‘As my father used to say, ‘”In every ending, there is a new beginning.”‘
On my second viewing Matthew’s voiceover struck me a new. It has admittedly gone from exciting thrill to hearing in the trailer to a commonplace of each episode that is comfortingly familiar (and sometimes we need that comfort at the start of the episode, even though some of us know what’s happening!!). It stuck out on the second watch because of the way the camera pans over the box that houses Meridiana’s (brazen) head. There’s a certain symmetry recognisable here as the episode opens with Matthew speaking of endings and beginnings and Meridiana’s parting words to Satu ‘Thank you, Weaver.’ While we might not recognise it on the first watch (I mean, this episode is loaded – they all are, but this one!!), subsequent viewings highlight different things, and as one weaver’s life ends, by the end of the episode we have two weavers realising that they are not just witches. And for Diana, while she may question what exactly she is at the end of the episode, the start of her journey means a new beginning for weavers, and for creatures more broadly.
Oh, and spoilers for the trilogy.
The other thing worth noting about Meridiana in relation to this episode/the story is that some of the records say Gerbert was cursed by the female demon Meridiana. A 15th century manuscript now in Heidelberg shows the pope conversing with a demon, in the traditional sense, who is portrayed as a recognisably anthropomorphic hybrid with gills, hooves, and faces all over its body. In terms of the All Souls universe, the characterisation of Meridiana as weaver combines witch and d(a)emon.
It is thought, after all, that weavers have daemon blood in them, giving them their “extra” powers. (Side note: This leads me to wonder if there is anything in the blood of weavers that would call to vampires in an additional way? I.e. when Gerbert tastes Satu’s blood, not only is he learning something that makes him smile (it’s a bit of a terrifying smile, right?!), but is he recognising, through her blood, a distinct similarity between her and Meridiana?)
And let’s talk about Satu. We haven’t seen much of her in the show beyond a few scenes where she seems to be, like Gillian, a pawn of Peter Knox. (To be fair, in the books, we see her even less.) In the previous episode, we had a hint that she is willing to branch out on her own to solve the puzzle that is Diana Bishop. This week, though, we see the lengths that she will go to. She’s violated vampire territory. Not just any vampire territory, but the de Clermont family home/base/Knights of Lazarus sanctuary. As Baldwin (ahhhh Baldwin in this episode = heart eyes) notes, that’s basically an act of war (at least it will be if Matthew decides to keep pursuing his forbidden love affair with Diana). Satu first pleads with Diana to let her be her teacher, to let her show Diana how to control her magic. There’s two ways to read this: first, she really wants to help because she recognises something in Diana, or, second, it’s a ploy to get Diana to trust her and thus reveal her magic. It’s clear she does not believe Knox’s report that Diana is powerless, or at least less powerful than her parents’ lineages would suggest she should be. Diana (unsurprisingly given that she’s been taken from Sept Tours and dropped in a strange ruinous castle and that Gerbert is also threatening her at Satu’s side) doesn’t go for it, and refuses to tell Satu anything.
Before we get to the drum scene, it’s worth pointing out that the attention to detail between scenes is evident in part of the torture scene and flashes to Em scrying. In the smoke that we (Em) see(s), two figures are evident: one is being raised in the air and the other has its hand stretched out (anyone else get any Darth Vader vibes in this scene?) seemingly directing the other figure upwards. This is exactly what is happening in the scene with Diana and Satu. It’s not really to get this level of detail, but it is shocking in seeing it from both perspectives, and explains just how Em knows that it’s serious enough to call Matthew and demand an explanation.
The scene with the drum excited me so much. Once again the production utilises a recognisable artefact. While the show has “othered” these particular objects, connecting them to witches that are on the “bad” team, in other words against Matthew and Diana, they have not done this by distancing them from their cultural origins to a ridiculous – or arguably colonial – degree. Too often in TV and film we have seen objects taken from their original cultural contexts and colonised on-screen. (Black Panther is perhaps the best example of turning this tradition on its head to say something politically while also grounding the narrative by creating a believable world through the use of real artefacts and styles.) Yes, original function is somewhat reframed in a fictional context, but we are still seeing them in a similar enough context where original function and cultural context is not completely obscured. The materiality, cultural origins, and portrayal – like I discussed in regards to Ashmole 782 and medieval manuscripts – once more acts as experimental archaeology while introducing fantastic objects to a wider audience. I mean, the Finnish witch/weaver uses an object found in Finland to direct her magic. The Scottish Congregation member uses a Scottish object to direct his magic.
Yet, the objects’ cultural origins, while accurate, are not recognisable within the context of the show as belonging to the same culture as the character who uses it; the viewer is left to identify the shared origins. In this, the production shows that they are thinking intelligently about design (umm, this is not always the case in television – I can think of one relatively large production whose producer said their story wasn’t based on a book and so they didn’t have things to use to ground it in a particular world. It *was* based on a book-length poem + the designers also used period objects from the correct historical period, so, yeah, this is a somewhat unusual attention to detail across a production!). They aren’t just thinking intelligently about it, either, but also encourage the viewers to do so, too. Why that stone? Why that drum? It also serves to manifest the differences in witchcraft and tradition in such a way that contributes to individual characters.
