something done by [outside] force or through [one’s] ignorance
  • For an action to be involuntary, there must be some external principle causing the action and the person must not contribute anything to the action

Voluntary action:

  • A voluntary action is one in which the agent of the action knows the particulars on which the action depends
  • An action performed through temper or desire is still voluntary
  • Actions concerning the means to an end are in accordance with intention are voluntary
  • [Individual] actions [that] we are in charge of what we are doing at every step of the way [are voluntary]
  • Habits are still voluntary because one can choose whether to act or not to act in a certain manner from the outset

Aristotle’s examples of involuntary actions include revealing a secret by accident, misfiring a catapult, or mistakenly giving a person medicine that kills him (actions out of ignorance) or an action in the context of that “the moving principle is outside, being a principle in which nothing is contributed by the person who acts — or rather, is acted upon.” A voluntary action is when “the moving principle is in the agent himself, he being aware of the particular circumstances of the action.” In other words, it is when a person takes direct action and is aware of the causes and effects of the action.

(Of course, there are possible gray areas. An action taking out of anger, desire, or drunkenness — as in my professor’s example — is still, according to Aristotle, “voluntary” because one makes the conscious choice to become drunk or act on his emotions. However, these types of actions are somewhat less “voluntary” than, say, a cold, thought-out plan to purchase a gun and rob a bank.)

In the so-called Buffyverse, there are several examples of involuntary actions:

  • The most-common example, of course, is a human victim who is turned into a vampire. A girl who makes out with someone who is seemingly human is ignorant of his true nature and what will shortly occur. Moreover, she is primarily being acted upon by an external force rather than directly taking an action herself. In short, she made an ignorant, unintentional mistake. (This could be used in parallel to a discussion on what level of ethical responsibility, if any, a woman has who is partially intimate with a man and is then date-raped.)
  • When Faith attacked the deputy mayor, a human, and staked him through the heart, she was ignorant that he was human. As the episode reveals, Buffy and Faith were tracking a vampire, and the person suddenly approached them out of nowhere.

And there are many types of voluntary actions (particularly in the two seasons that I am currently watching again):

  • The mayor of Sunnydale chooses in Season 3 to have demon patrons to ensure a long life (and then an Ascension at the end of Season 3) while being fully aware of the consequences
  • Xander, in the finale of Season 2, chooses not to tell Buffy, who is on her way to kill the (evil) Angel, that Willow is trying to perform a spell that will restore Angel’s soul — he, we can infer from his comments in prior episodes, wants Buffy to kill him even though there is a chance that Willow’s spell may work
  • Vampires who attack humans are performing voluntary actions in Aristotle’s eyes because being wicked itself is a voluntary choice (on the part of the demon) rather than just “vampires being vampires” — after all, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” shows various demons and vampires choosing not to attack humans and living virtuous lives

The Ethics of Buffy’s Actions

A further summary from Gradesaver:

  • Only voluntary actions can be considered virtuous [or not]
  • It is unreasonable to think that only good is voluntary while evil is involuntary, for that would contradict our previous conclusion that human beings are the cause of their own actions

A person, according to Aristotle, can only be praised or condemned for a voluntary action on his or her part since people are not responsible — or should not be held responsible — for involuntary actions. In this ethical paradigm, people like Faith are not to be blamed for the death of the deputy mayor and people are not to be held responsible for being turned into vampires (excepting the rare cases we see, like with Buffy’s old high-school friend from Los Angeles in Season 2 (“Lie to Me”), when people actively seek that “change”).

However, we can judge the actions of people in other circumstances that are voluntary. Xander, as most seem to agree, was ethically wrong not to tell Buffy about Willow’s spell, but Buffy’s “killing” of Ted is a situation that is more interesting in an ethical context.

First, a summary of the context. Buffy’s mother is dating Ted, a man whom Buffy dislikes. She even spies on him at work. One night, after disrespecting Ted at dinner, Buffy returns home through the window and sees Ted sitting in her bedroom, reading her diary. He says that she will do whatever he says, or he will show the diary to Buffy’s mother. When Ted starts to leave, Buffy tries to stop him and demands that he return the diary. “Take your hand off me,” he says. “No,” Buffy replies. Ted hits her in the face, hard. “I was so hoping you’d do that,” she responds. Buffy hits Ted, the two begin fighting, and Buffy quickly gains the advantage. She side-kicks Ted multiple times with enough force to push him out through the hallway, and then he falls down the stairs and breaks his neck.

