The Concept of the Holy Guardian Angel -
Among the Chaldeans
One of the earliest testaments of ritual magic that has come upon us dates back to the Chaldean period. However, defining clearly what the term ‘Chaldean’ means has been a problem for scholars since decades. The main challenge is that the meaning of the term shifted repeatedly over the centuries. Originally it indicated a member of an ancient Semitic people who came to prominence in the late 8th century BC and gained rulership over Babylonia in 620 BC. For our investigation into occult lore it is interesting to note that the Chaldeans were the culture to create the magical fundament from which many later cultures drew their astrological and ritual practices such as the famous Sabians of Harran.
The name Chaldean, however, lost its meaning as the name of a specific ethnic group in 539 BC when the Babylonian Empire was absorbed into the Persian Empire. Since then we can find the term being applied much more generally referring to all people versed in occult learnings and in astrology and incantations of the planetary spirits specifically (source: link/ link).
It’s in light of such ambiguous historic context that we will investigate the idea of an individual spirit guardian among the Chaldeans. What we will need to keep in mind in addition is that we are referring to an ancient period from which few written records have come upon us and whose cosmology, magical practices and rites were influenced by preceding and parallel cultures such as Sumerians, Assyrians and Egyptians.
2. Chaldean Demonology
On immersion into Chaldean sources of magic we immediately understand that demonic forces were abundant according to their worldview. And so were the means to regulate human interaction with them.
“The gods of the Euphrates, like those of the Nile, constituted a countless multitude of visible and invisible beings, distributed into tribes and empires throughout all the regions of the universe. A particular function or occupation formed, so to speak, the principality of each one, in which he worked with an indefatigable zeal, under the orders of his respective prince or king; but, whereas in Egypt they were on the whole friendly to man, or at the best indifferent in regard to him, in Chaldaea they for the most part pursued him with an implacable hatred, and only seemed to exist in order to destroy him.”
(Maspero, Vol3, p.136/137)
Thrown back on himself alone man had no realistic chance of facing and surviving the constant demonic attacks that formed the basis of everyday life. Thus protection from demons that were audacious enough to attack the gods of light themselves - as conveyed for the seven wicked Maskim, the evil subterranean demons and counter forces to the seven planetary spirits (Lenormand, p.18 / Butler, p.5-6 / Horne, p.230) - needed to be omnipresent and strongly supported by the good spirits. These existed in antagonistic yet fine balance to the evil spirits. Together they formed a dualism comparable in purity only to Zoroastrianism (Lenormand, p.145).
While similarly dualistic in nature one of the major difference between Zoroastrian and Chaldean magic is that in the latter the continuous fight of the hoards of evil and benevolent demonic spirits wasn’t synthesized on a cosmic level into two antagonistic supreme beings. As we will see in a later chapter on Zoroastrianism Ahuramazda, the good creator and his antagonist Ahriman, the evil adversary are conceived as two eternally battling forces, creating the mythical blueprint for all struggles between evil and benevolent forces in the lower realms of creation (Link 3). Chaldean cosmology, however, was much more polytheistic in nature, its pantheistic divine beings residing in and bringing to life all phenomena of nature.
It has been a matter of debate among scholars wether underneath the surface of polytheistic Chaldean rites and incantations still a deeper level of divine unity and successive emanation can be assumed.
As an example for a scholar who believed to perceive a divine unity below the polytheistic surface of Chaldean cosmology we can take Lenormand.
“Underneath the exterior garb of a coarse polytheism (...) were the conceptions of a higher order from which it had originated; and foremost among them the fundamental idea of a divine unity, although disfigured by the monstrous illusions of pantheism, which confounded the creature with the Creator, and transformed the Divine Being into a multitude of derivate gods who were manifested in all the phenomena of nature.”
