When God Says No: On God and the Angels

Yes, another post from Curious Cat.  It’s honestly a great way for people to reach out to me, and it gives me a ready store of ideas for posts to write about.  (I’ve been asking for comments on my website, Facebook, and Twitter for ages for when people would like to ask questions, but people either just don’t do that or don’t generally trigger a post-writing reaction.)  Plus, according to Human Design (which my blessed sister studies and practices), I’m a so-called “manifesting generator” type, who responds well to being asked questions in order to produce and effect wonderful things.  But unlike other posts about things that come from questions on Curious Cat, this post is gonna be a little different; we’re going to discuss a common thread that ties together several different questions that were asked, all largely pertaining to angels, their role in the cosmos, how we interact with them, how we’re permitted to interact with them, and what their relationship is to God.  To give a brief summary of the questions asked and my replies to them:

  • Where do angels come from, and what are they?  God made them to carry out his will in infinitesimal slices of divine presence, made discrete and distinct to govern over specific things, entities, events, or phenomena of the cosmos.  Angels have no free will; by definition, their will is the will of God and vice versa, so that they act strictly and solely in accordance with, for, by, and to God.
  • If angels have no free will, then when we invoke or conjure an angel and commission it with a request, it can only fulfill this request if God wills it? Yes!  All the conjurations we do in the Western Hermetic and Solomonic tradition of higher entities, if we’re not taking the rather old-school approach of assuming divine power ourselves and browbeating the cosmos into complying with our (temporarily-assumed) divine will, is to supplicate God through prayer to reveal that he send his angels to us in his name for his honor and glory.  Thus, when we call on an angel, we’re essentially asking God to graciously give his permission for the angel to be sent to us, because God’s will and God’s will alone is what allows all things to happen; how much more this is the case, then, for entities whose sole purpose is to perfectly and only fulfill the will of God!
  • What sort of behavior do angels hate?  It depends on what they’re the angel of, but in general, angels don’t really “hate” because they don’t really do emotion, since they’re the embodiments of and agents for the will of God.  In that sense, angels “hate” anything that goes contrary to the will, design, aims, and goals of God—and, by extension, all that we do that goes against our True Will, which is nothing more or less than the will of God that is right and proper for us to will and accomplish in our lifetimes.
  • How can we discover our True Will if we’re unaware of it?  This is nothing short of the first half of the Great Work; the second half is fulfilling it.  And there is nothing harder or higher than to know and do what it is what we truly Will.  This is exactly the same thing as knowing the purpose God has established for us in life.
  • Why do angels hate emotion, then? Angels don’t hate emotion; they just don’t have it, or at least in any meaningful way that we might recognize as emotion.  We might perceive or interpret them to be acting emotionally, but that’s only because we ourselves are human and thus emotive creatures, while angels are utterly devoid of humanity and completely above and beyond our level, at least or especially where emotions are concerned.  Angels don’t have free will; they don’t even roll or blink their (innumerable) eyes without God willing it.
  • If an angel is being difficult, how do we complain to its manager?  If an angel is being difficult, it’s not because the angel is acting wily or being a punk for the sake of being a punk.  If an angel declines to do something, it’s because God declines to permit that thing from occurring; it’s not that the angels decide against it, but God decides against it.  That’s why, when we pray in conjuration for an angel to appear, we pray that God grant that it should happen (see above).  If something doesn’t happen, then there’s a reason for it; we either must work towards it so that we’re ready and proper for it in the eyes of God, or we must pray for the right thing to occur, whether it involves the conjuration and commissioning of an angel to do something or whether we should do something else entirely that would be better for us to do.
  • If God is unwilling to help us, would intervention from other deities from other traditions or pantheons help instead? Maybe, but if God’s decided against it, then there’s probably a good reason for that. It could be that you should look elsewhere for help, such as from another god or using another set of spirits or practices entirely to get the same thing done rather than by directly appealing to the Highest, but it could also be that you’re asking for the wrong thing entirely or that it’s not meant for you, whether now or at all. That’s where divination is crucial for magicians: it helps us plan out what we can do, but more than that, whether we should do something. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should, and if you shouldn’t, you should learn the reasons why. In other words, don’t go shopping around for a second opinion when you already got The One Opinion To Rule Them All. Keep to the principle of “move, or move me”.
  • But when it comes to other gods, don’t they also share power over our reality as well?  Absolutely!  But for all their greatness and grandness and power, they’re not as great or grand or powerful as the cosmocrator God behind them all. And that’s okay, because they don’t need to be, and it’s often better to work with them directly if you’re in such a tradition than to work with the behind-the-scenes all-ruling One, because they’re more accessible. But there are limits in place that even they can’t argue with, because they’re not in charge of literally everything like God is.

