Angels have fascinated human consciousness since the beginning of time. The angel is a recurring archetype within many civilisations, and is present in religion, literature, philosophy, and esotericism, as well as in art, movies and games. The word angel derives from the Greek angelos, which is the default translation of the Biblical Hebrew term mal’ākh (literally “messenger”). The angel is a messenger between God and mankind.
- Angels in Zoroastrianism
- Ba-soul, Genius, Daimon
- The Transmigration of Souls and Reincarnation
- Djinns, Fairies, Elementals
- The Archetype of The Ethereal Being
- Subtle bodies
- The Role of Angels in the Creation of Evil
- The Purpose and Motivation of Angels
- The Anthropos (Primeval Man)
- The Celestial Hierarchy: First Choir
- The Celestial Hierarchy: Second Choir
- The Celestial Hierarchy: Third Choir
- Swedenborg and Blake
- The Psychology of Angels
- The Angel of Death
- The Angel’s Call
- Angels: Individuation and Theosis
- Angels and The Numinous
- The Invocation of Angels
- Angels and Dreams
- Jacob’s Ladder and Soul Geography
- Wrestling with The Angel
- The Integration of The Angel Archetype
- Recommended Reading
Angels are often depicted as human beings with wings. In biblical scripture, however, angels do not have wings and appear as ordinary men, sometimes with shining garments. In fact, scripture mentions to be hospitable to strangers, because we could be in the presence of an angel without knowing it. Another class of biblical angels do have wings, but are depicted as inhuman and frightening, striking fear in anyone who witnesses them, and as we will see later, are at the top of the angelic hierarchy.
The idea of representing deities as winged figures dates back many thousands of years. The ancient Egyptians portrayed the sun god Horus as a winged disk, and many other winged beings can be found in ancient Greek and Roman art. The ancient Greek god Hypnos, the god of sleep, and Thanatos, the god of death, have wings.
In ancient Mesopotamia, the anthropomorphic gods exuded a brilliant and visible glamour (melam), the effect of seeing it caused both fascination and terror in humans, they experienced paresthesia, a tingling and pricking sensation on the skin. The sun-God Ra appears with a solar disc above his head. The Zoroastrian deity of light Mithra has a radiant crown resembling sunrays, as well as the Greek sun-God Helios, and Buddha (“the awakened”). This divine radiance displayed in deities across the world anticipates the halo of Christ and his apostles, as well as saints and angels. The halo became the universal religious symbol of divinity.
Before delving into the psychology of angels, and how they shape human behaviour and emotions, we’ll first explore their archetypal images across the world, as well as their role in the creation of evil, their purpose and motivation, and the hierarchy of angels.
Angels in Zoroastrianism
One of the oldest depictions of angels can be found in Zoroastrianism. This faith portrays a cosmic battle of good and evil, whereby good is predicted to triumph over evil. Ahura Mazda (Lord of Wisdom) is the Creator and Lord of the Light, and Ahriman or Angra Mainyu (Evil Spirit) is the Lord of Destruction, Chaos and Darkness.
Besides the Supreme Being, there are various classes of angels. The amesha spentas (literally, “beneficent immortals”) are the emanations of the uncreated Creator, the six divine sparks that personify the abstract qualities of Ahura Mazda, rather than distinct divine beings. These all have their antitheses, called daevas, gods that are unworthy of worship. Truth stands in opposition to falsehood and deceit.
The other class of angels are the fravashi, which are guardian angels. Each person is accompanied by a personal spirit which is assigned at birth, and watches over each individual. Finally, we have the yazatas (literally, “worthy of worship”), angels that protect us from evil.
Ba-soul, Genius, Daimon
The ancient Egyptians believed that man had many souls, both physical and spiritual. They spoke of the Ba-soul, which is represented as a bird with a human head, and symbolises one’s uniqueness or what we call “personality”. This is not merely a part of the person, but the person himself. The idea of a purely immaterial existence was foreign to Egyptian thought. On the other hand, the Ka (vital essence), is what distinguishes the difference between a living and a dead person, with death occurring when the Ka left the body.
