Legends of the Patriarchs and Prophets – The Fall of the Angels, by Sabine Baring-Gould

14th century depiction of 'The Fall of the Rebel Angels'; artist unknown; Louvre Museum, Paris, France; swiped from Wikimedia CommonsChapter

In the beginning, before the creation of heaven and earth, God made the angels; free intelligences and free wills; out of His love He made them, that they might be eternally happy. And that their happiness might be complete, He gave them the perfection of a created nature; that is, He gave them freedom.

But happiness is only attained by the free will agreeing in its freedom to accord with the will of God. Some of the angels by an act of free will obeyed the will of God, and in such obedience found perfect happiness; other angels by an act of free will rebelled against the will of God, and in such disobedience found misery.

Such is the catholic theory of the fall of the angels.

Historically, it is represented as a war in heaven.

And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, and prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven. And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world; he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him. – Revelations 12:7-9.

The reason of the revolt was that Satan desired to be as great as God.

Thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God; I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation in the sides of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the Most High. – Isaiah 14:13,14

The war ended in the fall of Satan and those whom he had led into apostasy; and to this fall are referred the words of Christ, “I saw Satan like lightning fall from heaven.” -Luke 10:18

Fabricius, in his collections of the apocryphal writings of the Old Testament, has preserved the song of triumph which the Archangel Michael sang on obtaining the victory. This is a portion of it:

“Glory to our God! Praise to His holy Name! He is our God; glory be to Him! He is our Lord! His be the triumph! He has stretched forth His right hand; He has manifested His power, He has cast down our adversaries. They are mad who resist Him; they are accursed who depart from His commandments! He knoweth all things, and cannot err. His will is sovereignly just, and all that He wills is good, all that He advises is holy. Supreme Intelligence cannot be deceived; Perfect Being cannot will what is evil. Nothing is above that which is supreme, nothing is better than that which is perfect. None is worthy beside Him but him whom He has made worthy. He must be loved above all things and adored as the eternal King. You have abandoned your God, you have revolted against Him, you have desired to be gods; you have fallen from your high estates, you have gone down like a fallen stone. Acknowledge that God is great, that His works are perfect, and that His judgments are just. Glory be to God through ages of ages, praises of joy for all His works!” This song of the Archangel is said to have been revealed to S. Amadeus.

According to the Talmudists, Satan, whose proper name is Sammael, was one of the Seraphim, with six wings. He was not driven out of heaven till after he had led Adam and Eve into sin; then Sammael and his host were precipitated out of the place of bliss, with God’s curse to weigh them down. In the struggle between Michael and Sammael, the falling Seraph caught the wings of Michael and tried to drag him down with him, but God saved him, whence Michael derives his name (the Rescued). This is what the Rabbi Bechai says in his commentary on the Five Books of Moses.

According to a Talmudic authority, the apostate angels having fallen in a heap, God laid his little finger on them and consumed them.

Sammael was the regent of the planet Mars, and this he rules still, and therefore it is that those born under the influence of that star are lovers of war and given to strife.

He was chief among the angels of God, and now he is prince among devils. His name is derived from Simmé, which means to blind and deceive. He stands on the left side of men. He goes by various names; such as the Old Serpent, the Unclean Spirit, Satan, Leviathan, and sometimes also Asael. In his fall he spat in his hatred against God, and his spittle stained the moon, and thus it is that the moon has on it spots.

After his fall, Satan took to himself four wives, Lilith and Naama the daughter of Lamech and sister of Tubal-cain, Igereth and Machalath. Each became the mother of a great host of devils, and each rules with her host over a season of the year; and at the change of seasons there is a great gathering of devils about their mothers. Lilith is followed by four hundred and seventy-eight legions of devils, for that number is comprised in her name (לילית  – 478). According to some, Lilith is identical with Eve. She rules over Damascus, Naama over Tyre, Igereth over Malta and Rhodes, and Machalath over Crete.

