The Holy Guardian Angel in Religion and Magic
June 11, 2014 8 Comments
As you might have guessed, dear reader, working with the Holy Guardian Angel is, in fact, a thing. A pretty big thing, at that. There’ve been rituals written for thousands of years now on how to come in contact with this spirit, along with plenty of kinda-similar-kinda-dissimilar descriptions on the nature of this spirit. And, judging by the pan-blogosophere/occulture debates on the nature of the HGA, chances are this topic will continue on for quite a lot longer. In fact, some magicians go so far as to say that coming in contact with the HGA, also known as Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel (KCHGA) is the sum and whole of the Great Work itself. This isn’t a wrong view, but it’s a little misleading if you don’t inspect all the ramifications of such a statement.
No, I’m not going to talk about how to attain KCHGA, or how to find your HGA’s name, or which ritual is best to come in contact with your HGA. Yes, I have contact with my own HGA, and I’ve been working with him and involving him at nearly every step of my occult path since I first met him. What I want to talk about is something that I don’t see often discussed: the relationship and differences in view of the HGA between practitioners of magic and devotees of religion. The two feed into each other, clearly, and the notion of the HGA itself can easily be attributed to either source or a mixture of both. It’s the relationship and lack of correctness I’ve noted between what the HGA is claimed to do and how one is supposed to work with the HGA, at least in my own experience, and what the HGA actually does and how one should really work with the HGA.
The term “Holy Guardian Angel” itself can be attributed quite clearly to the Book of Abramelin, but the term was already in use by the Catholic Church, the culture of which helped form and develop the spiritual context for the Abramelin (along with other Solomonic, goetic, and qabbalistic traditions interwoven together). It’s been canon in the Catholic Church for each human being to have a guardian angel for quite a long while now; there are scriptural hints that this has been a longstanding notion (Matthew 18:10, Acts 12:13-15) since before the development of the proper Church, but it was really codified when Saint Basil in the 4th century wrote that “beside each believer stands an angel protector and shepherd leading him to life” (Adversus Eunomium III, Catechism of the Catholic Church 220.127.116.11.5.1 #336). Okay, cool; we know that it’s actually a belief that guardian angels exist in Catholicism and, moreover, that its believers are actively encouraged to work with and ask for help from one’s guardian angel. This is further indicated by the prevalence of medallions, litanies, candles, novenas, and the like dedicated to this divine figure.
However, the perceived goal of the HGA is different between Abramelin and Saint Basil. In the Abramelin, the text states that “[e]very learned and prudent man may fall if he be not defended and guided by the angel of the Lord, who aided me, and prevented me from falling into such a state of wretchedness, and who led me undeserving from the mire of darkness unto the light of the truth” and later that “[y]e shall also supplicate [God] that in the time to come he may be willing and pleased to regard you with pity and grant you his grace and goodness to send unto you his holy angel, who shall serve unto you as a guide, and lead you ever in his holy way and will; so that ye fall not into sin through inadvertence, through ignorance, or through human frailty”. Magically, however, Abramelin states that “my holy angel, whom God the most merciful had destined from my creation for my guardian, spake unto me with the greatest goodness and affection; who not only manifested unto me the Veritable Magic, but even made easier for me the means of obtaining it”. Mathers writes in his own introduction more succinctly that “thereby and thereafter [obtaining knowledge of and conversation with one’s guardian angel] we may obtain the right of using the evil spirits for our servants in all material matters”. Of course, even the Abramelin alludes to the difficulty in describing the nature of the HGA, perhaps foreshadowing decades of internet-based flame wars: “their angel being by its nature Amphiteron [inaccessible, double?], because the angelic nature differeth to so great an extent from that of men, that no understanding nor science could express or describe it, as regardeth that great purity wherewith [the angels] be invested”.
The thing is that the Abramelin is, above anything else, a work on magic. The whole 6-month (or 18-month, if you’re reading Dehn’s translation) period of prayer and asceticism is meant to put you in contact with your HGA, after which you work with the HGA to accomplish any and every other type of magic. In other words, the HGA becomes the only familiar or supernatural assistant one would ever need, able to bind or loosen any other spirit, achieve any task, or obtain any objective. In this light, Abramelin shares strong similarities with several PGM texts (I.1, I.42, IV.154, VII.505, inter alia). The general gist is that the magical view of the HGA is to assist you in getting what you want.
This is counter to the standard religious view that the HGA is to lead you to virtue. After all, probably the two biggest drives for people studying magic are to (a) get paid and (b) get laid, and texts like the PGM, Grand Grimoire, and the like are pretty blatant in saying so, with books like Abramelin and the Keys of Solomon being a little more subtle about it. What we want to accomplish is not always in line with virtue, if not directly opposed to it. From this, it might be said that the magical HGA isn’t an angel at all, but a familiar spirit of a lower rank than an angel. I disagree; after all, it’s a staple in Stoicism, Christianity, and Thelema that you shouldn’t judge what others do, and what might be terrible vice for you can just as easily be blessed virtue for another. The Abramelin approach to this is to strike a balance between the two: the HGA is to help you achieve what you want, but also to lead you to virtue, so what you want will eventually coincide with what God wants.