See the episode:

So, would Aristotle say that Buffy’s action was voluntary or involuntary? The answer must be voluntary. The direct action involved (attacking Ted) was a direct choice that Buffy made and not one forced upon her by an outside agent — Aristotle states that actions taken under duress like self-defense or protecting someone else are still voluntary, though somewhat less so, because one still makes an active choice to defend himself while knowing the full context of the situation. In addition, the slayer clearly was not ignorant of the potential results because she must have known that he would be harmed. Buffy’s initial attack on Ted could be viewed as a spontaneous act driven by self-defense — but Aristotle states that such actions are still voluntary while not a matter of conscious choice. (A contrasting point: Buffy’s action could be reviewed as premeditative since she states that she “was so hoping [he’d] do that [emphasis original]” after being hit by Ted — in other words, she had consciously thought about attacking him long before.)

Of course, people who have seen “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” know that Ted was a robot — but neither the characters nor the audience at the time knew this fact until after Buffy’s attack. In the situational context, Buffy believed that she was attacking — and then had killed (directly or not) — a human being. (In legal terms, I believe the case would be a matter of manslaughter and not murder.) So, in a Nicomachean context, was Buffy’s voluntary action ethical?

In simple terms, Aristotle defines “ethical” as the Golden Mean — a point between two unethical ends of a relevant spectrum. The common example cited is that the ethical attribute of “bravery” is the middle ground between “cowardice” and “stupidity.” Cowardice is never fighting at all, even in defense of one’s city (like Sunnydale). Stupidity is rushing into battle against impossible odds while knowing that one will be killed (and all for nothing, as a result).

In the Buffyverse context of the Slayer, the two extremes would be Buffy either never using her superhero strength at all against anyone (for whatever reason) and using her powers against anything and everything (human and demon). (See a prior essay on the nature of authority in “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”) The Golden Mean, to Aristotle, would still lie somewhere in the middle. In the context of Ted, Buffy moved to far to the latter end of the spectrum when she used her supernatural gifts to harm a human. As a result, Aristotle would say that her voluntary action was unethical.

After all, as Buffy herself says later in the episode: “I had a fight, and I lost my temper… he was a person, and I killed him… I’m the Slayer. I had no right to hit him like that.”

Samuel Scott is the founder and publisher of Buffy the Vampire Slayer Online. You can follow him on Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, and Twitter as well as on his personal website.

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Buffy, Authority, and Fascism in Joss Whedon’s World

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By Samuel Scott

Authority, for lack of a better phrase, can be defined as that which makes one or more demands on an individual, group, or society (regardless of whether the recipient in question voluntarily recognizes the authority’s position). In other words, it is someone who orders someone else — individually or collectively — to do something. Whether and how the respondent reacts is always a complex question and observation in any social, business, or political context.

Within a person’s life, there are generally four types of authority that present themselves, generally in this chronological order of life experience: parents; teachers, principals, and professors; bosses at work; and civil authorities including the police, military, and government. Within the so-called “Buffyverse,” the slayer and her group of friends/comrades-in-arms receive demands from these types of authorities, and their reactions reveal the complex ways in which this fictional world views “authority” both in general and in the specific context of each of the four examples that I have described. Moreover, it further describes the role of the individual compared to general society within “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” — and how people should behave in that context.

Most writing on the topic of “authority” in “Buffy” has spanned two extremes. Daniel A. Clark and P. Andrew Miller argued in the online journal “Slayage” that the program, like many youth shows, is essentially anti-authoritarian:

The relevance that [authority] figures have to Buffy and the Scooby Gang has shifted throughout the course of the show’s five seasons, and no doubt that will continue… BtVS is about young heroes with little or no socially constructed authority struggling against all of the various authorities to which they are subject.

Neal King, in contrast, wrote in a chapter of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Philosophy: Fear and Trembling in Sunnydale” that the program contains elitist, “proto-fascist elements” that, when taken to their logical extremes, would set the slayer (and perhaps her friends) above civil authority. He continued:

A fascist movement “features spectacular celebration of its combat and heroes, aggression against a racially-inferior foe, and authority derived from an ancient order [my note: as opposed to a present-day, civil order]… The Buffyverse already sports these philosophical and symbolic elements of fascism, but lacks the national movement and focus on the state that would bolster Buffy’s death-squad patrolling…”

What I am arguing is that “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” straddles the middle ground between these viewpoints. The actions of the main characters in response to directives from worldly authority figures — here, I am not discussing otherworldly ones like gods, demon leaders, and the Watchers’ Council — are largely dependent on the specific context, and there are general themes in this regard that are always present. Sometimes Buffy and the Scoobies adhere to authority; sometimes they ignore it. (To be precise, I am not taking into account the general attitude of the protagonists towards authority figures in and of themselves, only their specific responses to directives from them. After all, Buffy would often denigrate Principal Snyder — though usually not to his face — but still follow his commands.) First, we need to explore the situations in which the main characters find themselves being ordered by authority figures.