The drumbeat also references the heartbeat theme. Sure it is not a heartbeat per se, but it is a steady rhythm that recalls one. Coupled with the fact it is a decorated object on skin, that reference takes on a new, distinctly All Souls meaning. Skin and decoration (or marking – we’re getting there) are intimately linked in this universe. From manuscript to Matthew, objects and characters alike display a bodily materiality that turns them into things to be read.
I didn’t initially recognise the drum as Sámi, but I knew it was something old. (I have an old things radar. Find me an art historian or historian that doesn’t…) After a quick search the Sámi drum stuck out to me as the likely inspiration for it. (This has been confirmed!) The drum is important in the rituals of the Sámi people of Northern Europe (namely Norway, Finland, Sweden, and the Kola Peninsula in Russia), and only about 70 drums survive. (As a definite newbie to these AMAZING objects, a lot of my general knowledge comes from a variety of sources including here, here, here, and here.) It is evident that many more were destroyed during religious upheaval beginning in the 16th century with the Protestant Reformation. This also makes them important to witches of similar background: out of fear, and charges of paganism, etc, witches across time have rejected their powers, and therefore have destroyed their ability to do magic and the connection to their wider heritage (and the world) that the magic gave them. The tangible loss of such objects, in other words, parallels the less tangible loss of power.
The drums are usually made with reindeer skin (another skin-based object) and decorated with a range of symbols, including Rune-like forms, humans, and the sun and moon, amongst others. Used in Sámi rituals that sought to harmonise people with nature, travel to/from the spiritual world, and ask for guidance, the drum that Satu uses functions similarly. As she drums, Satu recites ‘I call upon the elements/I call upon the dark and the light to illuminate what is hidden/Power, power, I open thy/Power, Power, Let thy power tie with eye.’ As Diana later tells Matthew, Satu is unsuccessful in her attempt to open her up and read her. Satu’s power, her calling upon nature, fails her because Diana and her magic do not yield.
The British Museum example is described as ‘depicting maps, guides, and accounts of journeys to the worlds of spirits and gods.’ While it’s hard to make out the exact decoration of what is on Satu’s drum, it’s easy to see how such imagery can be manipulated by the show’s creative team to illustrate a (magical) journey or guide for such a journey to understanding another’s magic. I’d love to know what the team envisions Satu would use this object – or a similar drum – for outside of this scene.
As Matthew has demonstrated with Diana and manuscripts (no, I still haven’t quite forgiven him for trying to spill wine on a manuscript), her power is tied into her need for it. Once again we see this. At La Pierre, Diana is only able to rescue herself (aka fly out of the oubliette) once she recognises the need for it; when Matthew cannot rescue her (‘The Prince couldn’t fly so Diana had to help herself.’), she has to use her magic. This is loaded: we’re seeing her forced to embrace her powers at the same time she is forced to rely on herself and not Matthew, which she has been doing for a good part of the story so far. She might recognise Matthew as a partner and Matthew might wish to make her do things (or not do them), but they both have to acknowledge and accept her power.
In this scene we also get more spider webs. Throughout the series we have seen Diana dreaming of being entangled in them, which is a bit of a bizarre illusion when you don’t know that she is a weaver. In the books, it is coloured ribbons which Diana learns in The Shadow of Night she can use to control her magic, tying different knots to make her magic work. There has been a bit of grumbling about the lack of the ribbons in this scene. (In the book she unties and throws off the ribbons binding her ability to fly.) I can see how this might be a challenge for a TV show even as I really hope we see the ribbons in a second series. But, I do love the idea that the webs have been woven, as if they were ribbon knots, around her to prevent her magic from spilling out before it is time. As her magic becomes more important, and as Diana learns to embrace it, the webs are coming loose: she will be weaving soon, rather than being tangled in someone else’s weaving.
This scene, moreover, is interwoven with Satu rescuing Meridiana from Gerbert. Meridiana, restricted from using her power to free herself, is able to somehow ‘recharge’ Satu so that Satu can rescue them both. The fact that two weavers are being rescued in this part of the episode is interesting: whereas you might expect the weavers to all be united, there is something that sets Diana apart from the others. And I mean something more than just the obvious she’s with vampires and doesn’t know she’s a weaver yet. In a sense, this is the old world rescuing itself while the new world is also rescuing itself and securing its ability to manifest itself. Two types of creature loyalty is evident here: that within one’s own type and that which combines creature types. Ideas of purity, challenged by Nathaniel and Sophie later (I love Agatha reminding Nathaniel her loyalty is to her family, regardless of the fact her grandchild may be a witch.), and allegiance have been challenged throughout the series, but here they are juxtaposed. Because of creature separation and incest (for lack of a better word) magic dies; when creatures mix, magic is born, or, in the case of Diana, freed.
