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More “night watch” than “guardian angels” perhaps?

[ by Charles Cameronguardian angels, really? — or a surface use of in-depth terminology? ]

Just two days ago I posted Quantity and Quality: angelic hosts at Badr and / or Armageddon, and noted in a comment that “the Counterinsurgency Manual, FM 3-24 makes no mention of angels” — whereas “Brigadier Malik’s Qur’anic Concept of War does.


Has someone in ISAF been reading ZP? Two days later, we have this AP report:

U.S. military commanders in Afghanistan have assigned “guardian angels” — troops that watch over their comrades even as they sleep — and have ordered a series of other increased security measures to protect troops against possible attacks by rogue Afghans.

A bit further down, we read:

According to the senior military official, the so-called guardian angels provide an extra layer of security, watching over the troops as they sleep, exercise or go about other daily activities.

Allen noted that the Afghans also have taken some similar steps to provide guards for their own forces.


Just for the record, that’s not quite what I had in mind.

Specifically — and only half-joking — it’s an instance of what Sri Krishna Prem termed “the degradation of spiritual concepts” in his Yoga of the Bhagavat Gita (original Penguin edition, p. xxv. if my notes are to be believed):

There is a law, which may be termed the law of the degradation of spiritual concepts, by which terms originally used by Seers to express levels of supernormal spiritual experience become in the hands of later and purely scholastic exponents terms for elements in purely normal mental life.

Or as TS Eliot puts it in Burnt Norton: V (in Four Quartets):

Words strain,
Crack and sometimes break, under the burden,
Under the tension, slip, slide, perish,
Decay with imprecision, will not stay in place,
Will not stay still.


Where does the idea of a guardian angel come from — and what did it mean before it meant some poor sod who’s on night watch?



Best night watch ever? Rembrandt‘s, in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam:

The brilliant Peter Greenaway has made two quirky films [link to Amazon boxed set] about the painting. Wikipedia describes them well enough that I’ll simply use their phrasing:

The Night Watch is the subject of a 2007 film by director Peter Greenaway called Nightwatching, in which the film posits a conspiracy within the musketeer regiment of Frans Banning Cocq and Willem van Ruytenburch, and suggests that Rembrandt may have immortalized a conspiracy theory using subtle allegory in his group portrait of the regiment, subverting what was to have been a highly prestigious commission for both painter and subject. His 2008 film Rembrandt’s J’Accuse is a sequel or follow-on, and covers the same idea, using extremely detailed analysis of the compositional elements in the painting…

I was certainly richly educated and entertained by both films — and am a great admirer of his The Draughtsman’s Contract — but not quite convinced.


h/t @peterjmunson.

2 Responses to “More “night watch” than “guardian angels” perhaps?”

  1. Madhu Says:

    Slip, slide, perish. Slip, slide, perish.
    What is it about three words together that is so pleasing when spoken? Is there a neurobiological linguistic reasoning behind the pleasingness of threes? The obvious point would be an artistic trinity of words that should be spoken.
    What a poem. Why did I ever think I didn’t like poetry? I think I do like it, now.
    And the word Quartet reminds me that Barbara Pym’s Autumn Quartet is on my ever increasing antilibrary list. It grows and grows and I blame all of you for my desire to read everything, just everything….

  2. Madhu Says:

    As a young girl, I went to a kind of makeshift “puja,” which was held in different homes among the various families within our tiny “Indian American” circle in that small town in that square-ish state, in the middle of the country where the cold wind howled in winter and the idea that I was born on a great hot plain that has seen ancient battles seemed ridiculous, magical, and strange.
    Who held these pujas? I can’t remember. Maybe one of the more religiously educated or literate parents, maybe a traveling iternent kind of Hindu preacher. I never cared for any of it, except for the sound of my mothers voice when she sang because she sang beautifully the various religious songs.
    I hated the focus on the immaterial. I felt it sinful, almost, the idea that I should someday wish to turn away from all earthly things, my mother, my father, my future husband, my future children. As a I child, I resented it. I liked the “prasad,” (always a coarse kind of halwa with coconut) and the chai afterwards. I liked the cold skies and hint of snow outside in winter (did we ever have puja in summer?)
    None of it stuck except the sweetness of good people living simple lives, raising children, working, balancing the new world and old. That was the religion that stuck.

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