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The Golden Compass

The Subtle Knife


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The Liber Angelorum


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Lyra’s Oxford

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The Subtle Knife: The Liber Angelorum

This book contained all the knowledge the philosophers of the Torre degli Angeli had managed to acquire about the beings after whom their Tower was named. Angels had been a prominent subject of study for hundreds of years, and everything the Guild knew about them had been classified systematically in the Book of Angels.

However, in the confusion and fear that followed the arrival of the Specters, the old philosophical disciplines fell into decay. Superstition began to twine like ivy around the structures of knowledge that had once been solid; cracks developed in the edifices of certainty; and the single copy of the Liber Angelorum, neglected for centuries, attacked by damp, time, and insects, was left on a dusty shelf to crumble away.

Much later, a member of the Guild tried to restore it, but the framework of understanding that would have helped him make sense of the fragments had long since fallen apart. He had no way of telling what was truth, what was speculation, or even what was stark heresy, set down only in order to be refuted. Accordingly, he arranged the scraps in alphabetical order, adding conjectures and speculations of his own, and refraining from editorial comment.

The confused and self-contradictory result was bound into a single volume once again; but a century before the time of Lyra and Lord Asriel, a fire broke out in the Torre degli Angeli, and the book nearly perished a second time. These scraps are all that remains.

April The angel of April is named Asmodel.
Creation God did not create the angels. He found them already existing and enslaved them.
Death Angels are immortal.
Devils Devils are a low kind of angel, the lackeys and lickspittles of God. However, some maintain that devils are the highest and freest of all angels, and that their suffering is inseparable from their greatness.
Envy The angels envy us our solidity. Death, they think, would be a price worth paying for the power and brilliance of our senses. If an angel were to see with our eyes, or hear with our ears, he would be dazzled and stunned by the force with which we perceive the physical world. With gifts like this, he would think, why do these creatures not spend their lives in exploration of the physical universe that they are so well equipped to understand? Why are they not consumed with intellectual bliss? This is a mystery to angels.
Guardians Some people claim that they have a guardian angel, who accompanies them throughout life either invisibly or in the form of an animal. Others deny this, and regard such claims as evidence of delusion or witchcraft.
Humanity It was not God who created human beings, but the angels.
Jacob The angel who wrestled with Jacob in the darkness at Peniel is named Metatron. However, some dispute this.
Luminosity Sometimes they shine at night. Angels may be distinguished from meteors or falling stars by the gentleness of their light, which is less brilliant than the fervid glare of purely material phenomena.
Mercy The angel of mercy is named Zadkiel. It was he who held back the arm of the patriarch Abraham when he was about to sacrifice his son Isaac.
Moon The angel of the moon is named Gabriel.
Natural Philosophy The arts and the sciences are alike to angels, both being means of apprehending the glory of creation.
Orders Angels are ordered and classified by the tasks they perform. Such tasks include carrying messages, giving warnings, bearing consolations, guiding or indicating the way, and spying. Thus there are at least five kinds of angels.
Passions Angels have no passions or affections, except one, which is curiosity, or intellectual passion. This is for them the highest of all things. However, others maintain that although they have few feelings for fellow angels, they are capable of love for creatures of other kinds. Some say that the Watchers fell in love with the daughters of men and had offspring by them. That was so long ago, and so many generations have mingled since, that we can all claim to be the descendants of angels.
Rebellion A thousand generations ago, some angels rebelled against God. This rebellion was an attempt to regain the freedom and independence they had enjoyed before their enslavement. In order to help their struggle, they infused some of the angelic principles into the minds of brute creatures formed like humans, and made them half like angels. It has been the aim of churches ever since to make human beings feel guilty for this, and to curb or destroy whatever angelic qualities we have. N.B. This knowledge is forbidden
Sex Angels may be male or female.
Song The angel of song is variously named: some say he is Radueriel, others Israfel, others Shemiel.
Specters Specters are corrupted angels.
Tuesday The angel of Tuesday is named Camael.
Watchers Angels who came to earth to instruct men and women in the arts and sciences. They include the angel Azazel, who taught the art of making knives, for which reason the Guild of the Torre degli Angeli is under his special protection; Ezekeel, who taught the knowledge of clouds; Penemuel, who taught the knowledge of writing with ink and paper, and who is one of the curers of stupidity, and who is therefore condemned by God.
Wings They have wings, with which they fly at great heights, passing through this world on their way to others. In order to enter or leave this world they pass through windows in the upper airs, similar to those cut by the Subtle Knife at the surface of the earth. No-one knows how these celestial windows were formed; it may be that the rays of the sun fray the air as they fray the fabric of curtains; or that the swift passage of meteors, comets, or asteroids tears them open. The natives of the north claim that the lights in the sky seen on winter nights come not from this world but another; if that is true, then they are probably shining through the windows used by angels.