Pop culture is filled with depictions of fallen angels, once holy beings that have succumbed to sin. But how and why did the idea of fallen angel seven come about in the first place? Here’s the untold truth of fallen angels. Fallen angels are basically angels that have given up on the good and righteous path and turned to evil, right? Well, not necessarily. It’s true that Jewish and Christian traditions believe that fallen angels were originally just as holy as any of the other angels, but fell when the most beautiful of them – Lucifer – decided to rebel and enticed others to go with him. But in Hindu traditions, it’s a little different. They believe that the creator god, Brahma, actually made some angelic beings good and some evil from the very beginning. Why? Because it’s meant to illustrate the natural order of things, and balance in the universe.
And fallen angels don’t even exist in Islam, where traditions says that all angels are good, including the ones tasked with overseeing those whose evil souls have landed them in hell. These angels are lording over hell, yes, but they aren’t fallen, as they are still doing divine work. There’s another explanation for Satan there, too, and it basically says he’s not an angel, he’s a jinn: a creature made from fire and free will. Put a pin in that, because there will be more about this pesky “free will” stuff later. Historically, those who believe in fallen angels typically have believed them to be responsible for things like tempting mortals into sin. And fallen angels are tricky about it, too, sometimes masquerading as good angels as they torment and tempt. How do believers know all this? Well, these days, most of it comes from the non-canonical Book of Enoch, which was written about 350 B.C.
The text claims to be the revelations of Enoch, who was taken up to heaven and told the universe’s deepest secrets, then shown just what would happen during mankind’s ultimate judgment. Enoch shows up in other texts as well, which claim he lived to be 365 years old, and eventually told his tales to his son, Methuselah, who lived to be an impressive 969 years old. Strangely, even though the stories of Enoch were influenced by the mythology of places like Babylon and, in turn, influenced Judaism and Christianity, the only place that all 100 chapters of the book survived was Ethiopia. And among those chapters was a fascinating explanation on fallen angels. One of the most widely told tales of fallen angels says it was Lucifer who rebelled against God and brought a bunch of angels down with him, but the story told in the Book of Enoch is very, very different.
It tells a story of lust. According to the Book of Enoch, long before the Great Flood, angels and humans met and mingled pretty commonly, and the inevitable happened: children. Those sons and daughters of angels were a race of 450-foot-tall giants. The angels started teaching their giant offspring evil ways, and God not only imprisoned them, but subjected them to judgment and sent the flood to hit the reset button on his creations. Enoch, the story says, tried to speak on behalf of the angels and their giant children, but sadly, a lot of the texts are missing. We do know that Enoch was the one God selected to act as an intermediary to the fallen angels, instructing him to tell them what their punishment would be for their transgressions. They were to be condemned to the ends of the earth, with an eternity of punishment to follow. Early Jewish writers considered Enoch to be a prophet, but when Christianity started to adopt his teachings, he largely fell out offavor with Judaism. Christian writers then took the Book of Enoch with them when they converted isolated areas of Ethiopia in the fourth and fifth centuries. Though the Book of Enoch was lost to the rest of the world, it was preserved in Ethiopia, and was finally brought back to Europe in1773. In the meantime, though, with the Book ofEnoch to guide them, Christian scholars and writers had centuries to let their imaginations go wild, leading them to the really convoluted origin of Satan as a fallen angel. See, that’s not actually in the Bible. But theologians turned themselves into pretzels trying to explain how Satan exists in the first place. The reasoning went like this: God created everything in the universe, and therefore, God created Satan. But the only things God creates are good things, so therefore, Satan must have been good at one point. He also needed to have the free will to turn bad.
But since he clearly wasn’t human, he must therefore have been a fallen angel. Clearly, these scholars went to the PrincessBride school of logic and reasoning. “You must have studied, and in studying you must have learned that man is mortal, so you would have put the poison as far from yourself as possible, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of me!” Oh, and once more, there’s that free will thing. Don’t worry, it’ll come up again! According to the Book of Enoch, the first batch of fallen angels was each responsible for teaching humanity about a specific sin. As beel, for example, was repsonsible for teaching humanity about sex, so thanks very much for that. Tamiel, on the other hand, taught humanity about demons and spirits. And then there’s Shernihaza, who is apparently responsible for that race of giant half-angels. Those giants, if you remember, led to the imprisonment and punishment of the fallen, as well as the Great Flood, which was brought to cleanse Earth of their gigantic sins. Perhaps the strangest fallen angel of all, though, was Penemue, who was credited with giving mankind something that led to all kinds of evil: the written language. With writing came knowledge, and that, of course, is really really bad, because it might lead to…free will. The big lesson you’re apparently supposed to learn from fallen angels? That knowledge and free will are bad and will get you killed, so the only way to remain safe is to choose ignorance and obedience.
