The Holy Guardian Angel in Religion and Magic

As you might have guessed, dear reader, working with the Holy Guardian Angel is, in fact, a thing.  A pretty big thing, at that.  There’ve been rituals written for thousands of years now on how to come in contact with this spirit, along with plenty of kinda-similar-kinda-dissimilar descriptions on the nature of this spirit.  And, judging by the pan-blogosophere/occulture debates on the nature of the HGA, chances are this topic will continue on for quite a lot longer.  In fact, some magicians go so far as to say that coming in contact with the HGA, also known as Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel (KCHGA) is the sum and whole of the Great Work itself.  This isn’t a wrong view, but it’s a little misleading if you don’t inspect all the ramifications of such a statement.

No, I’m not going to talk about how to attain KCHGA, or how to find your HGA’s name, or which ritual is best to come in contact with your HGA.  Yes, I have contact with my own HGA, and I’ve been working with him and involving him at nearly every step of my occult path since I first met him.  What I want to talk about is something that I don’t see often discussed: the relationship and differences in view of the HGA between practitioners of magic and devotees of religion.  The two feed into each other, clearly, and the notion of the HGA itself can easily be attributed to either source or a mixture of both.  It’s the relationship and lack of correctness I’ve noted between what the HGA is claimed to do and how one is supposed to work with the HGA, at least in my own experience, and what the HGA actually does and how one should really work with the HGA.

The term “Holy Guardian Angel” itself can be attributed quite clearly to the Book of Abramelin, but the term was already in use by the Catholic Church, the culture of which helped form and develop the spiritual context for the Abramelin (along with other Solomonic, goetic, and qabbalistic traditions interwoven together).  It’s been canon in the Catholic Church for each human being to have a guardian angel for quite a long while now; there are scriptural hints that this has been a longstanding notion (Matthew 18:10, Acts 12:13-15) since before the development of the proper Church, but it was really codified when Saint Basil in the 4th century wrote that “beside each believer stands an angel protector and shepherd leading him to life” (Adversus Eunomium III, Catechism of the Catholic Church #336).  Okay, cool; we know that it’s actually a belief that guardian angels exist in Catholicism and, moreover, that its believers are actively encouraged to work with and ask for help from one’s guardian angel.  This is further indicated by the prevalence of medallions, litanies, candles, novenas, and the like dedicated to this divine figure.

However, the perceived goal of the HGA is different between Abramelin and Saint Basil.  In the Abramelin, the text states that “[e]very learned and prudent man may fall if he be not defended and guided by the angel of the Lord, who aided me, and prevented me from falling into such a state of wretchedness, and who led me undeserving from the mire of darkness unto the light of the truth” and later that “[y]e shall also supplicate [God] that in the time to come he may be willing and pleased to regard you with pity and grant you his grace and goodness to send unto you his holy angel, who shall serve unto you as a guide, and lead you ever in his holy way and will; so that ye fall not into sin through inadvertence, through ignorance, or through human frailty”.  Magically, however, Abramelin states that “my holy angel, whom God the most merciful had destined from my creation for my guardian, spake unto me with the greatest goodness and affection; who not only manifested unto me the Veritable Magic, but even made easier for me the means of obtaining it”.  Mathers writes in his own introduction more succinctly that “thereby and thereafter [obtaining knowledge of and conversation with one’s guardian angel] we may obtain the right of using the evil spirits for our servants in all material matters”.  Of course, even the Abramelin alludes to the difficulty in describing the nature of the HGA, perhaps foreshadowing decades of internet-based flame wars: “their angel being by its nature Amphiteron [inaccessible, double?], because the angelic nature differeth to so great an extent from that of men, that no understanding nor science could express or describe it, as regardeth that great purity wherewith [the angels] be invested”.

The thing is that the Abramelin is, above anything else, a work on magic.  The whole 6-month (or 18-month, if you’re reading Dehn’s translation) period of prayer and asceticism is meant to put you in contact with your HGA, after which you work with the HGA to accomplish any and every other type of magic.  In other words, the HGA becomes the only familiar or supernatural assistant one would ever need, able to bind or loosen any other spirit, achieve any task, or obtain any objective.  In this light, Abramelin shares strong similarities with several PGM texts (I.1, I.42, IV.154, VII.505, inter alia).  The general gist is that the magical view of the HGA is to assist you in getting what you want.

