Angelology: The Celestial Hierarchy

Other is real, other is different, other is also love.

Angels, and knowledge and conversation (K&C) with the Holy Guardian Angel, are important in the religion of Thelema and other mystical traditions. But what is, or could be, an angel?

Our idea of angels and the mythos and tradition of angelic beings largely originated in the Abrahamic religions. Far from the insipid creatures, or babies baring their bottoms, of picture postcards the angels were depicted as terrifying creatures of flame. They brought death and destruction, or great news, and sometimes walked amongst us. The Holy Guardian Angel, within Thelema at least, is an extension of the higher self and a connection with the divine. 

So what could an angel be, do we have to believe in the supernatural to think about them? Angels are myths and legends. Angels are ideas, thought forms. Angels are a part of history, part of our culture, part of our collective psyche and part of our reality through the way those legends emerged from the collective mind and how those stories went on to shape and influence society and humanity. Angels are the gods and the archetypes. Angels are spiritual entities, pure living consciousness, an aspect of the divine. All these and more are ways of thinking about angels: angelology.

Within Christian mysticism the standard work on angelology is the sixth century Celestial Hierarchies, by Dionysius the Aeropagite.
In this work he wrote not just about the different ranks and categories of angels but also the hierarchy itself. As above, so below. In all this not forgetting that a demon is merely an angel whom you do not like the look of.

For more on angels and demons and what reality and nature they might have that can withstand the gaze of rational eye perhaps read:
The first hierarchy, the most powerful of angels who do not suffer mortal eye are closest to G-d by proximity and nature for there is no difference.  The Cherubim and Seraphim are closest to G-d partaking most directly of the divine light and nature, casting their rays onto the lower hierarchies of archangels and angels who in their turn cast forth the divine light unto the mundane spheres in which all things live and move and have their being.

One of the most vivid descriptions of angels is from the prophecy of Ezekiel in the Old Testament. Ezekiel chapter 1 from verse 4:
I looked, and I saw a windstorm coming out of the north—an immense cloud with flashing lightning and surrounded by brilliant light. The center of the fire looked like glowing metal, and in the fire was what looked like four living creatures. In appearance their form was human, but each of them had four faces and four wings. Their legs were straight; their feet were like those of a calf and gleamed like burnished bronze. Under their wings on their four sides they had human hands. All four of them had faces and wings, and the wings of one touched the wings of another. Each one went straight ahead; they did not turn as they moved.

Their faces looked like this: Each of the four had the face of a human being, and on the right side each had the face of a lion, and on the left the face of an ox; each also had the face of an eagle. Such were their faces. They each had two wings spreading out upward, each wing touching that of the creature on either side; and each had two other wings covering its body. Each one went straight ahead. Wherever the spirit would go, they would go, without turning as they went. The appearance of the living creatures was like burning coals of fire or like torches. Fire moved back and forth among the creatures; it was bright, and lightning flashed out of it. The creatures sped back and forth like flashes of lightning.

As I looked at the living creatures, I saw a wheel on the ground beside each creature with its four faces. This was the appearance and structure of the wheels: They sparkled like topaz, and all four looked alike. Each appeared to be made like a wheel intersecting a wheel. As they moved, they would go in any one of the four directions the creatures faced; the wheels did not change direction as the creatures went. Their rims were high and awesome, and all four rims were full of eyes all around.

When the living creatures moved, the wheels beside them moved; and when the living creatures rose from the ground, the wheels also rose. Wherever the spirit would go, they would go, and the wheels would rise along with them, because the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels. When the creatures moved, they also moved; when the creatures stood still, they also stood still; and when the creatures rose from the ground, the wheels rose along with them, because the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels.

Spread out above the heads of the living creatures was what looked something like a vault, sparkling like crystal, and awesome. Under the vault their wings were stretched out one toward the other, and each had two wings covering its body. When the creatures moved, I heard the sound of their wings, like the roar of rushing waters, like the voice of the Almighty, like the tumult of an army. When they stood still, they lowered their wings.
Here is an extract from the Celestial Hierarchies on the first rank of the angelic hierarchy. 

Concerning the Seraphim and Cherubim and Thrones, and concerning their first Hierarchy.

Section I.

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 fulness 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. The appellation of Seraphim plainly teaches their ever moving around things Divine, and constancy, and warmth, and keenness, and the seething of that persistent, indomitable, and inflexible perpetual motion, and the vigorous assimilation and elevation of the subordinate, as giving new life and rekindling them to the same heat; and purifying through fire and burnt-offering, and the light-like and light-shedding characteristic which can never be concealed or consumed, and remains always the same, which destroys and dispels every kind of obscure darkness. But the appellation of the Cherubim denotes their knowledge and their vision of God, and their readiness to receive the highest gift of light, and their power of contemplating the super-Divine comeliness in its first revealed power, and their being filled anew with the impartation which maketh wise, and their ungrudging communication to those next to them, by the stream of the given wisdom. The appellation of the most exalted and pre-eminent Thrones denotes their manifest exaltation above every grovelling inferiority, and their supermundane tendency towards higher things; and their unswerving separation from all remoteness; and their invariable and firmly-fixed settlement around the veritable Highest, with the whole force of their powers; and their receptivity of the supremely Divine approach, in the absence of all passion and earthly tendency, and their bearing God; and the ardent expansion of themselves for the Divine receptions.

