We're all familiar with stories about angelic appearances to people at critical times in their lives. Often they come in dreams.

The Bible describes Jacob's nocturnal vision of angels ascending and descending a ladder that connected him with God; and we read of the archangel Gabriel's announcement to Mary that she would become the mother of a son who "will be called the Son of the Most High." Religious traditions also tell us that through dream encounters with angels, Mohammed was given instructions to found Islam, and the Book of Mormon was revealed to Joseph Smith.

But while dream messengers are found in the sacred texts of major religions, a most intriguing line of inquiry is whether these types of dreams are experienced today.

To answer this question, I began collecting dream accounts from several sources, and what I found is that angels do appear in contemporary dreams and that their visitations follow several patterns. Just as in waking accounts of angels, dreamers describe angelic beings as "shape shifters," beings that take on a form that makes the perceiver comfortable. Thus, in only a few accounts did dreamers experience anxiety or discomfort when encountering an angelic presence.

Generally the feelings are extremely positive and remain so for years afterwards. One man recalled his angelic dream encounter very clearly even after 52 years:

"At the foot of my bed was a golden staircase which I started to climb and I came out on soft clouds. Big stars were all around and beautiful angels were everywhere. The angels had wings, but I don't remember halos. The angels picked me up, hugged me, and passed me around. They were laughing, very happy, and very beautiful. I had a feeling of love and warmth which I have never experienced since. Finally, I had to go back down the stairs and return to my bed."

Comforting dreams are not limited to children. A 50-year-old Swiss carpenter dreamt that he was looking out the window:

"It was late evening and very dark. I saw two little rainbows lightly bouncing around outside. I went to the door and opened it. An angel was standing there. The rainbows turned out to be on the tips of the angel's wings. The angel gave me a big hug, and that was probably the most beautiful experience I have ever had in my whole life."

But not all angels are huggers. Sometimes the angel is simply present or floating in space. In one dream, a person was flying when he suddenly encountered two radiant aerial angels. He felt great joy in their company and decided to join them. But despite great mental effort, he couldn't ascend to the same height.

Interpreting angelic dreams...

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Since most dreams are visual in nature, it's not surprising that images of angels are the most predominant form of representation. But other sensory channels can also be employed by angelic presences, as in the dream of a woman who reported that she heard a band of angels singing the Hallelujah Chorus.

When contact is made with angelic energy, the dreamer sometimes experiences increased somatic sensitivity. A Florida woman dreamt she was in a bright room--the brightest she had ever seen in her life--and a man with jet black hair, wearing solid white clothing as bright as the room, approached her. He gently shook her and repeatedly called her name, telling her to wake up. When she suddenly awakened, she realized she had been in a diabetic coma and might have died had this angelic Good Samaritan not roused her. After her dramatic dream encounter, the woman was convinced that angels were "real."