AskDefine | Define angel

Dictionary Definition



1 spiritual being attendant upon God
2 person of exceptional holiness [syn: saint, holy man, holy person]
3 invests in a theatrical production [syn: backer]
4 the highest waterfall; has more than one leap; flow varies seasonally [syn: Angel Falls]

User Contributed Dictionary



From engel, influenced in by angele, both from angelus, from (angelos), from 𐀀𐀐𐀫. (See also under άγγελος.)



  1. A divine and supernatural messenger from a deity, or other divine entity.
  2. In the context of "biblical tradition": In Christian angelology, the lowest order of angels, below virtues.
  3. A selfless person.
    You made me breakfast in bed, you little angel.
  4. In the context of "military slang": An altitude, measured in thousands of feet.
    Climb to angels sixty.


messenger from a deity
  • Aramaic:
    Hebrew: מלאכא
  • Croatian: anđeo
  • Czech: anděl
  • Danish: engel
  • Finnish: enkeli
  • French: ange
  • German: Engel
  • Greek: άγγελος
  • Hungarian: angyal
  • Japanese: 天使 (tenshi)
  • Portuguese: anjo
  • Polish: anioł
  • Russian: ангел
  • Spanish: ángel
in Christian angelology, the lowest order of angels
  • Aramaic:
    Hebrew: מלאכא
  • Croatian: anđeo
  • Danish: engel
  • Finnish: enkeli
  • French: ange
  • German: Engel
  • Japanese: 天使
  • Polish: anioł
  • Portuguese: anjo
  • Russian: ангел
  • West Frisian: ingel
selfless person
  • Croatian: anđeo
  • Danish: engel
  • Dutch: engel
  • Finnish: enkeli
  • French: ange
  • German: Engel
  • Greek: άγγελος
  • Hungarian: angyal
  • Polish: anioł
  • Portuguese: anjo
  • Russian: ангел
  • Turkish: melek
  • West Frisian: ingel




  • /ˈaŋəl/


  1. sting, dart (insect's organ)
  2. hook, fish-hook, angle

Old Frisian




  1. What a bee uses to sting when it feels threatened: a sting, a stinger.
  2. A fishing rod.

Extensive Definition

Theological development

Since Saint Gregory and the Pseudo-Dionysian Celestial Hierarchy (5th century), Catholic theology has assumed nine orders of angelic beings; Angels, Virtues, Powers (called Lords), Principalities, Dominions (also called Kings), Thrones (Ophanim), Cherubim, Seraphim and Archangels, endorsed by medieval scholasticism (Summa Theologica). This is not official Church doctrine or dogma, however, and in general the faithful are not required to adhere to this categorization.
Angels occur in groups of four or seven (Rev 7:1). The Angels of the Seven Churches of Asia Minor are described in Rev. 1-3; the angels are the representative angels of the seven congregations. Daniel 10:12,13 also appears to depict angels in opposition (presumably fallen angels) to other angels, taking on the roles of prince-angels (of the order of Principalities) for nations, in this case the "prince of the kingdom of Persia." It is well-known that there are angels for nations, organizations, parishes, families, and individuals (angels presiding over individuals are called guardian angels.)
The angel Gabriel appeared to Mary in the traditional role of messenger to inform her that her child would be the Messiah, and other angels were present to herald his birth. In Matt. 28:2, an angel appeared at Jesus' tomb, frightened the Roman guards, rolled away the stone from the tomb, and later told the myrrh-bearing women of Jesus' resurrection. Alternately, in Mark 16:5, the angel is not seen until the women enter the already-opened tomb, and he is described simply as "a young man." In Luke's version of the resurrection tale (Luke 24:4), two angels suddenly appear next to the women within the tomb; they are described as being clothed in "shining apparel." This is most similar to the version in John 20:12, where Mary alone speaks to "two angels in white" within the tomb of Jesus.
Two angels witnessed Jesus' ascent into Heaven and prophesied his return. When Peter was imprisoned, an angel put his guards to sleep, released him from his chains, and led him out of the prison. Angels fill a number of different roles in the Book of Revelation. Among other things, they are seen gathered around the Throne of God saying the thrice-holy hymn.