Normally one would only meet one’s Ba-soul after death and be completely unaware of its existence before. In the ancient Egyptian papyrus, The debate between a Man and His Soul, a world-weary man who is overcome by the hardship of the world contemplates about death and looks forward to the afterlife. Suddenly, his Ba-soul appears and speaks to him, advising him to continue his religious practices, but not to wish for the end of his life before its time.
In ancient Roman mythology the genius would not only inhabit each person, but also places (genius loci) and things. It was important for the Romans to propitiate the appropriate genii for making the land fertile, protecting the home and family, and any other major event of their lives. The genius also represents a man’s temperament, virility, energy, personal fortune, and destiny. Today we use the word genius to refer to a person endowed with special gifts, talents or knowledge beyond that of ordinary humans.
The ancient Greeks spoke of the daimon (not to be confused with demon). It was believed that when one’s inner daimon was in a state of good order, one experienced eudaimonia, a state of good spirit and fulfilment. The daimon can be good (agathodaimōn), evil(kakodaimōn), or even morally ambiguous, that is, beyond good and evil, a force of nature.
In Plato’s Symposium, the priestess Diotima teaches Socrates that daimons interpret and transport human things to the gods and divine things to men. Socrates is well-known for his relationship with his daimon, and claimed to hear, since childhood, a daimonic sign, an inner voice that warned him against mistakes, but never told him what to do. During the trial that would condemn Socrates to death, his daimon made no sign of opposition, unlike most of the times when it would inform him if he was doing the wrong thing. Socrates trusted his lifelong invisible companion and concluded that his death was not something to be feared, but rather something good, for death is merely a transition into another form of existence.
The Transmigration of Souls and Reincarnation
In The Republic, Plato describes the myth of Er, the story of a man who died in battle and came back to life, describing his journey in the afterlife. Just like energy cannot be created or destroyed, but only change from one form to another, so too the soul is immortal. The choices we make and the character we develop will have consequences after death. The man describes how the good souls went into the sky and experienced bliss, while the immoral souls were directed underground and cried in despair recounting their awful experiences in life, as each were required to pay a tenfold penalty for all the wicked deeds committed when alive. The most wicked, however, were doomed to remain underground, unable to escape.
Afterwards, the souls reached The Spindle of Necessity which regulates the whole cosmos and governs the lives of all of us. Each soul chose a new life, human or animal, and was assigned a daimon to fulfill what one had chosen. The souls were required to drink water from the River of Forgetfulness, so that they would forget everything, and shot away like a star into their birth.
In his book, The Soul’s Code, American psychologist James Hillman talks about the acorn theory. Just as the oak’s destiny is contained in the tiny acorn, so does each person bear a uniqueness that asks to be lived and that is already present before it can be lived. In other words, essence precedes existence. Thus, the daimon was sent to help us humans to fulfill our destiny and to remind us of our true purpose as spiritual beings having human experiences.
Djinns, Fairies, Elementals
Whereas the Judaeo-Christian tradition generally divides angels into good and evil, Islam makes a further distinction with djinns, beings who may be either good or harmful, and can take the form of animals. Just as human beings, they are also subject to God’s judgment.
In Celtic faith, there are fairies. One theory surrounding their origin is that they were the neutral angels who did not partake in the war in heaven, and thus neither remained in heaven, nor were sent to hell, but rather caught in-between, left to roam the earth. Fairies can be good or evil, and sometimes the term is used to describe any magical creature, such as goblins, leprechauns, imps, elves, etc. The Swiss physician and alchemist Paracelsus wrote about four nature spirits or elementals: gnomes, undines, slyphs, and salamanders, which correspond to the four elements: earth, water, air, and fire, respectively.
The Archetype of The Ethereal Being
Whether we talk about angels, daimons, djinns, fairies, or any other of such beings, they all hold something in common, despite their difference in appearance, namely, they are all archetypal images of the same fundamental pattern, the archetype of the ethereal being. These spirits coexist with us; they just exist at another level of reality. The archetype in itself cannot be seen, only when it has been brought into consciousness through ritual, myth, and the culture of each country, does the ethereal being take on a particular personified form, and gains a specific purpose.
Ethereal beings are also referred to as subtle bodies, that is, as existing in-between the corporeal and the incorporeal realms. We too have subtle bodies, as we exist both on the material and spiritual levels. The difference is that ethereal beings experience reality primarily on a spiritual level, while we experience it on a material level, but that does not exclude the possibility of them interacting in our realm, nor us interacting in their realm.
