He wouldn't have known if he hadn't been walking past. That's how a lot of these life-changing events occur. Spend years diligently planning every minor detail, screw point A into slot B, and sometimes it gets you a few feet up the road, and sometimes it leaves you with a stalled engine and a smell of gas. A misplaced briefcase bomb fails to take out the head of the Third Reich. Someone chucks four Catholics out a window because they're a bit pissed off, and there's a Thirty Years War because of it. Someone forgets to clean their Petri-dishes one night, and boom, penicillin.
Aziraphale might chalk it up to ineffability if he didn't know that Crowley would give him a filthy look and roll his eyes.
After a late and lazy start spreading budding saplings of doubt into the minds of couples on their first date and nudging the traffic lights to forget to pause on amber and flip straight to red, Crowley had got on the Northern Line at Finchley. He had leisurely spent the journey into the centre sowing seeds of grumbling discomfort by making the carriages just slightly too warm. He'd disembarked a few stops before necessary, intending on making the most of the simmering afternoon sunshine and ambling over to Aziraphale's bookshop.
He kicked a Coke bottle idly as he wandered past a tattoo shop. Crowley hadn't had a hand in tattoos generally speaking. Cross-culturally, humans had enjoyed marring their bodies with inks and colours for a variety of reasons, but he often indulged in prodding people towards getting designs that would date quickly, allowing their owners to build up a sediment of regret over time. Barbed wire circlets had been one of his.
Because he was walking past the sort of hip London tattoo shop where young twenty-somethings with piercings in places that forty years ago would have caused a scandal and vegan-friendly leather jackets lined up to get geometric shapes of wolves or stags on their forearms, he wasn't surprised to see a young man, with carefully preened hair and moisturised skin, proudly showing off the cling-wrapped and slightly reddened skin of a new tattoo to a group of his friends; all equally young, skinny, and with delicately shorn haircuts.
“Didn't know you were religious,” one of them was saying, peering at it appreciatively. “'s nice though.”
“Nah,” said another. “Look, it's an Ezirafael, isn't it, Naz? My ex had one of them, right on his hip.”
Naz looked pleased someone had recognised the tattoo for what it was and preened slightly, turning the tattoo this way and that to admire it. He was visibly still buzzing from the session, grinning boyishly.
Crowley's brain had snagged when he heard the word 'Aziraphale', had not so much done a double-take as tripped over itself in surprise, and he was wandering over before he knew what his feet were doing.
“Hi,” he flashed his most winning smile, running a hand though his hair to make it look like he wasn't trying too hard. The boy who'd spoken first, nose piercing and dyed blond hair, blushed red and gave him a very unsubtle once-over. Naz smiled broadly, and his 'hi' in return was a little breathless.
Still had it.
“Sorry to bother you,” he said smoothly. “But did you say you had an Aziraphale?”
“Yeah!” Naz grinned, holding out his arm eagerly. “He's not that well known, 'part from that one film, but it's all about how meaningful it is, y'know, for a tattoo. The symbolism.”
Crowley had tuned him out almost immediately, but hmmed in agreement to seem polite. He stared, unsure of what to make of what he saw. In all honesty, he wasn't sure exactly what he'd expected, but here he was, the sunlight warming the pavement below his shoes, staring at the angel tattooed onto a stranger's arm.
And it was an angel, that much was certain. Done in a sort of stained-glass design, thick black outlines with lots of popping watercolours as an underlay. The angel's wings fanned out triumphant, glossy and inked in a rainbow shock of obvious pride colours. The high-cheekbones and wiry muscled arms made the tattoo look more like a shockingly blond, semi-naked Tom Hiddleston, or another one of those hot young people that got fawned over these days. Aziraphale himself would raise a dismissive, slightly patronising, eyebrow at the comparison.
But there was something there that made Crowley pause. The tattooed angel, his proud wings spread out, clutched a pile of books to his glistening chest with one hand; the other clutched a smooth and glinting longsword. Entwined around his upper arm, flickering its long tongue out across his shoulder, a sleek snake twisted, black scales striking against the white of the angel's robe.
“It's nice,” Crowley said softly, meaning it in a brief moment of sincerity. He recovered quickly, and went fishing in his own off-hand way: “I'd never heard of him before.”
The blond had seemingly recovered from his mute appreciation, and luckily for Crowley was more than happy to chat.
“Nazeem's a real literature nerd, knows about all these really obscure figures in dead old books. He's been planning this one for ages... Hey, listen, we're going to this art exhibition about all that sort of stuff, you should come along with us...”
It took a few moments for Crowley to extricate himself from the increasingly interested youth, declining with several apologetic no's that hinted that he would if only he could, and only after taking the lad's number, which he shoved into his pocket to be forgotten about and mulched into lint. He set off again in the direction he'd been going, his steps slower, as his brain ticked over in thought.