Depiction in art

While angels and demons alike are generally regarded as invisible to human sight, they are frequently depicted as human-like creatures with wings, though many theologians have argued that they have no physical existence, but can take on human form (the traditional Eastern Orthodox term for angels is asomata, "bodiless [ones]"). Descriptions of angels in their angelic form mention wings (as in Isaiah, Zachariah, etc.) however, when appearing in human form, they look like men, or as young men. Seraphim are shown in art as having six wings (in accordance with Bible verse |Isaiah|6:1-3|HE), and Cherubim four, having a quadruple face of lion, ox, eagle, and man. Putto are often confused with Cherubim, although they are completely different.
Most theologians agree that angels have no gender (see more extended discussion below). Therefore, they usually appear as androgynous, although guardian angels appear more feminine and maternal. Their exceptional beauty was well attested in Scripture. The long plain dress or tunic traditionally given to most angels comes hardly altered from the Byzantine tradition, where it had, if anything, a male connotation. In the Renaissance these were shown often bright-coloured, but before and after were mostly plain white.
Byzantine angels were also often shown in military outfits, and, transmitted by icons from Crete in particular, this tradition was transferred to Western art, especially for Gabriel and Michael, who wear versions of Byzantine officer's armour and clothing into the Baroque period and later. The same archangels, when in attendance on Christ or the Virgin, wear the loros, a jeweled strip of cloth hanging vertically down the front of the body. This was worn only by the Imperial family and their bodyguard; the archangels were seen as God's bodyguard. They also often carry long white staves of office. Hence, when a high-ranking Byzantine in a visionary dream in 586 saw two men he took to be bodyguards of the Emperor, they subsequently turned out to be angels. For other scenes, the same angels must appear incognito to accord with, for example, their appearance to Abraham. However artists are very reluctant to depict them in normal clothes, or without wings. The wings represent the angels' role as messengers of God (cf. Hermes).
Angels are often shown making music in heaven, sometimes in bands of a fair size, or in depictions of the Book of Revelation, blowing trumpets in accordance with the text. In the 15th century West in particular, angels are sometimes shown wearing versions of contemporary clerical vestments, especially the alb and crossed stole. There was a theological comparison developed between the role of Gabriel in the Annunciation and that of the priest saying Mass.
In the Renaissance, the classical putto, usually naked, was first revived in secular and mythological subjects, but they soon appeared, often in great quantity, as newly-created angels, becoming almost the norm in compositions with a number of angels merely in attendance.

