I am going to attempt to “unpack” the 2018 movie Hereditary. It’s the sort of film crackling with visceral occult energy that you think about long after you see it—and to be honest there’s so much here to consider that to write about it in any sort of comprehensive post seems like an overwhelming task. But I’ll give it a shot.
Obviously, **spoilers** (after all, it is an Ari Aster film!)
I. THE FAMILY
Hereditary is about the Graham family, who starts to unravel after the death of their estranged elder matriarch, Ellen Leigh. But actually—under the surface, they have been slowly rotting regardless. The mother, Annie, is a self-absorbed artist of fine miniatures who never wanted to be a mother (let’s put a pin in that point), father Steve is a well-meaning but ineffectual psychotherapist, eldest son Peter is an emotionally blunted (if you will excuse the expression) pothead, and asexual little sister Charlie, who everybody treats as a burden, is plagued with health problems and possible autism.
And Ellen, we discover later, was not just a cult member (generational abuse alert!) but a cult leader. And the secretive cult she was a leader of worships the demon Paimon.
“…it was a matter of me diving into some research and wanting to find something that’s still rooted in some reality. Paimon just came to make sense as I was doing that research.”
Paimon is named in such occult texts as the Lesser Key of Solomon, the Pseudomonarchia Daemonum, the Liber Officium Spirituum, The Book of Abramelin, and The Grimoire of Pope Honorius. He is of a somewhat high rank, as far as demons go—and a number of the texts refer to him as one of the “kings” of Hell.
Interestingly, though Paimon is referred to as a male demon (a “king,” after all)…he’s often ALSO described as looking “female” in appearance. Specifically, Paimon is traditionally depicted as a young woman riding a camel.
So which is it? Is Paimon male or female?
III. THE SOPHIA/BAPHOMET PARADOX
Sophia from Gnostic lore is one of the most primal goddess figures of all time. Her name meaning “widsom” in Greek, she is considered the “feminine” aspect of God & is part of a divine syzygy with Jesus Christ as her “twin.”
Just as a bit of a brief detour, you ever notice how the classical depiction of Jesus Christ looks like a chick?
“The feminine side of Christ is much emphasised in Christian iconology, he is usually represented as a very feminine man. The same characteristic was apparently attributed to his cousin, Mithras. He also is represented, in the very moment of killing the bull, as exceedingly feminine; in fact Cumont, the greatest authority on Mithraism, says you could call his features directly hysterical. This bi-sexuality of Christ is called androgynous, from aner (man) and gyne (woman). This is not only a Christian idea, the gods in most religions have an androgynous nature ascribed to them in some form or other.”
But we’re not talking about Christianity, but instead some obscure Paimon “cult” worshipped by a bunch of weirdos who are going to eventually tear the hapless Graham family apart. So why am I bringing this “Sophia” business up in a post about the movie Hereditary???
Well, a Dr. Hugh Schonfield applied a Jewish cipher called the “Atbash cipher” when translating the Dead Sea Scrolls. And you know what he found out???
Now, Baphomet—especially as depicted in our current era—is kind of this masculine, literally “horny” guy-type entity.
Why would Sophia & Baphomet be linked in this way???
IV. CHARLIE GRAHAM
Hereditary’s Charlie is an outcast who is clearly uncomfortable in her own skin & hides her body under baggy layers of clothing. She has a masculine name and her mother tells her that her grandmother Ellen wanted Charlie to be a boy.
And why did Ellen want Charlie to be a boy?
Because Ellen was secretly a cult leader tasked with creating a human host for Paimon (the “Antichrist”). She tried to do this with her own son—Annie’s brother—but he killed himself. She next had her sights on Peter, Annie’s firstborn—but wily Annie purposely kept her son away from her weirdo mom.
And then Annie had Charlie. And Ellen was like “fuck it.” Charlie would have to do, at least for the time being. And so Ellen took a special interest in Charlie—even apparently breastfeeding her.
Charlie was Paimon’s host. Ellen treated Charlie (probably still in the womb) as a “Moonchild” of sorts…the unwitting receptacle for this king of Hell.
But there would have to be an eventual “upgrade,” because let’s face it…nobody’s going to take seriously some “girl” as the Antichrist! I mean, it’s just a matter of brand marketing 101.
