Angels Are Horrifyingly Beautiful (What Angels Really Look Like)

Arkane Curiosities

When I first picked up the book A Wind in the Door by Madeleine L’Engle, I was transfixed by the image of a Cherubim. How could that be an angel? I couldn’t reconcile the image I was seeing with the more traditional depiction of angels, with their human-like bodies and pair of wings. Yet this is what angels really look like.

Renaissance Created the Disney-Versions of Cherubs

Those cute baby angels you see fluttering around every February, those are the sanitized versions of Cherubs (originally known as Cherubim). It seems Renaissance painters mashed together angelic Cherubs with the Greek god Cupid. 

Raphael created characters in his paintings called “putti”, from the Latin word putus, meaning boy. These little toddlers represented pure love. Soon, people began referring to these putti as “Cherubs” because of their association with the pure love of God. 

Yet the true visage of these angels is anything but cute.

The True Meaning of Awesome

The word awesome has taken a left turn in modern English. It now simply refers to something amazing or wonderful. The original meaning is darker. Awesome meant to feel awe, as in bone shaking fear and admiration for what you beheld. It was a word tailor-made for looking on the true image of angels.

The Cherubim — Multi-Faced Creatures of Fire

The putti versions of Cherubs float on clouds and shoot arrows at love-sick teens. The true Cherubim are engulfed in the fiery light of God’s Glory. 

Instead of a single pudgy baby head, the Book of Ezekiel says these angels have four heads: a lion, an ox, an eagle and a human. They also have four wings, two of which tilt down to cover their legs, which have bull hooves by the way.

Art from Isis Sangare

Ezekiel also mentions that every part of the Cherumin — hands, wings, feet — are covered with eyes. This is what Madeleine L’Engle was going for with her description of the angel in A Wind in the Door.

But this is not the most bizarre angel out there. While Cherubims clock in at number three on the angelic hierarchy, Seraphim are number one. 

Seraphim — A Mess of Wings and Flame

The word Seraphim translates to “burning ones”. According to the prophet Isaiah, these angels surround the throne of God. They have six wings, two to cover their legs (because feet are unclean and unworthy to show God), two to fly, and two to cover their face. The result, all you see is wings. This seems to also match Madeleine L’Engle’s depiction of angels.

Art by Aeriel Lee

Depicted as being red, Seraphim are associated with Fire. They each hold a flaming sword with the words “holy, holy, holy” on the blade. In the vision, a Seraphim touches a burning coal to Isaiah’s lips in order to purge him of his sin and to make him fit to be a prophet. 

But at least the Seraphim have recognizable parts, wings and eyes. The number two ranked angel in Heaven doesn’t even have a body.

The Ophanim — Giant Winged Wheels

In Ezekiel’s account, he describes the Ophanim as giant golden wheels, each covered with multiple eyes. In fact the word Ophanim means “wheels”. They had four interlocking golden wheels and could fly in any direction. They are tasked with guarding the throne of God.

The next time you envision an angel, perhaps you will better understand the true meaning of the word awesome. These spiritual beings are meant to instill wonder and fear at the concept of God. 

Tim Kane

Strange News Signup

Arkane curiosities: five minute reads on mythology, legend, and supernatural history delivered monthly to your inbox.

churning

Thank you for sign up!

Mimir: The Severed Head God of Wisdom

Arkane Curiosities

The wisest god in the Norse pantheon is not Odin. No, he gets all his advice from Mimir, the severed head god of wisdom. With direct access to Yggdrasill, the World Tree, Mimir can draw on vast stores of knowledge. But how did he end up losing his head, or body?

Rival Pantheons

The Norse people had not one, but two pantheons of gods vying for control. On one side you had the straightforward, battle centered Aesir with Odin and Thor. On the other side were the more cunning and magic oriented Vanir with Freyr and Freya. 

When Freya visited the Aesir, they were taken by her use of seidr (a powerful magic). Enthralled, they soon threw aside kin loyalty and sought only selfish desires. The Aesir labeled Freya as “Gullveig” (“Gold-greed”) and tried to burn her to death three times, but she was reborn from the ashes. 

War Between the Gods

This led to war between the Aesir and the Vanir. The Aesir fought by the established rules of combat, using weapons and their strength to vanish enemies. The Vanir fought with magic, a more subtle form of combat. Eventually, both sides realized that they were too evenly matched. 

With the prospect of peace, it was customary for each side to send a tribute to the other, a god or goddess who would live among the foreign tribe of deities. Freya, Freyr and Njord were sent to live with the Aesir. Hoenir and Mimir took their place among the Vanir. 

The Vanir Feel Cheated

Each time Hoenir sat in a meeting (called a Thing) with the Vanir, he would lean back and ask the more wise Mimir for advice. But one day, Hoenir went alone to the Thing. Each time he was asked to weigh in on a decision, he shrugged and said “Let others decide.”

The Vanir realized they had been cheated in the exchange of hostages. They’d sent their finest gods to the Aesir, but only received the dim-witted and indecisive Hoenir. In retaliation, they chopped off Mimir’s head and sent it back to Asgard. Apparently you need to pull your weight at a Vanir meeting. 

Odin embalmed Mimi’s head with herbs to prevent rot. He also spoke charms over it, giving Mimir the power to speak again. Finally, Odin set Mimir at the foot of the Yggdrasil tree, next to a well. The well bore Mimir’s name, being known as the Mímisbrunnr.

