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Angelic Transformation

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Transformation between divine and human forms.

This trope has been Launched!
Proposed By:
Generality on Dec 29th 2014 at 3:15:30 PM
Last Edited By:
Morgenthaler on Aug 17th 2017 at 3:22:47 PM
Name Space: Main
Page Type: Trope

Many religions recognize beings that can be broadly termed angels, though their exact natures and traits vary. In the current age, these are often seen as not overly dissimilar from the souls of humans, allowing members of one kind to change into the other. As angels are increasingly portrayed as Winged Humanoids, the distinction becomes very fine.

In the canon of all Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam), angels are a separate order of creation from humanity, generally regarded as composed of spirit or light. Though they can appear as humans if it suits them, they are unable to truly become human. Yet even in canon, angels are often envious of mortals, and many writers have mused on how one of them might become one of us. Similarly, in recent centuries due to carelessness or wishful thinking, it's not uncommon to show characters in fiction becoming angels after death, especially if they were particularly saintlike in life.

Humans being elevated will often be given, along with robes and a harp, actual wings and a halo, as if these things were also garments and not inseparable parts of an angelic being. Conversely, an angel frequently rescinds its stature by ripping or cutting off its own wings, often leaving a pair of telltale stubs on their back.

An angel becoming a human is a case of Humanity Ensues. Conversely, human-to-angel is Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence. Either transformation usually counts as Semi-Divine. It often overlaps with Winged Soul Flies Off at Death; however, note that that trope is a symbolic depiction of death and not always meant to suggest that the deceased has actually become an angel. See also Fallen Angel.


Examples of Angels becoming Human

Comic Books

  • Played with in The Sandman, where Lucifer resigns as the ruler of Hell and gets Dream to cut off his wings, appearing to give up his angelic abilities. However, in a later arc, he claims that he never actually gave up his powers.

Film

  • In Wings of Desire (as well as in its Foreign Remake City of Angels) angels can literally fall from grace to become human. The main character wishes to do this out of love for a mortal.
  • In the climax of Constantine, Gabriel is de-winged as punishment for plotting to unleash Mammon upon the world, leaving a pair of bloody stumps. Constantine introduces them to pain with a punch to the mouth.
  • The plot of the film Dogma centers around a pair of disgraced angels planning to reenter heaven by entering an arch that has been blessed by a clueless Cardinal to forgive all sins of any who walk through. In order for the blessing to work, they have to become human. Jay accidentally does this for them by shooting off their wings.

Literature

  • The angels of The Dresden Files universe are revealed to be capable of transubstantiation in Skin Game, when Archangel Uriel temporarily transfers his Grace to Michael Carpenter. Doing so renders the angel, for all intents and purposes, a mortal, while giving the mortal some of the angelic powers. The biggest downside, though, is that if the mortal ever willingly abuses those powers for evil (as mortals are prone to), the angel automatically Falls.

Video Games

  • Tyrael becomes tired of being mired in the Celestial Bureaucracy in Diablo III and pulls off his armor and wings, becoming a man who is frail and amnesiac until his sword is returned to him. The transformation is apparently one-way, though. A distinction is also made between being mortal and being one of the Nephalem, the humans of the setting who are the descendants of angels and demons commingling.

Webcomics

  • In Narbonic Caliban, a demon/fallen angel, becomes human in order to escape some demonic loan sharks.

Examples of Humans becoming Angels

Film

  • Constantine states that the forces of heaven and hell are forbidden by ancient truce to interfere with the mortal world, and they work their influence by "half-breeds", who are implied to be humans who have earned their way into one or the other realm and been sent back as an agent. We see this happen with Chaz, who appears above his own gravestone with wings and a tattered straightjacket before flying away.
  • In It's a Wonderful Life Clarence Oddbody introduces himself as an "Angel, Second Class" and his reward for helping George is that he is promoted to First Class and earns wings. His name and somewhat bumbling nature suggest that he was once a living man.

Live-Action TV

  • Quantum Leap: In "It's a Wonderful Leap" a woman named Angela claims to be a deceased-human-now-guardian-angel for Sam.
  • Supernatural zig zags this trope. Angels have human vessels, basically extra-devout humans who allow angels to use their bodies to become corporeal on Earth. But sometimes angels lose their grace, and become fully human; yet they continue to consider themselves as their angel self rather than their human self. For example, the human Jimmy Novak allowed the angel Castiel to use his body, but when Castiel becomes human he doesn't think of himself as Jimmy, he's still Castiel.

Video Games

  • Occurs symbolically in The Talos Principle. If one of Elohim's children exceeds at the puzzles they've been tasked with solving, they're given the chance to give up their life and become a "messenger", charged with aiding those who come after them. In doing so, they choose an epitaph and lie dormant in a sarcophagus until woken to give advice.

