January 23, 2021

The Feast of Michaelmas

For those of you whose name is Michael (or Michelle), congratulations!  Your patronal feast day is 29th September, the Dedication of St. Michael the Archangel.  This feast also honoured all the other angels as well (under the name of the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels) up to the start of the 17th century when Pope Paul V made the Feast of the Guardian Angels, until then a local celebration, a feast of the Universal Church by adding it to the Roman Calendar to be celebrated on 2nd October.  Everybody knows (everybody does know, right?) the prayer to your Guardian Angel that we all learned as kids: “Angel of God, my Guardian dear, to whom God’s love commits me here, ever this day be at my side, to light and guard, to rule and guide.  Amen.”  Remember, we still have our Guardian Angel, even as adults.  But that’s not the feast we’re talking about here, so let’s leave the Guardian Angels and turn back to the Archangels.  Forgetting all about discussing the Nine Choirs of Angels or the natures and species of angels (though if you really want to know, the Catechism says that “As purely spiritual creatures angels have intelligence and will: they are personal and immortal creatures, surpassing in perfection all visible creatures, as the splendour of their glory bears witness” and the theological study of angels is known as “angelology”, where you can indeed earn a degree in angels).

So, nowadays Michaelmas is the Feast of Ss. Michael, Raphael, and Gabriel, Archangels (as represented in these paintings, one from the Western and one from the Eastern traditions).

This bundles in the feastdays of Gabriel (formerly 24th March, the day before the Feast of the Annunciation, which makes sense as he is identified as the angel of the Annunciation) and 24th October for Raphael.  Poor old Uriel is not accepted as an official archangel, or the rest of the traditional seven archangels for the seven days of the week or any named in the Book of Enoch.  The spoilsport Church decided that it would only celebrate those angels mentioned by name in Scripture – which for us includes the Book of Tobit, so that’s how Raphael makes the cut, but Enoch is considered apocrypha – and you thought us RCs weren’t literalists!

For those who are interested, the vestments are white, which “signifies the joy and purity of the soul.  The white vestment is the peaceable garment for the feastdays” including those of the Angels.   The Mass readings, if you’re interested, are as follows:

Sept 29 Thurs: Ss Michael, Gabriel, Raphael, Archangels, feast

1st Reading Dn 7: 9-10. 13-14 or Apoc 12: 7-12a

Responsorial Psalm Ps 137: 1-2ab. 2cde-3. 4-5

Gospel Jn 1: 47-51

(Gabriel brought the message to Mary at the Annunciation.  Raphael was Tobias’ guide. Michael is venerated as Protector of Christians.)

Traditionally, as this feast day comes near the Autumn Equinox, it is associated with light and dark; the shortening days, the approach of winter.  In the British Isles, it was one of the “quarter days” or “gale days” for settling rents, accounts, etc.  The meal associated with the day was the Michaelmas goose and the flowers that bloom at this time – the asters – are called “Michaelmas daisies.”  In civic life, the term survives in use for university and law terms; for certain old-established universities, the Michaelmas term is the first term of the academic year, running from September to Christmas, and for the courts, it’s the first of the four terms into which the legal year is divided (Michaelmas, Hilary, Easter and Trinity, following feast days of the liturgical year).

In Roman Catholic tradition, Michael has four main roles:

  1. He is the supreme enemy of Satan and the fallen angels.
  2. He is the Christian angel of death, protecting the soul from the demons waiting to snatch it away; and he is charged with leading it to judgement.
  3. Michael’s third role is weighing souls in his perfectly balanced scales (hence the saint is often depicted holding scales) on Judgment Day.
  4. He is the Guardian of the Church.

In his roles as enemy of Satan and guardian of the Church, Michael as the symbol of the light fighting and defeating the Devil of darkness was a very potent symbol for the imagination of the people.  There was a great deal of devotion to Michael the Warrior, particularly in his role as guardian and protector, and so many castles, forts and high hills were dedicated to him (Europe is stuffed with places called “Mont St Michel” or the equivalent in the local language, ranging from our own Sceilig Mhichíl off the south-west coast of Ireland all the way to the Monastery and Cathedral of St. Michael in the Ukraine).

As C.S. Lewis put it in the preface to a revised edition of “The Screwtape Letters” in 1960:

There is no uncreated being except God.  God has no opposite. . . . The proper question is whether I believe in devils.  I do.  That is to say, I believe in angels, and I believe that some of these, by the abuse of their free will, have become enemies to God. . . . Satan, the leader or dictator of devils, is the opposite, not of God, but of Michael.

This is important for us as Christians, because we do not believe in a system of dualism (two equal and opposite principles representing good and evil or light and darkness, whether on their own or as servants or beneath a remote, ultimate power, which are labelled “God” and “Satan” respectively).  Rather, God alone is supreme and Satan is His creature, as is Michael, his fellow-servant (and our fellow-servant, as we learn this regarding the angels in Revelation 19: 9-10: “9 And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.”  And he said to me, “These are the true words of God.”  10 Then I fell down at his feet to worship him, but he said to me, “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus.  Worship God.”)

During the Middle Ages, there was a Northern European school of art which emphasised the roles of Michael as the conductor and judge of souls.  They represented this by stripping Michael of his armour and weapons and instead dressing him in liturgical garments, to fit with the imagery of the heavenly temple where the angels are the ministers praising and worshipping God forever.  Here you can see St Michael, vested as a deacon, weighing souls at the Last Judgement.
















