Iris is a good girl. She’s obedient, cheerful, hard-working, and kind. She’s also the lone resident of an abandoned mining town somewhere in the foothills of a remote Mexican mountain that was once full of silver and is now full of dirt. El Cazador de la Bruja is not actually about Iris, who appears only in this one episode. But in it, Iris’s journey to and through her mountain provides a beautiful analogy for the path that many a believer follows too—from unthinking tradition and legalism to blossoming personal faith, full of wonder and expectation. You see, Iris is in pursuit of a cross in those old shafts and tunnels—the long-lost Silver Cross—and when she encounters it, it changes her life.
Our first introduction to Iris is when she pulls a gun on the protagonists, Nadie and Ellis—the (bounty) hunter and witch of the series title—as they struggle to find their way about the dark underground passages connecting the town and the mine. But all is not quite as it seems. Moments before Iris’s seemingly aggressive self-introduction, Nadie had been wishing aloud for more ammo, and then, like magic, a gun appears close at hand, err, head. Nadie quips that she only wanted the ammo.
As we soon discover though, Nadie’s flippant remark is much closer to the truth than we might have thought. Iris proves to be such an obedient young woman that I warrant she actually was offering her gun to Nadie for the sake of sharing its ammo. After all, she doesn’t know how to use it—she doesn’t even know enough to take the safety off.
As Nadie calls out to Ellis for a light in order to see her assailant, Iris, believing her own name to have been voiced, obediently turns on the headlamp on her miner’s helm. When Nadie corrects her misunderstanding—“No. E-ri-su”—Iris moves apologetically to turn off her light, making way for Ellis’s.
In other words, this girl is obedient to a fault.
That’s actually how she ended up alone in an abandoned mining town in the first place, wearing a dress suit with a cravat and hard hat and an unusable pistol at her hip. She is chipping away at the old mine every day with a pickax that sports a cutesy pink sticker because when she graduated college, her father handed her a map and told her she should go in search of the legendary lost Silver Cross. Iris had never really thought about what to do with her life, having simply focused on her studies, but searching for a lost treasure sounded fine. Maybe even kind of cool. Did she think of it herself? Nope. But she had no problem going along with her father’s idea for her life.
Before she headed off, Iris asked her sister for advice about what to wear. She was new to physical labor, after all. “Something you’re accustomed to,” advised big sis, with the implication being that Iris should be comfortably apparelled. And so the dress suit and cravat—familiar from her years of school-going—became her miner’s garb. She might be a tad literal, our Iris. She obediently put into practice what she thought her sister meant and didn’t think twice about it, not even when faced on a daily basis with the limitations of a full skirt, unprotected calves, flimsy shoes, and restrictive jacket for mining work.
Iris’s brother also offered her some advice—in the form of a handgun—instructing her to keep it on her at all times. Apparently, neither sibling considered the little detail of learning how to actually use said gun. Maybe it runs in the family. Regardless, carry it on her person she did, ever so faithfully, to the point where she is reluctant to hand it over even to a trusted ally and skilled sharpshooter when a fearsome enemy is hunting them down.
Each element of Iris’s story is the result of her obedience to an authoritative voice in her life. She does not question these voices or think through the implications for herself, and instead simply obeys and keeps on obeying without considering the meaning behind the instructions given to her by her family members.
Speaking as someone who grew up as a churchgoer, I kinda get Iris. There’s a lot that you do and say while growing up in the faith simply because, well, it’s the norm. It makes sense because it’s what you’re surrounded by, and didn’t God say to do things that way anyhow? Hmm…
You know what I mean, right? Tradition, habit, cultural mores—call it what you will, but often we can inherit a lot from church that maybe came from someone else’s walk with God at some point in church history, but is not necessarily connected to our own personal experience and relationship with him and his word. We inherit good advice but don’t think it through for ourselves, aping its outward form and missing the heart behind it, a bit like what the Israelites did time and time again, missing the heart of God in exchange for holding fast to the letter of the law and working the loopholes (this was Jesus’s main admonishment against the religious leaders, after all). Maybe we inherit not such good advice at times too—practices and prejudices from another age. And sometimes we misinterpret the advice or don’t notice that it is missing a crucial link or was actually meant for another type of situation altogether.
This is what’s going on with Iris, and it’s something that I daresay most people who were churchgoers first, before entering into personal relationship with God, go through too. When faith is more about cultural norms than it is a living, breathing personal walk with God.
Iris bumbles along well enough following her family’s advice as long as nothing much is going on in her lonesome town. But when crisis hits, the dangerous consequences of her lifestyle—disengaged from her own agency and dodging the responsibility of owning her decisions—are made clear.
It happens when an enemy sets off a number of explosives to trigger cave-ins and crush the girls in the rubble. Iris disconnects from reality and retreats to a world where everything will be fine if only she continues to follow the advice she’s been given and do what her father said to do. As the ceiling collapses and the walls cave, Iris picks up her pickax and calmly continues tapping away at the rock. She does what her father instructed.
