FROM THE ASHES OF ANGELS
The Forbidden Legacy of a Fallen Race
By Andrew Collins
Is civilisation the legacy of a race of human angels known as Watchers and Nephilim? Andrew Collins, author of FROM THE ASHES OF ANGELS, previews his history of angels and fallen angels and traces their origin back to an extraordinarily advanced culture that entered the Near East shortly after the end of the last Ice Age.
Angels are something we associate with beautiful Pre-Raphaelite and renaissance paintings, carved statues accompanying gothic architecture and supernatural beings who intervene in our lives at times of trouble. For the last 2000 years this has been the stereotypical image fostered by the Christian Church. But what are angels? Where do they come from, and what have they meant to the development of organised religion?
Many people see the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Old Testament, as littered with accounts of angels appearing to righteous patriarchs and visionary prophets. Yet this is simply not so. There are the three angels who approach Abraham to announce the birth of a son named Izaac to his wife Sarah as he sits beneath a tree on the Plain of Mamre. There are the two angels who visit Lot and his wife at Sodom prior to its destruction. There is the angel who wrestles all night with Jacob at a place named Penuel, or those which he sees moving up and down a ladder that stretches between heaven and earth. Yet other than these accounts, there are too few examples, and when angels do appear the narrative is often vague and unclear on what exactly is going on. For instance, in the case of both Abraham and Lot the angels in question are described simply as `men', who sit down to take food like any mortal person.
of the Magi
The country we now today as Iran might not at first seem the most likely source for angels, but it is a fact that the exiled Jews were heavily exposed to its religious faiths after the Persian king Cyrus the Great took Babylon in 539 BC. These included not only Zoroastrianism, after the prophet Zoroaster or Zarathustra, but also the much older religion of the Magi, the elite priestly caste of Media in north-west Iran. They believed in a whole pantheon of supernatural beings called ahuras, or `shining ones', and daevas - ahuras who had fallen from grace because of their corruption of mankind.
Although eventually outlawed by Persia, the influence of the Magi ran deep within the beliefs, customs and rituals of Zoroastrianism. Moreover, there can be little doubt that Magianism, from which we get terms such as magus, magic and magician, helped to establish the belief among Jews not only of whole hierarchies of angels, but also of legions of fallen angels - a topic that gains its greatest inspiration from one work alone - the Book of Enoch.
Book of Enoch
The Book of Enoch tells the story of how 200 rebel angels, or Watchers, decided to transgress the heavenly laws and `descend' on to the plains and take wives from among mortal kind. The site given for this event is the summit of Hermon, a mythical location generally association with the snowy heights of Mount Hermon in the Ante-Lebanon range, north of modern-day Palestine (but see below for the most likely homeland of the Watchers).
The 200 rebels realise the implications of their transgressions, for they agree to swear an oath to the effect that their leader Shemyaza would take the blame if the whole ill-fated venture went terribly wrong.
After their descent to the lowlands, the Watchers indulge in earthly delights with their chosen `wives', and through these unions are born giant offspring named as Nephilim, or Nefilim, a Hebrew word meaning `those who have fallen', which is rendered in Greek translations as gigantes, or `giants'.
To the women Azazel taught the art of `beautifying' the eyelids, and the use of `all kinds of costly stones' and `colouring tinctures', presupposing that the wearing of make-up and jewellery was unknown before this age. In addition to these crimes, Azazel stood accused of teaching women how to enjoy sexual pleasure and indulge in promiscuity - a blasphemy seen as `godlessness' in the eyes of the Hebrew story-tellers.
Other Watchers stood accused of revealing to mortal kind the knowledge of more scientific arts, such as astronomy, the knowledge of the clouds, or meteorology; the `signs of the earth', presumably geodesy and geography, as well as the `signs', or passage, of the celestial bodies, such as the sun and moon. Their leader, Shemyaza, is accredited with having taught `enchantments, and root-cuttings', a reference to the magical arts shunned upon by most orthodox Jews. One of their number, Pnme, taught `the bitter and the sweet', surely a reference to the use of herbs and spices in foods, while instructing men on the use of `ink and paper', implying that the Watchers introduced the earliest forms of writing. Far more disturbing is Ksdej, who is said to have shown `the children of men all the wicked smitings of spirits and demons, and the smitings of the embryo in the womb, that it may pass away'. In other words he taught women how to abort babies.
