Sunday 3 December 2017

Is Albion an Angel?

Bruce Charlton's recent piece on whether Albion is a woman got me thinking because I must admit I hadn't been considering things along those lines. Not about whether Albion is male or female but about the degree to which Albion is a person. I know the personification of Albion in Blake's poems but that's, well, Blake! I also know the mythology of a sleeping giant but I had really been thinking of Albion as the hidden spirit of the land, without making that spirit into a person.

But, of course, all countries do traditionally have a masculine or feminine ruling genius. Germany is the Fatherland, India is Mother India, France is definitely feminine, Italy probably masculine. England seems masculine to me too, and I'm not sure about the U.S.A. Since Russia, as Bruce says, is feminine then maybe America is masculine. California is surely feminine, though.

In the same way, the North and the West are masculine while the South and the East are feminine. Sea is feminine, sky is masculine and, while we're at it, earth and water are feminine while air and fire are masculine. So probably everything does have a masculine or feminine polarity. That would make a lot of sense since this polarity goes right back to the primal duality of spirt and matter.

But is Albion a woman? I don't know. Bruce points out that Britannia is female and also that the two  monarchs at the time of England's/Britain's greatest moments of creativity and power were queens. These could certainly be good indicators of a strong female characteristic of the country but personally I'm not entirely convinced. English and British achievements, to do with law, exploration, empire, expansion and so on, do seem masculine to me but maybe that's England/Great Britain, and Albion is a different matter. Albion is certainly strongly associated with the land, and the land as ground or earth is traditionally a feminine thing.

So I'm reserving judgment on this question. However one idea I am strongly drawn to is that Albion is an angel. I think that all countries have their guardian angels. Indeed it is likely that all animal species have an angel. Angels are everywhere. They are the means through which God works.  

To my mind, the best depiction of angels is that of C.S. Lewis in his space trilogy in which the angels are the guardians or even spiritual embodiment of the planets.  These angels, like the Christian ones, don't have bodies as such because they are not made of matter. They are pure spirits but they can create an appearance of themselves in a person's mind, and Lewis's description of this is very striking. Here's what he says about an angel's face in Perelandra.

"One single changeless expression - so clear that it hurt and dazzled him- was stamped on each and there was nothing else there at all. In that sense their faces were as primitive, as unnatural, if you like, as those of archaic statues from Aegina. Pure, spiritual intellectual love shot from their faces like barbed lightning. It was so unlike the love we experience that its expression could easily be mistaken for ferocity"

If Albion is, as I think, an angel then Albion is not a woman. Angels have no bodies so no biological gender so they are not male or female. However angels are not neuter, nothing is. Lewis's angels are masculine or feminine and, of course, St Michael and St Gabriel are masculine too. Therefore Albion could very well be feminine, as Bruce speculates.


Bruce Charlton said...

William - Glad to have stimulated thought and speculation!

Angel, yes - but I recognise more than one type. The two main would be: pre-mortal Men, as spirits who work as angels; and post-mortal incarnated Men, likewise. So, some angels are incarnates - probably most are spirits. I would guess that angels of nations may be incarnates, who have dwelt in their nations - but it's just a guess.

William Wildblood said...

There we differ, Bruce. I would follow the more conventional Christian belief that angels are a separate creation to Man. Actually I think most religions would go along with that. The best book I've read on the subject (admittedly from a list of one!) is Angels (and Demons) by Peter Kreeft.

Bruce Charlton said...

@William - "the more conventional Christian belief that angels are a separate creation to Man" - This is indeed usual among mainstream Christian theologians at least since the time of Dionysius the Aeropagite. However, the laity often refer to post-mortal angels - in the idea that some people (eg. children who die) may become angels - so it is not outlandish!

As for the idea of incarnate, embodied angels - this comes from a literal interpretation of the Biblical passages when angels appear to be exactly as mortal Men, indistinguishable. Those who assume that angels must be immaterial interpret this to be an illusion of the spirit (pretending to have a body, as it were; perhaps as a disguise) - but that interpretation seems to derive from the prior assumption that angels *must* be immaterial.

As you personally believe in reincarnation - which has this similarity with my Mormon-derived theology that Men can exist as immaterial spirits - you might also decide or discover that such beings could 'work' as angels, perhaps temporarily...

But anyway - we both agree that it is a potentially very inspiring and encouraging idea that Albion is indeed an actual angelic being - and not merely a symbol!