Only, this is not at all what her father meant, of course. There is no way he would have advised her to keep mining as the tunnels crumble into a deadly deluge of rubble and an enemy launches hand grenades in her direction. I mean, I don’t know the guy, but I highly doubt that would have been his advice in that particular situation. But Iris can’t connect those dots. She is blind in her obedience. She sticks to the letter of the law that she’s been living by these many years and cannot conceive of deviating from it even when every aspect of her current situation is screaming out for her to think for herself; even when her new friend is doing the same.
Despite Nadie’s protestations, Iris is a robot—one who has reduced her journey in life to unthinking obedience. It’s become her crutch, her prison; it’s even become her idol, the thing that she trusts in to save her when her life is on the line.
So Nadie plays along. She goes against her own values of owning your actions and choosing for yourself how to live life and she tells Iris, “Until we get out of here, do as I say.” Nadie gives this command because she’s in a hurry. She’s trying to save Iris—and herself and Ellis too. But the result is that Iris simply switches from one voice of authority to another, symbolized by her handing over her brother’s gun to the bounty hunter. But Nadie is unable to bring about meaningful transformation in Iris’s life. Iris is still not making decisions for herself.
Sadly, this dynamic plays out in many a believer’s life as well, as leaders in a hurry to build a ministry can resort to commanding those under their care instead of trusting Holy Spirit to bring them into maturity through invitation and conviction. “But the tunnel is collapsing! We must save the world, this ministry, that project or this important program!” Nadie can be excused for betraying her own values in this situation because she does not know the One from whom those values spring, but we have no such excuse.
Thankfully, Iris’s journey does not end here. Instead, something wondrous happens: they find the Silver Cross! It has been hidden behind a false wall this whole time, and is revealed as the cave-in cracks the facade. Iris is frozen in place as she stares expressionlessly at the long-sought treasure. Nadie—flummoxed yet again by Iris’s reaction (or lack thereof)—exclaims, “You’re not happy?!” But Iris doesn’t know how to react. Is happiness something she is allowed to feel? In the meantime, the shaking and quaking that brought down the false wall persists, and in mere moments, a shower of debris pours down and buries the treasure.
And so the Silver Cross is lost once again. But that one brief glimpse was enough for Iris. In that moment, she caught sight of something hitherto unknown to her, the possibility of a life filled with beauty and wonder. “People have long been fascinated by silver, and I think I can finally understand why.” Nadie is skeptical, and accuses Iris of simply following her father’s bidding once again. But Iris is firm in her response: “This is my own will.” In seeing that cross, Iris understood something new about life and the pursuit of meaning, about being intentional. She glimpsed the beauty that life can hold and she wants more of it. “I sincerely wish to make that cross mine,” she explains. “And this time for sure, I want to rejoice at my find!”
So this time when Iris shoulders her pickax, everything is different. She starts by changing her clothing because she is starting a new life now. And in so doing, she finally grasps the meaning behind her sister’s advice. This time too, Iris is daunted by the path before her. It’s the first time she has experienced anxiety about the way ahead. This is the cost of making a decision for herself, of owning her actions. And here’s the thing, it is intimidating to own our faith! Legalism and abiding by tradition offer a kind of security: they promise predictable results. A set of rules by which things supposedly abide, and which therefore lend us a degree of control if only we follow them. But that’s not how life actually works.
Iris had to relinquish the things that made her feel safe, the rules that her family had given her to play by. But in setting those things aside and fixing her heart on finding the Silver Cross again, Iris discovers a new certainty, a new security, and a new, truer sense of purpose that will strengthen her as she faces the unknown way ahead. She is no longer impervious to fear, it’s true, but now she knows something greater than her fears, and she is filled with joy at the prospect of encountering it again, this time more fully. She is already looking forward to celebrating with her whole heart.
We all must encounter the cross for ourselves, like Iris. It’s not enough to pursue it purely out of obedience, or because it’s what our culture has modeled for us or our family has advised. It’s not enough to simply know about it or experience it vicariously. We need that direct, personal meeting. But the beautiful thing is that unlike Iris’s Silver Cross, trapped and waiting in a cave somewhere, the cross of Jesus—that transformative, cosmic act of grace that rewrites our lives and understanding—is active and in pursuit of each one of us. The cross seeks us out and finds us even in our deepest, darkest, loneliest places, shining with hope like sunlight glinting on silver. And when we find ourselves in that light, everything changes as unthinking obedience transforms into joyful pursuit of the One who pursued us first.
El Cazador de la Bruja can be streamed on Funimation while it’s still around. Iris features in Episode 9, “A Woman Who Digs”. Also, the main reason to watch this series is Yuki Kajiura’s score—it’s like proto-Madoka Magica and it is awesome.