However, most scholars today seem to disagree with Lenormand’s speculation and clearly determine the Chaldean religion as polytheistic in essence. An early example of this view is already given by Lenormand’s coeval, the respected egyptologist Gaston Maspero:
“If the idea of uniting all these divine beings into a single supreme one, who would combine within himself all their elements and the whole of their powers, ever for a moment crossed the mind of some Chaldaean theologian, it never spread to the people as a whole.”
(Maspero, Vol3, p.154)
What remained undisputed among scholars of the field until today, however, is that the practicalaspects of Chaldean cosmology, i.e. their rites and magic can best be described as an overflowing “adoration of the elementary spirits” (Lenormand, p.143).And if there had been any supreme beings from whom other gods were born - such as the god Ilu - they never became the centre of a cult or fellowship among Chaldeans (Lenormand, p.113-114).
The centre of the Chaldean rites and religion always remained the demonic and divine forces as represented by nature and the celestial night sky. Adoration of the planets, their divine spirits as well as protection from their evil subterranean counterpart forms the centre of the Chaldean texts and artifacts (Lenormand, p.112).
“There can be no doubt of the Sabaeanism of the Chaldees, and apparently of the early Assyrians, whose pantheon, from its fusion of human and animal forms, resembles the Egyptian and Hindhu. The relation of religion with astronomy is, however, more striking in Assyria than in Egypt; the system of the latter country being solar, while the Assyrian worship was rather astral. On the Babylonian cylinders and monuments, the sun and moon constantly occur, and often seven stars arranged more in the manner of the Pleiads than of the Great Bear, but probably the latter. Zodiacal signs are frequently placed in the area along with the sun, moon, and seven stars, and show unequivocally that the Greeks derived their notions and arrangements of the Zodiac from the Chaldees.”
(Layard, Vol2, p.440)
Devotion to and magical practice for the planetary spirits formed an essential corner stone of Chaldean rites. However, in all their efforts to engage with, predict and control the influence of the planetary and elementary spirits man always remained in his original place - deeply confined by his own nature and in continuos search for magical empowerment through divine or demonic assistance. The idea of direct ascension of man, of changing man’s (spiritual) nature to become like the gods wasn’t part of the Chaldean cosmology or magical practice. Just as they didn’t strive to synthesize the plethora of gods into a single higher divine being, so they didn’t strive to free man from the confines of his essential nature - caught in the eternal struggle between chthonic and celestial forces. The outspoken goal of Chaldean magic was to win this battle, one day, one demonic assault at a time, not to transcend it in nature.
It werelater magical systems that introduced the idea of theurgy into magic, i.e. of ascension of man towards the divine and ‘spiritualize’ his nature in order to govern and direct inferior divine emanations independently (Lenormand, p. 74 & 107). For Chaldean magicians theurgy wasn’t part of their armamentarium. The Akkadian man remained bound into the natural realm without any chances of struggling free from the demonic dualism he was constantly surrounded by.
“Upon this dualistic conception rested the whole edifice of sacred magic, of magic regarded as a holy and legitimate intercourse established by rites of divine origin, between man and the supernatural beings surrounding him on all sides. Placed unhappily in the midst of this perpetual struggle between the good and the bad spirits man felt himself attacked by them at every moment; his fate depended upon them. All his happiness was the work of the former, all the evils to which he was subject were attributable to the latter.”
Understanding the basic belief-system of the Chaldeans is essential for everything to follow. Only in light of this can we understand their perspective and meaning of a personal spirit guardian assigned to each human being. However, before looking at this specific category of spiritual beings, let’s take a closer look at the way Chaldeans understood the nature of demons in general.
Anybody familiar with Jewish, Gnostic, Christian, Muslim or Neoplatonistic cosmology knows that the basic principle of cosmic organization and hierarchy rests in the relation of each part of creation towards its creator. Thus the various ranks of angels are defined by their closeness to God’s throne, demons are ordered in descending ranks into increasing darkness hidden away from God’s eternal light. The neoplatonistic chains of emanation - maybe the purest example of this cosmological principle - stretch out from the eternal source of creation into the abundant diversity of the material realm, creating order and alignment in what would seem lost in chaos otherwise. The principle of cosmic organization pivots on its creator. Only in relation to this supreme being can we understand the true identity of each object and being as well as its function in creation.