And this where he is casting down devils by the power of the Cross.










Unfortunately, angel paintings – particularly those of the Guardian Angels – have tended in modern times (since the Renaissance) to go the route of ‘ladies in nightgowns’, a far cry from the Byzantine and Byzantine-styled art of courtly and warrior angels.





















To quote from the TV series “Supernatural” in the episode, “Sympathy for the Devil” (warning for swearing):

[BOBBY opens a book to a painting of Michael surrounded by other angels.  In this painting, Michael looks like a winged woman and the other angels like naked babies with wings.]

BOBBY  That’s Michael.  Toughest son of a bitch they got.

[SAM flips to another painting.  Again, Michael has a feminine face.]

DEAN  You kidding me?  Tough?  That guy looks like Cate Blanchett.

Dean is referring to paintings like this one, which isn’t too girly as these things go, but yeah – I get the Cate Blanchett resemblance.


Or in modern times they’ve gone to the opposite extreme, representing Manly Man Angels bursting with muscles, as found in American Christian horror novels kicking demon butt and partnering up with Real Christian Not Those Unbelievers or Even Worse Wrong Denomination “prayer warriors” (a term I had never before encountered until I read one of these novels with increasing levels of “What the hey is going on here????”) to avert demon attacks on Smalltown or prevent the rise of the Antichrist or some other nefarious plot:


Here is where I go off on a wee bit of a rant about the depiction of angels in their natures and their forms in New Age and modern Christian depictions.  It’s bad enough that there are workshops about channelling your angel and evoking angel energies and treating angels as something confused with fairies and elementals and genii loci, but that’s par for the course: the Western Esoteric Tradition is chock-full of idiots from Dr. John Dee and Edward Kelley on down trying to evoke angels to make themselves rich, powerful and a hit with the chicks, and you can find lists of alleged angelic names and properties in occultism and Kabbala-derived practices all over the place both online and otherwise.  That’s one of the reasons, by the way, the Church decided to only honor the three named Archangels, leaving out the Book of Enoch, not to mention the rest of it.

What does make me grit my teeth is the inspirational stuff: the cuddly, fluffy, “I walked with an angel” share-your-stories books you get in Christian bookstores (and alas, there are Catholic versions as well!).  The kind where lovely, nice, earnest people recount tales along the lines of “I was stranded with a flat tire and this man came along and helped me change it and when I looked around after getting back in my car I couldn’t see him so I’m convinced God sent an angel to help me.”

If you tell me that – I’ll remember the Book of Tobit, and how we take that as one of the canonical books of the Bible, and if God could send His angel Raphael to help a young man get hitched, I should shut my yap and listen to your story of how God got your car fixed.

It’ll half-kill me to do it, but I’ll try.

Though please – no gauzy pictures of ladies in nightgowns/hunks with perfect American dentistry.

The best description so far of exactly how “alien” angels are (and remember, they’re the equivalent of an alien from another world in SF, because they’re not and never have been and never will be human) is that in C.S. Lewis’s “Perelandra”, where in chapter sixteen the angels of Mars and Venus (to put it in human terms) take on forms that can be seen by the mortal eyes of the Venusian King and Queen, trying them out on Ransom first:

A tornado of sheer monstrosities seemed to be pouring over Ransom.  Darting pillars filled with eyes, lightning pulsations of flame, talons and beaks and billowy masses of what suggested snow, volleyed through cubes and heptagons into an infinite black void.

“Stop it . . . stop it,” he yelled, and the scene cleared.  He gazed round blinking on the fields of lilies, and presently gave the eldila to understand that this kind of appearance was not suited to human sensations.  “Look then on this,” said the voices again.  And he looked with some reluctance, and far off between the peaks on the other side of the little valley there came rolling wheels.  There was nothing but that-concentric wheels moving with a rather sickening slowness one inside the other.  There was nothing terrible about them if you could get used to their appalling size, but there was also nothing significant.  He bade them to try yet a third time.  And suddenly two human figures stood before him on the opposite side of the lake.

They were taller than the Sorns, the giants whom he had met in Mars.  They were perhaps thirty feet high.  They were burning white like white-hot iron.  The outline of their bodies when he looked at it steadily against the red landscape seemed to be faintly, swiftly undulating as though the permanence of their shape, like that of waterfalls or flames, co-existed with a rushing movement of the matter it contained. For a fraction of an inch inward from this outline the landscape was just visible through them: beyond that they were opaque.

If we’re going with depictions of Michael the Warrior, the one I like is one done by an artist named Daniel Mitsui.   Daniel Mitsui did an artistic commission for a priest of the Maryknoll Missionaries, an order with a long history of missionary activity in Japan, where he attempted an image of the Archangel Michael in the style of traditional Japanese art, and I think this version goes well with the Prayer to St. Michael.


St. Michael the Archangel,

defend us in battle.

Be our defense against the wickedness and snares of the Devil.

May God rebuke him, we humbly pray,

and do thou,

O Prince of the heavenly hosts,

by the power of God,

thrust into hell Satan,

and all the evil spirits,

who prowl about the world

seeking the ruin of souls.  Amen.

