Okay – I might have mentioned that I’ve become a fan of the show Supernatural (okay, full disclosure – I love the Impala and Dean). One of the aspect I’ve found fascinating is the portrayal of angels and demons on the show. The writers have chosen to make these creatures complex, multi-faceted characters. There is no simplistic belief that all angels are good and all demons are bad. There have been angels who commit atrocities in the righteous belief that they are doing God’s work. There have also been demons who help the shows’ two protagonists (monster hunting brothers Dean & Sam Winchester) due to enlightened self-interest. This is one of the most appealing aspects of the show for me (well after the two brothers).
In many New Age and modern traditions, angels are seen as winged guardians and helpers; beings who are there to protect and help humanity when possible. However when one explores more ancient Judeo-Christian tradition we see far different descriptions of angels and their responsibilities. They are God’s soldiers and police force. When humanity doesn’t toe the line and Yahweh has had enough of his recalcitrant, disobedient creations he sends his angels down to smite us. Let’s face it, Michael the Archangel could give Norman Schwarzkopf tips in the art of war. How many times has Yahweh punished humanity using the angels? Yahweh can be fairly unforgiving and rather vindictive. The angels are the ones who administer Yahweh’s justice.
There are angels who watch humanity, recording and remembering what we do. Apparently they do not interfere in humans’ lives unless instructed to do so. There are angels who support Yahweh’s throne and sing his praises. The archangels are often portrayed as Yahweh’s right hands, his lieutenants. There are the cherubim with their four different faces (ox, lion, human and eagle). None of these creatures seem to be the warm and fuzzy angelic beings so prevalent in New Age thought today.
Over the course of the several seasons since angels have appeared on Supernatural they have proven to be vindictive, violent, willing to maim, torture and brutalize in order to achieve their goals. They often cloak their actions with claims that they are God’s will or for the greater good but they are as violent and destructive as any demon. Their willingness to smite entire towns in order to achieve their goals is frightening and quite eye-opening. When the angels turn their wrath on each other, the havoc created is . . . cosmic.
There are angels who willingly torture other angels during various battles for supremacy in Heaven. Angels who willingly ally with demons to achieve their goals. There are angels who happily sacrifice human lives and souls in pursuit of their agendas. Many of the angels in Supernatural are portrayed as looking down upon humans – referring to them as “mud monkeys” and “larva”. These angels are infuriated by Yahweh’s favoritism towards humanity. They may be forced to help us but they’re not happy about it. While the individual angels may not be based in ancient tradition, some of their actions are similar to those described in the Bible.
In the Supernatural universe, even demons have different levels. Some demons are humans whose souls were corrupted due to their behaviors and decisions while living. Some (like Lucifer and Azazel) are fallen angels who defied Yahweh and were punished. Others (like Lilith) were created by the fallen angels and never lived as humans. You also have such well-known demons as Cain and the Knights of Hell he helped create. Based on the description, the Knights of Hell sound like the demonic equivalent of archangels. Demons can possess humans and take over their bodies, forcing them to engage in horrific acts that often leave the hosts traumatized, assuming they survive the experience.
Most of the demons behave in ways we might expect – seducing and corrupting humans to the dark side, committing acts of mayhem and violence and bartering for human souls. Some are more violent and aggressive than others. Crossroad demons are rather like persistent salespeople – the won’t pursue you but once you make a deal with one you can be sure she or he will collect.
Over the course of the series some demons have proven very helpful to the Winchester brothers – although their motivations were not always clear or benevolent. Ruby shows up at the start of Season 3 with a demon-slaying knife that aids the brothers in slaying some of the demons that escaped when the devil’s gate opened. Crowley, King of the Crossroads, has proven quite helpful to the brothers during their efforts to defeat Lucifer and short-circuit Armageddon. Even Meg, a demon who was quite an enemy of the brothers in Season 1, returns in later seasons and prove to be quite an asset. The Winchester brothers can never full trust these demons because each time their helpfulness has proven to mask a hidden agenda. Sometimes their aid is not worth the price that must be paid.
Angel or demon, in Supernatural all have the ability to prove dangerous to humanity. As Dean has noted numerous times “Angels are dicks” and if one is a believer in free will this certainly will seem to be the case. Angels appear to ensure we follow God’s cosmic plan for us. If we resist they tend to get aggressive in their efforts to bring us in line. Demons are corrupting influences and, as expected, quite detrimental to humanity’s spiritual health. However they also raise several valid points regarding humanity’s tendency towards self-destruction and the fact that we cause more damage to each other than any demons ever could. I find these portrayals both thought provoking and refreshing. Instead of falling into the simplistic approach that angels are good and have humanity’s best interests at heart and demons are bad, corrupting and evil influences, the writers have created a multitude of shades of gray. For better or worse, these are not your grandmother’s angels or demons.