This principle doesn’t apply in polytheistic cultures. Such spiritual dependency can neither be traced in the early pantheons of the Egyptians or Greeks, nor among the ancient Chaldean gods. While even polytheistic religions develop, protect and pass on their mythical lore of divine succession and creation these stories tend to carry little meaning and emphasis in their daily cultic practices.
Thus in Chaldean magic we can find distinct divine hierarchies and stories of creation of sky and earth out of chaos as well as their overthrow through their own offspring similar to the mythical lore of the Greeks. However, these sacred stories are of little importance and value in the actual rites as well as the cults of local gods. What mattered most to Chaldeans was the actual relationship they developed with specific gods, spirits or demons - not where these emerged from originally. Even though on a larger scale gods were as time-bound as humans - generations of divine beings handed over cultic devotees once their time had passed and the stars of their offspring were rising - things were as fluid and unstable in the spiritual realm as they were on the material one. As below so above.
So while Chaldean gods and demons couldn’t hope for eternal stability of their rulership they were free from the intricate dependency on a supreme being so well know in later monotheistic religions.
3. Personal spirit relations among the Chaldeans
From what we have learned from the above we can conclude that according to Chaldean worldview each spirit existed in its own right. Every plant, stone and mineral, every animal or artifact created by humans, anything that exists had a spiritual being attached to it. Yet these weren’t organized in sympathetic chains as we find it in later Hellenistic times (Reiner, p.141). What mattered most to the magician wasn’t where gods or demons came from, but to strike a positive alliance with the benevolent and strike a deadly blow at the wicked ones. What mattered most was the personal impact each spirit could make on the living - not their genealogy. Just as man in Chaldean times didn’t strive to ascent into heavens through theurgy, so their magic was aimed at the here and now. The focus of any spiritual action was the immediate effect, not re-creating bounds with distant primordial divinities that first set forth the eternal motion of creation. For Chaldeans Kether always rested in Malkuth solidly.
It is this context that explains why we search in vain among Chaldeans for the idea of a transcendant or supra-lunar personal daimon assigned to each human being from birth. Chaldeans most likely would have frowned upon the Thelemic saying ‘Every man and woman is a star’. Much rather than thinking of humans - or their higher selves - as stars they would have searched for magical means to bind the spirit of a specific star to a human or sacred object (Reiner, p.127/128/139). For Chaldean magic to work the difference between the human and the realm of the stars was essential. As it were the latter who acted as messengers from and to the divine (Reiner, p.16) which had to be invoked into the human realm as needed exactly because they were different in nature.
“Stars function in a dual role in relation to man: the exert a direct influence and serve as mediators between man and god. Directly, through astral irradiation, they transform ordinary substances into potent ones that will be effective in magic, medicine, or ritual, as materia medica, amulets, or cultic appurtenances. Stars also provide reliable answers to the query of the diviner. More important, in their second role stars are man’s medium of communication with the divine.”
Thus for the Chaldean mind - being deeply pragmatic - creating deliberately chosen and often changing spirit bounds as seem fit in any given situation was much more natural than claiming a single transcendent spirit union by birthright. Good luck, health, wealth and longevity were things to be gained through deliberately chosen magical patrons, spirit alliances and demon traps rather than a higher state of being that could be unlocked through mystical ascension.
So if we look for traces of the concept of a holy guardian angel among Chaldeans we do not find any proof of its existence - as long as we refer the term to a spiritual being of supra-lunar or celestial nature that is assigned to man by birthright. We do find, however, many traces of spirits acting as patrons to humans for both good and evil purposes (Reiner, p.109).
As mentioned above spirit alliances were crucial for survival in Chaldean times. As the most intimate form of spirit communion human possession thus was not only possible but rather common. It was dreaded and warded off by the evil and often magically induced by favorable demons.