So to all you Michaels, Mikes, Micks, Mikeys, Michelles, Michaelas and the likes: Happy Feast Day!  Settle up your worst outstanding debts, roast a goose for dinner, and pluck a bouquet of Michaelmas daisies to brighten up your house in preparation for the shortening days of autumn leading into winter!  (Oh, and feel free to drive off any lurking demons by recitation of the prayer invoking your mighty patron while you’re at it).

Best of all, we can remember the man who brought us all together by founding this site: Michael Spencer.  Lux perpetua, Michael, many thanks and best wishes to your family.


  1. Is there a feast day for Eagle 😉

    • Margaret Catherine says

      The feast of St. John the Evangelist, by extension? 🙂

    • Whatever day they sing I Will Carry You On Eagle’s Wings is always your feast day, Eagle 😀

      Okay – “Eagle’s wings” is out of Isaiah, the prophet whose feast day (best I can make out) is celebrated on 9th May (by the Orthodox) or 6th July (by the Catholics).

      Otherwise, it’s the feast day of your baptismal saint, or if you prefer, the saint you took as a patron at your Confirmation. So if your real name is Zerubbabel, his day is your day!

      Hope that helps 😉

    • Eagle, there can eventually be a feast day for you. You just have to return to the Catholic Church and–as all of us are called to do–live a life of heroic sanctity!

  2. According to Immanuel Swedenborg, after death the souls of two soul-mates combine to become one angel, so they can be together forever. (This is why the angels “neither marry nor are given in marriage.”) Utah Mormon theology has been influenced by this tradition.

    • I call crud on this one……human souls cannot become angels. Different species…….pretty story, but fairy tale time.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Not “fairy tale”, Pattie.

        FOLK BELIEF. One that’s reinforced by a lot of movie & storytelling conventions.

  3. Thank you for the info on my favorite Archangel: Michael! Whether we literally believe in angels or not, it is so helpful to imagine personal and physical support in our battle against our inner fears, false perceptions, ego attachments and temptations of the false self! I frequently “call in” the support of Michael when I am tempted by the fears that keep me from the path I know that God has in mind for me as the path of my highest good. I invoke Michael when I am tempted to ignore, suppress, repress my call to use my gifts in service to God and to share them boldly, openly, freely. With Michael’s “help” I can boldly proclaim, “Get behind me Satan,” and know that spiritual support is sure to follow!

  4. Lovely work, Martha! I, too, cannot abide the pale, anorexic things depicted in so much art as “angels”! They must be quite more impressive than that, since the first thing they ALWAYS have to say to us human is “Don’t be afraid of me…its ok!” (well, SOMEthing like that…)

    And it is so silly for all those who want to worship or believe in angels but not God! But, these are usually the nightgowned angels they imagine, who must seem less demanding that a real God of the Universe.

    There are many statues of Micheal in full armor in German churches, and it is by far my favorite incarnation of any angel, arch or not. He is a reminder of the power of God, but also a warning that his peer Lucifer has some ammo and spears of his own, lest we forget…..and lying about who he is is one of his top attack modes.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      “ANGELS ANGELS ANGELS! SHEEKA-BOOM-BAH! BAM!” — Tatted Todd of Lakeland

      Now that that’s out of the way, Angels have quite a place in pop culture. Probably because of a “anorexic lady in a nightgown” reputation that they won’t demand anything of you like a God would, but still Supernatural. (No chance of Judgment, or being told you’re wrong. “There, there,” not “Fear Not.” A Cosmic Fluttershy, not a Princess Celestia seven feet tall & shooting sunbeams.) Or a watered-down version of “guardian angel” ideas. Or a confusion between “Angel” and “Muse” or “Daemon” (and I’m not talking Phil Pullman).

      Valar and Maiar, Oyarsa and Eldila. Supernatural beings, Gandalf the Grey Uncloaked. (Not repeat not “Gabe” & “Mike”, two slob-comedy dudes in white bib overalls at the Creation Museum theater.) This is Big Juju we’re talking. Supernatural beings that could be mistaken for small-g gods in their own right.

      • Back in the late 80s I was collecting in a random and desultory way, by trawling through local second-hand bookshops, the “Dennis Wheatley Library of the Occult”, though I never did track down all the volumes.

        I did, however, manage to get the one about magic and witchcraft – I think it may have been the “Real Magic by Philip Bonewits” volume, though I can’t remember – and what had steam blowing out of my ears was the extract from a grimoire about invoking angels.

        Now, as I said, there have been idiots ever since the big revival in the Renaissance trying to use occultism for fun’n’profit, and the tale of Herr Doktor Faustus is the big cautionary one here, but a lot of them started off with a mish-mash of European occultism and Cabbalism (as distinct from the Kabbalah or Qubalah traditions) to try to stay on the ‘right side’ by not invoking demons or practicing necromancy.

        So what these idiots did instead was use a bastardised version of the Tetragrammaton to coerce angels to appear and fulfil their wishes. For wisdom, the secrets of the universe, ultimate spiritual truths, you say? No, the spell I read was for ‘getting an angel to tell you where to find treasure, how to be rejuvenated, and success with women’.

        I was outraged and furious. I don’t believe it did or could work, but the very notion offended me – and makes me wonder how, with examples like that of the stupidity our species comes up with, a just and wrathful God hasn’t smote us six times over by now. It’s the equivalent of someone kidnapping the President, threatening to blow up his children, and holding a gun to his head – unless he gives him a lollipop.

