I have often joked that I’m so anti Things I Cannot See (ghosts, presences, etc.) that I don’t even like the idea of guardian angels. At this point, the joke should probably be stricken from my tape o’ scripts, as shamanic journeying practices have expanded my understanding of the nature of guides and imagination. But there is something unsettling about an invisible presence.
One of the reasons (and there were many) that I did some dabbling with an offshoot of the Golden Dawn — a system of ceremonial magic and occult study — was because of an experience I had with archangels during a ritual. Up until recently, felt experiences of divine beings or energies were rare. Often times in a ritual setting I’d just be going on faith that the entities/elementals I’d called on were there combined with a psychological/biological understanding of how ritual works.
The reasons for my hesitance in working with ‘angels’ probably goes back to that persistent theme of working on trust and an entrenched belief that I will eventually be betrayed by myself or any ‘other’ that I call on for help. I’m pretty sure we all come from long lines of ancestors who have been betrayed by religion and god. Hell, just reading the news is enough to turn many of us away.
But I had an experience in a ritual led by a friend, in which she performed the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram, calling on four archangels, and I could actually feel the energy coming in. It felt absolutely ancient — older than the Earth, older than any cosmology — and it took my breath away. And then things lined up so that I got a chance to be initiated into a Golden Dawn-esque group, and began working with these angels on regular basis.
Ultimately, when it came down to it, I discovered that the introductory stages of the Golden Dawn were too mental and intellectual for me, enabling me to bypass emotional experience, which is something I’ve done most of my life and am no longer interested in. But it did make me look at my distrust of ‘the other’, which is a pretty huge barrier to doing any kind of magical work.
I’m reminded of Rilke’s Second Eulogy, which so beautifully articulates the attraction/repulsion dynamic of the angelic realms:
Any angel is frightening
Yet, because I know of you,
I invoke you in spite of myself,
You lethal birds of the soul.
Were the archangel, the dangerous one
beyond the stars, to move down now
one step closer to us, we would die
from the fear in our own hearts.
Angels can be seen as archetypes. One component of Jung’s theory of the archetypes is that we tend to only come in contact with archetypal energy as it constellates and disburses in people. If we were to encounter an archetype in its pure form — for example, to come in contact with the archetype of Pure Evil, we would be completely unable to handle it. Our ego, the very necessary psychic structure that orients us to our experience, would never be able to reassemble all of the pieces of our psyche. The ego tends to stray from dissolving experiences. Same is true for a more ‘positive’ archetypal energy like Love.
When we begin to fall in love, we often first experience the thrill of recognition, of being seen. But then the archetypal field in some ways becomes this haunting specter that we can feel encroaching, looming and growing as we come into contact with the chaos that arises from the prospect of merging part of our being with another, of losing our identity. I’m reminded of the myth of Skeleton Woman.
But maybe we are constantly helping to re-shape archetypal fields. Maybe transformation is a two-way street. Perhaps through our willingness to engage the psyche, new archetypes are forming. The poem continues:
Does the universe we dissolve into taste of us a little?
Do the angels radiate only their own outflowing essence,
or is there sometimes, by some oversight
a bit of ours in it as well?
This makes me think of this notion that perhaps God needs us to be conscious of him in order to become conscious of himself. That there is a second act of creation going on in every act of consciousness, and that we are therefore ultimately linked with the divine as we assist him in knowing himself (sorry, I’m using gendered pronouns, I know).
In my own worldview, there has been some act of separation from being part of the ‘all’ — maybe best envisioned as one big ball of pure and vital light, that then decides it’s time to separate out, flowing into duality and material form and becoming aware of difference. Becoming conscious. But leaving us with some longing of remembrance of being ‘whole’, while at the same time experiencing the tension of wanting to be different, to be recognized.
As I’ve said before, it seems like healing our trust in the universe is crucial. Participating as a vehicle for ‘God’ becoming more conscious of himself is just one framework for engaging the world with a sense of meaning. Maybe work with ‘angels’ is part of that, maybe not. But it does seem like there is such power in recognizing that there is indeed something mysterious that lies outside the realms of rationality. Something vital that is not inherently malicious, but perhaps longing to be seen as well.
We may yearn to come to rest
in some small piece of pure humanity,
a strip of orchard between river and rock.
But our own heart is too vast to be contained there.
We can no longer seek it in a place
or even in the image of god or an angel.