The Metaphysics of the Buffyverse

| Monsters and other non-demons | Werewolves | Gods and Goddesses | Watchers | The Initiative |

Warning: this page contains info about episodes up through season 7 BtVS/season 5 AtS. If you're in danger of being spoiled, proceed with caution.
Monsters and other non-demons

| Monsters | Being "human" | Once Human, Now...? | Still Human, But...? | Now Human, Once...? | Werewolves | Trolls | Hellgods | The First Evil |

Monsters: There are many strange non-human creatures in the Buffyverse. Not all of them are demons. Examples:

What qualities must someone have to count as "a human being"?

Buffy is called "human" despite her super powers, but Angel is called "not human", despite his human soul. As Wesley explains (TSILA), what makes someone human is not just a human soul, but their body's inter-connection to the larger fabric of life--they grow as they consume other beings (plants and/or animals) as food, they have the ability to bear genetically related offspring, they age and die. Their desires for food, sex, families, etc, are relevant to these inter-connections. While Angel needs blood, he won't die without it. While he can have sex, he can't father human children. He can't age. He therefore isn't human.

The metaphysics of the super-human:

To say someone is not human is not to say they aren't a person: In classical Christian theology, for example, there are "persons" (the 3 Persons of the Holy Trinity, for example, or angels) who are not not human. Since Angel is a vampire, he is not human. However, since he has an intellect, consciousness, free will and the power to enter into authentic relationships, he does fall under the category of "person" (TC, May 18 18:49 1999).

Once Human, Now...?

Many creatures were human beings who were permanently transformed by mystical means (often rituals and curses) into something else:

The moral and psychological consequences of tranformation

Still Human, But... Many characters remain human but are something else as well (at least temporarily). Examples: 


Now Human, Once...?

Some human beings were transformed by mystical means from something else, an experience which gives them a unique perspective on being humn:

Gods and Goddess

There have been many references to "gods" and "goddesses" on the show, e.g.,

| Halloween (Ethan's supplication to the Roman god Janus) | BBB (Greek goddesses Diana and Hecate) | Gingerbread (Hecate) | Fear, Itself (Aradia, goddess of the lost) | TIIT (Neisa, goddess of chance and fortune) | Goodbye Iowa (Thespia, ruler of all darkness) | The Replacement (Oofdar, goddess of childbirth) | Granath, the Zombie god | Bargaining, the Egyptian god of the dead, Osiris |

| The Witch ("laughing gods") | Becoming ('gods', in the gypsy curse) | The Zeppo (four elements referred to as four divinities) | Gingerbread ("You gods") | Doppelgangland (Anya swears by "the pestilent gods") | Triangle (reference to "God" in Latin) |

Who are these beings and how do they fit into the Buffyverse Chain of Being (i.e., human-demon-Oracles-PTB's)?

Glory the god exceeds in power and being the demons Buffy normally confronts. Glory has some power from beyond our mortal coil.... I figure the Buffyverse works like an onion - there's always another layer to peel off. Glory's "godhood", I'm guessing, merely means she's one layer further on in the onion from demons (Cleanthes, 25-Jan-01 10:32).

Glory may not be the same kind of being as those invoked in spells. It is still possible that some are demons, and some merely names in an incantation that focuses a spell-caster's own power.

I see three possible ways that goddesses (and gods) exist in the Buffyverse:

1. Goddesses are real entities, much like the Oracles, that when properly
invoked lend their aid to humans. The rituals that are performed during a spell/incantation are done to honor and appease them. Much like taking a gift to the Oracles to ensure their good will. These goddesses do not exist on this plane of reality, but can see and hear what goes on and be influenced by this plane.

2. Goddesses are real because human belief makes them real. By invoking the goddesses in a
spell, the human spellcaster puts his desire out to the universe. The ritual itself (time, place, candles, herbs, charms, etc.) helps to focus one's concentration or will so that the desired effect will occur.

3. The names of the goddesses are merely an
invoking phrase within the spell/incantation. The words of the spell or incantation set up a kind of "harmonic" magic (as opposed to sympathetic or empathetic magic), where the correct words/syllables said in the correct order will cause the desired effect... (purplegrrl, 17-Oct-00 18:02:51)


The Werewolf is a human whose predatory animalistic traits have taken over, eliminating conscience with pure instinct. For three full consecutive nights every month, the full moon and the two nights surrounding it, the human transforms into this human/wolf hybrid.


What is known about Buffyverse werewolves:

Werewolves can also sense each other when they are both in human form, as evidenced by Oz and Veruca. Oz also feels an animal attraction to Veruca that is different than his sexual reaction to other girls. Displaying wolfiness in human form is not surprising. A person's body undergoes some serious changes to accommodate their condition.

Theories on the nature of the werewolf condition: Is being a werewolf a biological condition transmitted through the blood or is it supernatural in any way?