It shouldn't have surprised him that Aziraphale had a reputation. Being on Earth this long, meddling in the lives of other people, he was bound to get noticed in some way or another. Came with the job. Look at the other archangels – all go and full of bluster at the beginning, popping up regularly like divine and virulent moles and delivering grand messages with the whole orchestra in tow, and they got themselves themed candles and big churches in their name.
No, what was surprising was that Crowley hadn't heard about it.
His curiosity well and truly prodded awake, he did the only thing he could think of.
Crowley went away to do some research.
''Bitterest Torment of Soul': Junius' An Invocation to Ezraþāl and the Narrative of Demonic Temptation,' Marcus Kelso, Anglo-Saxon Studies, Volume 10, 3 (November 1954).
Angels have been such a prevalent fact of medieval writings that one could argue it is almost unnecessary to further broach the topic further. From Muhammad Hossein's detailed work on the importance of angels in Islamic thought to Susan MacDairmaid's expansive multi-volume work on angels from early to pre-Restoration Christianity, works such as these would appear to draw a line under the knowledge that angels are firstly) rife in medieval literature to the point of being commonplace; and secondly) a religiously useful shorthand metaphor for strength and unwavering faith in the face of temptation.
However, in light of the recently updated analysis provided by the British Museum's extensive advances in fragment chemical composition and restoration, it is worth discussing the conclusions of this wealth of angelic literature in regards to the newly discovered elegiac poem, titled by scholars as 'An Invocation to Ezraþāl'. Tentatively dated between the late eighth and early ninth century, and previously existing in only fragmentary pieces, Invocation had been consigned to be tantalisingly incomplete, a flickering glimpse into the mindset of the Anglo-Saxon faith. Yet the unearthing of the poem in the surprise find of palimpsest pages – the binding pages of the Junius manuscript revealed to be in fact reused scraped parchment – means that, after careful pigment analysis, the poem can now be read in full.
Building on established research by critics such as Moira Kelly and David Bryn-Jones, this essay seeks to examine the uncharacteristic representation of the angel Ezraþāl. A relatively unknown angel, aside from a few passing mentions in saint's lives and passions, the angel features prominently in the poem, beseeched by the unknown speaker to act by divine intercession to give them strength through trials and temptation. This work seeks to read the figuring of Ezraþāl as both a protective spirit guarding against unwanted desire (see: Murdoch (1953) and Harrison (1945) for further commentary), and – more unusually – as a fellow sufferer of temptation, fallible and equally menaced by demonic temptation.
The angel Ezraþāl's temptation is both a moral and personal one. Just as the speaker mourns the unavailability of their love (implied to be pagan, or at least not yet converted to the Church), so does the angel in ðam grimmestan gǽstgewinne (in the bitterest torment of soul). The angel mourns the absence of his comrade, seemingly lost from him - Dead is he, mín eaxlgesteall (dead [or sometimes translated as 'gone from me' or 'absent – see: Bosworth] is he, my shoulder-companion), implying the angel's comrade has been tempted into sin. The term nǽdercyn is used to imply a kind of snake, metaphorically framing the loss in terms of man's fall. There has been much discussion on whether the angel Ezraþāl's outpouring of grief is meant to signify sadness over man's fall (with man being a creature equally created by God, and so a brother of sorts), or if it is following the poetic traditions of a solider mourning the death of a leige-lord. Yet the angel's elegiac sadness and mourning for a comrade lost is an unusual touch for this literary mode, personalising the angelic figure.
This essay will argue that the nǽdercyn that the angel mourns for is symbolic of man's temptation, and that the fallibility of the angel Ezraþāl is meant to humanise and demonstrate the potential for all to be tempted by those close to them, and so to act as a warning, encouraging the practise of being watchful against this form of enticement.
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A brief internet search yielded Crowley nothing but a series of dull articles about all the stupid stuff humans had written before they'd discovered discos, good port, and television. He had no intention of suffering such torment, so he decided to take a deep breath, straighten his lapels and visit a bookshop.
Walking across the threshold, looking at the gleaming rows of books with pristine spines, he felt something that, if he wasn't a demon, he might have labelled guilt. He didn't visit bookshops as a rule, not since they'd invented cinema, and if Aziraphale ever found out... A demon had loyalties after all, fickle and easily swayed by shiny things but loyalties nonetheless, and Aziraphale would be affronted if he learned that Crowley had been a patron to a rival business.
The bookshop was ostensibly a Christian bookshop originally – a fat rendition of a dove holding a stick on the sign – but somewhere along the line there had been some sort of change of ownership. Either that, or someone had looked at the figures in the bank balance and decided it was better for the finances if their stock also got chummy with other 'spiritual' kitsch, like crystals and books on finding your chakra.
