From The Angelic Way
The Hebrew name Michael means “Who is like God.” Judaism and Christianity consider Michael the chief of the angels, though perhaps not the most powerful of all angels.
In Judaism Michael first appears as a named angel in the book of Daniel, alongside the angel Gabriel, to defeat the Persians. As we have seen, Jewish tradition identifies him as the angel who announced to Sarah that she would give birth to a son. In addition, he is said to have recorded the sale of Esau’s birthright to Jacob, rescued Abraham from the fiery furnace, accompanied God to Mount Sinai, instructed Moses, was sent – but failed – to take Moses’s soul at his death, stood by Moses’s side after his death, defeated the army of the Persian king, and aided the Jews of Persia when Haman sought their destruction.
According to the rabbis, Michael is made up entirely of snow while Gabriel is composed of fire. Whereas in the natural world fire and snow cannot coexist, in the divine realm they do. The fact that both archangels appear together in so many stories, and that the rabbis place them together around God’s throne, is meant to show that God reconciles all opposites in the nonduality of the I-I.
While often accompanied by Gabriel, Michael is thought to be his superior, and is identified with the Shekhinah or Holy Spirit.
The canonical book of Daniel that first introduces Michael is a mid-second-century BCE text that tells the story of an Israelite named Daniel who was taken captive and exiled to Babylonia in the sixth century BCE. There, according to the story, Daniels’ intelligence gained him some fame, and he was trained as an adviser in the court of the king, a task at which he excelled.
Though true to his calling as a counselor to the king, Daniel maintained his identity as a Jew and a follower of the Jewish religion, a decision that made him vulnerable to attack by jealous rivals. His rivals convinced the king to issue an edict ordering a thirty-day suspension of all worship to any god but the king. Violators of the edict would be fed to the lions.
Despite the edict Daniel continued his practice of praying to God three times each day. Daniel prayed in his house, in an upper room with windows facing toward Jerusalem. Those who conspired against him waited until Daniel was praying and then turned him over to the authorities.
The king was loath to cause any harm to Daniel, but was forced by his own edict to condemn his counselor to death. That evening Daniel was sealed into a pit with lions. At dawn the next day the king raced to the pit to discover the fate of Daniel, and found him safe and well, for God sent his angel and closed tight the lions’ mouths so that they could not harm me.
As the story continues, Daniel is in the third week of a modified fast in which he abstained from “fine bread,” meat, and wine. He was standing on the bank of the Tigris River when he looks up and saw a man dressed in fine linen tightened at the waist with a golden belt. It seemed to Daniel that the man’s body was chiseled like rock crystal, with legs and arms that gleamed like polished bronze. The man’s face flashed like lightning, and his eyes danced like torch flames, and the sound of the man’s voice sounded like a thunderous cheering crowd.
The “man” is really an angel, and while he remains nameless, he is probably the archangel Gabriel. The angel speaks to Daniel about fighting the Persians, and thereby mentions the archangel Michael: I battled the Persians for twenty-one days and would have died had not Michael, one of the chief angels, come to my aid. He battled the Persian prince and I escaped. The man then says that he must return to battle the Persians and soon the Greeks as well, but that he was sent to tell Daniel what is written in the book of truth – that there is no one to defend against these enemies except Michael.
As in so many angelic encounters, Daniel sees the angel on the bank of the Tigris in the shape of a man, suggesting that the angel is a projection of Daniel’s own inner potential. To make it clear that Daniel is having a psycho-spiritual encounter, a vision, he tells us that during the encounter he became physically weak and grew deathly pale. Daniel is shifting from the normal waking state of ego-centered mind that is linked to the physical world of the body to a higher world-centered soul state that transcends the body. Then, when Daniel hears the sound of the angel’s voice, he falls face first to the ground, lost in a trance.
