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Angels
Sylph
fannishliss
Is anyone curious about Angels in the Bible?  If so, this is the meta for you. 

Here is a meta on the Biblical nature of Angels.  I’m writing this kind of stubbornly; I don’t expect Kripke to adhere to the Bible – his source material is folkloric, not religious – and I don’t expect him to have any more respect for Biblical accuracy than he does for modern day Wiccans. I actually have more sympathy for the Wiccans, whose beliefs are not in the majority and which have historically been the object of violence, than I do for the Christian mythos, which has bled over into popular thought and so is fair game in my opinion.  I myself am a practicing Christian of the protestant variety, though I am heterodox and very open-minded, as I hope you’ll recognize by my other metas and comments and participation in general in SPN fandom! :)  However, for the purposes of this meta I want to talk about the Nature of Angels as described in the Hebrew and Christian Testaments. (For further reading there is an informative article about angels at http://www.bible.org/page.php?page_id=711. 
This article takes an evangelical tone but it gives a fairly comprehensive overview of how angels are presented in the Bible, especially the first half of the article.)

So far on Supernatural we have met two Angels, Castiel and Uriel. Of the two, Uriel is more well-known in folklore, as one of the four major Archangels, along with Gabriel and Michael (who are mentioned by name in the Bible) and Raphael (who is mentioned by name in the Apocryphal book of Tobit).  Uriel’s name is found in the non-canonical book of Enoch. Uriel, whose name means “flame of God,” has been identified as one of the bearers of the flaming swords, so that might be why he has such disdain for mudmonkeys – he was there at the “casting out of Eden.” Learn more about the book of Enoch at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Book_of_Enoch --it is especially interesting regarding Azazel and Samyaza.

On Supernatural, Angels are presented as powerful beings.  Castiel has a high-pitched, destructive True Voice and a dangerous True Visage (having burnt out the eyes of psychic Pamela Barnes and several demons).   The Angels on Supernatural claim to be doing the Lord’s will, but they are not omniscient. They are powerful enough to transport Dean through time or to destroy a whole town (Uriel is a “specialist”—perhaps he was there at Sodom and Gomorrah?).

If Angels are presented as powerful supernatural beings on the show, how are they presented in the Bible?  This is not as easy a question as it might first appear. In the stories of Genesis, we meet Angels who convey the blessings of the Lord and carry out God’s will.   Technically, Angels are the Messengers of God.  The word Angel is from the Greek, aggelos, pronounced angelos, meaning messenger.  The Hebrew word is Malakh, messenger.   In the book of Genesis, the Messengers of God appear and often stand in for God, that is, sometimes they are taken for men, angels, or God, all in the same passage.  It can be very confusing, because the being will be described as an Angel of the Lord, yet then be referred to or speak in the voice of the Lord.  The quandary this presents to our Show is that the Angels we meet, who are not omniscient, nevertheless sometimes speak with the authority of God – but not always, as is indicated by the disagreements between Castiel and Uriel in 4.07. These Angels clearly have free will, as Castiel chides Uriel that he approaches blasphemy when he criticizes humanity. (edit:  I read an interesting comment about angels vs. Djinn, which stated that in Islam, Angels are considered to be slaves of God with no free will -- I'd be interested to hear from someone who knows more firsthand.)

The first Angels we meet in the book of Genesis are the Cherubim who are given a flaming sword to defend the tree of Life when Adam and Eve are cast out of the Garden (Gen 3:24).  Remember that there are two Creation stories; the Angels are not mentioned in either as created beings, but are spoken of elsewhere in the Bible as created beings (Ps 148; Job 38: 4-7) who seem to have been created prior to the Earth.  (When God refers to Godself in the plural, the word is Elohim in Hebrew, but does not mean a group of gods or God plus Angels.)  The Cherubim are presented as tireless and eternal.  One imagines the swords of flame spinning for all eternity as the Cherubim ceaselessly guard the gate. The name of Uriel is sometimes associated with these Cherubim.

The Serpent who tempts Eve in the Second Creation Story (Gen 3) is not identified as Satan, demon, or fallen angel, but as a subtle beast. (It is in Revelation 12: 9 where the Serpent is conflated with the Devil or Satan.)

