Demons and Angels: The Worlds Between
This Thursday, (starts Wednesday night) is a fast day, the 9th of Av. It marks the end of a three-week period referred to as ‘The Narrow Straits’, an uncertain time often beset by sadness, frustration, and depression.
‘The Three Weeks of Destruction’ is a normal part of the calendar and annual cycle. Anyone who has allied themselves with the teachings and transmissions of this learning community will have felt the effects of this time, at least residually, according to the principle of ‘the dream goes according to the interpretation’. Creation and destruction are always found together. Similarly, the shifts of Fat Tuesday and Ash Wednesday will be experienced, consciously or not. The Anthesteria is a celebration of life and also a festival of the dead. These ‘turning points’ coincide with midwinter festivals of the returning light, such as Yule, and the Great Dionysia. Lucky Fish. People have always sensed, and respected, these shifts.
These three weeks are the time, of destruction and subsequent rebuilding of the Temple. It is a time when, whatever you have constructed as your religious practice and spiritual path, demands some dusting off and examination. This is not at all to say you have been wrong. Rather, our rituals and practice become stale and lifeless when we do not renew our commitment and intention. Even that which asks appropriately for iteration, requires a psychic renewal.
Every year, we set aside (more correctly, we are set aside by forces greater than ourselves) a short time, three weeks, to see what needs to be done, what should be calcined and what flamed, so that the temple can be rebuilt, repaired, swept and washed and beautified for another year of service. That is this time.
And it is a difficult time. The Bardo, the time suspended between death and rebirth, is disorienting. We let go of the old and haven’t yet quite got the new. Like butterflies emerged from their pupae, but not yet dried out enough to fly, this is a vulnerable moment in the cycle of the psyche, which word also means butterfly. The ‘transition time’ exposes us to the dangers of confusion, frustration, and impatience, towards ourselves or to others. We do not mean to prevent these feelings – for ours is not the school of heroes – but rather that we should feel these images thoroughly, and at the same time not takethem personally. Taking our moods personally, and also the meanness or hostility of others, as more then the self-renewing enantiodromia of the seasons, would be for us to fall foul of the ego-demons. And that inflation can be injurious.
In the literature of antiquity, there is a special mention to watch out for a demon who is active in these three weeks. According to the Midrash, Ketev Meriri is described in the Talmudic literature as ‘covered with scales and hairs, having many eyes, with his main seeing eye in his heart, and who tumbled about like a ball between the sunlight and the shade’. His time of operation is mid-morning to early afternoon. It is recommended that one doesn’t walk alone in abandoned places, during this time.
The understanding in the traditional literature is that ‘demons’ or spirit beings, are a particular sort of energy, not finite and corporeal, like humans, nor eternal and spiritual, like the gods, but rather who inhabit a zone in between. There are ‘helpful’ and ‘destructive’ spirits. Angels and guardian spirits of particular places are protective and supportive. Other spirits might be possessive, petty or destructive forces. Generally, the texts describe these beings as neither ‘good’ nor ‘bad’, but forces who simply exist in their own realms. If treated respectfully, they are either benign, or benevolent and actively helpful. Many, like Nymphs described in the Strange Loves essays, can cause harm if insulted, but offer wisdom and good fortune if convinced of a person’s good intentions. Some non-physical entities seem quite grumpy and mischievous, moving objects about and causing confusion and headaches. And others are simply bad-tempered and best avoided, since these could cause misfortune if disturbed or annoyed.
The idea of angels and demons existing in the imaginal realms does not mean that they are ‘not real’. In between the body and spirit, archetypally, the imaginal world, the Mundus Imaginalis, is as real, psychically, as all other aspects of creation, including this physical world and the world of the gods.
Festina Lente Take it slow on your fast days.