St. Gabriel Light Setting Service – Communication, Fertility, Clairvoyance, Creativity

Have a glass-encased vigil light fixed, dressed, blessed, set on my Archangel Gabriel altar, and burned for you in a community altar work service.

Lights will be set the night of Wednesday, March 24th. There is some wiggle room and you can join up after the work starts as long as you see that there are still spots left and it doesn’t say “sold out.”

Usually, a saint’s feast day is the date of their death. Since angels aren’t human and don’t die (though they absolutely are saints), things are a little different with them. And you’ll find that these days, the official feast day of St. Gabriel the Archangel is September 29th – he shares it with the archangels Michael and Raphael.

But it wasn’t always so – feast days get moved around sometimes. And Gabriel’s used to be on March 24th, the day before the feast of the Annunciation, which was pretty much Gabriel’s starring scriptural role: he appeared to the Virgin Mary to tell her that she was going to be the Mother of God. (And *that* had to be a trip.)

So while all angels are messengers, in a sense, Gabriel is kind of the archetypal angelic messenger. It’s his main gig, and so he’s the patron saint of messengers, including postal workers, diplomats, ambassadors, and those in telecommunications.

Because so many of his messages had to do with the realm of pregnancy, childbirth, conception, fertility, he’s also called upon to intercede on behalf of infants and children, pregnant women, and women wishing to become pregnant. Fertility and conception can be understood figuratively here, as well, to do with inspiration, ideas, and the creative process.

And looking more broadly beyond his mentions in the canonical books of the Bible, he takes on varied roles. In Jewish tradition, Gabriel’s the angel of judgment, and in Islam he’s the mouthpiece of God during the dictation of the Koran. In many traditions of Western esotericism, he’s associated with the West, the Moon, and the element of Water.

Thus Gabriel rules ocean navigation and trade; motherhood, birth, children, and home/domestic concerns; intuition, psychic ability, prophecy, and clairvoyance. He can, of course, also be called upon more generally for blessings as one of the canonical archangels known by name from scripture.

Learn more or book your spot at SeraphinStation.com.

When Angels Are Saints and Saints Are Angels

Seraphin Station

I very frequently see folks online say things like this: “Though technically speaking Archangel Michael is not a Saint [sic], sometimes this entity is venerated as one.”

I’m not linking to the source for that because my goal is not to single anyone out for being wrong. Thing is, this is not an uncommon misperception. It’s pretty easy to find multiple websites and blogs that say something to this effect – even those of folks who are otherwise pretty well-versed in folk religion and/or folk magic. If this were just a couple of blogs and not a pretty widespread point of confusion and error, I wouldn’t be going to the trouble to write about it.

I get that not everybody comes from a Catholic background. But if you’re going to write about saints in the context of hoodoo and folk religion, you should do your research before you make assertions…

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Pilgrimage, Shrine, Saint, Sacred Object (and contest)

For T.S. Eliot, April is the cruelest month (as it is for many teachers, professors, and tax professionals). But for the medieval English poet Chaucer, and for many of the faithful in medieval Europe, April was when pilgrimage season started. In spring,

Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages
And palmeres for to seken straunge strondes
To ferne halwes, kowthe in sondry londes;
And specially from every shires ende
Of Engelond, to Caunterbury they wende,
The hooly blisful martir for to seke
That hem hath holpen, whan that they were seeke.

— (Canterbury Tales, Gen Prologue, I.12-18)
Chaucer_ellesmere

Page from the Ellesmere ms of The Canterbury Tales. Public Domain.

Some pilgrims sought foreign lands, but many went to the relatively local Canterbury, site of the twelfth-century martyrdom of St. Thomas Becket. Chaucer’s lines imply that some pilgrims journey to give thanks to this “hooly blissful martir” for acts of miraculous healing accomplished at a distance. Many such long-distance miracles were attributed to him, such as that of William of Kellett, to whom St. Thomas appeared in a dream. William, whose story is told in one of the surviving early thirteenth-century stained glass windows at Trinity Chapel, afterwards woke to find his wounded leg whole again. [1]  St. Thomas also appeared in a dream to a man whose family who had been spared from the plague, this time in order to warn him that he must make the overdue “pilgrimage of gratitude” to Canterbury. [2] In these cases, while the miraculous intervention of the saint was accomplished at a distance, physicality — stuff in the realm of the tangible and corporeal —  was crucially important to the spiritual economy of relics and saintly intercession. This applies to relics as well as physical sites like shrines; recipients of healing were expected to travel to the saint’s “home” if possible rather than convey their gratitude from a distance, at least for “big favors.”  Quite often, the saints’ benevolent intervention in the lives of the living faithful was accomplished by means of, or at least in the presence of, the relics of the saint. For instance, in another miracle portrayed in the windows of Trinity Chapel, “Mad Henry of Fordwich” is cured after spending the night at Becket’s tomb. [3]

1757762314_fdfb6af9fa_oA reliquary in the Museum of Folk Life and Folk Art at Schloss Hellbrunn in Austria.Some Rights Reserved: photo CC  BY-NC-SA 2.0, by Curious Expeditions at flickr