The beginning of chapter six tells about the Nephilim or Anakim, the offspring of women and the Sons of God.  They are giants or men of renown. They seem to be the Hebrew equivalent of Heroes like Hercules or Gilgamesh.  Not much is said directly, but just after that, the earth is filled with wickedness so that God plans the flood. In the canonical Bible, no Angels are involved with the Flood, its aftermath, or the destruction of Babel. (More about Angels and Women, below.)

In the stories of the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Angels are mentioned rather frequently. It’s important to note that these men, especially Jacob, receive the blessing of God’s grace without particularly meriting it.  Were Dean to read the story of Jacob, a trickster at the very least, he might find it illuminating that Jacob receives the Blessings of his father and God through his own insistent machinations, not through obedience.

I find it very interesting that Angels twice interact directly with Hagar, mother of Ishmael. Hagar is a slave girl, not a patriarch or anyone important in the eyes of the world, yet Angels come to her with significant messages.  The first time, Sarah gives her handmaid Hagar to Abraham to bear a child for her, and when Hagar conceives, she and Sarah fight, and Hagar flees; in the desert an Angel comes and tells her to return, to submit to Sarah, and that Ishmael, her son, shall also be the head of a great nation and that no one will tame him (ch 16). So this Angel gives her hard news but also a word of mercy – that altho she should return and submit to Sarah, her son will survive their oppression to become a great nation.  The second time an Angel comes to Hagar, in chapter 21, Hagar and Ishmael have been expelled into the desert.  Abraham has been promised that Ishmael will survive and prosper, but it doesn’t say whether he told Hagar this.  She runs out of water and despairs, but an Angel of the Lord comes and tells her directly that Ishmael will prosper. The words of the Angel are comforting and reminiscent of the Gabriel’s words to Mary in the Annunciation:  “What aileth thee, Hagar?  Fear not; for God hath heard the voice of the lad where he is.  Arise, lift up the lad, and hold him in thine hand; for I will make him a great nation.”  The Angel of the Lord comes to Hagar and Ishmael to help and bless them in their time of adversity, despite the fact that Ishmael is not specially chosen by God.

Angels come appear to Abraham several times. In ch 18, Abraham entertains three Angels, one of whom appears to be the Lord.   Sarah laughs to herself in the tent, and they know about it. It’s right after this that the Angels and the Lord intend to destroy Sodom and Abraham argues with the Lord to spare Sodom if righteous men can be found there. In chapter 19, the two Angels arrive in Sodom and greet Lot. He escorts them to his house, and when the men of Sodom surround the house and threaten them, the two Angels “put forth their hand, and pulled Lot into the house with them, and shut the door, and they smote the men that were at the door of the house with blindness,” so they couldn’t find the door.  They told Lot they had been sent to destroy the city, and after Lot and his daughters left, the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah with fire and brimstone.

I'd like to add here some more information that was brought forward by greek scholar, Dr. Ann Nyland, at this article http://ezinearticles.com/?Gay-and-Christian?-Its-OK---Why-Sodom-Really-Was-Destroyed&id=1640363. 
Oftentimes the destruction of Sodom is used as evidence of a Biblical condemnation of homosexuality, yet apparently something different is at work (besides what I personally think, that the inhabitants were punished for being rapists, prideful and violent, not for being homosexual).     This Greek Scholar points out that the Sodom story echoes other early angelic lore in its condemnation of Angels (the sons of God) having sex with women (the daughters of men) as mentioned in Gen 6. The men of Sodom lust after "strange flesh"  meaning particularly the flesh of angels.   Apparently lore about the taboo against sex with angels, including the book of Enoch, persisted into the time of Christ, when the Epistle of Jude was written, or when the Apostle Paul wrote that women should keep their heads covered "because of the angels" (I Cor 11:10). It makes me sad for Castiel though, if he should not have hopes for Dean!  ;)  (Of course on the Show, Castiel is possessing someone else's body, and this old Angelic lore sounds like the Angels may have had "flesh" of their own.)

In chapter 22, God “tempts” Abraham by sending him to kill Isaac as a sacrifice.  He is on the point of stabbing his son when an Angel of the Lord calls his name and says “Lay not thine hand upon the lad... for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou has not withheld thy son, thine only son, from me.”   This is a very hard story to interpret, because in it God asks a father to prepare to sacrifice his beloved son; in Christian terms, it prefigures the sacrifice God makes of God's own son on the cross. The story  is also echoed in the Winchesters’ story by how Dean is asked to “stop” Sam, should he turn bad. In the Isaac story, an Angel calls a halt to the sacrifice and provides a literal scapegoat. Will Angels prevent another heartrending sacrifice among the Winchesters?

Jacob has two encounters with Angels.  The first is the dream Jacob had at Bethel (ch. 28) in which he dreams that angels are going up and down from Heaven by a ladder, and the Lord is at the top. This dream occurs after he incited the wrath of Esau by first gaining his birthright and then tricking Isaac into giving him Esau’s blessing as well – despite being a liar and a thief, the Lord blesses him in this dream.  He then goes to work for Laban, and after he has married both Leah and Rachel and made his fortune, he is on his way home to reconcile with Esau when he meets the Angel of the Lord (who is described as “a man”) and he wrestles with him.  He wrestles with “the man” all night, and in the morning refuses to let go until he is blessed.  After he receives the blessing in which his name is changed to Israel, “for he has striven with God and with Man, and has prevailed” he realizes that he was wrestling with an Angel, and calls the place Peniel, face of God.   In this episode, Jacob strives with someone he thinks is a man, but he realizes it is God when the Man renames him, blessing him for his ability to Strive with God and man and prevail.  So Jacob becomes Israel because of his willingness to oppose God – not by meekly obeying.

In Exodus, an Angel of the Lord appears to Moses in the burning bush (Ex 3-4), and this angel speaks with the voice of God.  In Exodus 12 – 13, when we commonly speak of the Angel of Death, no Angel is mentioned, but instead it is the Lord that smites the firstborn of Egypt. In general, in Exodus, the Lord and Moses speak directly, or the Lord appears as a cloud or a pillar of fire, without sending Angels.

In the stories of Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar, Lot, and Jacob, the Angels are not always sent to people who are perfect or highly respected.  In terms of the Winchesters, Sam and Dean ought to take comfort from the book of Genesis.  According to the example of Genesis, it is right to argue with God if you think God is being unfair.  It is right to demand that God keep you safe and bless you even if you are badly behaved. And it is right to expect God to take care of you and your family when you are in a life-threatening situation. In fact, it is right to hold God accountable for what the Angels are threatening to do.

I don’t really have time to talk about everything the Angels do in the Revelation.  Basically they break the seals and release the Tribulation; also they praise the Lord a lot. Chapter 12 is of particular interest, since it names Michael in verse 7: “And there was war in Heaven: Michael and his Angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon fought, and his angels, and prevailed not... and the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world, and he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him” (Rev 12: 7-9).   Note that this seems to be a prophecy of things to come in the endtime, not things that have already occurred, unless they are always constantly occurring.  There is also some discussion of Michael and Enochian imagery in the one-chapter Epistle of Jude.  The imagery of the Book of Revelation is influenced by eschatological imagery in the Books of Daniel and Ezekiel – especially the Cherubim, Angels who are like wheels, living creatures with wings, etc.

I was also interested to discover a reference to Lucifer in my old King James Bible. (For those who might be interested, I have the world’s cutest KJV, a tiny white Bible inscribed with the Order of the Eastern Star – the sister organization of the Masons.)  In the New Revised Standard Version, preferred for scholarly work, there is no reference to Lucifer; but in the old language, “Lucifer” appears in Isaiah 14:12.  It’s a poetic passage of divine justice, carried out against a Babylonian king who carries the titles of Day Star and Son of the Morning.  He pridefully aspires to displace God in Heaven and is thrown into Sheol (the pit). The story echoes the destruction of prideful Babel. The idea that Satan fell with a third of the angels seems to come from Rev 12:4, in which the dragon sweeps down with his tail a third of the stars of heaven.

