Fallen Friday: Thorny Theological Issues

Fallen Friday: Thorny Theological Issues

This isn’t a spoiler, since it’s on the cover, but my main character in Fallen is a fallen angel (like the title didn’t give it away, right?). As a result, I put a lot of work into considering how angels and demons work in the setting and how I want to address them. It took a lot of consideration because on one hand, I’m a Christian and want to do justice to my faith. On the other, this isn’t a Christian book series. Which will become apparent to you pretty quickly, and I am expecting some heat for the way I use angels. Just remember that this is fiction.

I did a fair amount of research on angels in the book of Enoch as well as in Kaballah and other sources before settling on which choirs exist in my setting and how they work. I still don’t have every single detail laid out, but the basic foundation is all present, and since my editor and some of my beta readers have been curious, I figured this was a good time and place to discuss exactly what I am doing! Also, some of this may be subject to some measure of change as I write the series, since it’s not all codified yet.

While studying, I learned there are multiple types of angels that are listed in various places, and I didn’t want to use all of them. Also, depending on which scholars you read, the hierarchy is different, and Jewish and Islamic folks use different names from Christians. I defaulted to using the Jewish names since it was as close to the source material as I could get and, being a history nerd, I like using the more authentic names rather than Anglicizing them. Also, there’s no Anglicized version of some of the types, so writing some in English and some in Hebrew and mashing them together didn’t appeal to me.

The angel types I went with are as follows, in descending order from most power to least powerful.

  • Seraphim
  • Cherubim
  • Ophanim
  • Erelim
  • Malakim
  • Ishim

The way I am using archangels is that it’s a position, not a separate species of angel altogether. I chose to go that route because there are only six of them (not counting those fallen like Lucifer), and it gave me the opportunity to work in their roles and their functions. Basically, I have it that the six archangels are more or less the top tier management who oversee the duties of those assigned to their purview. I’m not going to bore you with the exact details of what angels do what, and what each looks like when not adopting a human guise (though the ophanim are the wheels with eyes). I’m not writing an RPG, after all. At least not now. Though the idea has crossed my mind.

Demons are structured similarly to angels, though it’s far less organized because, by nature, they tend to be more chaotic and less likely to fall in line. I haven’t worked out all the various types yet and what I’d like to call them, but it’s more or less a broken mirror of heaven’s ranks.

However, for demons, an archdemon is a demon who was once an angel. There aren’t a ton of them, all things considered, and they tend to be excessively powerful. Their power, of course, does depend on what kind of angel they were when they fell. An archdemon who was once a seraph is obviously more potent than a demon who was a malak. I need to do a little more work on exactly who is what in Hell, but at this point in my novels the exact “structure” of Hell hasn’t been extremely important. All you need to know, for the most part is “demons bad.”

I also recognize that Islam has its own structure for angels, but I know nothing about the faith beyond the fact that it is similar in many respects to my own but distinct and different in many others. I don’t know enough about Islam to utilize their theology, and I don’t want to do them a disservice by trying. I know it’s present, and I respect it. However, as I say further on, the reason I chose my own religion to alter is because that’s what I know, and I don’t want to appropriate someone else’s.

Now for the parts that are likely to cheese people off because this is where my “this is FICTION” comment comes strongly into play.

The way I have the reality of God in this setting is that God is the creator deity. He is not the explicitly Abrahamic deity of Yahweh. The creator, which the angels just usually call “the Father” or “Father” is too big for any religion to understand and too big for human comprehension. While much of Fallen takes place in a Christian setting and dealing with Christian people (this is largely stemming from me writing what I know), the angels are servants of the creator, not the church, and as such they aren’t innately Christian, themselves. My main character would be just as comfortable in a Jewish temple, a Mosque, or in a Buddhist temple as she is in a Christian church. Angels are just as likely to quote the Bible as they are to quote another religion’s scripture beause all of them are right, and all of them are wrong.

In addition to that, the polytheistic religions actually have some merit.

God created more than just angels and the races of the Earth. He also created the elohim (note: different from reference to God as Elohim. Capitalization matters here). Elohim, in Hebrew, is a plural word for “gods” or “deities.” While we could dig into Christian theology here, I really don’t want to because, as I said, my series isn’t a Christian book series explicitly. It’s urban fantasy with some Christian overtones not dissimilar to Dresden Files or Supernatural, which both deal with angels and demons but aren’t Christian fiction.

So what are the elohim?

In my setting, they are more powerful than the seraphim. They were God’s first, his eldest creations. Creatures who interacted with the elohim saw them as gods in their own right, and many of the elohim didn’t try and dissuade them of the notion. To human understanding, they are gods, though they derive their power through their connection to the divine source, the creator Himself.

(Also, to note, I refer to the creator as male, but the reality is the deity isn’t gendered. This is, again, a case of “write what you know,” so I’m most comfortable referring to the deity as male pronouns.)

The point of the religion in these books is this:

Everybody is right. Everybody is wrong.

So, then we come to the question of why use the Hebrew words for things if it’s not going to be Jewish/Christian?

Honestly, it’s because that’s what I’m most familiar with. I am Christian, myself, and studied Christianity and the history of the Bible in college (in a non-religious sense). While it’s feasible to use another religion’s words for the concepts and such in my books, I admit fully that I don’t know enough about them to do them justice, and I don’t want to appropriate another culture’s living faith systems for my fiction. I’m okay using my own. It’s my belief that my religion is big enough to handle some fiction using our words.

Further, creating and imposing an entirely new and different religion as the “true” religion and laying it over the real world with all its religious and historical complexities didn’t work for me. It would be incredibly complicated, and it would require an incredible amount of world building to accomplish properly. Which would then require me to alter my characters into unrecognizability almost, and I didn’t want to do that. As such, I decided to use the framework I know and alter it slightly.

Beyond that, the angels speak an entirely different language. They wouldn’t call themselves “seraphim” or “malakim”; they’d use the Enochian words for it. My main character uses those words for herself because she’s mostly interacting with Christian folks in the first book, and it’s the easiest way to explain it.

As to why I didn’t write this to be explicitly Christian and be done with it, it was a choice based on the fact that my theology in the story didn’t work as being Christian alone. While the first few books about Cassiel are explicitly about an angel’s experience in the world, some of the other ones are decidedly more terrestrial.

Just as a teaser, I have vague ideas for some other themes:

  • A licensed necromancer dealing with ghosts and the undead.
  • A former CIA operative who had to retire but is still doing her work. Vaguely reminiscent of a supernatural Burn Notice.
  • A few books dealing with vampire politics and ancient beings.

My husband also has some ideas kicking around for novels in the universe that he’d like to write. We’ve worked on this setting together for years, and there are some stories from some perspectives he’d like to tell.

The meta-plot for the series, well…I’ll leave that for you to piece together yourselves. But I promise there is one. All these threads tie together in various places. There is a method to my madness.

This time.

E. Prybylski has been in the publishing industry as an editor since 2009, starting at Divertir Publishing and eventually partnering with her close friend Richard Belanger to begin Insomnia Publishing.

Ever since childhood, E. has been an avid reader and writer of fantasy. The first chapter book she remembers reading is The Hobbit, followed swiftly by most of Anne McCaffrey’s Pern series. In high school, she perfected the skill of walking while reading without slamming into anyone. Mostly.

When she isn’t reading or writing, E. is an active member of the Society for Creative Anachronism and has a B.A. in European history from SNHU. In addition to her many historical pursuits, E. is a musician of multiple instruments, a cat mom, and a loving wife to her husband, J. E. also speaks out for the disability and chronic illness communities being a sufferer of chronic migraines and Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome.

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