Even though these objects and sites are part of a spiritual economy, one keenly concerned with the immortal soul, the flesh matters too – matter matters, as it were. As the Canterbury examples illustrate, relics were important to this belief system, but so were sites sacred to departed saints that were not, strictly speaking, relics themselves. And these two elements – the relic and the shrine – are intimately associated, in many cases intertwined. But physical relics are not always easy to come by, and pilgrimage is not always possible. Even though possession of a saint’s relic was at one point a requirement for the dedication of a church, [4] the faithful sometimes had to be creative or even aggressive in their efforts to obtain the necessary relics, and theft of relics was not uncommon in medieval Europe.  One way that a relic shortage could be handled was through a principle of transference, by which we get what are today, in English-speaking countries, often called “third class relics.” Many relics needed for the consecration of churches in the sixth century were obtained by this osmosis or contagion principle. Church authorities would place a “box containing portions of silk or cloth, known as brandea,” into the tombs of the Apostles, according to the Catholic Encyclopedia. The brandea, “after lying for a time in contact with the remains of the holy Apostles, were henceforth treated as relics.” [5] This type of relic is very easy to come by today, and new ones can be “made” as needed.

So the Church, or at least members of it, categorize relics according to how far removed from the physical body and life of the saint, in a sense (in the U.S. you often hear of “first class relics” and “third class relics” and the like, while in Italy you will sometimes hear of “major” and “minor” relics — reliquia minima, reliquia notabile, etc); while these particular categories are not universal and are not, as far as I have been able to discover, published anywhere in any official Church source as an explicit teaching or guideline, the habit of categorizing them in some way according to their “distance” from the saint him- or herself is pretty common. These categories, like various modes of “official use,” have always been somewhat of a shifting and sometimes grey area. The Church allows for these grey areas, not just in terms of vocabulary but also in terms of spiritual practice about and faith in these relics and other sites or media through and by which the spiritual and temporal worlds interact; according to The Catholic Encyclopedia, despite the fact that many popular and long-venerated relics (like the Veil of Veronica or even the “True Cross”) are of dubious authenticity, the Church frequently “allows the cult of certain doubtful relics to continue” [5]. The Church recognized long ago that many long-venerated relics could never be proven authentic beyond a shadow of a doubt, and it furthermore realized that many “devotions of ancient date” were “deeply rooted in the heart of the peasantry” and could not be “swept away without some scandal and popular disturbance,” in one writer’s (rather dated) words [6]. In short, we can’t prove this bit of wood is part of the True Cross (for instance), but if its veneration harms no-one and does not conflict with Church teaching or principle, and if it fosters the faith of the people, then it is just fine.

memling veronicaVeronica’s Veil. Diptychon mit Johannes dem Täufer und der Hl. Veronika, by Hans Memling. Public Domain.

In fact, the Church stays out of the business of pronouncing any particular relic, miracle, or apparition as authentic or not;  Church officials to this day are called on to sanction the veneration of relics and apparitions, but their role is actually confined to stating that, after examination, they have determined that its veneration is or is not heretical. That’s why it’s not really accurate to say, like this article’s headline does, that the Church has “certified” or “approved” a given apparition, miracle, etc. (though this article redeems itself if you read the whole thing, explaining a lot more clearly how it actually works). The Church doesn’t say “Yes, this vision or miracle or relic is verified or authentic.” Church officials tend rather to express opinions in terms like “reliable” or “worthy of belief,” as in the case of Cardinal Ratzinger’s judgment on the 20th century apparition of the Virgin Mary in Akita, Japan. [7] In short, the Church only gets involved in cases where it needs to determine whether a popular tradition of veneration is or is not in danger of leading to heresy, apostasy, or idolatry. [8] It often makes no pronouncement at all on popular sites of devotion and pilgrimage.

This grey area is home to an incredible array of folk and personal spiritual practice in Judeo-Christian tradition (and traditions growing out from Judeo-Christian traditions), from personal pilgrimage to home-made shrines, in addition to being the fertile ground for more formal sites and acts of devotion like pilgrimages to Canterbury. By this sort of positive contagion principle, by which a cloth can be touched to a relic and thus become a relic itself, and by which a relic can be built into the founation of an altar by which to consecrate a church, it is not an exaggeration to say that no physical item associated with a saint is without spiritual value, [9] and that includes even the homespun altars and shrines that people assemble in their own homes or on roadsides. Sometimes, if you can’t go to the saint, you can bring part of the saint to you. People without the means or access to sites like Canterbury or objects like the Shroud of Turin can still work to create personal sacred sites, where the spiritual and temporal intersect even in everyday life. And this brings us to the wide variations in personal and popular practice and “folk Catholicism,” and thus to the real point of this post: the long, living, and vibrant tradition of “unofficial,” folk shrines, altars, sites of devotion, and physical objects of faith.

expedite shrine An altar to St. Expedite on Reunion Island. Some rights reserved: CC BY-SA 2005 David Monniaux

Today’s folk practitioners build shrines on roadsides; make them out of candy tins; create them on their mantelpieces or in their bedrooms; carry or wear them around their necks; build transient ones to serve as sites of sacred intersection for the short span of a single ceremony; build living ones that last years or decades but are fluid as they reflect the coming and going of offerings, candles, ex votos, milagros, prayer papers, flowers, and statues of the faithful as they interact with and add to the site; build permanent structures as chapels in the forests or the deserts of their regions; build tiny chapels in the middle of nowhere as a gesture of thanks or faith or as a home for their saints and their devotions.