        Using the name which is above all names,too sacred and dangerous to be said aloud, the very utterance of which can make and unmake the universe, as a magical force to compel the obedience and coerce the attendance of the great cosmic powers who move the spheres of the heavens in the skies over us, in order to put them under duress for petty concerns of money and sex – argh. I despair of us, sometimes.

        You can see why this kind of carry-on degenerated into deviltry, and why demons are much easier to conjure up than angels. They want to appear and rend the idiot magician who tries this nonsense.

        I also think Edward Kelley was a con-man who was fooling Dr. John Dee and inventing most of what he pretended to scry, but the Enochian language and aethyrs strike me as uncomfortably something, something better left firmly alone. What I liked about the early treatment of angels in “Supernatural” (before the writers cantered off having great fun inventing their own mythology) was the acknowledgement that the angels were dangerous; that scene where Pamela is holding the séance to find out who “Castiel” is, and insists on evoking him despite warnings, and ends up with her eyes literally burned out of her head.

        Yeah: reducing angels to feathery babies and tinsel haloes, when they’re more like Lovecraftian Eldritch Abominations or black holes shooting out high-energy cosmic rays – you have to wonder about the ignorance or foolhardiness of humans. We are indeed all sons and daughters of Father Adam and Mother Eve.

        • Long time since I saw an H.P. Lovecraft reference. Scared the entrails out of me whilst reading it in high school…..did I just feel a cold breeze? no, thanks, I learned my lessons about playing with fire~and ice!

          • Me too… I remember I read a passagefrom HP Lovecraft as an example of descriptive writing when I was in eighth grade… the teacher was not impressed….

        • Hey Martha! Great stuff.
          As a child I lived just down the road from where Dennis Wheatley wrote a lot of his books. The house is no longer there, they built a housing estate on it, but the wavy brick wall around it survives. Wandering past at night was always spooky (lots of big looming pines still on that site), even when I was a little black clad punk (British sense).

          And my first love was a Michael. He wasn’t an angel. He was a fox 🙂

        • Isaac Rehberg (the poster occasionally still known as Obed) says


          May I highly recommend to you the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher. The books take place in modern Chicago where the main character (Harry Dresden) is a private investigator. But he’s also a honest-to-goodness wizard. One of my favorite things in this series is the way folks from the Church play into the stories including two of my favorite supporting characters, Michael Carpenter, a Knight of the Cross (a truly righteous man and devout Catholic, including the traditionally huge family who got is Knightly commission and Sword from St. Michael himself) and Father Forthill, the rector of St Mary’s of the Angels Church (who uses his parish and ministry to shelter folks from evil supernatural powers as well as performing normal pastoral duties).

          An occasional guest character has been the Angel Uriel who intervenes from time to time. In a recent book, the ever-irreverent Harry calls the Angel “Uri,” who responds by flexing a little cosmic muscle (i.e. giving Harry a glimpse of how powerful an Archangel really is) and sternly admonishes Harry to never leave of the most important part of his name (“Uriel” meaning “Light of God” with the suffix “el” referring to God).

          Another fun several-book story arc involves some of the Fallen, 30 fallen angels who have attached themselves to the 30 denarii paid to Judas and have been corrupting mankind for 2000 years and the ways the Knights of the Cross (and Harry, of course) fight some humans who had allowed themselves to be corrupted by them in exchange for the illusion of power.

          While I doubt Butcher is a devout Christian, he treats the supernatural powers in Christianity in a really neat way that shows he’s at least done his homework. And, of course, there are other supernatural powers that share some of the books’ mythos such as Vampires, demons, Merlin, the Sidhe, and Lovecraftian Old Ones.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          I did, however, manage to get the one about magic and witchcraft – I think it may have been the “Real Magic by Philip Bonewits” volume, though I can’t remember – and what had steam blowing out of my ears was the extract from a grimoire about invoking angels.

          “Authentic Thaumaturgy” by Isaac Bonewitz? I remember that making a splash in the mid-to-late Seventies.

          (If you were into radio preachers or Spiritual Warfare types back then, Ike Bonewitz was right up there with Anton LaVey; you probably heard of him as “the guy who got a degree in Witchcraft from a major secular college.” Well, here’s the details. One, the “major secular college” was UC Berkely, and Berkely is known for dumb Weirdness in general — they don’t call it “Berserkly” for nothing. Second, this was during The Sixties when they had “Design Your Own Major”, and Bonewitz took advantage of that. He was just one of the weirdest of the self-designed degrees.)

          So what these idiots did instead was use a bastardised version of the Tetragrammaton to coerce angels to appear and fulfil their wishes. For wisdom, the secrets of the universe, ultimate spiritual truths, you say? No, the spell I read was for ‘getting an angel to tell you where to find treasure, how to be rejuvenated, and success with women’.

          My old Dungeonmaster used to say “Most cults are founded so the cult leader can (1) get rich, (2) get laid, or (3) both of the above.” This is just a little more outre than the usual methods of plastic surgery, MBA, exotic diets, fitness center membership, and Viagra.

          I also think Edward Kelley was a con-man who was fooling Dr. John Dee and inventing most of what he pretended to scry, but the Enochian language and aethyrs strike me as uncomfortably something, something better left firmly alone.