Section II.

This, then, is the revelation of their names, so far as we can give it; and we ought to say what we think their Hierarchy is. For I suppose we have sufficiently shewn above, that the purpose of every Hierarchy is an unswerving devotion to the divine imitation of the Divine Likeness, and that every Hierarchical function is set apart for the sacred reception and distribution of an undefiled purification, and Divine Light, and perfecting science.

And now I pray that I may speak worthily of the most exalted Minds----how the Hierarchy amongst them is exhibited through the Oracles.
On the hierarchy itself, and the ordering of the Elohim who are the angelic host, as an ordering of creation.
Section I.

Hierarchy is, in my judgment, a sacred order and science and operation, assimilated, as far as attainable, to the likeness of God, and conducted to the illuminations granted to it from God, according to capacity, with a view to the Divine imitation. Now the God-becoming Beauty, as simple, as good, as source of initiation, is altogether free from any dissimilarity, and imparts its own proper light to each according to their fitness, and perfects in most Divine initiation, as becomes the undeviating moulding of those who are being initiated harmoniously to itself. 

Section II.

The purpose, then, of Hierarchy is the assimilation and union, as far as attainable, with God, having Him Leader of all religious science and operation, by looking unflinchingly to His most Divine comeliness, and copying, as far as possible, and by perfecting its own followers as Divine images, mirrors most luminous and without flaw, receptive of the primal light and the supremely Divine ray, and devoutly filled with the entrusted radiance, and again, spreading this radiance ungrudgingly to those after it, in accordance with the supremely Divine regulations. For it is not lawful for the Mystic Rites of sacred things, or for things religiously done, to practise anything whatever beyond the sacred regulations of their own proper function. Nor even must they attempt otherwise, if they desire to attain its deifying splendour, and look to it religiously, and are moulded after the example of each of the holy minds. He, then, who mentions Hierarchy, denotes a certain altogether Holy Order, an image of the supremely Divine freshness, ministering the mysteries of its own illumination in hierarchical ranks, and sciences, and assimilated to its own proper Head as far as lawful.

For each of those who have been called into the Hierarchy, find their perfection in being carried to the Divine imitation in their own proper degree; and, what is more Divine than all, in becoming a fellow-worker with God, as the Oracles say, and in shewing the Divine energy in himself manifested as far as possible. For it is an Hierarchical regulation that some are purified and that others purify; that some are enlightened and others enlighten; that some are perfected and others perfect; the Divine imitation will fit each one in this fashion. The Divine blessedness, to speak after the manner of men, is indeed unstained by any dissimilarity, and is full of invisible light----perfect, and needing no perfection; cleansing, illuminating, and perfecting, yea, rather a holy purification, and illumination, and perfection----above purification, above light, preeminently perfect, self-perfect source and cause of every Hierarchy, and elevated pre-eminently above every holy thing.
And last, on the use of metaphor and poetic language within the visions of Revelation and others who have tried to describe the angels to us.
It is necessary then, as I think, first to set forth what we think is the purpose of every Hierarchy, and what benefit each one confers upon its followers; and next to celebrate the Heavenly Hierarchies according to their revelation in the Oracles; then following these Oracles, to say in what sacred forms the holy writings of the Oracles depict the celestial orders, and to what sort of simplicity we must be carried through the representations; in order that we also may not, like the vulgar, irreverently think that the heavenly and Godlike minds are certain many-footed and many-faced creatures, or moulded to the brutishness of oxen, or the savage form of lions, and fashioned like the hooked beaks of eagles, or the feathery down of birds, and should imagine that there are certain wheels of fire above the heaven, or material thrones upon which the Godhead may recline, or certain many-coloured horses, and spear-bearing leaders of the host, and whatever else was transmitted by the Oracles to us under multifarious symbols of sacred imagery.

And indeed, the Word of God artlessly makes use of poetic representations of sacred things, respecting the shapeless minds, out of regard to our intelligence, so to speak, consulting a mode of education proper and natural to it, and moulding the inspired writings for it.

"The one true religion is worship.

Adore love.
Revere love as sacred and holy.
Bow to her wherever you meet her.

And why do I believe that is true? Because in all my investigation, all the things I've seen that a person could believe, that truth I think is the most beautiful. 

That's my ultimate measure. If I believe this what sort of person will that make me? What creates beauty?

For not that everything that is beautiful is true, but the deepest truths about life are so very beautiful that if something is not beautiful then it is not one of the deepest truths about life."

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