After a few minutes of quietly scoffing at different coloured rocks that proposed to bring him luck because someone had scribbled the Norse rune for cow on it, and musing over the incense before being swayed by their three for two offer, Crowley struck gold. Wedged between a jingling display of multi-coloured dream-catchers and a shelf of 'Celtic Harmony' CDs, he found a card rack of prayers to various saints. He flicked through, wondering why all humans thought angels were so built and why all the saints had that slightly struck look like someone had just told them they were on a prank show, and that was when he found it, incorrectly shoved in between Saints Ambrosius and Balderic.
It was almost as funny as the tattoo had been, if a little more conservative. The angel Ezirafael, as the card named him, was standing daintily barefoot on a grassy hillock, apparently approaching six foot in height (whereas Aziraphale couldn't reach the higher shelves in most supermarkets) and wore a flowing pearl-white heavenly garb that was parted enough to see a flirtatious bit of chest. Like all the other printed angels, this Ezirafael had abs he could grate carrots on, and his luscious flowing locks dropped in implausibly neat ringlets, framed with a halo of heavenly light. The black snake that Nazeem's tattoo had shown was back again, slinking over to the angel, locking his beady malevolent eyes onto his foe. The angel was giving him self-righteous dead-eyes back, pointing a sword at him as though in the middle of a lecture.
It was less... out there than the tattoo had been, but Crowley's momentary disappointment was buoyed above water by the thought that he could show this to Aziraphale and get to watch the slowly purpling half-outraged, half-mortified expression. Either the angel had had no idea he'd been around long enough to gain a minor reputation, or he had known and had been so embarrassed by the whole thing he'd been trying to keep it from Crowley.
Both options would lead to an equally satisfying response.
The woman at the counter, wearing an ostentatiously over-beaded rosary and attempting to wear every colour in the rainbow at once, gave him a look as he bought the prayer card and the incense. She seemed to be trying to work out how to put something, and he was in such a good mood that Crowley resolved to only causing her car to get a parking ticket if she tried to get him to join a Bible reading group, or a free session to explore the mysteries of the universe through meditation.
“If you're interested in queer saints,” she started delicately, and pointed a red-painted talon over at another corner of the shop. “We've an offer on some related books at the moment. Coming up to Pride, so there's twenty percent off.”
Crowley nearly choked on his own tongue. His brain skipped like a needle on a vinyl player.
And that was when this whole mystery became a thousand times better.
The Angel Ezraphael: Forgotten Queer Ally and Patron of Same-Sex Desire
Thursday 13th March, 2005 – Leonora Gomez
It's been a long old road for the reputation of the angel Ezirafael to be properly realised. Nowhere near as remembered as Saint Sebastian or Madonna of Montevergine, nevertheless this angel has retained a consistent reputation over the years for coming to the aid of, and defending, queer people since the medieval period.
Like most theological or apocryphal inclusions, it is difficult to know what has been exaggerated or downplayed, but we'll try and take an even field approach. Even as early as the Middle Ages, Ezirafael's mentions in texts was noted as being predominantly centred around figures involved in strong homosocial relationships (at least that's what they were calling them back then, but we all know Achilles and Patroclus weren't just cousins, looking at you, Troy). He is mentioned (under the name Azirafe) in multiple lives of saints found in the Acta Sanctorum, visiting and comforting the 3rd century Christian martyrs Felicity and Perpetua, urging them to remain steadfast in both their faith and love for each other; he shows up and officiates a bonding of souls between the Roman soldiers and saints Sergius and Bacchus in what can easily be read as an early form of same-sex marriage (equality y'all).
Moving into the establishment of Christianity in Northern Europe, a multitude of prayers to Saint Ezirafael were written at the Cistercian abbey of Clairvaux, founded by and home of the well-known, probably gay, Abbot Bernard, best known for his homoerotic poetry about Jesus and his really-close and full of kissing relationship with Archbishop Malachy of Armagh, Ireland. But apart from that, there's not much to go on.
Early reading of this illusive figure goes the same way as most research done by old white guys in academia – either outright denial, comfortable 're-reading's of the context, or erasure. The angel's iconography shows him in the standard 'vanquishing demons' pose, complete with demon either underfoot, or in the process of being fought. You can see a representation of this in the pre-Raphaelite work below*, painted by Edward Burne-Jones, and it's a fairly standard model; the demon = temptation, the angel fights against it. However, there is a running thread linking all these disparate mentions and that is Ezirafael's demon being read as a struggle with un-accepted queer desire. Just as Jacob wrestling the Angel looks hella gay in most painted representations, a number of paintings on the topic of Ezirafael and the demon show about the same level of bare glistening bodies and repressed homoeroticism as a re-run of 300.
Which leads us to now. Increasing numbers of queer academics (and people who aren't blind) are beginning to read the struggle with the demon as the struggle for self-acceptance, or even yet, the struggle against the desire for acknowledgement in a world that denies them. A growing symbol to demonstrate the overcoming of internalised or externalised homophobia, the motif of Ezirafael has been adopted …. Read more.
