What do you think of when you think of an angel? There are certain things that spring to mind. The most commonly associated aspect of angelic status is one of goodness.
Angels denote good, just as demons denote evil. Interestingly, the notion of angels as pure good, and demons as pure evil, is not evident in the Old Testament. In the Old Testament, demons are not even mentioned.
Instead, there are references to angels that are benevolent and angels that are fierce. It is only in the New Testament that the division between good and evil is made.
Angels are indelibly tied up with notions of religion and spirituality. They should be, because the whole conceptual notion of an angel is tied up with the idea that angels are messengers of God, that they are his emissaries and his servants.
Angels are essentially an extension of God, tasked with producing effects in this world. They cease to exist on this plane after the task is performed. The angel is the task.
In Christian beliefs, angels guard and guide Christians. Angels played pivotal roles in some very important Biblical events. For example, in the Book of Genesis, Abraham meets an angel that informs him that he and Sara will have a child. An angel saved Lot. Two angels were tasked with destroying Sodom and Gomorrah.
There are many other occasions where angels either announced important news, like the birth of Jesus, warned about terrible consequences if people did not change their behaviour or consoled and comforted those in need.
The importance of angels and their role in Christian faith and belief was emphasised by Pope John Paul II in his 1986 ‘Angels Participate in the History of Salvation’.
It is not just Christianity that embraces the concept of angels. In Islam, angels of mercy are created from cold light, while angels of punishment are created from hot light. In Kabbalah there are ten archangels, each associated with one of the sephiroth and each commanding a choir of angels.
The fact that angels lack a will of their own and are essentially just carrying out the commands of God was seen as placing angels below humans in Judaism. Most religions, however, that do have a place for angels would say they are intermediate between God and humans, and certainly the Christian view places angels above humans.
Of course, most people understand the concept of a ‘fallen angel’. The angel Lucifer, who rebelled against God, and the angels who supported Lucifer in the rebellion, are the archetypal fallen angels, banished from God’s presence. In the Old Testament Lucifer was not vilified as evil.
It is the New Testament that has tended to delineate between good and evil. Various esoteric schools of thought, such as Kabbalah and Alchemy, are more inclined to see good and evil as conjoined, much as life and death are seen as phases of the same energy flow.
Another angelic concept is that of the ‘guardian angel’. Here there is the idea of an angel whose role it is to guide and support an individual. It could be construed as grandiose to assume each mortal has his or her own angel, whose purpose is to guide and guard that human. Nonetheless, this is essentially what the concept of a guardian angel infers.
We use the term ‘angel’ in a variety of ways without really pondering its significance. The visualizations and connotations that accompany the term are inherently good by nature. If you think of all the expressions we have in our everyday language that use the word angel, you will agree that angel connotes goodness, purity and the notion of rising above to something approaching the Divine.
The Attributes of an Angel
When you say someone looks ‘angelic’, chances are that person has a sweet expression, a kindness in his or her eyes, someone lacking in sin. In the Bible books of Daniel and Revelation, the immense beauty, the variety and the brilliance of angels are emphasised. There are a few recurring characteristics attributed to angels in the scriptures of many religions:
- Angels are generally described as being surrounded by, or emanating, Light that is different to any light we know. This light is unique, comforting, pure.
- Angels are spiritual in nature.
- Angels are immortal.
- Angels live in Heaven, according to Matthew 28:2 and John 1:5.
- Angels are God’s warriors (Matthew 26:53).
- They worship God (Luke 2:13)
- They are extremely powerful; certainly, more powerful than people.
- Angels can speak. They often say ‘Don’t be afraid’ when being encountered.
- Able to communicate telepathically,
- Having emotions.
- Angels don’t marry.
- Angels don’t reproduce.
- Angels can appear or disappear as they wish.
- Unlike God, angels are not all-seeing.
- Awe-inspiring or terrifying.
- They float.
Angels have names. Their names relate to their roles. There are categories of angels with appropriate missions and activities.
Spiritual or Human?
Angels are referred to as created beings in Psalms 8:4-5. Usually, angels are referred to as spiritual, non-corporeal beings, that are invisible to all but those who are spiritually awakened and whose spiritual sight has been opened. However, there are cases in which the Bible describes angels as having human form.
There is the implication that they have human form in the words of Psalms 8:4-5, “Yet you have made them [humans] a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor.” Abraham is visited by three angels who share his food and drink. This obviously implies corporality.
