Note: Everything I’ve previously stated in my Overview of the Angels for the Castles & Crusades RPG applies here as well. The following is a work of gaming fiction, and is neither an endorsement, nor a criticism, of any particular real-world religion. While inspired by much real-life lore, I’ve taken some artistic liberties in the presentation, in order to set-up interesting gaming scenarios. Enjoy.
Heaven and the Empyrean
Beyond the Cosmos lies a realm of pure light and spiritual fire, called the Empyrean. The Empyrean is the polar opposite of the Outer Darkness, burning with transcendent flame of ineffable truth. No mundane being can enter the Empyrean without surrendering their individuality to it, and dissolving their being into the liquid light of perfect harmony. Proceeding from the Empyrean, however, are Seven Heavens of perfect Virtue, where Righteousness and Mercy are manifest without blemish. These Heavens, or Gardens of the Blessed, form the home of both of the holy Angels and the Blessed Souls of the virtuous dead. The Heavens, and those who dwell within it, shine with the light of the Empyrean, a visible sign of Virtue whose ultimate source is that wholly transcendent realm of incomprehensible purity.
Usually, only the recently deceased who are destined to dwell in Heaven as Blessed Souls can perceive the entrances to Paradise. There are said to exist certain spells, however, that will allow living mortals to access a portal to Heaven. Heaven’s treasures so far exceed anything in the mundane world, that many mortals are willing to risk everything for the chance to obtain them, even for the briefest of times. The Saints insist, however, that whatever the Angels withhold from humanity is done for its own protection.
The Ladder To Heaven
Portals to Heaven often manifest in the mundane world as long ladders or staircases leading into a glowing cloud. Various Angels will usually be seen climbing up or down the ladder. Living mortals who encounter such a ladder may be challenged to wrestle with one or more Warrior Angels for the right to learn Heaven’s secrets. Anyone who successfully climbs up the ladder will eventually enter the cloud. After wandering in the cloud for a time, the mists will part, and the traveler will find themselves before the walls of Heaven.
The Tunnel of Light
Sometimes, the portal to Heaven takes the form of a vast tunnel of light, instead of a ladder. Inside the tunnel will move images of deceased loved ones. Each observer will behold different figures in the light. The souls of a recently deceased mortal will be guided through the light by an Angel, usually an Angel of Death, but sometimes a Warrior Angel, or Guardian Angel. Those who attempt to visit Heaven while alive (through Astral projection) will not be escorted by an Angel, but will still perceive the images of dead loved ones in the tunnel of light. The images within the Tunnel of Light will whisper words of reassurance to those escorted by an Angel. Living mortals who travel in the Tunnel, however, will be confronted with the unsolved puzzles and challenges of their life, as the dead take the traveler back through their own history.
The Road To Heaven
A third form that the portal to Heaven may take is that of a long road through a wilderness. Unfortunately, the powers of Evil and Chaos become aware whenever the Road appears. Therefore travelers on the Road are targeted for temptation and intimidation. Devils, Demons, the restless dead, and other monstrous things may appear on the sides of the Road, threatening and wooing those who would reach Heaven. The abominations cannot actually enter the Road, but they can project illusions onto it. Those who travel the Road to Heaven with Heaven’s permission are accompanied by a Guardian Angel. Those who boldly attempt to find Heaven through their own initiative must travel the lonely road alone. At the end of the Road is a wall of mists. If entered, the mists eventually clear and reveal Paradise.
The Gates of Pearl
When first beheld, Heaven itself appears to be a walled garden or town of vast dimension, manifesting from a cloud or mist. From the outside, the sky above the walls appears to be an infinite expanse of pure light, which is the Empyrean itself. The walls of the city are high and seemingly made of glowing, pale blue jasper. Punctuating the walls are numerous vast gates whose frames and doors are made of pearl. Before each gates is a host of black-winged beings whose bodies are covered with eyes, and whose heads are obscured by shining halos. These are the Angels of Death.
At the center of each Host of Angels before the Gates of Pearl is a Cherub with a flaming sword, as well as a lone, white-robed figure like an elderly man. The man holds an enormous book in one hand, and a large golden key in the other. This is the Gatekeeper of Heaven, and the same figure simultaneously stands before all the gates of Heaven. Some tales say he is a Saint who was exemplary in his Righteousness when he was alive. Other stories suggest that the Gatekeeper is none other than the Archangel of Death himself. The book in his hand is the Book of Life, and it contains the names of all those who are entitled to enter Heaven, and the date and conditions upon which they shall enter. No mortal whose name is not in that book is entitled to enter past the Gates of Pearl. If a mortal’s name is found in the book, the gatekeeper will unlock the gate with the golden key. Anything so wicked and foolish as to try to storm the gate shall have to deal with an entire Host of Angels.
Furtively whispered tales speak of a strange spell that allows even a wicked man to sneak past the Gatekeeper and enter Heaven, at least for a time. If such magic exists, it is a well-guarded secret. Conceivably, the Accuser Devils (who by compact may enter Heaven’s courts) might be able to teach such a spell, but it is generally contrary to their interests for any wicked person to know the joy that awaits the Blessed in Heaven.