As a celebration of these sacred art objects and structures in Judeo-Christian traditions [10], this April’s contest at Karma Zain is focused on these personal shrines, altars, sacred spots, assemblages, and objects where the spiritual and temporal meet according to the principles I’m describing in this article. As you can gather, I hope, from the preceding, I am interpreting “shrine” and “relic” quite broadly; but simply to put some parameters or limits in here somewhere, I am confining this contest to shrines, memorials, relics, reliquaries, nichos, altars etc that are in, or peripheral to, or aesthetically inspired by, or philosophically derived from, the Judeo-Christian tradition. [11] To enter, just send photos of a shrine, nicho, reliquary, ex voto, altar, etc that you have created, made, assembled, or are otherwise primarily responsible for. You can submit up to three photos of your subject, and each subject will equal one entry. If you want to submit more than one entry, you can. (So if you have three photos of the same altar, that’s one entry. If you have three photos, one each of three different altars, that’s three entries.) If this gets a number of entries that makes it impossible to put them all in single blog post for judging, then Karma Zain and associates will select a manageable number of finalists. If all entries, total, end up being a manageable number for a single blog post, then they will all go to the finalist stage. To help spread the word towards the ideal of creating a curated collection of images of your awesome spiritual art and folk practice, you guys — my readership — will be the judges of the finalists.

freda Our Lady of Sorrows shrine, (c) Karma Zain

First Place gets – big surprise – a custom shrine, designed in conjunction with the winner, for the saint, spirit, figure, or patron of the winner’s choice. You win, you tell me what saint, angel, spirit, figure, etc you’d like a shrine for (as well as any preferences like “small enough to fit in my car glove compartment” or “suitable for hanging on a wall,” and I make it for you, one of a kind and custom, incorporating your prayers, petitions, devotions, etc. My shrines are *all* one of a kind (and usually retail between $80 and $300), so this is a great chance to win some spiritual folk art made just for you!

gedecabinet Ghuede shrine, (c) Karma Zain

Second Place gets a custom spiritual jewelry item, designed in conjunction with the winner, for the saint, spirit, figure, or patron of the winner’s choice. You win, you tell me what saint, angel, spirit, etc you’d like an item of devotional jewelry made for, and I make it for you. This could be a hoodoo medium’s necklace, a traditional Marian rosary, a bracelet, a chaplet, an incognito necklace that doesn’t give away its true meaning, a “collar” for an altar bottle, even a decorated sash or scarf if you use those in your practice. My jewelry and prayer bead pieces are all one of a kind (and usually retail between $20 and $100), so this is a great chance to grab a custom-made wearable piece.

004 (4)Mary Magdalene Rosary, (c) Karma Zain

Contest Rules and Details Summary:

1. Email the photo to me, as an attachment, to karmazain at gmail dot com. Please make the subject line refer to the contest somehow. The image must be your intellectual property and you must have the right to publish it, share it, etc. You are welcome to send a short caption if you’d like to explain the object or the context, in which case I may incorporate your written info, verbatim or paraphrased, as part of my posting of your photo.

2. You are agreeing to have your photograph, or links to your photograph, published in my blog and any connected social networking sites (Pinterest, Twitter, Facebook, etc). You retain ownership of your own intellectual or creative property, but your entering the contest constitutes your agreement to have your photo published, blogged, linked to, reblogged, etc. If you’d like me to publish your name (and/or website) along with it, I will, or you can submit anonymously and I will use initials and location (like JS from CA).

3. You are agreeing to have your photographs entered into a contest, the finalists for which will have their stuff judged *by my readership,* probably via a poll that I put up in a blog post after the deadline. Please don’t be a jerk and try to game the system by voting for your own photo a bunch of times (the poll won’t allow it anyway), though you are free to campaign for your own photo and ask your friends to vote; I’m just asking that folks please stick to “one vote per person”).

4. The contest will be open until April 29, the feast day of St. Catherine of Siena (for no other reason than because she was my Confirmation saint). I will put up the poll and open the voting shortly after that, and voting will be open until May 8 (an old feast day of St. Michael the Archangel, the anniversary of his apparition at Monte Gargano). [11]

5. No whining. (You would not believe the grief I get when I try to give shit away for free. People complain about the rules, complain about how the contest is set up, complain about the prizes, complain about how I notify winners, complain because they cut themselves opening the box containing their free shit – I am telling you, it is land-o-overdeveloped-sense-of-entitlement, aka greedy grabby shit, in some quarters. If you don’t like the rules, feel free to not enter the contest, for God’s sake; I’m just over here trying to give some cool stuff to people who are interested in the same type of spiritual expression and practice that I’m interested in.)

6. This list should be a quick ref, but reading this summary isn’t a substitute for reading the whole article, without which you might not understand what the whole ethic and aesthetic at work here are.

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Two necklaces, (c) Karma Zain

Sources

[1] Harris, Anne. “Pilgrimage, Performance, and Stained Glass at Canterbury Cathedral.” Art and Architecture Of Late Medieval Pilgrimage In Northern Europe And The British Isles: Texts. Sarah Blick and Rita Tekippe, eds. Leiden: Brill Academic Publishers, 2005: 263-264.
[2] Harris, 263.
[3] Canterbury Cathedral: Becket Miracle Window 4.
[4] The second Nicean council decreed in 787 that churches had to be in possession of relics in order to be dedicated. I haven’t extended my research on this into contemporary times so I’m not sure if this is still a requirement today. See Kamowski, William. “’Coillons,’ Relics, Skepticism and Faith on Chaucer’s Road to Canterbury: An Observation on the Pardoner’s and the Host’s Confrontation.” ELN 28 (1991): 4.
[5] Thurston, Herbert. “Relics.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 12. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia‘s entry on relics, “Neither has the Church ever pronounced that any particular relic, not even that commonly venerated as the wood of the Cross, as authentic.”
[6] Thurston, “Relics.”
[7] “Messages of our Lady in Akita, Japan.” Michael 337 (2005): 17. Michael Journal.
[8] Pope Innocent was asked to make a ruling on the authenticity of the Holy Foreskin at the abbey of Charroux in the twelfth century; the Pope declined. See Farley, David, “Fore Shame,Slate 19 Dec. 2006. Calcata and Charroux both claimed to have the Holy Foreskin in the early twentieth century; the Vatican, rather than ruling definitively on the status of either claim, simply threatened to excommunicate anybody who perpetuated the controversy. See Silverman, Eric, From Abraham to America: A History of Jewish Circumcision, Devon, UK: Rowman & Littlefield, 2002: 158.
[9] Sumption, Jonathan, The Age of Pilgrimage: The Medieval Journey to God, Mahwah, NJ: Hidden Spring, 2003: 112.
[10] Broadly interpreted, so ATRs using Catholic iconography are included in this category, as are nichos made in traditionally-inspired style for people or personalities who are not, strictly speaking, recognized as saints or angels, as would a homemade reliquary made to house a physical object tied to a non-canonically-approved figure like Black Hawk. In other words, it’s possible to work within the folk traditions ultimately springing from or inspired by these Judeo-Christian traditions and principles of shrine and relic without considering yourself a monotheist, a Catholic, or a “person of the Book.”
[11] So, as much as I love sand mandalas, Kali, homemade shrines to Hecate, hand-carved drinking horns for blot, etc, those would not fit the parameters here in their “pure” form; those are different traditions with different aesthetics and philosophies underlying the construction of sacred art and sites. This is nothing against paganism or Eastern philosophy or practice at all, but there are lots of forums for those types of traditions and practices already, and they are not what this blog is devoted to.
[12] Some saints or angels have more than one feast day, and for visitations and apparitions, the feasts often have to do with the anniversary of a given visitation or apparition. That’s why you see so many different “faces” of the Virgin Mary, for instance. There’s Our Lady of Guadalupe, OL of Sorrows, OL of Mount Carmel, etc. So you will see people say the feast day of St. Michael is Sep. 29, and they’re not wrong, but that’s not really the whole story, either. In southern Italy and much of Europe in the Middle Ages, one of St. Michael’s feast days was commonly observed on May 8. See, for instance, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Vat. lat. 6082, a twelfth-century Benedictine manuscript from southern Italy. For more on St. Michael’s feast days and their histories in various parts of the world, here’s an excerpt/summary of a chapter written by Father Francis Xavier Weiser in The Holy Day Book, Harcourt, Brace and Company, Inc., New York, 1956.

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St. Expedite shrine; Memento Mori chaplet, (c) Karma Zain

Angry Angels and Saints Who Smite

I’m posting this as a blog entry 1. because I can’t seem to comment on Mama Cat’s blog (maybe she turned off comments or my browser is jacked up), and 2. I don’t want to take over her blog with my rambling anyway. Anyway, this is in response to her blog post here. I just want to chime in on the “saints punishing you” thing (if you read this whole thing, you’ll see that I am not disagreeing with her – I’m just elaborating).

People tend to think of saints as benevolent entities, close to God, involved in helping the devoted. Actually, there is an extremely long tradition of punitive miracles even in quite orthodox Catholic practice. I go into this a bit in this blog post. If you read the Old Testament, it’s full of them; God smote the hell out of all kinds of people, and he’s God. Saints and angels smite too. That isn’t the part people usually think of, though. As Tony Burke points out in his academic blog here, the study of punitive miracles is pretty much neglected by scholars as well. But such power to harm is part and parcel of the workings of saints, deities, and spirits in many different cultures and religions – absolutely including Christianity. Burke notes,

“Though not as plentiful in the sources as beneficent miracles, punitive miracles are nevertheless found in literature throughout Mediterranean antiquity. Holy men wield power, and sometimes that power is not used with mercy. Thus, to the ancient mind, it is reasonable for Elisha to call upon bears to maul annoying children, for Apollonios to threaten repressive corn merchants, for r. Eliezer to kill r. Gamaliel, for Paul to blind a false prophet, for Jesus to whither a fig tree, and so on. Of course, the power behind these curses comes from the gods, and sometimes the gods even curse directly—the Hebrew Bible, for example, contains numerous punitive acts perpetrated by Yahweh himself.”