          I read about the John & Ed Show in that Victorian tome Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, and it sounded like a Renaissance South Park episode.

          • I’m wondering if that Bonewits/Bonewitz guy is the same character, because they sound too much alike for it to be a coincidence; Wheatley’s preface mentions “This treatise is by Philip Emmons Isaac Bonewits. He holds the world’s first Bachelor of Arts degree in Magic and Thaumaturgy; so there is good reason to suppose that he knows quite a lot about his subject.

            That the University of California should give such a degree is of very special interest. No doubt similar distinctions were conferred on priests in ancient Egypt, Chaldea, India, Mexico and even on Druids in England who had passed certain tests, but I think that for the best part of two thousand years no such official recognition has been bestowed by a learned body approved by any State in the Western World.”

            Well, quite, but does the University of California count as a learnéd body? 😉

            Dr. Dee is a wonderful character; he offered his services to Elizabeth I and although he sorta kinda got a court position, both Lizzie and Walsingham (her spymaster) were much too down-to-earth for this to last (although it did last a surprisingly long time) and it was more for his abilities as a mathematician than an occultist.

            Eventually he went abroad and after wandering around for a bit ended up trying to get a place at the court of Rudolf II (every chancer and charlatan in Europe gravitated there because Rudolf was very much interested in alchemy and the mystical sciences). What intrigues me is how on earth Dee could fall for Kelley’s spiel; a guy who has had his ears cropped for coining turns up on your doorstep, claims that he’s just the medium you’ve been looking for in your unsuccessful attempts at scrying and you – a university doctor – don’t show him the door immediately but rather welcome him with open arms for years up to the time decades later in Bohemia when he even claims that the angelic communications instruct you both to share everything in common – including your wives – and you do this????

            I think self-delusion is a wonderful power. I think Kelley was maybe half-fooling himself as much as Dee, the way commerical mediums were half-fakes and half-convinced something was really going on in the 19th and early 20th century boom in Spiritualism. And I think that if you sit there calling spirits with concentration and intent, asking angels to appear, you may well get them – but they may not be the angels you wanted or think they are. There are such things as fallen angels, after all.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            I’m wondering if that Bonewits/Bonewitz guy is the same character, because they sound too much alike for it to be a coincidence; Wheatley’s preface mentions “This treatise is by Philip Emmons Isaac Bonewits. He holds the world’s first Bachelor of Arts degree in Magic and Thaumaturgy; so there is good reason to suppose that he knows quite a lot about his subject.

            Same guy. That “BA in Magick & Thaumaturgy” is a Positive ID.

            That the University of California should give such a degree is of very special interest. No doubt similar distinctions were conferred on priests in ancient Egypt, Chaldea, India, Mexico and even on Druids in England who had passed certain tests, but I think that for the best part of two thousand years no such official recognition has been bestowed by a learned body approved by any State in the Western World.”

            Well, quite, but does the University of California count as a learnéd body?

            Not Berserkly. And I heard that from Berserkly alumni in my old D&D group.

            What intrigues me is how on earth Dee could fall for Kelley’s spiel; a guy who has had his ears cropped for coining turns up on your doorstep, claims that he’s just the medium you’ve been looking for in your unsuccessful attempts at scrying and you – a university doctor – don’t show him the door immediately but rather welcome him with open arms for years up to the time decades later in Bohemia when he even claims that the angelic communications instruct you both to share everything in common – including your wives – and you do this????

            1) “One must have a gift for Oratory.” — A. Hitler, when he was hustling on the streets of Vienna.

            2) “Kelley SCORED! Heh-huh! Heh-huh! Heh-huh!” — Beavis & Butthead (paraphrase)

        • Well, it makes as much sense as YOUR religion!

      • References to the Silmarilean and Tolkein’s Unfinished Tales….

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          And Lewis’s Space Trilogy, and My Little Pony.

          I think I’ve covered all the bases…

          • We haven’t worked in the Epic of Gilgamesh, though, and that’s definitely a lack on our parts.

            I didn’t mention the equivalence of angels in other religions, such as apsaras (though YMMV on that one), gandharvas and devas, but they’re out there too.

  5. If anyone wants some musical accompaniment to the above, there’s a Youtube clip of Kate Bush’s song Lily from the 1993 album “The Red Shoes” (and the short film she made to go with it, “The Line, the Cross and the Curve”).

    It pretty much demonstrates what I said about the use of the archangels in the Western Esoteric Tradition, given that it starts off with a version of the Gayatri Mantra recited by the old lady, then uses the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram as the source for the song lyrics (this ritual was devised by the Golden Dawn through the works of Eliphas Levi and ultimately derived from a Jewish prayer) and incorporates Tarot symbolism and the spheres of governance allocated to the archangels, e.g. Gabriel is associated with water which is the suite of Cups in the Tarot – the usual kind of hodge-podge cherrypicking of traditions that goes on in occult circles 🙂

    I don’t mind it so much when it’s used in this form as artistic inspiration/licence (I first came across the Lesser Banishing Ritual in a horror/occult novel from the 1980s) but it drives me scatty when people really try to use it for money, fame and power. Ack!!!!

  6. Martha,

    Great posts, thanks a bunch. Can you or someone esle spare me a little internet searching time (I’m lazy today) and give me a run down on what the reformers thought about angles, Luther, Calvin, etc.?


