Feature Articles 

 

The Angelic Society

The Angelic Society is not a secret society as such… but is therefore not less interesting or important. Specifically, it harbours mostly artists who have – by design or accident – communicated with the angels and have embraced these entities as their guides to complete their life’s mission.

Philip Coppens



On December 31, 1986, Andrew Lakey suffered a cocaine overdose. For the first time in twenty years, Lakey, then 27, prayed, telling God that if he survived, he would never do drugs again. He survived. And then, apparently out of nowhere, he began to draw angels. Four years later, he confided in people as to what had truly happened. As he showered, hoping to counter the effects of the drug overdose, “I saw seven angels twirling around my feet. Eventually they came together as one angel, its arms wrapped around me. I fell to the bottom of the shower, but I was in another space.” He explained that the angels had told him to take up painting, though Lakey had never received any training. So the angels taught him to paint. Since, Lakey has painted thousands of angels and is renowned for using a three-dimensional technique, which has allowed the blind to experience his art – the legendary Ray Charles is amongst his many fans. His first angel painting ever currently hangs inside the Vatican.

Lakey is just one example of a well-known artist who was not merely inspired, but transformed by an intense experience with angels. The angels literally made Lakey a world-renowned artist, instilling him with an ability to paint which Lakey did not acquire to any human means or leaning. However, when you begin to look into it, it soon becomes apparent that many artists, throughout the centuries, have claimed to have had angelic contacts. In fact, digging even deeper, it becomes apparent that many have said they are part of a secret group and that they have left codes in their paintings to show – to their fellow initiates – that they too are members of the ‘Angelic Society’.
According to the French writer Maurice Barrès, this code is said to be the Latin phrase ET IN ARCADIA EGO – “And in Arcadia I”. The most famous incorporation of this phrase is in “The Arcadian Shepherds”, created by the 17th century French painter Nicolas Poussin. A copy of the painting, with inscription, can also be found on his memorial slab in the church of San Lorenzo in Lucina in Rome, underlining how dear to his heart this painting and phrase was. There has been intense speculation for decades that Poussin was more than just a painter, especially because Sun king Louis XIV decided to hang this painting in his private bedroom, apparently believing that the painting contained the solution to a mystery. Alas, there is so much intrigue surrounding Louis XIV, that it is hard – and definitely far too long for here – to untangle that conundrum. But what is clear, is that in the eyes of Barrès, Poussin’s life and career, somehow had a connection with angels.

Maurice Barrès

So back to Barrès. Barrès knew what he was talking about, for it is clear that he himself was angelically inspired. Born on August 19, 1862, Maurice Barrès was politically active and in 1920, he got the French government to institute a national feast day for Joan of Arc – a woman who claimed to have intense communication with angels, including the Archangel Michael. Indeed it were these voices that told her what to do and how to fight the battles the French were waging against the English. If ever there was a patron saint for those who were guided by angels, Joan of Arc would be it… and maybe she is!
Barrès was also friends with Claude Debussy and Victor Hugo, both of whom have been listed as “Grand Masters” of the Priory of Sion. Indeed, as fictional as this list is – there never was a Priory of Sion, and hence no grand masters – the one thing some of the people listed do share, is contact with angels. Barrès was also a very good friend, since childhood, of the occultist Stanislav de Guaita – they both attended the same school in Nantes around 1880. He introduced Barrès into Martinism, an occult practice very much in vogue at the end of the 19th century, especially in French esoteric circles. The preface for one of the editions of “Au seuil du mystère” (1886), one of de Guaita’s work, was written by Barrès.
But despite his close friendships with the leading lights of French esoterica, Barrès is seldom perceived as an “initiate”. Instead, he is presented as an “admirer” of de Guaita, which greatly misinterprets their bond… as well as Barrès’ intelligence. Perhaps the problem is that his role as an initiate was only revealed posthumously, when “Le Mystère en pleine lumière” was published in 1926. The book is something of a memoir, in which Barrès weaves in certain parts of his life, with the lives of people he held in high regard. It is in this book that he underlines his devotion to Joan of Arc. He stipulates that she and others acted like guides for Barrès, on his path of “initiation”. It is in this book that he talks about a “mystical brotherhood” whose existence is made discretely visible by the inscription: “It is required to leave, in a certain manner, in a certain part of our work, a tombstone which contains the famous inscription: ET IN ARCADIA EGO.”