Mimir the Keeper of Secrets

Mimir drank from the well and gained great knowledge and secrets. To accomplish this task, he used the drinking horn Gjallarhorn (which is the same one Heimdallr would blow to announce the coming of Ragnarök). How Mimir managed this drinking, given that he was only a head, the sources won’t divulge. 

Now Odin sets himself up as the frontman for being the wisest in the land. He doles out all the witty saying to the other Aesir, with Mimir feeding him advice and secrets from the wings. 

Odin spent countless hours wringing information from Mimir. You see, he valued Mimir’s knowledge as well as their intellectual discussions. But Ragnarök was coming soon and he needed to gather every scrap of information he could. Thus, Odin asked to drink from the well of Mímisbrunnr, himself.

This was a big ask. The well contained untapped knowledge of not only this world, but all the nine realms. As the keeper of Mímisbrunnr, Mimir wanted something in exchange. For the privilege of drinking, Odin sacrificed his right eye, which he tossed to the bottom of the well. 

After this point, not much is mentioned about Mimir. Did he still give Odin council, or was he forgotten, now that Odin had drunk from the mystical waters of Mímisbrunnr. Given that Odin appears in comics and movies and Mimir is all but forgotten, I think we can guess the answer.

Tim Kane

Strange News Signup

Arkane curiosities: five minute reads on mythology, legend, and supernatural history delivered monthly to your inbox.

churning

Thank you for sign up!

Three Bizarre Christmas Traditions: Poop Logs, Christmas Spiders and Evil Goblins

Arkane Curiosities

At this point, Krampus has become a well known phenomenon. There’s even an American Dad episode about the mischievous bringer of discipline. Krampus is a downright celebrity these days. Here are three lesser known strange and bizarre Christmas traditions.

The Poop Log of Catalonia

Tió de Nadal translates from Catalan to “Christmas log” or simply “tree trunk.” The other name for this Xmas tradition is Caga Tió, or poop log. Yes that’s right. It’s a log that poops out presents on Christmas Day.

It works like this, starting on the Dia de la Immaculada Concepció (Feast of Immaculate Conception, December 8th) you “feed” the Caga Tió sweets and candy. Each evening, after dinner, kids would save a peel from an orange or other fruit and place it in a feeding bowl in front of the little log. Bits of cookies and other sweets work as well.

Each night, you drape a blanket over the body of Caga Tió to keep it warm. We don’t want our gift-giving log to freeze in a cold winter home. This continues until December 24th, and gradually the log will grow in size (or maybe it’s the parents switching out the log for larger one). 

Then comes the beating. You gather around your log and hit it with a stick to make sure it poops, all while singing a cute little song…

Caga tió, (Poop log)
tió de Nadal, (Log of Christmas)
no caguis arengades (Don’t poop salted herring)
que són massa salads (They are too salty)
caga turróns (Poop turróns)
que són més bons! (They are much better!)

Then, like magic, presents and candies (called turróns) appear under the blanket.

Ukrainian Christmas Spiders

In Ukraine, you will often see spiderwebs decorating the Christmas tree. This comes from an old legend about some rather helpful arachnids. 

There was once a widow who lived in a tiny house with her children. One day, a pine one took root outside their home and the children tended to the growing seedling in hopes of having a splendid Christmas tree. Yet as the year slipped into winter, the widow knew that they would not be able to afford decorations. Finally on Christmas Eve, they set up the tree in their house, but its branches were bare.

That night, while they slept, the spiders of the house heard the sobs from the disappointed children. They went to work on the tree, spinning delicate webs on every branch. 

The next morning, the youngest child opened a window and the first rays of sunlight sparkled against the new decorations. The light of Christmas Day transformed the webbing into silver and gold. From that day forward, the widow never wanted for anything. 

Ukrainians still decorate their trees with spiderwebs to bring good luck for the coming year. So maybe don’t shoo that spider away too quickly on Christmas Eve. After all, they also need a warm and cozy place on a winter night.

Mischievous Greek Goblins

The Kallikantzaroi are mischief-making goblins who live in the center of the Earth. They spend the year trying to saw down the Tree of Life, which holds up the world.

During the Twelve Days of Christmas, they dig their way to the surface to bring their naughty tricks to our houses. This is the time, starting at the Winter Solstice, where the sun does not shift in the sky.

Tiny black creatures with long tails, the Kallikantzaroi are mostly blind owing to their life underground. Afraid of the sunlight, they only emerge at night, feeding on any small critters, such as frogs, worms and snails.

They sneak into your house through any cracked window, down chimneys, or through keyholes. Once inside, the havoc begins. They are not evil, per se, but impish and idiotic.

There are up to twenty different types of Kallikantzaroi and each specialized in a different type of mayhem. Some urinate on your cooking or imbue food with horrific smells. Others mimic voices to tease, torment or steal. 

You can keep the Kallikantzaroi away by leaving a colander on your doorstep. These little imps will have to count all the holes, but they can only ever make it to two and then are forced to start over. You can also burn an old shoe — the foul smell will keep these pests away. 

A link to the Norse tradition of Yule comes with a method to keep these goblins out of your chimney. You simply burn a log, but keep it going for all twelve days. Once you’ve reached January 6th, you are safe and the Kallikantzaroi return to the center of the Earth.  

Tim Kane

Strange News Signup

Arkane curiosities: five minute reads on mythology, legend, and supernatural history delivered monthly to your inbox.

churning

Thank you for sign up!