    • This from Calvin’s “Institutes of the Christian Religion”, from about page 173 onwards, gives his exposition on the subject.

      I think the Reformers were more concerned with arguing against invocation of angels as invocation of saints, and with disputing with the scholastic theology developed (e.g. the Pseudo-Dionysius’ hierarchy of the nine choirs). Their emphasis was on Christ as the one Mediator and angels as God’s servants.

    • What did the reformers think about Angles like Luther? I don’t know, wasn’t Luther himself an Angle? Or Saxon?

      And wasn’t Calvin more Gallic?


    • I’m pretty sure that Calvin liked angels. I’m not so sure about Hobbes.

    • Isaac Rehberg (the poster occasionally still known as Obed) says

      The English reformers seemed to be a little on the schizophrenic side with this, Austin. One the one hand, they seemed to really have a problem with folks invoking the Saints and Angels (see the 39 Articles). On the other hand, the Anglicans tended to have grand celebrations on the Feast Day of the patron Saint or Angel after whom their churches were named. E.g, if a village church was named St. Michael’s, often they’d have a village-wide party on the Feast of St. Michael. This is something that I have read modern Roman Catholic theologians praising the Anglican tradition for and hoping that the Ordinariate folks bring that tradition with them across the Tiber.

      So, while being leery of praying to the Angels and Saints, the English Reformers seemed to have retained their special place in the Church’s culture and tradition.

  7. Fascinating! I think I will go tell my husband that today is his day.

    And I share your distaste for the ‘ladies in nightgowns’ angel art.

    • C.S. Lewis commented that angels in art went from looking like beings who had to say “Fear not!” to beings who cooed “There, there.”

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        How can you have any respect for a supernatural being who’s “a lady in a nightgown cooing ‘There, There’?”

  8. Uh, Martha, this is cosmic, and something on the order of the guy who helped with the flat tire, but…

    I just read that very part in Perelandra this morning, about an hour and a half ago.

    I started re-reading C.S. Lewis’ trilogy a couple of months ago (forgot how slow a read Perelandra is, despite–or because of?–having only about three characters throughout most of it; but it’s finally picking up with the introduction of the eldila (angels, to you earthlings) of Mars and Venus (or Malacandra and Perelandra) who themselves are Malacandra and Perelandra, Mars and Venus, Ares and Aphrodite (Lewis gets a little classical-pagan about here, or perhaps puts paganism into a Hebrew-Christian context to do away with it).

    So, what about it? Are there angels out there trying to tell me something? I mean, why would this post of yours show up exactly at the time I’m reading about it?

    As Rod Serling would say, “Dee-dee-dee-dee, dee-dee-dee-dee.”

    • Ted, it’s obviously the archangel Gabriel reminding me subtly that this is his feast day too (oh, and Raphael, mustn’t forget him either), and not to let Michael hog all the glory 🙂

      As the patron of communications (amongst other things), he was communicating with us both. On the other hand, come on, Gabriel: you get all the glory for the Annunciation! And Dante gave you a good part in the “Paradiso”, Canto XXXII, which is more than Mike or Ralph got:

      “I saw such joy rain down on her,
      conveyed within the minds and borne
      by holy spirits framed to soar those heights,

      that, however much I had seen before,
      nothing had held me in such wonder and suspense,
      nor shown me so close a likeness to God,

      and the loving spirit that had first descended,
      singing ‘Ave Maria, gratia plena’
      hovered before her with his wings outspread.

      From every side the blessèd court all sang,
      responding to the solemn sacred chant,
      so that each face became more luminous with joy.

      ‘O holy father, who on my behalf
      deign to be here below, leaving the sweet place
      where by eternal lot you have your seat,

      who is the angel gazing with such joy
      upon the eyes of her our Queen,
      so much in love he seems to be a flame?’

      Thus I tried once more to gain instruction
      from him who glowed in Mary’s beauty
      as the morning star reflects the sun.

      And he: ‘All confidence and grace of movement
      that can be found in angel or in any blessèd soul
      are found in him — and we would have it so,

      ‘for it is he who brought the palm to Mary
      when the Son of God elected to take on
      the burden of our flesh.”

  9. Martha,

    Now if you can do this once a week for me onTuesday morning I can present it to my CCD class…

    Always informative and entertaining!


    • Radagast, it’s thirty years or so since I wrote other people’s Religious Education homework for them, so sorry, but no chance!


    • Although… I dunno if you’re in charge of the class or what, but if you’re feeling mean, you could always get them to draw their idea of angels, and then have great fun ripping them to shreds verbally:

      “Wrong! Wrong! Not just wrong, but diabetic-coma-from-sugar-overload-inducing! Have none of you read Ezekiel? Four-headed beings with animal as well as human faces! Calves’ feet! Four wings and four hands! In appearance as burning coals of fire! Riding on wheels-within-wheels set with eyes all round on the rims, and these wheels are themselves alive! Does any of that sound like fluffy white wings and sparkly haloes to you?”


      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Sounds like H.P.Lovecraft as filtered through a bad batch of Owsley Acid. Too weird for this hobbit.