Crowley finished reading a multitude of websites after midnight. He sat for a while, rubbing his face with his hands intermittently. There was the sound of traffic outside, and someone drunkenly shouted, echoed by a squawk of laughter. The clock on the wall ticked obnoxiously. Crowley felt tired.
The thing was... well, the thing was this:
Crowley had been having Thoughts. Thoughts about his counterpart. Thoughts that no self-respecting demon would entertain, but thoughts that Crowley had apparently rolled out the welcoming mat for and invited in for nibbles and charades. This had been happening regularly for millennia, and the Thoughts had seen to reason not to continue as they had been doing for centuries; minding their own business, occasionally interrupting him with Ideas at inopportune moments. But there had been an understanding. He'd had careful refuge in the knowledge that whatever he felt for Aziraphale – and he would not be the first to name it, no sirree – it was both dangerous and impossible, and it was better for both of them (but mostly him) if he said nothing at all, continued to ignore any stirrings of rebellion, quelling any outliers with the application of a stiff drink on occasion, and they went along the way they'd always done.
But that was before the end of the world hadn't happened. Before they'd started having less of an Arrangement and more of a friendship. A relationship almost. Before Aziraphale had invaded his space and his life in that fussy in-congruent way of his, regular and comforting as the buffeting of tide on shore, and no-one came down or up to smite or write them up for it.
But there was knowing that it wasn't against the rules for Aziraphale to be in his life, and finding out that the angel was apparently some patron saint of queer self-acceptance.
Which was all fine. Dandy really in all forms of the word.
But now there was a Possibility that Crowley hadn't considered. A Possibility that made him uncomfortably hot, and antsy, and struck by a potential that he'd only ever quietly indulged.
The thing is (also) this:
Angels (and demons) aren't sexual beings. That is not to say they can't make the effort, and in the early days, Crowley had done a lot of that, tempting people to sin the old fashioned way by having a lustful tumble or two, although it was now considered a bit of a cheap and hokey way to get things done. But divine or occult beings are not human beings, and they don't experience the same things, the same drives.
But they can love.
Crowley, in his most self-pitying moments, considered himself a bloody expert on the topic.
Crowley had always assumed – perhaps disingenuously – that Aziraphale was like most other angels. Capable of grand expressions of love when it came to humanity, but generally avoidant of the topic personally. A love for all things, a love for Crowley even, but the love of a kind, well-meaning relative who sends birthday cards on the wrong day and with a fiver inside with a note to buy something nice like you're still at primary school. Love but distant, separate, and impersonal.
But now, at least according to the rumours, Aziraphale had spent most of the medieval ages playing wingman to a bunch of queer martyrs and church-folk. Which meant that there must be something there, a comprehension of love beyond his angel-standard, over-arching love for mankind. That Aziraphale could, and apparently did, pick favourites.
That he could, just possibly, feel love himself. On an individual level.
Crowley's Thoughts gave an unhelpful cheer.
Crowley told them to fuck right off.
There was only one thing for it, Crowley decided firmly. It had been centuries. He was mature enough to handle this.
It was a decision he had made drunk, when having a glass of Sauvignon Blanc to calm his nerves and his racing thoughts had become lying on the sofa, lazily feeling his thoughts wash by like driftwood, and wondering if he could just ask Aziraphale. If he'd ever thought about the concept. If he'd like to perhaps consider it with Crowley.
So he invited himself over to the angel's bookshop one evening. He'd brought some very nice sherry with an excellent vintage he'd been saving up for something special, and manifested in his sharpest clothes.
Aziraphale apparently didn't notice.
He smiled however when he saw Crowley, in the midst of finishing putting away the pile of books stacked in his arms, bent backwards awkwardly under the weight.
“Use a coaster on the table, there's a good fellow,” he said, muffled behind the pile. “Be there in a jiff.”
Crowley, as was tradition, ignored him and gestured for some glasses.
Aziraphale righted the hem of his jumper and brushed the dust off himself. He peered at the glasses with a raise of his eyebrows.
“Planning on getting me drunk, are we?” he said in a teasing tone, and then he spotted the sherry: “Ooh! It looks divine, dear, what's the occasion?”
He looked pointedly at the glasses. They did, admittedly, more resemble goblets than the usual wine glasses.
“Drunken debauchery. That is always the plan,” Crowley replied, and he uncorked the bottle. Aziraphale tssked but held out his glass indulgently.
It had been a while since Crowley had dropped in, and the bottle was long emptied by the time they'd both recounted the tales and woes of their various lives, sat leaning in conspiratorially over the table. (Crowley leaving out his current dilemma, of course).
“And then,” Aziraphale was in the midst of complaining. Crowley could imagine he'd been in a real snit earlier, and had allowed it to simmer to a low heat for the sake of propriety. There was a high flush to his cheeks, and it was a good look on him. “Because of the parade, I had to take the long way round – almost another forty minutes, and I'd only gone out to meet a fellow about a few hardbacks. Then I was late, and he'd already left, and then I had to use that confounded mobile telephone and call to apologise...”