So, what can we learn about the nature of Angels?  After all this, I’m still not sure.  They certainly appear in the Bible in the forms of men, delivering the Words of the Lord, and carrying out Divine Judgment. This is why Angelic Lore is so much more exciting than Biblical Angels, who are the messengers of God and do God’s will without much improvisation on their own parts. This is not to say that they never speak words of Mercy of Divine love, because they often do.  Yet they can be terrifying to look upon (witness the story of Balaam and the Ass, who saw the Angel blocking the road and refused to proceed), or the many kinds of Angels that appear in the different eschatological narratives.

Do angels have free will?  I have to argue that they do.  Simply because they have never exercised their will in order to disobey God, does not mean they do not have that choice. The primary difference between Angels and Humans is that Angels exist in the direct knowledge of God (but are not omniscient themselves) whereas humans have to discern God through the use of their own heart, mind, and spirit.

So Castiel and Uriel may KNOW God’s will, but it’s up to Sam and Dean, as humans, to decide how to act on it. And it’s also incumbent upon Sam and Dean to insist that God have mercy, regardless of whether they believe themselves to deserve it.

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Oh, AWESOME. I was way to tired to try typing any of this out, and now I don't have to, 'cos you did all the work. *glee*

:-)

*squashes crickets*

OH HAI!! thanks very much for reading!! :)

I've really been enjoyed your metas and stories!!

Thanks so much! I'm on vacation this week, and I'm not going anywhere, which means I get to stay home and bother all you people.

Aren't you lucky. *snerk*

;-)

hi -- I posted my extra paragraph, which relates to Sodom but is mostly about sexual relations between humans and angels -- of GREAT INTEREST to SPN fandom, right?!? :)

This is awesome, thoughtful, eloquent meta and I applaud you for tackling something as thorny, complex and confusing as angelic lore.

*friends*

well thanks very much! I don't post very often but I really appreciate when someone takes the time to comment!

Also, I added another paragraph (regarding Sodom). --Cheers!

This is terrific. So well written and easy to follow with bits of Sam and Dean stuffed around the edges, it's an interesting read (esp. for those of us ... like me ... whose angelic lore/biblical knowledge could be definitely improved).

In fact, it is right to hold God accountable for what the Angels are threatening to do.

I love your interpretation. It actually nicely compliments your assertions that angels have free will. Because if one is able to exercise choice then one should also be held responsible for those choices, otherwise there's no recourse, which defeats the purpose of having free will in the first place. And it seems, as you stated, Uriel's hand was stayed only because of some consequence that would've likely been exacted from God.

Ever since S2, I've been pushing around the idea of free will and destiny. I thought perhaps the reason why Azazel spent so much effort on getting a human/demon/psychic hybrid to lead his army (and not another loyal demon) was because being half-human carried with it free will, something that wasn't allotted to the divine/fall angels/supernatural. And the power of choice was *somehow* the key to his endgame. After all, in some recountings, wasn't Lucifier cast out of heaven for essentially exerting free will and refusing to bow to men? I was gleefully connecting my scattered, random dots when "Great Pumpkin" aired and blew my dots to oblivion. So now I agree with you, it seems angels have free will. It would follow that fallen angels like Lucifer also have the ability to choose as would demons (as we've seen with Ruby). Which brings up all sorts of interesting questions about DESTINY and its place in the Show when it seems all of its players must exert some degree of choice.

I guess we'll just have to see how it all pans out. In the meantime, great meta! I'm going to add this to my meta rec list (I'm such a sucker for meta filled with references). :D

Thanks so much for reading and commenting -- I'm glad you liked it!

To my mind, the problem of free will vs. destiny is kind of more like the time paradox issue as it was faced by Dean in 4.03 -- Dean makes his choices freely, but he still has no effect on the outcome, because everything that happened, still happened (of course). With Destiny, everything that Will Happen, has in a sense already been determined. *boooooo, head falls to the side, wide staring eyes, brainbroke due to paradox -- like the android girls on Mudd's Planet?*

I'm interested in this idea that Azazel is essentially as powerful as the Angels, because he himself was one of the Fallen.... so if the Angels have power enough to warp time (enough to shove Dean into the experience, even if he can't change things) -- does Azazel's blood have enough power to alter the inevitability of destiny? It's easier to write down that concept than to follow it through logically...... :)