Funny how that works. Maybe the biggest diversion The Book of Enoch takes from the regular Bible is its depiction of the Garden of Eden and the fall of mankind. Everyone knows the traditional story from the Bible: a serpent, usually associated with Satan, tempts Eve into eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil (there’s that whole knowledge is bad thing again) and then, boom, goodbye, paradise! In the Book of Enoch, though, it’s not Satan who tempts Eve, it’s a fallen angel named Gadreel. And then this jerk also went on to give humanity weapons and armor and teach us all how to kill each other. Sounds like Gadreel has a lot to answer for! Quick, describe a fallen angel! There are probably some scowly faces, bat-like wings, maybe even some horns or cloven hooves, right? Maybe a double chin…who knows. But it wasn’t always like that. In early Christian art, fallen angels looked pretty much the same as their holier counterparts. One of the earliest representations of the idea that there were angels and fallen angels opposing each other in an otherworldly battle is featured in an ancient mosaic in Italy. Jesus is in the middle, and on one side isan angel in red with some sheep, representing the home team. On the other side are the bad guys, a figure thought to be Lucifer or Satan, standing with some goats.
He’s wearing blue, which is the color of the damned, plus he has goats, so we know he’s the bad guy, but otherwise he doesn’t see mall that bad. The mosaic even suggests fallen angels kept their iconic halos, which at the time were a symbol of power, not holiness. It wasn’t until the middle ages that images of fallen angels started turning more grotesque. During that time, something weird happened:Creatures from ancient Babylonian texts, called Lilitu, began to be associated with Adam’s non-canonical first wife, Lilith. At the same time, parallels were drawn betweenSatan and the ancient Canaanite deity Beelzebub, and the ancient Roman half-goat, half-man god of nature, Pan. In the 14th Century, these pop culture influences led Dante to describe Satan as lording over the depths of hell while sporting bat wings. And that in turn influenced the 17th century author John Milton to describe fallen angels in his work Paradise Lost as the sort of grody monsters we think of today. Remember those theologians who turned themselves inside out trying to explain how Satan existed? Well, they faced the same issue with the rest of the fallen angels, and came up with some typically convoluted explanations. Until the 12th century, “pride” was the typical answer as to why fallen angels fell. But that meant God would have had to create something with a crippling, all-powerful amount of pride, and that didn’t fly. So scholars came up with the idea that angels had been created with a natural love that allowed them to love God, themselves, and each other. It’s the last part that scholars in the MiddleAges believe caused the fall of the angels.
After Lucifer fell because his love was as elfish love of power, the other angels who fell did so because they loved Lucifer. God was largely an absent, distant figure, after all, and Lucifer was their friend. Rather than condemning themselves to struggle for the acceptance of an unreachable father, perhaps they followed their brother into exile. It’s kind of heartbreaking, when you think about it, especially once you add love to free will and knowledge as things too dangerous for mortals to contemplate. According to the Mirabilia Journal, one of the most convoluted bits of theology that grew up around the legend of fallen angels is the way Christian writers used it to excuse and promote the persecution of the LGBTQ community. Scholars have long debated about whether fallen angels and demons are capable of love, with many believing that instead, fallen angels are consumed with lust, a desire to use others for their own ends. Indeed, Christian writers as far back as the apostle Paul himself warned women about the danger of attracting the attention of a lusty fallen angel. But since they didn’t write anything about fallen angels having lust for members of their own gender, early scholars decided that meant that there was something so fundamentally wrong about the idea that even fallen angels wouldn’t do it. This kind of self-satisfied circular logic was used as an excuse for centuries of persecution, which still continues today. Our contemporary view of fallen angels might suggest that they kind of got off easy.
After all, though they might be in hell, they aren’t exactly at the mercy of the demons there, because they…kind of are those demons, right? Well, not exactly. According to the Jewish Virtual Library, the seven archangels (those are the leaders of the good angels who stayed loyal to God) count the punishing of the fallen angels among their heavenly duties. Each one of the archangels was in charge of particular facets of the otherworldly life: Jeremiel, for example, keeps watch over the souls in the underworld, while Michael protects Israel, Gabriel is the overseer of Paradise, and Uriel leads the host. They’re the ones with direct access to God, and they’re also in charge of punishing the fallen. Punish how? Take Azazel, who according to some sources was the one who taught mankind how to make weapons rather than Gadreel. According to the Watkins Dictionary of Angels, Azazel was punished by Raphael, who put him in chains, threw him in a pit full of sharp rocks in the middle of the desert, and brought the darkness down on him while he waited for his condemnation after the final judgment. That doesn’t sound so great after all. And it’s a pretty steep price to pay for expressing love and free will! Better luck next time, fallen angels.