Many traditions date the existence of angels and demons from a remote period before the creation of the world, but some connect the fall of Satan and his host with the creation of man.

Abou-Djafar-Mohammed Tabari says that when God made Adam, He bade all the angels worship him as their king and superior, as says the Koran, “All the angels adored Adam” (xv. 30), but that Satan or Eblis answered God, “I will not adore Adam, for he is made of earth and I of fire, therefore I am better than he” (vii. II), and that God thereupon cursed Eblis and gave him the form of a devil, because of his pride, vain confidence, and disobedience.

Abulfeda says, “After God had made man He thus addressed the angels. “When I have breathed a portion of my spirit into him, bow before him and adore.”™ After He had inspired Adam with His spirit, all the angels of every degree adored him, except Eblis; he, through pride and envy, scorned to do this, and disobeyed God. Then God cursed him, and he cut him off from all hope in divine mercy, and He called him Scheithanan redjiman (Satan devoted to misery), and He cast him out who had been before an angel of the earth, and keeper of terrestrial things, and a guardian of Paradise.”

But the general opinion seems to have been that the fall of the angels preceded the creation of man. Ibn-Ezra dates it on the second day of creation, others on the first day when God “divided the light from the darkness.” Manasseh Ben Israel says that God has placed the devils in the clouds, that they might torment the wicked with thunder and lightnings, and showers of hail and tempests of wind, and that this took place on the second day, when the firmaments were divided.

As the fall of Satan took place through his aspiration to be God, so it is closely connected with the origin of idolatry and false worship; for now that Satan is cast out of heaven, he still seeks to exalt himself into the place of God, and therefore leads men from the worship of the true God into demonolatry. Thus the gods of the heathens were regarded by the first Christians as devils aspiring to receive that worship from men on earth which they sought and failed to obtain in heaven. Thus Saint Paul tells the Corinthians that “the Gentiles sacrifice to devils.” The temptation of Christ can only be fully understood when we bear in mind that pride and craving for worship is the prime source of Satan”™s actions. “All these will I give thee,” he said to Christ, “if Thou wilt fall down and worship me.” It was a second attempt of Satan to set himself above the Most High.

Among the heathen, traditions of the Angelic apostasy and war have remained.

The Indian story is as follows:

At the head of the apostate spirits is Mahisasura, or the great Asur; he and those who followed him were once good, but before the creation of the world they refused obedience to Brahma, wherefore they were cast down by the assistance of Schiva into the abyss of Onderah. Mahisasura is also represented as the great serpent Vrita, against which Indra fought, and which after a desperate struggle he overcame.

The Persian tradition is that Ahriman, the chief of the rebels, is not by nature evil. He was not created evil by the Eternal One, but he became evil by revolting against his will; and the ancient books of the Parsees assert that at the last day Ahriman will return to obedience, and having been purified by fire, will regain the place among the heavenly beings which he lost. In this war the Izeds fought against the Divs, headed by Ahriman, and flung the conquered into Douzahk or hell.

The Norse story is that Loki, the spirit of evil, is one of the gods, and sat with them at their table till he declared himself their enemy, when he with his vile progeny, the wolf and the serpent, were cast out. The wolf is bound, Thorr constrains the serpent, and Loki is chained under the mountains, and a serpent distils poison on his breast; when he tosses in agony, the earth quakes.

In Egypt, Typhon was brother of Osiris, but he revolted against him.