The Role of Angels in the Creation of Evil
In his book, The City of God, Saint Augustine describes the creation of angels at the moment God said, “Let there be light; and there was light.” On the first day, God also divided the light from the darkness, which is symbolic of the fallen angels. Before the creation of mankind, angels underwent a trial in which all had the opportunity (by their free will) to remain in their original state of holiness. Those who failed became fallen angels. This is portrayed in the Book of Revelation. Lucifer, the bearer of light, desired in his pride to be God, and convinced one third of the angels to rebel against God, starting the war in heaven. They are defeated by the archangel Michael and the rest of the angels, and are thrown out of heaven. Lucifer becomes the Devil, and the rebel angels become demons. Thus, the universe becomes divided into three parts: heaven, earth, and hell.
Satan, who refuses to bow down to the inferior man, appears as the ancient serpent in the Garden of Eden, in order to trick Adam and Eve to disobedience by the promise of increased conscious knowledge, in order to “become as gods” When they eat the forbidden fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they experience guilt and anxiety and hide themselves. God directs them out of paradise into the wilderness, and places cherubim and a flawing sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life, lest man reach out his hand and eat also of its fruit, and live forever. Thus, the first sin which leads to the fall of mankind from paradise is pride, to become like God.
God’s light permeates all of existence, and heaven is the enjoyment of divine light, which even reaches down to hell. But whereas the angels rejoice in its holiness, the demons cannot stand the light, it burns them and torments them, for it is an eternal reminder of their choice to rebel against God. Hell is separation from love. Angels only had to commit one sin to be eternally damned, because once they choose, they have to go all in and there’s no going back. They experience no salvation. Due to their nature, however, angels possess far greater knowledge about reality than human beings, and can easily discern between good and evil.
The Purpose and Motivation of Angels
Whereas we have free will, angels are created for a specific purpose, but had a chance to go against their assigned role in creation. They basically have no essence, but they have a purpose, which is always inseparable from God. The Christian mystic Meister Eckhart writes:
“[T]he soul at its highest is formed like God, but an angel gives a closer idea of Him. That is all an angel is: an idea of God.”
Meister Eckhart, Sermon 9
Angels are created to serve God’s purposes, which includes delivering messages, waging spiritual battle, executing judgment, etc., angels are “ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation”. There is also the angel of hope, the angel of faith, the angel of humility, etc., as well as angels created for a specific task, such as joining the triumphant place of God at The Day of Judgment. Therefore, when the angels rebelled, their purpose became the opposite of what God created them as. This is the perfect act of self-hatred and desire to hurt oneself, a characteristic of the demonic. Each demon has his own Achilles’ heel, which is the reminder of the original purpose of his creation.
The battle between good and evil continues to this day, and will remain so, until the angels blow the trumpets announcing the kingdom of heaven on earth and The Day of Judgment, when all people, living or dead, will be judged by God.
Regarding angelic motivation to engage in encounters with mankind, one reason may be that angels interact with man because they are merely obeying the will of God. Another reason may be that angels are emotional creatures who experience joy during these interactions with people because such interactions manifest the glory of God, and that is their primary motivation.
The Anthropos (Primeval Man)
Though angels may have been created before man, God created them because of man. Even though man may not have been present at the moment of creation in actuality, he existed as potentiality, as a pattern to be unfolded (the Anthropos or Primeval Man). Adam was created out of the earth, the name derives from adamah, which is Hebrew for earth. God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul. The heavenly realm descends into the earthly realm, and man becomes part of both. As above, so below. Man, the microcosm, is part of the universe as a whole, the macrocosm. Thus, truths about the nature of the cosmos may be inferred from truths about human nature, and vice versa.
The Celestial Hierarchy: First Choir
In the Christian celestial hierarchy put forward by Pseudo-Dionysius in the 5th or 6th century, angels are divided into three hierarchies each of which contains three orders, based on their proximity to God, corresponding to the nine choirs of angels.
