Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Mythic Monday: The Demon Azazel


And Azazel taught men to make swords and knives and shields and breastplates; and made known to them the metals [of the earth] and the art of working them; and bracelets and ornaments; and the use of antimony and the beautifying of the eyelids; and all kinds of costly stones and all colouring tinctures. And there arose much godlessness, and they committed fornication, and they were led astray and became corrupt in all their ways.
-The Book of Enoch

Back to mythic Monday (er, Tuesday), and my study of traditional demons from a few weeks ago.  (Brief recap of the previous article - standard D&D demons as big stupid meat bags of hit points = boring; demons as foul immortal spirits that plague the world, possess people, and require dramatic showdowns with exorcists to defeat =  interesting).

A disclaimer is warranted: I'm basically just going out to the folklore and looking at how a mythic element has been used by past cultures and the popular culture, and only tangentially interested in historical criticism.  One finds that many demons were gods in pre-Christian cultures (like Beelzebub) and only get transmogrified into fallen angels or demons by later people; Azazel has similarly murky origins from the perspective of history and criticism.  Was it a mythic being or just  a place of sacrifice in the desert?  So instead of focusing on historicity, I'm going to weave together some of the folkloric elements to make a good story for gaming.

Azazel's History
From the apocryphal Book of Enoch, quoted above, we learn that Azazel was an angel sent to observe the earth, a Watcher.  He/it abandoned his original mission to teach men how to make metal weapons, and women how to use make-up (the arts of deception and vanity).   One of the sources says he "also revealed to the people the secrets of witchcraft and corrupted their manners, leading them into wickedness and impurity…"

Now we're getting somewhere… teaching people about make-up and guns seems a bit prosaic - I mean, anyone can get that stuff over at the Walmart.  How evil can it be?  Then again, my liberal wife tells me Walmart *is*the source of all evil - perhaps there is a connection?  But I digress.

The archangel Raphael shows up, kicks Azazel around the block, and the demon is chained to "rough and ragged rocks, to await judgment day".

Azazel shows up next in the Bible, in the book of Leviticus, in relation to the scapegoat ceremony.  Related to the Day of Atonement, the ceremony involves folks confessing all their sins and wrongdoings for the year:

And Aaron shall cast lots over the two goats, one lot for the Lord and the other lot for Azazel… and the goat on which the lot fell for Azazel shall be presented alive before the Lord to make atonement over it, that it may be sent away into the wilderness to Azazel.
-Leviticus 16:8-10

The priest performs a ritual, placing all the confessed evil onto the goat, and the goat is driven into the wilderness, to Azazel.  Pretty dark stuff - very primal.  The more gruesome descriptions of the ritual describe the goat being taken to a high precipice, pushed off and dashed to the rocks below.  There's irony in the juxtaposition of the staining blood being the agent of cleansing.

Those dashing rocks where the annual goats are slaughtered seems awfully similar to the rough and ragged rocks where the demon was first imprisoned by the angel Raphael.

Azazel
Is it any wonder the demon is associated with the goat symbol, or the upside down pentagram (supposedly a goat head, right?)?  The place of sacrifice seems like the spiritual equivalent of a modern landfill - the place to take all the trash and refuse in the world - including demons and all the wrongs done by mankind.  I kind of like the landfill approach - it'd be nifty if I could pack all my bad habits onto a goat and just send it out into the wilderness and be done with them.  I feel better already just visualizing it.  Or maybe those ancient cabbalists in the desert were feeding corruption and wickedness to the demon to keep it quiescent.

The ritual of appeasing or dumping on the imprisoned demon went from practice to story, from story to legend and eventually into myth, until the empire builders of a different age wiped out the indigenous cultures and colonized the area with their legions of foreign soldiers.  It was only a matter of time before the demon was able to slip back into a human host and be freedom to plague the mortal world again.

