Angelology: The Study of Angels and Their Influence

The past few days I’ve been on quite an angel kick. Not because I work with them in magick (though I do) and not because any real particular event influenced me to consider it. No, for some strange reason I’ve been giving quite a bit of thought to the application of Angels to Magickal Theory and practice. Specifically I’ve been considering how a magician might utilize the structures of various angelic hierarchies as sort of map to link other correspondences to, whether in the mundane world or the celestial realms.

I suppose this has come to mind, been born really, out of a curious desire to understand how the Hebrews and other folks from late antiquity broke down the universe around them into understandable, bite-sized chunks. These chunks, being much easier to digest for the theologian and secular scholar alike, seem to me to represent a sort of proto-psychology.  

If we are to believe one of the more well known mystics of the past century, Aleister Crowley, at his word (and in this particular case I do) we understand that the art and science of working with spirits has to do directly with dealing with the human brain. As Uncle Al brought to our attention somewhat succinctly in his opening essay “The Initiated Interpretation of Ceremonial Magick” to the Ars Goetia, “The spirits of the Goetia are portions of the human brain.” (17) He goes on to explain how each aspect of ceremonial magick targets specific parts of the brain for alteration. Of course, the subject matter of the Ars Goetia is directly to do with the control and summoning of “demons” or other spirits oft considered “infernal” by occultists, religious folk, and theologians alike. Their title of infernal is undeserved but I will expand on why in the follow up piece to this one which I will link to upon completion.              

If we accept the presupposition that working with spirits, be they demons or angels, is causing us to access and fine-tune various parts of the human brain, then we are left with a somewhat startling revelation that the Hebrews, hermetic kabbalists and other such occultists have developed an incredibly comprehensive map of human psychology and brain physiology. Indeed it even seems they went so far as to develop a system of self-induced brain change via the examination and interaction with the Angelic forms and hierarchies. It is by exploring these hierarchies and their significance that we can come to an understanding about how these early magicians directed neuro-plasticity (self-induced brain change) hundreds, if not thousands, of years before the western world came to grips with the implications brought by the discoveries of modern psychology. Long before Freud, long before Jung, before neurophysiology and before our understanding of neuroplasticity, the ancients had, at least in part, figured it out.              

Of course, the Jews, Christians and Muslims certainly don’t have a monopoly on cosmological hierarchies. Scholars of Shamanism and various Indigenous practices, like Sandra Ingerman, Michael Harner and Mircea Eliade have done excellent work outlining shamanic cosmologies from around the world and the Eastern world has equally complex hierarchies of beings and entities. But for our purposes, and for the purposes for understanding these systems within their original context, we will limit our discussion to the angelology of the Occidental traditions. Correspondences to other traditions may be drawn at a later date at the reader’s liberty, but to do so prematurely may have much the same effect as trying to fit an oblong peg into a round hole. It looks like it could fit, but it may take a fair amount of brute force and academic dishonesty to fit the metaphorical peg into our hole of choice. Even within the occidental traditions, there is quite a lot of variation within the hierarchies, correspondences and symbol structures themselves.            

Just as a brief example, Henry Agrippa, legendary German occultist, legal scholar, soldier and unwitting revivalist of the Western Magickal tradition, relates the Angel Gabriel to the element water. That said, in the third section of the Book of Enoch (considered Canonical by the Eritrean Orthodox Church as well as the Ethiopian Orthodox Church) the element attributed to the Angel Gabriel is fire. Of course this has massive implications when dealing with this particular spirit and given the differences could, in the practice of working with Gabriel, manifest either as an incredible act of firey willpower or a splendid emotionally fulfilling repose. I point this out simply to remind any would be categorizer not to be too hasty when setting definitive correspondences about symbol structures, even within the bounds of contextual safety.              

Of course, this points to the notion that any sense of a possible “objective” categorization based on correspondence falls apart completely when one takes into consideration the regional and scriptural differences of any given region. The “truth” of these correspondences is, in this way, somewhat mutable. This is both a relief and somewhat frustrating for those who would prefer to have a clear, well-organized understanding of “how things are”. As always, we are reminded of the wise words of the founder of General Semantics, Alfred Korzybski that “the Map is Not the Territory”. No matter how good the map looks.              

