You Say Malachim, I Say Apsaras

Angels, by any name, exist in many world religions.

BY: Rebecca Phillips

 
This article first appeared on Beliefnet in 2002.

Rosy-cheeked, winged cherubs may be the most common images associated with angels, but these heavenly messengers actually take many forms in world religions. Whether they are Buddhist devas, Muslim malaikah, or Mormon ministering spirits, angels play important roles in many faiths. Read on to find out about angels' various functions, forms, and figures.



Buddhism

Angel basics:
The Buddhist equivalent of angels is devas, or celestial beings. Some schools of Buddhism also refer to dharmapalas or dharma protectors. In Tibetan Buddhism, for instance, devas are sometimes considered to be emanations of bodhisattvas or enlightened beings. Different schools of Buddhism have different important devas, as they are often derived from pre-Buddhist cultures and religions and not from Buddhist philosophy.

Form:
Devas are spiritual beings by nature--their form is usually described as bodies or emanations of light or energy. They are, however, often depicted in physical form, and there are many images of devas or dharmapalas, particularly in Tibetan Buddhist iconography.

Intervention:
Devas normally do not interfere in human affairs, but as Buddhist teacher Lama Surya Das notes, they have been known to rejoice, applaud, and rain down flowers for good deeds performed in the world. In Thailand, it is believed that devas approve of people meditating and will harass people of whose behavior they don't approve.

Important angels:
The bodhisattva of compassion, known as Kwan Yin in Chinese and Chenrezig in Tibetan, is widely viewed as a sort of Buddhist angel. The bodhisattva's original Sanskrit name, Avolokiteshvara, means "hearer of the 10,000 cries"--that is, he or she (the bodhisattva is male in the original Buddhist texts, but is represented as female in many Buddhist schools) perceives the suffering of all sentient beings. In some sects, reciting her name is believed to summon her aid.

Catholicism

Angel basics:
Angels in Catholicism are intermediaries between God and humans. In addition to their role as servants and messengers, angels are also attendants to God's throne. Catholic theology outlines a hierarchy of nine choirs of angels divided into three groups: Seraphim, Cherubim and Thrones; Dominations, Virtues and Powers; Principalities, Archangels and Angels.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church declares: "The existence of the spiritual, non-corporeal beings that Sacred Scripture usually calls 'ANGELS' is a truth of faith." Angels have a huge role in Christian history--announcing Christ's birth, protecting Christ in the wilderness, battling Satan in the Book of Revelation, and more.

Form:
Angels are pure spirits and don't have corporeal forms. They remain disembodied forever. Traditional Catholicism teaches that angels speak "within" a person, and not "to" them, thereby maintaining their spiritual nature.

Intervention:
Catholics believe that each individual also has his or her own guardian angel. Guardian angels can intervene in human affairs to help people. They can also influence people's senses and imaginations, but not their will. They remain with their charges even in heaven. The Catechism states: "From infancy to death human life is surrounded by their watchful care and intercession." Catholics pray to angels to ask for their help and intercession in human affairs.

Important angels:
Gabriel, Raphael, and Michael are the chief angels, called archangels. Gabriel announced to Mary that she would give birth to the son of God. Michael's role includes fighting evil and Satan and rescuing the souls of the faithful at the hour of death. He will be present at the time of the Antichrist and the end of the world. Raphael appears only in the Apocrypha, as the angel who helped Tobiah cure his father's blindness in the book of Tobit. The unnamed Angel of the Lord in the Old Testament is said by some to be the pre-incarnate Christ. Lucifer is the fallen archangel who, with one-third of the angelic host, was cast out of heaven for the sin of pride. He presides over hell and seeks to lure mankind to sin.

Continued on page 2: Seraphim, devas, and malaikh »

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