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Angels in Western Culture: A Short History of Angels and Angelic Beings

Dolores is an online writer who is interested in many subjects. Religious ideas in Western culture especially intrigue her.

From the National Portrait Gallery in Washington DC

From the National Portrait Gallery in Washington DC

Angels Have Been With Us for a Long Time

Angels and angelic-type beings have been recognised by humans since the dawn of civilization. The archetype of communication between mortals and the divine, angels, or angelic type forms exist in almost every religion and culture.

They appear as harbingers of death, or to announce joyful and profound events. They bring catastrophic destruction and protect little children while they sleep. Angels have appeared as wheels of fire, beautiful human-like beings, or monsters. They have been portrayed in ancient art and in popular movies, songs, and charm bracelets. Protectors and destroyers, angels are beautiful and wonderous, profound and as simple as a child's faith.

A beautiful old cemetery statue

A beautiful old cemetery statue

Ancient Angels

Archaeologists have unearthed alters dedicated to winged guardian angels in Iraq, in what was once Sumeria dating from 3,000 BC. Old stories go back even further. The idea of the existence of unearthly, shining beings predates the concept of a monotheistic God.

All major western religions mention angels.

The ancient Zoroastrian faith had guardian angels called Fravashi and mentioned a great battle between angels of good vs. angels of evil. Not only do the Islam, Jewish, and Christian faith feature angels, but mention the archangels Michael and Gabriel (or Jibril) by name.

Angels come in all temperaments and types. They have appeared as wheels of fire and as giants with glowing faces and brilliant eyes. They assisted in Creation and later destroyed cities and towns. Lucifer, the Morning Star, said to be God's favorite fell out of favor to become the Prince of Darkness when he became jealous of God's favorite creation—mankind.

And it was an angel who escorted Adam and Eve out of Eden. An angel visited Mary to announce the coming of Jesus and later comforted Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. An angel (Jibril) dictated the Koran to Mohammad.

Ancient Angels

While it may be impossible to define the existence of angels, or the time in history when such beings became what we think of as angels, radiant messenger beings sent by God have had a place in the religions and belief systems of western culture for a long time.

Before 200 BC, the Hebrew concept of God was of a dualistic nature. In general, modern western religion views God as a benevolent deity equated with love and mercy. But in Isaiah 45:7, God says, "I make peace and create evil," displaying a role as both creator and destroyer much like the Hindu Shiva and Aztec Quetzalcoatl. Zoroaster, a Persian prophet, separated Good and Evil as oppositional forces 3500 years ago. Around 200 BC, the Hebrews changed from a dualistic God to a God of goodness and mercy. But angels occurred in Judaic tradition around 450 BC, after the Hebrew people left Babylon, bringing the belief in angels with them.



Angelic Forms in Western Culture

In ancient times, angelic-type beings appeared in various forms. Isis the winged deity of Egypt, has obvious angelic qualities while Horus, the winged disc, resembles a member of an angelic host referred to as Thrones, or wheels of fire.

The Greek Hermes and Roman Mercury sported wings and were known as the messenger of the gods. The Greek word 'angelo' means messenger.

The angelic suffix 'el' means 'the shining one' in Sumerian. Babylon used the similar suffix 'ellu,' as does Old Welsh to mean 'shining being.' In English and Anglo Saxon, 'elf' refers to a shining or radiant being. Is it a coincidence that such far-flung name endings are so similar?

Michael, Gabriel (or Jibril), Raphael, Uriel, Remiel, and other named archangels all the multi-cultural 'shining one' suffix, as does the word angel.

The Book of Enoch

According to the Book of Enoch (an ancient Hebrew work not accepted into Biblical canon), angels called Gregori, or the Watchers introduced agriculture to humanity. These tall, radiant beings also instructed humans in the making of metal for weapons. But some of the Grigori overstepped the boundaries of friendship with mankind and mated with women, the daughters of Eve. The monsters that were the spawn of these unholy unions induced the wrath of God who sent a flood to destroy the world.

Some UFO buffs believe that the Gregori were actually extraterrestrial visitors who come here to earth to encourage civilization.

The Annunciation - The Archangel Gabriel Visits Mary the Mother of Christ

The Annunciation - The Archangel Gabriel Visits Mary the Mother of Christ

Choirs of Angels

Angels are said to exist in spheres of power that encircle God. In the late 4th century AD, the Church divided groups of angels into categories, separated into nine choirs of hosts that are grouped into triads:

Seraphim, Cherubim, Thrones

Dominions, Virtues, Powers

Principalities, Archangels, Angels

More Modern Angels

European artists began to depict angels with wings in the 4th century AD. In the 12th and 13th centuries, angels were wildly popular.

