Witchy Business: An Examination of the Witches in the CW show “The Originals”
To preface, my siblings and I watched the entirety of The Originals, a spin-off from The Vampire Diaries about the original family of vampires, the Mikaelsons. However, do not be alarmed, The Originals is not nearly as constipated with teen romance and drama as the previous show. In general, The Orginals is in a much more serious vein about feuding factions and familial conflicts along with its supernatural themes and occasional romance. One of these factions being the witches of the French Quarter.
All of this takes place in the city of New Orleans. The witches have one of the more fascinating dynamics within the show. The witches of the French Quarter practice ancestral magic by channeling the power of their dead. However, their dead, or their ancestors as they call them, guide the living witches from the ancestral realm. The ancestors often commune with the living by possessing the witches. In addition, the witches cast spells in a language that’s essentially a degenerate combination of French and Latin. (As a student taking a French class, it’s interesting to recognize fragments of the witches’ speech. Plus, my brother is a Latin student who comments on the accuracy of the Latin parts.) This leads to an overarching authority from those beyond the grave. All the ancestors seek is that the witches be the most powerful faction (or the only faction in most cases) by any means necessary, no matter how cruel or heartless. The struggle between power and morality culminates into conflict between the living and the dead, the young and the elders, and the sacrifice of morals and what’s right in order to come out on top.
Spoiler-free zone ends here. You are now entering the unhallowed grounds of spoilers. Take caution.
The sacrifice is quite literal in Season 1 of The Originals. Four girls are slaughtered like lambs for the sake of The Harvest, a ritual carried out every century to strengthen the bond with the ancestral realm the witches draw power from. However, the girls are eventually resurrected, but the young girls were lied to about the circumstances. They did not know what they were walking into, and no consent was given. They were simply asked to “keep the faith,” and follow their traditions of The Harvest. Through a Machiavellian perspective, the ends justify the means; in the end, everyone comes back, and all the witches are more powerful than ever. Machiavelli, though, wasn’t exactly the most principled philosopher out there. There’s absolutely no consideration for the girls sacrificed in any of this. Power was the one goal. The witch elders weren’t even certain that The Harvest ritual would work, but they were willing to take the risk even if it meant four innocent girls of died. They even sought to murder their own when one of The Harvest girls “escaped,” leaving the ritual unfinished.
It’s not just right and wrong, but tradition and change. The ancestors are a living (not really) breathing (not really) embodiment of outdated customs and zealous devotion. Each witch is expected to fulfill their duty to the community. This mirrors the circumstances that people are born into rather than choice. They are expected to become something that they don’t want to be. In this case, the witches must fulfill expectations of using their powers against innocent girls. In a way, the cruelty of the ancestors mirror the cruelty of society to act in a certain way, obey orders, and basically conform to what “you’re supposed to do.” The witches of now are literally haunted by their past. Though it brings them power, their covenant with the ancestors puts them at the mercy of their will. Instead of living as free-thinking individuals, the witches live as vessels of their past doomed to repeat the same patterns and make the same mistakes in their eternal lust for power.
The Originals is all about moving forward. Later on, the new witches of the French Quarter cast away the shackles of their past by breaking the connection with the ancestral realm and channeling their power through the Earth directly. The witches serve as a cautionary tale for clinging too strongly to the past without question. It’s about thinking for one’s self and marching into the future with new ideas rather than sticking to old traditions. Magic itself is hope for the witches where there is always a loophole or spell that saves the day. It represents the infinite capabilities and adaptation of humanity. The witches are just one faction. There are also the vampires, humans, and werewolves that all of have their own dynamics and issues. All of which evolve in their own way over the course of The Originals.
I have definitely enjoyed this show, following the quest for “always and forever,” and adventures of the Mikaelson family, the original vampires(hence the name of the show). In the face of insurmountable odds, the Mikaelsons always succeed through unity and the bond of family. Their main theme being that family is power. Certainly, the supernatural beings in the show make it interesting to watch, but the real meat lies within the characters and their interactions. In the struggle of power, the individual factions intending to better themselves end up cooperating against shared enemies and towards the ideal of peace. Everyone has a motive leading to an intricate web of plot points with many twists and turns. Despite the lackluster final season (in my opinion), The Originals holds a special place in my heart being one of the only shows I’ve watched from the beginning to the end that enthralled me every episode.