All this ended up with me saying this from that last question in the series, which I want to specifically quote with a special emphasis on one particular line:

God (and I use that term in a very general, very high-and-behind-the-scenes way as in Hermetic theology/philosophy), more often than not, doesn’t really established hard and fixed prohibitions so long as something fits (or is, at least, tolerated and permissible) within the grander scheme of things.  Even the biggest events and problems in our lives are less than specks of dust compared to the grandness of all creation, and accordingly, there’s not too much that really conflicts with the overall overarching design of God; there’s more than one way to skin a cat. But when God says “no” through the creation of the cosmos, there’s no angel, demon, ghost, or god that will say “yes”. If God says “no”, then you should find out why that might be the case and act accordingly, because more often than not, it’s with your own best interests in mind. Again, this is where divination is important, because it will tell you what’s going on, whether you can do something, and whether you should do something.

Now, there’s a lot to unpack in all of this, because I didn’t necessarily summarize everything, and Curious Cat, for all its usefulness, isn’t great for truly nuanced discussions, what with its 3000 character limit on replies, and it’s easy to get some parts of the above misunderstood.  Plus, there are things that I’m hinting at in some of my replies that really need to be said explicitly, but just couldn’t fit reasonably in the above replies within the constraints of Curious Cat.  First, let me preface this by saying that I’m coming from a position that’s largely Hermetic and Neoplatonic and fundamentally emanationist-monist within a polytheistic framework, and I recognize that not all systems of theology, cosmology, or philosophy operate on these principles—but there are still quite a number that do.  Since I’m the one being asked these questions for my opinions, and since this is my own blog, these are my thoughts on all of this.

At the core of it all, the theme of all these questions is what role God has to play in our Work, whether or not we’re monotheistic or monist, and how we relate to God in that sense.

First, what exactly is this God we’re talking about?  Coming from a Hermetic standpoint, God is the ultimate underlying authority and entity that created and creates the whole cosmos.  Without getting into the nitty-gritty of Hermetic philosophy (I did a good-enough job of that in my 49 Days of Definitions blog series from 2013 regarding the “Definitions from Hermes Trismegistus to Asclepius”), God is both the end result of spiritual development and the ultimate source of all things that exist, don’t exist, might exist, etc.  Everything else that exists does so within God as part of God.  It may be said that God is fullness itself; instead of merely saying that all things exist within God, it can also be said that all things are God, and since God is all things, God is All.  However, since God is still one divinely simple entity, God is also One, and thus All is One.  God is the Platonic Good, the summum bonum of the philosophers, the object of highest knowledge and importance that is the forerunner and producer of all other objects.  God is also the Monad, the One, that which is alone in itself, made by itself endlessly (i.e. unmade), making all things, coming first; it is the one Source of all things, creating all things within itself yet never being made from anything besides itself, never taking away from itself into less nor multiplying itself into more.  God, further, encompasses all things; not only is God fully immanent in all of creation, but God also transcends all of creation, too.  Everything is permeated with divine essence, but everything is also intrinsically connected to each other and to God by it as well.

