Guest Writer Melissa has started a series on the Supernatural villains. She's started with one of my favourites, Azazel! Let's encourage her to write some more in the series! Let her know your thoughts in the comments.
Our very first villain ever introduced to us on Supernatural was a demon known as Azazel, first glimpsed upon in the pilot episode where he is ominously visiting the infant Sam. Unidentified for over two entire seasons, for several episodes we in the audience would alternate between nicknames for the fiend, such as the Ceiling Demon or the Yellow-Eyed Demon. With such prestige being our first actual adversary in the show, we owe him the respect of looking deeper into his character and possibly uncovering interesting tidbits from his historical background.
We know, in accordance with the show’s mythology, that Azazel was a high-ranking demon who earned the favor of Satan, so much so that he was bequeathed with the honor of leaving hell in pursuit of the entrance to Lucifer’s cage. Doorway to that cage was located in 1972, when he took possession of a priest and slaughtered all the nuns inside for the inauguration of some satanic ritual. Massacre resulted in his ability to then communicate with Lucifer himself via one of the dead nuns, where he learned in order to break open the cage, they must first release Lilith. Only a chosen child can release her, so Azazel sets out on an arduous task of bargaining with particular women, waiting ten years for the birth of one of their children, and systematically bleeding into their mouths to properly taint and empower their future warriors. Upon coming of age, these anointed children would be faced off in a Battle Royale style melee, after which the lone survivor will use the colt to unlock the gates of hell, thereby releasing the demon, Lilith. Only once this child has killed Lilith, will the final seal be broken and Lucifer can roam free on the earth.
Successful in all these multifarious and intricate ordeals, Azazel was denied his chance to celebrate his accomplishments, instead being shot with the colt by Dean. Hurray for Dean! Despite perishing, no one can argue that Azazel performed his tasks magnificently and managed to set off such an epic chain of events, that to this day the Winchester family is still dealing with some of the repercussions. In fact we wouldn’t even have a show if it weren’t for Azazel, as he was the one who provided John Winchester with the motivation of hunting all that is unnatural and wicked in pursuit of avenging his wife, consequently also raising his sons, Dean and Sam, in the life. But is there more to the demon?
Older translations of the Bible do include the word Azazel in its vocabulary, meaning something equivalent to a scapegoat. Yes, a scapegoat. Yeah, not all that terrifying. Further research into Judaism tells us that the term scapegoat pretty much emerged from the tradition of serving God a goat and offering it as a sacrifice. By slaughtering the goat in God’s name, we are then forgiven our sins, thus turning the sacrifice into a scapegoat. Perhaps we could then interpret the killing of Azazel as a means for redemption for the Winchester legacy, as it was Mary’s choice (admittedly out of the love for her boyfriend) to deal with the demon that cursed her offspring in the first place. Sure, I’m reaching here, but I see Dean killing Azazel as him righting the wrongs done to his family.
Then there are the teachings of Islam, which also reference Azazel. In their religion, Azazel is the name of an entity who disobeyed Allah by tempting Adam to eat the apple and become the world’s very first sinner. Might sound familiar for those fans of Gadreel. Much like how the Azazel in that story lured Adam to the transgression of eating the apple, it was our Yellow-Eyed Dmon in the show who persuaded Mary to bargain with him and seal the fate of her family, in exchange for John’s life. Had it not been for that original transaction, the Winchester family would never have been harmed, Mary’s noble intentions notwithstanding.
Skip ahead to the Book of Enoch, where you will find a handful of references to Azazel. Depending on the translation and edition, some versions depict him as a fallen angel who copulated with human women. These forbidden relations led to the birth of the Nephilim, which are angel/human hybrids. Look to some other passages and you will see that Azazel is described, not as a fallen angel, but as a mere human being who enticed people to sin. Scriptures specify that Azazel taught mankind the art of war, while also tutoring women in the ways of witchcraft. Between the warfare and sorcery and the abomination of the Nephilim (all of these atrocities influenced entirely by Azazel himself), God flooded the earth and wiped out the majority of mankind. So in a way, you can attribute a certain past apocalypse to Azazel himself. If we were to attach this piece of theology to the character in the show, it would make sense why Azazel was deemed so valuable in the underworld, given his reputation for having been such a contributing factor to the eradication of past generations relating to the biblical flood.
If we were to cross out the depictions of him as a fallen angel, and take into consideration the opposing passages that portray him as human molding others into the perfect sinners, we could then imagine his subsequent damnation, leading to the eventual demonization of his soul down in hell. Or perhaps, within the constructs of the show, it is possible that he was once an angel, who was then cast out of heaven and reborn as a human, much like Anna. Should an angel lose their grace and be reborn as a human, could they then earn a place in hell in death and thus be turned into a demon? For all we know, Azazel’s grace could be buried away in some tree, just waiting to be excavated.
Time to reveal my true nerdiness, as we now turn to the X-Men mutant of the same name. Summarizing this long and convoluted story the best I can, there was once this army of demons from another dimension who breached earth and raided. Before the demonic soldiers could be pulled back in and sealed forever, their leader, Azazel, used his powers of teleportation to remain on the planet. From there he sired a number of children with only the most unique (basically mutated) women, one of his sons being the popular Nightcrawler.
Years later his legion of children were summoned to an island, where they, including Nightcrawler, were to sacrifice themselves for the sake of opening the portal to Azazel’s dimension and unleashing an army of demons. Needles to say our heroic X-Men team saved the day and prevented the demons from crossing over from their dimension, in the end trapping the malicious Azazel back in his own world. Obviously much of this story arch would remind us of Yellow-Eyed Demon gathering his special children and preparing them to unleash his own army by opening the Devil’s Gate in All Hell Breaks Loose.
All these different parallels remind me of just how well researched this show truly is, in how it’s able to pull from all sorts of source material and give the foundation of these characters true gravitas. As for why his eyes are yellow . . . ? Well, I don’t rightly know. Any theories out there? Although if you do notice the pictures of Azazel in the X-Men comics, he is sometimes illustrated with yellow eyes as well. Connection?
Lastly I’d also like to mention just how wonderfully this character is portrayed by the assortment of actors they’ve had playing him. We’ve had Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Lindsey McKeon, and Rob LaBelle all play him, yet no matter how many different performances I see, I always believe it’s the same character. Two performances in particular I love would be Mitch Pileggi, who was memorably creepy in that scene with Dean during the death of his grandparents, and my absolute favorite, Fredric Lehne. Check out Firefly if you care to see Lehne play another standout villain in a kickass show. There is certainly a lot of history behind Azazel, which makes him all the richer. Whether or not Azazel is your favorite villain, he will always be remembered as our first in Supernatural.