September 29th used to be known as Michaelmas. Nowadays no one knows what that is. The Catholic Church celebrates today as the feast days of Saint Michael, Saint Gabriel and St. Raphael the Archangels.

I’ve always found it unfair that human saints get their own feast days, but the Catholic Church expects the archangels to shaaaaare. Your proper response to that is “Get over it, Jane,” and I understand. But still, allow me to gripe for a minute: St. Gabriel used to have March 24th for his feast day (the day before the Annunciation) and St. Raphael used to have October 24th, but they got moved over to St. Michael’s feast day. And then no one was put on those two feast days to replace them. It’s kind of like thelandlord breaking your lease so you have to move in with your brother, but then not moving anyone else into the apartment.

I’m done with my self-indulgent rant. You can tune back in now, guys. Sorry.

We’ve seen Michael in the Bible as the defender of the nation of Israel and later as the defender of the Christian faith. (He never identifies himself, by the way. He’s always identified by someone else.) Gabriel shows up as Daniel’s interpreter, and later as the annunciator to Zachariah and to the Virgin Mary. Raphael is one of the main characters of the Book of Tobit (sacred scripture in the Catholic and Orthodox Bibles but not included in Protestant Bibles).

Why are these three special enough to be the only named angels in scripture? No clue. We know there are millions of millions of angels (according to Daniel) and we assume the rest of them have names too. (As Bucky says in Honest and For True, “Hey You just lacks that distinctive ring.”)  But we see them in the Bible, when asked, turn it back around at the asker and either refuse to give their name or else ask why the person wants to know. Clearly they don’t want to be worshipped as idols. But three of them in later books do get to tell us their names.

Being as we’re the Philangelus household, tonight we get to celebrate a little for them. Angels don’t eat, but as an Italian I cannot fathom a celebration without food, so I’ll be making a little Michaelmas cake for us tonight. And not angel food cake, either (bad me) but a lemon cake, like grandma used to make. 

October 2nd will be the feast day of the Guardian Angels (and so six billion angels get to share a feast day too) so I’ll try to have angel-themed posts between now and then. On the last day, I’ll make a lasagna for our seven household guardians, and if I get ambitious I might buy a cheesecake too.

Bon appetit, and happy Michaelmas!

(Oh, and for my Jewish readers, happy Rosh Hashanah!)


  1. Ivy

    The names thing is always interesting. It might be based on the widespread ancient idea that to name something is to have power over it. Isis, who was considered the strongest in magic in Ancient Egyptian mythology, was called “She Who Knows All the Names”. There is even a story of how she learned Ra’s true name, the last for her “collection”.

    Which is silly because angels are so much more powerful than humans and the demons would presumably know the angels’ names anyway.

    The most reasonable candidate for idolatrous worship in Torah is Moses. It’s no easy thing to say “this man talks directly with the divine and acts as a conduit for the miracles of the divine” from “this man IS divine”.

  2. Ivy

    separate, not say. One of these days I’ll learn to edit.

  3. philangelus

    Ivy, from what I’ve read, there was a real danger that Moses would become idolized. The Talmud says Moses’ body was taken by the Lord directly into Heaven, right? The New Testament Book of Jude says it explicitly, and that Michael fought with Satan over Moses’ body.

    (The ehellions who read here will love this: even when fighting with Satan, Michael is completely polite, and all he says is “May the Lord rebuke you.” We should all be so composed in the face of evil.)

  4. Ivy

    Yes there was that danger. It’s one reason why the name “Moses” doesn’t appear in the Hagaddah, the book of prayers associated with the Passover Seder.

  5. philangelus

    You know, God is so good to us. He knows our weaknesses and doesn’t mind fencing them off.

  6. Cricket

    I thought the power was only if you knew the “real” name, as opposed to the “use” name. Then again, in science, naming a thing is an important part of learning about it. “Microbes” is a good start. “bacteria”, “strepto-cocci”, and “V-whatever-resistant strep” give you even more power.

    I wonder if it’s a way of staying “one of the anonymous angels. Who I represent is more important than who I am, at least for this call”? Sort of like a customer service rep in a 24-hour call centre. That can work well, if they share notes; you don’t have to wait for her shift again.

    Ivy, I would have expected Moses to be prominent in the Seder. I like how they kept it from becoming a feast for him.

  7. illya

    Happy Michaelmas to you from one who is learning devotion to these powerful, but often forgotten forces, who protect us and love us even if we do not understand or appreciate them.

  8. Ivy

    It’s weird, Cricket. You need to know the real name to use it in spellwork so people use their use name. Then people need to remember the real name so that the Ba can persist, but no one ever knew it to begin with. The Pharaoh had about 9 names. The Horus name, the coronation name… We use the Horus name iirc.

  9. philangelus

    You’re making me glad I shouldn’t work magic. Too many things to remember. 🙂

  10. cathrl

    (Grins) Some people still know it. My son’s school uses the traditional names for the three terms (you’d call them semesters). Michaelmas, Hilary and Trinity.