“You don't like the parade?” Crowley interrupted. As had been his master-plan, he was well on the way to sloshed, and his elbow slipped off the table as he tried to grab for the empty bottle. He noticed it was empty and glared at it venomously.
“It's not that I don't like it..”
“Thought your lot were slowly changing your mind about the gays.”
The bottle had deigned to refill itself, and Crowley leant back, self-satisfied.
Aziraphale gave him a sharp look.
“Not my lot,” he said affronted, tugging on his jumper with a ruffled disdain. “Where they got those ridiculous notions from was nothing to do with me, honestly. No, I think it's marvellous they're all having their big parties every year, but I do wish it wouldn't stop up the traffic so.”
“Hmm,” Crowley replied non-committally. Then he said, fake casually. “I was walking past a shop, and they had all these saints they've outed recently on display. I wondered if you'd know any of them, angel.”
“There are a fair number so I should think it unlikely. I'm not able to be everywhere at once. I missed all the best learned gatherings at the Frankish Court because some fool decided that some sea-battered Scottish rock was a good place to put an abbey.”
Crowley topped up Aziraphale's glass. The angel had ran his hands through his hair in the midst of his earlier story, and his hair stood up irregularly at off-angles. He rested his hands over the rise of his stomach, looking like a bedraggled Oxford don.
“You know any Sergiuses? Third century Rome?”
“Oh!” Aziraphale looked pleased to have recognised the name. “Gosh, that's a name I haven't heard in a while. Lovely man, I went to his wedding. There was a lot of wine... if I recall.”
“That sounds doubtful.”
“Hmm, you're right. It was Roman wine. Very potent.”
“And you used to be a monk didn't you, in those early days,” Crowley continued with a calculated idle comment. “You spent a good fifty years in a scriptoria if I remember.”
“That takes me back... lord, those tiny rooms.”
“You ever in Clairvaux?”
“Not sure,” Aziraphale said, mulling it over before finding the answer tucked under his tongue. “Oh, yes. I was. For a while. I left after Bernard died, went elsewhere.”
“I remember Bernard,” Crowley said, topping himself up. The sherry was smoother than it had been before, and if he'd been more sober, he would have savoured it by obnoxiously swilling it around the bottom of the glass. He'd invented the concept of sommelier, and he'd always been rather chuffed watching people giving themselves airs and graces claiming superior knowledge about grapes. “It was me who paid that prostitute to try and sleep with him.”
“I did. Paid a whole lot of money for it those days, and he jumped up in a fright and legged it out the window. Sprained his ankle.”
“He wasn't that way inclined I don't think,” Aziraphale was shaking his head as though Crowley should have known better. “He wrote some fairly racy poetry for his partner if I remember.”
Crowley's thread of thought had dropped a stitch or two, and it took him a moment to pick up where he wanted to be.
“You were never tempted then?”
“Hmm?” Aziraphale said, in the midst of topping up his glass. His cheeks were beginning to get the rosy patina of being well grounded in tipsy, and he hiccuped before covering his mouth modestly with his hand. “What did you say, dear boy?”
“All those humans writing about passion and frolicking in hay barns. You were never tempted to try it yourself?”
Aziraphale tried to look affronted, but his swaying dialled the expression down to vaguely peeved.
“Certainly not. It's not encouraged as a rule, and you know we aren't made that way. Even you.”
“Ah, but I've given it a go, angel. Lust, love, the whole shebang.”
“Ah, well, love,” Aziraphale said. The comment had seemingly given him pause, because he stared off into the distance at the dusty box of his computer, and for a moment, looked terribly sad. He had stopped sloshing the brandy to make waves in the glass, and was letting it settle to calm. Crowley was immediately regretting opening his mouth, and was floundering like a beached salmon for a new conversational track.
For a long moment, Aziraphale didn't speak.
“I've seen what it does to people,” he said. “How it ruins them, how it makes them the best and worst of themselves. Love is the best thing He ever created, Crowley, but it does make one so terribly human. It's not something I ever wanted to encourage in myself, and yet...”
He lapsed into a morose silence. There was nothing Crowley could say in reply to that.
Aziraphale looked at him. Hiccuped once. Smiled crookedly.
“I like your suit by the way. Very dashing.”
“Thankss,” Crowley replied, and then proceeded to make an idiot out of himself by knocking over his glass with his elbow.
And the moment was gone. Instead, they played cards, and Crowley cheated terribly, and tried not to memorise the lines of Aziraphale's laughter on his face.
Sight and Sound, Vol. 145 (February 2004)
The Icon of Iconoclastic Cinema: Remembering Derek Jarman – Thomasin Kelly.
