Christian Platonism

Rediscovering Ancient Wisdom

Archive for the ‘Angel’ Category

Archetypal or Allegorical Interpretation of the Annunciation

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Today is the commemoration of the Annunciation, which celebrates the Angel Gabriel appearing to the Blessed Virgin Mary and announcing that she will bear a son who is to be named Jesus (‘Savior’). How might we interpret this event of the New Testament at an archetypal or allegorical level? Perhaps as follows:

To deliver us from the suffering and bondage of our own errors (selfishness, attachment to pleasure, fear, doubt, envy, etc.), God (or the God of our soul), by grace (unearned gift), communicates to the compassionate, nurturing, pure, and innocent principle of our soul (the Virgin Mary), that she will bring forth a Savior (manifest the Christ principle). Therefore despite our suffering and an awareness of our own tendency to error, and of our inability, because this tendency to error runs so deep that we by ourselves cannot correct it, we have hope in a still higher or deeper principle within, the Self-Realization or Christ principle.

Specifically, she is promised that she will bear a son who is both God and man. When the Christ principle is born within us, we are in correct relation to the universe, namely, that of bringing form, purpose, beauty, harmony, integrity and morality to the material universe, living simultaneously as a material and a spiritual being, connecting or yoking heaven and earth. This yoking is the meaning of the word ‘yoga’ (and of the word ‘religion’, the syllable ‘lig’ meaning connection, as in ‘ligament’).

Since salvation comes as a free gift from God, what is our role in the process?  It is to adopt an attitude of pious humility and trust.  We should most definitely be active in the process, but act in response to the promptings of God and the Holy Spirit, and not rely overmuch on ‘our own wisdom’ or be carried away by our own schemes for reform.  That is, our soul should say with the Virgin Mary, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord.”

Important symbols in paintings of the Annunciation are the lily (purity), and a book (Wisdom).

As always, it is to be emphasized that interpretation of Scripture at an allegorical level does not preclude a more literal or historical interpretation. For Christians allegory enhances, not replaces, traditional teachings. For non-Christians, it supplies a way to understand Christian Scripture as personally relevant.

A second point to repeatedly emphasize is that allegorical interpretation does not deliver a fixed doctrine or certain theory.  Rather, by its very nature allegorical interpretation is suited only to produce hypotheses, which one may then test and potentially confirm by personal experience, reading, or other lines of inquiry, or to suggest general principles which might lead to more accurate interpretative insights.

Genius (Tutelary Spirit) – Article from Smith Dictionary

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Winged genius facing a woman with a tambourine and mirror, from southern Italy, about 320 BC.

(This useful article is from the famous Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology of Sir William Smith.  I’ve placed it here because it doesn’t seem to be available elsewhere as machine-readable text.)

GENIUS, a protecting spirit, analogous to the guardian angels invoked by the Church of Rome. The belief in such spirits existed both in Greece and at Rome. The Greeks called them δαίμονες, daemons, and appear to have believed in them from the earliest times, though Homer does not mention them. Hesiod (Op. et Dies, 235) speaks of δαίμονες, and says that they were 30,000 in number, and that they dwelled on earth unseen by mortals, as the ministers of Zeus, and as the guar­dians of men and of justice. He further conceives them to be the souls of the righteous men who lived in the golden age of the world. (Op. et Dies, 107 ; comp. Diog. Laert. vii. 79 ) The Greek philosophers took up this idea, and developed a complete theory of daemons. Thus we read in Plato (Phaedr. p. 107), that daemons are assigned to men at the moment of their birth, that thence­forward they accompany men through life, and that after death they conduct their souls to Hades.

Pindar, in several passages, speaks of a γενεθλιος δαίμων, that is, the spirit watching over the fate of man from the hour of his birth, which appears to be the same as the dii genitales of the Romans. (Ol. viii. 16, xiii. 101, Pyth. iv. 167; comp. Aeschyl. Sept. 639.) The daemons are further described as the ministers and companions of the gods, who carry the prayers of men to the gods, and the gifts of the gods to men (Plat Sympos. p. 202 ; Appul., de Deo Socrat. 7), and accordingly float in immense numbers in the space between heaven and earth. The daemons, however, who were exclusively the ministers of the gods, seem to have con­stituted a distinct class; thus, the Corybantes, Dactyls, and Cabeiri are called the ministering daemons of the great gods (Strab. x. p. 472) ; Gigon, Tychon, and Orthages are the daemons of Aphrodite (Hesych. s.v. Γιγνων; Tzetz. ad Lycophr. 538); Hadreus, the daemon of Demeter (Etym. Magn. s. v. ‘Αδρευςand Acratus, the dae­mon of Dionysus. (Paus. i.2. § 4.) It should, how­ever, be observed that all daemons were divided into two great classes, viz. good and evil daemons. The works which contain most information on this interesting subject are Appuleius, De Deo Socratis, and Plutarch, De Genio Socratis, and De Defectu Oraculorum. Later writers apply the term δαίμονες also to the souls of the departed. (Lucian, De Mort. Pereg. 36 ; Dorville, ad Chariton. 1. 4.)