Islamic beliefs

In the Qur'an, angels are referred to as "Malaaikah" (Arabic مَلَائِكَة) or "Farishtay" (Persian,Urdu فرشته). The belief in angels is central to the religion of Islam, which articles of faith includes Belief in God, Belief in Angels, Belief in Books (Holy Scripture), Belief in Prophets and Messengers, Belief in Qiyamah (Resurrection/Doomsday) and finally Belief in Qada and Qadar (Arabic القضاء و القدر) (predestination) beginning with the belief that the Qur'an was dictated to Muhammad by the chief of all angels, the archangel Jibril (Gabriel). Angels are thus the ministers of God, as well as the agents of revelation in Islam.
In Islamic tradition, angels are benevolent beings created from a Divine Light. They do not possess free will, thus are incapable of doing evil or disobeying God. Unlike the Christian tradition, the Islamic tradition considers Satan (Iblis) to be a jinn, not an angel. Jinn, like humans, have free will. With rationality this Islamic actuality affords Satan (Iblis) the opportunity to forego a command by God, causing his eventual fall from Grace.
Behold! We said to the angels, "Bow down to Adam": They bowed down except Iblis. He was one of the Jinns, and he broke the Command of his Lord. Will ye then take him and his progeny as protectors rather than Me? And they are enemies to you! Evil would be the exchange for the wrong-doers! (Qur'an, )
Angels are wholly devoted to the worship of God. They are regarded as messengers of God, carrying out specific duties on His command. Angels are ranked and vary in their abilities and duties. Duties may include recording every human being's actions, placing a soul in a newborn child, maintaining certain environmental conditions of the planet (such as nurturing vegetation and distributing the rain), taking the soul at the time of death and more.
Angels are described as preternaturally beautiful. Having varying sizes and counts of wings.
Praise be to Allah, Who created (out of nothing) the heavens and the earth, Who made the angels, messengers with wings,- two, or three, or four (pairs): He adds to Creation as He pleases: for Allah has power over all things. (Qur'an, )
Angels are considered genderless, however they only possess male names.
Those who believe not in the Hereafter, name the angels with female names. (Qur'an, )
Angels can take on human form, but only in appearance. As such, angels do not eat, procreate nor commit sin as humans do. Humans cannot become angels upon death or otherwise, nor can angels become human.
Unlike a Christian tradition, angels and not Satan guard the gates of Hell. Instead, Satan resides on earth, waylaying man until the Day of Resurrection, after which he will be cast into hell along with the unbelievers.
And We have set none but angels as Guardians of the Fire; and We have fixed their number only as a trial for Unbelievers,- in order that the People of the Book may arrive at certainty, and the Believers may increase in Faith,- and that no doubts may be left for the People of the Book and the Believers, and that those in whose hearts is a disease and the Unbelievers may say, "What symbol doth Allah intend by this ?" Thus doth Allah leave to stray whom He pleaseth, and guide whom He pleaseth: and none can know the forces of thy Lord, except He and this is no other than a warning to mankind. (Qur'an, )
The archangel Gabriel is attributed with sending the message of God to all the Prophets, including the Psalms, Torah, Bible and Qur'an (as opposed to the Christian view that Gabriel is the angel of good news). Other angels include Mikail (Michael) who discharges control of vegetation and rain, Israfeel who will blow the trumpet at the Day of Resurrection, and Izra'il (Azrael), the angel of death . The angels Munkar and Nakir are assigned to interrogate the dead before Judgment Day, Ridwan ( Arabic : رضوان), is the angel guarding the Heaven's Gate while Maalik (Arabic :مالك) is the chief angel in charge of Hell (as opposed to the Christian view that Satan rules hell). A pair of angels known as Raqib and A'tid (called the Kirama Katibin (Arabic: كراما كاتبين) in the Quran) have the job of recording the daily actions of human beings, one assigned to good deeds and the other to transgressions. There are nineteen angels overseeing the punishments of hell (Surat Al-Muddaththir, 74:30). There are eight angels that support the Throne of God (Surat Al-Haaqqa, 69:17).
Imam `Ali explained the creation of Angels in the following words:
"Then He created the openings between high skies and filled them with all classes of His angels. Some of them are in prostration and do not kneel up. Others in kneeling position and do not stand up. Some of them are in array and do not leave their position. Others are extolling God and do not get tired. The sleep of the eye or the slip of wit, or languor of the body or the effect of forgetfulness does not affect them. Among them are those who work as trusted bearers of His message, those who serve as speaking tongues for His prophets and those who carry to and fro His orders and injunctions. Among them are the protectors of His creatures and guards of the doors of the gardens of Paradise. Among them are those also whose steps are fixed on earth but their necks are protruding into the skies, their limbs are getting out on all sides, their shoulders are in accord with the columns of the Divine Throne, their eyes are downcast before it, they have spread down their wings under it and they have rendered between themselves and all else curtains of honour and screens of power. They do not think of their Creator through image, do not impute to Him attributes of the created, do not confine Him within abodes and do not point at Him through illustrations."