V. PETER GRAHAM
And so the transfer of Paimon from Charlie to Peter—aided by the late Ellen’s crazy naked smiling cult members—was underway. Charlie would die in probably one of the most famous gore scenes of contemporary Horror—decapitated while sticking her head out of a moving car.
Let’s take a moment to consider this gruesome symbology, of the severed head…which of course, the Knights Templar, many centuries ago, were said to worship alongside Baphomet. The head could be interpreted as that of the martyred John the Baptist, the “forerunner” of Jesus Christ…as Charlie is the “forerunner” of Paimon’s ultimate human host destination.
This symbolism in the film is NOT a coincidence, folks…as I mentioned before, director Aster did his “homework.”
After Charlie’s death, which Peter (who was driving the car) feels responsible for, the Graham family is pretty much set on the primrose path to complete possession and destruction. Annie gets manipulated by a cult member pretending to be a friend into using a seance to bring Charlie’s soul back into the house.
Peter starts to get “possessed” in school, eventually having a seizure-like incident and smashing his nose. And Annie eventually thinks Charlie’s old sketchbook is “possessed,” and needs to be burned; when her husband said he’s had enough of her crazy shit and is probably going to commit her, she throws the book into the fire and he goes up in flames.
Now Annie is possessed by Paimon, and is gunning for Peter to finish the soul transfer process to the demon’s final destination. The last 15 minutes or so of this film are SO disturbing, so finely interlaid with deep occult imagery, that unless you really have a strong constitution I suggest you skip it.
However, if you are feeling rather adventurous & are curious about the ending—but kinda SCARED too—here it is with Spongebob Squarepants music over it:
VI. THE “HEREDITARY” END SEQUENCE
Peter wakes up in the middle of the night and gets chased by his possessed mother, who can now fly through the air. He runs to the attic, where he finds the headless (again, the decapitation imagery) rotting corpse of Ellen. Annie finds him there and starts cutting off her own head. Peter spies some naked grinning cultists in a corner and jumps out the window.
Peter “revives” on the ground and follows his headless floating mother up to the treehouse. In the treehouse is a wooden statue of a male body with Charlie’s crowned decapitated head on top.
The pose the Charlie statue makes should be familiar:
Peter is now confronted by the cult members who are all super-happy. The woman who had earlier befriended Annie tells Peter:
“It’s alright. Charlie, you’re alright, now. You…are Paimon. One of the eight kings of Hell. We have looked to the northwest and called you in. We’ve collected your first female body and give you now this healthy male host. We reject the trinity and pray devoutly to you, Great Paimon.”
OK…so now the soul transfer is complete and Peter is now “taken over” by Paimon. But why is she calling Peter “Charlie”?
Because Charlie was more than just a temporary body-receptacle for Paimon.
Charlie WAS/IS Paimon.
Charlie is Paimon’s human alter-ego. In imitation/mockery of the birth and life of Christ, Paimon had to live as a mere mortal before taking on the mantle of the new anti-Messiah.
If Christ had to suffer the indignity of the crucifixion, Paimon had to endure something quite comparable in its horror: living as a bright, gender nonconforming adolescent girl in this shitty society who is made to feel she has zero value as a human being.
And so even though Paimon—in his “higher form”—may have been pulling the strings on this whole affair the entire time, it is Charlie who has to get used to her new “mantle” as a King of Hell. But it’s not entirely a raw deal for her. She has Power, a more “acceptable” body, and TONS of enthusiastic new friends. Certainly: a happier ending than any of the versions of Carrie.
The last shot is a parody of the Christian Nativity Scene:
Hereditary, released exactly 50 years after Rosemary’s Baby. I’m sure that timing’s just a coincidence.
The end credits song is “Both Sides Now” by Judy Collins. It is at this point that I should also mention that Hereditary has also lent itself to transgender interpretations. As writer Sasha Geffen observes:
Unlike many biographical films depicting transmasculine characters, which tend to conflate transmasculinity with butch lesbianism, Hereditary takes for granted the existence of a gendered spirit. Paimon is male, even when disembodied, even when growing up a girl; he is “covetous of a male human body” because it complements his essence. And yet his journey to find such a body drives the film’s terror. He slaughters his family and empties a healthy male form so he might walk through the world the way he wants. His journey to embodiment is traumatic in the precise way that transition, through a cis lens, is seen as traumatic — a violent side effect of the “social contagion” of gender-noncomformity…
And that’s it. Hope you enjoyed this post, horror