Hereditary is compelling in its own right, but the real-world connections to demons and the occult make it even more interesting.
Hereditary is a movie that came out last week and I’m still trying to figure out what’s happening in my brain in relation to it. Before I saw it for the first time at Screenland Armour, the cashier/bartender/owner told me that the supernatural stuff from the movie is based on historical, real stuff. I have always been interested in the occult and all that, so I decided to do some research into the significance of several elements within the movie, from the colors to the demon Paimon. Surprisingly there’s a glut of information out there about this lesser known demon and the symbology found in this film.
Originally I wasn’t sure that the colors are actually significant to the occult; however, they are clearly used for specific purposes. In Colette’s other little horror masterpiece The Sixth Sense the color red of course was used to alert the audience of the presence of ghosts, regardless of our ignorance of that fact initially. The three main colors that stick out in Hereditary are a dull, almost mustard yellow, teal blue, and bright red. The significance of red is really clear – the brake lights, the heat lamps, etc. demonstrate the connection to violence and the malevolent spirit. The blue seems to center around Annie, but it’s juxtaposed by the yellow, which I can’t help but connect to the excellent short story “The Yellow Wallpaper”. In the story, an unnamed woman slowly descends into madness after being isolated in a strange room with yellow wallpaper that may or may not be supernatural. I’ve included a link if you’re interested. It really is an excellent short read and a classic early work of horror. With all the talk of mental illness in Annie’s family, the correlation is intriguing. I also finally found that the color associated with the demon Paimon is yellow, so that’s also a pretty strong connection.
There are a surprising number of connections with ants to various rituals. This makes sense when you think about it because ants are *literally* everywhere and will get into everything. There are lots of different rituals associated with ants, called “Myrmomancy”. Different cultures use different techniques to divine information from ants, including setting sacrifices on anthills, paying attention to their habits as portents for the future. Annie’s dream about Peter covered in ants, then, is more than just viscerally disturbing, but connects to these rituals and beliefs, too. Charlie’s head is left on the road to be recovered later covered with ants is yet another example of deeply disturbing ant imagery.
This is a demon spirit that’s listed pretty prolifically throughout the spiritual literature I’ve found. The first entry of this character that I can find is the ancient text called the Ars Goetia from the mid 17th century, as part of a compilation of
Look at this dude! Scary. If you look at his crown, you’ll also notice the symbol that appears throughout the movie: on Mom, Grandma’s and Charlie’s necklace, and then above mom’s neck (lol because she doesn’t have a head at that point) in the attic. While many occult movies rely on familiar (mostly Biblical) imagery like “666” and such, this is especially clever because the audience is slowly introduced to its malevolence as the plot unfolds. It’s a much more subtle, and in my opinion much more scary approach to horror.
Now, if you’re at all familiar with the lore of monsters, you’ll know that decapitation is a powerful tool. If you were a weird kid like me, you read a bunch of stuff about vampires and werewolves (before Twilight ruined them). Witches and vampires both can be destroyed and prevented from returning through decapitation. Even more than that, most cultures attach specific significance to beheading; John the Baptist’s execution is very important in the Bible, shrunken heads in different South American tribes, as a couple of examples.
In the movie, it’s clearly part of the ritual of the cult. It seems, too, that some essential part of Paimon’s spirit is set free through decapitation – when Charlie is decapitated, the demon leaves her; when it inhabits Annie, she ends up decapitating herself in horrific fashion – with a wire, while hanging in the air, in front of her teenage son. Gross. In the end, the beheaded bodies of Annie and her mother are positioned in worshipful fashion, in front of the idol statue and surrounded by the cult members, while Charlie’s disembodied head sits atop the bizarre Paimon totem. Each time this beheading occurs, the spirit seems to move around. From what I found, there’s some connection to alchemy and decapitation — the sources I read show that decapitation is linked to the decomposition of the body to allow for rebirth. This seems to connect to Paimon’s cycle of inhabiting different members of the Graham family. First Charlie then Annie and finally his desired host poor pot smoking Peter.
Overall, knowing these connections will give the audience a much richer experience when watching the movie. These real-life connections also make the whole thing just – creepier – in general. I know when I go for my second viewing this weekend I will have demon thoughts floating around in my head(hopefully it stays attached).
What do you think? Do you have any other historical connections to imagery, rituals, or other aspects of the movie, or more information to add? Let us know on Facebook or Twitter.
Kati has been writing for Signal Horizon since its creation. She is an instructional coach in the KC area. She loves all forms of storytelling, and cupcakes.