|from the Angels and Demons website|
Originally, stories of angels came from ancient Persia and were adopted (and adapted) into Christianity via Judaism. According to the Talmud, all beings-including animals-are assigned a guardian angel.
Angels are immortal beings who live on the spiritual plane and serve as intermediaries between mankind and the Divine. In Latin the word angelus means "messenger". Hebrew scholars describe them as mal'ak elohim ("messenger of G-d"). Other translations describe them as Elohim elohim,"sons of God". Angels in early art are depicted as 'shining ones', attractive abet androgynous beings ( having neither masculine nor feminine features). The earliest renderings of angels ( in the catacomb of Priscilla, mid 3rd century) showed them in the role of messengers without the familiar halo and wings. The earliest known representation of angels with wings come from the time of Theodosius I ( 379-395). The revered early Church writer John Chrysostom theorizing on the addition of wings to angels in liturgical art says," They manifest a nature's sublimity. That is why Gabriel is represented with wings. Not that angels have wings, but that you may know that they leave the heights and the most elevated dwelling to approach human nature. Accordingly, the wings attributed to these powers have no other meaning than to indicate the sublimity of their nature."[ The Figure of the Angel in the Early Christian Civilization, Cecilia Proverbio,2007].
A gathering of angels is known as a legion; and interestingly enough, the term is used for a group of demons as well. Just one more link between the two entities in common usage that insinuate the supernatural power ( and fear) they wield. The definition finds it's legitimacy in a vague association with the numbers of soldiers of a major unit of the Roman army, and is most likely one foisted into the lexicon by the ancient Church to impress upon the populace the importance of both entities. The peoples of the classical nations of antiquity knew what it was like to be over-run by military assaults, and the Church often repurposed terminology to get its point across.
In Judeo-Christian and Islamic mythology the most notable of all angels are the Archangels, each of which were assigned to a specific area of Heaven: Gabriel, Raphael, Michael, Uriel, Jophiel, Zadkiel and Samael (also known as Lucifer, who would later be identified as Satan in the Bible). In Islam, Israfil and Azrael are included in the group with Michael and Gabriel; Metatron is recognized in Jewish writing, although his existence is not considered canonical. The actual number of Archangels varies from source to source-as do the names [http://www.beliefnet.com/Inspiration/Angels/2006/07/One-Archangel-Two-Archangels.aspx]. The only entity agreed upon by the major mainstream Christian religions is Michael, because he is specifically references as such in the Bible. [ Angels: God's Secret Agents, Rev.Dr. Billy Graham, W Pub Group, 1994]. In Kabbalistic teaching, specifically speaking of the Tree of Life, both angels and archangels are associated with each of the branches.
Until the mid 18th century, angels as messengers were common in everyday life, and the vision or sighting of one was a portent to a monumental event (note here, demons were also commonly a part of everyday life as well). Angels were credited with everything from fortuitous luck to the heralding of plagues and curses on the command of G-d. [ Revelations 15:1,16:2-15, New King James Version (NKJV Bible), Thomas Nelson Publishing]. As the Age of Enlightenment slowly took hold and emphasized reason and logic from a non-religious standpoint, the sighting of angels became less and less common, and they were relegated to the realm of myth and folklore.
The belief that angels were once human is not canonical; it was developed by the Christian mystic Emanuel Sweedenborg during his quest to reform the Christian belief system.[http://www.swedenborg.com/emanuel-swedenborg/explore/spiritual-world/] Sweedenborg- who was also a scientist and philosopher -went through a personal spiritual revelation in which he was divinely inspired to author The Heavenly Doctrine, where he visited with angels, demons and other spiritual entities.
Theosophist and Occultist Rudolf Steiner developed a complex listing of the angelic order as a result of his own visionary experiences. He theorized that angels were just above humans in spiritual consciousness and that angels fulfilled a multitude of of duties as they rose in through the ranks of importance," Each one has a special agenda...."[http://www.skepdic.com/steiner.html] Fellow Theosophist Geoffrey Hodson transcribed information given to him by his angel/guide into a series of books, the most notable being The Brotherhood of Angels and Men [http://www.katinkahesselink.net/other/hodson-Bill-Keidan-angelic.html]. Hodson is considered an expert on the subject of angels in certain occult circles, and his ideas are worth exploring if you are at all interested in Theosophy or the New Thought Movement.
Modern Christian theology contents that angels have never been members of the human race. This is empirical thought across the many variations of Christian doctrine as there is no mention of a human making the leap into the ranks of the angels in the Bible, where they are specifically described as a separate class of being who reside in Heaven as honored servants of G-d. The quaint belief that when humans die they transform into angels and 'earn their wings' is strictly romantic literary license.
With the coming of the New Age Movement, angelic visions have enjoyed an uptick. The form the angel takes has branched out from the one of the robed messenger depicted in commercial art and depends on the religious background and spiritual beliefs of the individual, as does the meaning for the visitation. In this scientifically influenced era, the sighting of an angel is commonly a part of the description of any near death experience (NDE) as related by the work of Dr. Raymond Moody [http://www.lifeafterlife.com/].
A renewal of all things angel-related is evidenced by a brief visit to the local gift shop or metaphysical goods store. They are everywhere-in books, on necklaces, key chains, T shirts and invoked in prayer and ceremonial magick. They are guardians, guides and messengers and a visual gateway to all things spiritual.