Werewolves are made by a supernatural curse made flesh. Whereever it started in ancient history, ...the curse became a part of the persons physical make-up. Once that happened, it was passed along with a simple bite even though it wasn't the passing of fluids like saliva that transmitted the curse. The curse was entertwined into the persons physical being (CharlieX, Dec 18 22:17 1998).

The bite caused the man's most basic inner evil to show itself during the full moon (which controls us due to the high amount of water in humans). I don't believe that being a werewolf is passed down from father to son or thru a persons bloodline. If you get bit and survive, you become a werewolf (gazoo, Dec 18 22:34 1998).

Masquerade's note: The genetic predisposition theory is interesting, because, if true, it would allow Jordy to pass the werewolf virus onto Oz, but not Oz to, say, Willow. Since Oz got bit by his cousin in human form, we can rule out the only-wolf form theory.

Werewolf breeds


| Definition | The Watchers' Council | The origin of the Watchers | Watcher-Slayer relationships | Unanswered questions |
Moral ambiguity of the WC | Fan views about the WC | Giles and the WC | Other Demonologists |

Watcher: A man or woman who finds the Slayer and leads her on her path. There are watchers all over the world because although there are potential slayers all over the world, it is never known until the last one dies which one will be called. Sometimes a watcher can find a potential and train her, sometimes they cannot interfere in her life -- sometimes they don't find them (like Buffy) until after the other has died (joss, Oct 13 22:20 1998).

Watchers we have known or heard about:

What is known about the Watchers


  • are often experts in demonology and the supernatural.
  • are trained, often as teenagers, in a special Watcher's Academy
  • In the past the training procedures were mostly "books and theories." Now there is more emphasis on hands-on field work.

I kind of think it's like the National Guard, training one weekend a month or so (golden girl, Mar 6 19:20 1999).

I assume they are trained in some forms of self defense, although not overly so. They probably train in aspects of linguistics and ancient history and some magic.... I would think members of the Watchers Council train each other (Dhark, Mar 6 19:19 1999).

The Watchers diarys are how present Watchers research on how present problems were solved before. They also give info on the various demons that they have faced over the years (CharlieX, Mar 10 19:50 1999).

Unanswered questions about Watchers some time in the past someone made a conscious decision to band together, consoidate knowledge, and organize the fight against evil. Thus we have the Council (purplegrrl, 11-Dec-00 12:27).

...the Watchers do not just watch the slayer. The have a network to monitor vampiric and other supernatural activity (T. Mori, 07:28 am May 24, 2000).

I tend to think of them more like a trade association, where they get together for conventions every year to talk about the latest occurances and swap remedies and spells ('stina, Jun 10 09:40 1998).

My reading is that ...Watchers are made, not born -- i.e., within some set of conditions, pretty much anyone could be a Watcher with training, even though the vocation seems to run in families to some extent (Malista, Jun 20 23:25 1999).

Giles did not seem to have much of a choice about being a watcher, and rebelled against it as a youth.

The WC only sees the war. They care that the battle must be won and won by the side of "good". If they have to, the WC, will "retire" a slayer or two or even allow a few civilians to lose their lives, just so long as it gets the job done. If that is what the cost of winning will be then so be it. War is madness (gazoo, Mar 12 23:53 1999).

The Watcher's Council, 1999-2002

In G2, Buffy rejected the authority of the Watchers. When Faith came out of her coma, the Watcher's Council went after her. They claimed to want to rehabilitate Faith, but they tried to kill her more than once. Faith decided her own fate, surrendering to civilian authorities and going to prison. The Council has nothing to gain in killing Buffy. She's doing her job despite them and Buffy's death will not result in a new slayer (this already haven happened). On the other hand, the Watchers could get a new obedient baby slayer if they killed Faith. Then again, they could get another Faith-type.

Several [fans] have noted that it is Buffy who is the odd one out. The recent Slayer line runs: The Unnamed Slayer before Buffy Buffy Kendra Faith ???? The WC has a problem. Why do we exist? Do we need a slayer to justify ourselves? If so, how do we go about it? Kill Faith? Kill Buffy? Bring Buffy back into the fold? Or what? (wolfguard, Oct 30 13:12 1999)

The Watchers finally make their move in Checkpoint, using their superior knowledge resources to hold Giles' greencard hostage until Buffy accedes to their authority. Buffy realizes what they want above all else is to be back in the game, and she allows them to assist her. Giles is now her official Watcher again. But should we trust the WC to abide by Buffy's terms?

They seem to do so, leaving the Slayer to do her duty without interference. Then the unthinkable happens. The First Evil declares war on the Watcher's Council. This primordial evil power is done letting the good guys have free reign on the world. Its minions blow up the Watcher's Headquarters, killing every living being inside.

The Initiative

Facilities and personnel

Below Lowell Residence House on the UC Sunnydale campus lies a vast underground complex filled with


The Initiative is a research facility under direct control of the US government. Initiative scientists use medical, psychological, and military science to investigate and neutralize the "Hostile sub-terrestrials" they've discovered living (mostly) underground in the city.