This is counter to the standard religious view that the HGA is to lead you to virtue.  After all, probably the two biggest drives for people studying magic are to (a) get paid and (b) get laid, and texts like the PGM, Grand Grimoire, and the like are pretty blatant in saying so, with books like Abramelin and the Keys of Solomon being a little more subtle about it.  What we want to accomplish is not always in line with virtue, if not directly opposed to it.  From this, it might be said that the magical HGA isn’t an angel at all, but a familiar spirit of a lower rank than an angel.  I disagree; after all, it’s a staple in Stoicism, Christianity, and Thelema that you shouldn’t judge what others do, and what might be terrible vice for you can just as easily be blessed virtue for another.  The Abramelin approach to this is to strike a balance between the two: the HGA is to help you achieve what you want, but also to lead you to virtue, so what you want will eventually coincide with what God wants.

From this, it’s easily understandable how Thelema linked True Will with the HGA.  If True Will is what we’re meant to accomplish according to the Divine, then our True Will is the will of God.  Thus, by aligning our will with our True Will, we align our will with God’s will.  It’s still free will and freely chosen, but it’s that alignment that produces true power and true Work.  However, the vessel for knowing and keeping on our path of True Will most easily lies with the HGA compared to other paths, since the HGA is most in tune with our lives specifically and knows our specific needs and wants, and since the HGA leads us to God, he can lead us in a way most effective for ourselves to God.  If I recall correctly, this is likewise why many Golden Dawn lodges have no formal initiations above Adeptus Minor (5=6, corresponding with Thiphareth/Sun), which is associated with KCHGA, since the KCHGA becomes one’s real teacher after that point and the Work they indicate to do becomes proof of one’s real grade.  The HGA will still accomplish nearly anything you ask for, but rather than the HGA changing their nature through your working, the HGA is the catalyst for you changing your own nature through your Work.

This is an element that appears to be lacking to me in religious-devotional methods of working with the HGA, like through novenas or simple prayer.  Without truly needing and aspiring to know and converse with the HGA, it’s extraordinarily rare for one to contact and accomplish anything with them, and the methods involve at a minimum powerful and wholly-concentrated prayer to the point of fanaticism and faith so extreme things become more magical than theological.  Sure, you can obtain the favor and a few helpful nudges after repeated novenas or litanies to the HGA, and they’ll probably throw a sign to you once in a while that you may or may not miss, but for concentrated work and learning, I haven’t found the Catholic prayer stuff nearly as useful to work with the HGA as I have magical methods and involved ritual.  (Then again, Catholic rituals as I would reckon a “ritual” to work with the HGA are few and far between, and I don’t know of anything that powerful besides Mass itself, and I’m not qualified to perform that.)

Despite that I’ve worked with plenty of other angels, the HGA seems to be an angel of a wholly different type than the planetary angels/intelligences/spirits/choirs, and is distinct still from the seven archangels themselves.  I can’t yet discern whether this is a function of him being so close and connected to me, lower than the rest, higher than the rest, an outgrowth of God itself into my life in a discrete form I’d recognize as an angel, or something else entirely; I sense my HGA smirking and snickering as I write this, which I take as a recognition of the futility of this sort of pondering.  What I do know is that the HGA is definitely worked with in a way distinct from any other spirit.  He doesn’t require or feel the need for formal conjurations, nor does he care for chaplets and novenas and candles burned in his honor.  He instructs me to pray, but with a special prayer he helped me write to align myself to the Almighty and not to his specific presence.  He directs and smooths out my work, but has no specific ritual for himself (beyond the Headless Rite, which is how I came to contact him in the first place, but which he’s somewhat distanced himself from since).  He’s distinctly Other, but in a way that makes him not-Other at all.

