Soul (Buffyverse)

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On the television show Buffy the Vampire Slayer and its spin-off Angel the Series, the soul is defined as what separates humans from vampires and demons. Implicit in the shows' mythology is that the lack of a soul is what makes vampires "evil": we see the evidence initially through the character of Jesse in the pilot episode, and the idea is brutally reinforced by Angel's transformation in Season 2. However, the concept is problematised throughout the series, especially in the later seasons by Spike, who commits acts considered by many to be altruistic without a soul and indeed even seeks one out for himself.

Aside from this basic premise, little else definitive is revealed about the nature of a soul. Over the course of the two series we see that souls can be:

  • Channelled through an Orb of Thessulah ( - Angel, see Becoming)
  • Sold ( - The Mayor, see Lovers Walk)
  • Removed by "deadliest magics" (supposedly) ( - Angel, see Enemies)
  • Ritually sucked out by the Mok'tagar ( - Buffy, see Living Conditions)
  • Restored by a certain African demon upon completing trials ( - Spike, see Grave)
  • Felt extra-strongly upon ritually burning up ( - Spike, see Chosen)
  • Read by Lorne ( - All and Sundry, see Guise will be Guise)
  • Felt through the umbilical cord ( - Darla and unborn Connor, see Offspring)
  • Extracted ritually and stored in a Muo-Ping ( - Angel, see Awakening)
  • Removed by a soul-eater demon (supposedly) ( - Connor, see Calvary)
  • Restored by a spell involving the skull of a soul-eater (supposedly) ( - Angel, see Calvary)

Whedon's Interpretation

There are diverse theories on the nature of the Buffyverse soul, from both the fans and the series' creators. Joss Whedon has been asked several(?) times to expand upon his envisioning of the concept, but has remained relatively circumspect, commenting famously:

"I would love to give you a more in-depth coherent explanation of my view of the soul, and if I had one I would. The soul and my concept of it are as ephemeral as anybody's, and possibly more so. And in terms of the show, it is something that exists to meet the needs of convenience; the truth is sometimes you can trap it in a jar; the truth is sometimes someone without one seems more interesting than someone with one. I don't think Clem has a soul, but he's certainly a sweet guy. Spike was definitely kind of a soulful character before he had a soul, but we made it clear that there was a level on which he could not operate. Although Spike could feel love, it was the possessive and selfish kind of love that most people feel. The concept of real altruism didn't exist for him. And although he did love Buffy and was moved by her emotionally, ultimately his desire to possess her led him to try and rape her because he couldn't make the connection - the difference between their dominance games and actual rape.
With a soul comes a more adult understanding. That is again, a little vague, but can I say that I believe in the soul? I don't know that I can. It's a beautiful concept, as is resurrection and a lot of other things we have on the show that I'm not really sure I can explain and I certainly don't believe in. It does fall prey to convenience, but at the same time it has consistently marked the real difference between somebody with a complex moral structure and someone who may be affable and even likable, but ultimately eats kittens."[1]

Fan Interpretations

Small brain: in the Buffyverse, the soul is the self. This makes Angel and Angelus two separate characters and means that the former doesn’t have to take responsibility for the crimes of the latter.

Bigger brain: the soul is merely the capacity for empathy and guilt. Angel may feel deep remorse for his actions while soulless, but this does not make him a separate character to Angelus. If it did, then why would he have to atone for his crimes while soulless in the first place, his search for penance being his main motivation in the series? Spike does not have a Spikelus to deflect responsibility for his actions while soulless. Neither does Darla have a Darlalus. Angel falsely crafted a different persona for his soulless self to help process and rationalise the terrible things he did.

Giant brain: nobody in the Buffyverse really knows for certain what the soul is. Buffy says that when a vampire sires a person they die and a demon merely takes over their body (Lie to Me), but Angel himself seems to disagree with this sentiment (Doppelgangland), as does Darla (The Prodigal). Humans see the soul as the self, but most vampires clearly do not. Much like in real life, the soul is ambiguous in nature and there are many conflicting beliefs as to what it is.

Galactic brain: the soul is a plot device of the writers, described in deliberately vague and contradictory terms so that it can serve whatever narrative function is most convenient at the time. You can find textual evidence for any of the above arguments in the series, but above all else the soul is there to move the plot forward, even at the expense of being a consistent, clearly defined concept.[2]

Further Reading

Soulless Redemption

In Seasons 5 and 6 Spike was seen by some as a test-case for the possibility of soulless redemption, though others argued that such an eventuality was impossible within the constraints of the series' world. His acquisition of a soul at the end of Season 6 split opinion on a different axis: some saw this as symbolically representing the moment of soulless Spike's redemption, others thought it rendered the whole debate moot, others believed it underscored Spike's inability to be 'good' while soulless. Heated debate occurred between groups such as the redemptionistas and evilistas, and the issue played a part in the Spuffy vs. Bangel shipping wars.

Notable Fanworks on the Topic


  1. ^ New York Times Interview, 16 May 2003 (accessed 11 August 2009)
  2. ^ Tumblr post by drusillathekiller, 2018