angels among us …

Can angels fall and become human? It’s a question often asked, at least on answers.yahoo.

Answers.yahoo gives a mixed response, but according to pop culture: yes, totally.

I can’t claim to know much about angels, though I once had a dream that Azrael had opened a doorway to hell on the second floor of my house. The less said about that, the better. My understanding is that, in terms of Christian lore, when angels fall they tend to fall the whole way. Milton’s Paradise Lost is one of the most influential sources for fallen angels (even if you haven’t read it, it’s probably filtered through somehow). His depiction of Satan addressing Beelzebub immediately after the fall is strangely poignant:

‘If thou beest he – but o how fall’n! How changed / From him, who in the happy realms of light / Clothed with transcendent brightness didst outshine / Myriads though bright…’

Angels don’t fall by halves. Another incidental point is that (in traditional thought) humans do not become angels, no matter how good they are. Angels are celestial beings. They are messengers and smiters. They announce God’s will, they slaughter a hundred and eighty-five thousand Assyrians in a night, they are really pretty terrifying and completely different from humans.

But let’s not let any of that get in the way of a good story.

Wim Wenders’ Wings of Desire is one of those good stories. You might be familiar with Wim through the Buena Vista Social Club or Paris, Texas. Wings of Desire follows an angel who falls in love with a woman and wishes to give up his immortality. It was followed by Far Away, So Close the story of Cassiel, another angel who becomes human and has a pretty rough time of it (he’s oddly naïve for a being who’s been watching humans for thousands of years).

Gorbachev has an angel on his shoulder (Cassiel, to be specific)

I often wondered if the character of Castiel on Supernatural was a homage to Wim Wender’s Cassiel, or did one of the writers just happen to see Far Away, So Close on late night TV, forget about it, and think they were creating Castiel in a stroke of genius? I prefer to think the former is true. That a beautiful German film might be filtering through to us in weekly television.

Castiel (note the 't')

Wings of Desire certainly inspired the Nicholas Cage vehicle City of Angels, for better or for worse. A film I never plan to see, I’m afraid. One thing all sources agree on – angels like to wear voluminous overcoats and will very probably take to the bottle when things don’t go their way. Don’t blame me, blame popular culture.

Perhaps these stories are about our desire to be protected from above and also to have angels understand our struggles from the ground. In a way these angels are repeating the tradition of the story of Christ – the divine experiencing the human. The apostasy comes when the angel chooses to remain human – to forever give up the divine in order to ‘attain’ mortal love and experience the slings and arrows of human life with no return to grace promised. You might call it a humanist reworking of Christian beliefs. Or you might just enjoy the story.

Motorcycle accident victim comforted by an angel from Wings of Desire: http://youtu.be/3bZXO_xmnJc

 

 

 

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6 thoughts on “angels among us …

  1. I should add that the Wenders’ films have some surprising cameos including Gorbachev, Peter Falk, Willem Dafoe, Nick Cave and Lou Reed. Nastassja Kinski makes a pretty good lookin’ angel too. You might be familiar with U2’s ‘Stay (Far Away So Close)’ which was on the soundtrack. Unsurprisingly…

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  2. Strange you should be blogging about angels as I finally have time to catch up and read through my blog roll. My new wip (destined for NaNoWriMo hell in November) concerns angels in human form. And reading the previous comment, I think the my “gatekeeper” character will definitely have to be Nastassja Kinski. Oye!

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  3. I loved both Wings of Desire and Faraway, So Close. I’m also a huge fan of Castiel in Supernatural… so I love this post 🙂

    I agree with this: “Perhaps these stories are about our desire to be protected from above and also to have angels understand our struggles from the ground. ” I also believe that we want to be loved unconditionally by them, for if they understood our struggles, then they would truly see us and love us for who we are 🙂

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    • I hadn’t thought of it until you said that but I suppose it is the dream of having someone who’s witnessed your life and you in your entirety and thus can give true love and forgiveness.

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