If Demon and Vampires are as common as everyday crime in Buffy's universe, then is should fall right that the US government would install a kind of secret military operation to deal with this (Roel, 12 Feb 2000 01:13).

The origins of The Iniative

Initiative research:


The Principles of Behavior Modification: The Initiative devices control observable behavior, not mental activity (examples: Spike, Riley).

The limitations of the behavior modification approach: Spike's chip prevents him from causing physical violence to humans, but it doesn't make him any less evil. Grafting demons to humans didn't make controllable super-soldiers, either.

Science vs. Magic:

"I don't believe in science. All those bits and molecules no one's ever seen. I trust eyes and heart alone."
-- Drusilla, on Spike's chip

"You think the realm of the mystical is limited to ancient texts and relics? That bad old science made the magic go away?" -- Ms. Calendar, I Robot, You Jane

The Initiative, then, are scientists. Which leads to the question--what is the best approach to fighting evil--science or magic? In the Buffyverse, conventional science is already waging a losing battle. While the laws of physics work fine for the most part, any science that refuses to acknowledge the power of magic in the Buffyverse is either irrational or uninformed. The Initiative personnel don't put much credence in the supernatural. Take their initial beliefs about the Slayer, for instance. They've heard the legend, but they dismissed her as a "myth" drawn from "medieval" (read: "non-scientific") folklore. Until she walked into Professor Walsh's office and revealed herself.

...It's an Apollonian/Dionysian dichotomy. The Initiative represents traditional authoritarian, hierarchical, dogmatic, Sun-oriented (if you will), masculine (if you will), left-brain, rationalistic approaches to life and problem-solving. The Scoobies are part of an equally venerable tradition, but it's anti-authoritarian, anarchic, flexible, improvisational, Moon-oriented, feminine, right-brain, and intuitive. Obviously Joss and the other writers are coming down squarely on the side of the latter approach as being the appropriate one, especially when dealing with the clearly non-rational and (sometimes literally, with werewolves) Lunar forces of evil (Tom, 29 Oct 2000 15:42)

Spike's chip:

Spike's chip is Initiative technology, so it doesn't work by magic. It operates on physical and psychological principles. The chip works by producing a painful debilitating shock that thwarts the initiation and completion of aggressive voluntary actions aimed at non-demon life.

Humans and vamps initiate behavior for a variety of reasons--some are reflexes, some are purposeful actions, some are demonstrations or "pretend actions". These causes of behavior are differentiated by which part of the brain that initiates the behavior. In OOMM, a doctor performs a craniotomy at the top of Spike's skull, where the upper frontal lobe and parietal lobe of the cerebral cortex are located.

The upper frontal lobe contains the The Primary Motor Cortex (PMC), which controls the initiation of voluntary movement. Spike's chip only sends a pain signal out when the behavior originates in his PMC and when it is initiated with a violent purpose in mind.

In order to differentiate demons from non-demons, the chip also ties into the Sensory Association Area in the parietal lobe and the Visual Association Area in the occipital lobe. These areas are responsible for processing sensory information--sensing certain stimuli and deciding whether they are demon or non-demon.

Spike gets a great deal of sensory information from the beings he encounters. Humans, flowers, dogs, demons--each has a distinct profile of smell, appearance, etc. These are subtle cues that humans and vamps take in but normally don't notice consciously. They tell us the differences between species, food and non-food, danger and safety. The Initiative were experts at these differences--they did extensive research on the chemistry and pheromones of demons (e.g., Cordelia said Doyle "sometimes smelled funny"), and on their own human soldiers.

Spike's brain processes this information, the chip collects it, and if the circuitry determines from all the various criteria that this is a "non-demon" standing in front of him, it sends a signal to his motor cortex. If his brain starts to deliberately initiate any violent moves, zap!

The expiration date on Spike's chip

The Initiative and demons:

There is plenty about Buffyverse demons that isn't particularly supernatural--they exist in the very physical demon dimensions, they can be killed in physical ways, and they kill humans in physical ways ("it's mostly crush, kill, destroy") The Initiative have sophisticated ways of detecting and tracking their quarry, including analyzing body temperature and chemistry (e.g., pheromones) and sensing demon "hot spots" (Willow calls this "other-worldly energy", but that does not imply it is supernatural energy). And commando weapons and Spike's implant are quite effective, for the most part.

But demons are not "rare animals" as Forrest suggests. First, because most of the ones we've seen are very "sapient" (intelligent and self-aware). Second, because indications are that they are not part of our Earthly evolutionary tree (Walsh on demon taxonomy). Third, not all HSTs are unsupernatural demons. Examples: (The Gentlemen, Giles as Fyarl demon, Oz-wolf)

Demon nature is also not so easily controlled by behavior modification techniques, as Dr. Walsh learned when her prototype rose up and killed her, and later everybody learned when Adam put her plans into his own brand of practice.

The Moral Ambiguity of the Initiative


| Slaying | Vampires |

Pictures are copyright © 1997-2000 The WB Television Network
Screen shot credits

This page last modified 2/29/04

Do you have comments that you want to post on this page?