If there’s one thing American Horror Story fans love to do, it’s devise theories tying together the show’s bloody, anarchic universe. Though every season in the anthology series introduces a different plot, setting, and characters, fans are certain that AHS seasons all connect.
Show creator Ryan Murphy has hinted that they’re on the right track. In a 2014 Entertainment Weekly interview, Murphy said, “[The seasons are] all very separate, but there’s clues every season that we’re now telling you how the different worlds are intertwined.”
Perhaps the most interesting American Horror Story theory to link the, so-far, seven seasons takes us all the way back to 14th-century Italy. It’s possible American Horror Story seasons are the nine circles of Hell. In Inferno, the first part of Dante Alighieri’s three-part epic poem The Divine Comedy, the poet-narrator descends through nine levels of hell: Limbo, Lust, Gluttony, Greed, Wrath/Anger, Heresy, Violence, Fraud, and Treachery.
This intriguing theory was first laid out by Jacqueline Bircher on Red Herry. According to Bircher, the first seven seasons of AHS have corresponded to Limbo, Fraud, Treachery, Greed, Gluttony, Wrath, and now, Heresy. What’s more, Murphy himself may have endorsed the Dante theory in a cryptic Instagram post.
Does that mean there are two more seasons of American Horror Story to come: Violence and Lust? (As if we hadn’t already seen plenty of both in Seasons 1-7.) Luckily American Horror Storywas just renewed for – that’s right, two more seasons.
The first stop for Dante and his guide, the Roman poet Virgil, is Limbo. Limbo is a sort of in-between afterlife for “virtuous pagans” like Homer and Aristotle, who didn’t deserve damnation in Hell but lived centuries before they could be saved by Jesus, so they aren’t allowed into Heaven, either.
Season 1’s Murder House is just such a liminal space, trapped between earth and the underworld. Anyone who dies on the house property is trapped there forever, their souls unable to move on to the next plane of existence.
In Inferno, Dante’s next stop after Limbo is Lust, but fans think AHS skips ahead to Fraud for Season 2. The titular mental institution, Briarcliff, is nothing if not fraudulent. The asylum is a cover for Dr. Arthur Arden’s unethical experiments and Dr. Oliver Thredson’s secret identity as the serial killer Bloody Face. What’s more, the Catholic clergy that are supposed to be helping comfort the mentally ill are either actively tormenting their patients or turning a blind eye to what happens there.
In Inferno, Dante saves the 8th Circle for “sorcerers and false prophets” – like clergy members and health professionals who promise cures but exploit their patients instead. Of which Asylum has many.
The treacherous witches of Season 3’s coven are all vying to be the next Supreme, and they’ll stop at nothing to get there. Though the women should be united by their shared identity as witches, instead they use their powers to destroy one another. In fact, Dante makes Treachery the ninth and worst circle of Hell, a place reserved for those who betray their closest friends and relatives – for example, like giving your son a bleach enema as one Coven character does.
In Season 4, Freak Show, Elsa Mars profits off of people with disabilities, marketing them as “freaks” and raking in the profits. Meanwhile, con artist Stanley preys on the freaks in an even more deplorable way, maiming and murdering them to sell their body parts to a museum of medical curiosities. Though Elsa claims to love her freaks like family, she sells them off when it suits her. And, of course, Season 4 also introduced us to the wealthy Mott family and bored, privilege psychopath Dandy.
As far as circles of hell go, Greed fits Freak Show quite well.
Lady Gaga and the other residents of Season 5’s Hotel Cortez are rarely shown feasting on food, but all of them are gluttonous for blood. Drug and alcohol addiction are also portrayed as a form of modern-day gluttony, from Sally’s heroin addiction to Detective Lowe’s alcoholism. Not to mention the Addiction Demon, who stars in a nightmare scene creator Ryan Murphy described as “the most disturbing scene we’ve ever done.”
Redditor morpheusmade adds, “The over-saturated shots, to the excessive interior decor, to the character motivation are all based around indulgence and excess and addiction. There is a high fashion show in the lobby, expensive art, all of it is very gluttonous.”
