Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Dragon-slaying archangels: Totally Epic

Today my darling boyfriend has holed himself up in his room with goodies and some sort of special edition Dragon Age II video game which he pre-ordered ages ago and which was finally released. This got me thinking about dragons. Which got me thinking about dragon-slaying and its popularity of old. What can be gleaned from dragon folklore is the early struggle between paganism, symbolized as a dragon, and Christianity.
St. Michael Trampling the Dragon by Raphael

In fact, there were some notable early Christian saints who were well-known dragon slayers. St. Sampson of Cornwall led a dragon from a moorland cave to its death over rugged sea cliffs. St. Serf destroyed a dragon living in Dragon Hole in Perthshire in the 6th century. Others took a gentler approach, like St. Petroc who whispered a prayer in the ear of a Cornish dragon, after which it swam out to sea to new lands. St. Carantoc led one away from it’s swamp to the “wild places” where few ventured. In Derbyshire a priest banished a dragon with such force that its footprints were entrenched into solid rock… the dragon retired to the mines where his warm breath warms some of the local springs.

Of course these are all myths, but the association of early saints of Christianity with dragons is due to the fact that the devil is analogous with a dragon in the bible.
I have no idea if there is actually any dragon slaying going on in Dragon Age II, but in honour of my boyfriend and his game, and even more because it is freaking awesome… I present the most famous dragon-slayer of all time. The leader of God’s Heavenly army and pretty much the most powerful warrior in existence ever, and a true “spiritual hero of freedom.”

The Archangel Michael defeating the Dragon!
In the book of Daniel, Michael appears as “one of the chief princes” and as a “great prince who stands up for the children of your [Daniel's] people”. Though a prince among angels, Michael is the picture of humility, and his name (mi-who, ke-as or like, El-deity) means “Who is like God?” (answer: no one), thus in his entirety Michael is a testament to the greatness of God. He came to the aid of another great archangel, Gabriel, to defeat the prince of Persia (this is evidently a fallen angel working under the direction of Satan who operates as the “god of this world” according to 2 Corinthians 4:4) in Daniel. Gabriel is stuck in battle for 21 days, being prevented from bringing Daniel a message. Michael comes to the rescue and relieves him so that he might bring the interpretation of the vision to Daniel.

Michael Binding Satan by William Blake

In William Blake’s rendition Michael looks quite human (no wings or armor, not even a halo) but the adversary is an incredible dragon with a human head.
Michael is also considered in many Christian circles as the patron saint of the warrior and of chivalry. According to wikipedia: “Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh-day Adventists, and certain New Age Christian denominations refer to Michael as the Christ Michael, or Christ before he became man. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches that Michael is the heavenly form of Adam from the Book of Genesis.”

St. Michael and the Dragon by Antonio del Pollaiuolo
In the book of Enoch, which is not a book of the Christian bible but is mentioned in the book of Jude, Michael along with archangels Gabriel, Raphael, Uriel and Suriel heard the cries of men under the chaos and destruction of the fallen angels and their offspring the nephilim upon the earth. It is Michael who beseeches God to call Enoch to prophethood, and teaches Enoch the “mysteries of clemency and justice”. In the book of Enoch he is called patient and merciful. He comforts Enoch after a particularly frightening vision, explaining that only those who turn from God should fear. Enoch 70:11-16 shows that Michael, Gabriel, Raphael and Phanuel always ‘escort’ God the Father, whenever he leaves his throne.
Michael and the Dragon
In Jewish lore Michael is sometimes also considered the patron of Adam, supposedly watcher over the first human family (remaining vigilant in his job even after the expulsion from the garden), and the first angel to bow down before humanity. In the apocryphal Conflict of Adam and Eve with Satan, Michael taught Adam how to farm.

St. Michael defeating the Dragon by Master of Saint Verdiana
The Book of Revelation describes a war in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon (that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray). The dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. The great dragon was hurled down to the earth, and his angels with him.”
In Catholic teachings, Saint Michael will also triumph at the end times when he defeats Antichrist. The Book of Daniel (12:1) states: “At that time Michael, the great prince who protects your people, will arise.”

