I decided to try to my hand at writing some Supernatural meta(fiction)... so here goes the beginning of several posts in which I will examine different aspects of the show from a Catholic perspective. Before you start, you may want to check out my review of the first few seasons so that you have some idea of what I'm talking about, but keep in mind that the show has changed a lot since then.
First of all, I think I should briefly mention how I watch Supernatural. I’m a devout (I hope that adjective applies) Catholic, so I watch the show through such lens. I’m the type of person who looks for evidence that God does indeed care about the Winchesters (which is one of the reasons why I love the [canon] idea of Chuck being God so much). I don’t like very much how angels are represented (something that I hope to address in another post), but I let it go because these are fictional characters.... and because there are some angels who can be counted among the most heroic characters in the show (I'm looking at you, Castiel, Gadreel, and Samandriel).
Let us start now with the topic that I wish to talk about. I’m going to start with Purgatory, which is one of my very favourite things about the show (which is in a tie with the exorcisms of the early seasons). I’m going to refer throughout this post to this post from Fr. Angel Sotelo, which inspired me to write... this post (I really didn't mean to use that phrase three times). You may want to read that post before you continue any further because I’m going to expect that you know about the Catholic Church’s teaching on Purgatory. This is going to be important to understand Purgatory in the show because the writers often incorporate beliefs and traditions of Christianity, Judaism, and other faiths.
Castiel in Purgatory
Purgatory in Supernatural has quite a few differences from the Catholic view of Purgatory. First of all, it was created not as a place to purify from sin (an idea which I will return to in a moment), but as a kind of prison for creatures called Leviathon - as well as many other monsters when they die. However, Dean - a human - and Castiel - an angel - are sent to Purgatory when they kill Dick (Richard) Roman, a Leviathon. As the line “exploding [Richard Roman] sends [you] to Purgatory,” I’m going to assume that Dean and Cas were taken along on the ride to Purgatory because parts of Roman’s human vessel (and Leviathon insides) touched them. One could argue that Dean and Cas went to Purgatory because they are monsters and when monsters die, that’s where they go, but I disagree. Both characters have done horrible things (Castiel’s pride leading him to claim godship and Dean having killed innocent people), but they had both repented for their sins.
Back to the idea of purity. Dean is able to escape Purgatory by the help of Benny, a good-hearted vampire (sounds like a paradox, right?), and when he is reunited with his brother Sam, he tells him that the air of Purgatory “felt pure.” We don’t see much of what happened in Purgatory - all we see is Dean and Castiel killing monsters and trying to escape - but, according to the show, supposedly the two men were there for a year. That’s a lot of time for a lot of things to happen that we as viewers don’t know about. I assume that the general idea is that killing all those monsters in this particular environment “felt pure” ... but to my mind, that doesn’t make any sense, even in a fictional world.
I’m going to quote a couple of things from Fr. Sotelo’s post now.
the souls in Purgatory
“Jesus refers to some kind of process after death, whereby the Christian can do some kind of penance for the sinful deeds of the body, which were not sinful enough to get a person condemned to hell fire.”
“The experience of purification, or the purgation of a soul of its residual stains of rebellion and selfishness, are in the hands of God. So, the Lord can ask that a soul pass through the state of purgatory, or God can use certain experiences as the substance of a soul’s purgatory.” [bold and italics added]
“Thus, purgatory as an experience of growth in the fear of the Lord and love of His providence, is something that does not require a certain phase of time. It can be instantaneous, which would account for the Catholic belief that purgatory ceases to exist at the time of the resurrection of the dead on the Final Day, also called the End of Days.”
Okay. Now let's take a quick look at Dean's mindset and his life before Purgatory. Dean and his brother Sam were brought up by their father, John Winchester, to hunt monsters like vampires, werewolves, and many other creatures or personages from lore, such as the Woman in White and Wendigo. John Winchester started doing this when his wife was killed by a demon because he wanted revenge, but after their father's death, the two brothers continued his work of fighting evil in order to save lives - "saving people, hunting things, the family business." :)
The difference between Sam and Dean is that while Sam has always disliked the "family business" and has tried on many occasions to leave it, Dean appears unable to do so. After Sam dies at the end of season five, Dean returns to his old girlfriend Lisa and spends a year with her and her son Ben (after which Sam returns). However, during this time, Dean is portrayed as being miserable. He can never really settle down and when a monster appears in the neighbourhood, the hunter's instinct kicks in and Dean is on the case right away. After Sam returns (courtesy of Castiel), Dean returns to working cases; he tries to keep up his home life with Lisa and Ben, but finally, Lisa tells him to leave because she knows that it is impossible for him to live both lives.
I have also read some meta (I would give if a link if I had it because that post was really well written) in which the writer views Dean as thinking differently from Sam because of the way he was raised by his father. Dean was raised like a soldier - ready for orders, to fight, and if he makes a mistake, he admits it and then moves on. While I agree with the last statement to a certain extent, Dean has been portrayed as hanging onto guilt for a very long time. When Sam is on his own quest for purification (which I am going to look at in the second part of this meta), Dean immediately has some ideas and begins stating Sam's sins of the past seasons. Dean is the type of person that forgives other people (though it may take some time), but never forgets. But when it comes to himself, Dean has been portrayed in earlier seasons as having great difficulty in forgiving. He dwells on past mistakes and lives them over and over again. "You don't think you deserve to be saved," Castiel realizes when he first 'meets' Dean in the first episode of season four.
Okay, that's quite a lot of text that appears to be off-topic. I'm going to use the information from all that in just a moment. The writers of Supernatural have encouraged meta and to read the subtext, and the meta I've read made me realize that there are so many layers to the show. So even though the writers say that Purgatory is where monsters go, I'm not going to believe that that's the only explanation for Purgatory. So I look for hints. What is my biggest hint? Dean says that Purgatory felt pure. This is an idea that is mentioned so many times (even three seasons later) that it can't be just a coincidence. There is no explanation of the meaning of pure, though. So what do I do? I take the knowledge of my faith and combine that with what I know about Dean.
Dean in Purgatory
Dean has repented for the crimes of his past, but he still carries around all that guilt. How can that guilt be absolved? Unlike other people, I don't believe that just "forgiving myself" quite does the trick. In season seven, Dean ends up in Purgatory - the place, which according to Judeo-Christian tradition, purifies the soul. Seems like the perfect place for Dean to let go of all that guilt, right? And the way we see that happening is through Dean doing what he likes to do best - kill monsters. Of course, here in Purgatory, it is defence, but the underlying idea is that Dean would always fight evil in order to saves the lives of innocent people. Therefore, in a psychological sense at the subconscious level, Dean would be redeeming himself by making up for the sins of his past.
In the second part of this meta, I am going to examine Sam's purification - another sort of Purgatory - in season eight.