The Sanderson sisters were burned alive in the school furnace in Hocus Pocus, but for some reason they weren’t actually killed. Here’s why.
The Sanderson sisters somehow survived being burned alive in Hocus Pocus, and the reason may be overlooked by some viewers. After being chased throughout the movie, Max, Dani, and Allison managed to trap the Sanderson sisters in their school’s furnace, at which point the movie logically should have ended there. As they were being burned alive, an acid-green cloud pumped out of the school’s chimney, indicating that their spirits had been destroyed.
That’s when the young protagonists cheered and celebrated, believing that their nightmarish Halloween had finally come to an end. Then, in a matter of moments, the Sanderson sisters were back again. At first glance, their survival seemed to make no sense. After all, burning had been a tried and true method of getting rid of witches in this world. However, the Sanderson sisters weren’t like most witches, as the Sanderson sisters technically weren’t alive. They were spiritual representations of the trio of women who were executed 300 years before. This is all explained at the beginning of Hocus Pocus, when the Sandersons were first hanged during the 1693 Salem Witch Trials.
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Just before the sisters are executed at the start of the film, Winifred chants a frightening spell: “On All Hallow’s Eve when the Moon is round, a virgin will summon us from under the ground.” When Max lit the Black Flame Candle and inadvertently resurrected the witches, he actually brought back a spiritual representation of them instead of the real thing. The specific language that Winifred uses during her original spell is a huge tip-off as to the logic and mechanics behind their grand return exactly 300 years later in 1993. Winifred notably uses the word “summon” instead of other similar phrases like “resurrect” and “revive.” By using that word, the spell suggests that its purpose is to conjure up an idea of the women rather than literally bring them back to life. This implies that the Sanderson sisters seen in 1993 are not exactly the same Sanderson sisters seen in 1693; they are instead otherworldly versions of the trio that are immune to earthly limitations.
The spell’s structure also explains how only one thing seems to put the Sanderson sisters to rest: the end of Halloween. The text specifically states that the summoning would occur “on All Hallow’s Eve,” barring its magic from working on any other day. As a result, their conjured spirits are rendered completely powerless on November 1st; all three witches disintegrate in the morning light soon after the next day’s first official sunrise. The foundation of this spell Winifred casts clarifies exactly how the witches are able to survive events that would usually kill people, like being burned alive in a furnace, but perish under circumstances that would otherwise be harmless, such as a sunrise.
The Sanderson sisters are summoned in 1993 as spirits, but they are not truly alive, so they’re able to defy the odds and survive normally lethal attacks. They went to great lengths to get their book back and summon all the children to them so they could be brought back to life for good. But they weren’t able to complete their plan. And even though they died at the end of the movie, Hocus Pocus leaves the fate of the Sandersons somewhat open-ended. Since the sisters’ grimoire opens its eye at the end of the movie, it’s likely that their spirits could return again under the right circumstances. Exactly how that happens in Hocus Pocus 2 remains another mystery that’s yet to unfold.
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