Barrès believed that there were a small number of individuals who could “enter in direct contact with God”. Of course, direct experience of the divine is precisely the key differentiator which has set, for two millennia, the Church against the heretics. The Church argues that God can only be experienced indirectly, via the Church hierarchy, whereas the heretics always believed that a personal experience of the divine was possible and should be experienced, for it had tremendous transformational powers – Andrew Lakey is definitely a perfect example of this.
The ensuing battle between both traditions is – literally – history. No wonder therefore that those who experienced such direct contact with the Otherworld, were most discrete about it, using clues like obscure Latin phrases in their paintings. And though there are various means of experiencing the divine directly, contact with angels is one of them. Barrès included Poussin but also another French painter, Eugène Delacroix, as such an initiate: “For twenty or thirty years, I have seldom missed a month in which I have not visited Saint Sulpice, in the Chapel of Angels, the famous fresco by Eugène Delacroix, Jacob’s struggle with the angel.”
For Maurice Barrès, Delacroix was, like him, aware of “our links with those great mysterious beings that link heaven and earth”. It was on October 2, 1849, the feast of the angels, that Delacroix began this series of three paintings on the theme of angels: “Jacob’s struggle with the angel”, “Heliodorus chased from the temple by the angels” and for the ceiling’s illustration, “the archangel Michael who strikes down Lucifer”.
It would take him twelve years to complete the work, but it explained – in Barrès’ opinion – the key concepts of how to interact with angels: “the greatest victory is indeed to conquer the angel, to wrestle from him his secret. The angel wants to open for us the gateway to the invisible, it is his mission, but he will not open it without a fight; he does not open it for those who are indolent, tepid, but only to those who, to clear the passage, do not fear to do battle with him.” In short, to have experiences of the divine, one needed to be fearless – like Jacob…

The battle of Jacob is a spiritual battle. Jacob addressed his prayers towards an angel who was not inclined to forgive the wrongdoings that Jacob had done towards his brother. The battle illustrates the persistence with which Jacob asks, and asks again and again, forgiveness for his errors. His prayers lasted an entire night, throughout which the angel could not move on, for he was “caught” by the prayers that were addressed to him – revealing the first lesson: that an angel has to listen to a human being who is praying.
Late at night, Jacob, rather than waiver, intensified his requests, at which point the angel felt he needed to use his supernatural powers. He touched the thigh of Jacob and the latter, you would expect, would cringe in pain, unable to continue with “his fight”. But despite the terrible pain, Jacob continued to pray.
When the sun was about to rise, the angel had no other alternative but to propose to Jacob that the battle ended. But against all odds, Jacob underlined his determination that he would get an angelic pardon for his sins, rather than end the fight. The angel therefore asked: “what is your name?” “Jacob”, to which the angel replied: “your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, for you have the power of a prince with God and amongst men, and you have conquered.” At that moment, Jacob demanded to know the name of the angel, who told him it was “Peniel”. Learning the name of your angel, was another important part of being an “Angelic Initiate”.

With Jacob’s story, it is clear that there is far more to the angelic encounters than commonly told. Traditionally, angels are merely seen as messengers conveying the message from God to Mankind, but certain saints, such as Augustine and Gregory, underlined that an angel is above all a function in the sacred hierarchy: they are close to the Throne of God in the celestial court. The role of servant of the divine is expressed in the word “helper”, as well as a statement in the Gospel of Matthew that God can always rely on their consultant knowledge. On several times, we are told that there are seven angels with the specific function of being near the Throne of God: the archangels.
In the Old Testament, there are also references to angels descending to Earth and having sexual encounters with human beings, the result of which were abominations, which was apparently one of the principal reasons why a Deluge swept across the Earth.
Though mentioned in Christian religious texts, angels as such are not Christian; they were around in other religions far older than Christianity. As such, the bible talks about them, but at the same time, it is clear that there is far more to them, than the bible relates. This is apparent in the vision of Jacob sleeping on a stone (Genesis 28), where the angels are shown as ascending and descending from a ladder, connecting heaven and earth. In this extremely symbolic imagery, the presence of a stone, seen as a “foundation stone”, has certain characteristics which made it into Wolfram von Eschenbach’s “Parzifal”, where the author identifies this stone as the Grail, placed on Earth, upon which the neutral angels – those who did not pick a side in the battle between God and Lucifer – ascend and descend. There are no biblical references to neutral angels, underlining how the angelic lore is far more widespread than what we encounter within the confines of the bible alone.

