Lux in Tenebris, 16 





Modern Angels, Avant-Guarde, & Esoteric Archive

Jonathan Schorsch



pp. 398-9 esoteric angels

p. 398

"Traditionally, angelology might be said to be divided between exoteric and esoteric ... . ...

p. 399

Nonetheless ..., it becomes readily apparent that many angels produced {i.e., described or depicted} in the last two or so centuries, both modern and "traditional"[,] are produced out of a matrix of esoteric thought."


pp. 400-1 avant-guarde art as a religion effective for opposing materialism

p. 400

"Renato Poggioli notes [1981, 20-21] the usage by various avant-guarde movements of quasi-religious terminology and structures ..., seeing their leaders '... priests of the modern religion of' art, ... promoting 'hierarchical and esotric concepts in art ... aesthetic intitiation which is simultaneously a mystical initiation.' ...

p. 401

The aesthetic-spiritual-political aspirations of such avant-guardes certainly arise in regard to angels. ... Here angels serve as a weapon of resistance, their depiction an act of blasphemy against the scientific {viz., materialist} dogma that declares metaphysics and the soul non-existent. ...

Comparatively popular were various allegorical angels ..., conjured up by avant-guarde artists, particularly symbolists."

Poggioli 1981 = Renato Poggioli : The Theory of the Avant-Guarde. Cambridge (MA) : Belknap Pr & Harvard Univ Pr.


pp. 401, 403 Angels of the Night 

p. 401

"William Degouve de Nuncques (1867-1935) ... was born in France and grew up mostly in Belgium. In the late 1880s he began moving in symbolist literary circles and later joined Les XX, a group of forward-looking Belgian artists and artisans whose wide-ranging exhibitions influenced even Paris. ... Angels of the Night, 1894 ..., became became one of Degouve de Nuncques' best known works."

p. 403

"Two spectral couples float over the footpaths in a park ... . We seem to have two female angels with their male consorts, meeting and kissing at night, a simultaneous


reversal of Gen. 6:1-3 and

{Female angele with mortal man, instead of (as in B-Re>s^iyt 6:1-3) male mal>ak with mortal woman.}


symbolist twist on the expression "angels of the night," a euphemism for prostitutes : a wistful ... fantasy ... of the ... reality."

{This reverential nomenclature is a faithful measure of lofty regard (a sort of mystical awe) wherewith prostitutes were (and as yet are) viewed by many practicing occultists of the Kaula persuasion.}


pp. 405-6 Bruskin's Alefbet 

p. 405

"Painter and sculptor Grisha Bruskin (b. 1945), born in the Soviet Union, has created a good number of angels. ... Several panels from Bruskin's Alefbet (Alphabet) series feature angels ..., all executed in 1984. ... Each panel is rendered in a different color and around the figures, sometimes overthem, hover extended

p. 406

quotations in Hebrew from the canonical ethical tract known in English as Ethics of the Fathers {Pirqey >abowt}.


Some of the words are crossed out, some are written in red. ...

{Words would be crossed out in order to denote that their purport is abrogated in some later canonical text in the Talmuwd, whereas words would be rubricated to denote that their purport is affirmed in some later canonical text in the Talmuwd.}


In Alefbet 4 ..., one figure is ... a hanged man covered by a shroud ... . ...

{This is, most likely, intended to illustrate Yhows^u<a 10:26 : "hanged them on five trees : and they were hanging upon the trees until the evening." Most likely, Grisha Bruskin, during whose lifetime "Stalin ... suppressed religion" (Schorsch, supra p. 405), sympathized with the 5 kings who were murdered, on account of their religious faith, by the intolerant persecuter Yhows^u<a.}


All of these angels share the same yellowish hue, sharp, almost propeller-like wings, and a spectral ... deadness."

