Angels are arguably the most ubiquitous spiritual beings in world religion. Taking on human form or manifesting as a pillar of light, these majestic mysteries have captivated us since the dawn of writing – influencing billions of people in untold ways. The angel is a unique class of supernatural entity, always described as a divine agent, sacred messenger, or spiritual emissary of God.
They are recognized as the intermediary between The Most High and all of creation; guiding humanity through mortal challenges, bestowing blessings or protection upon the faithful and carrying out the will of the Creator.
Angels are referred to in a wide variety of sacred texts, including those from Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Zoroastrianism, Bahá’í, Sikhism, as well as Esoteric philosophies like Kabbalah, Neoplatonism and Theosophy.
While angels are commonly associated with heaven and the spiritual world, their work and presence is said to span across the universe on all scales. As the epitome of order and harmony, it can be reasonably implied that angels are organized by some form of order to classify and facilitate their functions in the cosmos.
The exact structure of this holy hierarchy is speculative, as no one can provide substantial evidence other than the exiguous writings on the subject in sacred texts. Nevertheless, certain systems of angelic order have gained prominence among the various schools of thought.
The most influential conception for the hierarchy of angels was articulated by an unknown author in the 5th century who went by the pseudonym “Dionysios”, depicting himself as the student of Paul the Apostle cited in Acts 17:34.
“We, whilst admitting this as the arrangement of the holy Hierarchies, affirm, that every appellation of the celestial Minds denotes the Godlike characteristic of each; and those who know Hebrew affirm, that the holy designation of the Seraphim denotes either that they are kindling or burning; and that of Cherubim, a fullness of knowledge or stream of wisdom. Naturally, then, the first (order) of the Heavenly Hierarchies is ministered by the most exalted. Beings, holding, as it does, a rank which is higher than all, from the fact, that it is established immediately around God, and that the first-wrought Divine manifestations and perfections pass earlier to it, as being nearest. They are called, then, “Burning,” and Thrones, and Stream of Wisdom—-by a name which sets forth their Godlike conditions.”~ Dionysios
A seraph, or “burning one” is the highest ranking angel. According to the Book of Isaiah, a seraph has 6 wings; two covering their eyes, two covering their feet, and two that they use to fly.
In Isaiah 6:1-8, the throne of God appeared in Solomon’s temple as three Seraphim circled around it, one of them chanting “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts, the whole earth is full of His glory!” This has been interpreted as their cosmic role- to reside with the Throne of God, and thus escort the Creator wherever they choose to manifest.
In the book of Ezekiel, a Cherub is illustrated as having four wings and four faces; the face of a man, a lion, an ox and an eagle. They are the most frequently referenced angels in the Hebrew Bible, their names appearing 91 times throughout the body of work.
Cherubs were charged with directly engaging with the Creator, guarding the way to the Tree of Life and carrying the Throne of God by telepathically moving the angels known as Thrones.
The Thrones could be seen as abstract divine vehicles that are moved by the spirit of a living being, usually a Cherub. The Thrones functioned as celestial chariots for the Throne of God to be carried through the physical world.
They are described in the Book of Ezekiel as a beryl-colored wheel within a wheel. The accurate visualization of this description is unclear, but it may be noted that many of the depictions in the Higher Order seem to resemble a Star Tetrahedron, Merkabah, or UFO.
“Let us now pass to the middle Order of the Heavenly Minds, gazing, as far as we may, with super-mundane eyes upon those Lordships, and the truly terrible visions of the Divine Authorities and Powers. For each appellation of the Beings above us manifests their God-imitating characteristics of the Divine Likeness.”~ Dionysios
The Dominions, sometimes translated as Lordships, are the cosmic managers or lords of the angelic kingdom. They oversee their subordinate angel’s roles and delegate duties to all the lower ranks. They are not known to make appearances before humanity, leaving little room for visual interpretation.
Virtues are the angels that manifest signs and miracles. These are the beings responsible for synchronicities and repeating number sequences, as well as miraculous healings, auspicious omens and divinely-inspired supernatural phenomena.
Once again these beings are not given a visage, as their works are usually anonymous and take unexpected forms. One may interpret this to mean that the appearance of the angel is the miracle they create, but an alternative explanation would be that their appearance may distract from their intended purpose.
The Powers or Authorities are trusted with the oversight of the celestial bodies, such as the stars, black holes, planets and moons, to cultivate and maintain natural order in the cosmos.
In addition to the duty of solar shepherding, they are warrior angels who battle and cast away evil spirits seeking to exploit matter and life in the universe. These celestial guardians are depicted in full armor, equipped with pristine swords, spears and shields.
“There remains for us the reverent contemplation of that sacred Order which completes the Angelic Hierarchies, and is composed of the Divine Principalities, Archangels and Angels.”~ Dionysios
The Principalities or Rulers are angels that guide and protect congregations of people, including nations, countries, institutions, and churches. Principalities have multitudes of lower ranked angels under their command, and direct them to carry out divine intervention in worldly affairs.
They are subject to the direction of the higher ranked angels and are responsible for granting blessings and protection in the material world. The common representation of Principalities is that of a noble wearing a crown and holding a scepter.
Archangels are the chief angels who act as commanding officers to the lower ranking angels. They lead their legions of angels into action on the earthly plane by the direction of the Principalities.
The only Archangel spoken of in the New Testament is Archangel Michael, who was said to be the protector of Israel and the ekklesia, a Greek word that means spiritual congregation. Some have interpreted ekklesia to mean the Church, but a more esoteric view would be that it refers to any group of people who gather together with a spiritual purpose.
The lowest ranked angels, known as “malakhim” or messengers, are the most involved in the physical world. These angels are assigned as personal guardians, directly guiding individuals through their intimate struggles.
Having many various roles involving “dirty jobs” in the relative view of a spiritual being, the malakhim are the ground-workers of the angelic host. They are said to occasionally manifest in physical form to communicate a spiritual message or save someone’s life.
This conception of the angelic hierarchy reveals a deeply captivating cosmology. Nevertheless, it is important to note that even the author admitted his relative ignorance on this subject in the following passage from his book De Coelesti Hierarchia:
“I hold that none but the Divine Creator by whom they were ordained is able to know fully the number and the nature of the supermundane Beings and the regulation of their sacred Hierarchies”(VI)
That being said, it is best to view this information with a grain of salt. Through this humble statement, we are encouraged to come to our own conclusions by equally consulting our logic and intuitive connection with the Divine as we continue to study the workings of our endless mystery.