“Head Full of Snow”
May 14, 2017
An Egyptian woman in Queens, New York dies and is taken to the afterworld by Anubis where her heart is judged on his scales and she passes, hooray! Also, there’s a nice young man who just moved to New York from the Middle East who is having a hard time of it. But then he has hot sex with a jinn before turning into a jinn himself, so don’t feel too bad for him. Meanwhile, back in Chicago, Shadow meets the third Zorya sister, Polunochnaya, who gives him a new lucky coin. The next morning, Shadow challenges Czernobog to a new game of checkers and wins, putting off the whole getting his head bashed in by Czernobog’s hammer thing. For now. He and Mr. Wednesday then rob a bank. Mad Sweeney comes looking for his lucky coin, and when Shadow informs him that he left it on his wife’s grave, Mad Sweeney goes looking for it, only to find Shadow’s wife’s grave empty. So it’s not entirely surprising when Dead Laura shows up in Shadow’s motel room.
Before we get started, I just have to clarify something: the coffee grounds from the previous episode?
Yeah, it’s totally the same as the American eagle on the top of the totem pole in the opening credits:
I’m an idiot.
Somewhere in America, Namely Queens, New York
An Egyptian woman, Mrs. Fadil, falls while cooking dinner for her ungrateful family, and Anubis arrives at her door to lead her to her judgment. At first Mrs. Fadil is all “racist thing, racist thing,” but then Anubis reminds her that her grandmother taught her about the old Egyptian gods, and Mrs. Fadil is like, “oh, right, cool.”
So she, Anubis and her hairless cat take the fire escape up to the cosmic plane where Anubis rips out Mrs. Fadil’s heart and places it on his scale against a feather, and good news! she’s not a monster. With that, Anubis instructs Mrs. Fadil to choose one of five doors to the afterlife, and she’s all, “I DUNNO, YOU PICK,” so he chooses the center one and then her hairless cat shoves her into the afterlife, the end.
Somewhere in America, Namely Manhattan, New York
Salim is a nice young Middle Eastern gentleman from Oman who has just arrived in America about a week or two ago, and things aren’t working out for him. He tries to be a salesman but it turns out Americans aren’t particularly interested in buying Chinese crap, a truth that he laments with his hunky taxi cab driver, who has also been to Oman — a long, long time ago. The two men bond over the difficulty of making it in the States — turns out being a cab driver isn’t exactly the glamorous job you might have thought it would be.
And then Hunky Cab Driver’s sunglasses happen to slip a bit, revealing fire eyeballs. But rather than be frightened, Salim realizes the identity of his driver: he’s a Jinn, the “people of the fire.” Jinn is all, “LOOK, I DON’T GRANT WISHES, SO JUST BE COOL.” But Salim is not looking for Jinn to grant him a bunch of wishes, just one: he’s in room 318 at the Peak Hotel.
And that’s how Salim and Jinn find themselves making the hot sexxxytimes, and I mean that literally — the Jinn literally fills Salim with his literal fire.
The next morning, Salim awakens alone, the Jinn having left behind his cab license, sweater, sunglasses and his fire within Salim. Salim slips on the sweater and the sunglasses to hide his new eyefireballs, while practicing his new catch phrase: “I don’t grant wishes.”
Somewhere in America, Namely Chicago
Shadow, having lost his head in a wager to an immortal hammer-wielding Slav, has, understandably, had difficult time falling asleep and decides to slip out onto the fire escape to clear his head while he still has it. He takes the fire escape ladder up to the roof, where he discovers a lovely young woman surrounded by telescopes, keeping a close eye on the constellations above.
Shadow quickly realizes the woman is Zorya Polunochnaya, the sleeping sister, and she explains that she is keeping an eye on one constellation in particular — the Great Bear. Chained to these particular stars is a thing — not a god, but like a god — and if this thing were to escape its bonds, it would consume the whole of everything and the world would end.
So basically, her job is to be a:
Zorya Polunochnaya takes Shadow’s hand to read his fortune and sees that he believes in nothing, he has nothing, but that he is on a path from nothing to everything. Additionally, he lost something recently. Shadow thinks she’s talking about his wife, but she’s not, she’s talking about his poor decision to sell his head to Czernobog. It’s like he doesn’t even care if he lives or dies. But she’s here to help!