Personally, I take the HGA, as the Golden Dawn does, as one’s true teacher, but in a farther and in a more ecumenical way.  I claim that once one has true and certain contact with one’s HGA (which is a complicated and hard-to-accomplish thing to begin with), they need no more dogmas or religions or texts beyond that which their HGA directs them to study.  If the HGA is one’s connection to God and one’s true path, then that path becomes their true religion; no other path will do for them, since any other path would divert from their True Will.  In that sense, the HGA can act as one’s personal Christ, or personal God who talks to them, or another emanation of the Divine suited just for them that only they hear, that they need to hear, and that only they need to hear.  As one of my Golden Dawn friends has said in the past, the HGA is a kind of divine sockpuppet, throttling back the infinity of the Almighty into a finite and “easily” understandable form for our finite minds to process and comprehend.  It’s a kind of hilarious metaphor, but it definitely works, and probably works best and most succinctly of any blog post I’ve read or written on the subject.

In that light, I suppose I should reevaluate my earlier evaluation that strictly devotional methods are sub-par compared to magical methods to contact the HGA.  After all, not everyone is suited to magical practice (though I’d like to think they are), and some people should probably stick to the devotional methods and get the most out of them than they would of any set of spiritual practices.  After all, my own HGA would rather me work in more active ways than simple prayer, but that wouldn’t go for everybody’s HGA.  Regardless of whichever path one should be taking to contact their HGA, it’s definitely something everyone should work on, since knowing one’s HGA is equivalent to knowing one’s True Will, which is equivalent to knowing one’s place in the cosmos and in the plan of the Divine; KCHGA in any form is “know thyself”.

11 responses

  1. This does bring up an interesting question, and one I’ve discussed with other magicians/priests of various traditions in the past. That is, how does one determine that the entity one is working with is really that entity? Within a given tradition, there are factors used to test it. It must appear, function, etc. according to expectations. If it does something or wants something that doesn’t fit with the appropriate description, then it isn’t that entity, but something else masquerading as that entity. For instance, when I was involved with Santeria, when younger, less experienced initiates were possessed at ceremonies, the older priests/priestesses would judge whether the possession was really by the appropriate deity, or whether it was a lower spirit interfering with the inexperienced initiate. This was evaluated by the behavior of the possessed person. If it was judged to be a lower spirit, it would be sent away and the initiate would later be given ritual work to do to better prepare them, cleanse them of hindrances, or whatever was deemed necessary to improve the situation.

    Now and then I’ve met people who are not formally affiliated with Santeria, but who do rituals inviting possession by those deities. Since technically such deities would rarely, if ever, engage in improperly done ritual outside of the traditional initiatory context, who is it that appears when they do their invocations? Is it really Yemaya or Chango? Or is it some other spirit pretending to be such? Since such people are working outside the system, they probably don’t much care, and are satisfied if their desires for outcome are met according to their own expectations, so it’s really not possible to know for sure.

    So with the HGA/Guardian Angel, one runs into a similar situation. Within the framework of magick, the HGA has certain qualities, behaviors, abilities and purpose that are expected of it. One does the appropriate work to get K&C of the HGA, or to work further with the HGA, according to those expectations. And one tends to get that result, all factors falling into place. On the other hand, the Guardian Angel in the Catholic tradition has a different purpose, qualities, etc. It would be inappropriate, for instance, for your Guardian Angel (as defined by Catholic tradition) to tell you to do something that violated any of the commandments, or led you into temptation or sin as defined by Christian tradition. If it did so, it could not be your Guardian Angel, because Guardian Angels are in part defined by the fact that they don’t do that. On the other hand, the HGA may allow or encourage or support some activity on the part of the magician that within the magickal tradition or by that individual’s personal judgment would not be considered sinful, even if it is sinful per Christian tradition. If this were to be the case, then it cannot be true that that particular HGA is the same as the Guardian Angel, but would have to be some other entity.

    This is a bit personally relevant to me since I worked with my HGA very deeply for several years as a magician before converting to Catholicism, so I’ve been on both sides of the equation, so to speak.

    I find the subject rather fascinating, and it seems to be one that is relevant in many contexts, not just with the HGA. Any thoughts on the matter?