Saint Francis of Assisi was visited by an angel, a seraphim with fiery wings, and between those wings appeared the form of a crucified man. Saint Teresa of Avila, the visionary nun, saw a cherubim, beautiful and afire who pierced her heart with a golden spear, filling her with the sweetness and exquisite pain of the intensity of God's love.

In August of 1914, during World War I, British and French troops fell into retreat from the Germans. Wounded soldiers reported angels in the field of battle. French soldiers thought they saw Michael the Archangel while the British claimed it was Saint George. (Michael and St. George are thought, by some, to be one and the same, the Dragon-slayer) In any event, the men saw a tall blonde man in golden armor with an air of calm serenity. In later reports, the Germans claimed that they were unable to advance and that their horses turned and ran. The angel became known as the Angel of Mons, after the area in which the appearance took place.

Cemetery angel

Cemetery angel

Angels Today

Today angels are everywhere in popular songs, musical plays, and novels. Statues of angels show up in people's gardens. Tiny angelic figurines appear on jewelry and clothing. Obviously, the concept of angels is not restricted to religions but has a strong presence in the secular world as well.

  • UFologists compare extraterrestrial visitors to angels and many believe that they are one and the same. They see space ships and ancient depictions of spaceships as similar to Thrones, of wheels of fire. Radiant humanoid extraterrestrials came to earth to impart messages from beyond earth or from the heavens; often warning humanity of the error of their ways. Movies like The Day the Earth Stood Still introduce an angelic extraterrestrial, Klato, who attempts to bring peace to earth by frightening humanity with an awesome display of power, personified by the great, glowing robot, Gort.
  • Marvel Comic books feature a character in their X-Men series called Archangel.
  • At Christmas, we all root for Clarence to succeed in saving George Bailey from despair in the film It's a Wonderful Life so that he can earn his wings.
  • We name children Angel and refer to our beloved as angels.
  • Nurses and EMTs are often called angels of mercy.

Angels personify a connection to God. They bring us messages and assist God in His miracles, delivering His wrath and His mercy.

According to several surveys, 55% of Americans believe not just in angels, but that angels directly influenced their lives by protecting them from harm.


Godwin, Malcom. (1990). Angels : An Endangered Species. Simon & Schuster

Guiley, Rosemary Ellen. (2004). Encyclopedia of Angels. Check Mark Books

Rees, Valery. (2015). From Gabriel to Lucifer: A Cultural History of Angels. I.B. Taurus

Parente, Pascale. (1994). The Angels: In Catholic Teaching and Tradition. Tan Books

The Bible


Dolores Monet (author) from East Coast, United States on July 30, 2010:

Brother, thank you for your interest in my angel hub. The thing of it is, there are and were other people in this world, not only the people of the Bible and people who are included in the Bible. The duality of God means not that there are 2 Gods, but that He was like the ancient gods, capable of jealousy, and cruelty as well as goodness - of a dual nature. Modern thinking looks at God as goodness and love, not the vengeful deity that the ancients perceived. I mean a God of a dual nature, you see.

Also, whatever we all like to believe, we are all influenced by ideas and concepts from all over, from our travels, etc. And there are many people with differing interpretations of the Bible, not just you. I am not trying to interpret the Bible, but pointing out that a belief in angels or angelic like beings is and was widespread, among people of many cultures and faiths.

Have a nice day!

brotheryochanan on July 29, 2010:

judaic tradition around 450 BC, after the Hebrew people left Babylon, bringing the belief in angels with them. And what was babylon? a nation believing in false beliefs. Zoroastranism concieved of dual gods, a god of good and a god of evil. The OT as you mentioned has no concept of a dual god, isaiah 46 is very firm on that and goes to lengths to warn israel that during the exile (persia) they will be open to assimilating false beliefs, the dual gods of good and evil is breaking the 1st commandment, no other gods. So this belief is false. The book of enoch is also a false book, not written by enoch and contains contradictions to scripture. This lengthy angel belief is wrong and false. Angels do exist, 2 are mentioned as actively serving humanity, that is all. I don't understand how anyone can outsource from the bible, gods holy word, take things that are contrary to the word of god, especially the book written by a college student who ascribed enochs name to it and use this for doctrine. I wish you well, but clean up your bible doctrine plz.

Dolores Monet (author) from East Coast, United States on May 19, 2010:

Enlydia, the best statues are in the older cemeteries. I've actually got a few more that I should post. In the one old cemetery I visit, there are also statues of muses, women kneeling, draped over a tombstone, beautiful memorials. Thanks

for checking out my angel hub!