Explaining that she’s never been kissed before, Zorya Polunochnaya kisses Shadow, and declares it disgusting but in a nice way. With that, she instructs Shadow to take the moon. When he’s all “ERR DERR,” she plucks it from the sky for him, and it turns into another coin. She strictly instructs him to not lose it or give it away: he once had protection from the sun itself, she merely gives him the moon. And with that, she orders him to wake up.
When he awakens, he’s back on the couch, and there is no fire escape, no ladder to the roof. But there is an idea in Shadow’s head, an idea that might allow him to keep his head for a while.
Shadow wakes Czernobog and challenges him to another round of checkers: if Shadow wins, he keeps his head — for now — and Czernobog joins Mr. Shadow in Wisconsin. After whatever happens happens in Wisconsin, Czernobog can bash Shadow’s head in. If Czernobog wins, Shadow will allow him two swings at his giant head. Czernobog, a little worried that he’s not a young god anymore and might embarrass himself, agrees to the wager. Which he promptly loses, buying Shadow a few more mornings with his head in the right place.
Meanwhile, Mr. Wednesday charms Zorja Vechernjaja into reading him his fortune which is not great, Bob. This thing he wants to do, he will fail and “they” will win. In fact, they will kill him this time. Mr. Wednesday protests that this is only his fortune today, before kissing Zorja Vechernjaja who announces she tastes war.
Or rain. Who can say.
Later, Mr. Wednesday announces to Shadow their next adventure: they are going to rob a bank. To that end, they case the joint, pick up a wad of deposit slips and slip back out under the watchful eye of Media via the security cameras.
As they leave the bank, Mr. Wednesday instructs Shadow to write down the phone number of a nearby pay phone and buys him a hot chocolate, while ordering Shadow to “think of snow,” and will a blizzard into being. Shadow obeys, and slips into a trance-like state thinking of snow … snow … snow …
Mr. Wednesday eventually wakes him from this state once in a Kinko’s where he is having business cards and signs made, and pointing out the silly woman at the counter who believes that Jesus died for her sins. Mr. Wednesday explains that Jesus is doing quite well for himself these days in his multitude of forms: white Jesus, African Jesus, Mexican Jesus, Greek Jesus … When Shadow notes that’s a lot of Jesus, Mr. Wednesday explains that there’s a lot of need for Jesus, adding that Mexican Jesus came here illegally. He’s not being racist — Mexican Jesus literally waded across the Rio Grande to get here. And then he sets Shadow back to thinking of snow.
The next time Shadow wakes, he’s in Mr. Wednesday’s car and lo and behold, it’s snowing: Shadow thought of snow and it snowed. Coincidence?
Meanwhile, back at Jack’s Crocodile Bar, our leprechaun friend Mad Sweeney is having a run of bad luck. He is woken from his drunken stupor on a toilet by an irate rifle-toting bar owner who shoots the beer bottle right out of his hand; he is then picked up on the side of the road by a friendly former member of Kids in the Hall who promptly receives an errant pole through his head; and while giving a statement about the improbable accident, Mad Sweeney realizes what has brought on all this bad luck — he’s lost his lucky coin.
In Chicago, Mr. Wednesday and Shadow enjoy some noodles at a Chinese joint while Shadow ponders the impossible: it wasn’t supposed to snow today, in fact it wasn’t even cold outside. So why is it snowing? Mr. Wednesday wonders why it is that Shadow can’t accept that he made it snow, but that he can believe that tiny people on TV can predict the weather, and makes fun of Shadow’s failure of imagination.
And that’s when Mad Sweeney storms into the restaurant demanding his lucky coin back from Shadow. But Shadow is all, “A: Fuck you; B. If you really need it, you’ll find it on my wife’s grave; and C. Fuck you.”
So Mad Sweeney storms off back into his own plot wherein he digs up Laura Moon’s grave, only to find an empty casket with a coin-sized hole burned through it.
Back in Shadow’s storyline, he and Mr. Wednesday rob their bank. Mr. Wednesday poses as a security guard who accepts people’s deposits personally as the night deposit box is supposedly closed on account of the blizzard. When a suspicious police officer comes across the scene, Wednesday hands him a security company’s business card with Shadow Moon’s pay phone number on it. When the cop calls, Shadow assures him that they are a legitimate security operation and goes so far as to offer the officer a moonlighting job. And that’s how they rob their bank.
