Created By: KhymChanurDecember 6, 2012 Last Edited By: StarSwordDecember 18, 2012
Troped

Holy Is Not Safe

Something holy which is potentially dangerous to anyone, rather than just being dangerous to evil.

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"But He said, 'You cannot see My face; for no man shall see Me, and live.'"

Everyone knows it's a bad idea to mess around with evil. If you're foolish enough to poke a concentrated ball of malevolence, you've got no one but yourself to blame for the consequences. But surely we should expect goodness to be a bit more, well, user-friendly? A bit less liable to reduce you to a pile of ashes for looking at it crosswise?

Don't count on it.

Even when Light Is Good, it can still be too hot to handle. Maybe holiness is judgment untempered by mercy, and only the most incorruptible people can come in contact with it and come away unscathed. Maybe it's really temperamental, and objects violently to being used for any but the most noble causes. Or maybe it's just that light burns, and enough holiness in one place is naturally dangerous to anyone, not only the wicked. In any event, you'll probably rest easier with some safe distance between yourself any anything really holy.

This may be the logical extreme of White Magic. While Black Magic involves drawing power from others, and has a tendency to kill or corrupt anyone, White Magic generally helps others through self-sacrifice and purges evil. Think about the implications of this: if you aren't willing the make the sacrifice you get punished, while if you are worthy enough, you get sacrificed. Likewise, anyone helped by your sacrifice is likely to be saved or punished by its effects.

Closely related to Holy Hand Grenade; the distinction is that this trope refers to holiness being inherently dangerous to Muggles, whereas Holy Hand Grenade is when holiness is weaponized. Sometimes manifests as Cast From Hit Points or Brown Note. See also Humans Are Flawed for a possible reason Holy Is Not Safe. Contrast Revive Kills Zombie, in which something beneficial to normal beings is harmful to unholy ones. The Evil Counterpart is Evil Is Not A Toy.

Examples:

[[foldercontrol]]

[[folder:Anime and Manga]]
  • The Innocence in D Gray Man is the Divine Crystal used as a weapon by Exorcists. As such it is obviously harmful to evil beings... but it can just as well be harmful to the good guys. Parasitic type Exorcists (whose weapon is a part of their own body) are actually stated to have a short life-span due to the sheer amount of energy it consumes. Also, any Exorcist who forgets his mission will be eaten by the Innocence from the inside, and die after turning into an uncontrollable monster that indiscriminately destroys everything around it for several hours. And finally, non-Exorcists cannot stand being exposed to pure Innocence, even if they aren't evil.
  • In Scrapped Princess, Ginnungagap is the highest known military grade offensive spell, and is so powerful that it must be sanctioned for use, by way of unanimous decision, by the High Council. The attack itself covers an unbelievably wide area and is devastating enough on it's own, but the real threat is resulting shockwave triggered by it. When used, it caused a mega-tsunami that devastated the majority of the continental coast![[/folder]]

[[folder:Film]]
  • As in the scriptures, the Ark of the Covenant in Raiders Of The Lost Ark is an inherently dangerous artifact. Indy and Marion only survive the movie because Indy remembers the Bible saying not to look upon the open Ark. Those Wacky Nazis aren't as lucky.
  • Dogma uses the idea that God's voice is fatal to mortals as a plot point. It places Metatron (see Mythology, below) in the role of Mr Exposition, and is used to destroy the renegade angels.[[/folder]]

[[folder:Literature]]
  • The Young Wizards series likes this trope:
    • The Archangel Michael manifesting at full power strains the fabric of reality almost to the breaking point.
    • The True Name of God is so potent that, if not kept in two separate pieces, its raw power would destroy entire universes.
    • If more than one of the Four Great Treasures of Ireland is kept in the same house without proper preparations, the result would "make a nuclear bomb look like a wet firecracker".
  • The sword Dyrnwyn in the Chronicles Of Prydain, the only weapon capable of slaying the undead Cauldron Born and the Dark Lord Arawn, also has a pronounced tendency to kill any unworthy person who tries to wield it.
  • In The Dresden Files, Harry receives the Soulfire power from Archangel Uriel, an ostensibly holy ability... which is powered by his own soul.
  • In The Silmarillion by JRR Tolkien, the silmarils were gems of light that burned everything and everybody trying to touch them who wasn't Incorruptibly Pure.
  • The Orb of Aldur in the Belgariad will kill anyone who touches it unless they are "pure", which really means "a direct descendant of its last wielder"; purity is In The Blood, apparently. As this line is thought to be extinct, no one has tried to move the Orb for hundreds of years. The plot of the series kicks off when someone, somehow, manages to steal it.[[/folder]]