It may come as a surprise, but yes, it really has been twenty years since the loss of visionary British director Derek Jarman. An unapologetic queer film-maker, his films capture the religious fervour and punk outrage of the eighties, and inspired a generation of queer artists to carry the torch in his stead.
To mark the season, the BFI Southbank will be screening some of his most well known works - Sebastiane, Edward II and Carvaggio – but one inclusion in this repertoire will perhaps surprise some Jarman enthusiasts, a rare screening of Sodom: On the Head of a Pin (1986). Sandwiched chronologically as it was between the ethereal mediation of The Angelic Conversation and the blistering, homoerotic biopic of Caravaggio, this gem is generally forgotten by all but the most diligent of Jarman completists. A box-office failure on its release, its fate was not helped by a successful lobbying campaign from Mary Whitehouse to the British Board of Film Censors which saw the film refused a certificate, something only rectified in the early 2000's.
There's a lot to enjoy in this lesser work however. It follows the tradition of both Sebastiane and The Angelic Conversation in marrying its queer and religious themes, and over its two hour run time, the story of Sodom and Gomorrah is intercut with snapshots of biblical narrative. Jarman regular Tilda Swinton is here in an androgynous turn, visually reminiscent of her work in Orlando and Constantine, playing the timeless and tormented angel Aziraph, who watches ever present as the same stories of desire, repression and its resultant manifestation in violence is told throughout the ages. There's an extended scene of the Centurion weeping over the sun-lit bed of his dying lover while Aziraph stands unnoticed in the corner silently weeping also, and the comments on the servant's 'ill blood' and his refusal to embrace his lover lest he catch the sickness draws clear sympathetic parallels to the AIDs epidemic at its height at the time. These prescient touches add a mournful but necessary desperation to his begging at the feet of Christ.
The tragedy of David and Jonathan is here played out in full, over-cut with Judi Dench reading passages from the Song of Solomon and Leviticus while the blood-soaked soldiers embrace each other. Swinton's Aziraph, witnessing the death of Jonathan on Mount Gilboa, obliterates the offending army with a shriek of divine rage. It's powerful stuff, a series of pathos-filled set pieces, that does little to prepare you for the ending that got the film into so much trouble; the angel's tormented arrival at the House of Lot seeking shelter, and the – for its time – graphic sex scene as the angel apparently consensually submits to the townspeople in an angelic orgy that ignites the town with passion.
Jarman was not the first person to use the metaphor of the angel Aziraphale to imply gay longing. Early queer Hollywood director Dorothy Arzner cast actor Billy Haines to star as the lead in her tragi-romance Ships in the Night, a few years before he was forced out of the industry for refusing to hide his sexuality – a scene where his character prays to the angel to give him guidance on his upcoming marriage deftly hints to the audience that his sexuality is the impediment to their wedded bliss. But Jarman was the one of the few film-makers brave enough to draw an explicit line between the potential for divine grace and the experience of homosexual desire, the angel as a messenger of God clearly giving his blessings for these forms of relationships, and – perhaps even more clearly – confessing to his own experience of sexual queer desire, shown in heady, blurry flashbacks.
It's not Jarman's best film, certainly with none of the 'fuck you' punk attitude that characterises his later, anti-Thatcherite works, but its themes and – in its own way – gentle exploration of the internal and external torment of queer desire in its protagonists, and the angel's unconditional acceptance, is unique for its time, and deserves to be seen by a wider audience.
'Dererk Jarman: An Anniversary' will be shown at the BFI Southbank from February 8th until the 21st. Sodom: On the Head of a Pin can be viewed at 9pm (February 10th to February 15th) or alternatively bought from our online site as part of our Derek Jarman sale.
It was a stupid idea, he told himself, fuming. They'd drawn a line in the sand, hadn't they, and then when the line in the sand got washed away, Crowley had gone off and come back and built a coastal defence wall to make things even clearer. He didn't know exactly what they'd concluded during that quiet moment of obfuscating honesty, but whatever it was, that was it. Time to stop.
He'd remembered that the blond kid with Naz had mentioned a film, and his curiosity had gotten the better of him, and tripped him up in the small hours of the evening when he was minding his own business.
He wasn't a fan of artsy films per se, the angel had really had more of a hand in those, but he couldn't stop wondering. Since he was a demon, he found a copy online and sat down on his sofa that so many cows had died to furnish, and, after a moment, had paused to go grab some nibbles.
He had almost choked when he had seen this film's 'Aziraph', dressed in what looked like a silk dressing gown and lit artistically in a delicate and graceful way. The actor moved softly, like they were half floating. Crowley had seen Aziraphale trip over his own feet before, and he always wore well-worn if cared for brown galoshes. Nothing like the ballet shoes this Aziraphale was rocking around in.
This Aziraphale, well acted but false nonetheless, stared wanly off into the distance, wryly muttering aphorisms on the nature of faith and existence, and Crowley checked the run-time, and cursed before popping another peanut into his mouth.
