Tuesday 12th July 2016
What does Carmen Ejogo’s hand have to do with Joan of Arc, Satan and the witches of Salem?
It was Carmen Ejogo’s idea to make her character, Seraphina, left-handed. The Selma actress has got a bit of a thing for history, and left-handedness has a long, complicated connection with magic.
‘It’s been a lot of fun to come up with a look and a personality that has that element of other-worldliness, I’ve never had to do that before,' Carmen says, still dressed head-to-toe as Seraphina, having just walked off set to talk to me.
'The costume for Seraphina has been this wonderful evolution in the hands of costume designer Colleen Atwood. She was great because she let me contribute. All of my rings, for example. I said to her that maybe [Seraphina] should have all these rings on her fingers.’
With that, Carmen wiggles her elegant fingers to show me the intricate bands on her left hand. She flashes me a coquettish smile, because she knows she’s about to drop a sweet historical reference on me.
‘I’m left-handed actually, naturally, but I know that that’s a very magical trait. I’d be thought of as a witch years ago. So I wanted to really emphasize my left hand and I thought we could put rings on it. Colleen was really into that idea,’ Carmen says.
She’s absolutely right, of course. Left-handedness has been associated with dark magic and sorcery for centuries. Joan of Arc was burnt at the stake in 1431 for heresy and there are several depictions of her as being left-handed.
You’ll find left-handed superstition scattered throughout history: most depictions of the devil show him using his left hand to anoint his followers, and he sits on your left shoulder with his angel companion on your right. Witches were said to use their left hands to cast curses, to pass ceremonial wine and to salute the leader of the Black Mass, the Queen of the Sabbath.
In the witch trials of the past, being left-handed alone could be enough to get you accused of witchery. In the world of Fantastic Beasts, the legacy of the Salem Witch Trials is still keenly felt. Although, if you’ve been paying attention, you already know that.
When the Fantastic Beasts cast and crew went on location in Liverpool, they filmed a scene where angry protestors chanted ‘We want second Salem! We want second Salem!’. These ‘Second Salemers’, as they are known, want to banish witches all over again and are led by Samantha Morton’s character, Mary-Lou.
Keep that insight up your left sleeve, by the way; it’ll help you understand the importance of secrecy to the North American wizarding world at this time.
And it makes rather poignant sense of Carmen Ejogo’s decision to pile rings onto her fingers. Her character, Seraphina, pays tribute to the victims of witch hunts across the centuries with every movement of her hand.