Feminists and Rebel Angels

This is going to be a slightly longer post today. I condensed it as much as I thought I could but it’s longer than my usual posts. During my undergraduate course I wrote a thesis entitled “Feminist Rebels” and Opening Pandora’s Box: The Sins of Female Angels”, and following on from my previous posts about the Angel Lit genre, I wanted to share some points from it, primarily concerning the archetypes of Eve and Lilith and how they relate to female characters in Urban Fantasy Angel. David Leeming, compiler of The Oxford Illustrated Companion to World Mythology referred to Lilith as “the first Feminist rebel” and this is where the inspiration for the title came from.

Feminists and Rebel Angels:

IMG_0658 For centuries literature has been littered with women who are the victims of their own curiosity and lust. Mythology and folklore tell stories of human and non-human females falling prey to their baser urges and being led down the path to sin. Pandora of Greek mythology was betrayed by her curiosity and unleashed pain and suffering into the world. Sinnann’s curious search for wisdom, in Irish mythology, ended with her death. Even Angels, beings of light and purity, supposedly above humanity, are not immune to personality traits such as curiosity and pride, and when they fall they fall further. From this notion is birthed the Angel-lit genre of Urban Fantasy. In this genre we can see concepts of Angelic Sin and its punishment/threat thereof.

In the thesis I used Mercy by Rebecca Lim and Unearthly by Cynthia Hand as examples because these tales illustrate alternatively the sins of Pride and Curiosity that lead to their protagonists’ downfall.  I found that the characters in the Angel-lit genre who portray the Eve archetype are driven by their curiosity and the Lilith characters are driven by their pride. While looking at these tales it was also important to ascertain whether or not, mythologically speaking, angels can sin, and why they would choose to do so. Each of these novels presents the fall of female angelic protagonists. As these Angels are women living in the Judeo-Christian literary tradition, they are not only bound by their own personal “sin” but by the concept of Eve’s original sin. In Judaeo-Christian mythology Lilith and Eve are the first women created by God, both as wives for Adam. Lilith was created first, and therefore, is the primordial transgressor. After she refused to submit to Adam, instead demanding that he treat her as his equal, she was cursed and became the demon creature of myth. God created the second woman, not from the ground as he had with Lilith, but from Adam himself; Adam’s famous rib. From her birth Eve was genetically positioned to be subordinate to men; obedient and passive. However, Eve’s weakness of character, as created by God, also allows her to be easily tempted by others. Eve, has in one way, been cursed long before her “sin” and subsequent exile. The obedient subordination desired by Adam and God leads to her bending to the will of the masculine Serpent (Satan). Eve lives within the passive behavioural conditions God gave her and is subsequently punished for it. Eve doesn’t intentionally instigate the destruction of her world; she merely follows the same literary path as Pandora, opening a box of woe. Lilith, however, purposefully changes her world.

The Lilith-woman cannot abide the idea of submission. Characters such as Mercy (in the Mercy Series) and Skyla (in the Celestra series), are an example of this archetype. They aggressively reject the rules and ignore commands given to them by men in positions of authority. This is the Lilith character’s principal sin: unrepentant disobedience. Eve characters on the other hand, like Liana (in The Coming Dark) and Nora (in Hush Hush) are bound to their insatiable curiosity. They don’t intend for their actions to have negative consequences, they just can’t seem to stop themselves.

One of the most important questions in this field of research is: Why do angels sin? And, with this: How can angels sin? Conventional myth believes that Angels were not gifted with free-will. They are the servants of God. In which case, how can a being without free-will sin? Sin derives from disobedience. How can a creature that simply follows direct orders, whom (by this definition) is mere robotic clone, sin? Any sin would be a direct result of God’s orders. In which case the Angel would not be sinning, rather merely carrying out God’s will, which is an act of obedience, and as Judaeo-Christian faith believes God is infallible the Angel’s action would therefore not be a sin. But literature tells us that Angels sin. There are many myths, legends and folktales regarding this.

The Bible confirms that in Judaeo-Christian mythology Angels can (and do) sin. The book of Genesis makes references to the myth of The Watchers, Angels who chose to take human brides and therefore were cast out from heaven. This etiological story features prominently in Angel-lit. Most Angel-lit stories focus on either the myth of Lucifer’s Pride or the Fall of the Watchers as the basis for a war in Heaven, or even just as an explanation for why there are Fallen Angels and Nephilim. The Book of Enoch also heavily discusses the tale of the Watchers. These Watchers sinned by taking human brides, and by procreating with them. The bible describes their offspring, the Nephilim, as cannibals giants, who bring nothing but misery to the world. In the biblical story of the Flood, the Flood was brought down onto the Earth in order to wipe out the Nephilim.

But if angels sin we have to ask how this is possible.  This brings us back to free-will and whether or not Angels have it, as it is difficult to see how there can be Fallen/sinful Angels without free-will. The key word in this is “freedom”. In this context I believe that freedom is taken to mean both the ability to make choices and independence. Angels therefore would have to have always had free-will, choosing – until the war in Heaven and the fall of the rebel angels – to willingly complete the tasks set by God and live under His rules. What could be so important that an Angel would give up his (or her) position in Paradise to live cursed on Earth or in Hell? In the case of Mercy and Clara, as with almost every other protagonist in Angel Literature, this important thing is love. Love is apparently outside God’s control and the one thing that these characters believe is worth the risk of losing everything considered ideal. Faith would make us believe that Angels exist. But even without that faith there is no question that literary Angels exist, and they exist with foibles. Judeao-Christian religions believe that only God is infallible; Angels then must have the capacity to make mistakes. There is room, therefore, for sin to exist for Angels, and for punishments for those sins to exist as well.

Suggested reading for the interested:

Theory:

  • Cart, M. (2010). “Carte Blanche: My Mother’s Angels”. The Booklist (Chicago. III. 1969), 107(2), p 59.
  • Escobedo, A. (2008). “Allegorical agency and the sins of Angels”. In ELH, 75(4), 787-812.
  • Good News Bible (2nd). (1992). New South Wales: The Bible Society In Australia inc.
  • Illes, J. (2009). Encyclopedia of Spirits. New York: HarperCollins.
  • Klawans, J. (2006). Purity, Sacrifice, and the Temple: Symbolism and Supersessionism in the Study of Ancient Judaism. New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Leeming, D. (2008). The Oxford Illustrated Companion to World Mythology. New York: Tess Press.
  • Papadakis, M. (2010). “Young Adult”. Sunday Herald-Sun, p 98.
  • Parker, M. (2009). “Angelic Organisation: Hierarchy and the Tyranny of Heaven.” Organization Studies. 30(11), 1281-1295.
  • Rousseau, V. (2005). “Eve and Lilith: Two Female Types of Procreation”. Diogenes (English ed.) 52(4), 94-97.
  • Tartar, M. (1992). Off with their heads. New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

 

Works of Fiction:

  • Mercy by Rebecca Lim
  • Fallen by Lauren Kate
  • Ethereal by Addison Moore
  • Meridian by Amber Kizer
  • The Coming Dark by Erin McCarthy
  • The Watchers by Lynnie Purcell
  • Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick
  • Unearthly by Cynthia Hand

 

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