Angels, Mutants or Aliens?

Archangel

Archangel, one of the founding members of the X-men

The angelic figure has always been popular, from their ancient roots in religion and mythology to today’s pop culture media.  They first started out as incredible other-worldly beings, massive in size and rich in knowledge, and later became human-like beings hard to distinguish from ordinary people as the Bible’s patriarchs and apostles discovered.  As centuries passed, artist added wings and halos, along with a chubby baby likeness.

Recently, modern artists have added features to angels that have given rise to a greater curiosity into the true nature of angels and the roles they play.  The popularity of superheroes and comic culture, as well as the horror and supernatural genres have transformed angels from plump little cherubs into muscled-mutant-supernatural warriors, suiting a more violent and action-orientated audience.

What were they like before?

Apse Mosaic, San Vitale, Ravenna

Apse Mosaic, San Vitale, Ravenna

For many in the Western world, the word ‘angel’ conjures up the image of a winged humanoid, dressed in white and bestowing blessing and news to the human world.  Indeed, this is how many of us recall angels, because our first encounter with them is usually Bible stories, and particularly their role within the nativity story.  Their primary function is as the messengers of God to Man.  As H. C. Moolenburgh explains: “…we have inherited the word ‘angel’.  It comes from a Greek word (angelos) meaning a messenger.  The Hebrew word for angel (malach) means exactly the same: a messenger or an envoy.” (1996, p.56).

He goes on to discuss the way that angels are viewed in public consciousness: “Often they are described as ‘noticeably beautiful’ even though their appearance is not especially effeminate.” (1996, p.48). Indeed, the beautiful appearance of angels is among the few things that rarely do change – whether they are good, evil, or indifferent, they often possess striking features.  This is particularly interesting because in their original incarnation in the Bible, and particularly the Old Testament, angels are described – if at all – according to their power and awe.  Unearthly beauty is a quality rarely mentioned; they are more often fear-inducing creatures than beautiful winged people.

Where did their wings come from?

References to angels are found within the mainstream religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.  Yet, angels, or divine helpers, were also found within Sumerian, Babylonian, Persian, Egyptian and Greek writings as well, and played a major influence upon the ideas regarding angels within the key religions themselves.  For example, it is well known that ancient Sumerian texts pre-dated the Hebrew book of Genesis, including the idea of the existence of angels.

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Hermes

But where did the original idea come from that angels have wings? Hermes, in the Greek pantheon of gods, served the function of messenger, and was pictured with wings on his heels.  In ancient Egypt, the goddess Nepthys was also winged; reliefs depicting her appear in hieroglyphics in tombs.  Griffins, winged animals with human heads, appear in a very ancient Etruscan tomb, and many other cultures featured winged lions and bulls with human heads; winged creatures were known to the Vikings as valkyries, to the Greeks as horae; in Persia they were fereshta, to the Hindu, apsaras.

However, in Abrahamic traditions, wings were rarely depicted on angels until the time of Emperor Constantine, and did not become popular in angel art until the Renaissance.  Historically, angels who interacted with humans, were seen in a “flesh and blood” form.

Shrouded in mystery…

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Alien Angel #5

Angels truly are a mystery that summon many questions – firstly, do they even exist at all?  And if so, what exactly are they?  Some believe they are beings of light, others say they are ‘God’s messengers’ or the souls of the deceased that guide us on our life journey.  More controversially, there are those who maintain that there is nothing “godly” about angels, and that they were simply flesh and blood beings from outside earth who perhaps arrived in flying crafts, hence the depiction of wings.

Whatever one thinks, the idea of angels has captured the hearts and imaginations of millions around the world.


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The Watchers (SPECIAL EDITION)

Watchers are a specific type of angel referred to in the Bible, apocryphal literature, Christian lore, pagan mysticism, and in various ancient records.  The following article provides a look into the some of the ideas surrounding them, beginning with how they have recently been portrayed by Hollywood.  BTW – I’ve embedded lots of links.  Feel free to explore!


Noah, the epic!

Recently, interest in the Watchers was renewed with Darren Aronofsky’s 2014 biblical epic Noah.  In the movie, they are depicted as gigantic fallen angels encased in stone (picture below).  After defending Noah and his family from the violent mob led by Tubal-cain, all of the Watchers were killed.  As they died, their angelic forms were released from their stone bodies and returned to heaven, having been forgiven by the Creator.

The director definitely took creative license with the well-known Bible story; nonetheless, he received general approval from the Christian and Jewish communities.  Several organizations expressed support for the Noah film, i.e. American Bible Society, Focus on the Family, and more.  Even Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, found it “interesting and thought provoking,” while Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, an orthodox Jewish rabbi leader, hailed Noah as “a valuable film, especially for our times.”

Though Noah is revered as a prophet in Islam, Muslim support was virtually non-existent.  In many Islamic juristic schools, the portrayal of prophets is forbidden.  Therefore, the film was banned in Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Malaysia, and Indonesia prior to its release.


