IT IS the second and final day of the Body & Soul fair at Glasgow’s Royal Concert Hall, and the main event is sold out. Three hundred people, the vast majority of them women, have paid £15 each for a seat in the exhibition hall, where therapist, healer and author Diana Cooper will conduct a workshop under the same title as her latest book: Angel Answers. If Cooper and her readers are correct in their view of the universe, then the auditorium is twice as full as it appears to be.
They will gently insist that belief is not a such a simple matter of right or wrong, but everyone here is agreed that all human beings have their own guardian angels. So we must be, this afternoon and always, in the midst of an invisible multitude. “The room is full of angels,” confirms Cooper once the workshop begins, “but I know I’m talking to people who are very aware, and I’m just reminding you of what you already know.”
There are new sensations to follow, even for the already faithful. After an attempt to contact our angels en masse – which is achieved by means of group meditation, as we are exhorted to leave our bodies, breathe out “gold light”, and ask these divine beings for solutions to our personal dilemmas – one voice claims to have felt heat on the back of her neck, which is identified as “angelic” heat, as opposed to “physical”. Someone else says she felt a cold gust of wind, and others murmur assent, suggesting that such breezes are common to these communications. One of the few men in the room wants to know why his partner started vibrating during the exercise.
Everyone laughs, including Cooper – these people may be unusually conscious of what she calls their “higher selves”, but they are not above the earthly delights of unintentional innuendo – until she reminds us that this was, as we must already know, energy passing through the woman from her angel at a very high frequency. But the revelation of the day, as far as this untrained observer is concerned, comes right at the start, before doors are even opened to the public, when Diana Cooper sits down on a red couch in the empty hall and tells me that “religion, as such, really isn’t my scene”. Cooper says she first saw an angel 25 years ago, at the age of 42, despite having “no spiritual background or understanding”. “I was getting divorced. I had been an expat wife for years in the West Indies, among other places, we had just come back to live in England, my children were in boarding school, I knew nobody, and I could not see a future. Just blackness ahead. It was a cry from the depths of my soul, and an angel came in.
“I was sitting on a chair and the angel lifted my spirit out of my body, gave me all sorts of information, and showed me my future. We flew over this hall full of people, and they all had rainbow auras … I asked the angel, Am I down there in the audience?’, and the angel said, No, you’re on the platform’.” The hall in the vision, she supposes, might easily have been this one. But it took 10 years, and another visitation, for Cooper to begin writing and speaking about angels. Three of them came and asked her to do so while she was in the bath.
“I said, No way, people think I’m nuts already, I certainly don’t want to talk about angels’. Then they asked me who would be doing the work. Your ego? Or your higher self?'” Angel Inspiration, the first of the 14 books she has since written on and around the subject,sold more than 300,000 copies. Those sales were helped by an early appearance on This Morning With Richard And Judy, on which Cooper and the hosts had their auras photographed, and hers appeared to show her angel as a pillar of light at her shoulder. To hear Cooper tell it (and the fact that Richard and Judy have become part of her story befits her quite middle-English bearing), the programme received such a huge number of calls that she was invited back on the next day.
“I was told that the only other person to be asked on two days in a row was the prime minister.” She seems similarly pleased when I later mention her in the same sentence as “religious leaders”, in the context of a question about the angelic perspective on ground-level hostilities between the various human agents of faith and secularism. “I think they look down with sadness on any controversy, or anything which is not to do with love,” says Cooper. At the same time, she repeats that she is neither religious nor a leader, just a “light-worker … helping people open their hearts and minds to higher understandings”. “You can believe what you like, as long as you’re operating to help everybody understand the goodness in each other.”
On the evidence of Angel Answers, however – which crystallises her previous writings into the Q&A format of an agony column – Cooper’s books read like dogma by another name, literal and specific in their descriptions of angelic bureaucracy, the history and technology of Atlantis, the intergalactic planning council that legislated for the Boxing Day tsunami, and the protocols of soul-based decision-making. If everyone who buys those books believes every word in them, then they are, effectively, followers, and today’s workshop can be seen as a kind of prayer meeting.
The angels seem to have inspired a faith of their own. When asked if the angels she speaks of, and speaks to, are the same beings referenced in the Bible, Cooper says, “Absolutely, yes”, before admitting that she has never read it. This explains the discrepancy between the non-judgemental love-bringers of her personal experience, and the terrible, militant, blazing executioners of God’s will sketched out with holy dread by ancient Hebrew testimonials. It was angels who gave food to the prophet Elijah, and protected Daniel from the lions. But it was also an angel who single-handedly smote down the entire Assyrian army – 180,000 men annihilated in one night, according to the Book Of Kings. Diana Cooper is not sure about this.
“I always say to people that if you encounter an angel and feel fear, then close down, because it is not an angel of love. We live in a plane of duality, so where there is light there is also dark. But my understanding is that if you focus on the light, live your life with integrity, try to do what is for the highest good,then no angel of dark is going to come any where near you.” For Cooper and other teachers of the same school of thought, the fact that angelic figures recur in Islam (where they are known as “malaaikah”, a similar word to the Hebrew “mal’ach”, which also means “messenger”), and under different identities in Hinduism, Bahai, and Shinto, both validates their existence and indicates that no one church is broad enough to contain them.
