ANGELS OF DEATH
The Angel of Death has been abroad throughout the land, you may almost hear the beating of [her] wings.
-- John Bright
In a speech to the House of Commons on February 23, 1855
Throughout the recorded history of many Western cultures, Azrael, the Angel of Death, has long claimed a significant and foreboding place in literature and in the collective consciousness of those who have even fleetingly considered the roots of their religious convictions. For two millennia, the archetypal quality of this transcendental symbol has proven both pervasive and irresistible. No matter what form it takes, the presence of the Angel of Death represents the ultimate adjudication of life--it is a symbol that is quintessential to the fleeting, tremulous, and uncontrolled nature of our mortality. It is the Angel of Death who invariably presides over the manner and time in which we all must relinquish that which we treasure most. In any of its many incarnations, the image of Azrael is timeless, profound, troubling, inevitable, and evolving. Few other symbols among those in our Western culture bear such a penetrating impact on the mind or cast such incisive fear into the heart.
To our civilization, the symbolic significance of the Angel of Death is especially powerful and recondite because it is fundamental to a shared liturgy known to millions of people. In ancient religious doctrine, it was Azrael who presided over the ultimate retribution against the firstborn sons of Egypt when their pharaoh persistently refused to release his Jewish captives from their