Who says you can’t?

“Wanted: Experienced male window-dresser.

20+, full clean driving licence. Must be prepared to travel.”

Back in the days when one could advertise for precisely the staff member you wanted without the risk of appearing politically incorrect, that was the advert that caught my eye. To be fair, at just 16, with examination results still months away and no possibility of staying in education, I was looking at anything and everything, applying for jobs as varied as dental nurse and milkmaid. In spite of the expectations a Grammar School education might have raised, the family couldn’t afford for me to stay on at school. I needed a job. Any job. Even then, I was aware that probabilities were a numbers game; the more I applied for, the more chance I had of getting at least as far as an interview.

By this time, I had only a couple of months left at school… and so did everyone else leaving that year. I needed to get in early. Even so, “I can’t apply for that…what a pity.” “Why not?” Asked my mother. “You won’t get it, but you can always apply.” I wrote the letter, in spite of the fact I was an inexperienced female, far too young, who had never travelled and who would be ineligible for a driving licence for another two years. It couldn’t hurt. The letter was posted, along with the daily sheaf of others and promptly forgotten about. Until they called me in for interview.

I can even remember the brown, birds-eye tweed suit that I wore… nicely tailored but smelling of wet dog whenever it rained. I took a seat in the reception area with half a dozen professional and arty young men and felt ridiculous. They exchanged experiences, talking about their training and previous positions. I’d worked in a butcher’s after school since I was twelve. I shouldn’t have come.

I was the last to be shown to the office of the owner of the business. I’d done my research as best I could in those pre-internet days. He and his brother had started on the market stalls a couple of decades before and now owned several chains of menswear stores across the north and drove a Rolls Royce apiece. I felt very small and out of place as he faced me across the big desk and folded his hands. He looked at me in silence for a while. Me, the little brown mouse who wouldn’t say boo to the proverbial goose… I shrank inside, wishing fervently that I hadn’t been this stupid.

He read the advert out loud, pausing to look at me with raised brows with every requirement I failed to meet. Which was all of them. He smoothed the sheet of paper and pinned me with his eyes. “What have you got to say for yourself? Why should I hire you?”

I will never know where it came from or why… neither confidence nor arrogance were any part of the timid creature in tweed. To call me a mouse was unfair… mice have a certain amount of audacity.

I held out my hand… “Give me a pen and paper and I’ll show you.”

I spent the rest of the interview answering a barrage of questions and piling up sketch after sketch of fashion designs. He looked at the last one as I placed it on the pile. “I can’t offer you the job, I’m afraid.” It was no surprise really. Only getting an interview at all had been a surprise. I stood to leave. “But I’ll create one for you…”

I sat back down, open mouthed, as he outlined his plans. Then left the building on winged feet. I would work with the teams, train fully and travel alone to deal with the window crises in each shop as they arose. And for the next few years he worked my socks off… I ended up training the new window dressers as they came in… had a lot of fun and became a darned good window dresser.

So why the sudden memories? Well, I picked up a book of poetry from the shelf and read Keats for a while. John Keats is one of the best loved English poets and was a leading figure in the second generation of the Romantic movement. Almost everyone will recognise his work, even if they do not know its source.

Keats

So where’s the connection between one of the great poets and a schoolgirl luckier than she could imagine? Well, Keats was doing something he ‘shouldn’t’ too.

Born to the family of an ostler turned innkeeper and trained to become a surgeon, Keats’ passion lay in poetry. He should have been a doctor. He was, by all accounts, good at it. And anyway, he was way too young at that point to have anything to say that was worth reading. Great writers need to live before they can write… experiencing the world and its emotions, growing from childhood to adulthood and beyond. While all writers seem to start scribbling when young, there is a general acceptance that it is only in later life that the great œuvres will flow from their pen. It is a common dictum that one should not seriously write when ‘too young’… writers should have lived something to say.

Keats, acquiring his apothecary’s licence, quit medicine to write. Lacking a paying career, he struggled financially all his life, unaware, it seems, of the legacies left to him that would have eased his situation. In 1816 Leigh Hunt agreed to publish one of his poems in a magazine. Other works followed, securing Keats’ place in literary history. He died in 1821. Aged just 25. Far too young to be a ‘real’ poet… or so young writers are now told. About the same age as Wilfred Owen, in fact. Arthur Rimbaud stopped writing at 21.

