Purgatory: Canto IX — Ante-Purgatory: The Angel Guardian
Psalm 91, on which “On Eagle’s Wings” was based, reads,
“1 You who dwell in the shelter of the Most High, who abide in the shadow of the Almighty, Say to the LORD, “My refuge and fortress, my God in whom I trust.” God will rescue you from the fowler’s snare, from the destroying plague, Will shelter you with pinions, spread wings that you may take refuge; God’s faithfulness is a protecting shield. You shall not fear the terror of the night nor the arrow that flies by day, Nor the pestilence that roams in darkness, nor the plague that ravages at noon. Though a thousand fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, near you it shall not come. You need simply watch; the punishment of the wicked you will see. You have the LORD for your refuge; you have made the Most High your stronghold. No evil shall befall you, no affliction come near your tent. For God commands the angels to guard you in all your ways. With their hands they shall support you, lest you strike your foot against a stone. You shall tread upon the asp and the viper, trample the lion and the dragon. Whoever clings to me I will deliver; whoever knows my name I will set on high. All who call upon me I will answer; I will be with them in distress; I will deliver them and give them honor. With length of days I will satisfy them and show them my saving power.”
Emma asked me to talk about this work and the angel involved and how something like Dante’s Purgatorio could lend itself to Supernatural s8, so I shall endeavour to make this an informative post. Apologies in advance for the link; I would put it under a cut but that’s apparently not possible on photo posts. Thanks, tumblr.
The angel in question is never named by Dante. He, along with several other angels, guards the realm. If anyone who does not belong there attempts to enter or ascend the levels, the angels are there to redirect them to their proper place. I can’t imagine that visitors like Dante and Virgil were frequent, so I assume this angel had a rather lonely job. He reminds me a bit of the last Knight in The Last Crusade.
Here’s what Dante says about this angel guardian:
Purgatorio Canto IX:64-105 The Angel at the Gate of Purgatory
I felt changed, as a man in fear does who is reassured, and who exchanges comfort for fear, when the truth is revealed to him. When my leader saw me freed from anxiety, he moved up by the cliff, and I followed, towards the heights.
Reader, you know, clearly, that I must enrich my theme, so do not wonder if I support it with greater art. We drew close, and were at a point, just there where a break, like a fissure, that divides the cliff, first appeared to me. I saw a gate, and three steps, of various colours, below it, to reach it, and a keeper, who as yet said nothing. And as I looked closer, there, I saw that, seated as he was on the top step, there was that in his face I could not endure. He held a naked blade in his hand, that reflected the sun’s rays towards us, so that I turned my eyes towards it, often, but in vain.
He began to speak: ‘Say, what you want, from where you stand: where is your escort? Be careful that coming up here does not harm you!’ My master answered: ‘A heavenly Lady, who has good knowledge of these things, said to us, just now: ‘Go there, that is the gate.’ ‘And may she quicken your steps towards the good,’ the courteous doorkeeper began again: ‘come then, towards our stair.’
Where we came, the first step was of white marble, so smooth and polished that I was reflected there, as I appear. The second was darker than a dark blue-grey, of a rough, calcined stone, cracked in its length and breadth. The third, which is massed above them, seemed like red porphyry to me, fiery as blood spurting from an artery. God’s Angel kept both his feet on this, seated at the threshold, which seemed, to me, to be of adamantine stone.
Purgatorio Canto IX:106-145 The Angel opens the Gate
My guide led me, willingly, up the three steps, saying: ‘Ask humbly for the bolt to be drawn.’ I flung myself, devoutly, at the sacred feet: I begged him for pity’s sake to open the gate to me: but first I struck myself three times on the breast.
He inscribed seven letter P’s on my forehead, with the tip of his sword, and said: ‘Cleanse these wounds when you are inside.’ Ashes, or dry earth, would be at one with the colour of his robe, and he drew two keys out from under it. One was of gold, and the other of silver: he did that to the gate that satisfied me, first with the white, and then the yellow. He said: ‘Whenever one of these keys fails, so that it does not turn in the lock correctly, the way is not open. The one is more precious, but the other needs great skill and intellect, before it works, since it is the one that unties the knot. I hold them, forPeter, and he told me to err by opening it, rather than keeping it locked, if people humbled themselves at my feet.’
Then he pushed the door of the sacred gateway, saying: ‘Enter, but I let you know, that whoever looks behind, returns outside, again.’ The doors of the Tarpeian treasury, did not groan as harshly, or as much, when good Metellus was dragged from them, so that it remained poor afterwards, as the pivots of that sacred door, which are of strong and ringing metal, when they were turned in their sockets.
I did a little digging around, but I can’t find any specifically named angels associated with Purgatory itself. Strange, really. If anyone else knows of specific angels associated with guarding Purgatory, please let me know! Angels are often shown in art as descending into Purgatory to retrieve souls, so it seems odd to come up with no direct references to certain celestials when days of the freakin’ week have their own angels! But I digress.
