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American Horror Story Circles of Hell Theory

One of the Oldest American Horror Story Theories Might Be Legit

Image Source: Everett Collection

It's hard to believe we're on the cusp of the seventh season of American Horror Story. In just about a month's time, we'll enter the terrifying world of Cult, giving us an even broader view of this hellish universe. Speaking of hellish, it's time we talked about one of the oldest and most insane theories in the AHS universe. Basically, the theory states that every season of the show represents a different circle of Hell. It even might explain why the same actors are playing different characters: we're seeing them suffer their different forms of damnation, depending on how they lived their lives.

While the theory has been posed by dozens of different people in dozens of different ways, I did my research and attempted to track down the first time it appeared. It seems the credit might go to Jacqueline Bircher, who originally posted the theory on a TV site called Red Herry in January 2014. This would have been halfway through Coven, the show's third season, and a solid nine months before creator Ryan Murphy first declared that all of the seasons are connected. Of course, in the wake of Murphy's reveal, we had plenty of connection theories. And then, as more seasons aired, we had assembled more and more confirmed threads. But this one prevailing theory seemed to be an incredible way to connect every single installment.


A post shared by Ryan Murphy (@mrrpmurphy) on

This week, Murphy made a wild decision: on his official Instagram account, he posted a screenshot alluding to this three-and-a-half-year-old theory and simply captioned it with one word: "Interesting." Interesting because he's so impressed with the wild imagination and creativity of AHS's fan base? Interesting because this was his plan all along and someone finally figured it out? Interesting because he hadn't really thought about it that way, but now that you mention it, maybe he'll just pretend it was his plan all along and act accordingly?! It's hard to say for sure.

What's complicated here is, we don't really know where Murphy is posting this screenshot from. Did he stumble across it on the internet? Did he write it in his own notes app, screenshot it, and share it? Either way, let's look at which circles of Hell correspond to which seasons, based on what Murphy shared. Let's make this clear: this is by no means a confirmation of the theory, or even the most accurate iteration of it. Still, if the theory is real, you might consider this the most "canonical" version of it, since it's been shared by the AHS creator himself.

  • Season one (Murder House) = Limbo. The Harmon household itself is a space that exists between our earthly existence and Hell. This checks out because Violet dies in the house and stays in the house, and she's never able to leave. In fact, none of the spirits that die there are able to leave. All of the characters are caught in between.
  • Season two (Asylum) = Fraud. Everything in Asylum is a lie. Briarcliff is supposed to be a mental institution, but it's a front for all the horrible experiments performed by Dr. Arden. The church is heavily involved in the inner workings of the asylum, but it's entirely corrupt. Dr. Thredson is actually a serial killer. Sister Mary Eunice is actually a demon! Nothing is real. Not even that fabulous musical number.
  • Season three (Coven) = Treachery. The third season of the show is all about crowning the next Supreme, a great witch who will govern all the other witches for the rest of her life. All the episodes are filled with backstabbing; each character ruthlessly attempts to prove that they are the next Supreme. Fiona slits Madison's throat. Marie Laveau seems intent on killing Fiona. Madison traps Misty in a tomb. Cordelia's husband is the one who blinds her with acid. Everyone is just trying to destroy everyone.
  • Season four (Freak Show) = Greed. Elsa Mars's little collection of curiosities is all about exploitation. She herself is on a journey to get rich and famous and find stardom. At the same time, she's taking advantage of her employees by making money off of their deformities and imperfections. By the time we reach the end of the story, it's clear that Elsa is keen to sell the freak show without a second thought.

Image Source: Everett Collection

  • Season five (Hotel) = Gluttony. I mean, by the end of the last episode, Hotel Cortez is more or less filled to the brim with creatures who survive on blood. And there's that band of blood-sucking children running around and wreaking havoc for a good chunk of the time. The gluttonous tendencies are clear from the very start, when Lady Gaga and Matt Bomer's sexual foursome quickly devolves into a grisly bloodbath. The trend continues. Iris feasts on those insufferable hipsters. It goes on and on.
  • Season six (Roanoke) = Anger. This time around, the focus is on pure, unadulterated rage. The Butcher is just so, so angry that people are invading her land, and she kills everyone who refuses to leave. There are some nuances, of course. But more or less, that's it. That's basically the whole season. And a lot of people die because of it. It's just a season filled with spiteful, violent, angry deaths.
  • Season seven (Cult) = Heresy. Now, this is how Cult is categorised in the snap (which may or may not have been created by Ryan Murphy). For now, it's kind of a tossup. Heresy usually has to do with beliefs that contradict a kind of religious doctrine. In this context, maybe the members of this creepy new clown cult are killing anyone who disagrees with them. Alternatively, the cult itself could represent the "heresy" in America. We have lost sight of God, and this is what has happened because of it. Looks like we'll have to wait and see.

Image Source: FX

After season seven, there would theoretically be two seasons (and two circles) left. Seasons eight and nine would logically focus on the circles of Lust and Violence. Which is kind of funny, because nearly every season is very violent and lusty. How would Murphy outdo himself? Perhaps the most compelling aspect of this whole thing is that, in January, FX renewed the show for seasons eight and nine. Could it be that Murphy pitched this as his big-picture plan? Could the show end after that? I mean, probably not. After all, at one point last year, Murphy said he hoped the show would last "decades and decades." Still, it makes you wonder. What comes after Hell?

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