The first group angels serve God directly; they are God’s servants. These biblically accurate angels give us a glimpse into a realm where human eyes rarely access. They appear in a frightening and inhuman form, which may be why their very first words are: “Do not be afraid.” In the Book of Isaiah, the Seraphim are six-winged fiery beings; two wings cover their faces, two cover their feet, and with the final two they fly. They are described as being forever in God’s presence praising him day and night, crying “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty.” In Ezekiel’s vision, he describes seeing the Cherubim, winged chimeras that have four faces: that of a lion, an ox, a human, and an eagle. They are beneath the Throne of God, and are the moving forces of the Ophanim (or Thrones), which appear as four wheels within wheels in constant motion, and covered with eyes – they are the wheels of God’s fiery chariot.
In the apocrypha, the highest rank of the Seraphim is Seraphiel, the protector of Metatron. The latter is a figure mentioned in the Book of Enoch, in the mystical Kabbalistic texts, and the Talmud of Rabbinic Judaism. He is known as God’s first angel, and is the only figure allowed to stand alongside God. It is said that his glow is so strong that it seems that there are two authorities in heaven, God and Metatron. He is also called “the little Yahweh”, and is believed to have once been the human Enoch, one of the two only men chosen by God to escape death.
The Celestial Hierarchy: Second Choir
The second group of angels are those that make God’s will happen, they are the heavenly rulers. The Dominions keep the world in proper order, regulating the duties of the angels, and making known the commands of God. The Virtues assist with miracles and encourage humans to strengthen their faith in God, they are also known as the spirits of motions, governing all nature, including the seasons, stars, and planets. And finally, the Powers are the warrior angels that fight against evil forces.
The Celestial Hierarchy: Third Choir
In the final choir are the angels that are closest to humans, and carry out the orders from above. They are the earthly messengers. The Principalities are those who protect and guide nations, groups of people, and institutions such as the Church. The Archangels, have a role as God’s messengers to people at critical times in history, and are unique as they are identified by name.
Biblical canon only mentions the archangel Michael (which translates to: “who is like God?”). Michael is the chief ruler and leader of the angels. In the Book of Enoch, however, the archangel Gabriel is mentioned alongside Michael, suggesting that they stand on an equal footing. Gabriel translates to “God is my strength”. All archangels have theophoric names, that is, they contain the name of God, El. There are seven archangels mentioned in total.
In the apocryphal Book of Tobit, Raphael (meaning “God has healed”) reveals himself as one of the seven angels who stand in the glorious presence of the Lord, and interestingly, in the Book of Revelation, there are seven unnamed angels who stand before God, and have seven trumpets. These and other mentions in non-canonical works, have given rise to the popular conception of the seven archangels.
Finally, at the bottom of the hierarchy, we have the common angels, who deliver messages from the two realms. In this group we also have the guardian angels. In the Book of Matthew, we find direct reference from Jesus of Nazareth that everyone who comes into the world has a guardian angel. Scripture always depicts angels as if they were male. As spirits, angels were created to live for eternity, and do not experience death. This suggests that the angelic population far exceeds that of human beings, and are too numerous to count.
Saint Teresa of Ávila once saw an angel who was most beautiful and seemed to be burning in fire, she wrote:
“Their names they never tell me; but I see very well that there is in heaven so great a difference between one angel and another, and between these and the others, that I cannot explain it.”
Saint Teresa of Ávila, The Life of St. Teresa of Jesus
Angels do not just exist in a detached realm or another dimension, on the contrary, though they remain unseen, they have a direct influence on us. Swiss psychiatrist and psychologist Carl Jung writes:
“It is remarkable that the angels are always in the plural, a choir of angels. With the exception of Lucifer, and the archangels Gabriel and Michael, the angels are not individuals, they appear in choirs and multitudes. They are essentially collective beings.”
Carl Jung, ETH Lecture (9 February 1940)
Swedenborg and Blake
The Swedish scientist and Christian mystic Emanuel Swedenborg experienced a spiritual awakening in his 50s. In a dream, the Lord revealed to him the spiritual meaning of the Bible, and he began to experience strange dreams and visions, and could freely visit heaven and hell to converse with angels and demons. Some of these are documented in his Journal of Dreams. Contrary to Christian belief, he states that every angel and demon are from the human race. They too have the same activities as we do, their only difference to us is that they are not clothed with a material body.