So who says you ‘can’t’?

We live in a world of ‘ought to’, where expectations are piled upon us, if not by those closest to us, then by our society itself which sets the tram lines we conform to with little thought most of the time. The expectations of others, though, are not what holds us back. We choose to meet those expectations… or to try our best…or not, as the case may be.

We expect a certain normality of ourselves, often without realising that ‘normality’ is unique to each one of us. In effect, we accept the confines of barriers that no-one has actually imposed upon us, simply because we are aware of what we think we ‘ought’ to do and be. What truly holds us back are the constricting and limiting expectations that we draw around ourselves. We decide what we cannot do… yet it is only when we overstep those lines we have drawn in the sand that we find out what we can do.

For me, landing that job taught me more than just how to dress a window. It taught me to have confidence in my own instincts, to stand up for the things I thought were right, to defend a principle and most importantly, to believe I could do more than I believed and be things I ‘shouldn’t’ be. I have often wondered if the academic route I ‘should’ have taken would have taught me half as much.

Next time you feel you can’t do something, don’t ask yourself, ‘why not’… just ask yourself, ‘who says?’ The answer is probably very close to hand…

Tobias and the Angel: A dog called Toby…

Domingos Sequeira – Tobias heals the blindness of his father

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…  If Tobias walks a recognised Pilgrimage route when carrying out his Father’s instructions it would certainly go some way to explaining the presence of the two other Archangels in some of the paintings even though there is no mention of them in the story.

Tobias’ destination is just given as a ‘far distant land’ in the version we have but it,

maybe, cannot be too far distant if Tobit is related to the family Tobias stays with, which he is.

Curiously, all the angels look decidely feminine.

Michael could at a push be described as Androgenous,

Raphael and Gabriel are definitely Gyandros.

Gabriel’s ‘lily’ is orthodox…

Raphael’s ‘vial’ presumably holds eye ‘salve’ for Tobit…

The fish by this stage is purely symbolic…

But what of Michael’s golden apple?

An allusion to the Garden of the Hesperides, guarded by the many-headed dragon.

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https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/1e/Francesco_Botticini_-_I_tre_Arcangeli_e_Tobias.jpg

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Ninevah and ‘large fish’ appear to be related and that is what originally excited us.

We were following the Johannine link, Jonah swallowed by the ‘Whale of God’ et al.

‘Make straight the way of the Lord!’

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And the dog?

The dog in some of the depictions seems almost transparent.

Like a Phantom Dog!

Whatever, we shall call him Toby for he has to do with threes,

and is the right provenance and time,

and tradition for the link with the theatrical puppet-play to be sustained.

We were quite right about the word play on that one, all those years ago.

‘To be or not to be…’

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It may even be that our Guardian Angel is three-fold.

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Threes, in this tale certainly play their part.

Not least in the age of Tobit when he dies,

but I am not altogether sure whether a fish actually posseses

the attributed organs, which in itself maybe suggestive,

but if Sara ‘gets’ the ‘heart’ and Tobit gets the ‘gall’, who gets the ‘liver’?

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The dog!

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Whether or not ‘Toby’ gets the liver, he always gets the sausages…

Tobias and the Angel: Grateful Dead…

William-Adolphe Bouguerea

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… If a story is canonical in one tradition and uncanonical in another

it immediately raises two questions.

What makes it ‘canonical’ for one tradition?

What makes it ‘uncanonical’ for the other?

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In this case it might have been supposed that it would have been more likely

to be canonical for the Hebrews, considering its age and subject matter?

Not so!

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Many years ago when I and a fellow writer, and friend,

first became aware of Apocryphal Bible stories,

we got very excited about this tale when we heard about it,

especially in view of the fish connection.

We immediately procured a copy of said Apocrypha,

at no little expense, and looked at this story first,

fully expecting to be accosted with highly significant arcane knowledge.

But drew a blank!

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And now?

Well now, I strongly suspect that there is highly significant arcane knowledge within it.

The trouble with arcane knowledge; it is very difficult,

if not impossible, to transmit in mundane terms.