And back to things meant to be read: Satu marks Diana with Matthew’s insignia. Satu declares that Diana’s body is vampiric in a way. Diana has (seemingly) turned her back (that part of her body which is marked) on her own kind in order to embrace a vampire. To those outside of Matthew and Diana’s family (with few exceptions – I see you Sophie/Nathaniel/Agatha), this is incomprehensible, and even to their family, it is hard to accept. In essence, by marking her in this way, Satu declares that Diana belongs to Matthew, and perhaps to the vampires more broadly. She is an object to be opened – and read.
I imagine to a historian, not to mention to a vampire who lived through the Middle Ages, marking Diana also carries connotations of her as property and belonging to Matthew. Like his Knights of Lazarus seal which includes his insignia, Diana bears Matthew’s mark and it could be argued comes under his control. Given that we see the insignia on his Lazarus seal and Diana and that Matthew puts her under the protection of the Knights, Diana is aligned with the brotherhood as something that Matthew controls – or is understood (tries) to control. Eventually, when Matthew puts the Knights in the hands of Marcus and Diana asserts her power, Matthew’s need for control is tested. It is also worth noting that it is Baldwin who questions both Matthew as head of the Knights and questions him (as his brother and a de Clermont) about whether Diana is worth the upcoming fight to be with her. Both the Knights and Diana can be read as Matthew’s, but are also not just Matthew’s. The order and Diana are also united in the fact that they, in a way, are bigger than themselves: the order serves to aid and protect those who cannot do it for themselves while Diana is key to the preservation of creatures because of her knowledge and ability to read (and understand) Ashmole 782.
Moreover, Diana herself, as noted, does not open. She refuses to be read by Satu. Her connection to Ashmole 782 is reinforced here: they both refuse to open, to allow themselves to be read, by just anyone. Only those with a particular connection to them can read them. Moreover, they both reclaim their agency by marking (claiming) others and asserting their own power/magic. Whereas Ashmole 782 marks Diana to demonstrate their connection, Diana has claimed Matthew and is beginning to claim her power. And, in foreshadowing Diana’s story arc, the mark also makes her a palimpsest. Her text is hidden. And, interestingly given Satu calls on the light to reveal Diana’s secrets, a palimpsest, as we learned in episode one, can only be read in the correct light. Eventually (spoiler…) Diana will absorb the knowledge of Ashmole 782 and her transformation into a palimpsest will be complete, and her body will function as more than just a body since it makes Diana a vessel of knowledge, or a walking magical manuscript, if you will.
Oh, and there’s a chain (invisible chain!) binding Matthew to Diana in the book narrative. And Ashmole 782 might’ve been chained… Literally tied together.
6 thoughts on “Of Weavers, Drums, Marking, and Beginnings”
This is amazing! So much detail and background, bringing out some things I noticed and some I missed even after watching the episode at least 8 times. Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge in such a beautifully written message.
Thank you!! Can’t wait to see what the next season has for us to explore!!
How closely related is this book series/television show to real witchcraft and deamons? As a christian, even though I am watching it as a fiction for entertainment, I can’tell ignore the facts you stated in your thesis above about them using historically accurate items, names, and spells. People nowadays don’t want to face the reality of a real battle going on between Angel’s and Demons in the unseen for our souls, the devil will use any means to drag our souls to hell. I’m getting the distinct feeling in my soul I need to abandon this series here.
I can’t speak to that directly as it is outside of my area of expertise. Though I can tell you that demons in the religious sense are completely different from daemons in the All Souls world; daemons here, as explained in the show/books/by Deborah Harkness are extremely bright, highly creative, if often scattered or unstable, genius-esque types that are like humans in other ways (lifespan, bodily needs as far as we know, etc). I will also say I know people of all faiths who enjoy both books and the show. The pagans I know recognise evil in the world as much as anyone else I know. As a Christian, too, I don’t think there’s anything in the series that endangers the soul. As we’ve seen throughout, and will see more of (and is even more evident in the books), Matthew is a devout Catholic. Issues of forgiveness are evident throughout the series. How Matthew navigates the world as a Catholic and with a pagan partner is full of love and acceptance. Rather than shunning others that are different and believe differently, the show encourages acceptance of differences, welcomes respectful dialogues, and asks that each of us consider how we contribute positivity and kindness to the world. Furthermore, using history and material culture isn’t about showing off or promoting witchcraft here, but showing how history informs our present, including recognising cultural artefacts as identity-givers. That this is formulated through witch characters in this episode is no different than how Matthew’s rosary or church (we see it later in the show) are integral to his identity, nor is it different to how Hamish’s Highlands home and use of the Lewis Chessmen reflects his Scottish roots and his daemon-ness.
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Absolutely BRILLIANT! You are correct about many things in the way the religious reformations abjectly DESTROYED everything dangerous to Christianity, specifically the Papacy. Most of which that wasn’t gilded or thought to be “treasure” by the stumpy Western rich men between wars, or Conquistadors was deemed heretical and burned on the spot. Temples ruined to build missions. Shamans killed to destroy the faith of the “savages” who honestly were often more technologically advanced. Not only has Harkness done her research, so has everyone involved with the show. Are there still creatures among us? I don’t know but I jump rope with the genius-crazy line and have been known to move a storm now and then😇