Where does that put us, as human beings?  All beings, human and otherwise that are not God are finite; they are not infinite, unending, immovable, or the like, since these are qualities that belong only to God.  Something that is finite has an end; it is defined, or set in by boundaries.  The maximum extent of these boundaries can be called something’s capacity, and nothing that is finite can exceed its own capacity.  Thus, everything that exists that is not God has a certain way of existing up to a certain point, whether it be in quantity or quality or good or evil; these things cannot act outside or beyond that point, because then it would exceed its own capacity.  A being’s capacity is, essentially, its destiny; a being does what its nature is designed to do, which is to fulfill its own capacity, but which it cannot exceed, because that would be going past what its destiny necessitates.  This is essentially our power: to fulfill our capacity, to fulfill our fate, and we have the choice of doing good or evil in a Hermetic sense, to fulfill our fate or to not fulfill it.  And that’s huge!  But, despite all this power we’re entitled to have, we’re not omnipotent; for example, our nature as humans is to die; we are mortal, after all, and the nature of things with material bodies is to die eventually.

What about other entities that aren’t human beings, such as angels or gods that are distinct from capital-G God?  They’re entities in their own rights, to be sure, and have their own capacities, natures, and roles to play.  But they’re still finite, no matter how much power they have.  Whatever something is according to its nature, that is going to be how it will be for that being.  These entities still have power, but they still exist as finite entities within creation; thus, they are still not God.  Rather, it’s God who establishes their natures and capacities, and it’s the role of those entities to fulfill them however they so choose.  Being higher than us and made of more subtle stuff and without the distractions and darkness of incarnate bodies, they also see more and know more than we do, and are necessarily closer to God than we are down here.  All the same, however, they cannot exceed their own capacities, either.

Now, I know that this might seem a little…appropriative, as if I’m trying to fit every possible tradition or religion into a single monist framework.  In a sense, yeah, because that’s what Hermeticism is, and it’s fundamentally one of the ways that Neoplatonic philosophy regards the hierarchy and workings of the cosmos.  To be sure, there isn’t just one Neoplatonism, and I’ll admit that my own philosophical background is amateurish, but it’s a thing I’ve seen and considered time and again and, simply, the framework works.  While I believe in God, I also believe in a plurality of many other gods; they’re all real, and often with varying powers, domains, personalities, temperaments, preferences, and the like.  And yet, they exist as part of creation just like I do, which is why approaching them works.  Yet, as a Hermeticist, I also recognize the existence (such as it is) of a God of gods, a God behind all creation, both within and without.  This is effectively the same God as that of Abraham or Muḥammad as well as of Hermēs Trismegistus, as well as Olodumare of the Yòrubá and Lukumí, as well as the God of the gnostics and the Good of the philosophers.  One can still be a monist without being a monotheist or monolatrist.  Even if you disagree with that approach to divinity and divinities (and I know of at least several who would with very good reasons!), accept the premise of it for the purposes of this post.

When it comes to angels, the word itself literally means “messenger” in Greek (ἄγγελος ángelos), and the notion of it in Abrahamic religions comes from the Hebrew מלאך mal’ākh meaning, again, “messenger”.  More than just being a bearer of the messages of God, however, angels are more like ambassadors, emissaries, or functionaries of God: they accomplish the will of God in every possible way, fulfilling it by governing, ruling, directing, and instructing different parts of the cosmos, essentially acting as the limbs of God and extensions of the will of God.  If we want to take the “messenger” idea a bit further in a way that comports with both Hermeticism and Christianity, consider the role of the Word; after all, “in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word is God”.  The “Word” of Christianity does refer to Jesus Christ, sure, but it’s also the Logos of the Hermeticists, the rational and intelligible principle that allows God (as the Nous, or Mind) to allow the cosmos to function.  In that sense, angels are messengers of the Word of God; where they bear the Word, they fulfill the will of God.

The thing about angels is that they are still only messengers; they speak the Word of God, but that is all they can speak, for that is their capacity and nature.  Angels, as extensions of the will of God, have no free will of their own; their whole purpose is to effect the will of God in the creation God made.  Whatever an angel “wants” to do is identical with what God wills; their will is inherently God’s will.  That’s why, among many other things, we can’t command an angel to do anything, because that’s equivalent to commanding God to do something, which is so far outside our finite and human capacity and capabilities that it’s laughable.  Angels cannot and do not do anything that God does not command them to do, but “command”, though a familiar concept to us coming from a Jewish, Christian, or Islamic background, isn’t really what’s happening between God and the angels; rather, God speaks his Word, and the angels bear that Word to wherever they’re going to accomplish whatever that Word is.  Angels are almost machine-like in that sense; they exist for the sole purpose of “serving God” by fulfilling the will of God.

