Someone contacted me last week about a book, Angels in My Hair, written by a middle-aged Irish housewife named Lorna Byrne. She said a local Catholic radio station had recently hosted the author in a conference, but she and some of her friends were uneasy about the book’s presentation of angels. It seemed more New Age than Catholic and she was concerned about seeing the book promoted in Catholic circles.
Being a lifelong devotee of the angels, nothing irks me more than seeing these enormously powerful and majestic beings reduced to cute little garden faeries by New Agers. All of their magnificence, which comes from their association with God, is left out (of course).
Sadly, Bryne’s book is no exception. I found many disturbing “teachings” in her story and caution Catholics not to assume that the powers she attributes to angels are in line with Church teaching because they certainly are not.
But before I begin, for those who are not familiar with Lorna Byrne, she is an Irish housewife who claims to have been able to see angels (and dead people) since birth. She sees guardian angels, archangels, angels that supposedly inhabit trees and frolic in the woods, etc. They sometimes look like balls of light, pulsing energy, or people (one of her favorites looks like a college professor). These beings are possessed of all kinds of powers that they generously share with her, such as the ability to read minds, produce out-of-body experiences, predict the future, etc.
Having said all that, I must admit that underlying all of these false teachings is a truly heartwarming tale that documents the life of a poor family living in Dublin, Ireland who endured incredible hardships while struggling to put food on the table.
Even more touching is Byrne’s story of being born with this unique ability to see angels that caused everyone to think she was mentally retarded. Her own family regarded her as inconsequential, as did her schoolmates and teachers. The tremendous hurt she suffered by this treatment seems to have pushed her toward these “beings” that filled her world. One cannot help but be moved with pity for this woman who seems to be genuinely innocent and well-meaning soul.
However, this doesn’t mean she can’t fall into the same trap as many New Agers when it comes to angels. They love to attribute all kinds of occult powers to their angels, who they prefer to call “spirit guides” – everything from prophesying about the future to introducing her to dead people – all of which are included in Byrne’s book.
For instance, Byrne’s angels are forever telling her who is about to die, including her own husband and father.
She also gives an excellent description of clairvoyance on page 99 where she says that angels give her visions that seem like “a flickering television screen in front of me; other times it’s like a film going very fast.” I couldn’t help but be reminded of the words of former clairvoyant Moira Noonan in her book, Ransomed from Darkness, where she similarly describes her abilities as “movies playing in my mind.”
On page 93 Byrne describes how the angels transported her soul out of her body so that she could be with a co-worker spiritually. She describes the episode as having left her “body and soul connected by a thread.”
On page 211, she’s told by an angel that her father would be needing her to help him “pass over” to the other side (which sounds a lot like the jargon used by TV psychics such as John Edward).
Byrne also speaks quite often about being able to see “energy flowing around people” much like what New Agers describe as “auras.” On page 20, she describes how, as a child, she used to play with these energy fields that surrounded trees in the forest, saying they used to “pull her” toward them while she tried to escape.
On page 24, she describes the Queen of Angels, who we know as the Virgin Mary, as a being similar toa tiny spark of light that the angels put into her hand. It “came alive” and grew bigger and bigger until she saw “a beautiful face, like a human face, smiling down at me.” She referred to this “face” not as the Virgin Mary but as the “mother of creation”, which I found odd from someone who was supposedly raised Catholic.
Byrne also speaks very often about the souls of the dead who are lingering on earth and waiting for some kind of help to depart. For instance, when she was a child, she claims she often played with the soul of her deceased sibling, Christopher, who “sparked” when she touched him.
Byrne also makes the claims that “when babies die, their spirits stay with their mothers for as long as they are needed” (Page 5). Need I point out that this is not a Catholic belief? Our faith teaches that “Each man receives his eternal retribution in his immortral soul at the very moment of his death, in a particular judgment that refers his life to Christ: either entrance into the blessedness of heaven – through a purification or immediately – or immediate and everlasting damnation.” (Catechism No. 1022)
In other words, there’s no hanging around after death waiting on the disposition of mortals.
In another example that appears on page 207, Byrne tells the story of the soul of a drowned young man whose body had not yet been found and who began to visit her regularly. She claims that God used her as a “connection between the supernatural and physical world” and believes that without this connection, the man’s body may never have been found.
I don’t know about you, but the God I know is omnipotent and doesn’t “need” people for anything, let alone to find drowned bodies.
She also claims on page 62 that the “spirit of someone who just passed over can ask for the angels to console and help those left behind . . .”
This is a nice thought, but it’s totally unfounded mainly because angels don’t take their orders from humans. They exist to serve God and Him alone. “With their whole beings, the angels are servants and messengers of God,” the Catechism teaches (No. 329). “Christ is the center of the angelic world. They are His angels.”
Sadly, I must say that the above examples are almost minor compared to the more glaring errors being put forth as messages from heaven delivered by these so-called angels.
For instance, on page 29 Byrne claims her angels told her that all religions should be “under one roof.”
“Muslims, Jews, Protestants , Hindus, Catholics and all the other different religions should be together under one umbrella,” the angels supposedly taught her.
So where does that leave Jesus Christ and the Church He founded? I guess He’s relegated to the New Age list of prophets alongside Moses and Mohammed.
Another significant error can be found on page 167 where she speaks about children who choose their parents before they were born. “It actually chose you before it was even conceived . . .” Byrne writes about an unborn child.
This teaching is known as pre-existence, often associated with reincarnation, and proposes that the soul is in existence before being placed into a body. Byrne obviously is unaware that the doctrine of pre-existence was condemned by the Council of Constantinople in 540 A.D.
I also found it odd that it was not until the middle of the book that Byrne talks about becoming involved in a charismatic prayer group and it’s even later before she mentions going to Mass on a regular basis. To her credit, she does claim that Satan exists – something New Agers are loathe to do. Her writing is peppered with truths about God and His action in the world which only makes it easier for someone to become confused when trying to determine what is of the faith and what is of the occult.
I could go on and on but I think you get the idea. We should all take this occasion to sit down and read Colossians, a letter written by St. Paul in part to counter the teachings of people who were improperly stressing the importance of angels and other “principalities and powers” which were connected with astral powers and other cultic practices.
“Let no one disqualify you, delighting in self-abasement and worship of angels, taking his stand on visions, inflated without reason by his fleshly mind . . .” Paul writes, and exhorts his followers to avoid all practices that are contrary to the faith.
This is why I would not recommend this book to anyone who is looking for the truth on angels.
A much better choice for an explanation of authentic Catholic teaching on the angels is Fr. Pascal P. Parente’s book, The Angels: Catholic Teaching on the Angels. His accounting of the mind-boggling capabilities of these ethereal creatures makes the New Age version look like the fairy tale that it is!