[[folder:Live Action TV]]
  • In Supernatural, angels and demons both have to possess a human in order to walk the Earth. Angels require the consent of the human who is to be their vessel, but just because they're angels doesn't mean it's all going to turn out okay. Many angelic vessels are killed or left broken like victims of bad lobotomies after the angel is finished with them.
[[/folder]]

[[folder:Mythology and Religion]]
  • This is Older Than Feudalism. In Greek Mythology seeing the undisguised glory of a god would strike mortals dead, as happened to one of Zeus' many human lovers.
  • From The Bible:
    • In the Book Of Exodus, Moses asks to see God's face. God answers that this would kill Moses, but He does arrange for Moses to see His back instead.
    • The Ark of the Covenant was far too holy for any ordinary person to come in contact with. Attempting to touch it, even for a good reason, as in the case of the Israelite in 1 Samuel who tried to prevent it from falling on the ground, would result in that person being struck dead instantly.

      At another point in 1 Samuel (Chapters 4-7) the Israelites tried to use it as a good luck charm in battle against the Philistines. Its presence ended up galvanizing the Philistines who ripped the Israelites a new one and captured the Ark. Then the Philistines made the mistake of keeping it in the same room as an idol of Dagon, and God struck them with a plague of tumors and rats. The Philistine cities started playing hot potato with the thing and eventually decided to send it back to Israel with a guilt offering. Aaaand the Israelites promptly had a whole bunch of people die from looking into the Ark.
  • Judeo-Christian tradition has the archangel Metatron[[note]]meaning "He who stands before the throne[[/note]] whose job is to be the voice of God, employed any time in the Bible when people hear the voice in the sky. Presumably hearing God's voice is just as dangerous as seeing His face.
  • In later interpretations of Arthurian legend, the Holy Grail tended to be this. Only Sir Galahad, the purest of knights, could survive looking upon it. This might also be said to apply to the Siege Perilous, Galahad's seat at the Round Table, which marked the knight destined to complete the Grail Quest. Anyone other than Galahad who sat in it would immediately die.
[[/folder]]

[[folder:Tabletop Games]] [[/folder]]

[[folder:Video Games]]
  • In Final Fantasy VII, the White Materia, Holy, is the Planet's ultimate defensive measure. It wipes away anything it judges as a threat to the Planet, which could easily include humanity.
[[/folder]]

Indices: Older Than Feudalism, Religion Tropes, Tropes Of The Divine

Community Feedback Replies: 54
  • December 6, 2012
    Earnest
    Description wise, how about:

    When you stop and think about, no one is 100% good, and if Good Hurts Evil then everyone should be negatively affected by a holy/good/light relic. Some stories run with this logically and have artifacts harm or even disintegrate anyone daring to touch it unless they're Made Of Good and/or have Incorruptible Pure Pureness on their side.
  • December 6, 2012
    KhymChanur
    Earnest: that might apply to some examples, but in the examples I cited the problem is holy things which directly damage ordinary matter (or "ordinary" fabric-of-reality) which is neither good nor evil, and which therefore hurt people because they're made up of that same ordinary stuff.
  • December 6, 2012
    Jaqen
    Mythology Bible Samuel book 1, Levites carry the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem. They drop it. A Muggle runs out of the crowd to save the Ark, so God kills him.
  • December 6, 2012
    Desertopa
    None of the examples listed so far have any sort of Made Of Good or Incorruptible Pure Pureness exemption though. It's more that the fact that the entities in question are holy doesn't change the fact that they're too powerful to be safe.

    How about:

    Everyone knows it's a bad idea to mess around with evil. If you're foolish enough to poke a concentrated ball of malevolence, you've got no one but yourself to blame for the consequences. But surely we should expect goodness to be a bit more, well, user-friendly? A bit less liable to reduce you to a pile of ashes for looking at it crosswise?

    Don't count on it.

    Even when Light Is Good, it can still be too hot to handle. Maybe holiness is judgment untempered by mercy, and only the most incorruptible people can come in contact with it and come away unscathed. Maybe it's really temperamental, and objects violently to being used for any but the most noble causes. Or maybe it's just that light burns, and enough holiness in one place is naturally dangerous to anyone, not only the wicked. In any event, you'll probably rest easier with some safe distance between yourself any anything really holy.


    • The Ark of the Covenant was far too holy for any ordinary person to come in contact with. Attempting to touch it, even for a good reason, as in the case of the Israelite who tried to prevent it from falling on the ground, would result in that person being reduced to ash.

