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Of morale and angels, Kiev and Ragnarok

[ by Charles Cameron — not to mention crushing Khomeini, lubing your M16, and that Afghan powerpoint ]

Andrei Rublev, The Archangel Michael

Andrei Rublev, The Archangel Michael


In my previous post, Of morale, angels and Spartans, I raised the question of how our increasingly visual and graphical age could visually represent morale. I noted that the Muslims outfought a larger force at the Battle of Badr, and that the Qur’an suggests that this was because thousands of “angels, ranks on ranks” fought alongside them.

Dave Schuler suggested the Archangel Michael — which sent me all over in search of a suitable representation. The icon above, by Andrei Rublev, is the most profound and beautiful work I was able to find, but hardly serves our purpose.

I ran across a politically explicit comntemporary image in which the Archangel wears Airborne insignia:


— but it was this image from the Maidan in Kiev that came closes to the sense of military power in angelic form —

Archangel Michael Kiev Maidan

— although I’m not sure that military power or prowess is necessarily the same as morale or esprit de corps…


Synchronistically — or coinidentally, as sceptics would say — Justin Erik Halldór Smith headed his blog post Ragnarök on the Seine today with an image of Peter Nicolai Arbo‘s Wild Hunt, or Aasgaardreien. Here’s a detail:

Aasgaardreien Peter Nicolai Arbo Wild Hunt detail

And here’s “the big picture”:

Aasgaardreien Peter Nicolai Arbo Wild Hunt 602

That’s probably closer to “amok” than to “esprit de corps” — although the relationship between them is worth pondering.


I’m still not convinced that contemporary minds will “get” morale from any graphic image yet devised.. I can’t help remembering the M-16 manual I picked up one day at a library sale or flea market, titled The M16A1 Rifle: Operation and Preventive Maintenance:

Treat your rifle like a lady

My guess, however, is that we’ll wind up with something closer to this:

Powerpoint for McChrystal


Image sources:

  • Andrei Rublev, icon of Archangel Michael
  • Archangel Michael, Especial Forces graphic
  • Sculpture, Archangel Michael, Kiev
  • Peter Nicolai Arbo, Aasgaardreien
  • M16 manual, DA Pam 750-30
  • Powerpoint, Afghanistan Stability
  • The photo of the Kiev St Michael is by Mstyslav Chernov, used under CC-BY-SA-3.0 license
  • 3 Responses to “Of morale and angels, Kiev and Ragnarok”

    1. Dave Schuler Says:

      There’s a story from the fairly recent past that you may never have heard. It’s about one of Switzerland’s several patron saints, Niklaus von Pflue, also known as Bruder Klaus, a distant ancestor of mine.
      In 1939 the German army was advancing on the Swiss border. The Swiss mobilized rapidly and the Swiss Army rose to defend its border. As they looked down on the advancing German army, they knelt in prayer, asking for the intervention of Bruder Klaus, who had also fought to defend their country. They saw a light in the sky and the German army withdrew. Despite being surrounded by hostile forces from 1940 to 1944 Switzerland maintained its independence and it was the only German-speaking country to do so.
      That’s the miracle that put Bruder Klaus over the top in his canonization process. I suspect that the support of the papal guard didn’t hurt, either.

    2. Charles Cameron Says:

      I note that Carl Jung & Marie Louise von Franz took a considerable interest in your ancestor:

      Sources focusing on eremitism and mysticism include C. G. Jung: “Bruder Klaus,” in Jung’s Collected Works, v. 11, p. 474-487; New York: Pantheon, 1958, and Maria-Louise von Franz: Die Visionen des Niklaus von Flüe. Einsiedelin, Switzerland: Daimon, 1980 (not translated into English) and her “The Transformed Berserker: Union of Opposites” in Archetypal Dimensions of the Psyche; Boston: Shambhala, 1999.

      That’s some lineage!

    3. Dave Schuler Says:

      A dear friend (a well-known scholar of medieval mysticism) once told me that he was one of the most important medieval mystics.
      According to legend, he spent the last twenty years or so of his life living in a cave, surviving on nothing but the Eucharist. In some way or other he and his wife Dorothy managed to have twelve children. She was canonized, too. She’s the patroness of difficult marriages which seems fitting enough.

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