St. Michael and the Dragon by Raphael
It seems the devil and Michael are constantly coming up against one another throughout history. In the book of Jude, 1:9 Michael and the devil are contending for the body of Moses:
But Michael the archangel, when he disputed with the devil and argued about the body of Moses, did not dare pronounce against him a railing judgment, but said, “The Lord rebuke you!”

Beautiful blue-winged depiction of the Angel Michael
One thing I love is that many Michael paintings have extremely detailed armor and weaponry. Though they all more or less depict the same scenario, Michael standing triumphantly over the serpent, ala the famous statue of Saint Michael atop the fountain in the Place Saint-Michel in Paris.
I think the fascination only grows with each interpretation. Often he pierces the dragon with a lance. It is not unusual for him to be carrying a sword or even a set of scales for which to weight the souls of the departed (to show that he takes part in the judgement). This is also depicted by Michaelangelo on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
Michael, obviously, is a favorite angelic subject in art, second in popularity only to Gabriel. His wings are generally conspicuous and very grand. “As with all angels’ iconography, his wings represent swiftness, his sword means authority or power, and his white raiment stands for his enlightenment”. In the Renaissance period, he is shown as young, strong, and handsome, and is most often depicted as a proud, handsome angel in white or magnificent armor or a splendid coat of mail and equipped with sword, shield and spear.

Saint Michael by Reni Guido (1600-1640)
In England and other countries, Michaelmas Day is a day for settling rents and accounts. It was once celebrated with remarkable hospitality. September 29th was the feast of Saint Michael in the Middle ages this was a holy day of obligation. On Michaelmas Day families would dress a goose for the feast, and often baked a cake, called St. Michael’s bannock. The Greek Orthodox honor the archangels on November 8th instead.

St. Michael Defeats the Devil by Eugene Delacroix
Michael has 4 main roles or offices within the Roman Catholic church.
  1. He is the “angel of death” who carries the souls of the deceased to heaven and weighs them in his perfectly balanced scales.
  2. He descends at the hour of a persons death and gives each one the chance to redeem themselves before passing. This angers the devil and his minions.
  3. He is the patron of the people of Israel in the Old Testament and the guardian of the Church (hence honoured by military orders and knights of the Middle Ages).
  4. Besides Jesus himself, He is the greatest enemy of Satan and his fallen angels.
St. Michael by Olga Christine

As we can see in this image, Michael is often shown atop mountaintops. Many famous shrines to him survive on those places, often replacing shrines of pre-Christian gods concerned with weather, like the German pagan god Wotan (hence the numerous mountain chapels of St. Michael all over Germany).

Saint Michael in combat with the dragon by Jean Fouquet
Here the dragon is depicted especially reptilian, rather than as the fallen angel Lucifer. Michael raises his sword on the monster with seven heads in front of a mountainous and fantastic landscape. Below the caves of the hell are open where we see Satan seated, and the torturing of souls. On the right, one sees in the middle of the flames, the dragon from now on bound by the archangel.

St. Michael Fighting the Dragon (engraving) by Durer Albrecht
Although always looking victorious in these historical works of art, Michael also tends to look extremely androgynous and at times terribly effeminate. So in order to rectify this, I am including some contemporary non-historical Michael artwork that I like because they are badass.

St. Michael Slaying the Dragon by Cyril Van Der Haegen

Heavens Rebellion by Jonathan Mayer
Michael Fighting the Dragon... artist unknown

Saint Michael by John "Pops" Arthur Martin

Michael Vs. Satan by Esther Sanz

Michael Victorious by Jonathan Mayer

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Goodbye Dilbert, hello Mr. Darcy?

So, okay. Apparently, Dockers has launched a new global ad campaign in an attempt to revive the popularity of khakis. Basically a make-over. Remarketing as it were. This was thusly unveiled during the Superbowl with a commercial entitled “Men Without Pants.”