My PhD work focused on this stuff in medieval England (and to a lesser extent, elsewhere), so this is obviously a favorite topic of mine. I don’t claim to be an authority on all world religions or even every Christian saint, but I think my training and research makes me pretty much qualified to call myself an expert on these “economies” and systems of circulation of relics, saints, angels, human beings, and how they all tend to interact and have interacted historically. I have published peer-reviewed academic articles on angels, saints, religious literature, and angelology. So I cannot in good conscience say that the popular image of angels as smiling feathered beautiful beings in gowns helping children over bridges is terribly accurate, nor can I say that punishment, smiting, punitive measures, retribution, etc are not a very important component of what sainthood is and has been understood to be for a very, very long time. If you think saints and angels are all benign and smiling and all about dropping everything to tend to whatever your little human issue is, you are a fool.

george
Creative Commons License, Some Rights Reserved: Jim Forest

However, I do agree with Cat: for today’s typical practitioner of folk spirituality, such things are not very common. And even when they happen, saying a saint has “attacked” you is not very accurate; that’s not really how it works. And anyway, the saints are more likely to smite you or screw you up if you have a deep, genuine relationship with one in particular — an obligation — and really drop the ball in terms of keeping up your end of things. They are NOT likely to starting raining hell down on somebody who is new to working with them and is making a legit attempt, and frankly I’ve found that they have better things to do than go around smiting people for making an honest mistake or being oh-so-humanly a bit of an ass. (The saints are human too – well, most of them.)

Many punitive miracles in medieval hagiographies and lore are due to somebody being a dumbass and not getting the original message, not doing something they were already told in less punitive or frightening terms to do, failing to do something they were being warned they were obligated to do. For instance, in the lore of St. Michael, there’s this idiot named Garganus who made one of his men shoot a bull that St. Michael was trying to send as a sign of where he wanted a chapel built. Thick-headed Garganus didn’t get the message; the bull wandered off near this cave and Garganus threw a little fit and ordered the bull shot. The arrow meant for the bull blew back and hit the servant (who was just following orders, after all). Garganus went to the bishop, being troubled by these strange events, and apparently softened his heart a little. Then later St. Michael appeared to him and said, basically, “This guy is dead because it is my will. Now pay attention; build my church at that cave the bull was sent to show you.” (Here’s a photo of the grotto chapel of St. Michael at Mt. Gargano.)

Gerald of Wales, telling of Ireland, wrote of a priest that encountered two wolves on his way Ulster. One spoke to him. The shocked priest reported that the wolf said, “There are two of us, a man and a woman, natives of Ossory, who, through the curse of one Natalis, saint and abbot, are compelled every seven years to put off the human form, and depart from the dwellings of men. Quitting entirely the human form, we assume that of wolves.” The priest gave the sick wolf-wife the last rites. Before leaving them, he asked the wolf-man if the island’s inhabitants would continue to suffer under invaders. The wolf answered, “For the sins of our nation, and their enormous vice, the anger of the Lord, falling on an evil generation, hath given them into the hands of their enemies. Therefore, as long as this foreign race shall keep the commandments of the Lord, and walk in his ways, it will be secure and invincible; but if, as the downward path to illicit pleasures is easy, and nature is prone to follow vicious examples, this people shall chance, from living among us, to adopt our depraved habits, doubtless they will provoke the divine vengeance on themselves also.” [*] Moral of the story for Gerald anyway: while saints and abbots may curse sinners, when we talk about great misfortune, we usually bring this stuff on ourselves somehow through wrong action or neglect of right action. He then goes on to tell of ravens falling dead for feasting on the carcass of St. Vincent, and of an archer who died miserably after innocently trying to shoot one of St. Colman’s ducks for his evening supper.

That is NOT to say that traditions of saints raining down hell on somebody do not exist in conjure lore, in contemporary folk Catholic practice, or even in people’s living rooms today. They do, just as they exist in the holy books of many religions. (Though as scholars like Stanko Andric have noted, these shouldn’t be understood as God or a saint throwing a fit, being unjust, or being cruel – these punitive miracles and intercessions have a larger role within the whole dynamic or system, are part of God’s will which is not always discernible to us in its entirety from our limited perspectives, serve a legitimate role in a community, and also serve as lessons to the faithful. See for instance Andric’s The Miracles of St. John Capistan, in which he notes, while discussing ultiones, that sometimes saints know that you are about to screw up, might try to warn you even, but you may be punished or mess things up *not due to the saint’s failure but due to your — the sinner’s — actions or lack thereof.* As I note in my earlier blog post that I linked to above, intercession of saints does not technically, traditionally involve any saint granting your wish or prayer – it involves the saint interceding with God for you; you thank a saint, technically, not for direct action but for going to bat for you in approaching God on your behalf, since God is the source of all this activity, power, etc.)

And while it is actually not super-common, there are some people who will warn you that St. Expedite (pronounced “espedee” or “expedeet” in the Southeastern US, by the way – think of how a French person would say the word, not an American person), among other saints, has a “call” behind them; that means that if you ask their intercession and mess up, or sometimes if you ask their intercession at all depending on what you’re trying to do, they will take somebody with them (meaning somebody around your home or family will die). Again, these are not typical views, but neither are they unique to just one person. I personally do not caution people that if you don’t hold up your end of the bargain, you should expect death to strike your family — the reality of working with saints in folk traditions these days is usually a lot less dramatic than that of late antiquity and the Middle Ages — but I absolutely do caution folks to learn about what they are doing, to form relationships, and not to treat their doings with saints lightly. If you piss off St. Michael by asking him to smite one of his devotees, and your desire is unjustified according to St. Michael, will he strike you down instead? Probably not. But this is no long-tressed, smiling, harp-playing cherub you’re talking about, so don’t be a fool. At best he might ignore you. At worst he might teach you a lesson. God, after all, taught Job some very colorful lessons, and he liked Job. St. Expedite was a Roman soldier. St. Michael struck down Satan. St. George and St. Martha took out dragons. So I urge you to think carefully before you ask petty things of saints or angels, or presume that your bull is more important than their chapel, so to speak!

