7 Villainous Sins: The Wicked Backstory

Way back in 2020, I was scrolling through Instagram when I saw a fantastic makeup look inspired by the Evil Queen from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. One half of the makeup artist’s face was done like the queen in her original, regal, and stunning form. The other half, however, depicted the Evil Queen as the old hag who presented Snow White with the poison apple. My first thought was along the lines of, “The queen really was stunning. If only she’d appreciated her own beauty instead of letting envy destroy her.” That set my thoughts into motion; envy is one of the 7 Deadly Sins, and her envy quite literally led to the queen’s death as she fell off the cliff at the end of the movie. Then I got to thinking about how other Disney villains embodied the 7 Deadly Sins, and here we are today with a list that was changed time and time again until I reached just the right balance of villains and the sins. This series will embody how these larger-than-life villains (who we would often prefer to separate ourselves from) contain the very same fatal flaws we do, how time hasn’t rendered irrelevant the sins that haunt our lives, and which of the deadly sins proves to be most lethal based on our wicked examples.

But first, let’s lay the groundwork and provide a little background on the 7 Deadly Sins. Becky Little of History provided a solid overview on where exactly the sins came from. To start, “in the fourth century, a Christian monk named Evagrius Ponticus wrote down what’s known as the ‘eight evil thoughts’: gluttony, lust, avarice, anger, sloth, sadness, vainglory and pride” (Little). These were initially types of thoughts to avoid for monks based on their faith. In pursuit of the purest form of spirituality life had to offer, these are the things that they tried to avoid in thought. It’s worth noting that “vainglory” is considered having a need for validation from others (Little).

Little goes on to say that “in the sixth century, St. Gregory the Great—who would become Pope Gregory I—rearranged them…removing ‘sloth’ and adding ‘envy.’ Instead of giving ‘pride’ its own place on the list, he described it as the ruler of the other seven vices, which became known as the seven deadly sins” (Little). Here we see pride being positioned above the other sins, which is an interesting shift of priority. Additionally, it becomes clear at this point that these sins are not deadly in the literal sense, at least not initially. Instead, they pertain to a spiritual death, which could in theory translate to the physical. However, spiritual health is of top concern when discussing the history of the 7 Deadly Sins. They find their roots in Christian spirituality and how to maintain a rich life of the spirit in addition to (and ranked above) one’s physical being.

In the 13th century, Thomas Aquinas decided to incorporate sloth back into the list, as well as removing sadness. He had the same train of thought as Gregory, and “described ‘pride’ as the overarching ruler of the seven sins” (Little). This is an interesting note from Aquinas, reaffirming pride as the main sin, perhaps seeing that many of the others could and would stem from it. It makes sense, seeing that a grandiose view of one’s self-importance is a slippery slope that leads to an overall delusional worldview. From there, it’s easy to see something that someone else has and think we are entitled to have it as our own (envy) or think that we deserve to indulge to an infinite degree just by nature of who we are (gluttony). Pride is a lens through which all other sins can be viewed. I’d also like to note that “sadness” was removed as a sin here. I personally guess that it was agreed upon that sadness is simply human emotion that will come to us all from time to time, not a toxic behavior contributing to self-deterioration.

From there, a few changes were gradually made as to what was considered deadly sin behavior. “Pride” eventually came to encompass “vainglory,” avarice (greed) included desire for recognition and roles of power, and wrath expanded from focusing on physical violence to more varieties of vengeful and cruel anger (Little). All of the 7 Deadly Sins, in all of their iterations, originally centered entirely around Christian spirituality and faith, but as time has gone on, people have developed more universal definitions culturally. We now see them portrayed in anime, as themes in books and media, and even on small blogs looking to delve a little deeper. As all cultural lines of thinking do, the 7 Deadly Sins have constantly been tweaked and edited over time, but the heart of their sentiment has remained the same: qualities to avoid that universally contribute to the human downfall.

So, what exactly is the final list of sins that we’re working with and what do they mean? When defining the 7 Deadly Sins, I decided to draw on dictionary definitions from Dictionary.com, as well as adding in some notes of my own interpretations and how they could apply present-day for certain sins.

1. Envy: A feeling of discontent or covetousness with regard to another’s advantages, success, possessions, etc. (“Envy”).

2. Gluttony: Excessive eating and drinking (“Gluttony”).

I like to think of gluttony as overindulgence as a whole, focusing on things that can be consumed. This includes all substances and media (especially social media).

3. Greed: Excessive or rapacious desire, especially for wealth or possessions (“Greed”).

4. Lust: a) intense sexual desire or appetite. b) uncontrolled or illicit sexual desire or appetite; lecherousness. c) a passionate or overmastering desire or craving (usually followed by for) (“Lust”).

I like to cast a specific focus on lusting for things or specific people to a point of obsession, and the concept of an uncontrollable desire.

5. Pride: A high or inordinate opinion of one’s own dignity, importance, merit, or superiority, whether as cherished in the mind or as displayed in bearing, conduct, etc. (“Pride”).

I also interpret pride as an overestimation, perhaps to the point of fooling oneself because of a true lack of confidence deep-down. An external portrayal of pride can also be a façade.