Mary Kassian of Women Gone Wise notes, “The commercial anticipated that men would identify with the cultural de-masculinization of males depicted by the pant-less parade. The take-away was that they would be challenged to once again “Wear the Pants,” both literally and figuratively.”

The Man-ifesto contained within the ads reads:

Once upon a time, men wore the pants, and wore them well. Women rarely had to open doors and little old ladies never crossed the street alone. Men took charge because that’s what they did. But somewhere along the way, the world decided it no longer needed men. Disco by disco, latte by foamy non-fat latte, men were stripped of their Khakis and left stranded on the road between boyhood and androgyny. But today, there are questions our genderless society has no answers for. The world sits idly by as cities crumble, children misbehave and those little old ladies remain on one side of the street. For the first time since bad guys, WE NEED HEROES. We need grown-ups. We need men to put down the plastic fork, step away from the salad bar and untie the world from the tracks of complacency. It’s Time to get your hands dirty. It’s time to answer the call of manhood. IT’S TIME TO WEAR THE PANTS!”

The ads make quite the bold statement about modern masculinity, or lack thereof. So… is it right or is it wrong?

Surely it can’t be argued that popular culture attempts to cultivate a generation of women who feel superior to men while at the same time depicting men as not much more than a third child. Think TV shows like King of Queens, According to Jim, and countless others… (The Simpsons, anyone?) Heck, I guess it even started back with Honeymooners. We’re being trained to find this sort of thing funny, acceptable, and probably even inevitable in men.

Ho ho ho! Once you’re married for a few years Mr. Right will loose all interest in taking care of himself, will slack off from his responsibilities, he’ll tell cute little lies in order to sneak off and see the game, but when the old ball’n chain finds out hilarity ensues. Ho ha. Of course she will forgive him because he will make some pathetically lame attempt to “make it up to her” and she knows deep down he can’t help getting into all the cute lil’ mischief he gets into. The woman is generally always the level-headed responsible one in these shows. Frankly, just kill me if my husbands highest ambition ever becomes winning a hot-dog eating contest or finally getting a flatscreen for the wall of his man-cave.

As bold as it is, I for one agree that masculinity is devalued these days and we are paying the consequences for it (cities crumble, children misbehave and those little old ladies remain on one side of the street). Men have a “God-given bent to initiate and be heroes.” If we can’t respect and encourage men to “answer the call of manhood” then we are no better than men who belittle our abilities as females. No one is saying women can’t everything men can do (sometimes the case, sometimes not and vice versa), but should they? The ad itself states “today, there are questions our genderless society has no answers for”.

According to the Bible, roles aren’t based on who’s more capable or competent, or whose turn it is, or who wants to have a go at it. Isaiah 29:16 says, “You turn things upside down, as if the potter were thought to be like the clay! Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, “You did not make me”? Can the pot say to the potter, “You know nothing”?” When we start questioning the way God designed things, including gender, it throws everything askew.

Mary Kassian goes on to say, “Manhood and womanhood were created to display the story of the Gospel and the glory of God. So when we don’t get gender right, the answer to humanity’s problem is obscured… I agree that it ’s time for men to wear the pants. But I’m not talking about the khakis that Dockers are peddling, or some re-invented macho-male cultural stereotype. It’s time for men to wear the pants of godly manhood, and women to wear the skirt of godly womanhood, so that the gospel of Jesus Christ will be proclaimed . . . And so that this genderless generation, which is so broken and desperately seeking for answers, will find THE answer to the deepest question of the human heart.”

Naturally we can’t know Dockers’ ultimate agenda and the ads aren’t all that PC. Apparently Dockers is owned by Levi, which in the past withdrew funding from the Boy Scouts because Boy Scouts wouldn’t allow homosexuals to be Scout leaders. I’m not saying they’ve changed or that Levis/Dockers is some upstanding example of morality among a sea of two-faced corporations, but I do think the general message is tuning in to something that needed to be said, and someone finally had the uh, balls, to say it.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The King’s (Winnipeg) Speech

As I still delight in the aftermath of Colin Firth winning Best Actor and The King’s Speech winning Best Movie at the Oscar’s, it was with much interest to me when I learned that only 4 months prior to the speech – now infamized by the film – King George addressed the world from Canada. Only this time, he didn’t have his speech coach and encourager, Lionel Logue, with him. The Royals visited Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada in 1939. The speech can be heard here (runs 12:38).

