Supernatural University: Shameless Spoilery Speculation -- Season Eight, The Search for … Limbo?
I avoid spoilers, but accept teasers – by which I mean sanctioned interviews with writers, actors, producers, and directors. So I did follow the coverage from the San Diego ComicCon (although I haven't had time to see it all!), and of course, it sparked some thoughts in my overly fertile brain. What follows is just speculation, pure and simple, so don't take it as anything more. It's probably totally wrong, and trust me, I'm perfectly fine with that; I'll welcome seeing whichever way Season Eight goes, and I trust Jeremy Carver & Company to take me for a fine ride! But while I'm waiting to board the Supernatural Season Eight soul train, I'm going to indulge in a little wild-assery – come along if you dare!
This little thought session was prompted by the various SDCC interviews with Carver and others where folk said the theme for this coming season was “This time it's personal” and that the season would involve a quest for something that (1) harked back to the very earliest days of the series; (2) was desired not only by the Winchester brothers, but by Crowley and the remaining angels; and (3) would set up a continuing mythology that could service the show for years to come. And so I thought …
What happens to ghosts when their energy link to the living world – whether their bones, other physical remains, or a meaningful article such as an old flask – is burned? Are they truly destroyed, or do they go … somewhere else, somewhere that's not Heaven, Hell, or Purgatory? And would that be the same destination for demons whose bones are burned? What about angels who are killed? Do they have spirits (if not souls as such), and do those spirits wind up … somewhere?
What if all of them went to the same place? What kind of power would be available to the being who could access that place, with all the souls and spirits it contained? And could someone open a door to allow souls and spirits from that place to journey to other places, including Heaven, Hell, Purgatory, or Earth?
What if Season Eight begins with the quest for what I'll call Limbo, the realm of the in-between – possibly including Mary and John Winchester, Bobby Singer and all other hunter-burned ghosts, and every sword-slain angel, including Uriel, Zachariah, Gabriel, and Sebastian?
And what if our characters, knowing from the events of Reading Is Fundamental that at least some tablets containing the actual Word of God still remain on Earth, decide to go on a quest to find and decipher them and thus get answers to all the mysteries of creation – including understanding the fate of all humans, angels, demons, ghosts, and monsters?
Those of you who know me know that I always have some logical, rational support for my occasional wild-ass speculations, so bide with me for a while as I explain where this particular insane notion came from. Give me the benefit of the doubt for a while longer before you dismiss this out of hand, okay? No knee-jerk reactions here, please! Thanks …
The Principle of Conservation of Creation
In Supernatural's cosmology, God is very much a conservationist.
As revealed by Death in Meet The New Boss, God created the Leviathan before he created angels or humans. Rather than destroying them when he realized that, left to their nature, they would devour the rest of his creation, God simply confined them in Purgatory, later making it also the home for the souls of all similarly hungry monsters.
We also know from the history of angels, described in such episodes as Heaven And Hell and The End, that when Lucifer rebelled against and disobeyed God by refusing to bow to humans, God didn't destroy him; instead, he simply imprisoned Lucifer in a secure cage in Hell. He also decreed Hell as the home for the souls of humans who chose evil, beginning with Lilith, whom Lucifer – to prove his point about human inferiority – had warped into the first demon, as we were told by Ruby in When The Levee Breaks, after Casey in Sin City had also referred to Lucifer as the demons' creator.
What I meant in that first sentence about God being a conservationist is simply this: Beings were imprisoned and beings died, but none of them were destroyed; their souls, their essence, simply went elsewhere, and most stayed there. Some demons occasionally escaped Hell and some monsters similarly escaped Purgatory (remember Dr. Visyak, revealed as a Purgatory escapee in Let It Bleed?) to roam the Earth, but even when they were exorcised, banished, or physically killed, they simply returned to whence they came – and sometimes, like Meg, they came back again, or were brought back, like Eve.
Season Six revealed that human souls themselves were pure power – something put into very concrete terms by Eve in Mommy Dearest – and that Heaven, Hell, Purgatory, and the beings that ruled them all drew their power from the souls that came to inhabit those domains after their physical death. From what we've been given to understand, God evidently designed creation so that human souls, upon the deaths of their physical bodies, would go either to Heaven or Hell, as appropriate to the choices they made in life, and would become the energy powering those realms. Monsters, having been transformed from humans by Eve into predatory lesser kin to Leviathan (much as demons were developed from humans by Lucifer), were separately consigned upon death to Purgatory.