Those who allowed themselves to be filled with divine love became angels, while those who immersed themselves in physical pleasures or refused to let go of their egos, chose to go to hell because they are attracted to it; hell is the place where they can indulge in everything that gives them pleasure. When we turn away from our self-centred ego, it is like a weight is off our shoulders, as if we could fly. As G.K. Chesterton wrote:
“Angels can fly because they can take themselves lightly.”
G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy
The visionary artist William Blake was an acute reader of Swedenborg, and had visions of angels since childhood. On his deathbed, he gloriously sang of the sights of angels in heaven. Blake became critical of Swedenborg’s view of heaven and hell as separate, and proposed the marriage of heaven and hell. Both are necessary for human experience, for without contraries is no progression.
The Psychology of Angels
“The angels are a strange genus: they are precisely what they are and cannot be anything else. They are in themselves soulless beings who represent nothing but the thoughts and intuitions of their Lord. Angels who fall, then, are exclusively “bad” angels.”
Carl Jung: Memories, Dreams, Reflections
Jung describes the fall of angels as a premature invasion of the human world by unconscious contents. The book of Enoch depicts the interaction of the fallen angels (called “the watchers”) with mankind. They transgress the boundary between heaven and earth after begetting children with women, giving birth to the Nephilim, mysterious great giants briefly mentioned in Genesis. They threaten to devour mankind, and God sends a great flood to rid the earth of these giants, warning Noah to build an ark, so as not to eradicate the human race. Jung compares the fallen angel motif to the effect of “inflation”, which can be observed, for example, in the megalomania of dictators.
As an archetype, the angel emerges from the deep timeless portion of the psyche, the collective unconscious. The idea of archetypes is an ancient one. It is related to Plato’s concept of ideal forms or patterns already existing in the divine mind that determine in what form the material world will come into being. However, we owe to Jung the concept of the psychological archetypes – the characteristic patterns that pre-exist in the collective psyche of the human race, that repeat themselves eternally in the psyches of each individual, and determine the basic ways that we perceive and function as human beings.
When an angel “appears” to a human being, it is a liminal event occurring at the threshold between the known and the unknown, the conscious, and the unconscious. It is the constellation of what Jung calls the transcendent function, which relieves the tension of opposites and unites them as the third element. As such, the angel is a reconciling symbol. The angel unites the ego with the Self, the individual with the cosmos, the soul with God.
Apart from a religious or metaphysical sense, angels can be seen as archetypal symbols of guidance, instruction, hope, and protection. The encounter with angels or demons can represent projections of one’s psyche. We must be wary, however, of calling all such experiences transpersonal, they may also be of a psychopathogical or delusional nature – which largely depends on one’s mental health. Generally speaking, the former has a positive effect, while the latter has a negative effect.
Angels and demons, positive and negative emotions, are in constant battle within us, and some emotions are more powerful than others, just as there are more powerful demons and angels in the hierarchy. Sometimes despair triumphs over hope, other times chastity prevails over lust, etc. We cannot fake genuine emotions; they come to us. Telling a person who is sad to “be happy” proves to be ineffective, as such a person has become enveloped by that which contains the entire pattern of that emotion, which can be low or high in intensity. To experience the entire spectrum of an emotion in the fullest sense is rare and overwhelming, it can only be experienced temporarily, for it is akin to being fully possessed by an archetype, and thus one is no longer human. Whether this is experienced naturally or artificially, we ultimately have to come back to what is humanly possible, and it can be difficult to readapt to our daily duties after witnessing “the other side”.
We all have a positive “right” conscience depicted in our daimon, guardian angel, heart, inner voice, etc., and a negative “false” conscience called the devil, seducer, tempter, evil spirit, etc. Everyone who examines his conscience is confronted with this fact, and he must admit that the good exceeds the bad only by a very little, if at all. Jung writes:
“We ought to avoid sin and occasionally we can; but, as experience shows, we fall into sin again at the very next step. Only unconscious and wholly uncritical people can imagine it possible to abide in a permanent state of moral goodness. But because most people are devoid of self-criticism, permanent self-deception is the rule. A more developed consciousness brings the latent moral conflict to light, or else sharpens those oppositions which are already conscious. Reason enough to eschew self-knowledge and psychology altogether and to treat the psyche with contempt!”