If you don’t like what I’m saying here, feel free to not work with saints. And you don’t have to be a Christian or Catholic to work with (most) saints, in my experience – but what you had better do if you have any sense is know what you’re getting into and doing. You cannot just strip away all the history, traditions, and roles of saints, pick out just the nice parts that you want and that make it “easy,” and pretend that things like sin, punitive miracles, obligation, traditional roles and temperaments, etc. do not exist. You cannot treat saints like they aren’t part of this economy and aren’t part of Christian lore and tradition. Doing that – rejecting the fabric and culture and religion of the very saint you are trying to work with — is what will get you a punitive miracle. (That goes for spirits, saints, and deities of any religion; if you strip away the culture and religion from which they came and give them makeovers in your own image, according to your own preferences, or act like you can pick and choose which aspects and components you want to incorporate and ignore the rest  — well, don’t go complaining that so-and-so saint didn’t work for you when your buffet-style approach gets you some divine smackdown. That was not on the saint – that was all on you.)

[*] Translation is by Thomas Forester, of Giraldus Cambrensis’ The Tophography of Ireland, In parentheses Publications, Cambridge 2000.

Recommended Reading – St Cyprian and St Michael

Conjureman Ali on St. Cyprian’s Feast Day and Miss Bri on St. Michael the Archangel’s Feast Day.  I have recently seen some well-meaning devotee refer to Sep 29 as St. Michael’s birthday, which made me spew my tea all over the monitor. Sep. 29 is the anniversary of the dedication of the Basilica of St. Michael. As an angel, St. Michael doesn’t have a birthday (and birthdays are rarely saints’ feasts days anyway – it’s more often the death day, though of course as an angel, St. Michael wouldn’t have one of those either). So the feast day has to come from somewhere else; in this case, its origins are tied to landmarks of terrestrial devotion.

Also, in honor of St. Mike (as my daughter calls him), an 11th century prayer to St. Michael, an Old Irish prayer to the archangels, a 15th century prayer to St. Michael, St. Michael and St. George from Hyatt’s material, a snippet from a pre-Vatican-2 St. Michael service, and hopefully tomorrow if I have time after doing several readings, i will get around to finishing and posting a translation of a nice little apocryphal legend about St. Michael’s role as a psychopomp (bearer of souls). Or maybe the Mt. Garganus story – that would be cool too. Sigh… we’ll see.

St Michael

Anyway, St. Michael is a powerful and beloved patron of many, so light a little candle for him (or have Miss Bri light one for you! click the link above for details!)  Here’s a snippet from an article I wrote a good while ago; since it got rejected (again) in some pretty blunt terms, I will probably not do anything else with it, so I can cannibalize a bit on how angels got to be so mixed up with martial imagery in the medieval European imagination:

Angels in medieval France were portrayed as terrible, albeit beautiful, beings as often as they were portrayed as smiling, benevolent messengers; they were not pictured as the cute little infant-like cherubs familiar to us from Christmas cards until the Italian Renaissance.[1] In medieval French manuscript illuminations during the Crusades, angels were often portrayed in military uniforms or in shining golden armor. [2]  David Keck explains, “connections between angels and war have scriptural origins, in particular, in the great war between Michael and his angels and the dragon and his followers” in the book of Revelation.[3] Military leaders invoked Michael’s and other angels’ aid in terrestrial warfare as well; Count Robert of Mortain’s standard depicted Michael in the Battle of Hastings, and Joan of Arc’s depicted Michael and Gabriel.[4] Angels were intimately tied to the Christianization of warfare in medieval Europe, and the French were particularly enamored of their warrior angels, as the history of Mont-Saint-Michel and Michael’s patronage of Normandy attest.[5] In the Oxford manuscript of the Chanson de Roland, even the usually peaceful Gabriel appears in a dream to urge a reluctant Charlemagne to battle in the land of Bire.[6] In the rich folkloric and popular traditions emerging from scriptural reference to warrior angels, Keck argues, angels became a “powerful image and paradigm for the holiest of warfare” in the medieval imagination;[7]  figures such as St. Michael in Normandy were an “iconographic representation of angelic warriors [which] helped to legitimize revolutionary and military activities.”[8] These associations “made it possible for some to locate the origins of chivalry itself in the angelic realms.”[9]  Warrior angels made it possible to be both a Christian and a knight, both an earthly warrior and a servant of God; in Keck’s words, the warrior angel “allowed military men to have both their Christianity and their swordplay.”[10] This was particularly the case at the beginning of the twelfth century; as John Edward Damon remarks of the era that followed the first Crusade, the concept of “[s]oldier sainthood would move to the center of theology and culture” as the Christian knight rode East, to holy war.[11] This convergence of terrestrial and celestial also made it easy for knights to demonize their political opponents, casting them as the satanic enemy upon whom St. Michael tramples in his most familiar iconography.