More than a few psychologists and anthropologists have fallen into this trap as Jungian analyst Marie Louis Von Franz has so delightfully pointed out. “If you choose (anything) as a motif, then you can pile up comparative material forever, but you have completely lost your Archimedean standpoint from which to interpret it.” (10)  It is a danger that academics and hopeful armchair anthropologists of all stripes should be ever vigilant of. Nothing presented here is concrete.              

This is not to say that the ideas underlying Angelology do not exist. Of course willpower and emotions and other subjective experiences exist, if only experientially. I’m saying that the symbols that we use to represent these states seem to be quite flexible. This was perhaps one of the greatest gifts given to us by the founder of Depth Psychology Carl Jung. His approach to the interpretation of dreams relies heavily on the subjective experience of the patient. In this way, he isolated the individual’s symbol structure from the cultural symbol structure and could then better see the similarities and differences between the two. This approach gives weight to both the subjective experience of the symbol, but also the role of the larger ineffable archetypes of the collective unconscious that clothe themselves in the symbol structure of the individual to make themselves palatable for understanding by the patient. Whether the associations of water or fire clothe themselves in Gabriel or some other angel, the messenger is not the thing. The map is not the territory. It is only a model.                

So I digress. So given that these symbols are somewhat mutable for the individual experiencing them, the angelology of the western world gives a fantastic ground layer of symbols. The whole practice of categorizing angels provides a sort of filing cabinet to file psychological attributes in. If we think of each Angel like a “drawer” in our filing cabinet, the angelic hierarchies developed by Hebrew, Christian and Muslim scholars and theologians offer quite an impressive filing cabinet for correspondences, if not 100% comprehensive. Take for instance the Archangel Michael. Often thought of as the defender of Israel due to the inclusion of the vision in Daniel 10:13-21 where an angel directly denotes Michael as the protector of Israel, (curiously Israel coming from the Hebrew name Yisrael which translates to something like “God Wrestler” after it was bestowed on Jacob for literally wrestling an angel and having one of his limbs broken as a result). So the defender of Israel could be taken to mean the defender of he/she who deals/interacts with God.                

The Hygromanteia, the Greek Grimoire of spirits that some scholars think would later become the foundation for the Keys of Solomon, notes that Michael also has associations with the Sun and fire as a result. The Book of Enoch again lists Michael as one of the Sarim or Angel-Princes recording him as the “Chief Angel of the Lord” and denotes him as the deliverer of the faithful. So already, with those correspondences alone, we have an entity who is associated with the life-giving (and also, for desert dwellers, the occasionally oppressive and blinding) sun, a defender of the faith and protector of the faithful, a powerful chief angel of God and an association to the Southern Direction (if you live in the Northern Hemisphere) for that is the “direction” of the sun. Who doesn’t love a south facing window?                

So those correspondences are to do with Michael alone and are by no means exhaustive. The same methodology could be applied to any other angel or spirit. Thus invoking or evoking this being, we are dealing with the parts of our mind that recognize and access these correspondences and thus fine tuning those aspects within ourselves.            

This is where things get more interesting. Even though we are aware that the map is decidedly not the territory, we are still left with the task of at least trying to get a good enough map of things so that our inner (Via brain change) and outer (via capitalizing on that self-directed brain change in the physical world) work can be effective. Thankfully, and somewhat frustratingly again for those who prefer one “correct” approach, we are met with quite a few maps of how these beings, these parts, and functions of the brain, might be categorized.              

The first major undertaking of this task in a Christian context was by a Syrian monk sometime in the 4th or 5th century called Dionysius the Areopagite, though there are no records of what the author’s actual name was. His notion, put forth in De Coelesti Hierarchia (on the Celestial Hierarchy), was effectively that there were a series of hierarchies within the angelic ranks. These hierarchies are what medieval theologians would term “Angelic Choirs”. Dionysius work, later built upon by Thomas Aquinas in “Summa Theologiae”, developed a schema of three hierarchies, sometimes called spheres, of angels. Each Sphere then contained three orders, or Choirs, of angels. Though Dionysius and Aquinas affirmed the doctrine of the communion of saints, that is to say they accepted the notion that in paradise all souls are equal, and unified in their contemplation of the perfection of God; they put forth the notion that in the incarnated portion of existence there are different degrees of beings each with different powers in respect to communication and interaction with God as well as human life. We will briefly discuss each sphere and those incarnated orders of Angels contained within below.            

