This His Dark Materials article contains spoilers through Episode 5.
In a world where the human soul lives outside the body in the form of an animal, it is no surprise that magic and witches like Serafina Pekkala exist. Witches are a vital part of Philip Pullman’s book series, and while we don’t know how much the His Dark Materials show will adhere to the books, it’s reasonable to assume they’re heavily influenced by the book’s canon.
In the fourth episode of His Dark Materials, we meet Kaisa, the gyrfalcon daemon of Serafina Pekkala, queen of the Lake Enara clan of witches. We’re introduced to Serafina herself in the following episode, as she meets with former lover Fader Coram to discuss the witches’ potential role in fighting the Gobblers.
What are witches?
Witches are magical humanoids, who, in Lyra’s world, are always women. They take (human) men as lovers; their daughters are always witches and their sons are always human. There are many distinguishable clans, and there is often warring between them.
What can witches do?
Witches are unaffected by the cold and do not require heavy clothing to survive in the arctic climate they inhabit. They wear black, silk dresses. They remain young their entire lifespan and can live several hundred years, possibly a thousand or more. They can fly, using branches of cloud-pine. They can make themselves effectively invisible. They have some influence over the weather.
Do witches have daemons?
Like humans, witches have daemons, but unlike humans, witches are able to be apart from their daemons over great distances. Kaisa serves as a scout and Serafina’s envoy. Witches’ daemons always settle as birds, which makes sense, considering what Serafina says in The Golden Compass, “a witch would no sooner give up flying than give up breathing. To fly is to be perfectly ourselves.”
Who is Serafina Pekkala?
Serafina Pekkala is queen of the Lake Enara clan of witches. She acts as guardian and guide to Lyra and Will throughout their journey. She and Farder Coram were lovers once, and they’d had a son, who died during an epidemic. Her daemon is Kaisa, a snow goose in the books, but a gyrfalcon on the show.
While Serafina is described in the books as having a long blonde hair and green eyes, she is portrayed in the show with short, black hair. This seems to be a deliberate aesthetic choice, as Ruta Gedmintas, the actress who plays her, is naturally blond. (In the 2007 film, Serafina, played by Eva Green, was also dark-haired.)
How are witches in the show different from witches in the book?
We don’t know how faithful His Dark Materials will be to its source material, but so far, the show has aligned fairly closely with the books. Serafina and Farder Coram’s relationship carries over from the text. In the book, Serafina is able to be summoned with a flower from her crown. In the show, she can be summoned with a piece of her cloud-pine.
A small, but not unwelcome change from the book, Serafina appears to float or glide, and doesn’t appear to need cloud-pine to fly. That or the piece of cloud-pine doesn’t have to be large enough to ride and is instead something small she can keep on her person.
I suspect we’ll get to know more witches and be introduced to different clans, and I expect them to play a large part in Lyra and Will’s journey.