These lines concerning the forbidden sciences handed to humanity by the rebel Watchers raises the whole fundamental question of why angels should have possessed any knowledge of such matters in the first place. Why should they have needed to work with metals, use charms, incantations and writing; beautify the body; employ the use of spices, and know now to abort an unborn child? None of these skills are what one might expect heavenly messengers of God to possess, not unless they were human in the first place.
In my opinion, this revelation of previously unknown knowledge and wisdom seems like the actions of a highly advanced race passing on some of its closely-guarded secrets to a less evolved culture still striving to understand the basic principles of life.
More disconcerting were the apparent actions of the now fully grown Nephilim, for it says:
And when men could no longer sustain them, the giants turned against them and devoured mankind. And they began to sin against birds, and beasts, and reptiles, and fish, and to devour one another's flesh, and drink the blood. Then the earth laid accusation against the lawless ones.
By now the cries of desperation from mankind were being heard loud and clear by the angels, or Watchers, who had remained loyal to heaven. One by one they are appointed by God to proceed against the rebel Watchers and their offspring the Nephilim, who are described as `the bastards and the reprobates, and the children of fornication'. The first leader, Shemyaza, is hung and bound upside down and his soul banished to become the stars of the constellation of Orion. The second leader, Azazel, is bound hand and foot, and cast for eternity into the darkness of a desert referred to as Ddl. Upon him are placed `rough and jagged rocks' and here he shall forever remain until the Day of Judgement when he will be `cast into the fire' for his sins. For their part in the corruption of mankind, the rebel Watchers are forced to witness the slaughter of their own children before being cast into some kind of heavenly prison, seen as an `abyss of fire'.
Finally, during the life of Enoch's great-grandson, Noah, the Great Flood covers the land and destroys all remaining traces of the giant race. Thus ends the story of the Watchers.
Sons of God
And it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the ground, and daughters were born unto them, that the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took them wives of all that they chose.
By `sons of God' the text means heavenly angels, the original Hebrew being bene ha-elohim. In Verse 3 of Chapter 6 God unexpectedly pronounces that his spirit cannot remain in men for ever, and that since humanity is a creation of flesh its life-span will henceforth be shortened to `an hundred and twenty years'. Yet in Verse 4 the tone suddenly reverts to the original theme of the chapter, for it says:
The Nephilim were in the earth in those days, and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them: the same were the mighty men which were of old, the men of renown.
As the Pentateuch is considered to have been written by Moses the lawgiver in c. 1200 BC, it is assumed that the lines of Genesis 6 influenced the construction of the Book of Enoch, not the other way round. Despite this obvious assumption on the part of Hebrew scholars, there is ample evidence to show that much of Genesis was written after the Jews return from captivity in Babylon during the mid-fifth century BC. If this was the case, then there is no reason why the lines of Genesis 6 could not have been tampered with around this time. In an attempt to emphasise the immense antiquity of the Book of Enoch, Hebrew myth has always asserted that it was originally conveyed to Noah, Enoch's great grandson, after the Great Flood, ie long before the compilation of Genesis. This claim of precedence over the Pentateuch eventually led the Christian theologian St Augustine (AD 354-430) to state that the Book of Enoch was too old (ob nimiam antiquitatem) to be included in the Canon of Scripture!
of the Nephilim
again at the words of Verse 2. They speak of the Sons of God coming
unto the Daughters of Men, while in contrast Verse 4 states firmly:
`The Nephilim were in the earth in those days and also after that when
the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men (author's emphasis)'.
meaning seemed clear enough: there were two quite separate traditions
entangled here - one concerning the fallen race known to the early Israelites
as the Nephilim (mentioned elsewhere in the Pentateuch as the progenitors
of a race of giants called Anakim), and the other concerning the bene
ha-elohim, the Sons of God, who are equated directly with the Watchers
in Enochian tradition. Theologians are aware of this dilemma, and get
around the problem by suggesting that the angels fell from grace twice
- once through pride and then again through lust. It seems certain that
the term Nephilim was the original Hebrew name of the fallen race, while
bene ha-elohim was a much later term - plausibly from Iran - that entered
Genesis 6 long after its original compilation.
