“Religion is a matter of diet. You must choose what suits your spiritual digestion, I suppose.”
Naomi Jacob, ‘Four Generations’.
“Religion is a matter of diet. You must choose what suits your spiritual digestion, I suppose.”
Naomi Jacob, ‘Four Generations’.
There are other sections in the Book of Genesis
which may be pertinent to our survey of St Michael…
… ‘Left alone at night, Jacob was attacked by an unseen presence
which wrestled with him until day-break, whereupon his adversary cried,
“Desist, for the dawn is here!”
“Are you then a bandit, that you fear the dawn?” asked Jacob.
“At this time, we angels must sing dawn’s praises!”
“I will not desist until you bless me,” said Jacob.
“What is your name?” asked the angel and when Jacob answered, he continued,
“From this time on you shall be called Israel, for you have struggled
against me without succumbing and fire should guard fire.”‘
Candidates for Jacob’s adversary include Michael, Gabriel and Samael,
although Gabriel’s water associations might count against him.
Traditionally, Michael is associated with fire, but it is not
altogether clear why, unless he was originally conceived as
one of the ‘Cherubim with whirling limbs of flame’ which guards Eden?
It is difficult to shake the notion that this phrase
is a ‘poetic-kenning’ for the sun.
Eden, in this mythology, is envisioned as a heavenly realm
filled with brightly jewelled trees which could easily be
indicative of a ‘solar interior’?
In magical tradition, Michael is Regent of the South Quarter
in some temples and when there he represents the Cardinal Point of fire,
which is, in all probability, another veiled reference to the sun.
If Samael can be equated with Lucifer, head of the Seraphim,
he too would qualify, albeit his fire
consists in white flames not yellow, orange, or red,
which points to astral rather than solar origins,
‘the star behind the sun?’
Precise angelic attributions are a source of continual contention,
and the ninefold ‘Hierarchy of Angels’ provided by
Dionysius the Pseudo-Areopagite
does little, if anything, to alleviate such debates.
Hebrew scholars regarded Lucifer, as Cherub and Archangel
and made him a ‘son of the dawn’!
Jacob’s new, angelically given, name, Israel, means
‘the gods strive against those who oppose you.’
Left Hand Paths?
… The concluding sections of Chapter Twelve are by far its weakest.
In them much of the previous story is restated in far greater detail.
The woman is given eagle wings with which to evade the ‘serpent’
and bring her to a place beyond it’s sight where she may safely feed?
There is though some ambiguity here which rests on an
interpretation of the phrase ‘…from the serpent’s face’.
Serpents ‘see’ via the vibrations carried on air waves,
and can hypnotise prey, with their gaze, before striking…
The biblical flood is then unleashed by the ‘serpent’
but the Earth comes to the woman’s rescue
by swallowing the flood waters.
If earlier sections have blurred the distinction between St Michael and Christ,
then this episode surely does the same for God and the Devil?
The rest of time is to be played out with the ‘serpent’ persecuting
the remnants of the woman’s seed that have survived the flood…
None of which accords particularly well with previous scripture,
although Moses is given ‘eagle’s pinions’ at one stage
in order to get him to where he needs to be!
The chapter, taken as a whole, has a distinctly Gnostic aspect to it
with the Earth populated merely by
heaven’s discarded remnants,
and overseen by a wrathful demiurge railing against time.
The time-phrase riddle for the ‘New Dispenation’,
resolves itself into a designation of the mystery woman
as Venus, the Pagan Goddess of Love,
which in the light of much that has transpired
in the last millenium makes a lot more sense than most other solutions –
Of the ‘half-time’ planetary beings only the Moon and Venus
are conceived as Feminine and as the woman symbolically
‘stands-on-the-moon’ she cannot be the moon.
There are also some very persuasive
astronomical reasons for this designation…
– The only way out of the nightmare is by death or, as St Michael proclaims,
by ‘the blood of the Lamb,’ and by the ‘word of testimony’,
which is, perhaps, not the clearest of ‘road maps’ for people to follow…
Heaven by design, Earth by default,
has ever been the cry of those irrevocably lost at heart.
Blake’s Angel neatly encapsulates aspects of the Books of Daniel and Revelation.
… “Now is come salvation and strength, and the kingdom of our God,
and the power of Christ: for the accuser of our brothers is cast down,
which accused them day and night…
Therefore rejoice you heavens and you that dwell in them.
Woe to the inhabitants of the earth and of the sea!
For the devil is come down to you, having greath wrath
because he knows that he has but a short time.”
Are we to conclude that this is the voice of St Michael?
I think we are meant to.
We may wonder after the inhabitants
of the earth and sea on the third day of creation?
And Christ’s participation at this early stage?
The argument, presumably, would be that as the heavenly realms
are beyond time, they include all time, and the passages
we have considered so far are certainly consistent with this theme.
Strength in relation to St Michael we already know about.
Salvation is a lifting of veils, or scales, from the eyes:
an awakening into that living realisation which alone grants freedom.