Is Buffy’s World Anti-Authoritarian or Fascist?

I. Family. We observe the relationship between individuals and the directives of their parents based on a few limited contexts: mainly, Buffy and her mother (Seasons 1 to 3) along with Willow (Season 2 and 3) as well as Tara and her family in one episode (Season 5). In the context of how the characters respond to authority, we generally see that Buffy only ignores a command from her mother (as in the second part of the two-part series opener entitled “Welcome to the Hellmouth” and “The Harvest” as well as the finale of Season 2) when it is necessary to save the world. (In high-school instances in which the world is not in peril, for example, Buffy grudgingly goes to her room when instructed to do so as a punishment.) Willow, she says in Season 2, is directed by her parents not to watch “A Charlie Brown Christmas Special” because she is Jewish, but she states that she has gone to Xander’s house to do so in the past. In addition, she later nails crucifixes that season to her bedroom wall to protect against an evil Angelus while saying that she knows her father would disapprove. In Season 5, we learn that Tara’s family had forbade her from practicing witchcraft, but she had continued to do so. (We never learn the feelings of Willow’s family in normal circumstances — in a Season 3 episode in which they tried to burn her at the stake, they were under the spell of a demon.)

In general, the main characters in the Buffyverse ignore or dismiss familial directives only when the world (or their lives) needs saving or when the commands conflict with fundamental (usually religious and/or spiritual) characteristics of their personas.

II. Teachers, Principals, and Professors. Likewise, Buffy and her friends nearly always submit to worldly educational authorities when it comes to earthly matters. When a biology teacher tells Buffy early in Season 1 to apply herself because he recognizes her inherent ability, she duly agrees. Buffy (and her friends as well, depending on the context) agrees to perform in a high-school talent show and help decorate for parent-teacher night at the firm “request” of Principal Snyder. Willow agrees to help teacher Jenny Calendar as a substitute teacher in Season 2 even after everyone knows of her betrayal (“she is a teacher,” Willow tells her friends). (The only person who is rude to Jenny is Buffy, who, given the metaphysical circumstances, perhaps has every reason to behave as such.) When a rude college-professor orders freshman Buffy out of his classroom, she quickly complies. The only times that the Scoobies go against their educational authority-figures — and I am not including watchers in this context — is when they turn out to be otherworldly foes including a giant insect (Season 1) or a coach who breeds mutant-fish swimmers (Season 2). The only time that Buffy directly defies an order by Principal Snyder is when Spike attacks parent-teacher day (Season 2), Synder orders a trapped party to escape through a window, and Buffy overrules him. When Principal Snyder initially forbids Buffy from re-entering school early in Season 3, Buffy and her mother say that they will take the issue “to the mayor” — or, in other words, pursing civil appeals rather than resorting to other means. (It is Giles who secures her re-entry by threatening to make Snyder’s life difficult — “professionally speaking.”)

In general, the main characters in the Buffyverse always adhere to directives given by educational authorities in the context of worldly concerns except when it comes down to saving lives.

III. Bosses at Work. Admittedly, little screen-time is given to the Scoobies in the context of their later work-lives. But what we do see is (perhaps surprisingly) very typical of the “real world.” Xander, in his various part-time jobs and later as a construction worker and then foreman, seems duly respectful of the chain of command whether he is applying for a construction job (in the beginning of Season 5) or managing a workforce (early in Season 7). When Buffy briefly works at the Doublemeat Palace, she follows orders — no matter how distasteful (and no pun intended). She only interacts negatively, shall we say, with a customer when she turns out to be a demon.

In general, the main characters in the Buffyverse almost always, if not always, adhere to directives given by workplace authorities in the context of worldly concerns except when it comes down to saving lives.

IV. Civil Authorities Including the Police, Military, and Government. Buffy interacts directly with the police in Seasons 2 and 3 — when she thinks that she mistakenly killed her mother’s boyfriend (who turned out to be a psychotic robot) and after Faith accidentally killed the deputy mayor while accompanied by the slayer. In each case, Buffy voluntarily submitted to the civil authorities for questioning and, if it would be decided, due punishment. (Still, it must be stated that Buffy did lie to the police in the latter situation about her whereabouts. And Buffy only acted in uncivil manner, as with attacking police officers while in their cruiser, while on a temporary, action-fueled high with Faith.) In Season 4, Buffy gladly joins the Initiative and even expresses appreciation for their methods and efficiency. She only turns against them when she realizes their other-worldly plans and is then a victim of an assassination (murder?) attempt. In fact, the Scoobies turned against the most-visible symbol of civil authority — the mayor in Season 3 — only after they realized his evil, murderous plot.