Gender of angels

Although the religions mentioned above do not view angels as having gender in the human sense, however, angels are given a masculine aspect. For example, in the Jewish Tanakh the Hebrew form of the words used to denote angels are always masculine, and their described roles are masculine. Angelic roles in the Tanakh are those of a warrior, herald, guard (at the gates of Eden), wrestler (of Jacob; "a man," according to Genesis 32:24, or "the angel," according to Hosea 12:4). In Christianity and Islam, the masculine tone of angels is also adopted, as in the story of the mover of large stones (at the tomb of Christ). The suggestion in each religion is that in traditional societies these would all have been tasks typically performed by men. The few canonical names of angels (e.g., Michael, Raphael and Gabriel) are recognized in Judaism as masculine names, and have been widely adopted by other cultures. The base of the English word angel is the Koine Greek term άγγελος, a grammatically masculine noun, and the Latin derivation angelus is also grammatically masculine. The word "angel" in English (from Old English engel), French (from Old French angele), German, Spanish, and many other European languages are derived from the Latin, and are viewed as grammatically masculine nouns in those languages which assign grammatical gender to nouns.

Latter-day Saint beliefs

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (generally called "Mormons") views angels as the messengers of God sent to mankind to deliver messages, minister to humanity, teach doctrines of salvation, call mankind to repentance, give priesthood keys, save individuals in perilous times, and guide mankind.
Joseph Smith, Jr. described his first angelic encounter thus (Joseph Smith History 1:30-33):
"While I was thus in the act of calling upon God, I discovered a light appearing in my room, which continued to increase until the room was lighter than at noonday, when immediately a personage appeared at my bedside, standing in the air, for his feet did not touch the floor.
"He had on a loose robe of most exquisite whiteness. It was a whiteness beyond anything earthly I had ever seen; nor do I believe that any earthly thing could be made to appear so exceedingly white and brilliant. His hands were naked, and his arms also, a little above the wrist; so, also, were his feet naked, as were his legs, a little above the ankles. His head and neck were also bare. I could discover that he had no other clothing on but this robe, as it was open, so that I could see into his bosom.
"Not only was his robe exceedingly white, but his whole person was glorious beyond description, and his countenance truly like lightning. The room was exceedingly light, but not so very bright as immediately around his person. When I first looked upon him, I was afraid; but the fear soon left me."
People who claimed to have received a visit by an angel include Joseph Smith, Jr., and the Three Witnesses of the Book of Mormon: Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, and Martin Harris. Although Cowdery, Whitmer, and Harris all eventually became disaffected with Smith and left the church, none of them retracted their statement that they had seen and conversed with an angel of the Lord, and indeed, even defended their claim of angelic visitation to their deaths. Countless other Latter-day Saints, both in the early movement and modern church, claimed or have claimed to have seen angels.
The majority of the angelic visitations in the early Latter Day Saint movement were witnessed by Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery, who, prior to the establishment of the Church, both claimed to have been ministered to by the prophet-historian Moroni, the Book of Mormon prophet Nephi, John the Baptist, and the Apostles Peter, James, and John. Later, at the dedication of the Kirtland Temple, Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery claimed to have been visited by Jesus, and subsequently by Moses, Elias, and Elijah (see D&C 110).
Latter-day Saints also believe that Michael the Archangel was Adam (the first man) when he was mortal, and that Gabriel lived on the earth as Noah.

Other religions

The Etruscans depicted winged beings - benevolent psychopompian personal guardians with wings- called "Vanths."
Angel-like beings called Tennin and Tenshi appear in Japanese mythology.
There are a number of books describing encounters with angels or angel-like beings.


An angel, often termed a "Maiden of Heaven", also appears in Bahá'í literature. Bahá'ís generally see her as a symbol of the holy spirit, the spirit of Bahá'u'lláh's revelation, or even as his "higher self". Bahá'u'lláh taught that his ministry began when he was visited by a Maiden of Heaven while incarcerated in a dungeon of Tehran. While always depicted as desirable and attractive, she also appears as a transcendent spiritual figure, and sexual desire is understood to be a metaphor for spiritual longing. While other angels appear in Bahá'u'lláh's works, they are generally depicted as the personification of a divine virtue, such as trustworthiness.
'Abdu'l-Bahá also defined angels as "those holy souls who have severed attachment to the earthly world, who are free from the fetters of self and passion and who have attached their hearts to the divine realm and the merciful kingdom".
Furthermore, he said that people can be angels in this world:
"Ye are the angels, if your feet be firm, your spirits rejoiced, your secret thoughts pure, your eyes consoled, your ears opened, your breasts dilated with joy, and your souls gladdened, and if you arise to assist the Covenant, to resist dissension and to be attracted to the Effulgence!"


