- Debra Palmen
Are Angels Real?
When you think of an angel, what are you imagining? A gorgeous young woman with huge feathered wings, flowing robes, and fabulous hair? A beautiful, muscular young man with equally large wings and a sword?
Winged supernatural beings have been chronicled since humanity has chronicled. But often they’re mythical creatures. The deities among them were not the messengers of God – they were the gods. They just had wings. So they weren’t angels in the sense we understand today. Hindu and Buddhist divinities can be represented in physical form and they serve as guardians for people. But, again, they’re not the messengers of a higher God, they are the gods.
The belief in angels is limited to Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and Zoroastrianism, one of the world’s oldest continuously practiced religions. They see angels as supernatural beings, intermediaries between Heaven and Earth. When depicted, they appear to be human but often with wings, halos, and celestial light surrounding them.
In the late 4th century, the Christian church outlined a hierarchy of angels, with each category assigned distinct roles. But theologians disagreed over their nature. Some argued they were spiritual beings; consciousness without form, God’s non-material voice. Others insisted they had physical bodies. That debate continues to this day, through the study of angels called Angelology. Yes, it’s a thing.
Those who advocate angel worship are called Angelici. The Church regards them as heretics, but they have a long history. Angelici were first recorded in the 2nd century but their most famous advocate was St Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century. St Thomas was called the Angelic Doctor because of his philosophical discussions over the form and nature of angels. It was St Thomas who asked, “How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?”
By the 5th century, angels took on specific characteristics in religious art, and those shown were most often Principalities, Archangels,materialize and Guardian Angels. These pictures were easier for laypeople to understand than St Augustine’s explanation, which was “’Angel’ is the name of their office, not of their nature. If you seek the name of their nature, it is ‘spirit’; if you seek the name of their office, it is ‘angel’: from what they are, ‘spirit’, from what they do, ‘angel’.” Got that? You can see why various religions have tried throughout the centuries to simplify the situation.
In 1986, Pope John Paul II gave an address entitled Angels Participate in the History of Salvation. He said we should all accept the importance of angels, who are proof that God is intimately involved in our lives. But the Vatican also requires that we restrict our appreciation to only a few. The Congregation for Divine Workshop & Discipline of the Sacraments stated, “The practice of assigning names to the Holy Angels should be discouraged, except in the cases of Gabriel, Raphael and Michael, whose names are contained in Holy Scripture.”
In Islam, understanding angels is more straightforward. They’re mentioned many times in the Qur’an as the messengers of Allah. While their true forms are incomprehensible to humans, they can materialise into human-like beings. Believing in angels is one of the six Islamic Articles of Faith, with each person assigned two Guardian Angels to watch and record everything we do.
In Judaism, mal’ach are angel-like beings, and there are plenty of them. The Talmud doesn’t name most, except Michael, Gabriel, Uriel,today and Raphael, the Archangels surrounding God’s throne. Beyond them, there’s a universe of angels with specific roles and responsibilities. In some Rabbinic sources, mal’ach appear in human form and are only in retrospect discovered to be mal’ach rather than human.
The Jewish mystical tradition of Kabbalah was developed in the 1st century and remains popular tody. It provides a great deal of information about angels. They’re seen as beings of spiritual energy who guide us to understand the workings of God. Metatron is one of the highest angels in Kabbalist mysticism.
So in each of the Abrahamic religions - those that see Abraham as a founding father - angels are accepted as realof but can differ in name and role. Do they look the same? Today, stereotypical images of angels abound in Western art. But the earliest known representations of Christian angels did not have wings and angels aren’t mentioned in the Bible as having wings. Even having a physical body is questionable. Pope John Paul II explained, “Angels have no body, even if, in particular circumstances, they reveal themselves under visible forms because of their mission for the good of people.”
In the 21st century, belief in angels appears no less fervent than it has been over past centuries. Even though the specific names and responsibilities of these divine beings vary between religions, all Abrahamic religions agree they do exist and are vital for bringing God’s message to humanity.
When considering collectables, almost anything can depict an angel, and it doesn’t have to be vintage or antique to be popular. But the older, artisan-made pieces possess a beauty that draws many people, whether they’re religious or not. Collecting an angel or two (or 100) will at least add elegance and grace to your home. There’s detailed guidance on how to collect vintage angelic collectables, together with a more detailed exploration of the role of angels in Christianity, Islam, and Judaism coming in Vol 2 of Fabulous Beasts & How to Collect Them. I hope that book will be published in 2023.
In the meantime, if you love these angel images there are several ways you can have them:
- purchase an A3 print version (available on the website for $24, which includes postage to anywhere in Australia);
- visit me in person at Peregian Beach Market on the 1st and 3rd Sunday of each month, where they're only $15;
- if you buy Vol 1 of Fabulous Beasts & How to Collect Them, I’ll send you an electronic file of one of these angel images, for you to use as you wish, for free. Just let me know which one you'd like.