After, they drive through the night, and as Mr. Wednesday offers Shadow’s cut of the pay, he asks if Shadow believes in him yet. Shadow growls that he believes that Wednesday exists, and Wednesday protests that he deserves a little more faith than that: Shadow was so worried about going back to jail, has he gone back to jail? Not yet, Shadow grumbles.
Mr. Wednesday then ruminates philosophically about how America is the only country that doesn’t know what it is, and that Americans on a whole are “pretending.” Shadow, for instance, is pretending that he can’t believe in impossible things.
And that’s when a wolf steps out into the road, staring Shadow in the eye and bringing the car to a skidding halt. When the wolf retreats back into the woods, Shadow demands to know if he really made it snow. Mr. Wednesday presents Shadow with two choices: he can believe it made it snow and live in a world where he believes he can do impossible things, or he can believe it was all a delusion.
Wednesday then asks Shadow if he believes in love. When Shadow answers that he didn’t until he met Laura, Wednesday points to this as proving his point: Shadow didn’t believe in love until he did and the world changed as a result of that belief. Wednesday then notes that belief is only part of the equation — he needs to also be remembered. Being forgotten is the only thing he can’t survive. Wednesday then asks Shadow what will be the first thing he thinks of when he looks back on this night, and guesses it will be snow.
And then Shadow goes to his motel room where he finds Laura sitting on his bed waiting for him.
Alright, so let’s begin this with a quick discussion of our newest god and demigod introduced in this episode: Anubis and the jinn.
Anubis is the jackal-headed psychopomp, the Egyptian God who guides the souls of the dead to the afterlife and who judges their worthiness to enter the realm of the dead. Anubis serves as the Guardian of the Scales, according to the ancient Egyptian funerary text, the Book of the Dead. To determine the deceased’s eternal fate, Anubis weighs the heart of the recently passed against an ostrich feather. If the scales balance, the departed were allowed to enter Duat, the afterlife where they would spend eternity harvesting reeds. Fun! If the heart is heavier than the feather, Ammit the Devourer (a creature that is part crocodile, lion and hippopotamus) would eat it, and the deceased’s soul would be left restless forever.
Anubis is also associated with embalming and mummification rituals. It’s interesting, from what I’ve read, Anubis was probably the original god of the afterlife, but he was supplanted by Osiris who showed up in Egyptian myth later (and who — fittingly enough for this show — was a god who probably immigrated to Egypt from Syria).
According to the myth, Osiris was murdered by his jealous brother, Set, who wanted his throne. Osiris’ sister-wife, Isis, gathered his bits and pieces, and put him back together again — except for his penis which happened to be eaten by a fish. No biggie: Isis just fashioned a golden dick for her dead husband-brother, brought him temporarily back to life using a magic spell long enough for the pair to bone one last time so that Isis could become pregnant with Horus. Thus, both Osiris and Horus become associated with rebirth and resurrection, fertility and the cyclical flooding of the Nile. After Osiris re-died, Anubis was gifted his organs and helped embalm his body, making Anubis the patron saint of mummification. Osiris then becomes the God of the Afterlife (replacing Anubis who is basically demoted to guardian and judge of the dead).
As for jinn, they are a Middle Eastern supernatural creature more commonly known in Western culture as “genies.” Jinn are one of the three known humanoid creations of God, the other two being humans and angels. According to this mythology, humans are made of clay, angels of light and jinn are made of smokeless fire. Jinn are more like humans than angels: they are mortal, capable of being good or evil and have free will. They do not live in lamps, but instead among people where they eat, drink, fuck — sometimes humans, procreate and die. Though they are pre-Islamic, they are mentioned frequently in the Qur’an. In fact, Muhammad was called a prophet to both humans and jinn and according to the religious text, jinn, like humans, will be judged by Allah on the Day of Judgment.
Since jinn are made from “smokeless fire,” which was represented by the jinn’s fire-eyes and all the fire imagery in the sex act, a quick refresher on fire’s symbolism. Here is where I remind you that fire is both a destructive and constructive symbol: fire consumes, it destroys, and it purifies. It takes life; it sustains life. Fire illuminates, and thus represents intellectualization, of coming to a transcendent enlightenment in either a scholarly or spiritual fashion. And on the opposite side, fire also represents physical passion, desire, the friction of sex itself.
And so, aside from the Jinn in our story being a creature of smokeless fire as per tradition, his passing of his flame to Salim via sex is a fascinating, multi-layered metaphor. Salim is consumed, purified and transformed spiritually and physically by the Jinn’s flame, and like the phoenix, ultimately reborn as the Jinn himself.