    • Those are definitely good points and good questions, and it’s hard to answer without knowing the entirety of the nature of the HGA, which is, if not impossible, about as close to it as anything. I’m familiar with some of the Santeria practices, too, and I’ve seen people start to get ridden by their parental orisha but then overridden by an ancestor or muerto, or by another spirit entirely, and I’ve seen how the priests deal with that. I’ve even recently had to physically carry a young girl of 13 years old who wasn’t responding to some major pressure point action out of a fundamento where this very thing happened, so I can attest to the danger of this.

      Leaving aside possession, how do we test whether the HGA we see is actually our HGA? In works like Abramelin, we keep doing the work we’re doing; we keep doing the prayers, we keep doing the ablutions, we keep doing the work until we can reliably get the same spirit. If it appears early, it’s probably (but not always!) not going to be the HGA. If it appears on time or late, it’s probably (but not always!) the HGA. There are no seals, no oaths that you can test the HGA with except prayer and one’s own divine authority. That said, I believe (but cannot as yet confirm) that the HGA is already always with us or helping us, it’s just our awareness and conscious ability to work with the HGA that we have to work toward. Thus, we can always invoke the power and name of the HGA, but unless we have KCHGA, we won’t see the actual results of it except in a very indirect and veiled manner. It’s possible to test a spirit claiming to be the HGA in the name of our own HGA, even if we don’t have contact with the HGA, though it’s tricky to see what exactly is the result we’re supposed to get from that. Thus, more prayer and meditation will always help. If one’s devout or focused enough, no deceit will be able to mislead you, but how much devotion and how much focus do we need? It depends, just like our own initial readiness to receive KCHGA.

      In my experience, I obtained a vision of my HGA at some point around the six month mark of doing the Headless Rite daily. I kept doing the ritual, though, and I got stronger visions. I didn’t trust him just in case it was a trickster spirit taking advantage of my willingness to receive KCHGA, so I kept doing it. The spirit eventually began speaking to me and stated he was my HGA, at which point I tried a litany of prayers and petitions to make sure; none of them changed the presence or apppearance of the spirit, verifying that it was him. I also conjured the archangel Michael later on as well as my own natal genius to confirm that I had the right spirit as my HGA, and they gave me their confirmation that it was indeed him. Through experience and practice and work with the spirit, this has all been shown to be correct. Like I said, there’s a difference with my HGA that marks him as a totally different class of spirit from all others.

      Further, I don’t know how much I agree with the statement that “the HGA has certain qualities” etc. that apply universally; the HGA is going to be different for different people, with different goals and different needs depending on who the person is and where they are in their development. The only thing in common is that it’s a truly divine entitiy specific to our spiritual growth, magic-oriented or Catholic-oriented or otherwise. With KCHGA, I don’t think anything of this world matters anymore except to aid us in our spiritual growth. Catholicism, though it’s a religion focused on God, is still a creation of this world, so I don’t agree with the statement that the Catholic Guardian Angel and the magician’s HGA are different entities; they have a common origin in theological and philosophical thought, and have similar enough functions that I see them as the same entity. The rules of Catholicism are different from the rules of, say, Thelema, but I can’t see those rules as applying beyond the reach of this material world. Catholicism, for instance, doesn’t exist past this world; it’s a religious and political system made by man based on God. Catholics also believe, according to doctrine, that there are no other gods besides the christian Triune God, and the fact that other gods exist doesn’t mesh well with that (and copping out by saying that they’re just misleading demons isn’t borne out in the practice and experience of the devotees of other religions or gods). Likewise, they also believe that it is only through Christ that we can reach divinity and henosis/salvation, but the Jews have their own system in place for that, as do Orphics and Pythagoreans. The rules of Catholicism and its definitions are helpful for the Catholic tradition, but that’s geared towards people living in this world and not for people acting on other planes of reality. Thus, it might be predictable that one’s HGA, as contacted through Catholic practice, would issue directives and help through the means of Catholic tradition, it is not completely certain that it would, since the HGA operates on different levels and uses expedient means to achieve holiness in whatever way is necessary for the person. If the person is meant to stay Catholic to reach God, then the HGA will continue to encourage them to practice Catholic practices; if the person is to exceed beyond Catholicism to God (since God is infinite and the Church is, despite its protestations to the contrary, finite), then the HGA is going to lead them outside the Catholic tradition to another direction towards God that suits the person more. As Catholics themselves say, “the Pope says a lot of things”; while the Catholic church has many beliefs and rules, not all the rules are for the sake of divinity.