In terms more suited to Renaissance Hermeticism, angels are “intelligences”, spiritual entities under the rule of God that guide and direct the manifestation of the forces of the cosmos.  Every force, entity, place, planet, and thing in the cosmos has its own presiding or governing angel, which can be worked with through devotional, magical, or some other kind of spiritual means.  Thus, consider Tzaphqiel, the angel of Saturn; this angel is the “governor” of that planet, and serves to establish the power, roles, functions, motions, and works of Saturn in all things in the cosmos.  Tzaphqiel, as an angel, bears the Word of God in a way that focuses on the Logos as it pertains to Saturn.  If we want to bring more Saturn power into our lives or throttle it back from our lives, we can work with Tzaphqiel to do just that.  But what if Tzaphqiel says “no”?

This is basically what a lot of these questions on Curious Cat are getting at.  Let’s step aside for a bit and consider something else for the moment: where does the nature of angels in relation to God leave us in angelic magic, whether through prayers or conjurations?  It cannot be denied that working with angels is often incredibly effective for any number of ends, and is a staple of European folk religion and folk magic as well as Hermetic, Solomonic, and other kinds of magic generally in both the West and the East.  Obviously, we don’t worship angels—that’d be idolatry, and an insult to both the angel and God—but we do venerate them and honor them, especially when thanking them or calling upon them.  But the thing is that, when we call upon them, there’s something that’s really common in much of Western magical literature that we need to carefully consider: we don’t command the angels to appear, but we ask for them to appear.  Moreover, we don’t ask the angel to appear, but we ask God that the angel appear for us.  And there are very good reasons for that.

Consider the specific conjuration prayer from Johann Trithemius’ Art of Drawing Spirits into Crystals.  For clarity, let me use my own slightly reworded version, and note the specific phrasing of the prayer in the emphasized sections:

In the name of the blessed Tetragrammaton, I call upon you, you strong and mighty angel Michael, if it be the divine will of the most holy God that you take the shape that best shows your celestial nature, and appear to me visibly here in this crystal, and answer my demands in as far as I shall not transgress the bounds of divine mercy by requesting unlawful knowledge, and that you graciously show me what things are most profitable for me to know and do, to the glory and honor of his divine majesty, who lives and reigns, world without end.  Amen.

Lord, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.  Make clean my heart within me, and take not your holy spirit from me.

O Lord, by your name I have called Michael; suffer him to administer unto me, and that all things may work together for your honor and glory, and that to you be ascribed all might, majesty, and dominion.  Amen.

O Lord, I thank you for the hearing of my prayer, and I thank you for having permitted your spirit to appear unto me.  Amen.

For another example, consider the orison from book II, chapter 12 of the Book of Abramelin:

O Lord God of Mercy … Sanctify me also with the oil of thy sanctification, wherewith thou hast sanctified all thy prophets; and purify in me therewith all that appertains unto me, so that I may become worthy of the conversation of thy holy angels and of thy divine wisdom, and grant unto me the power which thou hast given unto thy prophets over all the evil spirits. Amen, amen.

Another example, the prayer from septenary II, aphorism 14 from the Arbatel of Magic:

O Lord of heaven and earth, Creator and Maker of all things visible and invisible; I, though unworthy, by thy assistance call upon thee, through thy only begotten Son Jesus Christ our Lord, that thou wilt give unto me thy holy Spirit, to direct me in thy truth unto all good. Amen.