6. Sloth: Habitual disinclination to exertion; laziness; indolence (“Sloth”).

7. Wrath: a) strong, stern, or fierce anger; deeply resentful indignation; ire. b) vengeance or punishment as the consequence of anger (“Wrath”).

I also include acts of mental manipulation and obsessive anger to this one.

According to Brittanica, the 7 Heavenly Virtues that function as the opposite of the 7 Deadly Sins are as follows:

  1. Charity opposes Greed.
  2. Chastity opposes Lust.
  3. Diligence opposes Sloth.
  4. Gratitude opposes Envy.
  5. Humility opposes Pride.
  6. Patience opposes Wrath.
  7. Temperance opposes Gluttony (“seven deadly sins”).

Amidst my research, I quickly realized that the development of the heavenly virtues was much less linear than that of the sins. There are still different versions of the 7 Heavenly Virtues that depend on whether you’re looking for exact inverses of the sins or not, and there’s a bit more nuance to them. Like the sins, there are also different lists of the virtues for different points in time, but I couldn’t find a definitive answer of what the current list in use is. Perhaps it says something about us that we are much more obsessed with the sins than we are with the virtues.

The history of Disney villains leaves even more up for interpretation as there really isn’t any one source on their history and development. It’s really left to the observations and writings of fans. I checked out two articles, one by Virginia Kublawi of geeksandgamers.com, and the other by Barbara Fitzsimmons of The Daily Fandom. I just want to highlight a couple key points, but I recommend checking out their articles for breakdowns of the villains over time if you’re interested in a more detailed review.

Kublawi draws on the overall structure of the villains, saying that they operate in cycles, beginning with evil villains who had clear motives, and eventually coming to surprise twist villains who were not portrayed that way from the start. She notes that, “It isn’t quite clear for most of the film what exactly is going on with this character. However, once the cat’s out of the bag, everything makes sense in retrospect” (Kublawi). Disney has been very good at offering something new with each villain, even when they belonged to a similar era. They’ve offered fun and new progressions, as Kublawi notes, paired with personalities that are quite easy to love with their sinister twists.

Fitzsimmons also makes use of villain eras, showing that Disney creates trends for itself over time. As a company and studio, Disney has set trends, stuck to them, and then created new ones when evolution is beneficial (Fitzsimmons). They lead the pack, especially when it comes to animated films. The Evil Queen was their first main villain, and though their contemporary villains don’t resemble her exact mold, they’re still effective. And even though the characters have evolved so much, I’d also argue that there is a slight common thread that runs through each villain they design like a signature.

In my opinion, we’ve seen a lot more reason to have empathy for the Disney villains of the last ten years. It doesn’t make their actions right, but we’ve come to be able to see where they were coming from more as time goes on. Present-day Disney villains represent a mix of more traditionally evil villains like Hans (Frozen) and Ernesto de la Cruz (Coco), and much more nuanced antagonists like Te Kā (Moana) and Namaari (Raya and the Last Dragon). Disney hasn’t given up on the classic villain that hasn’t gone out of style today; look at all the live-action movies we’re getting on villains from decades past, like Maleficent and Cruella de Vil, because of the fascination people still have with them all these years later. However, they also know when to give people that classic villain they may be craving (I find Dr. Facilier (The Princess and the Frog) to be an excellent example of this), and when to give them something entirely different. That is, dare I say, part of the magic.

Well, now you’re brushed up on the history we’ll be fusing in this series. So, who’s in and who’s out? There was no way to include every villain, and I didn’t, but you’ll have to wait and see. I hope I don’t suffer the consequences of your wrath; you won’t have to wait long.


Works Cited

“Envy.” Dictionary.com, 2022, https://www.dictionary.com/browse/envy. Accessed 13 Oct. 2022.

Fitzsimmons, Barbara. “The Evolution of Disney Villains.” The Daily Fandom, 30 Sept. 2021, https://thedailyfandom.org/the-evolution-of-disney-villains/.

“Gluttony.” Dictionary.com, 2022, https://www.dictionary.com/browse/gluttony. Accessed 13 Oct. 2022.

“Greed.” Dictionary.com, 2022, https://www.dictionary.com/browse/greed. Accessed 13 Oct. 2022.

Kublawi, Virginia. “The Evolution of the Disney Villain.” Geeks + Gamers, 29 Oct. 2019, https://www.geeksandgamers.com/the-evolution-of-the-disney-villain/.

Little, Becky. “How the Seven Deadly Sins Began as ‘Eight Evil Thoughts’.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 25 Mar. 2021, https://www.history.com/news/seven-deadly-sins-origins.

“Lust.” Dictionary.com, 2022, https://www.dictionary.com/browse/lust. Accessed 13 Oct. 2022.

“Pride.” Dictionary.com, 2022, https://www.dictionary.com/browse/pride. Accessed 13 Oct. 2022.

“seven deadly sins.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., https://www.britannica.com/topic/seven-deadly-sins.

“Sloth.” Dictionary.com, 2022, https://www.dictionary.com/browse/sloth. Accessed 13 Oct. 2022.

“Wrath.” Dictionary.com, 2022, https://www.dictionary.com/browse/wrath. Accessed 13 Oct. 2022.

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