The opposite of fire is ice — or notably in this episode, snow. Snow is a complicated symbol; it is obviously a water symbol, water being, like fire, a creative and destructive force. However, whereas water is a balance of equally a positive and negative symbol, snow is almost a wholly negative symbol, as its association with winter often means it represents hardship, death, and sometimes impending war. Now, snow is also beautiful and quiet and peaceful and changes landscapes, and like its parent category (water) can serve as a transformative symbol, representing change or renewal, and I think it works in all of these contexts in this particular episode. By conjuring snow, Shadow is transforming, he is beginning to realize not just the potential of this crazy world with gods running around in it, but the potential within himself. And he, Shadow, the conjurer of snow, is potentially a harbinger of war.
The other symbol that was repeated in this episode was stairs: Anubis leads Mrs. Fadil up her fire escape stairs to the afterlife; Shadow ascends fire escape stairs to visit with Sister Midnight; and if you wanted to stretch it, you could suggest that Salim and the Jinn ascend via the elevator to Salim’s room at the Peak Hotel — “Peak Hotel” which works both as a sex pun, but also in relation to this idea of ascension.
Stairs and steps represent the acquisition of knowledge, the stages of initiation to a new, more esoteric understanding of the mysteries of the universe. Returning to Egyptian myth and our friend Osiris, from my handy companion, The Penguin Dictionary of Symbols:
The Ancient Egyptians were familiar to this symbol of ascent as early as the pyramids. These are similar to stairways, as is especially clear in the case of step-pyramids. Works of art depict the souls of the dead climbing a stairway of seven or nine treads to reach the throne of Osiris and undergo the weighing of their hearts.
Hence, our three mortals are all ascending towards a new understanding, they are all ascending and transforming both intellectually, spiritually and physically.
As for Shadow, his visit with Zorya Polunochnaya is another stop on his hero’s journey: “The Supernatural Aid.” Early in the monomyth, before the hero really fully engages on the Road of Trials, he will often meet with a supernatural figure who gifts him with talisman or artifacts that will help protect him along his journey. Usually this figure is an old wizened man, but in this case, it’s a beautiful virgin. Sexier that way, I guess.
From Joseph Campbell:
For those who have not refused the call, the first encounter of the hero journey is with a protective figure (often a little old crone or old man) who provides the adventurer with amulets against the dragon forces he is about to pass. What such a figure represents is the benign, protecting power of destiny. The fantasy is a reassurance—promise that the peace of Paradise, which was known first within the mother womb, is not to be lost; that it supports the present and stands in the future as well as in the past (is omega as well as alpha); that though omnipotence may seem to be endangered by the threshold passages and life awakenings, protective power is always and ever-present within or just behind the unfamiliar features of the world. One has only to know and trust, and the ageless guardians will appear. Having responded to his own call, and continuing to follow courageously as the consequences unfold, the hero finds all the forces of the unconscious at his side. Mother Nature herself supports the mighty task. And in so far as the hero’s act coincides with that for which his society is ready, he seems to ride on the great rhythm of the historical process.
And what does Sister Midnight give Shadow Moon? The moon itself. The moon is a mysterious symbol: it is closely connected to water, to the occult, cycles and regeneration. It represents change, renewal, fertility, initiation. And, in deeply sexist terms, where the sun is a profoundly masculine symbol representing the Creator Himself, providing life-sustaining light, the moon is His female counterpart, dependent on the sun, reflecting His light, unable to create light of Her own.
The point is that while whereas the sun and the moon both are illuminating symbols and represent the individual’s journey through an expansion of consciousness, the moon’s light is dimmer, more uncertain. It leads us on a path of enlightenment through our unconscious mind and all the dark things that might lie hidden within.
Hence, Zorya Polunochnaya gives him this power of the moon, scolding Shadow that he already “gave away” the sun. Shadow’s path will still lead to an expansion of his consciousness and to a more complete understanding of universe’s machinations, but the journey to arrive there will be a darker one than if he had travelled with the power and illumination of the sun.
Related: We need to talk more about Shadow Moon’s name but that will have to wait because I am SO WOEFULLY BEHIND ON THESE RECAPS AND GAME OF THRONES IS BREATHING DOWN MY NECK AND WE STILL HAVE FIVE MORE EPISODE OF THIS TO GO.
American Gods airs on Starz on Sundays at 8/9 p.m. and is thinking about snow.