From this, it’s easily understandable how Thelema linked True Will with the HGA. If True Will is what we’re meant to accomplish according to the Divine, then our True Will is the will of God. Thus, by aligning our will with our True Will, we align our will with God’s will. It’s still free will and freely chosen, but it’s that alignment that produces true power and true Work. However, the vessel for knowing and keeping on our path of True Will most easily lies with the HGA compared to other paths, since the HGA is most in tune with our lives specifically and knows our specific needs and wants, and since the HGA leads us to God, he can lead us in a way most effective for ourselves to God. If I recall correctly, this is likewise why many Golden Dawn lodges have no formal initiations above Adeptus Minor (5=6, corresponding with Thiphareth/Sun), which is associated with KCHGA, since the KCHGA becomes one’s real teacher after that point and the Work they indicate to do becomes proof of one’s real grade. The HGA will still accomplish nearly anything you ask for, but rather than the HGA changing their nature through your working, the HGA is the catalyst for you changing your own nature through your Work.
This is an element that appears to be lacking to me in religious-devotional methods of working with the HGA, like through novenas or simple prayer. Without truly needing and aspiring to know and converse with the HGA, it’s extraordinarily rare for one to contact and accomplish anything with them, and the methods involve at a minimum powerful and wholly-concentrated prayer to the point of fanaticism and faith so extreme things become more magical than theological. Sure, you can obtain the favor and a few helpful nudges after repeated novenas or litanies to the HGA, and they’ll probably throw a sign to you once in a while that you may or may not miss, but for concentrated work and learning, I haven’t found the Catholic prayer stuff nearly as useful to work with the HGA as I have magical methods and involved ritual. (Then again, Catholic rituals as I would reckon a “ritual” to work with the HGA are few and far between, and I don’t know of anything that powerful besides Mass itself, and I’m not qualified to perform that.)
Despite that I’ve worked with plenty of other angels, the HGA seems to be an angel of a wholly different type than the planetary angels/intelligences/spirits/choirs, and is distinct still from the seven archangels themselves. I can’t yet discern whether this is a function of him being so close and connected to me, lower than the rest, higher than the rest, an outgrowth of God itself into my life in a discrete form I’d recognize as an angel, or something else entirely; I sense my HGA smirking and snickering as I write this, which I take as a recognition of the futility of this sort of pondering. What I do know is that the HGA is definitely worked with in a way distinct from any other spirit. He doesn’t require or feel the need for formal conjurations, nor does he care for chaplets and novenas and candles burned in his honor. He instructs me to pray, but with a special prayer he helped me write to align myself to the Almighty and not to his specific presence. He directs and smooths out my work, but has no specific ritual for himself (beyond the Headless Rite, which is how I came to contact him in the first place, but which he’s somewhat distanced himself from since). He’s distinctly Other, but in a way that makes him not-Other at all.
Personally, I take the HGA, as the Golden Dawn does, as one’s true teacher, but in a farther and in a more ecumenical way. I claim that once one has true and certain contact with one’s HGA (which is a complicated and hard-to-accomplish thing to begin with), they need no more dogmas or religions or texts beyond that which their HGA directs them to study. If the HGA is one’s connection to God and one’s true path, then that path becomes their true religion; no other path will do for them, since any other path would divert from their True Will. In that sense, the HGA can act as one’s personal Christ, or personal God who talks to them, or another emanation of the Divine suited just for them that only they hear, that they need to hear, and that only they need to hear. As one of my Golden Dawn friends has said in the past, the HGA is a kind of divine sockpuppet, throttling back the infinity of the Almighty into a finite and “easily” understandable form for our finite minds to process and comprehend. It’s a kind of hilarious metaphor, but it definitely works, and probably works best and most succinctly of any blog post I’ve read or written on the subject.
In that light, I suppose I should reevaluate my earlier evaluation that strictly devotional methods are sub-par compared to magical methods to contact the HGA. After all, not everyone is suited to magical practice (though I’d like to think they are), and some people should probably stick to the devotional methods and get the most out of them than they would of any set of spiritual practices. After all, my own HGA would rather me work in more active ways than simple prayer, but that wouldn’t go for everybody’s HGA. Regardless of whichever path one should be taking to contact their HGA, it’s definitely something everyone should work on, since knowing one’s HGA is equivalent to knowing one’s True Will, which is equivalent to knowing one’s place in the cosmos and in the plan of the Divine; KCHGA in any form is “know thyself”.