Angels we have heard on high

In the staff report on angels, Dex says:

O.K., Dex, Why?

It’s a long shaggy-dog type story, and it must be told – the written versions I’ve seen don’t do it any justice.

Starts out at the North Pole, the afternoon of Christmas Eve, with everyone scurrying around to be ready for the big flight that night…

C K Dexter Haven
I assume your post is referring to the “classic” story of why there is an angel on top of the Christmas tree. If so, I agree that it has to be told. I once related the story at a Christmas Eve get-together and actually had a Greek Orthodox priest who had never heard it before go into an asthmatic attack from laughter.

Gotcha. I know exactly where to put that tree.

Yep, that’s the one, and I figure most everyone has heard it. But it just doesn’t read anywhere near as well as it tells.

Another in the same strain is the famous Bricklayers’ Story, told by the late but wonderful Gerald Hoffnung. I saw it go around on the internet, but it just isn’t as funny in writing, by a long shot.

If you must know, it’s because all the bunnies were dead.

Not to hijack this thread any further, but just out of curiousity how difficult is it to take a recorded version of a story (audio only or audiovideo) and post it online in a downloadable format? A friend at work recently sent me a link which played an illustrated version of the “Schitt Family Chronicles” which played quite nicely on my work computer, but I haven’t gotten around to trying it on my home computer so I don’t know how well it plays with my cable modem (although I presume from past experience with other downloads that it would be okay).

Not that I’m volunteering to record my stirring rendition of the angel story for the amusement and edification of others, of course.

Actually, I have no idea what you are referring to with this “get together” story. Even if it doesn’t make it justice, could you please tell it, Dexter?



HERE are a few versions of the joke.

Dex. Masterful job on your article.

Hey, Dex, it was a wonderful article. Very enlightening as to the traditions of the three religions. Couldn’t have been easy, nor could it have been more well done.

That being said, I did want to bring one verse of the Old Testament to your notice, RE: that angels were portrayed as strictly male. This verse is, I believe, where we get the modern-day look of most of what we consider to be Christmas-style angels.

<b>Zechariah 5:9</b>
Then I looked up–and there before me were two women, with the wind in their wings! They had wings like those of a stork, and they lifted up the basket between heaven and earth.
(Taken from the New International Version)

Granted this is the only mention of angels that looked like women in the whole of the Bible. Still, as fascinating a subject as angels is, why not throw a bit more into the mix?

There is some considerable question as to whether the two winged women in Zechariah are angels.

Nice report, Dex.

Here’s where I’ve gotten my legends all bollixed up.

Could someone explain the relationship between angels with “eyes on their wings,” the eyes on a peacock’s tail, why the peacock is a Christian symbol and the connection, if any, between peacocks and phoenixes (phoenii??)? Peacocks would seem to me to better symbolize vanity, pride and limited intelligence.

Well, that’s a new one on me. I had never heard of the Peacock/Christian thing. Googling on “peacock Christian” led me (eventually, on the 5th page of search results) to this short blurb: The peacock is used in Christian symbolism as a sign of immortality because of the myth that a peacock’s flesh does not decay after death. Because of the way a peacock struts and displays its feathers, it may also be used as a symbol of human vanity.

There was also this page, which tells us: *The signs and symbols we find painted in the frescoes, inscribed on the marble sarcophagi and slabs, and etched on the walls of the catacombs all deal with the christian faith, even though some symbols are taken directly from the pagan repertoire.

Ancient cultures loved the use of symbols to express ideas. The peacock for the pagans was the symbol of eternal life. However, not all the pagans shared the idea of an afterlife, and for those who did, it was one clouded in mystery and wrapped in a shadowy world of obscurity. Pagan art strongly reflects this anguish, which was a vision of pain and sorrow.

The Christians adopted the symbol of the peacock, but developed a deeper meaning. Because of Revelation, the obscurity of death was cancelled by the victory of Christ’s resurrection. The peacock therefore became the symbol of the eternal life of the soul.*

I’ve never heard of angels with eyes on their wings. That might come from Jewish or Catholic tradition, or perhaps there is some mention in the Apocrypha.

Does that help?

Okay, so the peacock’s flesh doesn’t decompose after death–now we’re getting somewhere! (I wonder where that came from?)

Actually, re-reading my post in the light of day, it looks pretty unclear. Let me tell what I know about this cluster of legends that interests me.

The “eyes on wings” comes from Ezekiel and Revelations (probably following Ezekiel):

The “eyes on wings” image is used in lots of fiction (however, I found it impossible to find a sample by googling–too much angel glurge out there). I don’t know if the imagery gets repeated in any Apoocrypha or not–seems like a natural for some of it.

The phoenix/peacock connection may be based soley on appearances–I read somewhere that representations of the phoenix were originally based on the peacock–the swooping tail feathers in particular. Nonetheless, the phoenix is not usually depicted with an erect tail that would show the eyes. The phoenix seems even more Christian in its symbolism–the resurrected bird who dies but lives again from its own power.

These are the 2 points I conflate in my mind, but they may have no actual basis in legend: 1. the peacock is a Christian symbol; ergo the phoenix should also be one; and 2. angels have eyes on their wings as do peacocks; ergo the peacock is a symbol of angels. I can’t find anything to support my conflations but, as noted, it’s tough to search for this stuff.

All this talk about peacocks reminded me of the Yazidis…
*The Yazidi religion is a syncretistic combination of Zoroastrian, Manichaean, Jewish and Nestorian Christian with Islamic Shi’a and Sufi elements and has many variants…

…Yazidis believe that the supreme God created the world, but delegated its maintenance to a hierarchy of seven angels of whom Malak Ta’us (the Peacock Angel) was the first in rank. Malak Ta’us sinned in not worshipping Adam, and was punished by being cast down from heaven. After shedding tears for 7000 years, with which the fires of hell were quenched, he repented of his sin of pride, was pardoned and reinstated as chief of the angels.

In Yazidi belief, Malak Ta’us is also the devil (Shaitan), the ruler of this world, and they seek to appease him as they fear his power. They do not actually worship him, but seek to honour and placate him, believing that the Supreme Being has delegated to him dominion over the world…

Malak Ta’us rules the universe with the help of six other angels, and he guards the gates of Paradise. The seven angels are worshipped by the Yazidi in the form of seven bronze peacock figures called Sanjaq, the largest of which weighs 320 kg. Six of them are taken yearly on a round of the main Yazidi centres.*

From some guy’s personal site:

He calls them Shi’a, which I certainly wouldn’t. But otherwise, his info seems to accord with what I’ve read elsewhere ( and I’m too lazy to google up some more :wink: ).

  • Tamerlane

Wow, Tamerlane, you made my day! I knew someone must make the angel/peacock connection. Where could I possibly get something like this but from you?

Now I can complacently reclaim belief in the interconnectedness of all things (if I could only figure out how to work in the bit about the lettuce taboo).

The NY Times had a full page (page 4) article (and big photos) on the Yazidis today. Mentioned the lettuce thing (in the headline even) and the peacock/angel thing too. Here’s the link (free registration may be required).

In fact, for an article that claims to be pretty much stymied by how obscure the practices and tenets of the Yazidis are, it said a lot of things that are very (I’ll say it one more time, very) similar in style and substance to the stuff in Tamerlane’s link.

(Very surreal to meet the Yazidis in the NYTimes right after first hearing of them here–dateline is Dec. 27, but the article appeared today.)