The Origin and History of Angels
"Angels transcend every religion, every philosophy, every creed. In fact angels have no religion as we know it...their existence precedes every religious system that has ever existed on earth."
St. Thomas Aquinas
The Sumerians concept of a life force, zi, was similar to prana in Yoga and the Chinese chi. This animism, or the belief in life contained throughout all natural elemenst, included divine messengers who ran errands between gods and humans. This is the earliest recorded evidence of a type of angel, as it is the world's first recorded culture. One might say then that angels have been apart of humanity from the beginning. The English word 'angel' comes from the Greek angelos, which itself could be considered as a translation of the Hebrew word mal'akh, meaning 'messenger'. The etymology suggesting a being responsible for carrying messages between the human world and some other realm of existence. These beings influenced Sumerian poetry, the arts, and religions. Each Sumerian home had an altar honoring their guardian angel. Excavactions reveal that temple walls and palace entrances had paintings of winged beings who were worshipped in a fashion similar to the cherubim and seraphim of traditional Christianity.
The Egyptians believed that the air, sky, earth, and underworld had many visible and invisible beings who could be friendly or unfriendly to humans depending on their nature. The Egyptian Book of the Dead lists 500 gods and goddesses, while later Egyptian historians identified 1200 more deities including spirits and local gods. One group were the Hunmanit who were believed to assist humans by watching over the safety of the sun. Isis, the goddess of healing, is pictured on atleast one Egyptian tomb, enfolding devotees in her wings.
Zoroaster was purported to have received information about the one God from angels. Many of his teachings influenced the Christian, Muslim and Hebrew religions. When he was 30, he had a life changing vision of the Archangel VoHuManah, (Good Thought). This Angel was nine times the size of a human and had such a purifying and inspiring effect on Zoroaster that he stepped out of his physical body and entered the presence of God, who he called the Lord of Light. (on a side note, Lucifer is known as the Angel of Light.) The Lord of Light presided over a court of attending angels who reflected his radiance. Then God taught Zoroaster the doctrines and duties of this religion and he became a prophet for his people. During the next 8 yeas, Zoroaster met the six principle Archangels (the Immortal Holy Ones) who assisted him in his divine mission and taught him new concepts. These beings took both male and female forms and are known as the following: Archangels of Good Thought (Guardian of Cattle); Right (Guardian of Fire); Dominion (Guardian of Metals) ; Piety (The Feminine Guardian of Soil); Prosperity (Female Guardian of Waters); and Immortality (Feminine Guardian of Vegetation). These archangels are divine aspects of God and gifts to humans on earth.
The second rank of Zorastrian angels was filled with the Celestial and Material Adorable Ones. The Celestials represented the qualities of divine wisdom, victory, charity, peace, health , riches, cattle, felicity, rectitude, and spells. The Material Adorables watch over the material dimension and their representative aspects are light, wind, fire, water, earth, etc.
The third rank of Zoroaster's angels were the Guardian Angels who accompany each person for their entire life. Their roles are as guide, conscience, protector and helper. Zoroaster stated that these guardian angels were "a strong and watchful warrior who wears armor and carries weapons." Their strength, swiftness and healing energies were a constant blessing to the faithful.
As well as influencing Judeo-Christian doctrine on angels, Zoroastrianism influenced the intricate theories of heavenly beings of Gnostic systems and Manichaeism.
Judeo-Christian & Islamic
When the Semites conquered the Sumerians they kept much of the same theory on angels while tailoring them to be subservient to their gods. There were specific characteristics and offices held by these angels who served the Semite gods. This idea of an order of angels is similar to the later adaptation that divided the choirs of Angels. An early Semite concept of angel warriors fighting evil and serving good was also found in the religions of Zoroastrianism, Christianity, Islam and Judaism.
The ancient Jews thought God's spirit adapted to natural phenomena such as the aspects of rain, snow, thunder, dark, light, stars, sun, and moon. Traditionally the angels were represented by the elements of fire and wind, and the image of angels as religious figures evolved as their religion changed. The initial appearance of angels in the Jewish history was in Genesis. The Bible tells of the divine essence of God taking the form of "a man of God" or the "countenance of the angel of God." Some may consider the angel of the Lord as either an angel or God in another form. When the angel of God came to Moses as a the burning bush in Exodus, and he heard God's voice, it was a reference to angels as energy forces.
Both before and after the Jewish exile, their view of angels were influenced by the Zoroastrians. The number of recognised angels increased as they became messengers of Jehovah. The Jewish scriptures tell of the angelic war between good and the fallen ones which will be concluded at the world's end. This bears a striking resemblance to the apocalyptic Zoroasterian fight between the Lord of Darkness and Light.
Both Jewish and Christian theologians considered angels a very popular subject to discuss. Some famous Christian theologians were Gregory the Great, Phil, and St. Thomas of Aquinas. St. Thomas of Aquinas was known as the angel doctor. In 1259 A.D., he gave lectures and talks on angels at the Univeristy of Paris. The information from these lectures have formed some of the basis for the knowledge of angles for hundreds of years later. His angelology consisted of the existence of angels, their nature as purely spiritual beings (incorporeal substances) having minds but no bodies. St. Aquinas debates and discussions were so popular that they drew forth crowds of people. It was a rousing form of acceptable entertainment at the time.
While Judaism has no fixed ordering of classes of angels, Christianity has a specific hierarchy. Codified in its classic form in the 5th cent by St. Dionysius the Areopagite, it is known as The Nine Choirs of Angels. There are three ranks, or triads, very similar to Zoraster's three rankings. In descending order the ranks of angels are seraphim, cherubim, thrones; dominations, virtues, powers; principalities, archangels, and angels. Archangels are the most personified and recognisable of the choirs. The lowest choir of angel is where guardian angels are drawn from.
the four archangels are Jibrail
, and Izrail
(the Angel of Death), who often act in place of Allah
. The Kiram al-Katibin
are the recording angels. According to a popular tradition, each person has two scribe angels, the one on the right side recording good deeds, the one on the left taking note of transgressions. A lower order of angels is the jinn
Angels are vestiges of the truly ancient religions that worshipped all aspects of reality as some form of spirit. The fact that they appear in some form in nearly all religions points to a common origin; some proto-religion. Even the cult of fertility, based around the Mother Goddess, is still represented in the heirarchy of angels in the patriarchal religions. The archangel Gabriel is often considered to be female, credited with the creation of Adam and Eve. The Sumerian translation of her name also doubles as the word for rib. Hence, through translational errors, we have the story in Genesis of Eve being created from Adam's 'rib'. Angel worship is still popular today but is not limited to the major religions. Mysticism, tarot, and Wicca all have a place for these helpful and powerful spirits of the past.