    Edit: the Ark of the Covenant example had already been added by the time I finished the writeup proposal. But here's another.

  • December 6, 2012
    MetaFour
    Also from the Bible: In Exodus, Moses asks to see God's face. God answers that this would kill Moses, but he does arrange for Moses to see his backside instead.
  • December 6, 2012
    Stratadrake
    Doesn't this sound a lot like Holy Hand Grenade?
  • December 6, 2012
    Desertopa
    It's definitely related to Holy Hand Grenade, but it's not the same trope. Holy Is Not Safe is about hazardous holiness, whereas Holy Hand Grenade is about weaponized holiness. You might say that one is "holiness is radioactive" where the other is "holiness can be made into bombs."
  • December 6, 2012
    Koveras
  • December 7, 2012
    bulmabriefs144
    • In Raiders Of The Lost Ark the Ark of the Covenant is also used. Anyone who doesn't bow their heads or otherwise look away gets killed horribly.

    This is the logical extreme of White Magic. While Black Magic involves drawing power from others, and has a tendency to kill or corrupt anyone, White Magic generally helps others through self-sacrifice and purges evil. Think about the implications of this, if you aren't willing the make the sacrifice you get punished, if you are worthy enough, you get sacrificed. Likewise, anyone helped by your sacrifice is likely to be saved or punished by its effects.
  • December 7, 2012
    Tuckerscreator
    Did that guy who touched the ark to save it get disintegrated? All I recall it saying was that he was killed. That could just as easily mean "dropped dead".
  • December 7, 2012
    Desertopa
    • In Final Fantasy VII, the White Materia, Holy, is the Planet's ultimate defensive measure. It wipes away anything it judges as a threat to the Planet, which could easily include humanity.
  • December 7, 2012
    DracMonster
    Holy Indiscriminant Damage Batman!

    (Just kidding, current title is fine.)
  • December 7, 2012
    Mozgwsloiku
    Also from Christian tradition, the angel Metatron ("He who stands before the throne") whose job is literally to be the voice of God - he is employed whenever people hear voice from the sky in the bible. (apparently God speaking in person to normal people would be just as lethal as seeing his face. Awesomeness Is Volatile )
  • December 7, 2012
    StarSword
    ^Just for reference, is that from the Apocrypha or something? I've only studied the Protestant Bible (I'm a Methodist) and I don't recognize the name.

    @Tuckerscreator: Don't know; it's been a while since I read 1 Samuel.
  • December 7, 2012
    justanid
    Holy Dangerous, Holy Indiscriminate, Holy Unsafe?

    Tabletop Games
  • December 7, 2012
    Desertopa
    That sounds more like Holy Hand Grenade to me, since it's weaponized holiness, and as far as I know holiness in D&D isn't particularly hazardous to non-evil things unless someone deliberately uses it offensively.
  • December 7, 2012
    DracMonster
    ^In 4e holy damage became "radiant" - it hurts whatever you throw it at equally.
  • December 7, 2012
    Mozgwsloiku
  • December 7, 2012
    StarSword
    Thanks. I'll stick it in.

    I don't think holy damage in D&D counts. That's Holy Hand Grenade, weaponized holiness.
  • December 7, 2012
    Astaroth
    Something from Dungeons And Dragons that might count is the Positive Energy Plane: It serves as the power source behind spells and abilities that Turn Undead, but any living being who tries to enter the plane without appropriate protection will find their bodies being overloaded with life energy and risk being vaporised if they spend too long there.
  • December 7, 2012
    Stratadrake
    @Tuckerscreator: That's right. In the Old Testament, he reached out a hand to stabilize the ark when the animals carrying it stumbled; he was promptly struck dead. One scientific theory proposed went by saying that if the ark was somehow superconductive (enabling magnetic levitation), then you would not want to touch it without proper insulation, otherwise you'd get electrocuted.
  • December 7, 2012
    jatay3
    Why not just say it was a myth if you don't believe or say it is true if you do? Divine intervention is really easier to believe then electrical arks that just happen to be in that place. As is "people telling stories."
  • December 7, 2012
    StarSword
    Leaving aside the "how did it happen" debate for a moment, I've changed the entry to say "struck dead instantly" instead of "turned to ash". Still, the relevant passage from 1 Samuel might make for a good page quote.