In general, the characters in the Buffyverse adhere to civil authority except when it comes down to protecting the world and saving individual lives.

In contrast to Clark and Miller’s view, a brief overview of the responses of the Scoobies to various authorities reveals that the heroes are generally respectful of authority in worldly matters — they are not “struggling against all of the various authorities to which they are subject.” In sum, they are actually conservative in attitude — and I mean the term in the context of the anarchical-conservative cultural spectrum, not the liberal-conservative political one. This attitude is befitting of how most young people, like those portrayed in the show, behave. Except in the cases of the most-severe juvenile delinquents, most teenagers and college students do respect authority.

The only times that the characters disregard authority are when the world (or their lives) needs saving or when the commands conflict with their deeply-held spiritual beliefs. When viewed in the light of the real world in which we actually live, this seems strikingly similar to our  — we adults’ — everyday lives. “Buffy,” then, is, perhaps surprisingly, not as anti-authoritarian as most so-called “teenager shows” — like “That ’70s Show,” which debuted at roughly the same time.

However, the (what can be termed) pro-authoritarian view of the Scoobies does not rise — even potentially, as described by King — to the level of “proto-fascist.” The slayer and her friends do not use an “authority derived from an ancient order” to claim universal superiority over all aspects of life both worldly and otherworldly. Quite the contrary. Buffy and the others defer to worldly authorities in regards to worldly issues; they only take unilateral action on supernatural issues.

This dichotomy should not be surprising, given Buffy’s often-stated desire for a “normal life.” After all, her major internal-conflict was between Buffy-the-girl and Buffy-the-superhero. As a result, the show’s view of authority lies somewhere between those two extremes.

Samuel Scott is the founder and publisher of Buffy the Vampire Slayer Online. You can follow him on Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, and Twitter as well as on his personal website.

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Buffy, Creation, and the Bible

buffy creationEditor’s note: Want to contribute a guest blog post? Contact us.

By Samuel Scott

The fact that “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” was regularly criticized by conservative Christians during its seven-year run is nothing new. The Parents’ Television Council generally viewed the program as one that presents the occult in a positive light while showing what the organization viewed as explicit sex and violence in the early-evening viewing hour (when children are watching). In addition, the PTC named “Buffy” Seasons 4, 5, and 6 and as the fourth-worst, third-worst, and worst family-friendly television show in their respective years. A complaint filed by the organization with the Federal Communications Commission during Season 6 was rejected.

However, one complaint — in the Christian point of view — that has been rarely addressed was the fact that the (fictional, of course) mythology of the so-called “Buffyverse” seems to contradict that of Christianity, particularly evangelical Christian points of view that interpret the Bible literally. In 2005, Maurice Broaddus — after praising the show’s writing, acting, and wit along with its plots that involve the characters facing the consequences of their (sinful, in Christian thought) actions — wrote at Hollywood Jesus that the mythology of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” is “not a Christian version of creation.” However, a deeper examination of the Creation myth — by which I mean an “allegorical story that conveys meaning regardless of whether it is true,” not “false story” — in Judaism, the antecedent of and inspiration for Christianity, reveals that statements like those of Broaddus are not exactly accurate.

The “Buffy” Creation Story

In the second part of the double-episode introduction (“Welcome to the Hellmouth” and “The Harvest”) of Season 1, Rupert Giles — Buffy’s “watcher,” a mentor, trainer, and guide, who also happens to be the high-school librarian — tells the slayer and her new circle of friends:

This world is older than any of you know. Contrary to popular mythology, it did not begin as a paradise. For untold eons demons walked the Earth. They made it their home, their… their Hell. But in time they lost their purchase on this reality. The way was made for mortal animals, for, for man. All that remains of the old ones are vestiges, certain magics, certain creatures…

The books tell the last demon to leave this reality fed off a human, mixed their blood. He was a human form possessed, infected by the demon’s soul. He bit another, and another, and so they walk the Earth, feeding… Killing some, mixing their blood with others to make more of their kind. Waiting for the animals to die out, and the old ones to return. (source)

As is typical for a television show that is just finding its way, this introduction is (perhaps purposely) vague and uses the passive voice to give the show a wide degree of latitude for future plot developments. Giles does not tell how the earth was created, from where the demons came, what they were doing on earth, how humanity defeated them, or why they left. Later in the “Angel” spin-off, the story becomes a little clearer:

Earth was originally ruled by these huge, powerful, pure-breed demons [the “Old Ones” originally described by Giles], and the demon races that exist on Earth today are hybridized with humans and other species. Anya, although far too young to have seen an original Old One, had previously witnessed an Ascension.