So if the Watchers and the Nephilim really had inhabited this world, then who or what were these seemingly physical beings? Where did they come from? What did they look like? Where did they live and what was their ultimate fate?
Book of Enoch was a vital source of knowledge with regard to their former
existence, but I needed more - other less tainted accounts of this apparent
race of human beings.
Dead Sea Connection
Not only did the Dead Sea Scrolls confirm the authenticity of the Book of Enoch, but they also showed that it had been held in great esteem by the Essene community at Qumran, who may even have been behind its original construction sometime after 165 BC. More importantly, Hebrew scholars also began to identify various other previously unknown tracts of an `Enochian' flavour among the Dead Sea corpus, and these included further references to the Watchers and their offspring the Nephilim. Many of these individual fragments were eventually realised by Dead Sea scholar J. T. Milik to be extracts from a lost work called the Book of Giants. Previously this had only been known from isolated references in religious texts appertaining to the Manichaeans, a heretical gnostic faith that swept across Europe and Asia, as far as China and Tibet, from the third century AD onwards.
The Book of Giants continues the story told in the Book of Enoch, relating how the Nephilim had coped with knowing that their imminent destruction was due to the improprieties of their Watcher fathers. Reading this ancient work allows the reader a more compassionate view of the Nephilim, who come across as innocent bystanders in a dilemma beyond their personal control.
Like A Viper
Amram was the father of the lawgiver Moses, although any biblical time-frame to this story is irrelevant. What is much more significant is the appearance of the two Watchers who appear to him in a dream-vision as he rests in his bed, for as the heavily reconstructed text reads:
[I saw Watchers] in my vision, the dream-vision. Two (men) were fighting over me, saying... and holding a great contest over me. I asked them, `Who are you, that you are thus empo[wered over me?' They answered me, `We] [have been em]powered and rule over all mankind.' They said to me, `Which of us do yo[u choose to rule (you)?' I raised my eyes and looked.] [One] of them was terr[i]fying in his appearance, [like a s]erpent, [his] c[loa]k many-coloured yet very dark... [And I looked again], and... in his appearance, his visage like a viper, and [wearing...] [exceedingly, and all his eyes...].
The text identifies this last Watcher as Belial, the Prince of Darkness and King of Evil, while his companion is revealed as Michael, the Prince of Light, who is also named as Melchizedek, the King of Righteousness. It is, however, Belial's frightful appearance that took my attention, for he is seen as terrifying to look upon and like a `serpent', the very synonym so often used when describing both the Watchers and the Nephilim. If the textual fragment had ended here, then I would not have known why this synonym had been used by the Jewish scribe in question. Fortunately, however, the text goes on to say that the Watcher possessed a visage, or face, `like a viper'. Since he also wears a cloak `many-coloured yet very dark', I had also to presume that he was anthropomorphic, in other words he possessed human form.
Visage like a viper...
What could this possibly mean?
How many people do you know with a `visage like a viper'?
For over a year I could offer no suitable solution to this curious metaphor.
Then, by chance, I happened to overhear something on a national radio station that provided me with a simple, though completely unexpected answer. In Hollywood, Los Angeles, there is a club called the Viper Room. It is owned by actor and musician Johnny Depp, and in October 1993 it hit the headlines when up-coming actor River Phoenix tragically collapsed and died as he left the club following a night of over-indulgence. In the media publicity that inevitably surrounded this drugs-related incident, it emerged that the Viper Room gained its name many years beforehand when it had been a jazz haunt of some renown. Story goes that the musicians would take the stage and play long hours, prolonging their creativity and concentration by smoking large amounts of marijuana. Apparently, the long term effects of this drug abuse, coupled with exceedingly long periods without food and sleep, would cause their emaciated faces to appear hollow and gaunt, while their eyes would close up to become just slits. Through the haze of heavy smoke, the effect was to make it seem as if the jazz musicians had faces like vipers, hence the name of the club.