Sheer bloody-mindedness prevented him from stopping. Still, he was going to sit through two hours of this rubbish.
The film continued with the sort of limpid navel-gazing that would put the real Aziraphale to shame.
“I, being angel, cannot be man, and yet my soul longs for such soaring heights and sunken depths,” the angel sat on a plastic rock in the middle of a cheaply painted studio lot that was meant to look like Palestine. Crowley groaned passionately, and threw a peanut that the screen.
He wondered if maybe he could tell Aziraphale about the film. He'd get a kick out of the angel's awkwardness, at least. He could play it cool, laugh about it, ignore any urges that would rise up. It'd be a fun night in.
Crowley was beginning to doze through all the morose biblical bits, where Aziraph continued to wax doggedly poetic on the role of sin, and Crowley wished Aziraphale was here so they could complain about it together.
His mouth was starting to get a bit dry with the salt on the peanuts when the angel appeared in the Judean version of a sailor's bar – because, ok, he gets it, anachronism – and in a fae and distant manner blessed the union of a dockworker and a midshipman. Again, this seemed to be a cue for the actor to stare off just to the right of the camera, and murmur about his own impossible love with a fallen one.
'There was a time perhaps,' the angel said in the most punchably fragile way. 'I lived a momentary dream but now that dream has gone with the whisper of morning. He is gone, and I am left with the fragments of the could-have-been.'
Crowley used some strong cursewords, and buried his head into the throw pillow. He hadn't been the sort of demon who would possess a throw pillow before this, but luckily the sofa had known he would need it.
He was then treated to a dreamy, slightly fuzzy flashback to two angels, one white winged and one dark with a stupid little forked tail, having a forbidden frolic in Eden and lying artfully amongst the foliage. Crowley had stopped dozing when they started locking lips, and he found himself swallowing uncomfortably.
Back to the present setting, the angel, after a few minutes of the camera lovingly panning over the grime and grit of the bar and the hardened faces of the patrons, found solace in the arms of a black-haired sailor with gratuitous eye makeup to make his expression even darker, striding up to Aziraph in his snake-skin shoes with a confident leer, and Crowley started to fidget. It wasn't Aziraphale, looked nothing like him, but watching this erotic pantomime made him feel dishonest, duplicitous.
Crowley struggled to sit still while a tastefully shot sex scene with Annie Lennox singing over the simulated penetration started to play out, and nope, he couldn't manage this. He didn't even get to the promised orgy at the end. He turned off the computer quickly and aggressively, breathing hard and feeling oddly sweaty.
That was meant to be him. He knew it. Ok, he'd read the signs in the smoke, that he'd been figured in those poems or whatever as Aziraphale's arch-nemesis in his on-going metaphorical fight either against temptation or the heteronormative patriarchy, and alright, sod it fine, that was a reputation that didn't bother him.
But some pretentious film-maker coming round, implying that a bony, twink-looking Aziraphale has been pining after his demon lover for centuries, only gets his rocks off with brutish, dark-haired look-alikes...
That made him... well, he didn't know what to feel.
Because these things he had seen, the stories and the poems and the films, they weren't real. They weren't real, because that's not how it was, not for him, not for Aziraphale. The Ezirafael they had in their stories, the one that pined for him, the one that loved him so much it caused him nothing but pain, that wasn't not his Aziraphale. Fussy and precise and all so human underneath it all Aziraphale.
Crowley couldn't have that. Not the Aziraphale he wanted, that wanted him back.
And then he wondered, rebelliously, suddenly, why the hell couldn't he.
TimeOut London – Online – Art and Culture – Exhibitions – New This Week
Angel in the Out!House: 4/5
Tomasz Kowalczyk's new exhibition takes us back to familiar ground. Raised Catholic, Kowalczyk's work has always asked deep questions about the intersection between his faith and his sexuality, and this exhibition is no different. Here, he takes less of a personal touch however than previously seen in the artist's work, and instead channels his introspection through the metaphor of little-known angel Ezirafael, who in recent years has been reclaimed as a quasi-patron saint of queer identity. Taking notes from Jarman's 1986 film Sodom (which plays in clip form around the space), the exhibition adopts a multi-media approach to its celebration of identity, marrying voice-overs where actors read from old manuscripts of the lives of saints to a wall papered with original prints of queercore zines and early London Pride protest photos attended by gay Christians. It can come across a little overwhelming, especially as Kowalczyk showed us in his last exhibition that he can do subtle, but this vibe adds to its punk, anti-authority charm.
