Your web-browser is very outdated, and as such, this website may not display properly. Please consider upgrading to a modern, faster and more secure browser. Click here to do so.
People have already been speculating about what or more correctly who, Dean might run into in Purgatory. So I thought I’ve have a bit of a look about what we know about the afterlife in Supernatural.
This is a huge topic, so I am going to stick to a rather straightforward look at death, ghosts, Hell, Heaven and Purgatory.
Things that fascinate me but I won’t cover here include:
• the relationship of how the Show constructs the afterlife to actual religious concepts (but I do promise to finish my Big Damn Jewish meta over hellatus!)
• the fact that Supernatural is a polytheistic universe. How all the gods and their different theologies fit together is a discussion for another day and a few glasses of red. This meta will focus only on what I like to think of as the American God of the show.
• Body and souls. We know that the body and the soul can be separated, but the relationship is not entirely clear – especially when we enter other realms. Souls are our source of power – both literal and metaphoric . We know both angels and demons need to have a corporeal form on Earth, but why? This is vital obviously in determining the answer to the vital question – will Dean grow a beard in Purgatory?
So – in Supernatural, what happens when you die?
Supernatural presents that there is a natural order of things. Death is presented as pre-dating God, and it is his reapers who are there to guide people into the afterlife. We are shown when the order is disrupted, there are consequences. If your time is up, and you somehow avoid death, then someone else will take your place. We saw this in Faith, Death Takes a Holiday and Appointment in Samarra.
Notably, the Winchesters exist outside of this order.
Sam: Look, I don’t want them to die, either, Dean, but there’s a natural order.
Dean: You’re kidding, right?
Dean: You don’t see the irony in that? I mean, you and me, we’re like the poster boys of the unnatural order. All we do is ditch death.
Sam: Yeah, but the normal rules don’t really apply to us, do they?
This exchange takes place in Death Takes A Holiday, and at the end of the episode Dean poses the question to Castiel – why was he resurrected, and Cas replies “Because you are different.”
But where do they go? We never learn where most people go when they die, where the reapers take them.
(a side note here on the Fates, one of whom Atropos we met in My Heart Will Go On. She says that they meet out death as dictated by God (or whoever is running Heaven in his absence). It’s unclear how this operates alongside the repears)
Cole: Why won’t anybody tell me what’s on the other side?
Tessa: Maybe nobody wants to ruin the surprise.
Cole: That’s not an answer.
Dean: She won’t answer you, Cole. Reapers never do.
You throw away your life because you’ve come to assume that it’ll bounce right back into your lap. But the human soul is not a rubber ball.
People are rasied from the dead ratehr regularly on Sueprnatural. Where their souls have ended up various characters have been bought back by God, Angels, Demons, and Death.
These resurrections have been the result of deals, or so the person can be used by some superantural being. Castiel tells Dean of his own resurrections by God: “It’s a punishment resurrection. It’s worse every time.”
See the SuperWiki page for a catalogue of resurrections.
We learned early on, in In My Time Of Dying, that if a person refuses to go with a reaper, that their spirit stays linked to the mortal realm as a ghost. Over time, they will lose their humanity completely.
Eventually, the ghosts will go mad, degrading into a vegetative state as we saw in Of Grave Importance. Alternatively they may become a vengeful spirit, filled with nothing but rage and violence. Something we saw play out tragically with Bobby this season. Not that it doesn’t matter what the person’s motivation is for staying. Many of the murderous ghosts Sam and Dean have encountered, and dispatched, had obviously stayed in an effort to seek retribution for their own death, or to simply stay and protect their family.
Ghosts are dispatched generally by destroying any of their remains, or an object they have attached too by salting and burning. In the Mentalist, Dean confirms that the process does seem to cause them pain. Molly, in Roadkill, is I think the only ghost we see pass over peacefully of her own volition. Mary Winchester of course, passes over when she defeats the poltergeist in the house in Lawrence.