If God didn't outright destroy the most dangerous and most disobedient elements in his creation, and if he developed realms to house and draw power from souls, why would he cause ghosts (and demons, given their origin as human souls) to be destroyed simply by burning their bones or other physical link to Earth? Why not instead conserve the power of their souls by sending them elsewhere, if indeed they didn't qualify as monsters for Purgatory and had forfeited or lost their originally intended place in Heaven or Hell?
And what provision did God make for the essence of angels – unearthly beings otherwise designed to be immortal – slain in battle? We've seen from the deaths of angels that they contained immense power, perceived by human eyes as blinding light released when slain in a human vessel on Earth. Was all that power simply converted into another energy form and consumed in conflagration, destroying the individual, or did that power and personality go somewhere else, as a human soul does upon death?
God's tendency in Supernatural to conserve energy and life would seem to me to argue for preserving and making use of all the elements of creation, including ghosts and angels.
Conversion Versus Destruction
In many episodes, most plainly in Roadkill and Of Grave Importance, we learned that hunters really didn't know what happened to the souls of ghosts whose bones or artifacts they burned. They guessed those ghosts were simply gone, negated, destroyed – neither in Heaven nor Hell – but they had nothing on which to base that guess other than knowing that ghosts, once their real link to Earth was burned, never returned. We learned in Weekend At Bobby's that a demon whose bones were burned did not return to Hell; Crowley admitted having wondered where his missing crossroads demon was and what had happened to her. Being the king of Hell, he would have known if she'd returned there.
We do know that simply burning physical remains doesn't have any effect on the soul of a human who died and properly went either to Heaven or Hell, nor does it prevent at least some part of a person from being brought back as a ghost by someone else. Jo had been cremated in the most spectacular fashion possible in Abandon All Hope, but that didn't prevent Osiris from summoning and – clearly against her will – commanding her ghost in Defending Your Life. As far back as Hollywood Babylon, we saw the ghost of the cremated electrician killed by a fan brought back to Earth by the frustrated screenwriter's spell. We don't know what had happened to the bodies of all the people later brought back and compelled as ghosts by the Raising of the Witnesses spell in Are You There, God? It's Me, Dean Winchester, but fire and bones clearly don't fully define the fate of souls.
We have a lot of reason to believe that a ghost contains part if not all of a human soul. The entire experience with Bobby's ghost in Season Seven speaks to the full essence of Bobby having been present, despite being seriously affected by his ghostly compulsion for revenge on Dick Roman. Also, look at three ghosts we saw transformed peacefully into light rather than burned in agony when they themselves chose to depart: Father Gregory in Houses Of The Holy, Molly in Roadkill, and John Winchester in All Hell Breaks Loose, Part II. When they left, they seemed complete: they accepted their situation, they were no longer driven by anger or fear, and they were far from the one-dimensional nature we've always associated with ghosts. They simply let go, and went in peace. We never saw what finally happened to the death omen Claire in The Usual Suspects, but I consider it a fair bet that she also vanished, never to return, when her goal was accomplished and her killer was dead. Bobby seemed unable to let go completely on his own because his need for revenge remained unresolved, but he clearly welcomed his burning in Survival Of The Fittest as a release.
The concept of true guaranteed destruction for spirits and souls – death with no afterlife anywhere – was first introduced with the Colt, initially as a seemingly unique thing. A demon killed by the Colt, according to the lore spoken by John Winchester in Dead Man's Blood, wasn't simply returned to Hell with the potential for escape again, as happened with an exorcism driving the demon from its host body. Instead, a demon slain by a mortal shot from the Colt would be entirely dead, truly destroyed. Later, we encountered Ruby's dagger, which appeared to have exactly the same effect on lesser demons if wielded to deliver a killing blow, although it wasn't powerful enough to terminate Alistair with a near miss to a perfect heart shot delivered by Castiel in On The Head Of A Pin.
The Colt reportedly had the same gift for killing monsters, although I would argue the lore didn't necessarily speak to what would happen to the monster's soul. We saw the Colt kill a vampire in Dead Man's Blood despite the lore reporting decapitation as the only effective means for killing a vampire, and the light show we saw was akin to the Colt destroying a demon. Despite that, I'm not fully prepared to say that the Colt had the same effect on a monster soul as on a demon one, if only because it seems that no human hunters before our present-day ones – including Samuel Colt – actually understood that the souls of slain monsters went to Purgatory. And even if it did, who's to say that the Colt or Ruby's dagger actually destroyed a demon's or a monster's soul? What if it simply sent the soul somewhere else – perhaps to the same place burned ghosts go?