Here is an example incantation to protect from evil possession:
“The wicked god, the wicked demon, the demon of the desert, the demon of the mountain, the demon of the sea, the demon of the marsh, the evil genius, the enormous uruku, the bad wind itself, the wicked demon which seizes the body, which disturbs the body. Spirit of the heavens, conjure it! Spirit of the earth conjure it!”
And here is an example incantation to induce beneficial possession:
"The king, the shepherd of his people, may he (hold) the sun in his right hand, may he (hold) the moon in his left hand. May the favorable demon, the favorable giant, which governs the lordship and the crown, penetrate into his body!”
However, in all case demonic influences were perceived as completely external interventions.Demonic influences were drawn from the outside in and not connected to man’s soul by nature. It was the everyday interaction with beings and objects as part of an animistic world full of spirit influences that could lead to negative infliction, bad fate ,various forms of diseases or its opposites.
“They, the productions of the infernal regions, On high they bring trouble, and below they bring confusion. Falling in rain from the sky, issuing from the earth, they penetrate the strong timbers, the thick timbers; they pass from house to house. Doors to not stop them, Bolts do not stop them, They glide in at the doors like serpents, They enter by the windows like the wind.”
So while the idea of a inborn demon patron - may it be beneficial or evil - didn’t exist in Chaldean times, the Babylonian sorcerers knew how to create similar spirit bonds deliberately at a later point in life. Thus in Chaldean times demon patrons were demonic spirits bound into either talismanic objects or into a human person itself.
Here is an example incantation to the guardian spirit of king Esarhaddon (a king of Assyria who reigned 681 – 669 BC):
“May the guardian bull, the guardian genius, who protects the strength of my throne, always preserve my name in joy and honour until this feet move themselves from their place.”
This first chapter of our short study of the concept of the Concept of the Holy Guardian Angel thus concludes with a few findings.
- As one of the earliest cultures to influence our Western magical lore the Chaldeans did not know the concept of a Holy Genius and Evil Daimon as it emerged in later centuries. However, we did encounter a potential source of this idea in the concept of demon patrons or guardian spirits that was well known in Chaldean magic and formed an essential measure in attaining protection and warding of evil influences.
- Furthermore - and maybe even more distinctly - we learned that the idea of individual mystical or magical ascension of the practitioner was unknown to Chaldean mages. In a world where spiritual genealogy meant little and actual curses and protection charms everything man’s goal wasn’t to spiritualize himself or matter nor to ascent above the physical boundaries of his human existence. Rather than aspiring to reconnect with one’s personal star Chaldean mages aspired to connect with the most helpful stars to resolve the actual problem at hands. In essence during Chaldean times magic wasn’t a means to deify the constitution of the human soul yet it was an everyday tool for protection and to resolve real-life crisis.
- Link 1: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chaldea
- Link 2: http://www.thefreedictionary.com/Chaldean
- Link 3: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zoroastrianism
- Butler, Elizabeth M., Ritual Magic, Magic in History Series, Sutton Publishing 1998 (1949)
- Carnoy, Albert, ‘Zoroastrianism’ in Hastings, James, Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics, Volume XII, p. 862 - 868 (1912) - link
- Daicher, Samuel, Babylonian Oil Magic in the Talmud and in the later Jewish Literature, ondon 1913
- Horne, Charles Francis, The Sacred Books and Early Literature of the East, Volume VII, Ancient Persia (1917)
- Layard, Austen, Nineveh and its remains, Vol 2, London 1849
- Layard, Austen, Nineveh and its remains, Vol 1, London1849
- Maspero, Gaston, History of Egypt, Chaldea, Syria, Babylonia and Assyria, Vol.3, London
- Reiner, Erica, Astral Magic in Babylonia, 1995
- Zimmern, Heinrich, Beiträge zur Babylonischen Religion, Leipzig 1901