Thursday 8 November 2018

Happy returns of the day to all my readers named Mihaela, Mihai or Gabi

Twice or thrice had I loved thee,

Before I knew thy face or name.

So in a voice, so in a shapeless flame,

Angels affect us oft, and worshipped be.    

(John Donne, Air and Angels)
Archangels and angels are not given very much attention these days in post-Protestant or even post-Catholic countries, but in late antiquity and the Dark and Middle Ages they were very much venerated and still are by Romanians, who know that religion is about the supernatural, not about philosophy or climate change.

Angels are still as important (or, if you are an non-believer, as unimportant) as ever and the great mystic Martin Israel writes about them here. Israel, by the way, was a very interesting man. He was the son of Jewish atheists and wrote the standard textbook on histopathology before becoming a priest, spiritualist and an expert in supernatural forces.

The Archangel Michael is the embodiment of heavenly justice and is depicted wielding a flaming sword. 

The Archangel Gabriel is depicted holding a white lily, symbol of purity and innocence. He brought mankind the joyous news of the coming of Jesus Christ and told the Blessed Virgin Mary that her son would be the Son of God. 

Michael embodies God’s justice, while Gabriel embodies His mercy.

In Romania people light a candle on this day, a symbol of the light that will guide them after they die.

In some parts of the country it is said that there must be at least four sunny days between November 8th and Christmas – sometimes called the “winter’s summer” – else the winter will be long and harsh. Today was the first one.

Shepherds bake a cake on this day, “the cake of the arieți“ (arieți are rams that have been kept away from sheep throughout summer). On this day, these rams are let loose among the sheep and the youngest shepherd available throws the cake high in the air. If it falls down face-up, many lambs will be born in spring. If it doesn’t, the sheep will have few lambs.  

La multi ani!


  1. I think you idealise or exaggerate the attachment of Romanians to traditions. I don't know anyone that lights candles on this day. I suppose most of the Romanians you know are English-speaking Bucharestans. Did they light candles today? Granted, I'm born in a city and I've never lived in the countryside in Romania, except spending a couple of days in the summer at my grandparents, and all my friends are in the same situation. But, as the vast majority of urban people in Romania, we're only the second generation of urban people. Our parents spent their childhood in the countryside and moved to cities for studies or work after the war. And still I have never known anyone lighting candles on St. Michael and Gabriel day.

    It's the first time I hear the word "arieţi", and I am a native Romanian speaker. It does not even appear in the two most complete dictionaries of the Romanian language (the DEX and the DOOM). While I suppose there must be significantly more shepherds in Romania than in Western Europe how many could there be anyway? According to Wikipedia about 30% of the Romanian workforce is employed in agriculture. How many of them are shepherds? Of these shepherds, how many keep such traditions?

  2. An expert in supernatural forces?

    What type? leprechaunian? poltergeistian? fairyological forces? I think the correct term, Paul is expert conman.

    Angels. Men with wings coming out of their shoulder blades. That would be really great, I’m sure. The problem is when grown men start to think these things actually exist or at one point existed. When you divide the world between “believers” and “unbelievers” in bird-men which group do you actually (I mean actually) put yourself in? I don’t think it’s a light thing in any way, it's as heavy as things get.

    Could you go to a mirror now, look yourself in the eye and say “I believe that one day a ghost with wings called Michael came down to tell a woman living in Judea that the creator of the Universe was about to impregnate her with himself as his own child so that he could be born, and that as a man he walked on water, turned water into wine and got himself killed in a sacrifice to himself to save all of us from the original sin that he made us with.”

    Do you actually believe this, Paul or is it more about the feeling of being part of a large community of other people that say they believe it? Like a safety in numbers thing? I just think that if you can swallow this story, then why would you balk at swallowing any other? Anthony Daniels wrote that one’s manhood and sense of probity is at risk when one accedes in obvious lies. This is what Political Correctness has proved in later versions of Communism. Daniels would probably not say the same of supernatural ideologies like Religion, but I don’t see how its fundamentally different. You still have to sacrifice your reason which is that precious faculty which enables you to identify reality. A man who is makes himself believe the stories created about this Jesus character is someone who can be made to believe in anything.

    1. I refer you to Dr. Israel's book on angels which I regret that I have not had time to read. He was a spiritualist and an Anglican parson and far from the sort of diluted liberalism-and-water type of Christianity that seems to be overtaking the churches these days.

    2. I’ve just read over the link you provided and its all pretty vacuous stuff (and assumes the reader has accepted the unproven assertions of the Jesus cult) apart from Ch 6. Ultimately he runs away from the question (as have you, I can note).

      He writes:

      “Yes indeed, the angels have been progressively banished from the company of sensible humans, but to what end? The answer would probably be "truth", and this cannot be disregarded. No self-respecting person wants to cling on to an illusion,”

      He then adds :

      “What all this means to me is that the angel brings spiritual life, true spiritual body, into something that is as near lifeless as one can dare to view anything. This applies horrifyingly to the products of the pure reason, often called "intellect" in our modern terminology. Rational theology throughout the ages is heavily tarred with this brush of unimaginative arrogance. It does not move apart from the spirit of the age, useful as this
      may be in seeing that it does not go ludicrously off course. Yet how can the messenger figures that appear so consistently in contemporary accounts of angelic visitations to disarmingly ordinary people play this role of spiritual renewal? The angels lighten the darkness of those whom they encounter, so that these people begin to feel better physically, and to attain some degree of spiritual illumination. In other words, they bring something of God's presence into people's lives and also into the workings of the human mind. As such, I believe they are an essential part of the divine economy. They should work in complete harmony with the human intellect; an imbalance of either leads to a sentimental superstitiousness if the angels take charge and a heartless rationalism if the intellect runs human life”

      So it “Makes people feel better”

      It’s the difference between “Pravda” i.e: the “higher” “noble” truth, what you would like be true versus “Istina” i.e. street level, facts-on-the-ground, truth, which may seem dismal, but is actual truth.

      He talks about the “products of reason” having been horrible. But the fact that bad things have been done in the name of “reason” (e.g. the French Jacobins who announced they operating under “rationality”) is not a argument for rejecting reason. Reason doesn’t belong to any particular man or party. It’s just an independent faculty that either accords with what is going on or it doesn’t. Horrific things have also been done in the name of religion, and the Christian religion in particular.

      If you believe in angels and an afterlife because numerous individuals claim to have seen or heard ghosts and Marian apparitions then you may not be irrational per se but you are deficient in critical judgement, since you are not allowing for the prevalence of hoaxes, mendacity, hallucinations, or the perturbing influence of your own fear of death. It’s an attempt to gratify yourself by assuming the reality of what you would like to imagine. I would love to freely come and go from our world into an alternative universe, an unspoiled retreat that only I knew about. I still fantasise about it today. But it’s just fantasy. Reality cannot be deduced from desire.