An attempt, though, has to be at least made…

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Perhaps the first clue to the importance of this story

is to realise that it is a Grateful Dead tale…

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Before Tobit sends his son, Tobias, on the ‘errand’ there is a long introduction to the tale which establishes Tobit in, for wont of a better term, ‘righteousness’. He lives in Ninevah, a place which does not recognise his religion, and yet he continues to practice that religion despite persecution from the ‘local authorities’. As part of this practice he comes across a dead man who has been flung out into the street and his body left to rot. Tobit, an old man, single handedly buries the body and performs the funeral rites of his religion but then falls asleep by the side of the grave in exhaustion. As he sleeps, sparrows fly over him and their droppings land in his eyes so that when he wakes up, he is blind.

*

…At this stage it does not appear that the ‘dead’ were overly ‘grateful’.

But all good things come to those who wait.

It is at this point in the tale that Tobit, now having lost his sight,

and the means to a livelihood, decides to send out his son

on an errand to bring in what he is owed.

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Now, although, ‘errand’ is an interesting enough term

for Tobias’ journey, in and of itself,

what if we were to deem it a ‘pilgrimage’, instead? …

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Tobias and the Angel, Davide Ghirlandaio (David Bigordi) (Italian, Florence 1452–1525 Florence), Tempera and gold on wood

David Ghirlandaio  circ. 1479

Wilfully blind…

I may sit with my back to most of the house a lot, but I still have to do the housework. I can’t ignore it, even though I can’t necessarily see it. I know it is there and, if I leave it too long before getting started on the daily chores, it is as if something is staring at the back of my neck. I can’t settle to anything productive until it is relatively tidy…  which is as tidy as living with the small dog will allow.

So, I came home from work, played with the dog and her ever-present ball while I had a coffee, then went through to make the bed. As I shook out the covers, a shiny black spider stared back from the place where I lay my head. Now, I have no problem with spiders wandering around any other room, but me and spiders do not share the bedroom if I can help it. And I have no intention of sleeping with one.

I know they lurk in dark corners and under the bed, but as long as I do not see them, I am okay with that. I can pretend they are not there. This one, however, was not allowing me that illusion and had to be evacuated. He escaped en route to the window and scurried off who knows where. So I know that I still have a shiny black spider in my bedroom… but as I cannot see him, he doesn’t exist.

It was the same when my son brandished his leech-encrusted gloves under my nose. It is not easy to screech quietly through gritted teeth, but I consider that I managed it admirably, telling him politely to remove them from my sight as, if I looked at them…properly looked and registered what I was seeing… I would not have been able to continue with the job in hand.

And that is a completely illogical reaction, on a par with the dog hiding her eyes under a cushion. Small dog or not, she does not fit under a cushion and most of her is very visible. But, as far as she is concerned, if she can’t see me, I can’t see her.

It is like sweeping the dust under the carpet. The expression has found its way into common language, but we wouldn’t actually do it. For a start, we know that would be unhygienic, and if we did it too often, a few specks would soon become a pile, and an even messier job to clean that it would have been at the start. But we are good at doing it nonetheless and, like the dramatic trope of the unopened letter so beloved of cinematographers, there is a self-preservation mechanism that kicks in to protect us; what we do not see or acknowledge does not exist for us, so we often choose not to look.

We know about the spider, the leeches, the contents of the mythical envelope or the dust bunnies under the bed. We may even have seen them. But, unless we choose to look in such a way that what we see imprints itself on our reality, we can behave as if we have not seen anything at all. We know what is, we know what we are choosing not to see, and know that choice does not change reality one whit. But it changes our version of reality.

We see it happening all the time. We do it ourselves… and I doubt any one of us can say, with absolute honesty, that we have not. Whether it is a bill left unopened, a news item we don’t want to know too much about, the junk drawer that is quickly closed because it is in need of sorting, or avoiding the eyes of someone whose story we do not wish to know, be that a beggar in the street or the little old lady who can talk for hours.

There is no denying that it can be a useful thing, this refusal to acknowledge reality. We won’t miss your bus talking to the little old lady. We will sleep at night in spite of sharing the room with a spider. Some ancient skeletons are better left in their cupboards. And if we never look at the grass, it will never need cutting…or, not for us, at least.

It is often said that we ceate our own reality and, in this respect at least, it is true. Everything we experience through our senses changes our perception of reality. And what, of that reality, we allow to be acknowledged by consciousness, changes us.

