December 31, 2019

Understanding Angels and Their Symbolism

Dacosta Michael

Christianity and many other religions can be all about symbolism, and this is often the case with angels. The stories show them as being protective, such as guardian angels, or as messengers delivering divine news. 

They are servants to God, and there can be a lot of meaning behind them. There is also a hierarchy of angels (angelology), where there are different types of angels with varying levels of power. 

What Do Angels Look Like?

The imagery of angels has been around for ages and has been popular in multiple stories, books (even outside of the Bible), and novels. However, their descriptions can vary depending on what level they are. Angels are often described as having physical bodies enveloped in bright, blinding light or as human-looking beings with white wings wearing linen. 

That may not be accurate, though. In the Christian Bible, there are several instances of angels being nightmare fuel rather than delightful androgynous youths. According to the Book of Ezekiel, there are a few types of Cherubim, the angels with the task of guarding God’s throne. Ezekiel describes them as having four heads and two sets of wings, one to cover the body and the other for flight. They can also have four wheels covered in eyes circling around them. 

Seraphim are also horrifying. They are described as having six sets of wings. Two to fly with, two to cover their faces, and two to cover their feet. According to the scriptures, they cover their faces because they are so very close to God’s glory that they would be unable to behold it with naked eye. On the other hand, their feet are covered due to the idea that bare feet are seen as being “unclean.” They are the closest to God and sing about his glory.  

However, the angels with names, such as Gabriel and Michael, are often handsome in art but without wings. They take on the more human-like form, arms and legs included. There are also images of fallen angels that rejected God, and these often end up taking more of a demonic form, especially in literature. There are also angels in other religions, such as the Devas of Buddhism, where they are beings of pure light.

Why Do They Exist?

Angels are seen as supernatural, spiritual beings that are either messengers of God or protectors. They are often viewed as bringing comfort to the lost, as well as wisdom and advice. Before Christ’s birth, it was Gabriel who brought forth the message of his arrival to Mary. The teachings claim that she found peace and comfort in Gabriel’s words. 

And angels can also symbolize other qualities outside of comfort and messages. Such as: 

  • Intelligence: Since they are close to God, they know more of the world than the people who live in it
  • Faith: It is through angels that people learn and get to know God.
  • Strength: They are powerful beings that use their skill for protection and to spread love
  • Purity and innocence: This is a common notion when it comes to these Heavenly Beings  

Nowadays, the idea of angels is something that is more felt than seen. While some people may have claimed to have witnessed physical visions of angels, a lot more people can feel the presence of one, especially when it comes to their guardian angel.  

What’s With Their Wings?

Wings and angels go hand-in-hand, but that may not be the case for all of them. Angels are spiritual beings that transcend physics, and they do not necessarily need wings to fly. In Hebrews 13:2, people let strangers into their homes only to find out that they were hosting non-winged angels.  

When they do have wings, it is symbolic of God’s love for his people on Earth, as well as being a display of his power. Wings are usually a metaphor, for example, in Psalm 91:4, which talks about people finding safety and refuge in God’s wings. They are a way to protect his people if they believe in him.  

The idea is that angels can go between dimensions, and that is also what wings symbolize. It could be why so many art pieces depict angels such as Michael and Gabriel having wings since they can easily go between Earth and Heaven. It also adds a holy, unworldly image to these powerful, supernatural, and spiritual beings. 

Do They Really Have to Earn Their Wings?

There are countless pop culture tales of angels having to earn their wings by doing certain tasks. That would be a way to prove their purity and be rewarded with a set of white, feathered wings. The best example of such a story is “It’s a Wonderful Life.” The story goes that Clarence goes on a journey to try to earn his wings, and he only does so by stopping a man from taking his own life. This story has been around for so long that many confuse it for an angel fact. However, it is not. 

However, we can also say that the wings are part of the “body” of the angel, as is the case with the Seraphim. Another theory is that the idea of wings can be different from that of what we imagine them to be. For example, while the Cherubim have wings to cover up, they also have wheels to make them move. These could be their version of wings. Therefore, angels do not have to earn their wings.

Final Flight 

Angels are protectors of not only God but of people too. They also appear in other religions. Plus, they are more complex than we may have ever thought. While some descriptions of angels are haunting, the way they are usually shown on television or in novels does not take away from the calming power that they hold for those who believe.