[1] Patricia Gathercole, The Depiction of Angels and Devils in Medieval French Manuscript Illumination (Lewiston, NY: The Edwin Mellen Press, 2004), 5.

[2] Gathercole 21.

[3] David Keck, Angels and Angelology in the Middle Ages (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), 201.

[4] Ibid., 202.

[5] Ibid., 201-203.  For Michael’s warrior role, see Richard Johnson, Saint Michael the Archangel in Medieval English Legend (Rochester, NY: Boydell & Brewer, Inc., 2005).  For a discussion of angelic appearances in the context of marvels, dream-visions, and other “specular encounters,” see Donald Maddox, Fictions of Identity in Medieval France (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2000), esp. 201-215.

[6]  La Chanson de Roland, ed. Gerald J. Braut (University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1984), ll. 3990-4000.

[7]  Keck 201.

[8] Ibid., 202.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid., 203.

[11] John Edward Damon, Soldier Saints and Holy Warriors: Warfare and Sanctity in the Literature of Early England (Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing Co., 2003), 277.

Prayer to one’s guardian angel

I finally finished translating (or near enough to post anyway – it could still use a little finessing), an 11th century prayer to one's guardian angel, for which I posted the Latin a while back.

An Old Irish Prayer to the Archangels by the days of the week

I regret that I have not been writing as many informative or instructional posts lately as I’d like.  If you’ve worked with me fairly closely over the years and/or been reading my blog for a while, you may know that I’m feverishly trying to finish my PhD dissertation and *get the heck out of graduate school* where I have been for far, far too long.  So instructional/informative posts are not likely to be copious over the next few months.

But as part of my research I am working with a lovely Old Irish poem that I thought I’d share for you readers who work with, think about, and enjoy angels – it should be especially interesting for readers into esoteric prayer, working with the Seven Rays of the Archangels or any of the Rosaries of the Seven Rays, or those with a Roman Catholic or folk Catholic background – or, I daresay, an Irish background!  (If you aren’t familiar with the Seven Rays material, see the tags on this post – they’ll take you to other posts for more info.)

This is a prayer to the archangels giving one for each day of the week. 

A Prayer to Seven Archangels

Gabriel lim i nDomhnaighibh | is cumhachta ríg neime.
Gabriél lim hi comnaidi, | nachamthí bét na bini.

Michél dia Luain labraimsea; | focheird mo menma airi.
ni re nech nosamlaimsea | acht ré hIosu mac Maire.

Mad Mairtt, Raphiél radimsea, co tí in crich, dom chobuir;
in sechtmadh fer alimsea, | céin uér ar tuár in domhuin.

Uriél lim i cCétáinib, | int abb co n-uaisli ardi,
ar guin ocus ar gábudh, ar threthan gaithi gairgi.

Sáriel Dardain labraimsea | ar thonnuibh mera in mara,
ar cech nolc thic re duine, | ar cech ngalar nodgobha.

Dia na haíne didíni | Rumiél–rath reill–rocharus.
ní abbair acht fírinne, | maith in cara rogabus.

Panchel i sSatharnaib lim, | céin beó arin mbith mbuide
. . . . . . . . .  [*]

In Trinoid dom anacul. | in Trinoid dom shnádud.
in Trinoitt dom shæradh. | ar chach nguin, ar gach ngabud.

————————————————————————————————-

* [second half of verse missing in manuscript]

Modern English:

May Gabriel be with me on Sundays, and the power of the King of Heaven.
May Gabriel be with me always that evil may not come to me nor injury.

Michael on Monday I speak of, my mind is set on him,
Not with anyone do I compare him but with Jesus, the son of Mary.

If it be Tuesday, Raphael I mention, until the end comes, for my help.
One of the seven whom I beseech, as long as I am on the field of the world.

May Uriel be with me on Wednesdays, the abbot with high nobility,
Against wound and against danger, against the sea of rough wind.

Sariel on Thursday I speak of, against the swift waves of the sea,
Against every evil that comes to a man, against every disease that seizes him.

On the day of the second fast, Rumiel–a clear blessing–I have loved,
I say only the truth, good the friend I have taken.

May Panchel be with me on Saturdays, as long as I am on the yellow world
. . . . . . . .

May the Trinity protect me! may the Trinity defend me!
May the Trinity save me from every hurt, from every danger!

———————————————————————————————–

[translation is by Thomas O’Nowlan / Tomas Ua Nuallain, “A Prayer to the Archangels for Each Day of the Week,” in Ériu vol. 2, pp 92-94, which you can also consult for manuscript info if you have an academic interest in this piece]

As you may notice, this is one of many extant traditions about the names of the “seven archangels” – the number varies too, of course!  But this is one Celtic tradition for the seven archangels to which we have early attestation (this poem dates from the 800s).  A different batch of archangels is listed in the Saltair na Rann lines 793-804:

Gabriel, Michél, maith an-greim, Raphiel, Panachel oebind, Babichél, Raguel roclos, Mirachel, Rumel rigdos. / Fafigial, Sumsagial slán, Sarmichiel, Sarachel saergd, Uriel, Hermichel maith mass, Sarachel, Barachel bladbras. / Lihigiel, Darachél cenchol, Segiel, laSariel sairdron, Lonachel, Arachél tan, Stichiel, Gallichiel gleglan.