If some of the traditional attributes of Christ seem to fit Michael,
like casting out devils, then some of the traditional
attributes of Michael can also be seen to fit the Christ.
I came across an old photo quite by chance, putting things away in the loft. It set me off thinking, as such things do. In the picture my late partner is holding a coffee cup… You can’t see it, but I know precisely what it looked like all those years ago. White with a blue rim and dots, with three tiny flowers, red, yellow and blue.
I remember it because it meant something. Not in itself, of course, but because of circumstance. When he died I had just made his morning coffee. There was a moment when it was all ‘over’, when the ambulance men had left and I waited for the undertaker, and I picked up the cup, still bearing the last traces of warmth, and I finally wept.
I used that cup for a long time afterwards… just me… even when it was chipped and the handle dangerously cracked. I used it till I didn’t need to… then it went in the cupboard. It stayed there until I didn’t need it to be there anymore. It took a while.
Why? Because it had held more than coffee for me and it had become a symbol of something more than its physical form.
As I drove into town, I got to thinking…
We can be picky about cups and glasses, those vessels which seem to epitomise that which they hold. Champagne… a rarity, of course… I like to drink from a flute, red wine from a deep bellied glass. Tea must come in a china cup with a saucer… or a big mug filled with a deep mahogany brew. Coffee, to be fair, can be administered through an IV drip for all I care… but my preference is for the tiny cups of espresso.
There is a reason beyond habit for these things. Champagne really does taste better in a flute… honestly, there have been scientific analyses done to prove it… something to do with the way the gas bubbles collect in the glass. The same for red wine, though more to do with the warmth of the hand that holds the bowl. Tea ? Let’s not go there… I’m a Yorkshire lass… it isn’t up for discussion.
I do wonder though if the vessel holds expectation just as much as liquid. We see the shining silver and porcelain of a tea-room and expect good tea… A tiny cup and a pavement café in Paris are synonymous with that certain je ne sais quoi. The misted surface of a cold glass of beer simply invites thoughts of a hot summer’s day… We see and expect even before we taste.
Yet, if we are thirsty, truly thirsty, do we care about the vessel that holds the water? The vessel merely contains, so that what is held within may be moved from source to lip, it gives the water shape… may even seem to colour it… but what lies within the vessel is still water. Do we need crystal glasses or fashionable plastic bottles? A cracked mug, a paper cup, our hands… or even, perhaps especially, just plunging our face into a mountain stream and drinking from the earth. All will serve, for it is not the vessel that counts, but what it holds. To those whose thirst is urgent and visceral even a muddied puddle holds salvation.
In many of the Sufi poems we ourselves are likened to vessels shaped by the Hand of the Potter. It does not matter if, as Khayyam wrote, the Hand shook in the making, nor if the vessel has been chipped and cracked by usage. It matters little if it thinks itself fit for champagne, comfortable enough for tea, or as holy as a chalice… it is filled with what is needed to quench the thirst of the one who drinks. The pot has no say in the matter. It is filled by another Hand.
When we are seeking the clear water of inner truth we can find it in many unexpected and unlikely places and the expectations we have for the vessel may not reflect what it holds. The draught in the chalice may be wine or bitter herbs, the clay bowl hold pure water, we cannot know until we raise it to our lips and taste what lies within.
What are the most important human characteristics?
Love, kindness, joy, honesty, integrity, compassion?
Who are we, why are we here, what is the Purpose of all this… and what do we do with it?
We have questions…we all do.
We seek a path through life that allows us to find our own answers, a path that makes sense of the universe and our place within it. A path that takes us beyond the bounds imposed by our three dimensional reality and the daily necessity through which we move towards a ‘something’ we sense may lie just beyond our vision. We may not know what that ‘something’ is, but we know enough to realise there are gaps in our knowledge and in our understanding …and we begin to wonder.
Ultimately, it is said, that whatever belief, faith or reasoning calls us the path we choose must be walked alone. Yet how do we define ‘alone’? Conscience, that intangible presence, is a guide and constant companion we are all familiar with. What is its source? The conditioning of our upbringing and culture can explain the majority, but occasionally we simply ‘know’ in a way that seems to go beyond what we have learned. Perhaps there is a deeper level of being than we are aware of on a daily basis?
There may come a time when we reach a turning point, a moment when we become conscious of a need to set our feet actively on a path that leads towards a greater awareness. There are many such paths to choose from and no one is better than another; all are right for those who choose to walk them with a whole heart. Like spokes on a wheel, they may begin at different points and take different directions, but the goal, that central point, is the same. All paths, spiritual, humanist or religious seek a spark of inner Light, and whether we think of that as Spirit, Divinity or simply as the highest aspects of human consciousness, our quest must begin in the same place… within ourselves.
This is where we begin in the Silent Eye.
Menorah as Chalice
… The Book of Revelation can be described
as a book of arcane symbolism.
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.
It will be useful to consider the opening few paragraphs
of Revelation and compare them to Daniel’s vision of Michael
“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!'”
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’…
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.
… We have to wait until the final book of the ‘New Dispensation’ before we
encounter a Dragon.
“And there was war in heaven:
Michael and his angels fought against the dragon…”
The Dragon in question, though, is red and, “… has seven heads,
and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads…”
This being the Book of Revelation we may well wonder about the symbolism…
Unusually for this text we do not have to wonder for very long for we are told,
“… and the Great Dragon was cast out, that old serpent called the Devil, and Satan…
he was cast out into the earth and his angels were cast out with him.”
At which point we realise that although the book purportedly deals with ‘last things’,
this particular vision has to do with ‘first things’, the Third Day of Creation to be precise,
and the expulsion from Heaven of Lucifer and the Fallen Angels…
Why this Dragon should have seven heads is an interesting question made all the
more interesting by the fact that few if any of the depictions of St Michael
show him in combat with a seven headed Dragon or accompanied by any other angels!
Also worth consideration is the attempt to visualise ten horns on seven heads…
It can be done thus: the two ‘end-heads’ and the ‘central-head’ have two horns each,
and the other four heads have only one horn each.
In this context the phrase, ‘for a time, times and half-a-time,’
which was first brought to our attention
in the Book of Daniel, and is again utilised
later in this Chapter of Revelation, springs to mind.
It is possible that the Seven Headed Dragon is a symbol of time.
Satan is earlier described as the one, “…which deceives the whole world.”
A description which could also serve for time…
The Creation, in this schemata, takes seven days to complete,
and seven is the basis for a number of natural rhythms and cosmic cycles,
and is the symbolic number used throughout the text of Revelation…
Obviously, we still, in some part, retain this rhythm by following a seven day week.
For the ‘Old Dispensation’, Friday, Saturday and Tuesday,
which is Venus, Saturn and Mars would represent, ‘times’,
whilst Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Thursday,
that is, Sun, Moon, Mercury and Jupiter would be, ‘half-times’.
And for the ‘New Dispensation’, Saturday, Sunday and Wednesday,
and their corresponding Planetary Cycles would be considered, ‘times’,
whilst Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday and their
corresponding Planetary Cycles would be the ‘half-times’.
But does any of this really matter?
Over such things, traditionally, are wars fought and countless lives lost…
With regard to this particular stained glass window we might wonder
why Michael needs to be armoured, with a hand resting on the
pommel of his sword, in order to weigh
the souls of the dead?
I have been thinking a lot lately…there is more than enough time for that at the moment. Not that a mind often stops. It sleeps occasionally, though even dreams may keep it busy. Sometimes it feels as if conscious thought goes into abeyance and I stand back and watch another me, one who knows something that I do not. A bigger me. Not, as my sons would gleefully tell you given my mere five foot that this is a difficult thing.
Many writers recount how their characters write the book and they, as authors, simply take down the words as dictation. I can verify this for I have felt it myself, learning to know and love my creations as they create themselves. All the writer does then, is set the scene and give them a form to inhabit. The characters seem to write the rest for themselves and the writer taps away at the keyboard, watching and waiting to see how the story unfolds and frequently being taken by surprise.
It is a curious feeling and one that has made me wonder whether this is how deity feels, fondly watching us play out our stories upon the backdrop of life, waiting to see what we will do with the opportunities we are given. For they are opportunities, each and every challenge with which we are faced. Some of them are bigger than others, some pass almost unnoticed, but we meet them every day.
The big ones, those that affect our lives, inwardly or outwardly, are the ones we remember. They are the heartaches and grief, the fears and loss, even the joys. For they all carry choice as part of their gift. Even when we are faced with a seemingly choice-less situation, we still have the ability to decide how we act or react, how we learn, what we carry away from the moment.
I’m not even sure that the choices themselves matter. It is what impels them that counts. Too often we merely react, thinking we have chosen, when in fact we are the victim of our own conditioned responses and we stumble through life unconscious of the fact that we are not fully aware of our own selves. But choice is a precious thing. We won’t always get it right… sometimes there is no right. We will inevitably make mistakes, but that is okay. We can learn from those too. Every single second presents us with the wonder that is choice. And each choice we make will change our world in a very real way.
Have you considered that we are the authors of our own reality based upon how we face each moment. We can change our worlds with a single thought, a shift in perception, a change of heart. We can hurt and cause pain by simply reacting in anger or frustration, or we can share joy and comfort, choosing to look beyond the surface of the moment to see what lies beneath.
When we do make these choices consciously, we do not do so with the mind alone.
There is a stream of thought that sees manifest reality as the ultimate expression of divinity, by whatever Name we call It. If this is so then we are not separated from the Divine, aspiring to be worthy of Its love, but both we and the world in which we live are an inherent part of It… and expression of It’s Self.
We may choose for good or ill, each choice will carry consequences and bring further choices, to be conscious of our choices or to allow ourselves to react. But the simple fact that we have this gift is also an expression of the perfect design of the One. Made in awareness, our choices will reflect that and we can touch something finer within ourselves than we would normally see in our everyday lives. We do not do it often, but when we do, we Know.