‘Ginger Snaps’ and the Unholy Mysteries of the Werewolf
Jul 16, 2019 by Nick Staff on The Nickelodeon Blog
By Alice Lilitu.
With the Nick After Hours series, we aim to show weird genre fiction with a deeper relevance. Next up is Ginger Snaps this Friday, July 19th.
Ginger Snaps is simultaneously a cheeky genre-aware horror and morose coming-of-age story that doesn’t shy away from how horrible teenagers generally are to each other and how scary it is to be one. The story is a play of fantasy horror tropes and folklore that metaphorize, but don’t quite break down simply into, the various mundane struggles of growing up. In this, it is reminiscent of the best standalone episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. But it’s better in that it’s more focused and the stakes are higher, and for my money, it ranks much higher on the “Is this real magic?” scale as well. No spoilers, but the McGuffin that emerges midway through involves some pretty genuine folk magic.
One of the central allegorical conceits of the movie, linking the werewolf transformation with the menstrual cycle, has some roots in genuine occultism as well. The use of menstrual blood in ritual magic and witchcraft, often called Basilisk’s blood or Saturn’s blood, has a long and polysemic history. It’s used in love spells in a variety of folk traditions, as we see in the recent Midsommar (yes, most of the magic in that movie is real). It is also used in complex and often very secret ritual magic rites that glyph knowledge obtained from the fallen angels from a time “before the flood.” This kind of menstrual blood magic has an interesting relevance here, as it is often used to provoke transformation. Sometimes, even into an animal associated with a particular deity and its powers.
In Apocalyptic Witchcraft, Peter Grey traces a poetic trajectory of the anthropological record regarding transformation into wolves. This rite links itself to the menstrual cycle and to cycles of the moon. It dramatizes the hunt and the breaking of taboos, particularly the eating of raw flesh. It involves hallucinogens, animal skins, nudity, and contact with the Mother of Beasts. It is often unclear which parts of the experience are psychic and which are physical, but the powers it confers are very real. And the first opportunity to undergo this initiation occurs in adolescence, although for many of us in “the West” it tends to happen much later.
I don’t think Ginger Snaps necessarily intends to reference all of this, but this is the current, the river of blood in which it swims. This is true of the werewolf myth in general, and in providing a particularly insightful take on that story the movie reveals and embodies a touch of that complexity. This is what genre cinema offers at its best, a mirror of the collective unconscious.
And take note of our drink special for the evening as well: Under the Blood Moon.
For more on the magical traditions described, see the aforementioned Apocalyptic Witchcraft and Peter Mark Adam’s The Game of Saturn.