Sunday, May 14, 2017

On Elves and Angels

In a post I made last week about the fey, a commenter mentioned a story about angels. According to the story, there are three types of angels:

  1. Normal angels whose job is to be a protector (exemplified my the Archangel Michael) and a messenger (exemplified by the Archangel Gabriel).
  2. Fallen angels who rebelled against God, also known as demons.
  3. Followers of Azazel who didn’t openly rebel against God, but stopped doing their job:

And it came to pass when the children of men had multiplied that in those days were born unto them beautiful and comely daughters. And the angels, the children of the heaven, saw and lusted after them, and said to one another: 'Come, let us choose us wives from among the children of men and beget us children.' — Enoch 6:1-3
It is the last group that was of interest, because these angels could be a stand-in for all kinds of things in an FRPG. One of the more intriguing possibilities is that these “neutral” angels and their offspring become what we know as elves.
And all the others together with them took unto themselves wives, and each chose for himself one, and they began to go in unto them and to defile themselves with them, and they taught them charms and enchantments, and the cutting of roots, and made them acquainted with plants. — Enoch 7:1
Note, that this story comes from the Book of Enoch, a Jewish work from sometime around 300-100 B.C. which is not accepted as part of the Canon of Scripture by the vast majority of Jews and Christians. For my part, I think this largely has to do with the depiction of the angels, who have come to be understood as being bodiless powers. While the Nephilim are mentioned in passing a couple of times in the bible and seem to corroborate what is spoken of in detail in the Book of Enoch, the word “Nephilim” is not something that can either be easily translated or understood. The Septuagint (the Greek translation of the OT from around 300 B.C.) translated the word as “giant” not angel or demon.

Since the angels are bodiless, they can’t really be going around having children; however, I haven’t been able to get the idea of elves-as-neutral-angels out of my head for the last several days. What would a bodiless power stripped of their powers look like?

And Enoch went and said: 'Azazel, thou shalt have no peace: a severe sentence has gone forth against thee to put thee in bonds: And thou shalt not have toleration nor request granted to thee, because of the unrighteousness which thou hast taught, and because of all the works of godlessness and unrighteousness and sin which thou hast shown to men.' Then I went and spoke to them all together, and they were all afraid, and fear and trembling seized them. And they besought me to draw up a petition for them that they might find forgiveness, and to read their petition in the presence of the Lord of heaven. For from thenceforward they could not speak (with Him) nor lift up their eyes to heaven for shame of their sins for which they had been condemned. — Enoch 13:1-6

In other words, they are cut off from heaven and cannot communicate with heaven, nor will any of their prayers be heard; however, they are condemned to be bound to earth until all their children kill each other, aka the Day of Judgment.

This leads to a very interesting proposition, especially given a world in which monsters are sin personified: what if the bodiless powers bound to earth (fallen and “neutral” angels) could enter into the bodies of those willing to house them? This would explain several very characteristic attributes of elves: the fact that they are long-lived, the fact that they seem not to really have much interest in the world of men, the fact that they are not affected by a ghoul’s touch and the fact that they were the only race in OD&D and Basic D&D that could “multi-class.”

In other words, all elves are dual personalities: the person who makes the deal with the “neutral” angel and the bodiless power themselves. This relationship cuts the person off from divine intervention but grants arcane power coupled with fighting prowess. Orcs could still be seen as twisted versions of elves, except that the person making the deal is likely cheated from having any say in how their body is being used.

This also puts a new spin on half-elves and half-orcs. These no longer need to be the children of a human and an elf/orc (and the strongly implied rape in the latter pairing). Rather, these are people from those communities that refuse to be possessed by a bodiless power.


Anonymous said...

These are just quick thoughts written on my phone, so it might be stupid questions, but if elves become willing hosts for angels that are supposed to be disowned by God, how does this affect them as PCs? You had a problem with the assassin at a point, and also the thief - both non possessed humans with every possibility to be saved. The elve will now be a willing host of a spirit God have an issue with, and, as you write, be cut off from intervention. It's an awesome idea, but will it make the class NPC only? You normally have a good answer to these things :)

Svafa said...

I used a similar idea in a setting I ran, though instead the neutral angels were treated more like nature spirits who could take on physical forms. Their appearance and attributes differed based on their natures as well, so they filled a lot of the more magical beast archetypes, like dragons, unicorns, djinn, centaurs, etc. Elves, dwarfs, mage bloodlines, and the few other fantasy races were the descendants of intermingling at some point in the past, being mostly human but bearing some traits of their angelic ancestor.

FrDave said...

This was more of an intellectual exercise, answering the question that if I had to build a world where elves were “neutral” angels, what would that look like? I am not entirely sold on using it myself; however, there are a couple of interesting play/mechanical/cosmology quirks that make it interesting enough to contemplate.

I don’t like Thieves because of their mechanics, not necessarily because of the idea of the class itself. I don’t allow evil assassins because they are monsters; however, neutral assassins (allowed in the 0e supplements and S&W Complete) offer and interesting character study of someone who is on the road to becoming a monster, but hasn’t gone so far that they can’t come back.

In this same vein, the “neutral” angel-as-elf offers an opportunity to explore what happens when someone voluntarily cuts themselves off from God. Not because they are inherently evil, but just because it seems like a good idea at the time. This offers some interesting options: can elves be magically healed or will all divine aid in the form of divine magic automatically fail/require a saving throw as if the magic were hostile? Can a “host” ultimately choose to part with their angel in order to reconnect with God? Is it possible to live a life cut off from God and remain good if God is the source of all good? These are the kinds of questions this campaign set-up allows us to ask and is a conversation worth having.

Finally, there is a cosmological quirk hidden in this set-up that I am rather intrigued by: the prophecy by Enoch states that the Day of Judgement will come when all the children of the angels kill each other. Thus, does the world end when the last elf dies? Would this be a goal of some evil power in order to bring about the end of the world?

Baron Opal said...

I must have been remembering Revelation 12:4, but that just mentions a third of the stars were swept from the sky.

In the past I've had elves be descended from Azazel and his cohort. They cast druidic spells due to their strong ties to the world. The merged concept is intriguing, however.

porphyre77 said...

Aside from the Book of Enoch, the notion that Fey could be neutral angels can also be found in irish tales and Newfoundland folklore.
It is also present in Wolfram von Eschenbach's version of the Grail mythology.