In the past week, I’ve seen three instances of television characters do something that is as disturbing as it is idiotic. The first happened on American Horror Story: Apocalypse when Cordelia (Sarah Paulson) wrapped her hand around a knife, then pulled it out so a few drops of her blood would complete a spell to raise a witch from the dead. Next, Sabrina Spellman (Kiernan Shipka) did the same move when she needed a little bit of her heart juice to sign the Book of the Beast in Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. Then, in the CW’s Charmed reboot, Macy (Madeleine Mantock) cut her hand the same way to lure a demon with her demon blood.
Yes, I get it, sometimes there is no substitute for the sanguine when it comes to making a spell work, but why, exactly, does everyone have to slice their palms open in the same ludicrous and destructive way? It’s even worse than a death by a million paper cuts: No one is going to die this way, but they are going to be stuck with a throbbing gash in the center of their hands for weeks.
How do you even treat a cut like that? It’s a horrible place to get stitches. You certainly can’t get a bandage to stick in the part of your hand that is always bending and flexing. It’s just going to get infected and reopen and bleed every time these witches have to use their opposable thumbs, the greatest non-magical gift that humans were given.
Forget about holding a wand. How is Sabrina going to get her hocus pocus on when she’s nurturing a giant, scabby palm wound for ten episodes? Oh, that’s the other ridiculous thing: These gashes always disappear without even a scratch. Never in the next episode — nay, the next scene — are these magic practitioners even sporting a Band-Aid. They give up their blood and it’s gone.
The crazy thing is, this is not a new trope. Palm slashing for blood magic is so common, it even has its own page on TV Tropes. We see it in Practical Magic. It happens twice in Pirates of the Caribbean. If it’s not in The Craft, then I will be a Wicked Witch’s Flying Monkey’s Uncle. As long as there have been spells in our pop culture, there have been witches willing to disfigure their palms in order to get that blood magic going.
It’s not just magic that causes people to commit ungodly acts with a blade, though. What about those characters who make a blood oath or do some sort of “blood brothers” pact? The kids in last year’s It remake all slice themselves with the fist-over-blade technique at the very end of the movie. Last season on Riverdale, Archie (KJ Apa) and Hiram (Mark Consuelos) did this when Hiram wanted to initiate Archie into his shady underworld gang. According to some Twitter crowdsourcing, this move was also featured on FX’s Mayans MC — but in order to confirm that, I would have to submit myself to an episode of Mayans MC, and that is not something I am willing to do even in pursuit of critical self-maiming research.
Why don’t we question this very particular and very weird trope? Can’t characters start carving up their forearms or something instead? It would be just as easy to get a few drops blood, and it would be a lot easier to slap some gauze and a piece of tape over it once they’re done with the black magic. Or maybe even the inside of the thigh? Sure, it’s going to be a lot messier than a hand or forearm, but the wound could be covered with pants so we wouldn’t have to stare at it for the rest of an episode, or worse, pretend like it didn’t happen.
Anything would be better than watching someone, magical or otherwise, dig a knife into their palm like it’s a tub of I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter. Has anyone in real life ever actually done this? Sure, most of us aren’t casting spells or sealing oaths — though maybe we should all be aspiring to live lives where that happens more often — but even if we were, wouldn’t we find a cleaner, less destructive, and easier healing method than this? Maybe we should ask Dorinda Medley, the Real Housewife of New York who actually managed to slice her hand open during a tequila-soaked dinner in the show’s ninth season. Not a single spell was cast that day and we have no idea how long the wound took to heal itself, but it certainly did provide a little bit of television magic.