The series premiere of Netflix’s unexpectedly dark new series The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina introduces the titular teen witch in unsettling circumstances. Something is awry in the spooky town of Greendale, and it has Sabrina on edge.
Spoilers for Chilling Adventures of Sabrina episode one ahead.
Sabrina’s sweet 16 is fast approaching, but she’s feeling more dread than excitement. In the witching world, the birthday marks a coming-of-age event that culminates in a Dark Baptism, when young witches and warlocks sign their name in Satan’s Book of the Beast. ‘Brina isn’t sure she wants to do so, because: Satan. But dude is hell bent on her joining his coven, so he’s exerting his powers to bend her to his will. The side effects of his wrath are unnerving events one might consider an omen, like a bat crashing through a bedroom window.
The bat crumples to the ground, screeching in pain as its broken wing twitches miserably. Spooked, Sabrina knows it needs to be put out of its misery. Before she slams it with a heavy book, she whispers: “Absit omen*.
Unless you were particularly good at high school Latin or are well-versed in the writings of Karl Marx, it’s not likely you’ve come across this phrase, which is pretty obscure even for old Latin phrases. The literal translation of the term is “may omen be absent.” Put another way, it can be interpreted as “may what is said not come true” or “may this not be an ill omen.”
Being a witch, we can assume Sabrina is trained to see bad signs when they appear. Later, when her cousin Ambrose inquires about her weird mood, she says, “Some people may say that a bat crashing through a window is a bad omen.” Absit omen, in this case, is a spell or prayer of sorts, spoken in hope that whatever it is the errant bat predicts — the danger of selling your identity to Satan, perhaps — doesn’t come true.
The term was used in a slightly less ominous context in an 1884 letter from Karl Marx, the father of communism, to the German philosopher Arnold Ruge. Here, he’s using it to say “I hope turning old Paris into the capital of communism doesn’t backfire” rather than “I hope the literal Devil doesn’t come after me.” Still dramatic, though:
I am delighted that you are resolved and turn your thoughts from backward glances at the past toward a new undertaking. In Paris, then, the old university of philosophy (absit omen!) and the new capital of the new world. What is necessary will arrange itself. I do not doubt, therefore, that all obstacles — whose importance I do not fail to recognize — will be removed.
As later episodes of Sabrina and the downfall of communism suggest, absit omen doesn’t seem to work very well as a spell. But hey, it doesn’t hurt to give it a shot.
Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Season 1 is streaming now on Netflix.