This amusing anecdote sent my mind reeling and enabled me to construct a mental picture of what a person with a `visage like a viper' might look like; their faces would appear long and narrow, with prominent cheekbones, elongated jawbones, thin lips and slanted eyes like those of many East Asian racial types. Was this the solution as to why both the Watchers and Nephilim were described as walking serpents? It seemed as likely a possibility as any, although it was also feasible that their serpentine connection related to their accredited magical associations and capabilities, perhaps even their bodily movements and overall appearance.
Appearance of Feathers
And there appeared to me two men very tall, such as I have never seen on earth. And their faces shone like the sun, and their eyes were like burning lamps; and fire came forth from their lips. Their dress had the appearance of feathers:... [purple], their wings were brighter than gold; their hands whiter than snow. They stood at the head of my bed and called me by my name.
White skin (often ruddied `as red as a rose'), tall stature and facial radiances `like the sun' all recur frequently in connection with the appearance of angels and Watchers in Enochian and Dead Sea literature. Yet what was this reference to their dress having `the appearance of feathers'? Might it relate in some way to the `cloak' worn by the Watcher named Belial who appears in the Amram story, which was said to have been `many-coloured yet very dark', precisely the effect one might expect from a coat of black feathers, like those belonging to crows or vultures perhaps?
In spite of the fact that Christian art has invariably portrayed angels with wings, this tradition goes back no further than the third or fourth century AD. Before this time true angels (Cherubim and Seraphim did have multiple sets of wings) appeared in the likeness of `men', a situation that often prompted textual translators to add wings on to existing descriptions of angels. This has almost certainly been the case in the above account taken from 2 Enoch, which was re-copied many times during the early years of Christianity.
With this observation in mind, I felt that the statement concerning the Watchers dress having `the appearance of feathers' was very revealing indeed. It also seemed like an over-sight on the part of the scribe who conveyed this story into written form, for having added wings to the description of the two `men', why bother saying they wore garments of feathers? Surely this confusion between wings and feather coats could have been edited to give the Watchers a more appropriate angelic appearance.
this mental link with his or her chosen bird, shamans would adorn their
bodies with a coat of feathers and spend long periods of time studying
its every movement. They would enter its natural habitat and watch every
facet of its life - its method of flight, its eating habits, its courtship
rituals and its actions on the ground. In doing so they would hope to
become as birds themselves, an alter-personality adopted on a semi-permanent
basis. Totemic shamanism is more-or-less dependent on the indigenous
animals or birds present in the locale of the culture or tribe, although
in principle the purpose has always been the same - using this mantle
to achieve astral flight, divine illumination, spirit communication
and the attainment of otherworldly knowledge and wisdom.
The answer is almost certainly yes, for in the Dead Sea text entitled the Book of Giants, the Nephilim sons of the fallen angel Shemyaza, named as 'Ahy and 'Ohy, experience dream-visions in which they visit a world-garden and see 200 trees being felled by heavenly angels. Not understanding the purpose of this allegory they put the subject to the Nephilim council who appoint one of their number, Mahawai, to go on their behalf to consult Enoch, who now resides in an earthly paradise. To this end Mahawai then:
[... rose up into the air] like the whirlwinds, and flew with the help of his hands like [winged] eagle [... over] the cultivated lands and crossed Solitude, the great desert, [...]. And he caught sight of Enoch and he called to him...
Enoch explains that the 200 trees represent the 200 Watchers, while the felling of their trunks signifies their destruction in a coming conflagration and deluge. More significant, however, is the means by which Mahawai attains astral flight, for he is said to have used `his hands like (a) [winged] eagle.' Elsewhere in the same Enochian text Mahawai is said to have adopted the guise of a bird to make another long journey. On this occasion he narrowly escapes being burnt up by the sun's heat and is only saved after heeding the celestial voice of Enoch, who convinces him to turn back and not die prematurely - a story that has close parallels with Icarus's fatal flight too near the sun in Greek mythology.
In addition to this evidence, a variation of this same text equates Shemyaza's sons `not (with) the... eagle, but his wings', while in the same breath the two brothers are described as `in their nest', statements which prompted the Hebrew scholar J. T. Milik to conclude that, like Mahawai, they too `could have been bird-men'.
This was compelling confirmation that angels were originally a culture or tribe who practised a form of bird shamanism, perhaps associated with a dark carrion bird such as the crow or vulture.