A well-known prayer asks for the ‘serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference‘. Apply this to perception, and the ability to ‘know the difference’ is clearly the key, especially is we paraphrase a little and think about the things we need to see and the things we can choose whether to see or not. Our conscious mind is where we store the things we will act upon, while the things we choose not to acknowledge are filed ‘safely’ away. In many ways, what we allow into consciousness defines who we are choosing to be.

Just what are we sweeping under the carpet of consciousness? Whose eyes do we refuse? And how many of us will be sleeping with worse than spiders under the bed tonight?

The pan-dimensional mouse

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I have spent a lot of time lately working with two-dimensional representations of multidimensional states. No, I don’t mean anything arcane and mystical… or something that belongs in the realm of science fiction either. I’ve been working with pictures.

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We tend to think of dimensions in spatial terms of height, length and depth. That is how we are first taught about the whole affair in school and why would we question it? We simply accept that we live in an apparently three-dimensional universe, and that an image, for instance, is only a two dimensional representation of a wider reality… a symbol, if you like. It has become widely accepted that ‘time’ makes a fourth dimension… the difference between how things were and how they are. Time travel has become such a popular idea through literature and entertainment that none of us boggle at the possibility… even while we accept it may well be impossible in practical terms. Time, after all, although an abstract idea, is something we can observe in action. Or perhaps have simply learned to accept.

5220820_orig

The Quantum branch of scientific thought throws other dimensions into the mix… it gets more abstract the deeper you go, but even here it can be simplified into the scales we understand through our own experience in many ways. The next two dimensions take into account the idea of the future… again, something that simply does not exist that we take on trust will occur.

242249According to the theory, an infinite number of futures may exist and the determining factor is the act of choice. For example, there may be a perfect three-dimensional cream cake in front of me, placed at this moment in time right within my reach. The future now depends from the point of choice… do I choose to eat it or not? Further futures may run off in all directions from this moment… it may be the tipping point for my waistline or cholesterol levels, it may be the only thing I eat today and so be fuel rather than fancy… or I could feed it to the dog… give it away or drop it on the carpet… you get the idea. My choice determines the future path of the universe, even on this infinitesimal scale.

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Except that the scientists then go on to posit multiple possible universes too, each with their own branching futures from points in time. Last time I looked at the research and theories we were up to a ten-dimensional reality and it seems that science is finally catching up with ancient esoteric thought that captures just such concepts in symbolic imagery. You have only to study some of the pictorial symbols to understand how those multiple dimensions can be expressed in two.

4-oleg-shuplyak-illusion-painting-shupliak

I was wondering about even further dimensions we can add to the list… okay, perhaps, they are not strictly scientific examples of dimensionality. They may, however, be sub-headings of others, but they are just as abstract, invisible and yet observable. They are closer to home too. Maybe they correlate to the different ‘worlds’ of esoteric thought… modes of expression or levels of function. However you look at them, they are certainly contributing an added dimension to how we observe past, present and future. Not only that, they are determining factors in how the microcosmic universe that is ourselves moves through the fourth dimension of time and, more pertinently, they shape our future as effectively as the act of choice.

10-oleg-shuplyak-illusion-tsar-ivan

I, for example, have been working with photographs the past few days. Opening each image there is immediately the dimension of memory. With it comes the attendant dimension of emotion… the emotions associated with that captured moment and also with the people and events that cluster around it in memory too. One image of a hillside, for example, recalls both the event, my companions and the warmth of the emotions attached to all of those. I see the image from several perspectives,  through the lens of a present now past… yet which is no longer past because it is once more present; the emotions and thoughts that were then and which are once again now. Yet I also see them from the perspective of now and the passage of time may have altered those emotions, so that the past itself takes on a different hue. This is the dimension of perception… personal perspective.

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Those are personal dimensions we bring to every single second of our lives and they are different for each of us. That same image will, to another observer who participated in that same moment, bring completely different memories, associations, perspectives and emotions. To one who was not present, the view will be different again. The experience and its interpretation… and therefore the effect upon the future… is unique for every one of us. Every time.