{It is possible that "propeller-like wings" could be intended to repraesent those of blood-sucking mosquitos or else of nectar-lapping hummingbirds. At any rate, the hummingbird-god Huitzil-opochtli is said to have guided the migration of tribes from Chico-moztoc to Anahuac, in much the same fashion as a pillar of cloud by day, and a pillar of fire by night, guided the 12 tribes from Mis.rayim to Kna<an.}


p. 406 Bruskin's Alefbet-Lexicon 

"The panels of the very similar series Alefbet-Lexicon, nos. 1-5 ..., from 1987 and 1988, ... -- ...

a Hebrew letter {specifically, a rubricated consonant Taw, reposing atop a man's head (in Fig. 16.2 on p. 407)},

{This is, most likely, intended to illustrate B-Re>s^iyt 4:15 : "set >owt ('a mark, sign, token') upon Qayin ... ." As for "for the sign or mark that rescues Qayin from being slain ...; the sign itself was the Tav." ("WhAT")}

a ladder, ... --

{This ladder is, most likely, intended to illustrate B-Re>s^iyt 28:12 : "he dreamed, and behold sullam ('a ladder') ... ."}

giant floating hands hold a figure's hair ...,

{"And if any accept the Gospel of the Hebrews - here the Savior says :  Even so did my mother, the Holy Spirit, take me by one of my hairs and carry me away on to the great mountain Tabor. (Origen, Commentary on John 2.12.87 [on John 1:3])" (Ron Cameron : The Other Gospels : Non-Canonical Gospel Texts. Philadelphia : The Westminster Press, 1982, pp. 85-86 -- EChW"GoHe")}

some men hold up lions,

{Not only was S^ims^on caught by the hair of his head by the woman Dliylah (S^apat.iym 16:13-14); but also he had rended asunder a "young lion" (S^apat.iym 14:6-7).}

one man bears a dog's head,

{"But according to a story reproduced in the New Uniat Anthology of Arcudius, and mentioned in Basil's Monologue, Christopher was originally a hideous man-eating ogre, with a dog's face, and only received his human semblance, with his Christian name, at baptism." (EB1911"StChrist").}

another has an owl sitting on top of his own."

{In Hieronymus Bosch's ("OHB", p. 11) "triptych portraying The Temptation of St. Anthony (Lisbon), ... an owl sits on the head of the pig-man." Where the primordial couple ("OHB", p. 9) "have been swallowed, back to back, ... by the forbidden fruit ... their arms stick out, but a fat owl sits on top and presses the fruit firmly down."}

"WhAT" = "What is the Aleph Tav?" 

EChW"GoHe" = "Gospel of the Hebrews". 

EB1911"StChrist" = Encyclopaedia Brtiannica (edn. of 1911), article "St Christopher". 

GLLS = Jacobus de Voragine the Archbishop of Genoa (transl. by William Caxton) : The Golden Legend : Lives Of The Saints. Compiled 1275; transl. 1483. Cambridge : at the University Press, 1914. Also (without pagination) 

"OHB" = "The Devil and his Works : the Owl in Hieronymus Bosch (c.1450-1516)". 


{As concerning species of owls, ("BOIA") "the one that, according to Charbonneau-Lassy,  inspire's sympathy is the chevechette, the pygmy owl, who accompanies the late traveler along country roads."

A fellow-traveller may be a loquacious fellow-pilgrim, as in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales or in Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress; or, may be an imperial favorite, Latin \comes\ (French \comte\, exemplified in "de Gabalis", wherein this pseudonym is referential to imperator Ela-gabalus the Helio-<Arqite). In Bosch's The Garden of Earthly Delights (Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain), the barnyard owl ("BOIA") "wards and protects a dervish—like dancer, immune to the ... cherries of temptation that surround him." (The temptation involved it not to tell the truth, but forfended : "I cannot tell a lie : I cut down the cherry-tree.")}