As Daniel lies on the ground, the “man” walks over to him, touches him, and pulls him up to a kneeling position. The angel then orders Daniel to stand up so that the two of them can speak, presumably as equals. Here again is a hint that the human and the angelic are one. The angel tells Daniel not to fear, and explains that God has been watching over Daniel ever since he committed himself to the pursuit of wisdom. Daniel’s words drew God’s attention, and it is because of his words that the angel now stands before him. The angel is revealing two things to Daniel and through Daniel to us. First, that setting our minds to gain understanding initiates the process of angelic encounters, and second, that words can be a tool for invoking angelic consciousness. Angels are symbols of understanding and wisdom.
Daniel is overwhelmed by the conversation and protests that he, a mere mortal, cannot dare to talk with an angel. In fact, he confesses to the angel, the conversation has left him trembling, weak, and unable to catch his breath. The angel revives Daniel and warns him that the Babylonians are only the first in a series of foreign powers that will threaten Israel. Yet Daniel need not despair of the future, because in the end the angel Michael, the guardian of the Jewish people, will rise up and deliver the people from their oppressors.
Just when this time of redemption is to occur is not revealed to Daniel, nor does it matter with regard to our own interpretation. What does matter is that the archangel Michael is called the protector of Israel. As we have seen earlier, in the world of angelic archetypes, Israel represents that state of human-divine unity granted to Jacob in his wrestling with the angel (Michael, according to the midrash) at Jabbok’s Ford. In the book of Daniel, as in the midrashic retelling of Jacob’s wrestling with the angel, we learn that when we achieve the status of Israel we will have access to the powers of Michael.
The book of Daniel reveals that Michael is our guardian angel, and he protects us by waking us up to the greater Whole we have been ignoring since leaving Eden under the false notion of achad, alienated ego-centered mind. Michael helps us shift from ego-centered mind to the broader awareness of world-centered soul.
One of the Dead Sea Scrolls, entitled War of the Sons of Light Against the Sons of Darkness, supports this understanding of Michael, referring to him as the “Prince of Light.”
The Dead Sea Scrolls, consisting of approximately one thousand documents, were discovered in eleven caves in the Qumran region of the Judean desert. The first discovery in 1947 was accidental and made by a Bedouin sheepherder named Muhammad Ahmed ed-Hamed. The scrolls reflect the life of the Jewish community at Qumran sometime in the first half of the second century BCE. The Qumran Jews saw themselves as the elect of Israel who held to the true faith prescribed by God. The Qumran Jews believed that a coming war with the enemies of Israel would be divine and apocalyptic, and they themselves would be its victors.
The War of the Sons of Light Against the Sons of Darkness is their strategic manual for this coming battle. Written sometime in the late first century BCE or early first century CE, the text deals with the forty-year war that the remnant of the tribes of Israel, here called the Sons of Light, will wage when they return from the “wilderness of the nations” and return to the “wilderness of Jerusalem.” According to this manual, God will send an angelic army led by the angel Michael to fight alongside Israel.
What is of interest here is not so much the angelic army, but the reference to two types of wilderness, that of the nations and that of Jerusalem. The “nations” refers to the countries and peoples among whom the Jews were exiled. Calling one’s place of exile a “wilderness” is not surprising. But to also use the wilderness metaphor for the heart of one’s homeland – Jerusalem, the City of Peace – suggests something else may be implied here.
The Hebrew words for “wilderness” is midhar, sharing the same root, dvr, as the Hebrew words of “word,” “speech,” and “thing.” A wilderness can be both a desolate and silent terrain where things are few and far between, and a place filled with things and sounds and rife with overwhelming consumption, both material and intellectual. The scroll may be saying that the human challenge is to survive not only the wilderness of want, but also the wilderness of plenty.
Given our understanding of angels as mythic expressions of inner spiritual capabilities, we read this War Between Light and Dark as an inner conflict. It takes place only when we have exhausted the promise of things and sounds – words and ideas – and have nowhere else to turn but to the heart of the city itself. A wilderness of words surrounds the City of Peace, and this too must be passed through and left behind. Neither things nor ideas are enough to bring us peace. Only when both are discarded can we enter the city. And who guides us there? The archangel Michael, the Prince of Light.
Light doesn’t defeat darkness; it dispels it. In the “wilderness of the nations” we are mostly under the spell of the thing. In the “wilderness of Jerusalem” we are much under the spell of the word. And the second is the greater spell – the word “spell” itself teaches us that. “To spell” is to break a word into its alphabetic parts. “To cast a spell” is to build up those parts into words that create psychic delusions. “Spell” is all about words. To be under a spell is to be lost in the illusion cast by words.
The great spell of the wilderness of Jerusalem, its great illusion, is that words can lead to truth. The great darkness of that wilderness is the realization that they often do not. The Sons of Darkness are the feelings of despair that overcome us when we realize there is no salvation in things or words. We are creatures of matter and intellect, and if neither can save us we cannot be saved – or so says the ego-centered mind.
This is the ultimate exhaustion of ego. And it is only when the ego is drained, when there is no breath left in the body, as Daniel puts it, that we are at last open to the presence of the angelic consciousness that dispels – or “dis-spells” – the darkness threatening the ego-centered mind. Michael simply appears. We cannot make him come. We cannot summon him. We can only reach the end of our options. When there is nothing left that we can do, when we have run out of idols to worship – then the angelic emerges.
The archetypal war between light and darkness finds its Christian expression in the book of Revelation. Here we meet the angel Michael in combat with the Great Dragon who symbolizes this darkness: And war broke out in Heaven; Michael and his angels fought against the dragon. The dragon and his angels fought back, but they were defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in Heaven. The great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world – he was thrown down to the Earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.
With the defeat of the dragon in Heaven, the war now shifts to the Earth:
So when the dragon saw that he had been thrown down to the Earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child. But the woman was given the two wings of the great eagle, so that she could fly from the serpent into the wilderness, to her place where she is nourished for a time, and times, and half a time. Then from his mouth the serpent poured water like a river after the woman, to sweep her away with the flood. But the Earth came to the help of the woman; it opened its mouth and swallowed the river that the dragon had poured from his mouth. Then the dragon was angry with the woman, and went off to make war on the rest of her children, those who keep the commandments of God and hold the testimony of Jesus. (Revelation 12:13-17)
While John is writing for Christians, the implication of his writing is far more universal. The dragon is the Deceiver, the one who spreads lies, illusions, and delusions, and the ultimate delusion is the ego-centered mind’s insistence that the “I” is like God, not in the sense of the I-I nonduality, but in the false sense of I-It duality. By casting the dragon down to Earth, into the human sphere, the myth is telling us the dragon must be found and slain in our ego-centered minds.
We may assume that John of Patmos was quite familiar with the older book of Daniel and the legend of the dragon that it contains. By reading how Daniel defeated the dragon in his day we can discover how best to slay it in ours.
In the Apocrypha we read that after Daniel had proven to the Babylonian king that his god, Bel, was a fraud perpetuated by the false god’s priests, the king demanded that Daniel worship a dragon god instead. Daniel refused and claimed that he would slay the dragon without using weapons of any kind. The king accepted Daniel’s challenge to test his dragon god, telling him that should he fail he would forfeit his life.
Daniel made cakes of boiled tar, animal fat, and hair, and fed them to the dragon, which promptly ate them. The cakes exploded in the dragon’s stomach and the beast burst open and died.
This is one way to slay the dragon of delusion: feed it to bursting. Applied to our inner dragon which demands that the I-It perspective of the ego-centered mind be worshiped as the sole reality, this myth suggests that if we are to free ourselves from the worship of the false god of self, we might need to develop greater openness and mindfulness – “feed ourselves with the world’s knowledge” – until we can no longer maintain the illusion of achad, the separated, isolated, and alienated self.