According to Dionysius, The first sphere consists of the Seraphim, the Cherubim, and the Thrones. These guys are thought of as the servants of God the Son incarnated.  

Seraphim, Singular “Seraph”, literally translates to “Burning ones”. Ranked highest in the hierarchy due to their closeness to God, the Seraphim are met by the prophet Isaiah in 6:1-7. They are described as having 6 wings, utilizing 2 to fly and utilizing the other four to block their faces and feet from God, lest they offend God by their feet (which were considered unclean at the time) and shield themselves by blocking their eyes from presumably be obliterated by the vision of the Almighty. They’ve clearly got an association with fire, purification and enlightenment as in the same part of Isaiah one of the Seraphim touches Isaiah’s lips with a lump of burning coal noting that, “Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.”

Cherubim, unlike how we might imagine, are angels who have four faces that look out in different directions. Each face was different as there was one of a lion, one an eagle, one a man and one an ox, symbolically relating to the symbols of the four OG evangelists (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John). Its curious to note as well that each face has elemental and astrological attributions. These guys have 4 wings each which are literally covered with eyes. They were tasked with guarding the way to the tree of life in the Garden of Eden as well as the throne of God as mentioned in Ezekiel 28:14-16. They are to be on the look out for transgressors. Their four faces, one for each direction, along with wings covered with eyes tends to help with that.  

Thrones, from the Greek thronos meaning “elders” also have lots of eyes. That’s a common theme among angels actually. As best I can tell the eye motif is something to do with the supremacy of foresight; a trait humans might consider attempting to emulate. Sometimes related to the Ophanim (literally meaning wheels) though this is not uncontested, they are often depicted as wheels within wheels with the outer rims of those wheels covered in eyeballs. The thrones are a bit hard to categorize as their relation to the Cherubim isn’t exactly clear. Ezekiel 10:17 suggests that “…The spirit of the living creatures [the Cherubim] was in the wheels.” Which muddles things somewhat in drawing distinctions. Somewhat more curiously, I’ve read in some places that other Christian theologians point to the 24 Elders in the Book of Revelation, who present prayers to God, as being members of the Thrones order.  Despite this, the Thrones are apparently utilized by the Cherubim to move the throne of God around, hence their seemingly wheel like appearance. The movers of God might be an appropriate notion. Whether moving God to respond to Prayers or just for whatever other reason the Cherubim might have for moving God about.          

The second sphere contains beings that work as sort of the governors of creation in that they guide and rule the spirits beneath them. They can be thought of sort of like the middle managers of the celestial bureaucracy. Contained within are the Dominions (sometimes called Lordships), Virtues (sometimes called Strongholds) and Powers (sometimes called Authorities).  

Dominions/Lordships, are presented as sort of the Bosses of all lower Angels. We might think of them like celestial generals. In De Coelesti Hierarchia their whole purpose is to regulate the duties of the angels below them, only very rarely, if ever, presenting themselves to humans. As a result not a whole lot is known about these folks.  

Virtues/Strongholds, are described by Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite in De Coelesti Hierarchia as, “The name of the holy Virtues signifies a certain powerful and unshakable virility welling forth into all their Godlike energies; not being weak and feeble for any reception of the divine Illuminations granted to it; mounting upwards in fullness of power to an assimilation with God; never falling away from the Divine Life through its own weakness, but ascending unwaveringly to the super essential Virtue which is the Source of virtue: fashioning itself, as far as it may, in virtue; perfectly turned towards the Source of virtue, and flowing forth providentially to those below it, abundantly filling them with virtue.”(171)        

They can be thought of as the workers of Miracles as they manifest in the world. To stick with the military metaphor, they receive direction from the dominions, and through their absurd virtuousness, they emanate those good vibes into the spheres and worlds below them. They can be thought of as the captains of the divine army. They deliver instructions to the next group the…  

Powers/Authorities. These guys basically hold everything together. Considered warrior angels by the Catholic church, they maintain order throughout the cosmos by fighting evil spirits who attempt to wreak chaos. Having received orders from the virtues, it’s their task to basically make sure everything keeps spinning smoothly on a universal scale. They might be thought of as the celestial infantry in the cosmic war. The important part is the “cosmic” part here, because they are not quite interacting with humans, rather they are frying larger fish. Thus we are brought to our third and last sphere, consisting of protectors and guides to human beings.  

