Walking the line…

“… so fear was originally there to help us survive.”
“Yep… and with not many sabre-tooth tigers roaming the suburbs, we found other things to fear. And fear is intimately linked to how we judge people.”
“How so?”

It was one of those early morning conversations over coffee and from the nature of fear we had progressed to how we unconsciously judge the people that we meet. It is all very well to say that we should not judge…but we do. At least to a certain degree. Sitting in moral judgement upon someone’s actions is a slightly different matter, but we do seem to be programmed to make judgements about the people who arrive in our lives. It comes from the same primitive survival instinct as fear and is part of the same process. If a hunter comes face to face with another spear-wielding man, that snap judgement would be the deciding factor; does he run from a foe, throw his own spear, or welcome a fellow hunter to the chase?

stickman-310590_1280

Our need for such judgements may not be so acute these days, but the instinct remains. We just use it in a more abstract way. A new person arrives on the scene… a new colleague, perhaps… and an immediate reaction determines what we see as our best approach. How we judge them then determines, rightly or wrongly, what we expect of them too.

But how do we make that judgement? Against what measure are we holding them? We only have our own normality, our own world view, with which to work… and that, of necessity, becomes our median line. Some people will quickly climb high in our estimation, others will let us down.  People will either surpass our expectations or fall below them…and hopefully we can rejoice at the one and learn from the other.

The problem here is that if we let the uncontrolled ego have its way, by setting ourselves as the median line, we may also be setting ourselves in a position of unconscious superiority. If that happens, then everyone else starts at a disadvantage… the people we meet will start from a ‘lower’ place than that which the ego sees itself as occupying. This means that before anyone can begin to meet our expectations, they have a steep climb ahead of them before they can hope to meet us on an even playing field.

The higher our ego sets us on that scale, the lower are the chances of people fulfilling or exceeding our expectations. If someone does manage to climb above our median line, the chances are that the owner of a ‘superior’ ego, instead of applauding that success, will feel themselves weighed down by it… and look for ways in which they can bring that person back down to, or below, the median line of ‘normality’…at least in their own mind.

The ‘superior’ ego fears being overshadowed by the success of others and reacts to any inkling of such success with resentment and prejudice. The higher the other person is perceived to climb… and it may be no more than a perception… the more the ‘superior’ ego looks for them to fall. These are such destructive emotions that, while the other person continues with the normal ups and downs of life, embracing both successes and failures, the ‘superior’ ego finds itself on a slippery slope of its own creation.

We cannot abstain from judging altogether…it is an instinctive function of our safety mechanism. We should not have to lower our hopes for people either… for in trusting and hoping for their success we help ensure it. Imposing our expectations, though is a different matter… expectations breed disappointment.

Stickman, Handshake, Gun, Aiming, SmileWhat we can do is remember than our own median line is not a straight path, but meanders with every step we take, and we can fall or climb just as easily, and as often, as anyone else. No matter where we stand in terms of our social position, educational achievements, affiliations, beliefs or ethnicity, we are equal partners in the human family. Our median line should not be drawn by the ego, but from the one thing we all share… our humanity. We are each as fragile, as fallible, and as capable of reaching the heights as each other… and regardless of the judgements passed upon us, we share a gift of possibility that allows us to walk our own path.

Seven Champions?…

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/2b/Nuremberg_chronicles_f_124v_2.jpg

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The story of St George which we have been following is by

all accounts strange.

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It was committed to writing in the late sixteenth century

and was penned by Richard Johnson,

a fabulist possibly most famous for writing the ‘Fairy Stories’

Tom Thumb and Dick Whittington’s Cat.

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In it St George takes his place amongst six other

‘Champions of Christendom’, to wit,

St Denis, St James, St Anthony, St Andrew,

St Patrick and St David,

who are the patron saints of France, Spain, Italy,

Scotland, Ireland and Wales respectivley.

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Johnson’s ‘history’ makes knights errant of the christian saints

and given that it was written during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I

clearly seeks to set the new Anglicanism on equal footing with Catholicism.

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St George seems also to be cast in a distinctly ‘Arthurian Light’.

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But leaving the politics to one side this ‘famous history’

of St George is also pertinent for

more salient psychological reasons….

 

Whispering Woods…

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/2b/Nuremberg_chronicles_f_124v_2.jpg

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… Back in Coventry, Sir Albert’s Lady,

overcome with extreme pain, was forced to choose between

the spoil of her infant, or an end to her life.

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Placing the preservation of her child,

and benefit of her country over her own safety,

she committed her womb to be opened,

that her infant might be taken from her alive.

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This most noble Lady was cast into a dead sleep,

her womb cut up with sharp knives,

and the infant taken from the bed of its creation.

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Upon his breast nature had drawn the form of a dragon,

on his right hand a blood-red cross,

and on his left leg a golden garter.

He was assigned three wet nurses, who named him George.

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Shortly after his nativity, the fell enchantress Kalyb,

by charms and witchcrafts, stole the infant,

George, from his careless nurses.

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On Sir Albert’s return in good hope

to hear of the succesful delivery of his Lady,

and the comfort of a child,

 his wished for joy was turned to sorrow.

He found his Lady dead from her dismembered womb,

and his young son abducted.

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 Such a woeful state banished his wits:

“O Heavens!  Why cover you not the earth with everlasting night?

Why do these accursed eyes behold the sun?

O that the waves of Oceanus might end my days,

or like an outcast, give me joy in exile,

where I may warble my sorrows to the whispering woods.

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What monster has stolen my child?

O that the wind would be a messenger and bring me happy news of his abode.

If he be drenched in the deepest sea, I will dive to fetch him up.

If he be hidden in the caverns of the earth, I will dig to find him.