Jean Cocteau

Barrès is one of few precious resources available to illuminate the enigma of the “Angelic Society”. There are two other French writers, Jean Cocteau and Anatole France, who have revealed some key information about it. Jean Cocteau is – maybe not coincidentally – another alleged Grand Master of the Priory of Sion. Cocteau related how his guardian angel, Heurtebise, one day contacted him. It was in the years leading up to 1918 that the poet lived through an internal awakening to a reality beyond the everyday confines. It began in 1910: “the first sound of the bell, which will finish only with my death, was given to me by Diaghilev, one night, on the place de la Concorde […] As I questioned him on his reserve (I was accustomed to the praises), he stopped, adjusted his monocle and said to me: ‘Astonish me.’ […] This sentence saved me from a brilliant career. I guessed that one does not astonish Diaghilev. From this minute onwards, I decided to die and live again. The work was long and atrocious.”
Then, in 1925, Cocteau, having visited a friend, was in an elevator. Suddenly, he felt the presence, right besides him, of “something both terrible and eternal”. This “thing” identified itself: “My name can be found on the plaque.” There was only one plaque, and it listed the maker of the elevator: “Heurtebise.” The unknown, which for years had been sending its “parliamentarians” to Cocteau, had therefore finally decided to reveal itself. From then onwards, Heurtebise accompanied Cocteau in all of his works. Or, rather, he showed him what road to take and thus guaranteed that Cocteau would follow the path that had been set out for him by the angels – his mission. He was now an instrument of the angels here on earth, to fulfil a divine plan:

“Angel, soldier of the nine sisters
You know what is on the chart
My mysterious way
And as soon as I deviate
You seize me by the hand.”

Another “suspect” for membership in the Angelic Society and someone who documented its lore is Anatole France, the author of “The Revolt of the Angels” (1914). Interestingly, France was a friend of Barrès. Anatole France’s novel was somewhat autobiographical: he was the son of a bookseller and after working for his father, secured the position of a cataloguer at Bacheline-Deflorenne and Lemerre. In 1876, he was appointed a librarian for the French Senate. France received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1921, some argue largely thanks to “The Revolt of the Angels”. But apart from a Nobel Prize, in the 1920s, France’s writings were placed on the List of Prohibited Books, censored by the Catholic Church for being a danger to itself and the faith of its members.
“The Revolt of the Angels” opens “beneath the shadow of St. Sulpice”, in the ancient mansion of the d’Esparvieu family, which contains an elaborate family library. Its librarian and cataloguer begins to notice that each night, a number of books are mysteriously displaced from his carefully ordered shelves, which is beginning to drive the man insane, specifically as it is clear that no human agent can be responsible. The librarian is also friends with Guinardon, a restorer of paintings, whose “favourite subject was the Chapelle des Anges in Sulpice”, in which Delacroix’s paintings by that time were peeling of the walls and where he was tasked to restore them. Guinardon states that “Michael is my patron saint. And I have a special devotion for the Angels.”

It is however Maurice d’Esparvieu who will begin to take on a primary role. A man destined to little greatness in his own life, turns out to be a person whose guardian angel manifests to him. First, the guardian angel tells him that he is the one that is responsible for the disturbance of the library, as he has been studying: he has just materialised as he has chosen Paris to prepare the revolt of the angels against not God, but an usurper demiurge, Ialdabaoth. As such, he can no longer be Maurice’s guardian angel, for he has a greater mission to accomplish, one that affects all Mankind, if not the universe as a whole.
Intriguingly, the guardian angel is named Arcade – a clear reference to Arcadia, the theme so beloved by the Angelic Society. Arcade stipulates this is his name amongst men: for the angels, his name is Abdiel. Abdiel in Hebrew means “Servant of God” and is identified in the Bible (1 Chronicles 5:15). He was a Seraph in the Sepher Raziel and features prominently in John Milton’s “Paradise Lost” (1667), from where France most likely took his inspiration from. However, in “Paradise Lost”, Abdiel denounces Satan after hearing him incite revolt among the angels, and abandons Lucifer to bring the news of his defection to God. His devotion to Lucifer in “The Revolt of the Angels” is never in doubt: his enemy is the demiurge… and his army of faithful angels, led by Michael.
It also becomes clear that Arcade is not the only materialised angel in Paris and over the next few weeks, several convene, plan and plot to overthrow the demiurge from his throne and place Lucifer on it. Three long chapters of the book in fact are a “history lesson” in the history of the angels, which includes a detailed account of their first attack, before time began, to overthrow Ialdabaoth from his throne – which had caused Lucifer’s fall.
With the preparations all in place, Arcade and his fellow angelic conspirators go to Lucifer’s place of exile on Earth, to inform him that his army is ready to fight for the throne. In the end, however, Lucifer has a dream in which his army is able to conquer the demiurge and expel him from heaven, but then he wakes up, stating he will not fight. Instead, he believes that we need to fight and conquer Ialdabaoth within ourselves!