I don’t read Irish, never mind Old or Middle Irish, [**] and don’t have time to learn it any time soon, and if these lines have been translated into modern English, I haven’t run across the translation yet.  But if anybody knows where I can find one so I can learn what the context of this list is, I’d appreciate the tip!

** [The manuscript of the Saltair na Rann is in Bodleian MS Rawl. B 502; its handwriting dates to the 12th century, so this is Middle Irish, I suppose, or maybe “early Middle Irish” more properly?] 

ETA: A reader dropped a link to a different prayer to the archangels by days of the week, to the website of a London chruch. That page is now long defunct, but here’s the prayer, and all the citation they gave was “9th century Irish,” so who knows where they got it or who translated it:

A Prayer to the archangels
for every day of the week

May Gabriel be with me on Sundays, and the power  of the King of Heaven
May Gabriel be with me always that evil may not come to me, nor injury.
Michael on Monday I speak of, my mind is set on him,
Not with anyone do I compare him but with Jesus, Mary’s son.
If it be Tuesday, Raphael I mention, until the end comes, for my help.
One of the seven whom I beseech, as long as I am on the field of the world.
May Uriel be with me on Wednesdays, the abbot with high nobility,
Against wound and against danger, against the sea of rough wind.
Sariel on Thursday I speak of, against the swift waves of the sea,
Against every evil that comes to a man, against every disease that seizes him.
On the day of the second fast, Rumiel – a clear blessing – I have loved,
I say only the truth, good the friend I have taken.
May Panchel be with me on Saturdays, as long as I am in the yellow-coloured world,
May sweet Mary, together with her friend, deliver me from strangers.
May the Trinity protect me! May the Trinity defend me!
May the Trinity save me from every hurt, from every danger.

C9th Irish

11th century prayer to one’s guardian angel

From a prayer book belonging to an Abbot Aelfwine.  Translation in progress.

Oratio ad angelum custodem

Credo quod sis angelus sanctus, a Deo omnipotente ad custodiam mei deputatus. Propterea peto, et per illum qui te ad hoc ordinavit, humiliter imploro, ut me miseram fragilem atque indignam semper et ubique in hac vita custodias, protegas a malis omnibus atque defendas, et cum Deus hinc animam meam migrare iusserit, nullam in eam potestatem daemonibus habere permittas, sed tu eam leniter a corpore suscipias, et in sinu Habrae suaviter usque perducas iubente ac iuvante creatore ac salvatore Deo nostro, qui est benedictus in saecula saeculorum. Amen.

Prayer to the Guardian Angel

I believe that you are the holy angel, appointed to watch over me by almight God.  So I beg you, through him who ordained you to this duty, and I implore you humbly, that you will always and everywhere guard me, wretched, weak, and unworthy, in this life, and when God commands my soul to leave this world, do not permit the devil to have power over it, but rather softly take it up from my body and into the bosom of Abraham gently lead it, with the bidding and aid of our savior and creator God who is blessed for the age of ages (ie, for eternity). Amen.

Reprinted in Andre Wilmart, Auteurs spirituel et textes devotes du moyen age latin (Paris, 1971, repr. of 1932 ed.)

A photo of a fully-armored St. Michael statue in Salisbury that I took in summer of 2010 (not public domain – image is my property and you may not reuse it without my permission).

st. michael and st. george from hyatt

(St. Michael?)
Yeah, that’s correctly. Well, yeah, there’s a Saint Michael, see.
That’s a saint that is coming from something like heaven with two swords in his hands. See, there’s St. George, he’s coming with two swords on his horse. All right. St. Michael – you use a red candle to St. Michael. Do you get the idea about that? All right. And St. George, you uses a blue candle to St. George. Get the idea about it? And you use that blue candle for nine days – as one candle burn out, you light another one – for nine days, continue on nine days. And those candles do most anything that you want them to do.
(You just light the candles and make the wish to them?)
Make a evil wish to do that. Tell him what to do and mean it – with a
evil ‘vironment, and then after that, you cuss it. You get the idea about
that?

[New Orleans, LA; Informant # 840 – Dr. Caffrey; Cylinders A447:8-454:1 =
1263-1270.]

Oct 24, Feast of St. Raphael the Archangel

Again, a day late and a dollar short, or maybe a week late and totally bankrupt, we have the belated announcement of the Feast of St. Raphael the Archangel.  See the Book of Tobias for more about this angel, or Milton’s Paradise Lost if you’re feeling frisky (and ambitious).  One of the fun facts about Raphael as you learn in the footnotes of Paradise Lost is that in the apocryphal Book of Tobit (Tobias’ father), Raphael provides a recipe to drive away an incubus.  It seems that you can be incubus-free if you burn the heart and liver of a fish.  Worked on Asmodeus, anyway. 

Prayer to Raphael:

O God, Who didst give Blessed Raphael the Archangel to Thy servant Tobias, as a companion on his journey, grant to us, Thy servants, that we may always be protected by his care and strengthened by his help.

Vouchsafe, O Lord God, to send holy Raphael the Archangel to help us; and may he, whom we believe to be ever in attendance on Thy majesty, present our poor prayers to be blessed by Thee.