Throughout Judeo-Christian history in particular, these figures have come to seem progressively more detailed and less punitive, from the anonymous “sons of God” and “ministering spirits” of the early scriptures (who did not, incidentally, have wings), to the names, ranks, and categories established by Pope Gregory in the fifth century. This celestial hierarchy arranged the angels into cherubim, seraphim, powers, virtues, principalities and so on, and profiled each of the seven archangels – Michael,Gabriel, Raphael, Uriel, Raguel, Sariel, Jerahmeel. It remains part of Catholic theology, but not official doctrine, so the Vatican does not command a belief in those angels as an article of faith. Diana Cooper and her peers have adapted some of the same names and terminology into a comprehensive system of new age theories and complementary therapies common to the mind, body and spirit sections of modern bookshops.
Within her new volume alone, angels co-exist with unicorns, chakras, karma, crystals, and the Bermuda Triangle. Every living soul, she explains, incarnates on Earth with a purpose and a plan, having agreed on the moment and manner of their death before even being born. Walt Disney, to take one example from Angel Answers, “was a highly evolved soul who incarnated to tell people about the elementals, such as fairies, elves, pixies, and gnomes”. Prince Charles’s soul, by contrast, failed an initiation in another solar system, so he has “never before experienced a plane of existence with emotions and sexuality”.
Cooper also writes that the angels told her that victims of a notorious child murder case had volunteered long beforehand, “at a soul-level … to pass over in this shocking way … to touch the hearts of the world and draw attention to the insidious darkness that was creeping into schools and places where vulnerable children gathered”. Cooper does not mean to offend with such assertions, and she can’t see how anyone would fail to be consoled by them.
“It was their souls that volunteered to pass, not the children themselves, it’s completely different …” She goes on to put the recent Virginia Tech shootings into the same context. Angel Ans wers in fact attempts to outline the most comforting imaginable scheme of things, which leaves no room in the universe for the pain, fear and doubt of this existence, all of which can be explained and mollified if looked at “from a higher spiritual perspective”. “Do you agree?” she asks the crowd repeatedly during the workshop, and most of her audience seems to.
Cooper is questioned on her view of modern medicine, which she thinks we now require only because we are no longer attuned to the spiritual frequency which sends us “the message of our disease”. (A woman undergoing chemotherapy treatment asks how she is supposed to raise her frequency, and is basically advised to pray.) Other statements which strike me as pernicious or ridiculous – Cooper contends that the space shuttle Challenger was doomed by its name, and exploded as a warning for us not to “challenge” our boundaries – don’t visibly elicit that response from anyone else. This does not make me inclined to mock or attack them, and not just because mean-spiritedness seems contrary to the occasion, or because such eminently qualified authorities as Richard Dawkins have already demonstrated the inadequacy of reason as a means to persuade people who, in Cooper’s words, “just know”.
Even when we are invited to hold hands and declare ourselves “wonderful, amazing, divine beings”, nobody I meet today talks or acts like anything other than a humble human. Some have come from other countries to be here, but most live down the road or not much further, and refer to angels as if they were fellow Glaswegians. “Ma angels are bald,” announces one woman, “from tearin’ their hair out tryin’ tae get ma attention.” If there are generalisations to be made, these folk seem to have arrived at their present certainties via the lowest and least certain points of their lives. The woman sitting next to me had her first encounter with angels after taking a risk on a man who turned out to be violent. Later on at the Body & Soul fair, between the aura photography booth and the past-life regression therapy table, I meet a guy called Billy, who swears he has always had some kind of healing power, and used it to help his father pass away peacefully, but lost it to “the bevvy” for a while, so couldn’t do the same for his mother when her time came.
He is working on getting it back, through reiki massage and the archangel Raphael. More power to him, I say, and who wouldn’t? Diana Cooper writes that our beliefs manifest themselves physically, that our very skeletons are spiritual convictions hardened into bone. This kind of thinking allows her to justify the material wealth with which the angels have blessed her by way of book and ticket sales. “I’ll tell you what the angels say. They say your consciousness is what creates your wealth. People who have abundance consciousness are open to all the goodness of life coming to them, including the material. People who have a poverty consciousness are saying, Oh I don’t have enough of this, or I’ll never do that’. They are holding the whole world back.”
But what if I believe in my own bones that this is nonsense? “That’s fine. You might feel differently. You might even throw my book across the room in a rage, which would indicate that it’s pushed a button of course, and very often those are the people who pick it up again six months later, and start to shift. I’m just here to share my experiences and understandings. If you accept them, take them, use them as yours. If you don’t, then let it go, it’s not for you.”
Why, then, would my angel allow me to betray my higher self? “Well, we don’t all listen to our angels, and of course we have free will. If you don’t ask for help they have to stand back and watch you make a mess of things. Or maybe it’s a soul choice. Maybe some people decide to incarnate without spirituality, to experience that void in their life and see how they get on.”
And here, speaking through Diana Cooper, the angels reveal what is most infuriating about them. They’ve got an answer for everything.