Carl Jung, C.W. Vol. 10: Civilisation in Transition
The quest for self-knowledge is a task for the few, for the path that leads to salvation is like that of a sharp razor, it is hard to tread and difficult to cross. The way to destruction, however, is easy to cross and broad, and many enter through it.
The Angel of Death
There are multiple cases of people having a close encounter with the angel of death, but survived or “cheated death”, so to speak. You may have a hunch that gives you a bad feeling, which motivates you to walk on another path, only to find out later that a deadly accident had occurred in the exact same place. Or you may be driving on the road and feel an urge to stop, when suddenly a child runs across the street. Angels can protect us from attacks, or assist us when we are in need.
The Angel’s Call
The idea of angels generally comes from miraculous experiences where one feels that some intelligent agency beyond us has helped us. One feels a presence. It is as if something more intelligent and greater than your ego is alive in you and makes you do things or arranges your fate against your own will, and against your own planning.
The angel guides a human being in life, and sometimes breaks through with a message that has the power to transform one deeply, usually at crucial points in one’s life. Our lives continually pass through periods of crisis and stages of transition, in which we become more susceptible to the angel’s call. Therefore, during the dark night of the soul, the angel may be encountered, if God “opens our eyes” to them. Whenever a man consciously encounters a divine agency, which assists, commands, or directs, we can understand it as an encounter of the ego with the Self.
In Dante’s Divine Comedy, Dante the protagonist experiences a midlife crisis and finds himself in a dark wood, threatened by wild beasts. Suddenly, the Roman poet Virgil appears as the angel archetype or psychopomp, guiding Dante through a journey of hell, and purgatory. Later, Beatrice (an anima figure) ascends with Dante to the nine spheres of paradise, reaching the Empyrean, the highest point in heaven.
Each of us has an invisible guide to accompany us on our journey through life. Whether it manifests itself in a dream, vivid intuition, an inner voice, or an actual entity, we all have a telos (end or purpose), which is unique to our own soul’s journey. Angels are often invisible, yet their presence is felt, and their voice is heard.
Those who ignore their inner voice can feel a sense of emptiness or uneasiness, and be unable to understand why they are in such a bad mood, because outwardly everything may appear to be going well. It is as if one is going against one’s nature, giving rise to a feeling of inherent wrongness. It is important for a person to meditate and contemplate on these feelings, then, perhaps, the inner voice will clarify one’s problems. The unconscious, after all, is the master-pattern of one’s life.
Angels: Individuation and Theosis
Angels can help us to experience moments of clarity when conditions suddenly appear just right for the accomplishment of one’s action. This is known as kairos, an opportune and decisive moment in one’s life. The angel can also cause one to experience a sense of intense excitement, or inspiration, an urgency that one should do whatever it is has inspired one, and that it is personally very important for one to do so.
The angel’s call can also appear through synchronicity, a meaningful coincidence that cannot be causally linked, which occurs when an image of one’s inner life is seen to have correspondence in external reality. As the archetypal image of the call, the angel initiates individuation, the journey towards wholeness of personality (the Self). Angels not only help bring the often-neglected world of the unconscious into consciousness, but also guide us on our journey towards theosis (union with God). Therefore, angels can help us both psychologically and spiritually.
The person embarking on self-realisation, although he might not subscribe to any recognised creed, is nonetheless pursuing a religious quest, following the footsteps of a higher power than himself. On the one hand we have the soul, our innermost self or our true essence; and on the other hand, we have the spirit, our relationship with God. These are necessarily linked together. He who knows himself knows God. We reach God through the Self, but God is not the Self, for he transcends it. This is part of the old adage, “know thyself”, for the ultimate tragedy is ignorance or “the neglect of oneself”, that is, to not find out about the nature of the soul and of our true purpose in life. Our guardian angel awaits with divine patience until we choose, by our own accord, to begin our process of soul-work, to fulfill our destiny. Know thyself, heal thyself.
This is a difficult endeavour as it may require one to step outside one’s comfort zone into unknown territory. However, there comes a time in everyone’s life, when one must question if they are being true to their own nature, which is expressed by the inner voice, the voice of a fuller life, and of a wider and more comprehensive consciousness. The voice awakens us from our deep slumber, and beckons our soul upwards to our true home.