27-oleg-shuplyak-surreal-painting

There has been a lot of research done on the nature of perception and memory and their critical link to attention, which seems to be yet another dimension. Basically, it appears that our brain takes shortcuts and the physical world we perceive and believe we interpret is based upon a mixture of actual sensory input, such as an image for example, and our own preconceived beliefs built up over a lifetime. The brain has to both perceive and believe… and if the two don’t match up we either change our beliefs to fit the reality we perceive… or we change reality to fit our beliefs… and behave accordingly. We then simply perceive only that which we allow ourselves to perceive. The trouble with that is the attention we give to the conclusion of that alchemy; once a belief is formed in accordance with our perception it sticks and there is little we can do about it. And whatever our perception of now… even if we have drawn incorrect conclusions… our point of choice starts here and defines our future.

14-oleg-shuplyak-illusion-jesus

Considering this, I was reminded of Douglas Adams’ Hitchhikers Guide to the Universe where “Mice are merely the protrusion into our dimension of hyper-intelligent pan-dimensional beings who, unbeknownst to the human race, are the most intelligent species on the planet Earth. They spend a lot of their time in laboratories running complex experiments on humans.” Just how many dimensions do we live in at once? How many other layers, less scientifically provable are there to our existence? And it begs the question… are we the man or the mouse in the equation of own pan-dimensional reality?

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These incredible examples of optical illusion are the work of Ukranian artist Oleg Shuplyak.

Menorah?…

Hanukkah Menorah Jewish Judaica Israel Vintage Brass Chanukah ...

Menorah as Chalice

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… The Book of Revelation can be described

as a book of arcane symbolism.

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It seems to me astonishing that such a work should have been

accepted into the recommended canon when so many

other far less controversial texts are regarded as apocryphal –

this word which now has connotations of spuriousness or falsity

is derived from the Greek word for ‘hidden’ –

Apocryphal works, then, can be regarded

as those books which possess hidden wisdom.

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It will be useful to consider the opening few paragraphs

of Revelation and compare them to Daniel’s vision of Michael

which we looked at in earlier posts

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“It was on the island of Patmos.

I was meditating on the seventh day

when I heard behind me a voice as of many waters,

“I am the beginning and end, first and the last.”

I turned to see who it was that spoke,

and I saw a figure resembling the Son of Man.

He was standing in the middle of seven golden candlesticks.

His beard and his hair were like white wool.

His eyes were flames of fire.

His countenance was bright, as the sun when it shines at its height.

He was clothed in a long white robe.

About his breast went a golden girdle.

In his right hand he held seven stars.

His words rang out of his mouth clearly

with the poignancy of a double-edged sword:

“I am he that lives and was dead.

I possess the keys to death and hell.

I shall live forever more.”

I fell down at his feet and they were like fine-brass forged in a furnace.

He laid his hands upon me, “You must write down all you see in a book,

and send it to the Seven Churches of Asia.

Let all the churches know that I am he who searches

the reins of the heart and gives to every one, according to their works.

Tell them to remember from whence they have fallen,

to return to their first love lest I come upon them like a thief

and remove their candlestick from its place,

thus speaks the ‘Amen’: ‘I know your works, I know that you have a name,

I know that you live, and yet, you are as the dead!'”

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It might be difficult for St Michael to be described as the,

‘one who is living but was dead’, but

he could certainly lay claim to being regarded as

‘the first and the last’ and also as possessing,

‘the keys to death and hell’…

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In the Book of Daniel, we may recall,

St Michael was described as a Great Prince,

as a Chief Prince, and as Daniel’s Prince.

Graven Image…

10 Top Pictures Of Saint Michael The Archangel Full - Archangel Michael Wallpaper Hd, HD Wallpaper Download #1990668

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‘ … And look! A man clothed in linen, whose loins were girded with fine gold… His body also was like beryl and his face had the appearance of lightning. His eyes were as lamps of fire, and his arms and his feet like in colour to burnished brass. The voice of his words was as the voice of a multitude… and he said, “… To you am I now sent. Fear not, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart to understand, your prayers were heard and I am come for your prayers… I am come to make you understand what will befall your people in the latter days. I will show you the literal truth of these things. There is no other that can do this.”‘

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It is very difficult to find any illustrations for this piece.

Perhaps that is linked to the Hebraic injunction against graven images.

