Now that we have had a few weeks to recover from the nightmarish finale of American Horror Story: Cult, fans are already trying to guess where Ryan Murphy is taking the eighth season of the show. However, there is one particular fan theory that I think is key to figuring this out.
If we are to trust Murphy’s cryptic Instagram posts, then each season of American Horror Story correlates with one of the Nine Circles of Hell found in Dante’s Inferno—a 14th century epic poem recounting the journey of the writer through hell’s many layers. In attempting to break this theory down, hopefully we can get a picture of Murphy’s plans for the future of this show.
Murder House (Limbo)
“Here suffer those who did not sin, yet did not have the required portal of our faith. Their punishment is the denial of Paradise.”
Limbo is the first circle of hell and in Dante’s Inferno, this is where souls are trapped somewhere between paradise and eternal punishment. In Murder House, it takes a double meaning. For the restless spirits that inhabit the building, it is their sad existence of being caught between life and death. For the living, it is the constant, unsettling sensation of never fitting in anywhere.
Despite being located in the middle of suburbia, the Harmon family never felt so disconnected from the rest of the world as they did in their last few weeks living in the Murder House. Whether it was Violet’s teenage angst or Vivien’s marital struggles, Limbo manifested itself in the utter hopelessness that kept the Harmon’s from ever being truly happy.
“I live in shame, a whore awash in sewage. I confess I teased and seduced hundreds, led them to sin for my own gains.”
No one in Asylum was ever who they seemed to be. Even Briarcliff, which was meant to be a mental institute, was instead a cover for torturous human experiments, a Nazi doctor, a demon-possessed nun, a serial killer psychiatrist, a man falsely accused of murder… and a whole menagerie of other disturbing liars.
For this reason, Asylum represents Fraud. Nothing was real, and everyone had a secret they were ashamed to confront.
“The lowest, blackest, and farthest from Heaven. Well do I know the way.”
Treachery, the lowest circle of hell, is reserved for those who betray and cheat. That pretty much sums up the bitchiness that was Coven, a season that saw our favourite alliances end through backstabbing every damn episode. Marie Laveau wanted to kill Fiona, Fiona slit Madison’s throat, Madison entombed Misty, and even Cordelia’s husband turned against her when he blinded her with acid.
Pitting a coven of sassy witches against each other in a competition to find the next Supreme only brought out the worst in each of them. By the end of the season, there were very few left who hadn’t been driven to madness with ambition and vanity.
Freak Show (Greed)
“For the crime of Greed do these souls suffer. Those clerks asquint of mind made no measured spending in life.”
Greed is characterised by a selfish desire for more than what one currently possesses. This is no more evident anywhere else as it was in Freak Show, where there were only two things that ever mattered to anyone: fame and money.
The most obvious representative of this was Dandy, the pampered mummy’s boy who wanted to own the freak show out of a childish thirst for power. But Elsa was also just as willing to exploit her workers, with her motive coming from a desperate desire to be recognised in the entertainment industry. And as innocent as they were, even Bette and Dot let their naïve hopes for a perfect, materialistic life sweep them away from reality.
“For the ruinous fault of Gluttony, so are these sad souls broken by the rain and the mud.”
Gluttony is more than just food. It is the over-indulgent hedonism that defined the lives and deaths of the inhabitants inside Hotel Cortez. It distinguishes itself from Greed by being less about that physical act of ownership, and more about a person’s addiction to unhealthy pleasures.
So quite suitably, Hotel was full to the brim of drug-addled, sex-addicted monsters constantly thirsting for blood and their next hit of heroin. The design, cinematography, symbolism – absolutely everything about this season committed to over-stimulation of the senses and excessively jarring imagery.
“See the souls whom anger prevailed. In the warm bath of the sun they were hateful, down here in the black sludge of the river Styx do they wish they had never been born.
Let’s be fair; there is nothing wrong with feeling angry. But when it is left to fester and eat you away from the inside, it can turn into pure, unadulterated rage. This kind of deep-seated fury resided in many of Roanoke’s main characters, and in the end most of them snapped to reveal the monster that lived beneath the façade of fame.
The Butcher embodied Anger the most, as she lived in a ghostly afterlife dedicated to relentlessly pursuing and slaughtering those who occupied her land. But it also cropped up in Agnes, who takes on the Butcher’s persona in a murderous mental breakdown; the Polks, who stopped at nothing to avenge their dead family members; and even Shelby, who killed her cheating husband in a jealous rage.
Unlike the slaughters of other seasons, the murders in Roanoke weren’t part of any grand schemes with complex motives. These murders were all committed simply to quench an insatiable inner anger.
“Here you will find the heretics and followers of every cult and pagan sect, all buried together, burning in eternal fire.”
The most recent season remains fresh in our minds, and most closely mirrors Heresy in its worship of false idols and takedown of authority figures. At first the Heresy was evident in Kai’s rejection of traditional politics, establishing himself as the leader of a cult with Satanic undertones. He was a heretic against the mainstream political establishment.
But after turning himself into a divine ruler, Kai suddenly found that he was the one dealing with rebels who had their own unorthodox ideals. Cult showed us that as long as there is an underground opposition to a mainstream ideology, Heresy will always run rampant in society.
What’s to come?
Now that American Horror Story has been renewed for two more seasons, it is looking more and more likely that this theory will fit with Ryan Murphy’s overall plan. We are left with Lust and Violence – two themes that haven’t exactly been absent from previous seasons, but both of which have lots of potential to be explored in more depth.
How will these themes will be handled, since they are both associated with more restricted classification ratings?
How exactly will Violence be dealt with as an act of murder independent of the other Circles of Hell, such as Treachery or Anger?
And lastly, since the theme of Lust was touched on in both Murder House and Coven, can we expect their crossover season to focus on this Circle of Hell?
It’s a little less than a year to go before season 8 hits our screens, but with what little information we have right now, the Nine Circles of Hell theory is a decent starting point for speculation.