Martha McGill
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Angels in early modern Scotland
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This chapter discusses conceptions of angels in early modern Scotland. Scholars working on England have tended to underline angels’ protective functions, depicting them as a ‘comforting’ presence in popular culture. But angels had a range of roles in early modern society, and might be every bit as frightening as they were consoling.

Prior to the Reformation, angels had a prominent place in Scottish culture. Stories of angelic visitations circulated; angels appeared in pageants and songs; and they had a significant visual presence, ornamenting church walls, gravestones, prayer books and shop signs. Despite Protestant unease, depictions of angels remained after the Reformation and there persisted cases of individuals who claimed to have met with angels. Across these varied source types, angels appeared to defend Christians, but also to offer instruction or to cast judgement on sinners. Andrew Man, who was tried for witchcraft in 1598, had an enigmatic angelic advisor by the name of Christsonday. Christsonday had fallen out with God, and was not above employing his angelic sagacity to trick mortals. Seventeenth-century Presbyterian visionaries encountered protective angels, but also angels who brandished swords and called humankind to repentance.

As the eighteenth century progressed, portrayals of angels became softer and more feminised. The guardian angel became the dominant archetype, reflecting the developing emphasis on God’s love and benevolence. But for most of the early modern period, angels represented a supernatural world that was beautiful and joyful, but also threatened dreadful retribution for human sinfulness.

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