The Romans seem to have received their theory concerning the genii from the Etruscans, though {p. 242} the name Genius itself is Latin (it is connected with gen-itus, γι-γν-ομαι, and equivalent in meaning to generator or father ; see August de Civ. Dei, vii. 13). The genii of the Romans are frequently confounded with the Manes, Lares, and Penates (Censorin. 3.) ; and they have indeed one great feature in common, viz. that of protecting mortals ; but there seems to be this essential differ­ence, that the genii are the powers which produce life (dii genitales), and accompany man through it as his second or spiritual self; whereas the other powers do not begin to exercise their influence till life, the work of the genii, has commenced. The genii were further not confined to man, but every living being, animal as well as man, and every place, had its genius. (Paul. Diac. p. 71 ; Serv. ad Virg. Georg. i. 302.) Every human being at his birth obtains (sortitur) a genius. Horace (Epist. ii. 2. 187) describes this genius as vutau mutabilis, whence we may infer either that he conceived the genius as friendly towards one person, and as hos­tile towards another, or that he manifested himself to the same person in different ways at different times, i. e. sometimes as a good, and sometimes as an evil genius. The latter supposition is con­firmed by the statement of Servius (ad. Aen. vi. 743), that at our birth we obtain two genii, one leading us to good, and the other to evil, and that at our death by their influence we either rise to a higher state of existence, or are condemned to a lower one. The spirit who appeared to Cassius, saying, “We shall meet again at Phlippi,” is ex­pressly called his evil spirit, κακadαιμων. (Val. Max. i. 7. § 7 ; Plut. Brut. 36.)

Women called their genius Juno (Senec. Epist. 110; Tibull. iv. 6. 1 ) ; and as we may thus regard the genii of men as being in some way connected with Jupiter, it would follow that the genii were emanations from the great gods. Every man at Rome had his own genius, whom he worshipped as sanctus et sanctissimus deus, especially on his birthday, with libations of wine, incense, and garlands of flowers. (Tibull. ii. 2. 5 ; Ον. Trist, iii. 13. 18, v. 5, 11 ; Senec. Epist. 114; Horat. Oarm. iv. 11. 7.) The bridal bed was sacred to the genius, on account of his connection with generation, and the bed itself was called lectus genialis. On other merry occasions, also, sacrifices were offered to the genius, and to indulge in merriment was not unfrequently ex­pressed by genio indulgere, genium curare or placare. The whole body of the Roman people had its own genius, who is often seen represented on coins of Hadrian and Trajan. (Arnob. ii. 67 ; Serv. ad Aen. vi. 603 ; Liv. xxx. 12 ; Cic. pro Cluent. 5.) He was worshipped on sad as well as joyous occasions ; thus, e. g. sacrifices (ma­jores hostiac caesae quinque, Liv. xxi. 62) were offered to him at the beginning of the second year of the Hannibalian war. It was observed above that, according to Servius (comp. ad Aen. v. 95), every place had its genius, and he adds, that such a local genius, when he made himself visible, appeared in the form of a serpent, that is, the symbol of renovation or of new life.

The genii are usually represented in works of art as winged beings, and on Roman monuments a genius commonly appears as a youth dressed in the toga, with a patera or cornucopia in his hands, and his head covered ; the genius of a place appears in the form of a serpent eating fruit placed before him. (Härtung, Die Relig. der Rom. i. p. 32, &c. ; Schomann, de Diis Manibus, Laribus, et Genii, Greifswald, 1840.) [LS.]


Schmitz, Leonard. ‘Genius‘. In: William Smith (ed.), A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology. Vol. 2. J. Murray, 1880. (pp. 241-2).