The archangel Michael

(And other wingèd men.)

Yesterday was Michaelmas, devoted to Saint Michael the Archangel, a figure of great power and terrible beauty, who among other things lent his name to the gorgeous autumn-blooming aster commonly known as the Michaelmas daisy (see my 10/5/13 posting).

(Today on the calendar of religious holidays it’s Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. A very different thing.)

Angels and archangels are messengers of god, also protectors. As protectors, they can be either militant (usually masculine) or maternal (usually female);  Michael, wielding his sword against the serpent / Satan, is definitely one of the militant band — but he can be portrayed either as a muscled hero (an Achilles or Ares figure) or as an ethereally beautiful young man doing holy battle (so a hybrid of Apollo and Ares, but Christian).

(Just to get this out of the way: though archangel etymologically would have a /č/ at the end of its first element, it’s now pronounced with a /k/.)

The latter image, in Guido Reni’s Renaissance painting (1636):

(#1) The Archangel Michael wears a late Roman military cloak and cuirass in Reni’s painting

And the former image, in an earnestly Christian modern image by Bill Osborne:

(#2) From Bill Osborne Studios: Unique Expressions of Faith

(Yes, a costumed muscle-hunk wielding a sword is immediately open to a homoerotic interpretation, whatever the artist’s original intentions.)

From NOAD2:

noun angel: Old English engel, ultimately via ecclesiastical Latin from Greek angelos  ‘messenger’; superseded in Middle English by forms from Old French angele.

On angels, from Wikipedia:

An angel, especially according to Abrahamic religions, is a spiritual being superior to humans in power and intelligence. Angels are typically described as benevolent, dreadful, and endowed with wisdom and knowledge of earthly events, but not infallible; for they strive with each other, and God has to make peace between them. Most of them serve either as intermediaries between Heaven and Earth, or as guardian spirits.

They are studied in the theological doctrine of angelology. The use of the term has extended to refer to artistic depictions of the spirits, and it is also used figuratively to refer to messengers and harbingers, and to people who possess high qualities of goodness, purity, selflessness, intelligence, or beauty.

… In fine art, angels are usually depicted as having the shape of human beings of extraordinary beauty; they are often identified using the symbols of bird wings, halos, and light.

The bird in question is often specifically identified as an eagle, for the symbolic value of that bird. From Wikipedia:

The eagle with its keen eyes symbolized perspicacity, courage, strength and immortality, but is also considered “king of the skies” and messenger of the highest gods. With these attributed qualities the eagle became a symbol of power and strength in Ancient Rome. Mythologically, it has been connected by the Greeks with the God Zeus, by the Romans with Jupiter, by the Germanic tribes with Odin

Eagles will come up again below (in connection with the Ganymede myth) and in a posting to follow this one (on angels in the Sacred Harp), but first a digression on my personal name, since the etymological source of Arnold is, loosely translated,’eagle-strong’.

[Digression: Being Arnold. From Wikipedia:

Arnold is a masculine German and English given name. It is composed of the Germanic elements arn “eagle” and wald “rule, power”. The name is first recorded in Francia from about the 7th century

… The French form Arnaud is recorded from the 10th century, and was also brought to England after the Norman conquest, where it replaced the cognate Anglo-Saxon form Earnweald (Doomsday Book Ernehale; Ernaldus 12th century). However, the Anglo-Norman given name did not survive into the modern period (other than in surnames, as Arnall, Arnell), and the German form Arnold was re-introduced in the English-speaking world in the 19th century

OE earn survives in modern English, but only in:

noun erneliterary the sea eagle. ORGIN  Old English earn ‘eagle,’ of Germanic origin; related to Dutch arend . (NOAD2)

You can call me Earn — not Al, Earn.

I suppose the eagle should be my totem bird — the owl was my dad’s — but I already have a totem bird, the penguin. (In the mammalian world, mammoths rule.) Admittedly, a hugely non-prototypical bird, often considered to be a figure of fun, either silly or merely cute. Maybe the eagle could be my power totem, with the penguin as my fun totem.]

Back to angels, and up to archangels. From Wikipedia:

An archangel is an angel of high rank. The word “archangel” itself is usually associated with the Abrahamic religions, but beings that are very similar to archangels are found in a number of religious traditions.

There’s some tradition for there being seven principal archangels, one for each day of the week:

The earliest reference to a system of seven archangels as a group appears to be in Enoch I (the Book of Enoch [an intertestamental apochryphal book]) which is not part of the Jewish Canon but is prevalent in the Judaic tradition (Wikipedia link)

There are different sets of seven, but they seem always to include Michael, Gabriel, Raphael, and Uriel (Sunday through Wednesday).

Finally, we get to Michael, primus inter pares in the archangel world. From Wikipedia:

Michael … is an archangel in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. In Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Anglican, and Lutheran traditions, he is called “Saint Michael the Archangel” and “Saint Michael” [my own religious background was first,Lutheran and then Anglican (Episcopalian), so for me it’s Saint Mixhael the Archangel].. In the Oriental Orthodox and Eastern Orthodox traditions, he is called “Taxiarch Archangel Michael” or simply “Archangel Michael”.

Michael is mentioned three times in the Book of Daniel. The idea that Michael was the advocate of the Jews became so prevalent that, in spite of the rabbinical prohibition against appealing to angels as intermediaries between God and his people, Michael came to occupy a certain place in the Jewish liturgy.

