Buffy the Vampire
by Andrew Mellas
Postmodern Theologian Extraordinaire or Pop-Cultural
What does Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the 'Chosen one', the
one who does battle against the forces of evil, have to do
with Eastern Orthodoxy? Perhaps it is the acme of skylarking
tomfoolery to even attempt such a comparative reading but
in, this age of terminal cynicism and endless boredom, it
takes a heroine of natural blondness, packing a
preternatural sense of epigrammatical humour and a unique
taste in fashion to guide us away from the path leading to
It is the instinctive response of many 'mature' people to
be dismissive of the concept of a girl who is chosen to slay
vampires and keep watch over the hellmouth as puerile, and
yet it is common practice to tell children fairy tales,
stories of fantasy that we never tire of hearing even when
we have 'grown up'. According to G. K. Chesterton, "Fairy
tales are more than true. Not because they tell us that
dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be
defeated". And Pablo Picasso argues, "art is a lie that
makes us realise the truth". Buffy the Vampire Slayer is one
of the most popular television programs of the last decade
and although it may owe a great deal of its success to star
Sarah Michelle Gellar or the emotional resonance it
generates, the element of the show that ultimately secures
its importance is its subtext.
Subtext? What subtext? Try postmodern morality play, or
Kantian ethics, or Platonic eudaimonism. Or, more to the
point of this article, let us take a glance at Religion in
Joss Whedon, the creator of Buffy, may be a self
proclaimed atheist but ever since Roland Barthes announced
the death of the author, who among us can resist the
temptation to read a text and to do so without fear of
Shakespeare or Dickens or Eliot shaking his authorial staff
at us in contempt?
Perhaps the most characteristic aspect of the Buffyverse
is its ability to draw on the power of myth to provide us
with an oblique representation of reality. Buffy the Vampire
Slayer, the champion of all that is good is in love with a
vampire: Angel. Angel is a vampire that has been cursed by
gypsies and is thereby in possession of a soul. Mayor
Wilkins, despite planning an apocalypse of doom is obsessed
with hygiene and Middle American virtues. Glory, the ruler
of a hell dimension who has been locked out is an
über-consumer who goes on shopping sprees. Why does
this all sound strangely familiar? Why have so many viewers
been able to identify with such zany plots? The answer not
unlike fairy tales is because we like hearing tales told to
us and, more importantly, we like having tales told to us
that open windows into our own reality we had, hitherto,
never thought of looking through.
But I am digressing. Religion! That's where we were...
What role does religion play in Buffy? Are there aspects of
Eastern theology discernible amidst the paradoxical mayhem
of the show? Let us take that glance. In the episode
"Triangle" when Buffy visits a convent looking to escape
from her bad run of men, she asks a nun, "Do you have to be,
like, super religious?"
And then there's Buffy's ability to laugh in the face of
impending doom: "If the apocalypse comes, beep me" or in her
utter confusion in the face of Evangelism:
- Evangelical at University asks, "Have you accepted
Christ as your saviour?"
- Buffy answers, "Uh, you know
I meant to and...
then I just got really busy..."
It does not take the most astute student of theology to
realise that Buffy does not freely espouse the precepts of
Christianity and yet its entire bedrock is riddled with
Eastern Orthodoxy. Why is this not apparent? Because it's
a subtext and, like all great subtexts, it is only
perceptible in a latent form. Myth is employed to disguise
Evil, for example, is not presented as embodied in some
great and powerful being that stands as the adversary of
God. When Buffy confronts the First Evil she literally
scoffs at its non existent face:
- First Evil: "I am the First...
- Beyond sin, beyond death..."
- Buffy [sarcastically]: "Alright, I get it,
you're 'evil', enough already!"
This rings true with the Orthodox conception of the
Devil. Satan has never been the lofty figure of
Mephistopheles that the West has propagated. The Devil is
not majestic he is a dissembling parasite characterised by
mediocrity. As St Macrina has so eloquently stated, "Evil
only has its existence in its non existence".
In the Buffyverse, the First Evil cannot take material
form; it only appears to the characters in the guise of
someone already dead and does so with the intention of
conversing with them. And it is in this insidious way that
evil operates in Buffy: "From beneath you it devours" (Spike
to Buffy in the first episode of Season seven). Are we not
told in the gospel that when the Devil lies "he speaks from
his very nature" (John 8:44)? The "very nature" of the evil
one, from where he draws his deception, is then nothingness
since a lie points to that which is false. Thus St Gregory
of Nyssa could define evil as having a phantom like
"Prince of this world" though he was properly called by
Christ himself, Satan remains a creature of God. Did this
mean, a Manichean would ask, that the being of the Devil was
good? St John of Damascus would reply in the affirmative.
Buffy would agree, acknowledging that even the demons were
good inasmuch as God created them, but the loss of their
appointed purpose had made them evil. An event occurring as
a result of the exercise of one's free will. A choice not
easily unmade; yet nonetheless a possible one as evidenced
by Spike's cultivation of a soul.
At the end of the fifth Season of Buffy, our heroine
chooses to sacrifice her own life to save her sister Dawn.
Before this cataclysmic event, she has visited an oracle
appearing in the form of the slayer a quest that in Christ
like fashion - is undertaken in the desert.
Buffy is told by the oracle that, contrary to her fears
that the calling of slayerhood is destroying her ability to
love, she is full of love and that love will lead her to her
The Buffyverse equates humanity with compassion, love and
love's ultimate sacrifice: death. In concordance with
Orthodoxy, the destiny of man or women is not viewed in
terms of justification from sin and guilt - salvation is not
bounded by parameters but rather an outpouring of love that
compels God to leave the summit of His silence, moved by
divine love (Nicholas Cabasilas uses the term manikon eros)
and suffer in the flesh in order to restore the ancient
dignity and divine beauty to the human person.
In the sixth season when Buffy is resurrected from the
dead through Willow's magical efforts, she confides in Spike
that she was not taken out of some hell dimension of
suffering as her friends believed but in fact torn out of
paradise by people who couldn't bear her absence:
"Time didn't mean anything
but I was still me
and I was warm and I was loved
and I was
complete. I don't understand about theology
or dimensions or any of it really, but I think I was in
heaven. They can never know
Could anyone ever better enunciate Orthodox doctrine of
the afterlife? The Church never sought exact doctrinal
statements on the "beyond": "You have died, and your life is
hid with Christ in God" (Colossians 5: 3).
Perhaps the ultimate image of Buffy the Vampire Slayer
that exemplifies the essence of Christianity and yet does
not fanatically espouse it is at the end of the sixth Season
when Xander confronts Willow just before yet another
Willow's lover Tara has been murdered and the rage that
ensues in her heart causes her to adopt a magic that comes
from the darkest chasms of her being, a magic that is
completely wayward in its focus. Willow becomes unimaginably
powerful and threatens to bring about the end of the world.
And contrary to the natural predicability of some programs,
the episode does not end with Buffy doing battle in an epic
melee with her long time friend.
It is Xander, the simple carpenter, with his unbending
faith in Willow who has the courage to face her and confess
his love for her. A love that was born in kindergarten when
Willow broke the yellow crayon and cried uncontrollably; a
love that grew in high school when they became best friends;
a love that did not waver when Willow became all black eyed
and world destroying out of grief and malice; a love that
will always differentiate the sinner from the sin: "A new
commandment I give unto you, that you love one another" not
as you love yourselves, but "as I have loved you" (Christ to
his Apostles, John 13:34).
from The Greek Australian Vema, June
2003, p. 20.