The Gardens of the Blessed
There are seven different Gardens that the Gates of Pearl can open onto, depending upon each soul’s heart’s desire. Two different souls who enter Heaven simultaneously may see two different Gardens beyond the Gate. All of the Gardens contains paths that lead to all of the others, and Blessed Souls are permitted to roam as they will. Those parts of Heaven which contain Celestial secrets, however, can only be reached by the Angels themselves (or those in possession of certain eldritch sorceries).
First Heaven: The Garden of Kindness
The Angels of Death waits outside the Gates of Pearl, and almost never actually enter the First Heaven. Instead, the Guardian Angels tend to the souls here. In the Garden of Kindness the Blessed have their childhoods returned to them. They are free to pursue their favorite pastimes for eternity, across landscapes that precisely recreate their favorite places of the mundane world. They are fed whatever food they loved best in life, and can eat nothing but sweets forever if they want. In some places, buildings are even made of candy and cake, and toys are alive. In other places, the blessed can relive their most loved memories of youth. All innocent dreams come true in the Garden of Kindness.
Second Heaven: The Garden of Charity
The Garden of Charity is a landscape of immaculately-kept orchards and fields. In the Garden, everything that could be desired actually grows on trees – even money! There are trees whose fruits are richly cured meats, and others that bear beautiful clothing. The dice, card, and money trees allow the Blessed of Charity to joyously game and gamble all day and all night. Every morning, all of the fruit on the trees is completely replenished. The Blessed in the Garden of Charity enjoy the company of the Herald Angels, who know games yet to be invented. Living in the trees are prophetic dreams, which take the shape of doves. The Herald Angels lovingly tend to these dreams, until each is ready to fly from Heaven to their intended recipient. Abducting one of these dreams is a dark desire of the wicked.
Third Heaven: The Garden of Chastity
The Garden of Chastity is a series of jeweled palaces and parks that contain the most perfect examples of every form of artistic expression. There the Blessed souls who loved Chastity can dwell in perfect aesthetic enjoyment, in the company of the Cherubim. Souls in the Third Heaven are made flawlessly beautiful, dressed in exquisite robes and rich jewels, and sat upon thrones. They can contemplate and discuss the pure forms of every art, and learn the secrets of perfect beauty. To visit and return from the Garden of Chastity, having beheld perfection, is the dream of many mortal artists.
Fourth Heaven: The Garden of Patience
The Fourth Heaven consists of numerous lovely castles set amidst fair, rolling hills. Inside these castles patient souls can find perfect rest, if they want it. The same castles, however, are the armories and marshaling grounds of Heaven, each one overseen by a Power of the Warrior Angels. Thus, the castles are also inhabited by the souls of those who in life militantly defended the cause of Good. Surrounding the hills and castles is a seemingly endless forest, stocked with the simulacrums of beasts and monsters. The Blessed Souls of righteous warriors can sally forth to eternally hunt game, and defeat the images of evil. In this way, they prepare for the day when they will aid the Angels in the Final Battle against the forces of Evil and Chaos.
Fifth Heaven: The Garden of Mercy
The Garden of Mercy takes the form of a pleasant field of grass and wild flowers, through which flow streams of wine, milk, and pure water. There, Blessed Souls feast all day at outdoor banquet tables and in silk pavilions. Separated lovers are reunited in the Garden of Mercy. There is said by some to be a secret place in the Garden of Mercy, an abandoned field where the Angels of Mercy come to mourn the loss of those who fell from Heaven. It is said that if one was to overhear the Angels as they mourn, one would learn the True Name of every spirit outside of Heaven.
Sixth Heaven: The Garden of Diligence
The Sixth Heaven is a perfectly orderly city filled with workshops and laboratories, interspersed with formal gardens. There every discovery is possible, and the wildest inventions are made real. The Blessed Souls of the diligent enjoy the company of the Chariot Angels, who reveal secrets of nature undreamed by mortal minds. Many a living inventor has endeavored to somehow spy upon the Garden of Diligence.
Seventh Heaven: The Garden of Humility
The Seventh Heaven take the form of a Holy Mountain, which is visible on the horizon from every other Garden. From the slopes of the Mountain one can look down upon all the other Gardens, and also see that the peak seems to touch the Empyrean itself. The Blessed Souls of the humble dwell in simple cottages and grottoes on the side of the Holy Mountain, and are dressed in the plainest of robes. The air resounds with the chanting of the Seraphim, eternally singing the praise of the Lord of Hosts. To climb the Holy Mountain is to confront one’s own pride, and to learn selfless compassion and humility. There are said to be tests along the way, purifying the soul. At the summit, where manifest existence blends into the purity of the Empyrean, is the court of the Lord of Hosts and the Queen of the Angels.
Time In Heaven
Time flows differently in Heaven, both in rate relative to the mundane world, and direction. Those who enter Heaven find that for every year that seems to pass, only a day has gone by in the mundane world. Therefore, after an entire adventure in Heaven, a mortal may awaken in their body to discover that only a few minutes have transpired. Likewise, time in Heaven is not linear. In a certain sense, both The Fall, and the Final Battle against evil, are both happening currently, and have already happened there. It is possible in Heaven to meet the souls of people not yet born, and to discuss histories not yet made.