I was actually astonished to find Lucifer in the Bible, since the word "Lucifer" is a Latin name for Venus, the morningstar... in commentaries, it's explained that the Hebrew text refers to a Babylonian King who is punished for his prideful sins against God, and falls from his exalted height to the pit. The title of the Babylonian King, Daystar, (like Louis 14's nickname as the Sun King) gets translated into Lucifer in the Vulgate. Isn't that dreadfully boring? :) But it is true that the Day Star falls because of his pride -- he attempts to vie with the Lord. The chapter, Isaiah 14, is beautifully poetic and fun to read even if it's not really about Satan. At least for millennia, Christians referring to the Vulgate thought it WAS about Satan!

I think the not bowing to men is actually Lilith!! Poor Lilith, she's gotten such a bad rap since Patriarchy.

In Paradise Lost, Satan essentially casts himself out of Heaven by refusing to acknowledge that the Lord reigns supreme -- "Better to reign in Hell than to serve in Heaven." Satan has ALL KINDS of free will -- but his pride won't allow him to repent and subject himself to the Lord.

I keep finding all kinds of cool tidbits in various commentaries -- this is a fun and fruitful study. I'm so glad you enjoyed!!

Here is my favorite new icon : my puzzled but curious Angel of the Lord :) someone said he looks like a Persian Cat!!

Life has finally allowed me some time to re-catch up (is that a word? Bhuz...) with comments/replies backlogged in my inbox. :)

the problem of free will vs. destiny is kind of more like the time paradox issue as it was faced by Dean in 4.03 -- Dean makes his choices freely, but he still has no effect on the outcome, because everything that happened, still happened (of course).

I don't think there was a time paradox in 4x03. As you said, Dean was unable to redirect the past because the past had already happened. If he'd been able to change the past in a way that would preclude him from journeying into the past (in the future) in order to exact those changes, then that would've been a huge honking time paradox. Castiel saying that the past can't be changed was the writers saying, "Hey, crazy fans, we know about time paradox so we're making sure to address this giant and potentially confusing thing by nipping in the bud the any canon-based idea of alternate universes/realities inadvertently created by time traveling and changing the past." So I think the idea of "destiny" as asserted by Castiel in 4x03 was partially a plot device to sweep the time paradox under the rug.

With Destiny, everything that Will Happen, has in a sense already been determined.

Yes, I agree, all the potential Will Happens by definition have to be predetermined. But I think choice allows people to determine which thread of Will Happen will happen (which allows choice/free will to operate within the broader constraints of the "predetermined"). Once those choices are made, it cements that as "destiny" being that those choices are now unchangeable regardless of where you look at them in time (past, present, or the yet-to-be-chosen future). So destiny, in my twisted way of thinking, isn't linear, but a product of what has been fixed in time. And because time can be thought of as nonlinear (esp. with time travel) I don't think DESTINY has to be a single, fixed outcome in the unchosen future. So I guess what I'm saying is that I think future choice and past destiny aren't mutually exclusive. *rambles*

I'm interested in this idea that Azazel is essentially as powerful as the Angels, because he himself was one of the Fallen.... so if the Angels have power enough to warp time (enough to shove Dean into the experience, even if he can't change things) -- does Azazel's blood have enough power to alter the inevitability of destiny?

I love how it seems angels and demons are two sides of the same coin! I'm surprised we haven't seem any angel blood sharing yet, but I suppose that's against angelic law. ;)

it's explained that the Hebrew text refers to a Babylonian King who is punished for his prideful sins against God, and falls from his exalted height to the pit.

Really interesting. It's a nice touch that Pride went straight for Sam and had his monologue about not bowing to humans in 3x01. Perhaps a melding of and the Babylonian King and the account in Revelation.

I think the not bowing to men is actually Lilith!! Poor Lilith, she's gotten such a bad rap since Patriarchy.

A part of me wishes that Ruby's character had been named Lilith instead, her being the independent operator and an against-the-grain kind of gal.

In Paradise Lost,

Gah. There's Milton AGAIN. I should really read that.

Here is my favorite new icon : my puzzled but curious Angel of the Lord :) someone said he looks like a Persian Cat!!