Principalities/Rulers, are the angels specifically tasked with protecting groups of people, whether that be a nation, a state, an ethnic group, or an institution. Decidedly less cosmic than the previous classifications, these angels are specifically in charge of the realm of earth, though they do take orders from on high.  

Archangels, comes from the greek word “Archangelos” meaning something like chief messenger. Curiously, though only Archangel Michael is the only one mentioned by name in the New Testament, somehow along the way we wound up with a classification of 7 archangels.  This probably has to do with the Book of Tobit which is considered Deuterocanonical by Roman Catholics (meaning that it is accepted as canon by the Catholics but not by protestant denominations) where the angel Raphael notes that he was “one of seven who stand below the Lord”. The other 6 then it would be assumed qualify. Of course without clear indications of who these folks are, the symbols and their correspondences are very much up for grabs for the astute student.        

It should be mentioned that in the book of Enoch, as well as in the book of revelation, there is mention of the 7 spirits of God that hang out by the throne. But regardless of where this comes from, the Archangel class of beings is primarily responsible for being the chief messengers of God to humans. If we mash the 7 classical astrological planets with the 7 archangels, we have done a good job of understanding the aspects of each of these beings and how each one holds a “piece” of Gods message to deliver to us.  

Angels, last but not least, are the very most concerned with the individual affairs of men. Personal guardian angels generally fall into this category as well. These guys are basically the folks who’s job it is to listen to prayers, and ferry them up the line of command until they get to the top and then let us know what to do. We might think of them, in modern terms, as agents of our own intuition, and thus should be respected greatly.           

Ok, phew. You still with me? Good. So last thing, fairly quickly. There’s a book called the Sefer Raziel, which is basically an account of how this angel, Raziel, came to Adam and taught him the secrets of the cosmos. Aside from that being totally badass, (and incredibly patriarchal as he only does this when Adam blames Eve full tilt and apologizes for her, but that’s for another essay) it is incredibly useful when dealing with the core aspects of angelology. Raziel presents the 72 names of the angels as extracted from a part of exodus when read boustrophedonically (That is, read forwards for one name, then backwards for another), one for each angel, who run the cosmos. Given this, we each order of angel, within each sphere, consists of some of these angels and 72/9 comes out to 8.          

Thus, if one were so inclined, they could study each of these 72 angels, 8 angels in each choir, their relation to their station/order within the spheres, and their correspondences, religious, elemental, astrological and psychological, giving one a ridiculously large filing cabinet with subsections to pin attributions of the cosmos too. Such is the work of the angelologist. For more, check out Stephen Skinners “Complete Magicians Tables, 5th edition.”          

Works Referenced:
Skinners Complete Magicians Tables, 5th edition – Stephen Skinner
The Book of Enoch the Prophet – Enoch
The Goetia: The Lesser Key of Solomon the king – Translated by MacGregor Mathers with intro from Aleister Crowley
The Holy Bible – A Bunch of Folks
The Celestial Hierarchy – Dionysius the Areopagite
The Summa Theologica – St. Thomas Aquinas
The Interpretation of Fairy Tales – Marie Louis Von Franz  

Published by Nick

After spending several years studying economics in Washington D.C. Nick, who at the time was a militant atheist, experienced a vision of God. As atheists don't generally cavort with Gods, he figured that he should probably try to understand what the hell had happened to him. He has since spent the majority of his adult life studying religion. After the better part of a decade engaged in self-study, Nick graduated with a degree in Religious Studies from Naropa University in 2017. He's spends most of his free time involved with the great traditions of our time, doing his best to peel back layers of religious symbolism in order to get at the practical psychological teachings beneath the surface. Nick writes on matters of magick, spirituality and the occult from his home in Boulder, Colorado. He lives with his wonderful partner, several fish and an overweight but lovable feline.

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