Tuesday, September 29, 2009

St. Michael the Archangel: Perspectives and Portraits

Today, September 29, is traditionally known in Roman Catholicism as Michaelmas - the Feast of the Archangel Michael. (For a traditional perspective of St. Michael, see this previous Wild Reed post.)

This year I’ve chosen to acknowledge Michaelmas by sharing a number of perspectives and portraits of Michael - many of which are non-traditional. And as you’ll see from these particular non-traditional perspectives and portraits, the honoring of the Archangel Michael extends beyond Catholicism.

Let’s start with the image at left, one that I particularly appreciate. In it, the beautiful Michael holds up chains that he has broken - presumably with his sword. It reminds me of the words of a version of the “Our Father” that I pray:

Loose the mistakes that bind us,
as we release the cords we hold of others' guilt. Do not let surface things delude us but free us from all that holds us back.

Above: A traditionally-inspired portrait of St. Michael, but one that I found on the website of the Gaia Community.

I found what this website had to say about Michael quite fascinating.

Michael is entrusted with all events pertaining to the Earth’s Light grid and visionary geography. He supervises its major upgrades, in progress since the mid-1980s, in which additional geometric features are being “grown” out of the original grid to accommodate ever-increasing celestial light and consciousness.

Michael facilitates every step a human voluntarily makes towards what is called the Cosmic Intelligence and the revelation of the mysteries of all the holy sanctuaries around the planet. He is the harbinger of the Holy Spirit moving through the Earth grid.

On September 29, when the Moon is the furthest from the Earth for the whole year, the Archangel Michael purifies all aspects of the Earth’s visionary geography. Metaphorically, he clears negativities and blockages from all the plumbing networks of the planet: the energy lines, ley lines, and other conduits for the Light that engirdle the Earth as its Light body. Using his sword, he blesses the planet, all its creatures and sentient life forms, and shifts the energy of the Earth’s grid. It’s akin to a magnetic pole reversal, because the energy matrix of the Earth changes its polarity at Michaelmass in response to him.

Above: “The Archangel Michael” by Daniel Mirante.

Notes Mirante:

Art arises from the interplay of many levels of being, the communion of the higher with lower self. The recent cycle of paintings, Sophia, Archangel Michael and Receptivity came through exploring the roots of the Western consciousness, Zoroastrian, Gnostic, Hebrew, Christian and Sufi mysticism, which contain such an incredible internal poetic depth and glory. Once one gets beyond the arguments and objections, and stops throwing the baby out with the bathwater, it is like discovering a treasure trove. Its been buried for millennia but the numinous jewels sparkle as new. The power and glory and vanishingly tender energy in these Divine currents of Spirit is immense - and also a great challenge to the ego, which prefers to consolidate and collect itself, than be rendered humble and transparent.

Above: The Archangel Michael is often portrayed defeating Satan - who, in turn, is often depicted as a dragon (more on this later).

About this aspect of Michael’s legend Wikipedia notes:

The Talmudic tradition rendered [Michael’s] name as meaning “who is like El (God)?” In recent years, a popular mistake has become to translate the name as “One who is like God.” It is, however, meant as a question: “Who is like the Lord?” The name was said to have been the war-cry of the angels in the battle fought in heaven against Satan and his followers.

Note how in the image above Michael is depicted using chains to tie Satan up, whereas in the opening image the distinct impression I get is that the chains Michael holds are ones he has helped release us from. I see these chains as representing all those life-denying ways of being and relating that hold us back from experiencing God as fully as we can. And I see Michael as a particular expression or manifestation of God’s transforming love that we can call upon for help as we attempt to release ourselves from these life-denying ways of being and relating.

Above: I find this image interesting as it depicts Michael holding both a sword and a chalice. I’m unfamiliar with the significance of his holding of the latter.

Above: “St. Michael: Warrior and Defender” by Fr. John Giuliani.

Giuliani is renowned for his Native American-inspired artwork. Varun Gade of the Marian Library/International Marian Research Institute in Dayton, Ohio, has noted that:

[Fr. Giuliani] studied icon painting under a master in the Russian Orthodox style in New York in 1989. . . . [His] Native American icons [are] meant to “celebrate the soul of the Native American as the original spiritual presence on this continent, thus rendering his images with another dimension of the Christian faith.”