I found this article from the Winnipeg Free Press:

“Eighty years before Colin Firth played a stammering monarch in The King’s Speech, the real King George VI gave a historic speech in Winnipeg.

There wasn’t a hint of a speech impediment from the man who had stuttered since childhood.

On May 24, 1939, the King and Queen Elizabeth arrived in Winnipeg as part of a Canadian tour. In the lurid reporting of the times, a Free Press writer claimed the rain ended and the skies dried as the couple drove down Portage Avenue and onto Memorial Boulevard.

Their Majesties, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, Winnipeg, 1939.

The cross-country royal tour began in Quebec. The couple arrived by train in Winnipeg on the 24th, Empire Day, and were greeted by hundreds of thousands of people.

After all the official meetings and greetings, the King sat at a desk in Government House’s upstairs library. Via radio, he addressed the Commonwealth’s 300,000,000 people.

“Winnipeg, the city from which I am speaking, was no more than a fort and hamlet upon the open prairie when Queen Victoria began to rule,” he began. “Today it is a monument to the faith and energy which have created and upheld the world wide Empire of our time.

“The journey which the Queen and I are making in Canada has been a deeply moving experience and I welcome this opportunity of sharing with my subjects in all parts of the world some of the thought and feeling which it has inspired in me.”

Kings' Speech of May 24, The Winnipeg Evening Tribune May 25, 1939

By the time he gave his Winnipeg speech, the King had been working for years with speech therapist Lionel Logue, played by Geoffrey Rush in the movie. They crafted speeches to avoid words or phrases that would trip the King up. By then he had conquered his difficulty with the letter ‘k’, a problem that had plagued him since childhood and something of an occupational hazard.

The desk from which King George addressed the Commonwealth now holds the guest book at Government House. Many visitors are unaware of the historical significance.

Lt.-Gov. Philip Lee, a huge fan of The King’s Speech, says it’s significant George VI gave his Winnipeg speech such a short time before he addressed the Commonwealth to announce Britain’s entry into war.

“This was a very important speech,” Lee says. He views the movie as a love story, as well as a historical piece.

“The movie was very well done. The King and the Queen were both determined to overcome the circumstances.”

The King closed his Winnipeg address with words for the youth of the Commonwealth:

“I would end with a special word of greeting to those of my listeners who are young. It is true — and I deplore it deeply — that the skies are overcast in more than one quarter at the present time. Do not on that account lose heart.

“Life is a great adventure, and every one of you can be a pioneer, blazing by thought and service a trail to better things. Hold fast to all that is just and of good report in the heritage which your fathers have left to you, but strive also to improve and equalize that heritage for all men and women in the years to come. Remember, too, that the key to all true progress lies in faith, hope and love.”

Four months after his Winnipeg speech, the King once again spoke to the Empire, this time to announce Britain had declared war on Germany. He and Logue had once again carefully crafted the speech.

King George VI and Queen Elizabeth meet the public during their royal visit to Winnipeg in 1939. – WINNIPEG FREE PRESS ARCHIVES

“In this grave hour,” the King began, “perhaps the most fateful in our history, I send to every household of my peoples, both at home and overseas, this message, spoken with the same depth of feeling for each one of you as if I were able to cross your threshold and speak to you myself.”

In calm, measured words he concluded:

“The task will be hard. There may be dark days ahead, and war can no longer be confined to the battlefield, but we can only do the right as we see the right, and reverently commit our cause to God. If one and all we keep resolutely faithful to it, ready for whatever service or sacrifice it may demand, then with God’s help, we shall prevail.

“May He bless and keep us all.”

As with his Winnipeg speech, he did not stammer.