Over the Memorial Day weekend, my nephew and I visited the cemetery plots of our immediate relatives. Like millions of Americans, we utilizing a portion of the holiday to "spruce up" the resting places of friends and family who have died. I'm fascinated by cemeteries ... the majestic monuments and the odd quiet make my senses tingle. There is also an artistic quality to observing how people can make a gravesite truly beautiful with mulch, small planters, river rock, etc.
I happened to have my camera with me and decided to take a few respectful pics. What I focused on were the small iconic momentos left to keep watch over the grave markers. There were lambs, dolphins, train locomotives, mushrooms, pinwheels, gargoyles, frogs, suncatchers, butterflies, and more made of an assortment of materials. But what caught my attention most were the cement angels that sat like stoic sentinels to protect the dead.
Angels have been a part of our collective mythos for millennia, appearing in religions across the planet. These beings are believed to be basic extensions of God ... spectral entities that have been depicted as divine messengers, glorified menials, and protectors of humanity. The term angel is a fusion of the Old English word "engel" and the Old French word "angele," both of which are hand-me-downs from the ancient Greek "angelos" ... "messenger."
Both the Christian and Hebrew Bibles speak of angels as semi-divine beings possessing powers and perceptions above those of "mere" mortals. Scholars and theologians have studied angels for centuries through writings, art, and testimonials from individuals who claim to have interacted with these ethereal personas. Popular culture has characterized angels as winged beings whom are often surrounded by an aura of light. Most "sightings" describe asexual beings with mild, handsome male features often accompanied by flowing robes, head-adorning halos, and even pleasant sounds and smells. But this is certainly not the cased in all cultures ... Hinduism, for example, characterizes angels as "devas," the embodiment of natural elements. And devas are often destructive in their roles as "mediators of God."
In some religions, certain angels have taken on strong personalities and distinct roles. Structured hierarchies have been developed to chart these entities' abilities and duties ... kind of like a scorecard for one of today's popular role-playing games. Several main-stage angels have allegories in multiple religions and are often referred to as "archangels." From the book of Daniel we have Gabriel (God's primary messenger) and Michael (the warrior and protector). Other key characters include Raphael (the healer), Uriel (the fulfiller), Azrael (the death-bringer), and, of course, Lucifer ... the fallen angel who became the "Satan figure."
In the mainstream, people that believe in angels see them as guardians, harbingers of danger, and agents of positive change. Belief in angels has been a topic of organized cultural-anthropological study for nearly half a century. In 2007, a study showed that 68 percent of those Americans polled believe that angels and demons are active in the physical world. In 2008, a Baylor University poll found that 55 percent of respondents believe that they have been protected by "guardian angels" during their lifetime. And multiple 2009 surveys showed that more Americans believe in angels than the concept of global warming!! Similar studies have been conducted in Canada and the United Kingdom.
Personally, I even know two individuals who have vivid recollections of being visited by angels. One friend believes the "visitation" was what prevented her from being involved in a terrible accident on a commuter train. The other acquaintance was going through a tough emotional period and feels that the "bright lights" that spoke to him on three occasions is what gave him the strength to power through both a divorce and a dependence on alcohol.
POINT OF RANT: I was just thrilled that my photos turned out so damn good!!