There are a fair number of arguments that, despite God's seeming penchant for the conservation of matter, energy, and souls, souls could actually be destroyed, at least in terms of them being converted to other forms of energy that would dissipate the individuality and personality we would deem essential to the self of a soul.
We saw souls depicted simply as energy in My Bloody Valentine, when Famine consumed them – along with the smoke-souls of demons! – to fuel his existence and power. We saw Castiel, in The Man Who Would Be King, focus the power of souls obtained through Crowley from Hell as a blast of energy to counter Raphael's normally superior, Heaven-fueled strength. We saw Castiel suck into himself all the souls in Purgatory in The Man Who Knew Too Much, assuming the stature of a god. Some of those souls evidently were converted into other forms of destructive energy to fuel Castiel's strikes against those who opposed him, and I suspect souls used that way or eaten by Famine may indeed have been “destroyed” in the process by losing their individuality and personality. However, we know the Leviathan retained their selfhood while they were inside Cass, and we saw the bulk of the monster souls returned to Purgatory when Castiel let them go, which leads me to believe that any souls not directly converted and discharged as destructive energy still remained individual and intact.
Episodes have also suggested that ghost souls could be destroyed. In the pilot, we saw Constance's ghost trapped and seemingly consumed in conflagration by the ghosts of her murdered children. In Home, Missouri stated that Mary Winchester had sacrificed herself to destroy the poltergeist who was terrorizing the Winchester family home and threatening Sam. The follow-up to Missouri's conclusion came in Dark Side Of The Moon, when Ash said he'd been looking for both John and Mary Winchester in Heaven since he had arrived, but had never found them. That suggested either that John and Mary both had truly been destroyed, or that they were someplace other than either Heaven or Hell. We also saw the two ghost brothers in Red Sky At Morning disperse each other into water, never to return.
Of Grave Import introduced three other potentials. The first was the illustration of one ghost consuming the essence of another as food or fuel for his own continued existence. We, Bobby, and Annie Hawkins saw Van Ness seize other ghosts and siphon off their energy, seemingly destroying them in the process. He had begun trying to do that to Bobby when his own bones were finally burned, ripping his ghost-soul away from Earth. We also saw Van Ness, as a ghost, not only killing people, but deliberately trapping their souls in ghosthood, when we'd previously understood ghosts to be people who'd intentionally evaded or refused their Reapers in order to remain on Earth. Annie told Bobby she'd never even seen a Reaper; she didn't even know she was dead until she met Bobby as a ghost. Third and final was the episode's presentation of the inevitable degradation of ghosts into mindless, unaware things that would ultimately dissipate into an insanity of nothingness – what Bobby appropriately termed “ghost Alzheimer's.”
I would argue, based on all these things, that Supernatural does contemplate that some souls, at least, may have been truly destroyed, in terms of losing their self-awareness and individuality as the power they represented was converted into and used as other forms of energy. But I also think there's a lot of support for the concept that the show contemplates that ghosts (and some otherwise undefined spirits/souls, possibly including slain angels and demons) may inhabit another realm we simply haven't discovered yet, the state I'm currently calling Limbo.
Combined with the characters' discovery that previously unknown tablets containing snippets of the Word of God may still be hidden on Earth and deciphered by such prophets as Kevin, I would posit the possibility that Season Eight (and beyond!) may involve a search for more of the Word of God, and specifically for clues to Limbo, as a means to ransom the souls of the Winchesters' ghosts, including John, Mary, and Bobby, and to seek answers to all the questions about life, the universe, and … everything.
And I may be flat-out wrong. And I'll repeat: I'm fine with WHICHEVER way this comes out, whether my guesses are right or wrong!
Season Eight is not so far away … :)
(And in other articles, I plan to further explore why Castiel – alone among angels – keeps being brought back to life; and to explain why I'm not disturbed by interviews indicating that Sam gave up on finding Dean and abandoned the hunting life, and that Season Eight will see the brothers being more mature and more able to live within themselves, not just as a unit of Sam'n'Dean. Stay tuned!)