Who were the Watchers?

Besides being mentioned briefly in the Bible, the idea of the Watchers has been found in the ancient religious records of Sumeria, Peru, Egypt, Mesopotamia, and Greece.  Most people are familiar with the Sumerian Anunnaki due to the History Channel’s popular hit series Ancient Aliens.  These beings were believed to have come to earth from the sky, and the Sumerians revered them as four enormous gods, known as:

  • An – (“Sky”), the source of rain and most powerful of the gods
  • Enlil – (“Lord Wind”), the power in “Growing Weather”
  • Ninhursaga – (“Lady of the Stony Ground”), mother of wildlife
  • Enki – rival of Ninhursaga

The term Anunnaki literally means “of the sky.”  Many scholars believe this term is also used in the Bible as Anakim, Anak, or Nefilim (nephilum).  In Hebrew nephilim has been interpreted to mean “giants” or “those who have fallen.”  Incidentally, the first major enemies that the liberated Israelis faced were the Canaanites, sometimes referred to as children of Anak – meaning tall, strong, and long neck.  The Israelites described them as being a fierce race of giants dwelling in massive fortified cities.  Later, during the days of King David, the most famous son of Anak was killed, his name being Goliath.

The Egyptian Execration texts of the Middle Kingdom (2055-1650 BC) mention a list of political enemies in Canaan, and among this list are a group called the ly Anaq or people of Anaq.  The three rulers of ly Anaq were Erum, Abiyamimu, and Akirum.  It was believed that these rulers were related to the Sumerian gods, namely Enki.  Robert Graves, considered the relationship between the Anakites and Philistines (Joshua 11:21, Jeremiah 47:5), identifing the Anakim with Anax, the giant ruler of the Anactorians in Greek mythology.

For the Egyptians, the children of Anak were related to the original Watchers, who they revered as Ptah, Anubis, Osiris, and Horus.  It was believed they came to Egypt from Ta-Ur, the “Far/Foreign Land.”  The Egyptian term used for the Watchers was Neteru (“guardians”).

“Wakeful Ones”

Ancient beliefs vary from one culture to another, but all seem to agree that Watchers were a specific race of heavenly beings.  In Hebrew they were referred to as nun resh ayin, or irinim – meaning “those who watch” or “Wakeful Ones.”  When translated into Greek, the same terms appear as grigori – simply meaning “watchers.”

The early books of the Bible speak of some vague heavenly beings called malochim (singular, malach).  Although malach is usually translated “angel,” its literal meaning is “messenger.”  Therefore, it was used to describe both angelic beings and human beings.  As far as the Hebrew term irinim goes, it was only used to describe a high class of angels, sometimes characterized as “archangels,” first mentioned in the book of Daniel (4:10-14).

In apocryphal literature…

Watchers are the fallen angels who took mortal women as wives (1 Enoch 6, 19, 64, 69; Jubilees 4, 7).  Their union produced a ravenous race of hybrid offspring (nephilum/giants) who devoured copious amounts of flesh and drank “rivers of blood.”  And to make matters even worse, it is written that they corrupted humans with the forbidden arts of weaponry, herb craft, astrology, divination, and sorcery.

In the books of Enoch, God sends the archangel Uriel to warn Noah of a coming deluge… the archangel Raphael captures the rebel leader of the Watchers and thrusts him into eternal darkness… the archangel Gabriel deals with the bloodthirsty hybrids… and the archangel Michael deals with the remaining Watchers and their surviving offspring prior to Noah’s Great Deluge.  For all of this, there appears to be only one New Testament reference found in Jude 1:6.

There are many other references to Watchers found in the Jewish/Christian non-canonical writings identifying their numbers to be 200, and residing in the sixth heaven where they perform celestial music (Gedulat Moshe).  Among the Dead Sea Scrolls, they are central figures in the mythic-gnostic theology of the Qumran priests.  Within the modern Wiccan tradition, some of these gnostic views are combined with Jewish mysticism and British mythology, assigning the four leading archangels to the four directions of the heavens, and marking them with the Winter/Summer Solstices, and Spring/Autumn Equinoxes.

Any survivors?

So, there you have it in a nutshell.  Darren Aronofsky’s movie portrayal of the Watchers as “rock-monster/Transformer-types” seems a bit tame in comparison, doesn’t it?  Definitely, more could be said on the subject.  Though our understanding of the Watchers may still remain partial, it’s not for a lack of descriptive material!

I guess one thing is for certain:  to learn who or what the Watchers were or are, really depends on who you ask.  Could they have once been a large group of archangels that split and fought with one another?  Is it possible that only four survived – Uriel, Raphael, Gabriel & Michael?  Or, maybe only two survived – Gabriel & Michael?  Or, have all the leading civilizations, from antiquity to modern days, conspired to keep the truth hidden in ecclesiastical musings, imaginative writings, and Hollywood special effects?  What do you think?