        • Headless, this is why (a) the Flying Saucer/God is an Astronaut von Daniken craze of the 70s cited this as evidence that the ‘angels’ were alien astronauts in spacesuits and riding landing vehicles after their rocketship landed in front of astonished locals who wrote the experience up as best they could given their frame of reference (b) Terry Pratchett in his “Small Gods” has Brutha meet a saint in the desert who also relates the most astonishing visions, and that they come particularly after he’s eaten his regular meal of the little spotted mushrooms which are all that grow there 🙂

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            Martha, you’re talking to someone whose introduction to UFOlogy was from the Adamskyites (Remember them? First of the “Space Brothers” Cults?) circa 1966. (When you’re a kid genius and natural-talent speedreader, you end up inputting a lot of raw information with no way to gauge its accuracy. What a long strange trip it’s been…)

            And I remember the UFOlogists’ reconstructions of Ezekiel’s “Wheels within Wheels” — no way that craft could be aerodynamic enough to fly, never mind enter & leave atmo. Never mind that all these Ancient Astronaut Cults and UFO Cults sold ancient humanity REAL short — according to them (via Kooks Magazine), none of us would have learned to wipe our butts without Space Brothers there to either teach us or do it for us.

            And “Pulling a Von Daniken” became a short-lived term for “presenting yourself as a god to those primitves.” Usually in the form of “Tried to pull a Von Daniken, but discovered ‘primitive’ does not mean ‘stupid'” — kind of like Dravot & Peachy in “Man Who Would Be King”.

      • That ought to scare the bejesus out of ’em – I’ll have to give it a try (especially the younger ones – I can hear the phone ringing off the hook now – from parents anxious to give me their feedback ; )

        • I don’t want to get you in trouble as some kind of secret occultist devil-worshipper and/or drug abuser by frightenting the smallies (“Why did you tell my little Sally angels aren’t sweet?”) or having the older ones going home to contradict their parents (“Yeah, well, Mr. Radagast said that angels look like the covers of a heavy metal album, and it’s all in the Bible! So there!”)


      • …I always thought angels looked like Cary Grant – or at least they did in the movies when I was a kid (I was told the world was really black and white until it suddenly changed to color in the Wizard of Oz)…

  10. Isaac Rehberg (the poster occasionally still known as Obed) says

    I once asked a priest why Michael, Raphael, and Gabriel got to be both Archangels and saints. His reply: “Do YOU wanna be the one to tell them otherwise?”

    To which I thought, “Good point, Father.”

  11. David Cornwell says

    Thank you Martha for this piece.

    Michael became for me one of my favorite names. I have three younger brothers. I was about 9 or 10 when Thomas Michael was born. We became very close. He opened my eyes in ways I’d never considered. Then about 10 years ago, a lingering heart condition took him away from us. Every single day I think of him.

    I’m somehow sure the great angel Michael is with him in his journey into death. My brother, I think, now knows that this angel is the “Toughest son of a bitch they got.”

  12. Any comment from you fans of Dante (Martha? Damaris?) about whether Beatrice was a metaphor for an angel? I’m thinking of the painting by Ary Scheffer, in which Dante is close enough to touch her, but can’t quite do it because they are on different celestial planes.

    • I can’t imagine that Dante intended Beatrice to be a metaphor of an angel. He was clear-headed enough not to fall into the modern confusion that angels are the souls of dead people in heaven. Besides, his great point in the whole Divine Comedy — or one of them — was to show the ultimately sublime or abased nature of all of us who are made in the image of God. Beatrice is not an angel; she’s a true human being, no longer fettered by sin — and that’s blindingly intimidating enough.

    • Oh, lawks, the syrupy Twu Wuv version of the poem (no blame to you, Ted).

      If you read the part where the long-awaited meeting between Dante and Beatrice occurs, at the peak of the Mountain of Purgatory, in the Garden of Eden – it’s not all hearts and flowers. As the Hollander commentary notes point out, Beatrice is referred to in masculine terms, not alone as like an admiral on the prow of his ship, but in the actual Latin as “Benedictus (the masculine form, not “Benedicta” the feminine) qui venis” (Blessed is HE who comes in the name of the Lord) – so she is acting in a way in persona Christi, as a God-bearer to Dante, But most emphatically not an angel, or even as an allegorical figure representing ‘the Church’ or ‘Faith’ or ‘Theology’ (with Virgil being representative of ‘Natural Reason’). She’s a real woman, the girl he met in Florence when he was nine, who died young, who was the inspiration for his love poetry and the Lady in the courtly tradition who acted as his ‘Donna’.

      And the first thing she does is make him cry 🙂

      “Purgatorio”, Canto XXX:

      ‘Dante, because Virgil has departed,
      do not weep, do not weep yet–
      there is another sword to make you weep.’

      Just like an admiral who moves from stern to prow
      to see the men that serve the other ships
      and urge them on to better work,

      so on the left side of the chariot–
      as I turned when I heard her call my name,
      which of necessity is here recorded–

      I saw the lady, who had just appeared
      veiled beneath the angels’ celebration,
      fix her eyes on me from across the stream.

      Although the veil, encircled with Minerva’s leaves
      and descending from her head,
      did not allow me unrestricted sight,

      regally, with scorn still in her bearing,
      she continued like one who, even as he speaks,
      holds back his hottest words:

      ‘Look over here! I am, I truly am Beatrice.
      How did you dare approach the mountain?
      Do you not know that here man lives in joy?’