The angel is sometimes shown waking a sleeper with a trumpet. The unawakened state is unconsciousness and the awakened state is wholeness. To venture causes anxiety, but not to venture is to lose oneself.
Angels and The Numinous
“Who, if I cried out, would hear me among the angels’ hierarchies? and even if one of them pressed me against his heart: I would be consumed in that overwhelming existence. For beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror, which we are barely able to endure, and it amazes us so, because it serenely disdains to annihilate us. Every angel is terrifying.”
Rainer Maria Rilke, Duino Elegies
The Austrian poet Rilke states that, “Every Angel because of its beauty is terrible.” Angels are of a numinous nature which totally fascinate and overwhelm an individual. The angel moves, compels, awes, overpowers, and constellates urgency. Angels are terrible because one has to go through a painful transformation, and beautiful because they transform one’s entire existence, like the phoenix who rises from the ashes. The devils are as necessary as the angels, as Rilke stated, “Don’t take my devils away, because my angels may flee too.” When we turn contradiction and opposition into paradox and unity, we turn inner conflict into inner peace, understanding the duality of our nature.
The Invocation of Angels
The ancient instructive words to invoke the angel was “enflame thyself with prayer.” The Neo-Platonist philosopher Iamblichus was one of the first to formally ritualise the invocation of the angel. By invoking and consuming (integrating) the angel, one could achieve the status of a spiritual being, and finally achieve the knowledge of the gods. Purity is the defining factor for success or failure in the operation for conversing with one’s holy guardian angel. The more pure the soul, the greater the affinity to the angel. In the Lexicon of Alchemy, Martin Rulandus describes meditatio as an internal talk of one person with another who is invisible, as in the invocation of the Deity, or communion with one’s self, or with one’s good angel.
Fasting is also an important ritual, because it brings one further away from the material, and closer to the spiritual. In the Book of Matthew, after Jesus spent 40 days fasting in the desert and the Devil failing to tempt Him, angels came and ministered to him. This is often interpreted as the angels feeding Jesus.
There is, however, also a dark side, as is seen in the practices of necromancy and the study of demonology in the Middle Ages. Similarly, there are modern occult practices in which people seek to capture spirits and ask for favours, or use them to act upon the world. As the Faustian myth teaches us, the attainment of knowledge that far exceeds the humanly possible, can come at a high price, at the cost of one’s soul.
Demons can disguise themselves as angels of light. In his solitude, Saint Anthony sometimes encountered devils who looked like angels, and other times he found angels who looked like devils. The only way he could tell the difference was by the way which he felt after the being had left his company.
Angels and Dreams
Angels are sometimes depicted as messengers of dreams. They show the dreamer, and then the angel bringing down the dream from heaven. The angel was understood as being the personified essence of a dream. There are dreams that sometimes warns us and can even save our lives. If we attend to them, we can avoid all sorts of disasters. If the unconscious takes the trouble to give us a warning dream, one should attend to it.
Though it remains unexplainable, it is a fact that the unconscious knows more than we know. It is as if the unconscious of the human being is expanded into outer nature, and has information which we cannot have, and therefore in dreams you sometimes get warnings or information about things you cannot possibly know.
The appearance of an angel in dreams announces a healing possibility, a link to the Self that would ease neurotic dysfunctions.
The Bible references hundreds of dreams or visions. The dream of Jacob’s ladder is one of the better-known dreams, which depicts angels uniting heaven and earth.
Jacob’s Ladder and Soul Geography
Jacob dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth and the top of it reached to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. This is known as a god-sent dream, or an archetypal dream with theophany (an encounter with a deity). Jungian analyst Marie-Louise von Franz states:
“[T]he ladder symbolised a continuous, constant connection with the divine powers of the unconscious. We could say the dream itself was such a ladder. It connects us with the unknown depth of our psyche. Every dream is a rung on a ladder, so to speak.”