Above: Okay, this would have to be the gayest portrait of St. Michael I’ve ever seen! (Actually, the image that opens the previous Wild Reed post, The Archangel Michael as Gay Icon is also, surprise, surprise!, pretty gay.) This one actually looks like a cartoon superhero. And that’s still kinda gay as we all know how queer those superheroes can be.

Above: This is another image that I particularly appreciate. Why? Because Michael is shown taming the dragon, not killing it. This is significant as it actually reflects what the dragon originally represented in esoteric thought: not Satan but our shadow or lower self. This shadow self is part of us - a necessary part of us: no shadow, no light. The problem comes when we allow this side of ourselves to run amok.

Interestingly, in the early legends of dragons, the role of the knight wasn’t to slay the dragon but force it back to where it belonged, to put it in its appropriate place, in other words. The psychological insight is clear: balance is what it is all about; we need to befriend (and thus bring into balance) our shadow side, not seek to destroy it. That’s what this image seems to be depicting: Michael befriending and subduing the dragon before returning it to where it belongs.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
The Archangel Michael as Gay Icon
Michaelmas (2008)
The Allure of St. Sebastian
Mary of Magdala
The Inherent Sensuality of Roman Catholicism

Image 1: Teresa A. Nielsen.
Image 2: Artist unknown.
Image 3: Daniel Mirante.
Image 4: Artist unknown.
Image 5: Artist unknown.
Image 6: John Giuliani.
Image 7: Igino Giordano.
Image 8: Patti Blair.


William D. Lindsey said...

Michael, this is absolutely fascinating material. I like very much the way you interweave iconography and commentary on the many aspects of thought about Michael.

I learned a great deal from this posting. I had no idea of the connections of the cult of Michael the Archangel to pre-Christian belief systems and to other religious traditions.

Superb reporting/blogging/theologizing. Thanks for all you do on this blog to keep us informed and thinking.

Richard Demma said...

Truly wonderful posting, Michael, inspiring, informative, mind boggling and (in some cases) wildly hilarious for the shades of "Gay". This really blew my mind.

Liam said...

Very odd for an angel to be portrayed as if it had genitalia...angels (at least in the monotheistic tradition) by definition have no sex, and are neither male nor female, since they have no corporeal substance by nature. (In the middle ages, no reasonably intelligent people debated how many angels could dance on the head of a pin.)

Christian angelology and anthropology are quite interrelated. One might say the former exists largely as a contrasting commentary on the latter.

YCP said...

A version of the Our Father that you pray?

Michael J. Bayly said...

Yes, YCP, it's based in large part on Neil Douglas-Klotz's translation of the Aramaic words of Jesus.

This translation (and others) can be found in the book Prayers of the Cosmos: Reflections on the Original Meaning of Jesus' Words. It's well worth looking into.



Michael J. Bayly said...

Hi William and Jayden,

Thanks for your positive feedback on this posting. As always, it's greatly appreciated.



brian gerard said...

Insightful reflections, Michael. And how come I haven't heard of this terrific Our Father translation before!

Carla Schmidt Holloway said...

I'd love to hear more about the dynamic of higher and lower self - a specific post you could point me toward?

LupineLight said...

Hi Michael, Ummm... Image #4, listed as "artist unknown," looks to me to be painted in the distinctive style of William Blake. It's worth looking up. Hope this is a help. I've really enjoyed this material. Blake had such unique perspectives to offer, and you note the difference in the nature of this painting; most in that it depicts Michael struggling with Satan rather than a dragon. I might add here that in Islam, Satan is named Iblis, which to the inner, mystical tradition of Islam, the Sufis, is the Ego. Keep up the good work!

Anonymous said...

In picture #5 with Michael holding the sword and chalice. The chalice is what holds the body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ in the Sacrament of the Eucharist that was inititated at The Last Supper. Catholics and Eastern Orthodox have been vernerating this for almost 2,000 years