Maximus of Tyre, and Apollonius of Rhodes, following Orpheus, speak of the war of the gods against the angels who rebelled under their chief Ophion, or the Serpent, and Pherecydes, according to Origen, sang of this event as having taken place in pre-historic times; so that the knowledge of it could only have reached man by revelation. He described the two armies face to face, – one commanded by Saturn, the supreme Creator; the other by Ophioneus, the old Dragon, and the defeat of the latter and its expulsion from the realms of bliss to Ogenos, the regions of annihilation. The story of the Titans is connected with this. They were the sons of Uranus (heaven) and Ge (earth), and dwelt originally in heaven, whence they are called Uranidæ. They were twelve in number. Uranus threw out of heaven his other sons, the Hecatoncheires and the Cyclopes, and precipitated them into Tartarus. Whereupon Ge persuaded her sons, the Titans, to rise up against their father, and liberate their brethren. They did as their mother bade them, deposed Uranus, and placed on his throne their brother Cronus, who immediately re-imprisoned the Cyclopes. But Zeus with his brothers fought against the reigning Titans, cast them out of heaven, and enthroned himself on the seat of Cronus; and the Titans he enchained in the abyss under Tartarus.

This is simply the same story told over twice, and formed into a dynasty. Chronos Titan is the same as the Arabic Scheitan, the Erse Teitin, the Time-god, and the Biblical Satan, or Lucifer, the Son of the Morning.

Amongst the Battas of Sumatra exists a myth to this effect: Batara Guru, the supreme God, from whose daughter Putiarla Buran all mankind are descended, cast the mountain Bakkara out of heaven upon the head of the serpent, his foe, and made the home of his son Layanga-layaad-mandi on the top of this mountain. From this summit the son descended that he might bind the hands or feet of the serpent, as it shook its head and made the earth rock.

Connected with the fall of Satan is his lameness. The devil is represented in art and in legion as limping on one foot; this was occasioned by his having broken his leg in his fall.

Hephaestus, who pursued Athene and attempted to outrage divine Wisdom, was precipitated from heaven into the fire-island Lemnos, and was lamed thereby. Hermes cut the hamstring out of Typhon, therewith to string his lyre. The Norse god Loki lusted after Freya, and was lamed therefor. Wieland the smith (V̦lundr), who ventured to do violence to Beodohild, was lamed, and was known thereby. Phaethon, daring to drive his fatherӪs chariot of the sun, was cast out and thrown to earth.

The natives of the Caroline Islands relate that one of the inferior gods, named Merogrog, was driven by the other gods out of heaven, and he took with him a spark of fire which he gave to men. This myth resembles that of Prometheus, “the contriver, full of gall and bitterness, who sinned against the gods by bestowing their honors on creatures of a day, the thief of fire,” as Hermes calls him. He reappears as Tohil among the Quiches, the giver of fire, hated, yet adored.

The Northern Californians say that the supreme God once created invisible spirits, of whom one portion revolted against him, headed by a spirit named War or Touparan, and that the Great Spirit having overcome him, drove him from the plains of heaven, and confined him along with his comrades in a cavern, where he is guarded by whales.

The Egyptian Typhon, already alluded to, did not belong to Egypt alone, but also to Phœnicia and Asia Minor, and thence the story passed into Greece, where it took root, and has been preserved to us as the attack of the hundred-headed dragon against the heaven-god Zeus. Typhon desired to obtain supremacy over gods and men, and, in order to win for himself this sovereignty, he fought against the gods; but he was defeated, bound, and precipitated into Tartarus, or, according to another version, was buried under the flaming mountains.

According to a tradition of the Salivas, a people of New Granada, a serpent slew the nations, descended from God, who inhabited the region of the Orinoco, but a son of the God Puru fought him and overcame him, and bade him depart with his curse, and never to enter his house again, and, say these Salivas, from the flesh of the serpent sprang the Caribees, their great foes, as maggots from putrid meat.

But these stories might be infinitely extended. How far they refer to a tradition common to the human race, and how far they relate to the strife between summer and winter, sun and storm-cloud, I do not pretend to decide. It is one of those vexed questions which it is impossible to determine.

MLA Citation

  • Sabine Baring-Gould. “The Fall of the Angels”. Legends of the Patriarchs and Prophets, 1881. CatholicSaints.Info. 20 April 2015. Web. 11 December 2016. <>