M.L. von Franz, The Way of the Dream
Jacob did not know that the place he slept in was a holy place, he concluded it from his dream. One of the oldest beliefs of mankind was that in the landscape there are certain places where one has either communication with the good deities or evil deities, such as a crevice being the entrance to the underworld, or mountaintops being areas of special communication with the gods above as is seen in many myths across the world (Moses on Mount Sinai, Zeus on Mount Olympus, Shiva on Mount Kailash, etc.). There seems to be a whole soul geography in the world where man projected his soul into. We naturally feel that there are places we go to where we feel at peace, and others that are somehow unnerving and we prefer not to stay in.
Wrestling with The Angel
Without wishing it, we are placed in situations which entangle us in something, and we usually don’t know how we ended up there. A thousand twists of fate all of a sudden land us in such a situation. When we are faced against a wall, and all seems lost, it is not unusual to have an encounter with the Self. This is symbolically represented in the biblical motif of Jacob wrestling with the “dark” angel, and while he dislocated his hip, his struggle prevented a murder. That is how one grows: by being defeated decisively by greater beings. In a sense, Jacob wrestles with himself, and afterwards becomes reborn, receiving the new name, Israel, he who wrestles with God. Jacob finds his identity by wrestling with his dark side, and discovers the light. There are four features of this story, an encounter with a superior being, wounding, perseverance, and divine revelation, that together form the theme of “the encounter with the Self.”
“[The God] appears at first in hostile form, as an assailant with whom the hero has to wrestle. This is in keeping with the violence of all unconscious dynamism. In this manner the god manifests himself and in this form he must be overcome… The onslaught of instinct then becomes an experience of divinity, provided that man does not succumb to it and follow it blindly, but defends his humanity against the animal nature of the divine power. It is “a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God”, and “whoso is near unto me, is near unto the fire, and whoso is far from me, is far from the kingdom”; for “the Lord is a consuming fire.””
Carl Jung, C.W. Vol. 5: Symbols of Transformation
Jung knew that God’s messenger is the stronger force, therefore he never turned away from the struggle. When he was once asked how he could live with the knowledge he had recorded in his controversial book, Answer to Job, he replied ”I live in my deepest hell, and from there I cannot fall any further.”
The Integration of The Angel Archetype
The integration of the angel archetype allows us to examine the nature of our essence or soul, the uniqueness that asks to be lived in each of us, and that unfolds itself during our lifetime. Thus, angels carry our true vocation, which is a calling, towards the meaning of our life. If we pay attention to our inner voice through dreams, contemplation, prayer, etc., the angel’s call towards fulfilling our purpose on earth becomes clearer. This is not just the call of our personal destinies; it is a cosmic call that aligns us to the Anima Mundi or World Soul, which all living beings form a part of. Every blade of grass has its angel that bends over it and whispers, “Grow, grow.” The word animal derives from anima, which is breath or spirit. Humans are the highest of animals, as we are made in God’s image.
Man is made a little lower than the angels; yet God crowned him with glory and honour, and put everything under his command. Jung writes:
“A life without inner contradiction is either only half a life or else a life in the Beyond, which is destined only for angels. But God loves human beings more than the angels.”
Carl Jung, Letters, Vol. I
Though hierarchically we remain lower than the angels, we are loved more by God. It is out of love that God made our bodies in the image of Himself, and why he became Christ, who was crucified and died for our sins. Christianity is a unique religion as it is God that comes directly to man, and not vice versa.
While angels are created in heaven and stay there, or were thrown out of heaven when they rebelled, we human beings are created on Earth and are capable of moving upwards to heaven or downwards to hell. Only that which can fall is capable of salvation, this is the felix culpa (happy fault or fortunate fall). We have the freedom to choose between good or evil, something that even angels cannot interfere in. This is our blessing and our curse. We are the protagonists in this world of spiritual warfare, and no matter how many difficulties and trials we must overcome, we are all equally capable of uniting our will with that power that is higher than ourselves, and to rejoice in our journey along the way.
“A thought transfixed me: for the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth — that love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love… For the first time in my life I was able to understand the meaning of the words, “The angels are lost in perpetual contemplation of an infinite glory.” ”
Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning
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The Psychology of Angels
Angels have fascinated human consciousness since the beginning of time. The angel is a recurring archetype within many civilisations, The word angel derives from the Greek angelos, which is the default translation of the Biblical Hebrew term mal’ākh (literally “messenger”). The angel is a messenger between God and mankind.