    Thanks for the D&D example Astaroth. I was sure there was one, but I don't know enough about the various campaign settings to have said for sure.
  • December 7, 2012
    aurora369
    Silmarils in JRR Tolkien's Silmarillion. They were gems of light that burned everything and everybody trying to touch them that wasn't Incorruptible Pure Pureness.
  • December 8, 2012
    Desertopa
    I'm a bit dubious on the whole "this is the logical extension of White Magic" thing. The mechanics of black and white magic vary dramatically between settings; in a lot of JRP Gs, "black" magic is just attack magic, and white magic is healing and support. Sometimes white magic is wielding raw Life Energy. Sometimes it's just a question of what the practitioner will or won't stoop to. I think it would be better to add examples of settings where this is the extreme of white magic, rather than putting an overgeneralization into the main trope description.
  • December 8, 2012
    jatay3
    It could be combined with Humans Are Flawed by saying that only those with a minimal perfection can see or touch it.
  • December 8, 2012
    Desertopa
    That's sometimes true, but not always. See the first few comments.

    We could add a note like:

    See Humans Are Flawed for a common reason that holiness can be antithetical to normal people.
  • December 8, 2012
    Lyendith
    Anime And Manga:

    The Innoncence in D. Gray-Man is the Divine Crystal used as a weapon by Exorcists. As such it is obviously harmful to evil beings... but it can just as well be harmful to the good guys. Parasitic type Exorcists (whose weapon is a part of their own body) are actually stated to have a short life-span due to the sheer amount of energy it consumes. Also, any Exorcist who forgets his mission will be eaten by the Innoncence from the inside, and die after turning into an incontrollable monster (which destroys everything around it for several hours; indiscriminately). And finally, non-Exorcists cannot stand being exposed to pure Innocence, even if they aren't evil.
  • December 8, 2012
    bulmabriefs144
    "@Tuckerscreator: That's right. In the Old Testament, he reached out a hand to stabilize the ark when the animals carrying it stumbled; he was promptly struck dead. One scientific theory proposed went by saying that if the ark was somehow superconductive (enabling magnetic levitation), then you would not want to touch it without proper insulation, otherwise you'd get electrocuted."

    Ummmm, wrong ark. Oh, nvm. You were talking about animals, and I assumed you were thinking Noah's ark instead of the ark of the Covenant.
  • December 8, 2012
    StarValkyrie
    In Supernatural, angels and demons both have to possess a human in order to walk the Earth. Angels require the consent of the human who is to be their vessel, but just because they're angels doesn't mean it's all going to turn out okay. Many angelic vessels are killed or left broken like victims of bad lobotomies after the angel is finished with them.
  • December 10, 2012
    Lyendith
    bump.
  • December 10, 2012
    McKathlin
    • The Holy spell in Final Fantasy IV is especially effective on the undead, but it will hurt anything it targets, including party members.
  • December 10, 2012
    StarSword
    That's Holy Hand Grenade, sorry.
  • December 10, 2012
    McKathlin
    Contrast Revive Kills Zombie, in which something beneficial to normal beings is applied to harm unholy ones.
  • December 13, 2012
    Desertopa
    In later interpretations of Arthurian Legend, the Holy Grail tended to be this. Only Sir Galahad, the purest of knights, could survive looking upon it. This might also be said to apply to the Siege Perilous, Galahad's seat at the Round Table, which marked the knight destined to complete the Grail Quest. Anyone other than Galahad who sat in it would immediately die.
  • December 13, 2012
    elwoz
    The Orb of Aldur in the Belgariad will kill anyone who touches it unless they are "pure", which really means "a direct descendant of its last wielder"; purity is In The Blood, apparently. As this line is thought to be extinct, no one has tried to move the Orb for hundreds of years. The plot of the series kicks off when someone, somehow, manages to steal it.
  • December 13, 2012
    Cider
    For the description
    • Keep in mind that though the word has good connotations, at its most basic Holy means set apart and different, which is why it really should not be surprising if such a thing is dangerous.
  • December 13, 2012
    StarSword
    I put it on the end of the last paragraph; what do you think?

    Also, I think this is about launch-ready. Should we wait for more hats or just go ahead and launch?
  • December 13, 2012
    Desertopa
    The linguistic claim seems dubious to me. From the other wiki,

    "The word "sacred" descends from the Latin sacrum, which referred to the gods or anything in their power, and to sacerdos, priest; sanctum, set apart. It was generally conceived spatially, as referring to the area around a temple.

    The English word "holy" dates back to at least the 11th Century with the Old English word hālig, an adjective derived from hāl meaning "whole" and used to mean "uninjured, sound, healthy, entire, complete". The Scottish hale ("health, happiness and wholeness") is the most complete modern form of this Old English root. The modern word "health" is also derived from the Old English hal. As "wholeness", holiness may be taken to indicate a state of religious completeness or perfection."