{As concerning hound-headed St Christopher, the fire-heated stool whereupon sat St Christopher (Cambridge GLLS, p. 55) may be aequivalent to the fire-heated stools whereon sat Hun Hunahpu and Vucub Hunahpu (according to the Popol Vuh); while St Christopher's miraculously blossoming staff (Cambridge GLLS, p. 52) may be may be aequivalent to the tree whence X-Hunapu and X-balanque miraculously obtained its blossoms (according to the Popol Vuh); and the women unsuccessfully sent to seduce St Christopher (Cambridge GLLS, p. 53-4) may be aequivalent to the women unsuccessfully sent to seduce Tohil, Avilix, and Hacavitz (according to the Popol Vuh).}

{As concerning S^ims^on, apparently eponymous to and venerated by the "Sam[p]saioi" : (CHJ"BS", p. 491) "In the case of the Sampseans [Sampsaioi], the two sisters descended from Elkesai are reported to have sojourned with the Osseans and to have been worshipped as goddesses ([Epiphanios : Anakephalaiosis] 19,2,12f; 53,1,2.5f); also the book of a brother of Elkesai, named Iexai, is supposed to have been in circulation among them (53,1,3; 19,1,4)." The name \>el-Kasay\ is derived from Strong's 3681 \kasuwy\ 'a covering', the same word as (DMWA, pp. 969b-970a) \kiswah\ 'clothing; suit of clothes, uniform; paneling, wainscoting', and as \>al-kiswah\ 'brocaded carpet covering the walls' (made in and transported from Mis.r); while IEKSAI may possibly be YAKS.A-Is`vara (PE, s.v. "`vara") the spirit governing "a blade of grass" [the term for "blade of grass" being (DMWA, p. 127b) \TuMamah\, whence *\TiM-town\ > \S^ims^on\] , Strong's 2682 \\ 'grass; leek' being the same word as (DMWA, p. 283a) \h^\ 'green crop of grain', personified not only in the green supernatural >al-H^ but also in the green god WSJR/Osiris in Mis.r[ayim].}

{As concerning Strong's 8396 \Tabowr\, the suggestion that this name is somehow the >aramaic word \tbar\ (Strong's 8406) is surely improbable (in-as-much as no other place name in non->aramaic portions of the TNaK is ever praesented in the >aramaic idiom) : much more likely the name is cognate with \tibr\ 'raw metal, nugget' (DMWA, p. 108b). While \nugget\ as diminutive of southwest English \nug\ might be cognate with \nudge\ (< Norse \nyggja\), 'an elbow-jab so as to intimate, slyly, as tip-off', \tibr\ as cognate with \tib-cat\ could be a "catty" ('sly') indicator. The catfooted gait is slyly stealthy, and may relate to the Latin river-name \Padus\ (whence the nation-name \Padania\ for 'Gallia Togata'), referring to the magical cat's turning within its skin (as though within a toga; noticed during the voyage of Bran the son of Febal).}

"BOIA" = "Bosch's Owls : An informal analysis". 

CHJ"BS" = Kurt Rudolph : "The Baptist Sects". In :- William Horbury, William David Davies, & John Sturdy (edd.) : The Cambridge History of Judaism : The early Roman period. Cambridge Univ Pr, 1999. pp. 471-500. 


pp. 411, 415-7 Stephan Doitschinoff

p. 411

"Brazilian artist Stephan Doitschinoff (b. 1977) ... makes frequent use of the rich and multivalent semiotics of alchemical visual imagery."

p. 415

"great-grandson and grandson of practicing spiritualist women, Doitschinoff works in a combination of styles, borrowing from street graffiti,

p. 416

murals, medieval woodcuts, psychedelia, Brazilian folk art, colonial decorations, cartoons, pop art ... . ... He works under the pseudonym Calma ("Calm" or "Calm down" in Portuguese), which he parses as 'the contraction of ... Con Alma/C'Alma', that is, "with soul.""

p. 417

"He has ... even revamped ... '... a semi-pagan temple' for Afro-Brazilian rites."


p. 415 "heterotopic counter-cultural"?

"Urszula Szulakowska [2011, pp. 19-21]

reads the ... sexual transgressiveness of alchemical texts -- personifications of ... incest, etc. -- as signs of the tradition's operating as a site of heterotopic counter-cultural freedom."