Using Azazel in a fantasy game
My approach to demons is rooted in the tradition of supernatural horror - regardless of how mundane the world might appear, there's another level where cosmic or universal forces of good and evil are engaged in a conflict beyond mortal comprehension.  Why hasn't good won?  Are the sides too evenly matched?  Has "good" withdrawn from the battlefield, such that the work of angels, demigods and gods is now carried out by humans?  Or is evil given free reign due to man's inherent free will?

Keep it ambiguous.  The epic forces of the divine that once strode the world have withdrawn - the gods are distant, and if they act at all, it's through proxies and indirect support (in game terms - clerics, paladins, saving throws, magical artifacts, spells, etc).  But it's up to mortals to fight their own battles.  Keep the attention focused at the character level, and only use angels and demigods as plot devices and deus ex machina 'heavy artillery'. Evil, on the other hand, has free reign to wreak havoc.

Trapped in the mortal realm and weakened by banishment and imprisonment, Azazel skulks from host to host and plots revenge against the divine forces that exiled him in the physical realm.  The demon's primary entertainment is torturing and corrupting clerics, paladins, and other combatants on the spiritual battlefield.  When it picks a target, it uses a variety of hosts to commit gruesome murders of the target's friends and family, slowly getting closer to the target itself.  The ideal end to a particular revenge crusade is to possess the target and commit a highly public murder, fleeing the scene in another host and leaving behind the unfortunate victim to face the executioner's axe.

In an AD&D type game, it's much harder to possess a paladin because of the ever-present Protection from Evil effect.  In these situations, the demon hopes to drive the victim into despair and committing an act that causes the loss of powers, creating a window for possession.  Azazel can likewise take the corrupter route, inhabiting the attractive bodies of members of the opposite sex in order to lure the target into compromising situations.

In all cases, Azazel favors arming it's host with the finest knives and blades available.  One avenue for tracking the fiend would be the various blacksmiths or armorers in the city might recall unrelated visitors all asking for the same unusual style of foreign blade, made from imported metal (perhaps a kris made of Damascus steel).  The demon will go to great lengths for successive hosts to retrieve these artifacts when lost by previous hosts.

Unlike most demons, Azazel is not a ravening beast that possesses a host and wreaks immediate havoc in a flashy demonic rage with obvious signs of possession; it has become a subtle, patient killer that methodically destroys its prey, one friend at a time.

The Demon Azazel  (flavored for Labyrinth Lord)
No. Enc.: 1
Alignment: Chaotic
Movement: as human host
Armor Class:  as human host, +1 to AC
Hit Dice:  as human host, +1 per hit die
Attacks: by weapon, +3 to hit
Damage: by weapon +3
Save: C10
Morale: 11
Hoard Class:  nil
XP: 3000

Abilities:
Clerical Spells
Azazel will be able to use cleric spells equal to a 8th level cleric.  It will feature spells that help it identify it's victim and avoid detection - here's a sample list:

1 Detect Good, Darkness, Protection from Good, Fear
2 Know Alignment, Hold Person, Silence 15'
3 Curse, Dispel Magic, Feign Death
4  Divination, Detect Lie (reversed)

Possession
When the demon is not in a host, it can perform an attack similar to Magic Jar attack once per round versus one target within a 120' range.  Unlike magic jar, the demon doesn't displace the possessor's soul; it dominates the victim and can override the victim's actions at will.

Immaterial
Demons are immaterial spirits, unable to move unless possessing a host.  When not possessing a victim, the demon is rooted to a locale or physical object.  Such an object or locale would radiate powerful evil if a Detect Evil spell is used.

Vulnerabilities
Demons can be turned; an immaterial demon can't flee, but would be suppressed for the duration of the effect.  A possessed victim will flee a cleric that turns it.  A demon takes a penalty to saving throws (-4) versus a cleric that know it's true name.  The spells Dispel Evil and Abjuration (new level 4 spell) are effective at freeing a victim of demonic possession.  When one of the spells is used in conjunction with the demon's true name, the caster can indicate a vessel for the demon when it is driven out of the previous host.