Friday, January 13, 2012

The Mythology of Supernatural, Update #6: The Vetala

So, Bobby Singer is gone. RIP… idjit. (or please, please, please come back to the show, Jim! We MISS YOU ALREADY!)

But that is not what I am here to discuss. This week’s update will discuss the mythology surrounding the Vetala, the new baddie featured on last week’s episode.

Vetala are somewhat similar to a Chinese monster called the Chiang-Shih, in that both are angry spirits that assume physical form as corpses in order to drink the blood (or eat the flesh) of the living. However, the Vetala does have some unique points.

Unlike a Chiang-Shih, which is reanimated in its own corpse, a Vetala has the power to possess corpses in general (and apparently this includes the corpses of hot chicks, according to the portrayal on Supernatural). In other words, if you don’t gank one of these things the right way and instead just destroy the corpse by conventional means, then the Vetala’s wrathful spirit will just find another corpse to possess. This is probably why Vetala are often depicted as taking up residence in graveyards or funerary-related locations, since that offers a fresh supply of corpses to inhabit). These angry spirits, you see, are often said to be the result of a person not being given the proper funeral rites after death.

On Supernatural, they claimed that the only way to take one out was to stick a silver blade in its heart and twist … which turned out to be pretty difficult for anyone but Krissy (by the way, I’d like to give some props to Madison Blaine for doing such a kickass job as guest star).

In the Vedic mythical tradition, the only surefire way to send a Vetala packing was to find its original body and conduct a proper funeral. However, if the original body cannot be found, some Hindu stories seem to suggest that simply giving a proper funeral (burial or cremation) to whatever body the Vetala currently inhabits will also do the trick.

While the whole “silver knife stick and twist” method may not be part of the traditional Vetala myth, it does make a kind of sense in that silver is a pretty universal anti-monster-weapon material in mythical traditions in many different cultures, including Hindu.

One last note of interest is a similarity between Vetala and a particular aspect that is also found in Hebrew/Mesopotamian/Middle Eastern tales regarding the Jinn. Since a Vetala, as a spirit, has been freed from the confines of its physical body, then it possess “otherworldly” knowledge. This means that conjurers, necromancers, etc. went to great lengths in order to trap themselves one of these spirits. This was often done by chanting of special mantras or through the use of dark magic. This aspect of Vetala lore is comparable to available Judaic myths that portray sorcerers and/or practitioners of Kabbalah (such as the legendary King Solomon of Islamic and Judeo-Christian myths) using special spells, symbols, and/or incantations in order to trap and/or manipulate the powers of Jinn (or demons).

Well this is my Mythology of Supernatural update for this week!

I am going to try to answer as many of the Reader Questions I received over the holidays as I can in the coming weeks…so keep an eye out for those, if you’ve been waiting for me to answer one of your questions.

As always, questions about the Mythology of Supernatural book and/or the mythology of something they have done on the show can be submitted to me here in the blog comments, in the "Discussion" section of my Amazon page (, or via Tweet or DM on Twitter (Twitter ID: NatRBrown).

I will see everyone tonight for live tweets during Supernatural!

As always…my most sincere thanks and gratitude to everyone in the Supernatural fandom for the support and interest so many of you have so selflessly given to The Mythology of Supernatural!

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