I address this to the Judeo-Christian-Islamic portion of my readership (if your still reading) Those of other persuasions are more than welcome and may muscle into the conversation at any time.
In just about every painting or illuminated page I’ve seen (this includes Islamic texts and
Jewish text, who are not permitted to fix G-d in an image but do, on occasion, depict G-d’s secret agents; See Graham, Billy, 2000
– Islamic angels, as I recall, had magnificent wings, barred brown and black like a hunting falcon. In every depiction I’ve seen (this includes the angels in Dogma
) or heard (“City of Angels” although most angelic beings had Wim-Wenders wet-weather gear on, 10,000 Maniacs), the wings are just tacked onto the shoulder blades
like some kind of afterthought – you were building a 1:10 model of a ’66 Corvette and you decided to raid your de Havilland Venom FB4 model to stick on just behind the doors and stick the landing gear straight onto the Chevy chassis . . like that. Is it only me or is there something not quite right about that?
I put my finger on it when I remembered an article in Galaxy
(ages and ages ago, at the Freehold Public Library) on hexapodal (six-legged) mythical creatures: centaurs (kinda like truncated caterpillars, all limbs pointing down or forward), Pegasus, or pegasi if there were vast herds of them in Paradise [more like a blowfly – the wings occur in the middle of the thorax), that sort of thing. And since I have a lot of time to think of these things currently, it occurs to me that angels, for those who believe in angels, are created creatures (as is humanity itself) with – gimme a sec – yeah, six limbs. Like a blowfly.
Now, let me continue while I have the caffeine behind me and pushing and the place where I currently live (Freehold, NJ) is still faintly buoyed by the influence of Monmouth County’s Favorite Son . . . because I seem to remember that he, too, stuck wings on the shoulder blades of his angel-characters (and richly caparisoned in armor, as if to battle they must, even though if what they plan goes off there’s nary a shot necessary); one of them gets his wings shot off ina long enfilade of automatic gunfire, revealing two pink chicken-wing-stubs (on the back of the Hooters Hot Wings Atomic Dredge Flour, the two edible parts of the wings are the “drumettes” [place your hand on the opposite upper arm] and the “flappers” [place your hand about two inches above your wrist of the other arm – remember this anatomy). As I recall, this allowed the more ambitious of the angels (I’m hysterically suppressing the character’s name, or the actor’s) to then carry out his nefarious plan, since G-d, omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent, omni-benevolent(here defined as The Four Big O’s) is trapped inside a man in a vegetative state (we look back with Terri Schiavo eyes but the film only had Sunny von Bulow to go by). I'll deal with the constraints of the Four O’s later, but to the angels . . . .
There’s something wrong. Really, this isjust perseveration brought on by the Concerta and the coffee, but . . . OK, I’m just gonna come out with it. We’ve (and I include myself, since I grew up with two more or less practicing Jews) all got it wrong. Except Wim Wenders, in the movie he stunt-cast Colombo in
. But basically wrong.
There is no musculature
to flap those wings >There may not be room for muscular attachment if the wings were intended to flap, anyway. These angels are hexapods, like insects with vertebrate (nay, verily, primate) bodies. And I, an atheist (not the fun kind) say, rubbing the sand from my eyes, “What gives?!?!?”
Now I’m positive there are explanations for this — the Major Western Faiths, schismatic as they are (present company included), must believe that the wingsare an allegorical analogy to the flight of birds and thus, like halation that looks like a little ring of neon tube floating in the air, a stupid thing to contemplate: “Look, snowball, that artwork on museum walls, those angels in the architecture, are allegorical figures that semiotically point to the operation of G-d’s grace in the world, so why don’t you run along and find a nice synagogue before I call the police and have your butt hauled out of St. Rose of Lima and into a psychiatric ward at CentraState?”
OK, I’ll concede that point. Except . . . except I have it on some authority that angels are a kind of bird, because heaven is above us just over the Crystal Sphere of the Fixed Stars, as an allegorical device to indicate the quickness and effortlessness of both grace and wroth, swift as starlings, terrible as condors. And angels are a kind of linear combination of birds and humans, and angels and humans both created in the Image and Likeness of the Lord (men out of red clay, a shade of red called, in Hebrew, adom, and woman out of a kind of emergency C-section from Adam’s torso). If G-d was constrained by evolution to populate the Earth (and I so stipulate, sue me), we are left with two options: (1) the wings are there as 3-dimensional allegorical allusions and angels fly like Superman or Peter Max figures, or (2) we’ve all gotten the wings wrong.
Let me take up an argument for Option 2: remember the Hooters anatomy I mentioned a couple of paragraphs ago? Same with birds, practically all vertebrates but we're talking about something strange and legitimately terriffying here. Extend your arm, either one: imagine it extending out to the size of, say, an English Electric Canberra PR9 with the new long-span wing. Now imagine your body has grown as big as a 1950-aerial-theatre reconnaissance airplane, but instead of Avon 208 turbojets supplying 5103kg (11250 lb) static thrust, you are fledged with steel-grey hawks feathers (or dove’s feathers marked in Alice white); imagine further that you are now on the order of 20 meters tall, hight almost as long as your wingspan at full extension. You stand, you fold your wings before you like the robes of office that they are, your mouth is a flattened beak with teeth behind it, your eyes are carnivore forward, but your face is essentially a human face, with that aghast expression they all have in the Book of Kells . . . your humerus (“drumette”, and I remember that trip to Hooters, healthy young women in sports bras and gym shorts, you’d expect them to jog out of the restaurant at any minute for a fast game of jai-alai
) bearing the brunt of flight load and elongated for extended periods of glide or to catch risers off of the Garden State Parkway, your hands and fingers attenuated to ailerons and elevons and articulated to make fine trim adjustments . . . .
There. Four limbs. That oughta do it. Now why, when I try to rewrite Dogma
in my head, does it still come out looking like Angels in America