    So "sacred" has a linguistic connection to "set apart," but had a literal meaning closer to what we associate with it today, and "holy" has a different linguistic derivation altogether.

    Also, neither the dictionary definition nor common usage attests to such a meaning in the present day.

    Of course, none of the dictionary definitions entail that something holy is necessarily safe either, but they're not as pithy.

    I think the page is of launchable quality, but it wouldn't hurt to give it a chance to get a couple more hats.
  • December 13, 2012
    StarSword
    Okay, I'll pull the "what 'holy' means" thing, and plan on launching Saturday.
  • December 13, 2012
    Generality
    • Dogma uses the idea that God's voice is fatal to mortals as a plot point; it places the Metatron in the role of Mr Exposition, and is used to destroy the renegade angels.
  • December 14, 2012
    Stratadrake
    Don't like this name, but unfortunately I'm lacking in the alternatives department.
  • December 14, 2012
    elwoz
    ^ How about Good Is Not A Toy or Good Is Not Safe? I agree that holiness is a red herring here.
  • December 14, 2012
    Tuckerscreator
    @bulmabriefs144: Interesting theory, though if the ark could levitate then there wouldn't be any worry of it falling, thus. And I recall that it was typically carried from place to place by oxen or by Levites with poles, never that it levitated.

    I'm not sure about if it's quite the same as this trope, but you could also note about how the Ark turned the tide of battle against the Israelites when they tried to use it as a good luck charm for their war, then was captured by the Philistines only to bring down plagues and cancer in response. Don't mess with the Ark.
  • December 14, 2012
    StarSword
    ^I forget, was that in Kings or Chronicles?
  • December 16, 2012
    StarSword
    After reviewing Evil Is Not A Toy to be sure it's not a bad snowclone, I'm leaning towards Good Is Not A Toy for the title.
  • December 16, 2012
    Tuckerscreator
    @ Starsword: Neither. It was 1 Samuel 4 - 6, readable here.
  • December 16, 2012
    MiinU

    Anime

    • In Scrapped Princess, Ginnungagap is the highest known military grade offensive spell, and is so powerful that it must be sanctioned for use, by way of unanimous decision, by the High Council. The attack itself covers an unbelievably wide area and is devastating enough on it's own, but the real threat is resulting shockwave triggered by it. When used, it caused a mega-tsunami that devastated the majority of the continental coast!
  • December 16, 2012
    Desertopa
    That sounds like an example of Holy Hand Grenade.

    Also, I think Holy Is Not Safe is a fine name. Good Is Not A Toy doesn't have the flaw of being incomprehensible unless you've read the original page, but why add more snowclones when we've got a perfectly good alternative? I think Holy Is Not Safe is clearer, and the trope really does have more to do with holiness than goodness; the Greek gods were sacred, but not necessarily particularly good.
  • December 17, 2012
    MiinU
    @Desertopa - Ginnungagap is more of a Fantastic Nuke, than a Holy Hand Grenade. Just the same, it still qualifies as an example of this trope as well. It's a holy spell that isn't safe by any means, which is why it's use is restricted, under normal circumstances.

    The restriction can only be lifted during times of extreme crisis (i.e. threat of global catastrophe) and, even then, the High Council must convene and agree upon it unanimously, or it doesn't get used, because they're aware of the extremity of the devastation Ginnungagap leaves in it's wake.

    Simply put: it's not a decision they enter lightly, because they're well aware of the cost that will result from using it.
  • December 17, 2012
    Stratadrake
    Where names go, there's also Holy Is Not A Toy.
  • December 17, 2012
    StarSword
    @Desertopa: Good point on the name.

    Something I'm wondering: based on the namespace Scrapped Princess started as a light novel. Should I put it in literature or under anime and manga since it got an anime later?

    @Tuckerscreator: Thanks for looking that up for me. I'll stick it in.

    ...Anybody else think God was trolling both sides in that passage?
  • December 17, 2012
    MiinU
    @StarSword - I'd put it under anime. From what I've seen online, it's my understanding that most people only know of the anime, and aren't aware that there's a light novel of it. And that seems to be for the few people that even know Scrapped Princess exists at all.
  • December 18, 2012
    StarSword
    Fair enough. I've loaded it, but I changed the pothole on Ginnungagap to Fantastic Nuke. (No need to chain bluelinks in a single word...)

    Launching in five.

Three days must pass before this YKTTW is Launchworthy or Discardable