The Old Ones possess many different shapes and powers, but all of them are gigantic. They were worshipped as gods (according to Illyria, she was a “god to a god”), ruled over vast territories, commanded fearsome armies, and constantly made war against each other. They also did not seem to live and die the way mortals do. Illyria claimed she lived seven lives at once, and even after her death, releasing her essence from the sarcophagus was enough to resurrect her into the nearest host. In short, under the Old Ones’ rule, the world was a living hell.

At some point, the Old Ones lost their claim over this reality; some were killed while others were driven from this dimension… (source)

In short, the earth before what can be termed, in “Buffy” mythology, the “Age of Man” was an anarchic place full of fighting between hugely-powerful, pure-breed demons and, we presume, their demon armies for “eons.” Humans did exist for at least part of this time (since “the last demon to leave this reality fed off a human”), although nothing in the “Buffy” canon states their collective role and condition. Nothing else is known (at least not thus far).

 Buffy vs. The Bible and Talmud

The well-known account of Creation in Genesis 1, simply put, describes how God created the universe seemingly ex nihilo (“out of nothing”) in an orderly, step-by-step process over six days and then pronounced everything to be “good.” Seemingly, as Giles said, everything did “begin as a paradise.”

However, various sources in Judaism — which has obviously influenced Christianity since the latter’s birth two thousand years ago — state that the presumed interpretation of the first chapter of the Bible is not as simplistic as most believe, and the Buffyverse may operate logically within what can be termed the “Christian view of creation” as a result.

First, it is acceptable, even in many conservative Christian and Jewish circles, to believe that the universe is older than 6,000 years and that Adam was not the first human (first source, second source):

  • The Talmudic passage Chaggiga 13b-14a states that there were 974 generations before God created Adam
  • Some midrashim [non-canonical Jewish legends] state that the “first week” of Creation lasted for extremely long periods of time
  • In Psalms it says “A thousand years is like a day in Your sight” (Psalm 90:4)
  • Many classic sources in Kabbalah, the Jewish mystical tradition, mention “Shmitot” — cosmic cycles of creation, similar to the Indian concept of yugas. Nahmanides’ disciple, Rabbi Isaac of Akko, a prominent Kabbalist of 13th-century, held that the Universe is about 15 billion years old. According to the tradition of “Shmitot,” Genesis talks openly only about the current epoch, while the information about the previous cosmic cycles is hidden in the esoteric reading of the text.
  • A midrash also says God created many worlds — perhaps up to 974 — and destroyed them before keeping with the present one (source)
  • My prior thoughts elsewhere on what the Kabbalistic tradition and Hebrew text of Genesis 1 may say about Creation

The Hebrew Bible also contains various references to “things” that, depending on the specific instance and one’s interpretation, may be references to other ancient Middle Eastern gods, angels, demons, Satan, mythological beasts, or something else:

  • “God created the great sea monsters…” (Genesis 1:21)
  • The serpent in Genesis 3
  • “When men began to increase on earth and daughters were born to them, the divine beings [or, “sons of God” in the literal Hebrew] saw how beautiful the daughters of men were and took wives from among those that pleased them.” (Genesis 6: 1-2)
  • “God stands in the divine assembly [other translations, “in the midst of the gods”]; among the divine beings He pronounces judgement.” (Psalms 82:1)

In the biblical worldview, then, there are additional powerful, other-worldly beings besides God (whether they are good or evil is not my point to discuss here).

So, as a result, it is clear that the Creation myth of the so-called “Buffyverse” and the Bible do not contradict each other. In Joss Whedon’s world and in much Judeo-Christian thought (though perhaps as a significant minority), the world existed in some shape or form for “eons” before the present, so-called “Age of Man.” The biblical view that the pre-Creation world was “formless and void” (Genesis 1:1) — some interpretations say “chaos and void” (emphasis added) — could be used to describe the domain of the planet under the role of the Old Ones whom Giles and other have described since the argument could be made that untold eons could have separated the “days” of Creation in the Bible. The fact that mythological beasts and divine beings other than God exist before and after Creation could also refer to the Old Ones or the lesser demons who replaced them.

For these reasons, writers like Broaddus, with all due respect, are not correct when they say that the mythology of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” is “not a Christian version of creation.”

Samuel Scott is the founder and publisher of Buffy the Vampire Slayer Online. You can follow him on Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, and Twitter as well as on his personal website.

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