      For instance, in your case, you’ve been working with your HGA for several years before converting to Catholicism. I claim that the Catholic Church denies access to one’s (H)GA except through Catholic-oriented devotions, yet you obtained the HGA outside of it. Further, the HGA’s nature, as said in many magical texts, is to never leave one once they are obtained or contacted. The Catholic church frowns on the use of magic and non-devotional spiritual practices, and working with the HGA often falls into this category of work. If the HGA led you to Catholicism, then (I claim) it would be so as to encourage you to work closer to God by means of Catholicism, as well as through and to the HGA themselves. If the GA and HGA were different, or if the Catholic church was right in that you cannot get contact with the HGA outside Catholicism, then you’d have abandoned your HGA and/or come to the conclusion that it was a lying spirit all the time, and I don’t think you did either of which. But, even if that were the case, if the HGA led you to Catholicism, it’d be with the knowledge that it would have to abandon you or you from the HGA from then on, which is outside nearly every description of the HGA I’ve read, since it could no longer work with you within that tradition. Things don’t add up in this situation; rather, it makes more sense that the HGA is outside Catholicism entirely, operating on a divine level and not on a religious level, and religion is a means to an end that you and the HGA can make use of rather than being absolute truth itself.

  2. It’s interesting. I was very much in love with my HGA. He forbid me on several occasions to do things that would have been sinful, even before I had any interest in Christianity. He banished and controlled lower spirits and demons. He was clearly involved in the series of supernatural events that led to my conversion. I no longer invoke him, though I do brief prayers to my Guardian Angel in the Catholic way now and then. I do not know whether he was/is the same as my Guardian Angel. He was beneficial, in any case, in leading me “home.” It feels a bit like I got “handed off” to Christ! :D

    I think the other thing you bring up, which is a bit tangential to the original subject but also very interesting, is the divine/man-made nature of religion. I believe that many religious traditions are expressions of enlightenment – that is, a shaman, monk, mystic in some place in the world had an experience of divine union, and in that union recognized various qualities of reality and our relationship to God that are as true as the laws of physics. They become more and more deeply apparent the deeper ones spirituality develops, and are fairly universal. How that was then expressed – in what metaphors, decorated with what rites and rituals, etc – was colored by the cultural context and the limitations of the wisdom of the recipient (not to mention the further interpretations and innovations of that person’s later followers). In other words, many religions have at their core revelation, not imagination or human invention. Religion is the natural reaction of human beings to glimmers of recognition of the divine nature of our very being, a response of the soul to hearing God’s voice calling, so to speak.

    But anyway. Thanks for the interesting conversation. I enjoy that.

    • There is actually one thing I forgot, and it’s happened to one or two of my friends before. Like you, they’ve stopped working with the HGA per se, and started working with another divinity that subsumed the HGA, like Hermes or Christ. In that case, you’re playing another game; while I won’t say that the HGA’s abandoned you, his form has changed sufficiently enough so that he doesn’t need to be around as a distinct entity. He’s a connection between you and divinity; so either he might become/merge with/rejoin with that divinity, indicating that you’re sufficiently close to the god for a personal exchange without an intermediary, or you become your HGA, indicating that you’ve become divine. It sounds odd, but it’s a theory.

  3. Fascinating. I hadn’t heard that described that way before. Any hints of this in written material, or is this theory from personal experience, accounts of other magicians, etc?

    • Mainly the experience of others, but there are hints of it in Alan Moore’s comic Promethea (which is an excellent primer to modern Hermetic magic with a light Thelemic flavor). Between Tiphareth/Sun and Chesed/Jupiter, one of the protagonists is accompanied by her HGA; the HGA disappears during Binah/Saturn from the protagonist’s side, but on the way to Chokmah/Stars, the two become one; the protagonist and her HGA are one person, a unification of self and True Self, or living in constant realization of True Will, or walking forevermore in the grace of God, whatever you want to call it. At that point, they’re just a skip and a hop away from the Godhead itself.

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