What Is the Symbolism of the Angels? – History and Meaning

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Angels have been an integral part of the symbolism of various faiths. These beings are said to be the messengers of God, working closely with God to help mortals by guiding and guarding them. The very words angel and guardian angel have entered the common lexicon, regardless of your religious beliefs. We use these terms all the time to signify a morally upright and good person and someone who cares for you.

Let’s take a look at the symbolism of angels, what they mean today and how the symbol is used.

History of the Angel Symbol

Sad angel symbol

There’s a lot of speculation on the symbolism of angels from scholars, philosophers, and religious leaders. Many religions, including Christianity and Islam, also make mention of them. The Hebrew term for angel malakh and the Greek word aggelos (from which the word angel derives) both mean “messenger”.

  • Angels in Judaism

The concept of angels can be traced back to Judaism. It’s here that we get some of our first mentions of angels, as beings that follow and carry out God’s orders. They also are believed to pray for those they’re assigned to watch over.

  • Angels in Christianity

The Bible records the particular ranks of angels, such as the archangel, seraphim, and cherubim, along with messenger angels. It also shows that the archangel is the chief angel in terms of power and authority. While the seraphs are in attendance at God’s throne, the cherubs hold a special position among the angels too.

  • Christians view angels as the messengers between God and man, and the Bible reveals their functions as carrying out God’s purpose. God used angels to deliver messages to his servants including Abraham, Moses, Jacob, Peter, Paul, Daniel, and others. One of the most popular angels in the Bible is Gabriel, who plays an important role as a messenger prior to the birth of Christ.
  • In the past, when the ancient Egyptians and Assyrian powers threatened God’s people, the angels served as protectors and executioners too.
  • The Bible mentions the story of Lot, where two angels helped him and his two daughters escape from Sodom and Gomorrah, as well as the account where an angel released the apostle Peter from prison.
  • Many Christians believe angels are real. In fact, the 2008 Baylor University survey by the Gallup organization states that 55 percent of Americans think they’ve been protected by their guardian angels.
  • Angels in Zoroastrianism

In Zoroastrianism, the belief is that each person is accompanied by a winged guardian angel, called “Fravashis,” and Zoroastrians observe prayers dedicated to that angel. This is where the word farvahar comes from. It’s believed that this is where the concept of an angel as a winged being comes from.

  • Angels in Islam

In Islam, angels, called malaikah, are said to be made of light and believed to have been created before humans. Their purpose is to carry out the orders of Allah. Also, it’s believed that every person is given two guardian angels to walk with them throughout their life. One angel walks in front while the other walks behind, protecting the person.

There are also said to be two angels (known as Kiraman Katibin) sitting on each shoulder of every person, recording every thought, feeling and action the person has.

  • Angels in Buddhism

Japanese Buddhism also reference similar beings, known as Kushoujin, that sit on the shoulders and record a person’s good and bad deeds.  This may be where the popular image of a good and bad angel sitting on our shoulders and trying to influence our actions comes from.

  • Angels in Hinduism

In Hinduism, there are references to mythical beings that can be considered angels. These angels are different to those of Islam, Judaism and Christianity. These are more spiritual in nature and appear to humans in material form, looking like human beings.

Angels in English Vocabulary

There are many phrases and metaphors that refer to angels. Here are some of the most popular:

  • Fallen angel – referencing Lucifer’s fall into disgrace
  • Angel in the house – a perfect housewife who’s subservient and devoted to her family
  • You’re an angel! – you’re perfectly sweet and good
  • Fools rush in where angels fear to tread – foolish people often do things without thinking
  • Angel dust – a drug that’s taken to get high
  • Angel’s advocate – as the opposite of the devil’s advocate, it means someone who’s fighting the good fight
  • Make the angels weep – something so terrible it shakes your belief in good

Meaning and Symbolism of Angels

Most of the symbolism that derives from angels are religious in nature. However, there are also some universal meanings that can be extracted from angel symbolism.

  • Messenger of God – Angels have been viewed as messengers of God by all the Abrahamic religions. All the major religions that feature angels point out that they follow the orders of God and relay these to humans when necessary.
  • “Holy Ones” and “Morning Stars” – In the Scriptures, angels are at times referred to as stars, which can be fitting since they reside in the heavens.
  • Morality and Righteousness – To be an angel is to be righteous and morally upright. Satan was once an angel who disobeyed God, before becoming the devil. In this way, a fallen angel is one who doesn’t follow God’s word and is ‘bad’, whereas an angel lives to do God’s bidding and is, therefore, ‘good’. 
  • A Symbol of Protection and Guidance – In modern times angels function more as guardians, guarding the people they’re assigned to from danger. From healing the sick to warding off evil and giving strength against temptations, guardian angels are believed to protect people from both physical and spiritual harm. Many individuals believe that “guardian angels” help them to become stronger people and lead them to their ultimate calling in life. Also, there are beliefs that angels can be summoned with prayers, meditation, charms and magic spells.
  • A Symbol of Luck – Some believe angels bring people and opportunities into one’s life, as well as good fortune and pleasant dreams. Some even believe that angels can influence them through imagination and communicate with them though dreams.
  • Purity and Innocence – Angels symbolize innocence and purity as they’re free from evil and wickedness. They can also symbolize chastity, virtue and fidelity.

Angel Symbols in Jewelry and Fashion

Angel symbolism can be found everywhere in fashion and jewelry today, in many versions. Some designs feature an entire form (typically female) with wings, while others may only have a halo or large wings to symbolize angels.

Fashion and jewelry designers have also taken inspiration from the angelic theme. For instance, Ariana Grande wore a Vera Wang dress that was inspired by ‘The Last Judgment’, featuring winged angels and blue skies on its print. There are also feathered handbags, as well as ensembles printed with angel’s wings and rosy-cheeked cherubs.

Many individuals of different faiths (or even no faith) appreciate the symbolism of the angel and guardian angel. Wearing jewelry with angel motifs express their beliefs. Angel wing earrings, cherub pendants, as well as angels depicted with other religious symbols are quite popular.

Some of the styles even feature angels with heart decorations, infinity symbols, and cute designs, which make the theme more romantic. Pearls and diamonds are often used as accents, and some elaborate designs can be decorated with enamels and colorful gemstones.

In Brief

Angels are enduringly popular for many reasons. Many individuals believe that these spiritual forces are real, and guardian angels are responsible for protecting them from harm and giving them guidance in their life’s journey. Angel symbolism is highly popular even today, with the meaning transcending religion to symbolize protection and care.