Because I earnestly desire perfectly to know the Arts of this life and such things as are necessary for us, which are so overwhelmed in darkness, and polluted with infinite humane opinions, that I of my own power can attain to no knowledge in them, unless thou teach it me. Grant me, therefore, one of thy spirits, who may teach me those things which thou would have me to know and learn, to thy praise and glory, and the profit of our neighbor…

Then again, the invocation to call forth angels from the Ars Almadel (language cleaned up to be made more readable for modern readers):

O you great, mighty, and blessed angel of God, NN. … I, the servant of the same your God entreat and humbly beseech you to come and show unto me all the things that I desire of you, so far as in office you can or are capable to perform if God permit to the same.  O you servant of Mercy, NN., I entreat you and humbly beseech you … to inform and rightly instruct me in my ignorant and depraved intellect, judgment, and understanding, and to assist me both in both this and in all other truths that the almighty Adonai, the King of Kings and the Giver of all good gifts, shall in his bountiful and fatherly Mercy be graciously pleased to bestow upon me.  Thus, o you blessed angel NN., be friendly unto me and work for me, so far as God has given you power in office to perform, whereunto I move you in power and presence to appear that I may sing with his holy angels: o mappa la man, hallelujah!  Amen.

I think the message I’m getting across is clear here.  Granted, not all grimoires in the Solomonic or Hermetic tradition use this kind of phrasing, especially when we’re dealing in a more goetic fashion where instead of pleading for God to grant his permission of such-and-such a phenomenon happening, we simply assume that God has given us his authority to make things happen, thus all the perilous threats that Solomonic magicians are known to use.  But how do we actually know or make sure we have that authority, or how do we know whether God will grant us permission?  Consider the very first line of the Key of Solomon (book I, chapter 1): “Solomon, the son of David, King of Israel, hath said that the beginning of our Key is to fear God, to adore him, to honor him with contrition of heart, to invoke him in all matters which we wish to undertake, and to operate with very great devotion, for thus God will lead us in the right way.”

Heck, I think the Key of Solomon is an excellent text to discuss here.  Julio Cesar Ody (of famous occult-lampooning fame), if I recall correctly (and I hope he corrects me if I’m wrong!) has remarked before that people treat the Key of Solomon as something to pilfer and take extracts from, rather than treating it like a full initiatory system of magic unto itself.  And when you look at it…yeah.  It really is far more than just a collection of works and talismans to be made with good prayers to be used for consecrating three dozen and more tools and pentacles.  Consider that the recitation of psalms is a huge part of they Key of Solomon; why would that be the case?  Because the Psalms are fundamentally songs that are used to praise God for his power and  beneficence, creation of the world, and miracles and favors done for mankind generally and for the sake of Israel specifically.  They can take the form of laments, thanksgiving, praisegiving, celebration, or pleas for help, and their study and recitation is common in Judaism and Christianity for imparting wisdom and cultivating grace and an elevated spirituality in accordance with the will and command of God.  Yes, the specific psalms used in the rituals of the Key of Solomon do bear relation to the things being consecrated at times, but it’s a constant practice of keeping ourselves spiritually in line with the will of God, which, when used with the actual prayers of the rituals themselves, produce an all-around feat of holy work.  Consider the first prayer from book I, chapter 5:

O Lord God, holy Father, Almighty and Merciful One who has created all things, who know all things and can do all things, from whom nothing is hidden, to whom nothing is impossible!  You who know that we do not perform these ceremonies to tempt your power, but that we may penetrate into the knowledge of hidden things.  We pray to you, by your sacred Mercy, to cause and to permit that we may arrive at this understanding of secret things of whatever nature they may be by your aid, o most holy ADONAI, whose Kingdom and Power shall have no end unto the Ages of the Ages. Amen.

Fundamentally, working divine magic is just prayer, just supplications to the Divine—to God—that certain things happen, not for the simple reason that we want it to happen, but that it be capital-G Good and ordained by God that it should happen.  That’s really all there is to it.  You might want to use so many words as all the excerpts above show, perhaps to inflame yourself with prayer to reach a more powerful or ecstatic state of working, or you might use less, if you can manage to get as much intent and focus out from fewer words.  Either way, this sort of magic is just prayer.