There is a passage in Genesis that suggests that fallen angels may have consorted with mortal women and had children with them. This implies these angels had bodies.
In mythology and art, angels are generally portrayed as semi-Divine beings, having both human and spiritual attributes.
In some beliefs, angels are humans who have released themselves from the chains of self and torn asunder their ties to the purely physical and material aspects that dominate our world. In doing so, these individuals achieve the status of angels.
What do Angels do?
Referring to angels, the Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “From its beginning until death, human life is surrounded by their watchful care and intercession. Beside each believer stands an angel as protector and shepherd leading him to life.” This definitely points to the notion of guardian angels, watching over each and every one of us.
Intermediaries between God, or the Divine realm, and humans
Angels are mentioned a lot in the Bible, where they are viewed as spiritual beings who act as intermediaries between God and humans. Psalms 148:2–5 and Colossians 1:16 suggest that, from a Christian perspective, angels were created, but belong to a unique part of creation which existed before the Earth was created.
Given that angels are seen as messengers from above to humankind below, it is not surprising that a lot of people see angels in the sky and may experience feelings of great comfort when they do. Often these sightings coincide with times when the individual concerned was suffering, feeling lost or in despair.
Sightings of this sort are generally accompanied with immense feelings of calm and peace. It is natural for people to look up when they are feeling down, to look towards the sky in a plea for a sign from God. The sightings of angels in the sky, whether from cloud formations or an observed being, are common throughout the globe.
In all religions that refer to angels there is the idea that angels provide service to God. Angels bring messages from God. These messages could be conveyed directly or in dreams. In the Bible, some of these messages were difficult and deeply uncomfortable.
For example, in Genesis 32, Jacob was visited by an angel in a dream and instructed to take his wives and sons and make the long and arduous journey to return to the land of his ancestors. Other messages were of glad tidings.
Angelic interactions were involved in the births of John the Baptist, referred to in Luke 1:11, an appearance to Zechariah and, in Luke 1:26, Gabriel visits Mary in the Annunciation to foretell the birth of Jesus.
In Luke 2:10, an angel appears in the Adoration of the Shepherds to proclaim the birth of Jesus and direct the shepherds to his place of birth. Angels minister to Jesus after his forty days in the desert in Matthew 4:11 and an angel comforts Jesus in the Agony in the Garden in Luke 22:43.
Angels are heralds who transmit God’s love across the divide between heaven and earth. They are also God’s warriors. They bring justice on God’s behalf. The Bible refers to an event where a single angel defeated an entire army, another event where an angel struck dead a king appointed by the Romans.
An angel wrought retribution on the Egyptians for their treatment of Jews by killing all first-born sons. These acts of the angels do not necessarily accord with commonly held views of good behaviour, but it must be remembered that to be good one must fight evil.
Our Relationship with Angels
“Be an angel and fetch me my coat”. “She’s an angel for doing that for you”. Expressions like this endow the word ‘angel’ with notions of service to humans, as well as service to God. What makes angels so enduringly relevant to people is the fact that many people, throughout history, have experienced interactions with angels in a myriad of forms. In all these encounters the angel has done a service for the human and not the other way around.
It is generally believed, from a religious perspective, that only for the spiritually awakened do angels, usually invisible, take on recognisable forms. Certainly, faith is more likely to sensitise people to signs and encounters. For those following a spiritual path, spiritual guidance is something to be sought and signs and symbols recognised.
In all accounts of encounters with angels, the person or people concerned was or were surprised. Although in Judaism there is some reference to the invocation and conjuration of angels, the Bible never suggests that people should look for angels or attempt to contact them.
Angels come when they come. You are not in control of their appearance.
Angels do not command worship or accept it. In chapter 22 of the book of Revelation, verses 8-9, the angel makes it clear that he does not want worship, that he is a servant of God, in the words, ‘I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who had shown me these things. But he said to me, “Do not do that! I am a fellow servant with you… Worship God!”’
Angels may appear in dreams, offering words of wisdom, showing you the way.
On a profound level, angels encourage us to believe in more, to be resilient and to continue on a spiritual path to enlightenment. They challenge us to seek the best within, to push ourselves and pursue our dreams.
