A wing and a prayer

Books on angels are flying off the shelves, but is this a feather-brained craze, asks John Naish

Diana Cooper’s guardian angels have been telling her important things: “We are at the start of a new era. In 2012 there’s going to be a shift in consciousness and angels are here to help that happen,” she says. “Earth is in a sorry state. There’s too much greed and hatred. The angels are here in unprecedented numbers to help us to clear our spiritual blocks. There has never been an opportunity like this.”

People who make such public declarations tend to get consigned to the muttering fringes of society, but this grandmother from Guildford, Surrey, is Britain’s leading proponent of angel-mania and has become a one-woman publishing phenomenon. She has sold more than 180,000 books in this country on how to contact angels and 2.5 million worldwide. People flock to her nationwide talk tours; listen avidly to the angel-contact CDs; try to divine the future with her tarot-style Angels of Light cards; and keep the children quiet with her colouring books. Then there are the crystals that will vibrationally connect you to specific archangels, “individually blessed by her in a sacred ceremony”, according to her website (dianacooper.com) and a snip at £19.99.

This week, Cooper’s American counterpart, Doreen Virtue (two million book sales worldwide), is on tour in Britain, selling out sizeable venues such as the 700-capacity St James’s Church in Piccadilly, London. Meanwhile, the spa resort chain Champneys is running a celestial wellbeing programme, entitled Connecting with Your Guardian Angel and the Angelic Realms. Surf the internet and you will find sites flocking to sell special angel frescoes, sculptures, clocks, paperweights, vases, candles and candlesticks, as well as angel music CDs by the New Age artists Llewellyn and Juliana (Juliana’s guardian angel is called Ariana), angel-workshop holidays in Crete and home-study angel courses. There’s even an angels guide to dating.

What is it about angels? Cooper, 64, says that she first encountered her supernatural saviours in 1982 when she hit a black period of divorce and depression. She called out for help, waited, and found herself in the company of a “being of light” who showed her how her new future would map out. “I started off as a healer and worked with spirit guides, which operate on a lower frequency than angels. Then, years later, the angels asked me to help to introduce them to the people of the world.”

Guided by higher spirits (naturally), Cooper wrote her first book, A Little Light on Angels (Findhorn Press, £6.95), detailing people’s angelic encounters, which was published in 1996. “The response started building quite quickly,” she says. “When I first put a chat room on my website, 100 people visited. Now it is thousands a day. Her work continues to diversify: she is co-hosting a World Angel Day in October at Kensington’s Great Hall (price £69 a ticket; 020-7361 2220), though she is only an earthly organiser. It is co-ordinated by the archangels Metatron, Michael, Raphael, Gabriel and Uriel, and the symphonies of all angels, she says.

These ethereal beings are apparently massing to help us to save the world. But, cautions Cooper, they have no free will, so can help only if asked. “Try it,” she says. “If your washing machine breaks, ask your angels to fix it before you call the plumber. If you need an Earth experience that involves a broken washing machine, the angels won’t be able to help, but otherwise they will mend it. And every time you see an ambulance go by, ask an angel to help the person in it.”

Among Cooper’s recent pronouncements is the claim that the estimated 200,000 victims of the Asian tsunami died to cleanse the Earth of wickedness. The victims had bravely chosen this path before they were born, invited to make the sacrifice by something called the Intergalactic Council. “It’s helpful and healing for some people, such as loved ones, to know that. But if you find it upsetting, you can simply forget it,” she says.

Her next book, her 13th, describes the revelations given to her by angels from the lost city of Atlantis. “Atlantis was powered by crystals and spiritual energy, and we have to get back to those times. The people were intergalactically connected . . . though maybe your readers aren’t ready for that yet.”

There are enough readers pursuing strange revelations, though. The religion shelves at my local Borders bookshop are heaving, but not with traditional religious tracts. Instead there are texts to decode Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, revelations from the spirit world, books on tarot; and, of course, angels. The way they all promise to reveal a personal mystical truth seems strangely like a repeat of the bizarre 17th-century creeds that sprang up during the English Civil War — the Ranters, Levellers and Muggletonians — a broth of often apocalyptic ideas fomented by rapid social change and spiritual uncertainty.

There is also a consumer-friendliness about angels, according to Emma Heathcote-James, who interviewed people who claimed to have had close angelic encounters for her PhD, subsequently published as a book, Seeing Angels. “They are the spiritual equivalent of aspirin, harmless,” she says. “They don’t ask you to practise religious rigour, or to keep any commitments or be a good person. I think something is changing in human consciousness, with all this New-Agey literature, and angels fit nicely into it all.”

Such ideas would certainly chime with Doreen Virtue, whose take on angels is comparatively down to earth. She says she was a child clairvoyant, who, through fear of teasing, spent years blocking out her angelic contacts until the day in 1995 when she ignored a voice warning her that she was about to be carjacked. When the attack happened, her guardian angel told her, sensibly, to scream and her assailants ran off. Since then she has written more than 20 angelic books. At the time, Virtue had PhDs in psychology and counselling and was an administrator at a psychiatric hospital. The experience inspired her to become a “spiritual psychologist”. She believes that people have a natural psychic ability that can be developed using angels.

“The idea of contacting angels allows people a personal relationship to the divine. They can talk to Heaven without a priest or a psychic,” she says. “As a psychotherapist, my interest was in making people happier. I had never seen healing on an emotional level of the sort that can happen when people contact their angels. They can, for example, get off sleeping pills so much easier when they realise they’re not alone.”

Virtue first started lecturing in Britain on angels in 2000 and says she has noticed a big change in the audiences: “A few years ago fringe types would attend. Now professionals are coming — doctors, therapists, lawyers and so on. It’s spreading by word of mouth and gaining wider acceptance.” Angels, whether you believe in them or not, are undeniably taking off.

Watching over us

• Angels get 196 name-checks in the Bible. The word angel comes from the Greek angelos, which may be a translation of the Hebrew word mal’akh, or messenger.

• The oldest images date from 3000BC in Ancient Sumeria, present-day Iraq. These angels, carved from stone, were called sukalli.

• The Sumerians believed that each person had a ghostly guardian for life, as did the Babylonians and the Assyrians.

• The Hindu tradition has angelic beings called devas; Buddhists have nats. Tibetan Buddhism has more elevated angelic beings called dakini.

• God revealed the Koran to the Prophet Muhammed via the angel Gabriel.

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(Listed if other than Religion News Blog)
Times Online, UK
Apr. 30, 2005
John Naish

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This post was last updated: Friday, May 9, 2014 at 1:32 PM, Central European Time (CET)