The narrative of the angel and his love for a demon is a common thread throughout, and is presented here as an embracing of individuality and freedom in the face of repression. This culminates in a series of paintings charting the often painful, eternally human acceptance of one's own identity – featuring many portraits of real life people and a self-portrait of Kowalczyk himself - and is crowned by a particularly affecting triptych. Untitled, the paintings on the left and the right show the angel longingly staring at the demon, with a mirror representation on the far side; in the centrefold, the two together, triumphant and en-coiled, markedly sexual in their postures, defiant and aggressive. In these divided times, such a triumphant expression of adoration is a liberating one.
The exhibition 'Angel in the Out!House' will be shown at the Barkley Contemporary Art Gallery until August 12th.
Crowley had been thinking. About a great number of things. He was never one to rush a job well done, so he'd thought everything over with the precision of someone laying out all the pieces to make a model aircraft. And then, he'd scrapped that, and decided to follow the old poker metaphor. Cards on the table, that sort of thing.
He spent forty minutes giving himself a passive-aggressive pep-talk, pacing up and down and making the plants tremble nervously, and then he invited Aziraphale out for a walk.
If Aziraphale noticed that he was uncharacteristically quiet through their stroll through the park, he politely ignored it, and stuffed the silences by chattering away about every little thing that crossed his mind. It was a chilly day tipping into cold, but he'd even brought bread, and he shared it with Crowley, and cooed over the ducks that waddled closer, commenting on the ones that had grown and the new ducklings that were beginning to get a little bolder in their excursions.
Finally, Crowley interrupted him.
“Fancy a stroll elsewhere?”
“Where were you thinking?”
Aziraphale gave him an intrigued look, fondness in the quirk of his smile.
“You mysterious old serpent. Lead on then.”
Crowley did as he was bid. He lead them across town, through squares and along red-brick streets before they reached the art gallery, a pristine modern sign outside made of big shapes and primary colours. It was in a converted house, next to a dentist's and someone's city home, complete with bedraggled plant pots with some scruffy begonias on the window ledge.
Crowley paid for them both, waving away Aziraphale's gesture at his own wallet. The cashier had bubblegum pink hair and an inordinate amount of metal in and around his face, but he welcomed them with a toothy politeness, and gave them a map to the space. There was more than one exhibition on for such a small space, and they had to wander around before they found what Crowley was looking for.
If Aziraphale had looked around, he would have known immediately what he was walking into.
As it was, he looked at Crowley instead. His eyes curious. Trusting.
Crowley marched them through the installations of memorabilia and candid photography, straight in front of the painting he'd read about. He planted his feet, and gestured aggressively, hoping he didn't have to say anything to explain. He wasn't sure his tongue was up for that sort of work-out, not when it felt so stuck to the roof of his mouth.
Aziraphale followed the line of his arm, and startled like a Victorian woman clutching her pearls.
“Goodness!” he declared.
“What do you think?” Crowley said curtly. Now that he was here, he just wanted to get the whole thing out, rather than watching Aziraphale laboriously the jigsaw together himself.
“It's an adept effort of course,” Aziraphale said reddening. Staring at the careful lines of the angel's pearly-white garb, the messy hair cut short to a neat riot of curls, the restrained glimpse of thigh. “But I fail to see what...”
“Goodness.” Aziraphale repeated, slowly. More faintly. “Well, that's... I suppose it's flattering, although the likeness leaves much to be desired. And the...” Aziraphale blinked. “the – that is to say, my companion...”
There was no 'Goodness' here. No exclamation. No anger, mortification. He didn't go red with exclamation, didn't loudly fluster and bluster. He didn't say anything, his mouth held in a close tight line.
He looked at the demon in the painting, in a soot-black gown and with proud raven wings, the wavy mane of a pre-Raphaelite muse, and then he looked at Crowley like he could see nothing else.
“What do you want me to say, Crowley?” he said quietly. Gently. “I can't read your mind.”
Crowley's hands started to gesture anxiously. He fiddled with his nails, became doggedly fascinated with a scuff mark on the skirting board. The words were there and then they weren't.
“I've been thinking a lot,” he started. Uncharacteristically haltering. Despising his own weakness and desperate to survive this with dignity intact. “About you. And me. And us.”
Aziraphale put his pale hand on his hand to calm his movements, and didn't move away.
“Ah,” he said, almost off-hand. “Dangerous that, really. Too much thinking can't be good for you.”
Aziraphale's hand was warm in his, and it hadn't moved away. Crowley's words turned back in his throat, his doubts slinking away. He forgot about all the humans with their wild and varied stories and how none of them got even close to the reality he feels right now.
“You love me, angel,” he said quietly.
He made his gaze meet Aziraphale's, and what he saw was better than he could have hoped for.
Aziraphale beamed like Crowley had given him the last clue on a treacherously difficult crossword puzzle. There was relief there too, a weight out of the shadows in his eyes. He smiled, and his fingers clenched tighter, surer, and there was the glow in his face that one could almost describe as joy.
“Undoubtedly, my dear.” Aziraphale replied.
They stood there for a long time, hand in hand, looking at the painting. They bought a postcard of the work on the way out.