It took me a long time to get into Supernatural. Its first few seasons primarily centered on a monster-of-the-week, and the two main characters were, quite frankly, not terribly dynamic. It was described to me early on as a darker Buffy, but I could never see it.
In season four, show creator Eric Kripke reversed a previous decision to not include angels. Up until this point, the Supernatural world was one plagued by demons but apparently devoid of benevolent supernatural powers. In the original concept of the show, the closest we get to a force of good is the hunters themselves. Salvation from demonic invasion needed to come from the underdogs, not from on high. (Source) Kripke was also concerned that angels would bring in too much of a Highway to Heaven feel to things. But in season four, he decided that angels would be ok, just as long as they were total dicks. (Source)
And they were. And every few episodes, main characters Sam and Dean repeated this viewpoint. Angels are dicks.
Can’t imagine how an angel of the lord could be a dick? “Read your Old Testament,” suggests Castiel, the least dickiest of the angels we meet.
What Angels Aren’t
Let’s run down a few things that angels aren’t, at least not in scripture. (Of course, there are plenty of religious beliefs that are not spelled out in scripture, but I’ve got to start somewhere.)
- Angels do not play harps. In the Book of Revelation, they do blast trumpets. Totally different musical mindset. You might lull one to sleep with a harp. Not so much with a trumpet.
- Angels are not the souls of the saved. The saved are with the angels. They don’t get their own wings.
- Angels don’t specifically have wings. There’s not a single description in the Bible of an angel having wings. And there are, in fact, historical depictions of wingless angels, including Michelangelo’s Last Judgment behind the altar in the Sistine Chapel.
- Angels are not often named in scripture. In the Bible, only Gabriel and Michael are named. However, there are lots of additional texts that give the names for hundreds of angels.
- Cherubim are not cute baby angels. Rather, “Each of them had four faces and four wings, with straight feet with a sole like the sole of a calf’s foot, and “hands of a man” under their wings. Each had four faces: The face of a man, the face of a lion on the right side, the face of an ox on the left side, and the face of an eagle.” (Ezekiel 1:6-10) They bear flaming swords, guard the Tree of Life, and act as God’s chariot. They are some of the first and most powerful spiritual beings in creation. Cute baby angels are called putti. There is zero reason to equate the two, and I have no idea how it happened.
Angels are Badasses
Angels don’t appear often in the Bible, but when they do, they are one of two things: messengers or badasses. There are plenty of times they manifest as a test (sometimes in disguise) or as messengers (periodically in pillars of fire or other such displays). But they also come to help smite the enemies of God.
In extra-biblical texts both Christian and Jewish, angels get descriptions such as Angel of Death and Angel of Destruction. Gustav Davidson’s A Dictionary of Angels (which I have found invaluable over the years), describes the relatively friendly messenger-angel Gabriel as “the angel of annunciation [you’re having a baby, Mary!], resurrection, mercy [still sounding good…], vengeance [er..], death [oh dear], revelation.” (page 117)
Angels are the avenging hand of a god who punishes the disobedient by flooding the world, annihilating cities, and allowing their enemies to carry them into slavery. This is a god who tests the most faithful by such things as ordering them to sacrifice family members and taking all of their earthly possessions, their health, and their family.
Read your Old Testament. Composed roughly 3000 to 2500 years ago, the Old Testament God is slightly nicer than a lot of other gods in the area, but he is not a peace and happiness sort of guy. At least he doesn’t hurt humanity because he’s just bored, which other local gods had a reputation for.
Terrifying Lawful Goodness
Ever wondered how awful a Lawful Good D&D character can be? Go no farther than Supernatural dick-angels.
The angels work for the creator of the universe. as such, they a force for goodness, but “goodness” in no way inherently equates to “nice day for humanity.” They are more than willing to sacrifice great numbers of humans for the greater good. Eventually a great many of them decide that the “greater good” is the obliteration of all demons. The only way the can opening wage such a war, however, is during the End Times, which they then attempt to bring about. The fact that this will rather inconvenience humanity is not their concern. After all, the righteous will be saved. Screw everyone else.