This interview originally appeared on Beliefnet in 2002.

Few writers today know angels better than Joan Wester Anderson, whose "Where Angels Walk" was one of the earliest and most successful angel books of the 1990s. A practicing Catholic, Anderson's books about angels and miracles were inspired by a personal experience of angelic intervention that occurred in her own life. Her latest book, Guardian Angels: True Stories of Answered Prayers is available September 2006. Here, Anderson gives candid answers to our questions.

What in your view are angels? What is their essence? Do you have a kind of working definition?

It's almost more important to state what angels are not--they are not the spirits of people who have died. So often we hear someone say, "My baby died, and now she's our little angel in heaven." It's an understandable sentiment, but not accurate. Angels are a separate creation, perhaps the first God ever made. All faiths that accept the existence of angels--and that's all Western religions and many of the Eastern--see them in the same way: spirit beings without bodies, but able to take on a human form--or any form--if God requires it to carry out His plan. Human beings will become like angels after death, spirits according to most religions, but they will be saints, not angels.

Are angels really necessary as intercessors--why can't we communicate directly with God?

We should, can and most of the time do communicate with God directly. To my knowledge, angels are not necessary for anything. But God's creation is abundant, and asking “Why angels?” would be like asking why there are thousands of varieties of trees or stars, when we could get along with so much less. God Himself told us many times that He was sending angels to love and care for us, so He is the one who brought them into our lives. Therefore, even if we don't understand their entire purpose, I vote that we pay attention to them. Can anyone who wants to have an angelic experience or encounter?

There are people who profess being able to bring on an angel experience for themselves or others. I am willing to keep an open mind on this, but I believe that angels are God's servants, not ours, and they do not show up or perform miraculous deeds on our timetables. Since God doesn't change, and the angels we meet in Scripture do not spend hours or days interacting with humans, I have to assume that angels haven’t changed either, and do the same things they did way back when.

Is it ever OK to pray to or invoke angels?

It's not okay to worship angels--worship belongs only to God. This is a hang-up mainly for Protestants who seem to think that when Catholics and Orthodox Jews state that we pray to angels, we're putting them before God--which is simply not true. I think it is obvious that--if we each have a guardian angel or even if we don't, and angels simply come when necessary--we still should get to know this part of creation. People who do say their lives flow much more easily.

How do you suggest people begin to get in touch with their guardian angel?

It's really quite simple. Start by asking God to allow the angel He has given you to make himself known to you. Angels don't intrude where they are not wanted. Then talk to your angel. Share your problems, and ask him to enlighten your heart and mind. Ask him for little signals now and then--a parking place, an on-time arrival. God says no request is too small or insignificant for Him, and such favors build our trust in His angels and His kingdom. Soon you will be asking angels to surround those you love, or go to the site of an emergency.

As you become more familiar with your angel, you may want to name him. Pray about it each evening, and a name--even a strange one--will eventually pop into your mind. If it stays, it's the one! Is that how you learned your guardian angel's name?

A few years ago I met a person who told me she could sometimes know what a specific angel's name was. I was kind of iffy about this--was this person weird? But I remained open, and she was relieved about that. It must be hard for her or people like her to approach the rest of us--I'm sure they often get rebuffed. She told me that she felt certain that my angel was a huge warrior angel, whose name was Dominic, and he would protect me, especially as I traveled. It just seemed right somehow, the name and his mission. Once I began speaking to him using his name, I just wanted to be closer to him, so I spoke more frequently. Dominic is definitely a friend to me now, and I ask him for all kinds of things--mostly help, inspiration, and patience.

What's the most surprising thing you've discovered about angels?

That so many people believe in them. I thought they were really only accepted or noticed by traditional Catholics--when my first book came out, I thought I was going to have to explain angels to people. I was shocked to be invited on to many talk shows on radio, and people called in without any hint of embarrassment to share their own angel stories.

Has your view of angels evolved in any way over the last ten years since your first book on angels was published?

I have learned to pay a great deal more attention to my own angel. I am in touch with him every day. I've also learned to be open to the ideas that other people, especially in alternative faith situations, have about angels. I am a firm Christian, so I take my knowledge about angels from Scripture and tradition. But I have also learned that there are other truths that aren’t necessarily written down, and many more evolving even now. I want to be discerning, but I've learned to listen to others' views, and sort out what I think rings true.

You mentioned that you believe in bad angels or negative entities--can you expand on this a little?

In the Bible, it explains that God created angels, and about one third of them rose up against the others, to attempt to take over heaven. There was a huge fight and the good angels tossed the bad ones out of heaven where they "roam the world, seeking the ruin of souls.

" I do believe in these negative spirits, I believe they wrought much sorrow and fear in this world, but I try not to concentrate on them too much--why give them publicity when we have so many good things going on?

Where were the angels on September 11?

Right where they always are, with us. There are stories already circulating about strangers guiding people down the stairs of the WTC buildings, then disappearing. The question really is: Why didn't the angels step in and save those victims? I don’t know why--people have free will, it's out greatest gift, and God will not thwart it. But He can also bring good out of any kind of evil, and although we may not see anything good yet, I am sure it will come.

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