parallels: 9.11 // 7.17
Shadows of an Angel’s Share
Visually, these two scenes are similar. The Mark of Cain transfers from Cain’s forearm to Dean’s, and Sam’s psychological trauma travels from Sam’s head (/eyes) to Cas’. For their small differences, however, it is striking how similar the two transfers are.
Based on the similar red color, dendritic morphology, and even situations surrounding both of these transfers, we can postulate that both are the transfer of the mark of an angel (specifically Lucifer, in these cases) and that this type of mark may be created/held in place with angelic grace.
In the beginning of season 6, we learned that a deal with an angel leaves a mark; from 6.03: The Third Man:
CASTIEL: If the angel we seek truly bought this boy’s soul, when a claim is laid on a living soul, it leaves a mark, a brand.
Which nicely lines up with Cain’s story, where he makes a deal with
the Devil an angel and receives in turn “a mark, a brand.”
From 9.11: First Born:
CROWLEY: It’s the bloody mark of Cain.
CAIN: From Lucifer himself.
CAIN: I couldn’t bear to watch him be corrupted, so I offered a deal — Abel’s soul in heaven for my soul in hell.
CAIN: Lucifer accepted.
From that we are get our first hypothesis: the Mark of Cain is Lucifer’s mark laying claim to Cain’s soul, just as Balthazar laid claim to Aaron Birch's.
As a corollary, we can postulate that angel deals are not significantly different than demon deals, except in the magical process to seal them. A demon makes deals through physical exchange (kisses and sex, we never learned whether Crowley’s deal with Dick on paper was magically binding), but an angel makes deals through the exchange of words and (though not necessarily informed) consent.
And after all, when a potential vessel says “yes” to an angel, what is that if not a type of deal (defined as an agreement)?
If we follow this line of reasoning, a vessel (for example, Sam) would receive a mark on the soul of it’s occupant (from Lucifer, in Sam’s case) when agreeing to host the angel—as part of the deal.
Granted, in the case of vessels, there is no visible brand, but it’s possible that the visible mark wouldn’t remain anyway given the angel’s occupancy (grace and all!) of the vessel, or that different types of deals leave different types of marks on the soul/body.
It’s not even a large leap to assume that, given the general assumption that angel magic (and therefore any angelic deal) is performed with grace, that a bit of angel grace is used to create that mark. Especially assuming angelic grace is generally hot enough to burn out eyeballs, its presence would easily explain a brand.
The inclusion of grace in an angelic deal to possess a vessel would tie in very nicely with the new knowledge Cas, Sam, and us viewers have gleaned from an old MoL tome; in 9.11:
CASTIEL: I’ve found, well, something. It’s a detail about when angels leave their vessels…I think. It’s, uh, Enochian, which can be a bit flowery. “And the departed shall remain, and the remains shall be the departed”.
SAM: Okay, so, when an angel leaves a vessel, they leave behind a piece of themselves. Like, uh…like an angelic fingerprint.
CASTIEL: Whatever you want to call it, this piece of the departed contains Grace.
SAM: Wait, you’re saying there’s angelic Grace inside of me?
CASTIEL: Yes. But it’s fading each time I heal you.
An angelic fingerprint sounds an awful lot like a mark that can be read. And again we’re reminded of what was said in 6.03:
CASTIEL: … But I can read the mark and find the name of the angel that bought the soul.
Granted, textual evidence isn’t enough to really show that an “angel deal” is equivalent to a “claim… made on a living soul.” However, we haven’t yet added the visual evidence yet: the transfer of Cain’s mark looks almost exactly like the transfer of Sam’s trauma to Cas, modulo some extra glowiness. Both flash at the beginning and end of the transfer: on the branded mark of Cain and in Sam and Cas’ eyes. Both move like lava through the veins, in a pattern that can’t possibly be actually following the human vascular system, through the top layers of skin but still inside the human body. Both use the hand/wrist as a point of transfer.
The wrist is one example of a pulse point on the human body, where the blood vessels are close to the surface (others include the neck and other various joints). Due to these anatomical details, the human body is less insulated and can radiate energy (or absorb it) more easily at these points. Based on previous hypotheses that angelic grace/angels in their true forms exist as something that can be described with the same physics as electromagnetic waves, they would transfer more easily through the wrists just as body heat would. (Body heat is infrared light—a type of electromagnetic radiation.)
As secondary points, the morphology of each transfer is reminiscent of the structure of the universe:
and the red is notably a cool color in terms of electromagnetic energy. Therefore, in comparison with the wandering angels on earth or Castiel’s powered-up blue-white (almost superviolet, really—other angels here and here) glow, the red grace mark would seem out of place—except that we know that Lucifer burns cold.
Another corollary to Cas’ relief of Sam’s burden is that, if it truly is a Mark of Lucifer he is removing, grace and all, then that played a part in Sam’s hallucinations. That is not to say that Hallucifer was actually some echo of Lucifer caused by the angel’s malignant grace; Hallucifer and Lucifer act sufficiently differently that we can dismiss any possibility of that. A piece of Lucifer’s grace attached to Sam’s previously hell-bound and walled off soul could, however, act as a battery to fuel/exacerbate Sam’s already-present trauma.
As a bonus, we can speculate that Lucifer’s grace is warped and rotten from his time in hell, which could be part of why his vessels require an abundance of
vitamin water demon blood to take him in and maintain him (although there are decent arguments against the latter, my personal hypothesis is that the demon blood mitigates the twistedness of the grace, not it’s incompatibility with the particular vessel. Hael’s vessel’s degradation looks no different than Nick’s body’s). If, in season 7, it is that small piece of grace freed from the confines of Death’s wall, it might not remain dormant (as Gadreel’s seems to do in 9.11) but actively act as a poison without it’s demon blood antidote (as, at this point in time, Sam is clean). —Conversely, Lucifer had not been in hell quite so long when Cain was Marked, and therefore the angelic grace that tethers his Mark is not corrupt in the same way.
Thus, when Cas shifts the blight (or, septic piece of anchored grace) to himself, it affects him briefly at first. But over time, his Castiel’s grace attacks and destroys the foreign substance. From this, I posit one more hypothesis: grace transfer functions the same way as blood and organ transfusions in humans can be rejected. The wrong type (or wavelengths) of grace could be seen as foreign and attacked by the same healing (antigen-equivalent) grace that Cas is using to cure Sam—which also decimates Gadreel’s grace.
Some further related-but-wild speculation: it is possible that Dean made a deal with Castiel to get out of hell, which is why he had the handprint on his shoulder (a brand). When he was healed by Cas in Swan Song (5.22), by Cas’ more powerful self, it destroyed the bit of grace anchoring the mark to Dean’s soul, and therefore the brand.
To sum up: Based on Castiel’s statements about the nature of an angel’s mark on the soul, some conjecture about angel deals and grace transfer morphology, and the knowledge found in a MoL book, it’s feasible that Aaron Birch, Cain, and Sam Winchester all have something in common (in short; they’ve been touched by an angel, and have the grace-anchored marks to prove it).
Thank you to all of the super helpful MS peeps; thussaithcastiel's thoughts and inspiration on the topic, ceeainthereforthat for the grace ideas and inspiration, defilerwyrm (that was the most fun spn debate I’ve ever had), obsessionisaperfume and theinevitableblastwave (you’re the best beta) and yellow-turtle and s-cornelius and whoever else was there discussing this topic… sorry if I’m missing you… b/c you’re all fucking brilliant <3