Certainly nothing about Hotel says “restraint,” and as Virgil describes the third circle of hell, Gluttony, “What these shades could not satisfy in life, in death, they shall be denied for eternity.” The ghosts of the Hotel Cortez certainly understand the idea of eternity.
There’s plenty of anger to go around in every season of American Horror Story, but nowhere more than in the ill-fated Roanoke colony of Season 6. In a break from earlier seasons, Roanoke used a reality TV frame story to investigate the real-life disappearance of the Roanoke colony in 1587.
What happened to the colonists? In AHS‘s version, the colony’s first lady, Thomasin White (AKA “The Butcher”) sold her soul for revenge on the colonists who rebelled against her – and she didn’t get any less angry from there. Hell’s Wrath circle could certainly look much like Roanoke.
Dante would certainly consider the mysterious cult taking shape in Season 7 heretical to orthodox Christianity. Leader Kai’s mumbo-jumbo about fear, anal sex, and pinkie-swearing isn’t part of any recognized religion. Moreover, many of the show’s discussions of political issues like immigration and gun control may sound like heresy to viewers.
Arguably, even this season’s “too soon?” recounting of the 2016 presidential election is heretical – or at least, it certainly offends sensibilities on all sides.
Each Season Has A Mystical Gatekeeper
In her original post, Jacqueline Bircher argues,
“In the Inferno, many of the circles of Hell also have guardians that must be faced at their entrance. Dante imagines these to be figures from Greek mythology, such as Charon and Phlegyas, or sometimes monsters such as the three-headed dog Cerberus and the Minotaur.”
What’s that about a minotaur? Yes, Coven featured an actual minotaur in its first episode, but there are many other possible “gatekeeper” figures in the series as well, including the Rubber Man from Season 1 and the Pig Man seen in both Season 1 and Season 6. Now that Twisty the Clown has overlap in seasons, as well, he may factor in as a “guardian” also.
The Staircase Motif Is Leading Us Further Into Hell
Staircases, especially spiral ones, are a recurring motif throughout all the AHS seasons. Could these staircases be leading us down, down, deeper into Hell? The show is starting to feel circular with many of its themes and connections. Circles don’t necessarily mean circles of hell blatantly, but they certainly add to the theory.
AHS Reuses The Same Actors To Represent Bad Karma
In her post, Jacqueline Bircher explains why the anthology series uses many of the same actors from season to season, even as they play very different roles:
“The decision to cast the same actors as different characters in each season can also be interpreted as allegorical. The casting could reinforce the idea that any single person is not predestined for Hell, but is capable of committing any or all sins of their own free will, or, in some cases, out of necessity or coercion. Or, each actor could represent a single soul that has been condemned to be continuously punished for his or her sins within all circles of Hell, similar to the idea of being reincarnated several times after a few bouts of really bad karma.”
Redditor sininspira takes it a step further. If all of AHS follows a group of souls through Hell, “at the end we might find out what each one was guilty of in their original life?”
Elsewhere on Reddit, AlfieBoheme expands this idea even farther in a long and fascinating post, arguing that each actor stands for the same sin in every season – for example, Jessica Lange as Greed or Evan Peters as Lust.
A Murder House/Coven Crossover Would Offer Plenty of Lust And Violence
If there’s one thing AHS fans want even more than a grand unified theory that links all the seasons, it’s a return to Murder House. AHS viewers have been clamoring to revisit Season 1’s characters ever since the season ended, and Ryan Murphy has heard their prayers. Speaking at Entertainment Weekly’s PopFest, Murphy said, “We are going to do a season that’s a crossover between Murder House and Coven together, which is very bizarre.”
Assuming AHS will run for nine seasons (one for each of Dante’s levels of Hell), that would mean that Seasons 8 and 9 will cover Lust and Violence, and at least one of these should include a Murder House/Coven cross-over. Given all the blood and sex in both Murder House and Coven, that should be pretty easy to do.
Meanwhile, some fans on Reddit are expecting a “secret” 10th season that ties everything up together at last. Good luck, guys.