In this light, what happens when we pray for something and it doesn’t happen?  There could be several explanations:

  • What we’re praying for isn’t permissible within the design of God. It could be that what you’re asking for just isn’t possible, realistic, or appropriate for the world that God has established.  God could look at you and say “you’re being unreasonable here, focus on what’s realistic”.  I could pray to grow wings so that I can fly around the skies, but it’s not going to happen according to the laws of human physiology and basic physics in this world, which were designed according to the will and plan of God.  It could happen on other planes where one’s form isn’t so rigidly fixed, but it’s not going to happen here.  Likewise, if you pray for the consecration of a particular talisman for a particular end and it doesn’t end up consecrated, it’s because God sees that what you’re asking for isn’t permissible within the overall scheme of things that God has set up for us, perhaps due to the nature of what you’re asking (e.g. a talisman to shoot fireballs out of our hands) or due to the ramifications it might have (e.g. it could set off a chain reaction that would end up butting up harshly against things God already has in store for the cosmos).
  • What we’re praying for isn’t for us to receive. It could be that what you’re asking for is good, noble, and proper, but you’re not the right person to request it or have it.  God could look at you and say “this is a good idea, but it’s not for you to work on, so ask for  something else”.  Not everyone is going to be good at everything; I’m no fighter or doctor, so while I might pray for skill in battle or for success in a lucrative medical career, these things aren’t in my life path.  Trying to force them, so long as it doesn’t go against the will of God for me, could get some success, but it could also just as easily happen that trying to go down those paths would end up with me being stymied, frustrated, and blocked at every turn.  These are signs from the cosmos itself that I’m not on the right path and that I’m barking up the wrong tree.  Instead, I should learn what my path truly entails and focus on that; it might not be easy (it rarely is!), but it will be successful in a way that would go far beyond things that I’m not meant to do.  Thus, if you’re praying for something to happen and it doesn’t happen, it’s could be because that thing isn’t for you to have in your life because it won’t help you and could easily harm you.
  • What we’re praying for is something that we can receive eventually but which we’re not ready to receive now. It could be that what you’re asking for is good, noble, and proper, and it’s proper for you to have those things, but you’re not ready to have it yet.  God could look at you and say “you’ve got the potential, but you aren’t at the right state of development for it right now, so keep working at it”.  In other words, you’re on the right track, but it’s above your station; one day, if you keep on the right track, you’ll get there.  Consider the notion of knowledge and conversation with the Holy Guardian Angel; coming in contact with this divine spirit often involves an ordeal because it’s a direct link to God, and quite simply, not everyone is ready for it.  They all have their own guardian angels, to be sure, but they might not be able to truly comprehend the power and, thus, the accompanying responsibility of the conscious company of that spirit yet.  They need to refine themselves through cultivating virtue and abandoning vice until they reach a certain stage of spiritual development.  Receiving those things we pray for earlier than when it’s appropriate for us could very easily cause us and those around us harm at worst or just distractions and delays at best.

How do we know whether a prayer of ours will be granted?  This is where divination comes into play.  Divination is important for magicians of all kinds, not just because it’s a useful and profitable skill to bring in clients and to spy on people, but because it shows us the way for our own Work.  By divination, we can figure out what’s going on and what the appropriate ways are to handle it; as part of that, we can see not just whether we can do a particular ritual for a particular end, but whether we should do it (or, in the words of the good and most reverend Bishop Lainie Petersen, whether it’s wise for us to do it).  If a reading indicates that we can do something but that we should not do it, then it’s within our power to do the thing but it’s not the best use of our power to do it.  If a reading indicates that we can not do something but that we should do it, then it’s not within our power yet to do the thing and that we need to focus on cultivating that power however necessary in order to do it.  And, if a reading indicates that we can not do something and that we also should not do it, then it’s neither in our power nor our best interests to do the thing.  The answer to can-or-can’t ultimately lies with us, but the answer to should-or-shouldn’t lies with God.

We’ll pick up on this tomorrow when we get more into the notion of what “should” really means here, because this is touching on what role the will of God plays for us in our lives.