{Such themes within alchemy can at least aequally well be read as archaistic secret retentions of the mythological systems (including myths of divine incest) from Classical (and yet-earlier) religions.}

Szulakowska 2011 = Urszula Szulakowska : Alchemy in Contemporary Art. Farnham : Ashgate.


p. 418 "absolutist mysticism"

"as post-Romantics, ... some believe in what Gananath Obeyesekere calls [Obeyesekere 2012, pp. 144-5] "nontheistic or absolutist mysticism" or "a-theistic mysticism"." There is no "atheistic religion" in existence : Sthavira-vada must be categorized as throughly polytheistic, in-so-far as it is admitting to the existence of vast numbers of deities (such as, S`akra et al.) occupying multifarious heavens (such as, Tus.ita et al.), even if it is not recommending formal techniques for worshipping those deities. The elaborate descriptions (in the Abhidharma) of deities and of their heavenly abodes is surely not a sign of "indifference to theism", but, rather, is very much a sign of intense interest in theism.} {As for "union or identity" "with a named female or male deity", this is a regular public demonstrative display (labeled "possession rite") by designated religious clergy in Viet-Nam and in Tibet, but much more common in West Africa.}

{Obeyesekere 2012, p. 144 "one might identify ... an abstract principle underlying the phenomenal world of becoming such as Brahman ... in what we might label nontheistic or absolutist mysticism. ...

{[Obeyesekere 2012, p. 145] The "It" that [William] James employs to characterize ... a transcendent deity is ... of the more abstract intellectualized versions of intelligent design. ... Third, there is the a-theistic mysticism, exemplified clearly in only one religion, Theravada Buddhism, where the question of union or identity does not arise. ... My usage of the term a-theistic simply means ... "indifference to theism" ... ."} {Now, as for "the question of union or identity", Obeyesekere explained (on p. 414) that "a person might identify or unite with a named female or male deity, in which case one might label that union as theistic mysticism."}

Obeyesekere 2012 = Gananath Obeyesekere : The Awakened Ones : Phenomenology of Visionary Experience. NY : Columbia Univ Pr. 


{Our own comments : In any "world of becoming", the "becoming", viz., changing, must fundamentally involve that which in and of itself cannot exist without continually changing. Now, the only principle which must require continual changing in order continually to exist is consciousness-tself, which without continually shifting its exposure as to content, is promptly blank, i.e., non-conscious (in the common-sense definition of non-consciousness as the mind's being blank). Ergo, the fundamental ground of the world of becoming must be consciousness, and consciousness must be (in any-and-every practicable applicability of it) that of intelligent beings, who if of the nature of upholding the consistent-and-orderly and functioning of the universe, must perforce be accounted as divine entities. Thus, any "nontheistic" or "a-theistic" metaphysics must be altogether inapplicable to the universe "of becoming", though it might well be assumed for universes of non-changing (such as, systems of pure mathematics, and systems of pure logic, which are grounded in changeless axioms and sometimes also in unchanging postulates), though the ontological status of such "unchanging universes" is always quite dubious. [written 7 May 2019]}


pp. 418-9 traits shared between two groups of persons : esotericists and avant-garde artists

p. 418

"esotericists and avant-garde artists ... share important traits : ...

self-identification as enlightened, free from illusion ...; also, often, ...

orientation toward universal progress ...;

preference for personal experience (experiential gnosis) over ... scholasticism, yet

a fascination with the ancient, archaic and exotic ... .

p. 419

Esoteric themes ... have appealed to avant-garde artists for many reasons, including their ... openness to polysemous meanings and simultaneous mysterious alterity ... ."

[fn. 51 "Links between English fin-de-sie`cle occultists and the intellectual avant-garde have been noted by Owen [2004], 132-146."]

