On the Dark Side of Human Nature (or, what Hannibal is doing right & why you should be watching)

To those who know me in real life, it’s no secret that I find dark natures absolutely fascinating. There are a multitude of troubling books on my shelves with themes and subjects that touch upon the unsavory, unwholesome truths we hide from ourselves.

Carl Jung referred to our dark self as the archetype of the Shadow–a universal, unconscious symbol, a sort of primordial memory carried forwards through human consciousness. Shadows are a threat, an inverse reflection of our selves. To see our shadows clearly, we have to confront them for what they really are: the dark parts that both belong to us and are completely repugnant at the same time.

And, oh, boy, does Hannibal play with this idea in fascinating ways.

(Consider yourself warned–there are massive spoilers ahead.)

Though even Alana might have a hard time loving a guy who keeps hallucinating this.

When Will first confronts the Nightmare Stag, it has a somewhat recognizable shape. This stag with feathers takes strange dimensions in his nightmares, defining itself more and more with each appearance. As Will gets closer and closer to the truth–that Hannibal is stalking him as well–the stag begins to change.

But a stag is an odd choice for a representation of Hannibal, isn’t it? Deer are typically prey, not predators. Maybe this is a hint from Will’s unconsciousness that the predator is hiding himself among them, a wolf in sheep’s clothing, so to speak. Less cliche, more in line with the image of Garret Jacob Hobbs. After Will kills Hobbs, it makes sense that his shadow would take such an obvious form. As he edges closer and closer to the question of whether he’s a monster, too, the stag abruptly changes into a man.

This man-shaped monster is clearly a predator, something that terrifies Will to have inside his head. His antlers are reminiscent of Cernunnos, a horned god of the hunt in Celtic mythology. Cernunnos is typically associated with fertility and wildness, but this version of Will’s Nightmare Stag is much more of a threat. This version of the stag conjures a repressed primal nature, a need to hunt that cannot be controlled.

This is all perfectly in line with what happens next. Will coughs up a human ear and stares at it in horror, unwilling to believe he’s become the thing he fears most. The ear is undeniable proof, though, irrefutable evidence that he is the Chesapeake Ripper.

But then we see the Stag’s true form.


The tricky thing about the use of this particular symbol is that in this shot, Will does not see the Nightmare Stag for what it really is. We see Hannibal in true Wendigo form, antlers and all, and we realize the stag that has been haunting Will was Hannibal, but Will does not.

And that’s what makes the start of Season 2 so brilliant. Will and Hannibal both state that they’re trapped in each other’s heads. One could argue that for these two incredibly self-aware characters, their individual shadows have to take physical form. If Hannibal played as Will’s shadow in season 1, I can’t wait to see what’s ahead for Season 2. I doubt we’ll see a correlating symbol, but who knows?

Some people might argue against using motifs and symbols in stories, that they’re obvious or easy to figure out, but Hannibal makes an excellent argument for why you should. Get inside your characters’ heads. Find out what they fear, what they consider to be their antithesis. How can that be toyed with? What kind of seeds can be planted to keep your reader guessing?

As for me, I’ll be over here, considering a Horned God of my own. I’m only a few chapters into this draft of THE WILD HUNT, but I’ve got some fun, scary ideas for what’s ahead. Stay tuned.

Published by

Aderyn Pru

Writer with a dark streak. Giant nerd, psych grad, freelance editor, & mental health advocate. Frequently awkward, always weird.

2 thoughts on “On the Dark Side of Human Nature (or, what Hannibal is doing right & why you should be watching)”

  1. The Ravenstag represents the connection between Hannibal and Will, it is not a representation of Hannibal alone. Hannibal is the Stag and Will is the Raven. In Primavera, it is confirmed that Hannibal is the Stag aspect, thus the deduction that the Raven is Will. I get why anyone would think Hannibal as stag would be a contradiction, but you have to look into the symbolism of the stag, rather than simply the status of the stag in the food chain.

    In shamanism, the stag is he Great Forester–a shape-shifting guide through the forest that lies between two realms. The Forest itself often represents the unconscious, the veil through which one must pass to recover information that brings about individuation – the process of bringing unconscious to the attention of the conscious mind; self-realisation. To attempt the journey without the Stag, will always result in one becoming lost. The Stag is both transformative energy (creation, death and rebirth) and a healer.

    In Hindu mythology, the god Vayu is often pictured riding a deer. In Sanskrit, Vayu literally means “Blower” or “Breath of life.” Vayu is creator and guide to human vision (symbolic of knowledge and wisdom). Without Vayu’s guidance, humans would be blind and left in the dark (blindness and darkness are symbolic of ignorance). The God of the Abrahamic faiths is also the creator deity who gave the Breath of Life and without the guiding light of whom, humanity falls into darkness (ignorance).

    In Celtic myth, the horned God Cernunnos, the god of beasts, is referred to as the “mediator of man and nature.”

    As a symbol of both the hunt and the chase, the stag is a common sign of hunter and huntress deities. According to Carl Jung, Artemis symbolizes the anima, the bridge within the human psyche between the ego and the Self that must be crossed to evolve one’s consciousness in order to hear the voice of one’s True Self. The gulf that the bridge is allowing travel over is the Unconscious.

    Honestly, I could go on. To add more weight to this point, the bullroarer was frequently used by Fuller. This instrument is used as a communication device over long distances, but for far longer, it’s purpose was ritualistic in nature. Primarily used by shamans in ancient and modern times, versions of it exist all over the world. The bullroarer was used in order to initiate communication between the mortal and spirit worlds. Thus why it was also known as the “Voice of the Creator”. It’s vibrations thins the veil between the worlds and travel the vast distance between. It wouldn’t be far fetched to say that Fuller used this to symbolize whenever the veil would thin between Hannibal and Will…allowing them to see each other as they truly are past their human veils and when Hannibal’s True Self was peaking past the veil. If anyone is wondering what in the hell I’m referring to, check out Heilung’s song Krigsgaldr. You’ll hear it kick in at around 30 seconds. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K7ZqZVunCb4

    Now that the symbolism part has been laid out, the other thing to keep in mind is that the stag/deer is featured throughout Harris’ Lecter novels and deeply connected to Hannibal’s sister, Mischa.

    Because this has gotten really long, I’ll just briefly explain the Will as Raven (leaving out the obvious associations with death). Carl Jung associated the Raven with the Shadow Self. The Raven is a shapeshifter Shamans commonly see the Raven as not only a shapeshifter. but the greatest shapeshifter of them all…being able to change into anything and anyone. His guises are limitless. In the Northwest coast region of the Americas for example, the Raven is both Creator God and trickster, both hero and villain, and often, both at the same time.

    The Raven is a paradoxical creature where on one side he is cunning, deceptive, manipulative, and capable of cruelty…yet is also merciful and fair (often in the form of a Crow). In this aspect, he is concern is with justice (though often of the violent vigilante kind).

    Anyway, I’ll stop there. Hopefully this kinda helps things make some sense just incase they come by this by pure chance like I did LOL.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s