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.

Carla said...

People who believed that angels are bodiless are wrong.
1) Where does it say on the Bible that they’re bodiless? Jesus said spirits have no flesh on blood, but that could mean have a body made out of different materials.

2) Paul talks about spiritual bodies. Sure he didn’t mention angels, but maybe he didn’t have too. Jesus said we would be like the angels and I don’t think he was just talking about marriage. How can we be like them if they bodiless.

3) I bump into them while they’re invisible. You can’t bump into a bodiless being. Angels don’t have a physical body, but they have a body like structure cause how can I bump into them? I can even feel them (the bad ones) on me. If they’re bodiless then I shouldn’t be able to feel them.

FrDave said...

@Carla The Fathers of the Church generally point to Psalm 103 (104): 4, "(God) Who makes his angels spirits; his ministers a flaming fire." Note that they are called the bodiless powers. It might help to think of things like heat, cold, gravity, etc. These don't have material form, but still interact with and affect material things. Angels as bodiless powers can be understood in the same way.

Ken said...

We should never base out doctrine on one single verse and, in this case, one single verse in one single version.
As you can see, many translate that verse as that God makes them "winds" rather than "spirits":
And this is not just about counting which version has what: the Psalm's context is constant references to natural phenomena so that when it comes to Angels, the context demands that we understand that they are being likened to natural phenomena ergo, "winds."
So, when you claim, "bodiless powers," which they are never called, that is based on partial and faulty data.
And we can't understand them in the same way as, "don't have material form" since they are always described as looking like human males without indication, ever, that such is not their ontology.

FrDave said...

I am not basing it on one verse. While it is possible to understand Psalm 103(104) in the way you describe, that is not the way the New Testament understands this verse. Hebrews 1:7 is very clear, "And of the angels He says: 'Who makes His angels spirits And His ministers a flame of fire.'" This interpretation is then taken up by the early church and Christian writers of the first millennium. The Feast of the Synaxis of the Chief of the Heavenly Hosts, Archangel Michael and the Other Heavenly Bodiless Powers was established as early as the 4th century. Here is a hymn (the Kontakion) from that feast:

Chief Commanders of God; ministers of divine glory; guides for men and leadership of the bodiless powers; as Chief Commanders of the bodiless powers, plead for our welfare and for great mercy.

So the OT, the NT, and the early church all witness to the idea that the angels are bodiless.

Ken said...

Friend, that is merely ignoring the context of the Psalm and so ignoring the accurate translation.
Moreover, it's merely doubling down on basing it on one verse since Heb merely quotes that verse and then comments upon it.
In Hebrew "ruach" can be spirit or wind/breath and in Greek "pneuma" can be spirit or wind/breath.
Again, the Psalm tells us how to take it and so Heb 1 should also read "winds."

When you say, "the OT, the NT, and the early church all witness to the idea that the angels are bodiless" you ignore the fact that OT and NT: they are always described as looking like human males without indication, ever, that such is not their ontology.
Also, the early church, along with the earlier Jews, accepted the Angel view of the Gen 6 affair and so they understood the corporeality of Angels--or, invented un-biblical stories about that they take on or manifest bodies and/or shape-shift which are 100% non-OT nor NT concepts.

FrDave said...

I am afraid you are committing what is known as the word concept fallacy. The fact that in context Psalm 103 (104) is talking about natural phenomena doesn't necessitate the understanding of ruach/pneuma as only meaning breath/wind. Hebrews 1:7 gives a clear indication that it can be understood to be both.

As far as the Nephilim are concerned, that is a whole different can of worms that is best understood in context of the polemics against paganism throughout the OT. Therein we see another example of both/and where titles of kings are also the titles of gods. Given this polemic, it is best to understand the Nephilim as a cooperation of the corporeal fallen humanity working in conjunction with the incorporeal fallen powers. See Psalm 82 (83) for an example, “You are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you; nevertheless, like men you shall die, and fall like any prince.”

When it comes to the descriptions of angels, they are also described as six-winged, many-eyed, and with various kinds of heads such as an eagle, a bull, and a lion. Given that these descriptions almost always involve revelation, we can understand all of these as attempts by mere human beings to put into words what cannot really be described by words — bodiless spirits.

Once again, this is not my interpretation. This is an interpretation that was made by the early church.