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Why do I thunder forth my loss in vain,

when neither earth nor sea, nor any thing under the sun

will grant me comfort but the recovery of my child.”

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Leaving his native country, Sir Albert, wandered from place to place,

in search of his son until the hairs of his head were grown white as silver,

and the beard on his chin like the thistle-down…

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  He ended his days in Bohemia,

where, from age, and excessive grief, he laid himself down

under a ruined monastery wall and died.

Black Forest…

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/2b/Nuremberg_chronicles_f_124v_2.jpg

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… “My most dear and beloved Lady, what art, or learning can perform,

with all due speed shall be accomplished,

for never shall rest take hold of my heart,

nor sleep close the lids of my eyes,

until I grasp the meaning of your wearisome dreams.”

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Leaving his Lady in her Chamber, Sir Albert

set out for the solitary haunts of Kalyb-the-Wise,

Enchantress of the Woods, without any company,

save for one other Knight that bore under his arm a white lamb

which the two of them intended to offer up to the reputed enchantress.

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After two days, they came to a thicket beset with old, withered, hollowed out trees,

and were greeted from within by such a dismal croaking of Night Ravens,

that it seemed rather a wilderness of furies than any worldly habitation.

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By this sign they knew it to be the enchanted vale of Kalyb, the Lady of the Woods.

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Moving into the middle of the thicket, they came to a cave,

with across it an iron gate and on the gate hung a brass horn

for them to blow and so alert the sorceress to their presence.

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After first offering their lamb with great humility before the postern of the cave,

they blew on the brass horn, the sound of which seemed to shake the foundation of the earth,

and after which, they heard a loud and hollow voice, that uttered these words;

Sir Knight, from whence you came, return,
You have a son most strangely born:
A Dragon that shall split in twain
Your Ladies womb with extreme pain
A champion bold, from there shall spring,
And practise many a wondrous thing.
Return therefore, make no delay,
For it is true what I here say.
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The mysterious oracle, being repeated twice more,

the two Knights were satisfied with this as an end to their quest…

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…

A Magical Tradition…

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The Roman Catholic Church’s criteria

for ‘conferring sainthood’ rests upon intercession.

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Intercession can be described as,

‘the predilection of disincarnate entities

to effect the incarnate world in a positive way’.

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If enough people report a successful outcome

or outcomes from their prayers of supplication to such entities

a case can be made for ‘promotion’ to sainthood…

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A history will be written, icons and relics will be manufactured,

more people will pray to the new saint and seek their graces…

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This process, apparently, applies to both humans and angels

which gives us the seemingly incongruous phenomena –

Archangelic Saints!

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Of which, St Michael is one…

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All this is a far cry from the early scriptural tradition

which seemed loath to even name ‘God’s Messengers’.

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Strange as this process might be it does suggest

that calling on the Archangels for help actually works!

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This is easy to explain from the magical point of view:

 engaging in this process manifests will

by giving intent an imaginative agency.

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This is one use of symbology and the Renaissance paintings

of religious entities and other mythological subjects

are particularly efficacious in this regard

because they were conceived and executed during

a magical revival.

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The mediaeval Book of Hours worked in a similar way

for the private devotions of the Aristocracy.

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But, where on earth does St George fit in?

 

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.

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…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

Tobias and the Angel…

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

(Francesco Botticini)

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The story of Tobias is told in the Book of Tobit in the Old Testament.

The book of Tobit is part of the Catholic Old Testament but is considered apocryphal by Protestants and does not form part of the Jewish canon.

It is an ancient writing and Aramaic and Hebrew fragments of the tale where found in Cave IV in Qumran in 1955.

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Tobias was the only child of a blind, holy man, named Tobit, and his wife, Anna.

Tobit sent his young son Tobias on an errand to a distant land to collect monies that were owed to him.

As he started on his journey Tobias was met by the angel, Raphael, disguised as a man named, Azarias.

Tobias and the angel started on their way accompanied by Tobias’ dog…

They stopped the first night by the River Tigris and as Tobias went to wash his feet a monstrous fish came up and tried to devour him.

Tobias wrestled with the fish and managed to haul it out onto the dry land.

The angel told Tobias to cut out the heart, gall and liver of the fish and preserve them.

Tobias and the angel arrived at the house of a kinsman named Raguel who had a daughter named Sara, his only child.

Sara had been married seven times and all seven husbands had been killed by the demon of lust, Asmodeus, before any of the marriages were consummated.

The angel Raphael told Tobias that he should marry Sara.

On their wedding night Raphael instructed Tobias to place the heart of the fish over the hot coals of the fire which he did.

The smoke from the fish drove the demon away.

Raphael followed in pursuit of the fleeing demon, and upon catching him, bound him…

Tobias and Sara, along with Tobias’ dog, returned to Tobit and Anna.

Tobias anointed his father’s eyes with the gall of the fish and Tobit’s sight was restored.

Tobit and Tobias discussed what wages to give Azarias.

When Tobit and Tobais approached Azarias to tell him that they wanted to give him half of all they possessed Azarias revealed himself as the angel, Raphael, and explained that he had been sent to help because Tobit was such a holy man.

Tobit lived to one hundred and two years.

After his death, Tobias and Sara and their seven sons returned to the house of Sara’s parents.

“Tobias and the Angel” was a popular theme in art from the early Renaissance.

In paintings from this time, Tobias is generally depicted carrying a fish and accompanied by his small dog and the angel, Raphael.

This depiction gradually developed into the image of the “Guardian Angel”.

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Workshop of Andrea del Verrocchio. Tobias and the Angel. 33x26cm. 1470-75. NG London.jpg

(Andrea del Verocchio’s workshop)