They remind us we are touched by the Divine, that our souls are sensitive to deeper moments when meaning is revealed. In moments of contemplation, particularly when in nature, near water, fire, mother Earth, breathing clean air, people sense angels.
Angels can intervene in human affairs and can intercede on behalf of humans. In Matthew 4:6 and in Luke 4:10, angels are referred to as protectors of the righteous.
In the photo below, a man was trapped under a truck. It appears as though angelic forms are attempting to help free him.
They guide. In many cases, angels are sighted at accidents and at times when death is near. In this context, they are acting as guides between realms. They offer consolation to the bereaved and provide reassurance to the recently departed, as he or she moves on beyond death.
Angels keep watch over humanity.
Perhaps, the reason angels are sometimes seen in cemeteries is because they are guarding, or attempting to guide, lost souls who cannot move on yet.
They encourage us to have faith.
Angels served and supported Jesus during his 40 days alone in the desert and there are many people who believe that they were supported through periods of great duress or despair.
The term ‘Third Man Factor’ has been coined to describe recurring accounts from people who endured perilous events, undergoing tremendous suffering. These people felt that there was an invisible companion by their side, carrying them through the worst.
The British explorer, Frank Smyth, went through a terrible ordeal in his attempt to reach the top of Mount Everest in 1933. He described the ‘Third Man Factor’ in his diary.
John Geiger, a writer, chronicled the phenomenon in his book, The Third Man Factor: Surviving the Impossible. He refers to an unseen being that intervenes at critical times to comfort, aid and support.
A man called Ron DiFrancesco was on the 84th floor of the South Tower at the World Trade Center on 9/11 when the second plane struck. When he was floored by smoke and fire, he felt his hand being grabbed and was led out. He was the last person to leave the South Tower before it collapsed.
Ernest Shackleton described the sense of an extra being during the hardships of his 1916 Antarctic expedition.
Angels have been known to intervene at key moments.
At times when someone has most needed the intervention. It could be a life-or-death struggle, or a struggle of conscience or dealing with loss and not caring to go on. In these situations, people have felt a warmth, seen a glow of light, perhaps seen or felt an angel’s presence and it has soothed them.
Sometimes the angel speaks and offers an answer. Sometimes it is as though the angel communicates telepathically. Either way, the people concerned describe suddenly knowing the answer, the way to go forward.
They comfort. The photo below was taken by the parents of a girl suffering from leukaemia.
The parents felt consoled, knowing that their daughter was being watched over.
Angels come in different forms. In Hebrews 13:2 it is said that angels may be strangers. It may be that the stranger you encounter, when walking alone and weeping at something devastating, who takes the time to say kind words, offers solace, is the angel. Perhaps the bird that flies right up to where you sit contemplating and fills you with a sense of ease and understanding is an angel.
Angels and Light
In all the photos above, one characteristic stands out above all others. Where there are angels there is light. This is no ordinary light. It is brilliantly white, but warm at the same time. It is described as soothing.
Many people who have had encounters with angels have said that they wanted to stay in the bubble of light the angel cloaked them in for the duration of the encounter. That they felt loved, safe, at peace within that light.
Biologist Rupert Sheldrake, in collaboration with Episcopal priest Matthew Fox, has written a very interesting book called ‘The Physics of Angels: Exploring the Realm Where Science and Spirit Meet’, published by HarperCollins.
He says that there are parallels between angels and photons, light particles. Like angels, photons have no mass but are ‘quantums of action’. Angels too are without mass but represent the energy of actions and tasks. Photons, like angels, are discrete, non-physical entities ‘localized through their action’.
Matter and energy, force and form, meet in a boundary that is ethereal and mysterious. We know from Einstein’s Theory of relativity that at the speed of light matter de-materialises to become energy. Light is essential to our understanding of reality, and angels are beings of light.
Quantum physics has taught us that at the micro-level, atoms and subatomic particles do not obey the laws of physics we take for granted at the macro-level. There is much we do not understand about the transition between matter and energy, between force and form, and this applies too to the relationship between the angelic and earthly realms.
An angel is force but if you are in need, have faith, use your spiritual insight and are blessed by the Divine, that angelic energy may take form to communicate with you and offer you a chance to bask in the Divine light of His love.
Desy, Phylameana lila. “Collection of Angel Encounters and Sightings.” Learn Religions, Aug. 26, 2020, learnreligions.com/angel-encounters-1728701.