Noah 2014 (1)

Watchers in the movie Noah (2014)

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Guardians Of Humanity

Belief in benevolent angels who protect and serve humanity is widespread around the world.  Sculptures, figurines, pictures and paintings of winged-super-human-beings portrayed in protective roles are prevalent in almost every culture.  The reason for this is simple, the three major religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) all share a common belief in angels, and so do many of the lesser religions.  To no ones surprise, there are numerous differences and similarities, especially when it comes to guardian angels.  So, what does the population of earth believe about angels?  Here is a very basic rundown of the most popular ideas:

Judaism:

Angels (from αγγελōς = messenger, Greek equivalent of the Hebrew ) are generally viewed as superhuman beings dwelling in heaven, who occasionally reveal to man God’s will and execute his commands.  In one form or another, the belief in angels appears in the earliest stages of Jewish history with Abraham being stopped by an angel from sacrificing his son Isaac.  This ancient belief continues to live in the Jewish spiritual world with the common belief that Michael is the guardian angel and protector of Israel.  To learn more, click here: Angel Types In Judaism.

Christianity:

With the roots of Christianity closely linked to Judaism, it comes as no surprise that Christians hold angels in high esteem. As in Judaism, angels played vital roles in many events viewed with great importance by Christians.  It was the angel Gabriel who appeared to Mary and told her of how she was chosen by God to give birth to his son Jesus.  The New Testament also states that Jesus’ resurrection from the dead was announced by angels.  Christians generally believe angels are God’s special messengers and ambassadors to humanity, each person has a special guardian angel to protect and serve them, and there are both good and bad angels currently working in the earth today.  To learn more, click here: Angel Types In Christianity.

Islam:

Angels are also prominent in the Islamic faith, one of their basic articles of faith being the belief in angels.  Muslims believe that each person has four guardian angels, which they call “Malaaika” (Arabic = messengers).  Two angels are tasked to keep a record of their assigned person’s good actions, and the other two record the bad deeds.  Angels in Islam are also responsible for assigning souls to newborns, taking care of the environment, delivering special messages to humanity, and more. It is believed that angels visit earth daily.  The Much-Frequented House is a sacred heavenly sanctuary above the Kaaba, the black cube in the city of Mecca.  Every day 70,000 angels visit it and leave, never returning again, followed by another group of 70,000 angels daily – every day of every month of every year unending.  Check out this video of a supposed angel sighting above the Kaaba: Angels Coming From The Sky.


One main difference between the Islamic and Christian/Jewish views on angels, is that for Muslims, it is not possible for angels to fall from grace, as they cannot commit sin.  Christian and Jewish views generally recognize demons to have once been angels that committed sins, fell from grace, and were cast from heaven along with their leader, the former archangel Lucifer.  Muslims do not believe that Lucifer was once an angel created from light.  They believe he is a “Jinn” – beings, both good and bad, created from smokeless fire, inhabiting a parallel unseen world.  For more on Islamic beliefs about angels, check this out: Reality of Angels.  For a general comparison of Christian vs. Muslim beliefs, click here:  Christianity vs. Islam.


Hinduism:

Hindus may not specifically refer to angels but they do recognize them as “devas” (shining ones).  These entities are responsible for natural elements such as water, earth, wind, and fire.  Hindus also believe that every living person has two guardian divas/angels.  While angels are viewed as divine workers in Christianity, Islam and Judaism, they are not worshipped.  However, the distinction between divas/angels and the lesser avatars are far more blurred within Hinduism, leading many to worship their personal guardians.  To learn more about Hindu beliefs, check this out: Angels In The Bhagavad Gita

Zoroastrianism:

Followers of Zoroastrianism (estimated at just around 200,000 worldwide), also believe that each one of us has a guardian angel, a “Fravashi” that protects and guides us.  To learn more about angels in Zoroastrianism, click here: Zoroastrianism & Angels.

Mormonism:

In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, angels are heavenly beings in human form that help spread the work and word of God on earth.  Mormonism was established after an angel allegedly appeared to its founder Joseph Smith.  Mormons do not have a specific doctrinal statement about guardian angels, however they generally accept the idea that every person has one guardian angel protecting them.  Mormonism teaches that angels are not winged beings, rather people in their spirit/resurrected state.

Buddhism:

Buddhists generally believe in angels as a form of energy or light or highly evolved beings (devas) who may visit people in dreams.  In Buddhism there is no true guardian angels except for deceased family members who have reached nirvana.  If they so chose, they can stay behind as “kami” to protect and offer guidance for their loved ones.  This concept is mostly held by Buddhists who practice the Japanese “action-religion” Shinto.

Baha’i

In the Baha’i faith, angels are viewed as powerful celestial beings who reveal God’s “abounding grace” to humanity.  They’re described as “blessed beings” that have been released from the “chains of self,” and transcended this world to take on their angelic attributes.  These “blessed beings” are largely hailed as guardians and spirit guides.


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Abstract Angel Depiction