Tag Archives: angels

Angelic Days

This week, September transitions to October. An ending and a beginning in the midst of autumn and it is a week overseen by shining beings, for these are days traditionally given to angels: In three days’ time, on October the 2nd, we celebrate the Feast of the Guardian Angels, and today, the 29th of September, brings the Feast of St. Michael the Archangel––a day better known as Michaelmas.

The one that comes later is more personal, a day set aside to honor our personal guardian angels. It is a very old tradition, one that dates to the Fourth Century, when folks began setting up altars in their homes on the feast in honor of their angelic protectors. The one that comes today––Michaelmas (pronounced mick-il-mus)––begins with Michael the Archangel but has come to honor angels in general. Michaelmas is traditionally a night for a dinner of roast goose, and afterward, roasted nuts. But it is the humble blackberry that is most traditional for this day: In Scotland, there are Struan Micheil, Michaelmas bannocks, somewhat like a scone but more of a flatbread, cut into wedges, comprised of equal parts oats, barley, and rye, and traditionally made without the use of metal: wooden fork, wooden or ceramic bowl, baking stone. The bannocks are served with blackberries or blackberry jam, for it was Michael the Archangel who battled Satan, the fallen angel, and when Satan fell to Earth, it was in a bramble patch––a blackberry patch––that he landed. Legend has it that each year after Michaelmas, Satan returns to curse and spit upon the brambles that he landed upon, which is not so surprising: Bramble patches are thorny and painful. You’d probably curse and spit upon them, too, if you fell into a bramble patch. Be that as it may, many people will not eat blackberries after Michaelmas for this reason, and so they’ll eat their fill of the plump, juicy berries today.

My favorite part of this particular day, though, is that it is a chance to recite a litany of names––while Michaelmas is another old feast that comes out of the Catholic church, various traditions will honor today Michael as well as his companions, Gabriel and Raphael. Still others will include Uriel, Raguel, Ramiel, and Sariel. I love these names; they roll past my lips in an ancient and mysterious tongue, and the further down the roster we go, the more mysterious the names become. To speak them is to cross a fascinating linguistic bridge to the past. The “-el” suffix of these angelic names is Sumerian in origin, signifying “brightness” or “shining,” names that in their true form would be Micha-el, Gabri-el, Rapha-el, Uri-el, Ragu-el, Rami-el, Sari-el. The list goes on: Camael, Jophiel, Zadkiel, and Anael, Simiel and Oriphiel, then on to Metatron, Israfil, and Malak al-Maut. It is a walk across an ancient bridge of etymology that connects to the Akkadian ilu (radiant one), Babylonian ell (shining one), Old Welsch ellu (shining being), Old Irish aillil (shining), Anglo-Saxon aelf (radiant being), and English elf (shining being).

Please join me tomorrow, 3 PM Eastern on Wednesday September 30, for Book Arts 101: Home Edition… it’s Episode 23 and this one is titled “Calling all Angels” and it is all about these angelic things, and more. Watch on Facebook Live and if you can’t make it at 3, worry not, video is posted immediately after the broadcast at our Facebook page.

A reminder, too, about our new embroidered protective face masks from Chiapas. Straight to the point: they are made by an extended family there whose traditional income source (tourism to Mexico) vanished with the pandemic. But in August, they began making face masks and they are just exquisite and you’ll love them and we love the fact that every purchase directly supports the family. They appreciate every order, and so do we. Click here to see them and to order… and yes, there are specials and free domestic shipping offers! (International orders? Write me at <mail@conviviobookworks.com> and we’ll see what we can do to get you a great price for shipping, too.)

Image: Detail from “Christ in the Arms of Two Angels” by Juan de Juanes. Oil on panel, c. 16th century. [Public domainvia Wikimedia Commons.



Walk Us Through This One

It was Michaelmas a few days ago, but come the Second of October we reach an old old holiday, a feast of the Church little known today but an important one, I think; one that goes back to the Fourth Century. It’s the Feast of the Guardian Angels. While Michaelmas at the end of September celebrated St. Michael the Archangel and all his companions, this feast is of a more personal nature. Guardian angels are like that, no? They take care of us on a one-to-one level.

Believers back in the Fourth Century and for many centuries beyond would build altars in their homes on this day in honor of their guardian angels. Do they exist? Well, that is a matter for each of us to decide. I have more than once felt protected in ways that may just be coincidental but that also seem strangely beyond coincidence. Both situations involved automobiles. There was the time Seth and I were driving north through Georgia through incessant rain and found ourselves, in a strange slowdown of time, on the other side of an accident that involved multiple vehicles. It was all intense calmness and Jane Siberry was singing “Old Man River” or “Swing Low Sweet Chariot” and I managed to drive us around the chaos outside our bubble as it all unfolded. Seth had been thinking of his grandparents at the time and later said he felt serenely protected. And on my own, there was the random driver years ago who pulled in front of me on the road and slowed me down just long enough to protect me from the driver at the intersection ahead of us both who blew through a stop sign. He certainly got an earful from me as he pulled in front of me, but were it not for him, I would have been broadsided by the car that did not stop. It does seem at times like I get through life with a measure of help from people just like this. What if it’s always the same person? A guided meditation many years ago, on this very subject, revealed a name to me: Pedro. Since then, I have a feeling it is Pedro who watches over my blunderings and intercedes when necessary.

As we learnt at Michaelmas, angels appear in belief systems throughout the world: all the major religions and then some. They typically appear as bright and shining beings, winged… but I don’t think that’s necessarily the case. I think they blend in with the rest of us, doing their work as needed. Perhaps driving slowly in cars and getting in our way, when necessary.

My mother, whose birthday we always celebrated on October 3rd, seems to actually have been born on the 2nd. I don’t know what was going on in that house she grew up in, but there were all kinds of mix ups about birthdays. This latest one was revealed to us only recently. If she was indeed born on October 2nd (and official records seem to suggest she was, despite a lifetime of October 3rd birthday parties), then she was born on the Feast of the Guardian Angels. That’s a pretty good date to enter this world, I’d say. My dad, too, had an angelic connexion: he never went by his real name––he found it a little too ethnic when he was a boy––but his parents named him Angelo, which, of course, is Angel. He comes from a long line of Angelos and Angelas and even Arcangelos and Arcangelas.

No matter your beliefs about angels, one thing is certain: they are a constant, even today, in our culture. Paintings, films, stories, songs. Jane Siberry captures the guardian angel spirit best, I think, in her song “Calling All Angels.” The original was a duet with fellow Canadian k.d. lang, recorded for Jane’s 1993 album When I Was a Boy. It is perhaps Jane’s best known song, and yet she never made an official video for it. It has, however, been recorded numerous times on mobile phones during concerts, and this year, I’ve found a new version to share with you. And so here is Jane Siberry with k.d lang singing “Calling All Angels” at the Secret Society in Portland, Oregon, December 6, 2014. That was St. Nicholas’s Day… but that’s another story, for another time.

Image: When you get right down to it, angels figure in so many of my favorite things. Here’s a detail from a Shaker gift drawing by Sister Miranda Barber, 1848. The Shakers who made drawings like these believed they acted simply as the medium through which the images were sent from heaven… hence the idea that the drawings were gifts.