An interesting case is Jo, who was bought back from wherever she was be Osiris, presmably against her will.
Again, we don’t know where they go. Do they end up where they would’ve had they originally gone with their reaper? Or someplace else?
“…a prison, made of bone and flesh and blood and fear.”
One of the master strokes I think of Supernatural’s theology is the idea that demons were also once people, stripped of their humanity through the torments of Hell. (and I think this idea actually wasn’t articulated until Edlund wrote it in Malleus Maleficarum). Lucifer created demons as basically a “fuck you” to God, after he was kicked out of heaven for failing to bow down to humanity. So he took a human, Lilith, and twisted her into the first demon.
But who goes to Hell? We know Hell has a sales team, who make deals with people, so their souls will end up in hell. There was a suggestion in Repo Man that truly evil people, like Jeffrey the serial killer, may go straight to hell and not pass go.
Supernatural however, has not articulated any concept of sin per se in relation to its theology. Hell is not a place of punishment for those who disobey the precepts of Heaven. Hell is more like a rival empire to Heaven, outside of its control. We know the mission to rescue Dean from there took an assault by many angels. The exception of course is the “Cage” where God and Michael imprisoned Lucifer originally, and which now holds Lucifer, Michael and whatever’s left of Adam.
Exorcizing demons simply sends them from Earth to Hell. Only the Colt, Ruby’s knife, and Sam’s powers actually kills the demon. Like ghosts a demon can also be killed by burning its bones – which makes sense given that each are what exists of a soul once humanity is gone.
John Winchester is the one exception. After a hundred years in Hell, he escapes and after helping kill the YED simply disappears in a shower of sparkles. But then he’s John fucking Winchester and the normal rules don’t apply.
As with ghosts though, the question is where do demons go when they die? To the natural place they would’ve passed to if they hadn’t made deal?
There isn’t one Heaven, each soul generates its own paradise.
So is Heaven where everyone else goes when they die? Is this where reapers guide people to?
The criteria for entry to Heaven is vague. Being a believer helps – Ash says “saved”, and when Castiel questions why Ken lay was admitted to heaven, Raphael replies “He’s devout. Trumps everything.”
When Sam and Dean end up in Heaven, Ash explains that each person has their own “heaven”, although soulmates may share one (side eyes Sam and Dean) Johnny Cash. André the Giant, Einstein, Mallanāga Vātsyāyana, and Pamela of course. Castiel likes to hang out in the heaven of an autistic man who drowned in a bathtub. Hard to see a common thread there!
Interestingly Ash mentions Sam and Dean having been there before, and at this point they’ve each died more than once!, but they have no memory of it. He also mentions he hasn’t encountered John or Mary, or Ellen and Jo.
So it’s unclear whether Heaven is the default destination, or whether it’s a more exclusive club. And I wonder, where do angels go when they die?
It’s like the backside of your worst nightmares. It’s all blood and bone and darkness. Filled with the bodies and souls of all things hungry, sharp, and nasty.
God created Purgatory as a place to imprison the leviathans, who threaten to destroy all the other beings created. It also contains the souls of all the monsters – vampires, werewolves, shapeshifters etc. Eve – the progenitor of all monsters – was imprisoned there 10,000 years ago.
So who and what will Dean encounter there? Dead monsters obviously, including those he and Sam have killed. Dean could run into Madison, Lenore, Amy Pond, Gordon Walker or Elias Finch the Phoenix.
As to accessing Purgatory - Eve escaped with the help of a spell and some virgins, Cas needed blood of a virgin and the blood of a Purgatory native and a spell recited on the night of the lunar eclipse to open a door to it.
There’s much we don’t know about purgatory, and other places in the after life. We don’t know where dispatched vengeful spirits and demons go. Is it only humans who move to an afterlife, because we have souls? Do angels simply cease to exist? Does your afterlife destination relate in any way to your actions, or intentions, while alive?
And where the fuck is God?