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In the current climate of image saturation it might be worthwhile

 considering the possible reasons for such an injunction…

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Speaking of his encounter with the ‘man clothed in linen’ Daniel says, “I alone saw the vision and the men that were with me saw it not but a great quaking fell upon them, so that they fled and hid themselves… I was left alone and threw myself to the ground. When he spoke I stood, trembling, and when he had finished speaking I was strengthened.”

Elsewhere in the text Daniel is less sure of this being’s precise nature:

“… And look! One like the similitude of the sons of men touched my lips. I opened my mouth and spoke… Then there came again, and touched me, one like the appearance of a man…”

Michael is described both as a ‘Chief Prince’, and as ‘Daniel’s Prince’ by the narrator.

And later, as a ‘Great Prince’… “How long until the end of these awful things?”

Then I heard the man dressed in linen, who was above the water of the river, swear by the Ever-Living One as he lifted his right hand and his left hand to heaven, “For a time, times, and half a time and when the breaking of the power of the holy people comes to an end, then shall all these things be fulfilled.”

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Already, after this brief overview we can glimpse some of Michael’s traditional attributions.

He is concerned with ‘end times’.

He strengthens and protects the individual and can be petitioned on behalf of nations or ‘a people’.

He acts as a bridge and can communicate, high to low, and low to high.

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In times of hardship and stuggle he may well be worth invoking…

 

Curiosities…

St Michael’s victory over the Devil – Sculptor, Jacob Epstein

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The French occultist, Eliphas Levi, the German philosopher Franz von Baader, and the Theurgist, Louis Claude de St. Martin spoke of 1879 as the year in which Michael overcame the dragon.

In 1917, Rudolf Steiner the founder of anthroposophy, similarly stated, “In 1879, in November, a momentous event took place, a battle of the Powers of Darkness against the Powers of Light, which ended in the image of St Michael overcoming the Dragon.”

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All of which is, to say the least, curious…

The traditional texts which mention Michael, and they are few, do not mention a dragon, and yet, iconographically, St Michael slaying the dragon is almost as ubiquitous as St George…

Religious paintings, sculptures and stain glass windows are all in agreement despite many, if not most,  of them being produced before 1879!

So what is going on?

Pull up a seat…

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‘ … And look! A man clothed in linen, whose loins were girded with fine gold… His body also was like beryl and his face had the appearance of lightning. His eyes were as lamps of fire, and his arms and his feet like in colour to burnished brass. The voice of his words was as the voice of a multitude… and he said, “… To you am I now sent. Fear not, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart to understand, your prayers were heard and I am come for your prayers… I am come to make you understand what will befall your people in the latter days. I will show you the literal truth of these things. There is no other that can do this.”‘

– First appearance of Michael :  The Book of Daniel, Chapter 10: 5-21

Blinded by the Light…

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… So, we return to the quest.

And turn shining eyes to the south.

Not that we ever left it, yet the churches had definitely ‘fallen off-line’…

Until Skipton.

Until one particular stained-glass window in Skipton.

It is tempting to think that later traditions lose much that is essential to preceding ones.

In magical traditions derived from the Hebrews, the Archangel Mikael is a guardian of the south quarter and if a ‘Michael Window’ is present in a church, it is a relatively safe bet that it will be found on a south wall of that church.

So, why were we charging around St Michael’s, Hathersage, looking at stained-glass windows on the north wall, with such singular precision?

Because we were desirous of another window.

This headlong, wilful charge, bugles blaring, could well have been our undoing, had we been alone.

There was no ‘Michael Window’ in St Michael’s, Hathersage.

But there was this…

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So, what to say of this banner?

It is a work of art, certainly.

It is a work of art which transcends the medieval style of its composition, although, the ‘S’ as an ‘eight’ and the ‘M’ as an ‘omega’ are remarkable.

The ‘lance’ too, as ‘celtic crozier’, is a sublime touch.

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Was the dragon always golden?

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Does this hue, denote the beginning or even the end of a process?

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Was the beast once much bigger?

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Is this really how one earns one’s ‘spiritual wings’?

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The spirals on the Saint’s shield are, to say the least, suggestive…

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 But the burning question which most readily springs to our mind is this:

if we nearly missed this depiction

can we hope to find the Archangel when it is being deliberately ‘hidden’?

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