When I was thirty years of age, I was living with the exiles on the Kebar River. On the fifth day of the fourth month, the sky opened up and I saw visions of God...I'm home for Thanksgiving now, and absolutely on my last legs. It's been a hellish few days of tutoring and meetings and class and preparations for the break. I am, in short, exhausted. So, because I want to write about something fairly simple, and since I've had this topic requested, I'm going to devote tonight's article to Angels and what they are.
Turns out that they're cosmic eldrich horrors.
What, you were expecting beautiful men and women with long golden hair and big fluffy wings? Hah! Not in Old Testament God's Heaven! No, if you hadn't noticed, Old Testament God is less interested in making the world a pretty place and more interested in killing all the firstborn sons of Egypt, turning people into salt pillars, and dicking around with Job's life because of a sucker's bet with Satan. He's not a kindly, friendly, forgiving type of god, and his messengers reflect that. You can see it reflected in their billions of eyes.
But I'm getting ahead of myself.
Let's look at some of the angel species, shall we?
Cherubs! Aw, this is a nice start, right? Because Cherubim are just those cute babies with wings that fly around in Rococo paintings and--
No, let me tell you about Cherubim. These are beings that have four heads--human, ox, lion, eagle--some variable number of wings (Ezekiel says four, but I've seen them described as having a range of numbers up to Far Too Many For Comfort), and billions and billions of eyes.
These are entities that have wings covered in eyes, and they are all watching you. Right. Now.
I'm actually kind of baffled as to how the term Cherub got attached to what are properly known as Putti--the little winged babies. Those things are actually a Roman import from when Christianity was becoming the hip new thing (I was a fan of Jesus before he got popular, &c.) in the decaying Roman Empire. See, the Romans liked this new Christianity thing but also dug their old artistic traditions, so you have these weird pieces of art cropping up where biblical characters show up next to Roman and Greek heroes. Remember how I talked last time about Typology? This is part of where that comes from--it's the reinterpretation and adoption of older heroes and images for the new Christian iconography.
Somewhere along the way the name Cherub got attached to those little naked cloudrats (seriously, look at baroque and rococo paintings--these things are an infestation) and since then people calling upon cherubs for angelic assistance have been getting all sorts of nasty, hilarious shocks.
According to some sources, Cherubim are among the highest ranking angels--typically the second ones down. The highest rankers are:
Seraphim are probably the most badass of all the angels, simply due to the composition of their bodies. See, Seraphim cover their bodies with their wings constantly (they've got six, so they certainly have a few to spare). And why, O student, do they cover their bodies in this way?
It turns out that they burn with a celestial radiance so pure that they cause mortals to basically explode. They're like great glowing basilisks on steroids that've been plugged into a nuclear power plant.
Or like this:
See, it turns out part of what makes Indiana Jones so awesome is that it accurately portrays the interaction between mortals and God--the mortals get their faces melted off.
It's kind of scary that Thrones are both a step down in the Angelic Hierarchy from the others, and a step down in mindbending creepiness. Scary because Thrones are, themselves, deeply unnerving. This is another of those things where a number of accounts sort of have gotten merged together, I think, because I can't find them identified by this name in Ezekiel. Still, these angels show up in Ezekiel:
As I watched the four [cherubim], I saw something that looked like a wheel on the ground beside each of the four-faced creatures. This is what the wheels looked like: They were identical wheels, sparkling like diamonds in the sun. It looked like they were wheels within wheels, like a gyroscope.Wheels within wheels. I've seen them described elsewhere as being covered in eyes and burning with fire. We're making progress here in that we can look at these guys without our brains exploding, but this is still some pretty freaky noneuclidean stuff. And these things are supposedly the throne and chariot of God. Yes, his throne is composed of living beings that are geometric shapes covered in eyes and fire. Old Testament God, remember?
A few other odd beings crop up. There are the Grigori, who mate with human women and produce the Nephilim--the giant heroes of old, born out of sinful lust between angel and mortal. Or the angel that Jacob wrestled with, who seems to have taken the form of a human(oid). Or the shadowy creatures Senoy, Sansenoy, and Semangelof, who hound Lilith, the First Woman, only to be repelled by her invocation of the four letter celestial name of God. And beings like Michael, who has wings of peacock feathers with actual eyes embedded in them, or his fellow archangel Gabriel who has a few thousand wings, according to some accounts, or Satan, who in some accounts appears to be the Accuser who challenges the faithful at God's behest and in others a fallen Adversary of all that is good. There's a lot of confusion about who is on what side, just what the angels look like, what their goals are, and so on.
But let us leave some of those accounts for a later date, when I'm less likely to pass out before hitting the Post button.
For now, I'll leave you with one deeply alarming thought. If these accounts are correct, then the beings greeting us at the gates of heaven are less like this laughably romantic picture: