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The term cherubim — the name of a higher order of angels — may be derived from it. The kari-bu had the body of a sphinx or bull and the head of a human. It guarded entrances to temples, homes and buildings. The spiritual world of the early Hebrews teemed with various benevolent and malevolent beings. Angels were called upon to counter the potential negative influences of their evil counterparts — demons — who caused illness and misfortune. Angels were major figures in the mystical philosophies that developed.

The Jewish Merkabah mystics practised techniques involving breath control, posture and the recitation of prayers and chants in order to help their consciousness ascend up through the layers of heavens to the throne of God. Angels guarded the portals at every level to keep out the unworthy, and the practitioner had to know the proper names, incantations and prayers to get past them.

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Christianity inherited the angel, though Jesus took over the primary function of intercessor for humanity and the way to heaven. Angels still played important roles, especially in the fight against the demonic forces of Satan.

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The Gnostics, a popular cult that existed alongside early Christianity, had a complex cosmology of layers of heavens and angel-like beings called aeons. The church fathers of Christianity — the theologians, preachers, philosophers and monks who shaped the beliefs of the new religion — gave great consideration to the duties, nature, numbers, abilities and functions of angels in an effort to place them in the scheme of the Christian world-view. The theological interest in angels peaked in the Middle Ages, then declined during the Renaissance.

In addition, the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century diminished the emphasis on good angels and focused more attention on the fallen angels of Satan. The scientific revolution of the 17th and 18th centuries further diminished the importance of angels, though religious devotional cults within the Catholic church kept interest alive within Christianity.

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These devotional cults regard angels as conscious beings of high intelligence, not bound by the limitations of physical laws, who can be of help to humanity — but who must not be worshipped or adored, or placed above Christ or God. Devotion to angels in this tradition centres on imitating them, for they in turn imitate God. Christianity helped to build the idea of a more personal relationship with angels than existed in the early Hebrew beliefs.

The concept of the guardian angel predates Christianity, however. For example, the Greeks had daimones — spirits who could be either good or bad, and who attempted to influence us in either direction. The idea of guardian angels is present in the Old Testament — Psalm 91 refers to God providing angels to guard our ways. Christianity developed this concept more fully, as we shall see in the chapter on Your Guardian Angel. You might be surprised to learn that most of our information on angels does not come from the Bible. True, there are numerous references to angels and their activities in both the Old and New Testaments, but the Bible offers little in the way of detail about angels, their nature, their realm or their specific duties.

Most of the details of angel lore comes from inspired texts outside the canon. Of Jewish and Christian origin, these texts are often referred to as apocrypha and pseudepigrapha. They were excluded from the canon for various reasons, including lack of historical data on their origins, divergences with prevailing philosophy and doctrine, and so on.

Many have apocalyptic elements: that is, they discuss the last judgement and the end of creation. Of the texts most important to our lore about angels, the Book of Enoch ranks at the top. The Book of Enoch has survived in three versions.

Written by anonymous authors between the second century BCE and the sixth century CE, the book tells about the heavenly experiences of Enoch, a prophet mentioned in Genesis. One day while sleeping alone, Enoch is approached by two angels who take him up into the heavens.

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Ancient peoples portrayed many gods, goddesses and spirits as winged, which fit in with ideas that heaven was up in the sky, and therefore wings were necessary for travelling in the heavens and back and forth to earth. Our ideas about what angels might look like have been shaped by accounts of visionary experiences of them. In early Jewish and Christian writings, angels are given various descriptions: they are multi-winged; they are pillars of fire; they have human-like countenances that gleam like gems, precious metals and the sun.

Judaism allows no images of angels for religious devotion, so descriptions of what angels look like are limited to what can be found in various Hebrew texts. In Christianity, the early church was split by a heated controversy over whether to allow religious images iconography for devotion. Opponents argued that, since angels had no physical form, artists could never make a true representation of them, but could only produce an imagined or projected representation.

After a bitter and long fight over this and other issues that split the Eastern and Western factions of the church, those favouring the use of images prevailed. Early representations of angels portrayed them as having no wings at all, or only stubby little ones. At first, Christian artists used images of the Greek gods as models. Over time, the angel became more like an ethereal human with enormous, swan-like wings. In fact, artists used swans and eagles for wing models, and women and young boys for human models.

Angels appear to us as they have throughout our religious history — in the guise of humans, both winged and wingless; as pillars or balls of light; as invisible presences that are felt, sensed or heard but not seen. Artistic concepts of angels as beautiful, human-like beings with glorious wings serves a good purpose, however. Contemplation of angels in art raises our consciousness to a higher level, and inspires us.

We see the angel as a mirror that reflects our own divine beauty — our potential to manifest our most noble nature. The number of angels is incalculable. Many theologians and philosophers, however, have tried to quantify the heavenly host. Early writings refer only to a numberless host of angels, as abundant as the stars. In the Jewish mysticism of the Kabbalah, the Zohar text states that million angels were created on the second day of creation, and additional angels on other days for other purposes.

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In the Catholic tradition, the number of angels was fixed on their day of creation. In the Middle Ages, St Thomas Aquinas said that every person on earth had a guardian angel, but that many more angels existed. Clearly, attempts to quantify angels have reflected changing concepts of the size and limits of the universe. Angels are the messengers of God. Angels oversee the welfare of all things in creation. Each angel has a specific responsibility, whether serving as a guardian angel or maintaining cosmic balance among the stars.

The singing of praise and devotion to God is of great importance to angels and to the order in heaven. According to the Book of Enoch, the Qedussah must be performed correctly to please God. Its performance causes the very heavens and the earth to shake, and angels everywhere to rejoice with great joy.

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Each of the ministering angels of the throne of God has a thousand thousand and myriads and myriads of starry crowns, which they put on the heads of the ministering angels and the great princes. When the angels recite the Sanctus in its proper order, they each receive three crowns.

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And just as the sun cannot exist. The selections are mostly traditional Christian hymns that have been retooled to Rasta ends, and with Hinds' simple, steady vocals leading the way, Wingless Angels has a powerful meditative effect. Richards added guitar and keyboard touches to the finished album, along with further light refinements from Blondie Chaplin and Frankie Garin, who brings a faint Celtic feel to the project with his flute and violin playing.

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