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How gods became Archangels
You may know the story about the Babylonian Exile. In 597 BCE, the temple in the ancient city of Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar. Many sacred objects were stolen and hundreds of Israelites were taken into captivity. Less than sixty years later, the Persian King Cyrus the Great conquered Babylon and gave the deportees the option to return – he even put up funds for them to rebuild their temple.
During their time in exile it is most likely the Israelite scholars had the opportunity to work in the great library of Ashurbanipal, the Assyrian emperor. He had not only been a successful military commander, he was also an intellectual, determined to collect the history of Mesopotamia. His library contained many cuneiform texts on clay tablets. This may be why we find the story of the Great Flood appearing in the Hebrew Bible and also in the Babylonian creation myth. Many scholars believe the Archangelic tradition developed as a strand of Jewish mystical thinking around this time, being strongly influenced by Mesopotamian ideas.
The Babylonians had many gods, although they did have a chief god, Marduk, who was in charge of all the others. In the creation myth, Enuma Elish, we learn that Marduk conquered chaos, represented by a dragon-like monster called Tiamat, and then he then became Lord over the all the gods of Heaven and Earth. (Click here for the full text, both written and narrated).
Marduk had a kind of council of minor gods, just as Yahweh (‘the Lord’) in the Hebrew Bible (see Book of Job, chapter 2) surrounds himself with bene elohim – ‘sons of God’, who can also be thought of as councillors in the heavenly government.
The Assyrian Tree
Nineveh, now called Mosul, was once the largest city in the world, and in the nineteenth-century archaeologists rescued beautiful bas reliefs from the ruins of the Assyrian temples dating back at least six hundred years BCE. Some of these images depict winged figures watering a sacred tree, with flowing tracery and flowers with multiple petals. In some variations, the King takes the place of the tree. The king becomes a personification of the tree. Scholars suggest the tree is a model of the divine world order, and the King is a realised version of that order in a human being. Following this idea, if the Assyrian tree represents the perfection of divine order, the King is also a perfected human being.
The Tree of Life in Kabbalah
The famous kabbalistic Tree of Life with the sefirot – divine qualities, powers or attributes – is clearly a close relative of the Assyrian tree. Like the Assyrian tree in the garden, it represents the macrocosm and provides a map showing how the cosmic harmony of the universe is upheld by the constraining powers of the two outer pillars, representing active (yang) and passive (yin) polarities. The central pillar is like the trunk, holding the centre, providing equilibrium.
Each sefira is designated with a different quality, or divine attribute – the Divine can, for example, be severe, or merciful. The Finnish scholar, Simo Parpalo, has shown how the Mesopotamian gods can be overlaid onto the sefirot of the Jewish Tree of Life, with the attributes of the gods matching the esoteric qualities of the sefirot.* He also shows how each stage of mystical ascension can be associated with a different god. In my experiences with the Archangels, I was shown how the Tree of Life is a spiritual ladder for ascending and descending between Earth and Heaven. The ascent takes us on an interior journey from planet Earth and the Moon, through the heavenly spheres of the remaining six celestial bodies, until we reach the outer limit of human sight. Beyond Saturn we meet a ‘veil’, a ‘cloud of unknowing’ – where we surrender to a transpersonal state of awareness in order to meet the Divine attributes represented by the planets beyond Saturn – Uranus, Neptune and Pluto, who, like Earth, also has a significant ‘other – a Moon in a binary relationship.
The planetary gods can be placed on the sefirot, and each has at least one dedicated ‘guardian’. These are the Archangels of the Tree of Life, who can be described as ‘Guardians of the Gates of Light’.
Experiencing the Archangels as spiritual guides
In 1980, I learned an advanced meditation based on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, which involves introducing aphorisms – simple concepts – into one’s awareness during states of deep meditation. One of the aphorisms encouraged us to extend our present consciousness to experience and know the planets. Not long after learning this technique, I had my first encounter with an Archangel – I was surprised by the vivid appearance of Sandalphon during a meditation in the summer of 1982. This unexpected revelation led me to discover the Tree of Life and use it as a map for inner journeys. At the time I had never heard of ‘path-working’, but my intuition led me to this method. I gradually got to know the Archangels, while at the same time developing my understanding of the astrological archetypes.
In my course, Accessing Angelic Realms, you can also develop an intimate understanding of the role Archangels can play in spiritual development. The concept of Soul ascent by exploring your inner heavenly kingdom is very ancient indeed. As I have briefly explained, the wisdom concerning how the gods can support your Soul’s journey has an even older history than the Jewish tradition of kabbalah. In later mystical traditions, the Archangels are understood as invisible helpers, or Divine messengers, but when we converse with them as Divine Powers we expand our consciousness.
Realising our Divine Powers
When we eat from the Tree of Life, we awaken those powers within our Soul . This is an initiation of the first order – we will become as gods. This is the story of the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve were forbidden to eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, but they took a bite and initiated themselves. There was no guide on hand, only the nahash (Hebrew for ‘serpent’) encouraging them, telling them they would not die. The serpent of wisdom was provoking them to step beyond their comfort zone and explore life in its fullness.
The mythic characters Adam and Eve discovered what William Blake called ‘the contraries’ – the opposing energies labelled ‘good’ and ‘evil’ that are essential in Creation. The heavenly powers became very anxious. Now the humans would become like them. Could Adam and Eve handle this vast possibility? Would they be responsible gods? Or would they create havoc? This is the big issue for humanity – both collectively and as individuals. Can we handle the power we have inherited?
* Simo Parpola, University of Helsinki, The Assyrian Tree of Life: Tracing the Origins of Jewish Monotheism and Greek Philosophy from Journal of Near Eastern Studies Vol. 52, No. 3 (Jul., 1993), pp. 161–208, published University of Chicago Press. Back to text.
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To discover more about your own personal Divine Contract and how you can enable your Soul to best fulfill its requirements, you could explore my course, Grounding Your Life Purpose, either as Self-Study or with personal supervision from me. There are currently Special Offers on both versions of the course.