Feedback: 32 replies

Dec 29th 2014 at 6:52:03 PM

Note: transubstantiation is specifically changing substance without changing form. The bread is transformed into the substance of Christ's body, while keeping the form of the bread.

So unless you want this limited to only examples where the same form is used in both sacred and profane substances, I suggest using the easier word of Transformation: Angelic Transformation

Dec 29th 2014 at 7:25:58 PM

^^ Related, I suppose.

^ Since most angels in fiction look human to begin with, it kind of works that way. That said, I'm welcome to change the title since it's not particularly indicative of the trope.

Dec 30th 2014 at 1:51:10 AM

  • The angels of The Dresden Files universe are revealed to be capable of transubstantiation in Skin Game, when Archangel Uriel temporarily transfers his Grace to Michael Carpenter. Doing so renders the angel, for all intents and purposes, a mortal, while giving the mortal some of the angelic powers. The biggest downside, though, is that if the mortal ever willingly abuses those powers for evil (as mortals are prone to), the angel automatically Falls.

Dec 30th 2014 at 9:16:44 AM

Quantum Leap: In "It's a Wonderful Leap" a woman named Angela claims to be a deceased-human-now-guardian-angel for Sam.

Aug 25th 2015 at 2:20:48 AM

  • In one of the stories on Counter Monkey, Tandem the Spoony Bard, after having ascended to godhood, is cast down from divinity to being mortal again, when his player grows bored with godhood and accepts losing a few levels to go adventuring again.

Aug 25th 2015 at 9:11:07 AM

Supernatural zig zags this trope. Angels have human vessels, basically extra-devout humans who allow angels to use their bodies to become corporeal on Earth. But sometimes angels lose their grace, and become fully human; yet they continue to consider themselves as their angel self rather than their human self. For example, the human Jimmy Novak allowed the angel Castiel to use his body, but when Castiel becomes human he doesn't think of himself as Jimmy, he's still Castiel.

Aug 25th 2015 at 1:20:00 PM

Comic Books

  • Played with in The Sandman, where Lucifer resigns as the ruler of Hell and gets Dream to cut off his wings, appearing to give up his angelic abilities. However, in a later arc, he claims that he never actually gave up his powers.

Oct 25th 2015 at 8:28:55 AM

Eh, it would probably depend on the work. Angels who become human usually lose their grace and are basically mortal with just an unusual perspective on life.

Oct 25th 2015 at 1:58:13 PM

^ Still, it needs to be mentioned in the description.

Oct 26th 2015 at 7:16:19 PM

I vaguely remember something similar was on YKTTW before (years ago), you might try searching for it and stealing examples. It might even have had a similar name...it sounds very familiar to me.

Nov 30th 2015 at 6:15:05 PM

Not quite "angels", but in the animated Disney movie it's made clear that morals don't glow and gods do (except for Hades, for some reason). The potion that removes Herc's immortality removes his glow, ending with his mouth.

Nov 30th 2015 at 9:39:19 PM

Change the title plz. The word's too mouthful for me.

Dec 16th 2015 at 3:09:41 PM

  • Judge Dredd: Hocus Ritter, a farmer whose family was slain by Judge Death, pursued the life-hating monster across the Cursed Earth to get revenge. When he's executed by the corrupt Judges of Las Vegas, he turned into an angel upon entering the astral plane so he could punish Judge Death by throwing him into Hell.

Dec 17th 2015 at 3:45:12 AM

The comparable demon situation is split into two tropes, Demon Of Human Origin and Humanity Ensues. Ot might be best to narrow this to angels that were human and name it Angel Of Human Origin.

Dec 17th 2015 at 9:17:44 AM

Humanity Ensues is a broad supertrope. I think it's useful to have a trope list for specifically angel-related instances.

May 15th 2016 at 3:01:17 AM

Bump. Is this still being sponsored?

May 19th 2016 at 10:23:44 AM

I don't understand how Ascend To A Higher Plane Of Existance is an inversion of this. If anything, I would say it's the supertrope.

May 19th 2016 at 10:24:54 AM

Wait, that last reply only applies for human-to-angel. I'm actually really confused as to which direction this transformation goes in.

May 19th 2016 at 11:54:44 AM

I meant the inverse of an angel-to-human tranformation is Ascend To A Higher Plane Of Existence. The ambiguous text has been updated.

Sep 11th 2016 at 11:53:09 AM

  • In Narbonic Caliban, a demon/fallen angel, becomes human in order to escape some demonic loan sharks.

Sep 13th 2016 at 4:24:05 AM

Again, compare Semi Divine and God Of Human Origin

Btw do we have Demonic Transformation?

Oct 17th 2016 at 8:02:10 AM

Is this ready for launch?

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