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In the first part of the season 3 finale of Buffy: The Vampire Slayer, a flashback shows an interaction between Angel and Drusilla in a church confessional. In the background outside the confessional, there is a clearly displayed cross. One could reasonably assume that there are many other crosses/crucifixes displayed throughout the church.

Looking back:

  • The Master was not afraid of the sight of a large cross, but was burned when he touched it.
  • Angel is not visibly affected by the sight of the cross necklace he gives Buffy, but it does burn him.
  • When Spike is talking to Buffy, he is not visibly affected by the cross around her neck.

So the vast amount of evidence points to the sight of a cross/crucifix not having a negative effect, but physical contact causing burning. But then again:

Angel is shown being warded off by the sight of a cross after he has lost his soul.

So how exactly do crosses/crucifixes work?

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    One note -- most of the time, it's crosses, not crucifixes that we see in Buffy. Crucifixes have the Jesus figure on them. Crosses are just the shape. – Martha F. Jan 12 '12 at 15:45
  • @MarthaF. - good point. I got overzealous with the word. – Origami Robot Jan 12 '12 at 15:48
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    Another example.. Spike, after the whole Soul thing.. while mental, in the church, hugging the cross, and starting to smoke: youtu.be/dOoY2dce72c?t=5m1s – K-H-W Jan 12 '12 at 16:02
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Well, ignoring the fact that Joss & Company were never very consistent with their Rules...

Touch affects them, obviously. As to the sight, well, that seems to not be a physical reaction by a psychological one to the threat of being touched.

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    What makes you you say JW isn't consistant...isn't that one of the things he's known for? – AncientSwordRage Jan 12 '12 at 17:02
  • I suspected this as an "explanation" but it seems weird that Angel is willing to go toe to toe with the Slayer, but if Willow or Xander pick up a cross...TIME TO RUN! – Origami Robot Jan 12 '12 at 17:04
  • Especially since a cross is not a well-defined object (what's the ratio of the horizontal piece's length to the vertical?) so intent seems to play a heavy part in imbuing an otherwise arbitrary "cross" with the power to repel. – Wingman4l7 Dec 16 '15 at 5:33
  • @Wingman4l7 I don't think that's a problem--it just points to crosses as being an invocation of divine power. Intent is part of what distinguishes that from, say, turning a RR crossing sign sideways. – MissMonicaE Mar 23 '17 at 12:41
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Isn't this a question of vampire 'power'. A powerful vampire (the master etc) is strong enough to resist the sight of the cross although the physical affect of burning still happens as it is a physical reaction beyone their control.

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Crosses seem more effective at scaring vampires if a person is actively using it, and if the vampire is startled by it. Angel could ignore the cross necklace he gave Buffy, Luke fled from the same cross because he was startled by it, and Angelus was scared off by a cross suddenly waved in his face.

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It's never explained canonically, but my understanding is that any contact with crosses causes pain - physical contact causes physical pain, and mental (i.e. sight) contact causes mental pain.

So if the vampire is ignoring the cross or doesn't notice it, they don't get affected (it's not "in contact" mentally). And they can psych themselves up to ignore the pain - just like they are capable of touching the cross physically. It hurts, but they only flinch back if they were not expecting it.

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