France’s book was a novel, but what it described was what members of the Angelic Society apparently believed: that in the past, Lucifer had perverted the angelic realm, which had disastrous results for Mankind here on Earth. That in itself is nothing new and straight from Christianity. But what differentiated members of the Angelic Society from the rest of Mankind was that they strode to right this wrong, and restore the world to the state it had been in before, with the help and guidance of the angels themselves. The mission of the Angelic Society was the return to a Golden Age – also known as Eden or a “Time Before Time”.
To understand what this means, we need to turn to 16th and 17th century England. There, we find the likes of Edmund Spenser and especially his friend, Philip Sidney, writing on the theme of Arcadia, underlining that – unsurprisingly – contact with the angelic realm was not limited to French soil. The most notorious is probably John Dee, whose antics require a far deeper treatment than what is possible here. However, the answers we seek are in John Milton’s “Paradise Lost”, which unveils what precisely this original state was, to which we were supposed to return.
In Book IX, Milton explains that the Fall of Mankind had geological repercussions for the Earth – the angle of the Earth’s axis went from being upright to the present 23.5 degrees: “Some say, he bid his Angels turn ascanse The poles of earth, twice ten degrees and more, From the sun’s axle; they with labour pushed Oblique the centrick globe...” ‘Askance’ means ‘sideways’ or ‘deviate,’ and we are told that “he” – meaning God – had “bid his Angels” to do this – i.e., ‘ordered’ that they tilt the earth and push it away from “the sun’s axle” – being the upright ecliptic pole. The rest of Milton’s verse runs: “... to bring in change Of seasons to each clime; else had the spring Perpetual smiled on earth with vernant flowers, Equal in days and nights, except to those Beyond the polar circles; to them day Had unbenighted shone...”

Today, the equinoxes are therefore the only two times of the year when the Earth’s axis is upright and the Earth was in the image of the “Time Before Time”. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the equinoxes therefore became extremely important in the works of some artists, like Botticelli’s “Primavera”. Interestingly, the original title of this painting was “The Time Returns”, providing further insight that Botticelli at least knew of the Angelic Society’s tradition. Botticelli was part of the 15th century Italian Renaissance, which saw a revival of Greek thinking – “the Greek ways”, and in which angels once again became prominently depicted in works of art. Most importantly, amongst Botticelli’s friends was Michelangelo, who was named by his parents after the Archangel Michael – an extremely rare occurrence – and who would become one of the greatest artists ever. One can only wonder whether his hands were moved in a similar vein that Lacey was… by the angels. All the evidence suggests that they were.

The scope of doing research into the Angelic Society is therefore vast. Even for France, we have only touched upon some 19th and 20th century artists. But it is clear that the Angelic Society consisted of some of the most famous artists the world has ever seen. And they likely excelled in their arts because of their angelic connection: their art truly was from another realm. But the Angelic Society was never an organised secret society, like the Freemasons, Rosicrucians, or like. There are no membership lists. They were a society in the sense that all of its members share(d) a common bond – their lives were guided by angels – and they fulfil(ed) a divine mission here on Earth. Together with the denizens of this other realm, they worked for the return of a Golden Age, a time before the Fall; they were here to right one of the most famous wrongs of all times – Lucifer’s Rebellion – yet their endeavours are hardly known at all… their art is the only testimony to their angelic mission.

This article appeared in Darklore (Volume 5).