In the New Testament Michael leads God’s armies against Satan’s forces in the Book of Revelation, where during the war in heaven he defeats Satan. In the Epistle of Jude Michael is specifically referred to as “the archangel Michael”. Christian sanctuaries to Michael appeared in the 4th century, when he was first seen as a healing angel, and then over time as a protector and the leader of the army of God against the forces of evil. By the 6th century, devotions to Archangel Michael were widespread both in the Eastern and Western Churches. Over time, teachings on Michael began to vary among Christian denominations.

Byzantine and Renaissance images of St. Michael — militant, in uniform, sword in hand —  abound; #1 is just one example among many (some more famous). Below, an unusual example, which manages to straddle the line between fierce ruggedness and ethereal beauty and also to suggest the paintings of William Blake, realized in a stained glass window or a painting of one:


(This image is available in a huge number of places on the net, especially on websites for churches named after St. Michael, but without an identification as to source; even the 3/8/11 posting “Dragon-Slaying Archangels” on the  Consider Moon blog, which looks at a number of St. Michael images and attributes almost all to a source, doesn’t do so for this one.)

St. Michael has become a favorite “popular Christian” image — used by Catholic, fundamentalist / evangelical, and new-agey organizations. Many of them illustrating the general point that depth of feeling is no guarantee of artistic excellence (some are embarrassing) or of clarity of message (like images of the suffering of Saint Sebastian, some evoke associations far from devotional). Three examples of many:

(#4) RC Rock Star St. Michael

(#5) St. Michael in a Bicep Haze

(#6) Jet-Head St. Michael

The Man-Eagle as sexual symbol. Warning: explicit talk of mansex follows. Not for kids or the sexually modest,

The wingèd man as sexual predator has many pre-Christian antecedents, notably in the story of Zeus and Ganymede, in which the god, in the form of an eagle, a kind of angel, carries off the boy as his catamite.

As I posted on 4/15/16, in “Ganymede on the fly”, the story has been re-worked by the artist Priapus of Milet as a tale of mutual sexual pleasure. From the accompanying AZBlog posting:

(#7) Priapus’s G & Z doing the Flying Cowboy (with naughty bits fuzzed out)

The mutual pleasuring, symmetric sex, reading is the one the artist elaborates on in the Ganymede series, to the point where the slim beautiful red-haired youth Ganymede and the imposing black-haired (and, of course, winged) muscle hunk Zeus not only suck each other off but also flip-fuck, something that was very much not in the Greek/Roman script for man-boy relations. [A friend] sent me the link to the Ganymede series knowing that my own preference is (well, was) for bottoming, and (more important) that I’ve long had this fantasy of being fucked in midair by a winged man, a flying angel (a fantasy that combines the pleasures of being penetrated and filled, of the freedom of flying, and of triumphing over my very substantial acrophobia). Two relevant images from the Ganymede series, ones that especially appeal to me: the mid-air fuck (note Ganymede’s outstretched arms)  and (back on land) another kind of mid-air fuck, the so-called Flying Cowboy (in which Ganymede rides Zeus’s dick while being suspended by him in mid-air)

There’s a huge assortment of other images of angel-man sex available on the net. It’s a thing.

Fallen angels. A phalanx of fallen angels — angels who have been cast out of heaven for their sins — populate an extra-biblical tradition, reflected also in popular culture (notably in the American tv series Supernatural). The fallen angel is a natural target for homoerotic re-interpretation, which has been richly realized in TitanMen’s Fallen Angel (1997) and its sequels, treated in some detail in my 4/17/16 posting “Another winged man”. The framing figure in the first movie is the fallen angel played by Steve Cannon:

(#8) Fallen angel in leather

Flying superheroes. There are many flying superheroes — Superman being the prime example — but only a few with organic wings (Angel / Archangel and Hawkman and Hawkgirl) and a few more with winged suits.

Not angels but bats. Still further out in the world of wingèd men: men transformed into winged creatures, notably bats. The superhero Batman (at least as originally conceived) does not in fact fly, and has no wings (though he does does have a cape).

But then there are vampires, sometimes incarnated as bats — most clearly in the movie Batman Untold. From Wikipedia:


Dracula Untold is a 2014 American dark fantasy action horror film directed by Gary Shore in his feature film debut and written by Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless. Rather than using the storyline of Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula, the film creates an origin story for its title character, Count Dracula; in this version, Dracula is Vlad the Impaler. Luke Evans portrays the title character, and Sarah Gadon, Dominic Cooper, Art Parkinson, and Charles Dance appear in supporting roles.

… The vampire … offers [Vlad] some of his blood, which will temporarily give Vlad the powers of a vampire. If he resists the intense urge to drink human blood for three days, he will turn back into a human. Otherwise, he will remain a vampire forever. Vlad accepts the offer. He discovers that he has the ability to transform into a flock of bats.

Als Vlad Dracula eines Morgens aus unruhigen Träumen erwachte, fand er sich in seinem Bett zu einer ungeheueren Fledermaus verwandelt.

To come. A return to Christian angels, now in the hymns of the Sacred Harp: angels, wings of love, robes of light, flying away, being carried away, ecstasy. With trumpets.

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