Angelology: An Overview by Marilynn Hughes

If you listen to enough of the truly classic and classical works found on Audible, it’s easy to take for granted the narrators that understand how to deliver a performance that Medieval mysticism demands… until you listen to this guy. Then you wish you had one of those professionals. Any one of them would do. My very first thought on hearing Ray Cole’s delivery was, “Jeez, I can podcast better than this.” It’s a clumsy reading, devoid of any understanding, depth, or flow, sort of like if you hand a copy of Shakespeare to an overly enthusiastic teenager trying to cover his lamentable performance skills. It was so distracting, I had to start the book over once I got a handle on how the book was presented. Thank heaven (no pun intended) that I’m already immersed in Medieval thought and angelology, otherwise I’d have stayed lost right at the outset.

And that brings me to the book itself. If you’re looking for the eye-rolling comedy provided ad nauseum by self-proclaimed mediums and new age woo-woo about fluffy winged supermodels (like the one on the book’s cover), this is not your book. I was surprised too, given a list of the author’s other publications, but sometimes you never can tell from a publishing blurb. If, however, you’re a serious student of angelology and all that implies, this one’s actually worth looking into, but with caveats. Let me explain.

This is likely not a book for the novice or the casual enthusiast, unless that person is ready to hit the ground running. The author assumes that the reader either has a considerable amount of religious scholarship, a private esoteric reference library, and/or no problem catching up. This book is a deceptively small, eye-opening tome of just how seriously deep the subject of angelology can be. In a nutshell, this is a collection of excerpts taken from first, second, and even third-hand sources about mysticism, be it Christian, Rabbinic, Hermetic, or other. Ordinarily that would be a good thing, however there is little structure for it. It’s like reading a researcher’s notes, and I suspect that’s exactly what it is. The author may only be a compiler. The information is largely just launched at you, the scholarly equivalent of a food fight or castle siege. It’s on you to make sense of the chaos. It dives right in, with few points of grounding, explanation, or perspective. It does say in the description of the book that it “presents information from sacred texts about the most significant angels,” but it doesn’t go much further than that. If you don’t know what those texts are, the references are meaningless up front. These texts are difficult enough for the novice to read, let alone to put together into some kind of comprehensible format. If only somebody would do that, perhaps in a friendly overview format? Oh, right…

The problem of comprehension is compounded by the very nature of what makes this book interesting, as I can I can almost guarantee the casual enthusiast has never even heard of many of these sources. For Western audiences, the Biblical portions or excerpts from Milton, Dante, or the Book of Enoch will likely be recognized most (and are leaned upon heavily), but the more arcane texts and commentaries are taken so far out of context that having any of it quoted back through secondary sources makes it daunting to fight through once you realize what you’re up against. Those sources are cited often (but not always) after they’re quoted at length, adding to the dysfunctional quality of this compilation. It takes some doing, but in the end, it actually IS possible to put this together if you engage with the material. This makes it an overview for deeper scholarship, but if you’re looking for the on ramps to explain it all, you’ll probably be better off pulling the contextual source material, because this book exemplifies the kind of researcher’s rabbit hole that is angelology. It’s a mess, but in that regard, this book does give you a starting point for further research. Admittedly, the challenge of the rabbit hole is half the fun for me, but I’m guessing that’s not what most people are looking for. If you happen to have access to an arcane library with a slant towards angelology (as I do), you’ll be better prepared to appreciate what’s offered here.

Having said all of that, it may just be that the layout of the book is the biggest problem and just needs some restructuring. Either way, if you are already somewhat-versed in this subject and looking for something that will either challenge your studies to the next level or beat you down mercilessly, it’s ultimately worth it if you can navigate it. It does get easier the deeper you go into the book, and there are some truly eyebrow-raising insights to be had if the narrator doesn’t kill it for you. Having a collection of excerpts of this nature together in one place can be useful, especially if you get a print copy. And to think, this is just the angels. There’s a companion volume by the same author dealing with demonology. I’ll try that one at some point too, just because I can, but I’ll have to really be in the zone for that.

3 stars

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