The trouble with Angels

Painting by Bernhard Plockhorst
Painting by Berhard Plockhurst

Out of the Broomcloset

For today’s art history class, let’s refer to the image, “Schutzengel” by Berhard Plockhurst. Here’s a touching scene of two tots out picking flowers, a bit too close to the edge, and here’s a Guardian Angel, ready to pluck them away from danger. How innocent, how touching. However, the pose is ambiguous; might the angel be, actually, herding the wee bairns off the cliff? Are they to be spared or slaughtered?

The trouble with angels is, that over the last several generations, popular culture has worked mightily on a sales pitch that has reduced these spiritual beings to pocket sized cuteness, hovering, at the ready to guide, protect, the powerful but adorable firstborn of Deity.

Angels, the word comes from the Greek (My Big Fat Greek Wedding alert) aggelos, meaning messenger. There was a time we had messengers delivering telegrams to our front door, and their arrival was met with glee, or dread, as they could announce a birth, or a death.

What does that endless source of fun and merriment, the Bible, have to say on the subject? Mary gets off easily, with the announcement that “hey, the big man decided you get to have his child, have a nice day.” More often, these encounters tend to go less well: “See this flaming sword? Drop the produce, you’re evicted, go figure it out yourselves;” Passover wouldn’t be Passover without certain firstborn dying. Like wrestling, there’s an angel for that; need to be kept from sacrificing your son, same deal.

There are not many named actors in the Book. The Host of Heaven starts out, in earlier layers of Judaic scripture rather amorphous manifestation of wrath, indistinguishable, unnamed, in general not being a helping hand. Later theologians expanded the angels into a cast of thousands, or millions (which gets us to that burning question, how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. Many of them did receive names, often ending with –el (of God), such as Gabriel, or Ka-el—sorry, wrong mythology).

The well-practiced Ceremonial magician will take the same precautions when contacting angels as when summoning demons, as detailed in the best Grimoires; purity of soul, pure garments, a magical circle of protection inscribed with names of God, words of power, crosses and symbols (and a smaller one at a distance for the entity to make a visible appearance). The reason for this is simple. These are beings with power and abilities beyond those of we mere humans and with materials, words, and gestures, you are attempting to coax them, by taking on symbols and attributes of divinity, into following one’s will, rather than their own natures, or the instructions from the Boss.

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As an example, a group of friends recently put together a ritual invoking the angels that preside over each day. Samael, who oversees Tuesday (and the energy of Mars) was called on in turn, but something went awry, a protection was not in place, and his apartment was lost in a fire.

There is one other method of communication with angels that has a long, and fairly successful track record; having the image of a being show up in a mirror, or crystal, or in a fingernail (still attached to the seer) which is polished, or coated with oil, so it will reflect (I wonder what a manicurist would make of a request these days, to make a nail, just one, as shiny as possible. I need to speak to someone).

If the person is “pure,” after a few prayers and preparations, the seer should have an image appear on said polished nail, to which questions may be addressed, and answers received. The exception to the purity rules is the most famous. Edward Kelly, a grown man with a shady past, was the principal seer for Elizabethan polymath, Dr. John Dee, who was able to communicate a complex angelic language and reams of messages from the other realm.

In general though, the best choice was a pure boy or girl, below the age of purity, their innocence being both an attraction and a means of communication. So, perhaps, referring back to the illustration, the angel needed to communicate something and needed the kids as a communication device. It’s their natural tendency and why they can be seen today, gazing into their smartphones.