      The Romatic poets of the 19th century, and some of the Pre-Raphaelite painters (Rossetti in very much particular) liked to re-discover the “Divine Comedy” as a love poem and Dante and Beatrice as a Great Romantic Epic (which is why they loved the Paolo and Francesca episode in Hell as a Romeo and Juliet romantic tragedy), the way Wagner later treated Tristan and Isolde as the Great Doomed Love Affair Ending in Death – but Dante doesn’t give us that easy way out.

      We expect a big romantic reunion, we get a brisk run through theology and then – we mount into the heavens until we come to the very end and source of our being, the Beatific Vision, greater and deeper than any human love, no matter how spiritual and glorious.

    • I prefer Botticelli’s unfinished illustrations for the Paradiso to the pastel milk-and-water Beatrice in that painting; here are Dante and Beatrice in the Heaven of the Sun, for instance.

      • Beatrice looks like she’s having an awfully good time in the Botticelli sketch. Looks like Janis Joplin.

        I saw the Scheffer painting in the Museum of Modern Art in NYC a while back and was fascinated. And with very little effort, the pastels could be jazzed up with some imaging software.

        Speaking of angels (this one Lucifer) Scheffer did a similar painting called The Temptation of Christ. Ignore the pastels.

        But I do like Botticelli.

        • The Temptation of Christ one is much better. I just have trouble with representations of the ‘folded hands, eyes turned up, passive female’ imagery that one gets so much of; Beatrice is a lot more pro-active than that (she went down to Limbo to enlist Virgil as a guide for Dante in the original poem).

          Another good Lucifer picture is Edward Burne-Jones’s Black Archangel and Most Bitter Moonseed (The Enemy Sowing Tares by Night) from his “Flower Book”, using old country names of flowers as inspiration for little pictures.

  13. Sometime I’ll have to ask my parents whether they intended this (they’re, shall we say, not Catholics), but my middle name is Michael and my birthday is tomorrow. So I’ve always felt a bit of affinity for my archangelic namesake. Excellent write-up, Martha.

    Also worth mentioning is that his name translates as “Who is like the Lord?”

  14. Excellent post, Martha!

    As I write, a print of Daniel Mitsui’s St Michael hangs on the wall behind my computer. It powerfully reminds me of all the support God has sent us.

    • Goodness…you mean that God and His angels AREN’T all lily-white blue eyed creatures like Jesus??

      (wide eyed stare of confusion)


  15. What movies has Michael been in?

    There’s that one where John Travolta played him as a pot-bellied guy in his underwear…”Hellblazer” where he helps Nicholas Cage and the Vatican fight demons or something…”Legion” where the angels are the bad guys…has “Preacher” been made into a movie yet?

  16. So do angels leave money under your pillow whenever you lose a baby tooth? Or kidnap and probe you, then hypnotize you into thinking it was only an owl? I sure am glad we have the church to sort all these things out for us!

    • No, Blake, angels don’t give you money (or candy).

      They don’t do the probing either, though they will lay coals of fire on your lips, or strike you blind, or vaporise an entire city.

      Hope that helps with the distinction between fairies, aliens, local gods, and angels! I am always glad to help point out the distinction between these entities, and I am glad you don’t hold to the confusion of elements in New Age angelology!


  17. Go raimh maith agat, Martha! This was a nice little capstone on my patron’s feast day (and almost makes up for the fact that I couldn’t manage goose for dinner this year).

    Personally, my favorite illustration of what St. Michael should look like is from the comic strip “Rose is Rose”. Rose’s son, Pasquale, has a “guardian angel”, who usually is depicted as a carbon copy of Pasquale but in a acolyte’s robe and cherub wings, but who occassionally is drawn as a gigantic warrior angel. Not Mr. Universe with wings, but not a lady in a nightgown, either. Kind of a winged “army of the Israelites” look.

    The “defend us in battle” prayer is one that I memorized in my teens, and actually works as a “centering” prayer for me in times of stress or confrontation.

  18. Over in the East, we celebrate St. Michael on Nov. 8. There are a couple other commemorations throughout the year for related miracles.

    Here’s the festal hymns:

    Commanders of the heavenly hosts,
    we who are unworthy beseech you,
    by your prayers encompass us beneath the wings of your immaterial glory,
    and faithfully preserve us who fall down and cry to you:
    “Deliver us from all harm, for you are the commanders of the powers on high!”


    Commanders of God’s armies and ministers of the divine glory,
    princes of the bodiless angels and guides of mankind,
    ask for what is good for us, and for great mercy,
    supreme commanders of the Bodiless Hosts.

    One of my favorite stories about St. Michael is from 2 Macc 3:21ff. St. Michael is not specifically named, but there is an angel on a horse expelling a pagan from the Jewish temple. It’s a great story

  19. St. Michael the Archangel is awesome; always interesting to imagine him leading a whole army of angels. And I don’t think the Hosts of Heaven are cute, little babies-with-wings 😀
    And who can forget St. Gabriel, who is the Messenger of the LORD?

    I’ll admit I am rusty on St. Raphael; growing up Lutheran, I never really heard about him, especially considering most Lutherans these days don’t even know who or what Tobit is. And even amongst those who do know, many don’t consider him an archangel. There is this whole debate about whether or not Michael is the only archangel, because he is the only one explicitly referenced as such in Scripture.

    Ah, well. What are you gonna do? *Shrug*

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