And what a lovely, curiously puzzled Angel of the Lord he is. Although, like my husband commented, he could use some ChapStick. Heh, his face is reminiscent of a flat-faced kitty! XD

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that's fantastic! let me know if you need any expansion or clarification. i'm also a scholar (english lit tho!)

I know I'm really really late to this party, but I just wanted to throw out two other Angel/Lucifer references! =D

This first one is of particular interest to me because it's one of the few references we have (outside of Revelations) to angels going to war. Also, we get Michael! In Daniel, after Daniel has that terrifying and detailed dream about the future of Israel, he spends 21 days straight praying for God to give him insight into the meaning of his visions. Finally, a messenger arrives - a 'man' who comes in his dreams and has a terrifying visage - saying: "Do not be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them. But the prince of the Persian kingdom resisted me twenty-one days. Then Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me ..." (Da 10:12-13, NIV) And before he starts interpreting the dream, he adds that he had to go back to fight the Persian prince again, then go to war with the prince of Greece. So this nameless fighting angel is doing, well, a lot of fighting - and delivering a message, as many of the angels throughout the Bible are doing, but it's still interesting.

And I think it's in Matthew that Jesus tells someone: "I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven!" again quoting from the NIV text. Which is one of maybe three references to Lucifer/Satan's fall from grace?

Anyway, just wanted to mention those, especially the Daniel one. I'm kind of tickled pink by this angelic warrior.

Thanks for this -- I'll be off to read the entry in Daniel!!

Hi! I just wanted to let you know that I wrote a story based on Bobby giving the Boys a lead on an ancient alternate text of Videbam Satanan ("I saw Satan") that has a lot more information about how to bind and cast down Lucifer. (i made it up of course, but that passage in Luke is all about the empowerment of the disciples to cast out demons. )

Would you like a link? warning, the story is nc-17 in its entirety, but the first part is just about them finding the text.

?

This is very interesting. I'll have to print this out for further pursual (and maybe a few inspired writings - with credit - since I've been on a theological bent recently).

Your commments about destiny and free will made me think about the very rambly way I described my own views on how God can know everything that's going to happen and we can still have free will. (I write to organize my thoughts, which has lead to interesting shorts.)

I'm glad to have read this.

Love you!

thanks for reading and commenting! since I wrote this we've met a few more of the archangels... but it still holds up pretty well.

let me know if you have any more thinky thoughts to share!

I don't know what your fanfic preferences are, but I have a few that are theological in tone if you are interested. :)

oooh...*grabby hands*
Fanfic prospects make my maturity go "bye-bye" in the face of embarassing gluttony. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

So: Me, insterested? Does two plus two equal four? Yeah...my attempt at humor falls flat. Short answer? YESssssss (hissing intentional).

I have plenty of thinky-thoughts, but they're a bit scattered about. If I suceed in organizing them I'll let you know.

Love you.

luckily I just did my fic roundup for this year, so you could poke around there if you like. :)

You might try my Sammessiah tag too!

Most are gen -- I've tried to warn for everything else. :P




This was awesome, even reading it retrospect to the season -- it's a really good overview and just gave me some cool stuff to look into! You did good research :)

Thanks very much for the kind words!

Here is a fun tidbit of glee:

I grew up in my grandmother's house. Her dad was a preacher, so we were always very much interested in theological discussion and looking things up in the Bible yet we weren't fundamentalists and had a healthy skepticism. We were also very Protestant, which gives me much more of a Bible based understanding of Angels than a Catholic one. Nevertheless, as a church musician I inherited my great-grandmother's old nineteenth century print of Saint Cecilia at her keyboard....
and it is the second image after the titlecard from the most recent Divine youtube!!! squee.
It hangs over my piano right now, I can see it from where I'm typing. :D

I love your meta. We can bask in mutual meta love. :D hugs!

That's so awesome! And refreshing. Sometimes it's difficult to talk about religion with people, just to float ideas and discuss -- maybe that's why the SPN fandom is so awesome like that, because everybody comes in with that open mind set XD I think that's a beautiful thing, to have that connection through your great-grandmother with St. Cecilia -- and how synchronous that it dovetails into Divine! LOL. Sometimes I think everything in this fandom just comes back to SPN . . .

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