There are many prayers to saints and angels for the souls in Purgatory, though. Michael is one such angel you can pray to for the salvation of a soul in need of cleansing. I don’t know if this is necessarily something to keep in mind, considering that throwback to Dean’s link with Michael that we saw in 7x22, but you never know…
Supernatural’s Purgatory is very different from the traditional idea of the place in Christian theology. In Christian tradition, Purgatory is simply a weigh station of sorts; it exists for souls that need to be cleansed before entering Heaven’s pearly gates. It’s better than Hell, but it’s still a place of spiritual separation from God. Purgatory is a place of reflection and repentance.
Here’s a bit of random theology for you: The Apostle’s Creed states that Jesus “descended to the dead” after his crucifixion. Many believers hold this to mean Jesus went to Hell to save those who were sent there prior to his ministry, so that everyone willing to repent might be saved, not just those who had the chance to hear his Gospel. In Dante’s Inferno, Jesus went to Hell to save fellow Jews (Noah and Abraham were mentioned specifically) who acknowledged him as the Messiah.
However, some think that the use of the word “dead” is key for understanding where Jesus went after his death on the cross. The translation refers not to the Hell of the damned, but to Sheol, the Hebrew “abode of the dead.” Sheol is a place where the dead—both the righteous and unrighteous—go and are cut off from God; a spiritual hell, if you will. Basically, Purgatory. Thomas Aquinas was a proponent of the Jesus-went-to-Purgatory argument. Of course, this also has a theological consequence: if Jesus went to Purgatory and gave everyone there the chance to be “saved,” some would have said yes while others might have refused. Which would indicate those who refused went to Hell, as their time in Purgatory had given them no greater perspective on their sins, while those who accepted would have ascended to Heaven. Which would mean Purgatory was empty, and would possibly no longer exist as the need for such a place would be obsolete.
However, Supernatural’s Purgatory reflects none of the traditional Judeo-Christian ideas of theology. It is a place for monsters; monsters who either always existed as a species in their own right (The Leviathans, Eve, and the Alphas), or human souls who were turned into monsters (vampires, werewolves, etc.) during their life on Earth. Seems a bit unfair, really, if you consider that most of the humans-turned-monsters didn’t really have a choice in the matter; they were probably viciously attacked and almost killed, only to be turned into something they never asked to be, or perhaps never even believed to really exist.
I don’t think that Castiel will serve as Dean’s “angel guardian” in Purgatory just because he is an angel. His history with Purgatory puts him at as much risk as Dean, really. I think Castiel is far more likely to serve as the Virgil to Dean’s Dante.
However, it is Dante’s “quest” to purify himself of the angel’s “Ps” that could be something to consider. All great heroic epics involve a quest of some sorts. Odysseus had all the trials and tribulations during his journey home. Frodo has his ring. Harry Potter had his horcruxes. What if Dean and Castiel’s way out of Purgatory is not through Sam performing some complicated, archaic spell on Earth so as to bring them back, but through their own kind of quest? What if this involves some kind of “emotional purification” in which they face their own monsters and come out on the other side all the better for it?
It would certainly make the idea of s8 even more appealing. Not only does s8 have the opportunity to return Supernatural to its dark and spooky roots, but it also gives two lead characters a chance to really develop in a potentially positive way.
I know a lot of us are speculating about the news that Gabriel could be back next season from con talk. Purgatory seems like an ideal way to reintroduce a lot of beloved side characters who have since met their end on Earth. However, I don’t think dead angels go to Purgatory. Canon has always seemed to indicate that angels cease to exist when they die (I’m thinking specifically of Castiel’s account of his death in “Swan Song” in “The Man Who Would Be King” where he says, “I was done. I was over.”). Angels are also not monsters (though I suppose you could make an argument for angels like Zachariah). Also, considering that Castiel sucked in all the souls of Purgatory at the end of s6 and became intimately aware of them throughout 7x01, it seems unlikely that he would have failed to notice he sucked in the grace of his dead brothers and sisters.
But this all remains to be seen. I’d personally like for something to come from the divine lightning and spontaneous baby-birthing of 7x23 (Hello, nephilim story arc!), or whatever was written on the rest of the stone tablet penned by Metatron. Surely Dick Roman wouldn’t have gone to all that trouble to exhume something that only detailed how to kill him; there has to be something more written on that rock. Why else would Crowley be so interested? Perhaps this is where Sam’s plot on Earth will lead? And again, this would also give another lead the chance to develop on his own, without being completely tethered to someone else’s storyline. Perhaps reintroducing Gabriel would tie in to the Word of God, as well. I’m sure the Sabriel fans would be happy.
If Supernatural does use Dante’s Purgatorio as any kind of inspiration, I think it would be interesting. I don’t know if they necessarily will, as the Supernatural Purgatory is so very different from the traditional concept, but I really like the symbolic idea of Dean and Castiel facing down their inner monsters and dealing with some, if not all, of their repressed emotions, while Sam gets a chance to do his own thing, as well.