Owen 2004 = Alex Owen : The Place of Enchantment : British Occultism and the Culture of the Modern. Univ of Chicago Pr.


pp. 419-20 traits shared among currently-in-vogue types of angeloi

p. 419

"the continuing appeal of angels for modern artists : the thick layers of accumulated intertextuality ..., the plethora of resonances angels bear vis-a`-vis ... human nature ... . For avant-gardists, modern angels have become a singularly potent topos of ... true essence ... , of harbingers of the future straight from the past ..., of world-making ... and world re-enchantment."


"modern angels ... appear as figures in modern neo-gnostic universes, neo-pagan universes ... . ... Modern angels are post-Christian, polymorphous, "popular." They serve as totems and mentors in varying pantheons of (post-)modern beings such as ... superheroes ... from fantasy novels and gaming worlds. ... Modern angels have become significant figures for pop culture ... or specific sub-cultures. ...

p. 420

Those who depict modern angels reject, often quite consciously, the modern segregation of domains such as ... religion and science from one another."


p. 420 ro^le of angeloi in the current trend toward displacement of materialism by post-materialism

"As art has come to emphasize ... inner states{-of-mind}, has come to ... complement religion as the site of the metaphysical, "the spiritual," what Jean-Luc Nancy has called "a beyond-religion," the representation of "impossible" metaphysical possibilities such as angels became an increasingly attractive and important response to modernity and post-modernity --

... war-turned-genocide, class oppression ...;

{Such are results of domination of the material world by ploutokratic capitalism under the firm control of descendants of European royal dynasties and descendants of European of high-ranking estate-landed hereditary nobilities.}

a means of working through ... the rapidly destabilized boundaries between human and divine, human and animal, human and machine. With incredible persistence yet novel application, modern angels stand as allusions to in-betweenness ... regarding the anti-metaphysical ... scientific-technological modernity."


p. 420 deliberate-and-intentional evadence, by artists, of publishing adequate explications of the multitudinous features of their frequently traditional-religious-[inter]text-based artworks

"s is evident from the artists treated here, modern angels no longer neessarily allude to a coherent theological place. It is not clear, after all, whether Doitschinoff's and Brushkin's works are about religion ... .

{INACCURATE! As remarked by the author (supra p. 406), Brushkin's paintings are soundly based on figures of Towrah and of Midras^, upon a backdrop of text from such traditional writings as the Pirqey >abowt in the Talmuwd. This is, in principle, no different from the paintings by Salvador Dali, whose Dream Caused by a Bee Flight (e.g.) is a rigid illustration of a passage in the <arabian 1001 Nights.}

Yet each artist engages the viewer's gnoseological ... faculties. They are ... wielding angels as a trope that continues to draw on and draw out resonances ... between the viewer and a complex of religious-aesthetic discourse."

{Each such artist hath very deliberately refrained from publishing explications of his or her artworks, this refraint being for the purpose of posing such artworks as didactic-style tests of the viewers' faculty of seeking out the appropriate signification of the artworks' details.}


p. 421 consecrations, to angeloi, of aura : in intertexual/interreligious context

"Modern angels comprise ... [de Duve 2009, p. 91] 'consecrations ... and auratic recoveries'.

Many moderns {sic! : read "modern"; or else, read "For many moderns (i.e., modern artists),"} angels confirm the modernist preference for ' endless interpretability rather than absolute truth,' as Robert Alter writes [Alter 2000, pp. 76-7] about Scholem's view of Kafka."

{Such "endless interpretability" is possible largely through ingenuity in exercise of intertextual, and/or interreligious, contextuality.}

De Duve 2009 = Thierry de Duve : "Mary Warhol / Joseph Duchamp". In :- James Elkins & David Morgan (edd.) : Re-Enchantment. THE ART SEMINAR, Vol. 7. Routledge Publ. pp. 87-103.

Alter 2000 = Robert Alter : Canon and Creativity Modern Writing and the Authority of Scripture. New Haven : Yale Univ Pr.



Peter J. Forshaw (ed.) : Lux in Tenebris : the Visual and the Symbolic in Western Esotericism. ARIES BOOK SERIES : TEXTS & STUDIES IN WESTERN ESOTERICISM, Vol. 23. Brill, Leiden, 2017.