Hinduism also acknowledges the existence of higher world angelic beings. The Sanskrit word used is deva ('being of light'). Devas reside in the higher Antarloka, or the astral plane, and are usually the astral forms of people who are dead, and presently in between births. In other words, devas are the spirits of those who have passed, and reside in the Antarloka (also known as the Devaloka), until they either take on another physical body or ascend to higher worlds. The devas, or angels, are not so much worshiped, but looked at as inner-plane helpers, guiding each person along throughout life. Each person is said to have many, as many as thousands, looking after them. Incidentally, the Antarloka is also the realm throughout which we travel and stay during our sleeping hours.
Hindu scriptures and sages tell us that the entire purpose of devas' involvement with us, is to help both us and them evolve spiritually. It is the inner-plane duty of these beings of light to help unfold and work out the karma of people living in physical bodies. Many Hindus view the devas as very real beings, not mere symbols or concepts.
To use Western terminology, devas are likened to angels, whereas "Mahadevas" ('Great Beings of Light') are likened to Archangels. In Hinduism, such beings, also known as the gods, are worshipped, whereas the devas are not worshipped to same degree, but thanked and recognized for their good works.
Hindus also acknowledge that every religion and sacred tradition possessed within it its own set of devas and Mahadevas (angels and Archangels). Whereas the Supreme God is looked upon as One and the same God of all, the inner-plane, hierarchical beings are distinct, perform certain functions, serve and are served by different people of different faiths. Hinduism can this be denoted as Henotheistic, having one Supreme God along with other gods, of His creation, that are acknowledged and worshipped.
Differing views, of course, exist on this, as Hinduism is an intensely eclectic and diverse system of beliefs.


Aleister Crowley tried to teach people to attain what he called "the Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel". Within the system of Thelema, the Holy Guardian Angel is representative of one’s truest divine nature. Citing Crowley, people have linked the term with the Genius of the Golden Dawn, the Augoeides of Iamblichus, the Atman of Hinduism, and the Daemon of the gnostics.
According to most Thelemites, the single most important goal is to consciously connect with one’s HGA, a process termed "Knowledge and Conversation." By doing so, the magician becomes fully aware of his own True Will. For Crowley, this event was the single most important goal of any adept:
It should never be forgotten for a single moment that the central and essential work of the Magician is the attainment of the Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel. Once he has achieved this he must of course be left entirely in the hands of that Angel, who can be invariably and inevitably relied upon to lead him to the further great step—crossing of the Abyss and the attainment of the grade of Master of the Temple. (Magick Without Tears, Ch.83)
Crowley felt that attaining Knowledge and Conversation was so important, that he staked the claim that any other magical operation was, in a sense, evil.

Development step of the soul

Some mystics believe that a soul grows in steps from a mineral, to a plant, then an animal, and then to a human. When the human resolves to die, a soul could become an angel. The Persian Sufi mystic poet Jalal al-Din Muhammad Rumi wrote in his poem Masnavi:he is from hawthorne
I died as inanimate matter and arose a plant,
I died as a plant and rose again an animal.
I died as an animal and arose a man.
Why then should I fear to become less by dying?
I shall die once again as a man
To rise an angel perfect from head to foot!
Again when I suffer dissolution as an angel,
I shall become what passes the conception of man!
Let me then become non-existent, for non-existence
Sings to me in organ tones, 'To him shall we return.'
(Translation from Wikisource, Masnavi I Ma'navi, Book III, Story XVII)’’
The Christian (Swedish) writer Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772) wrote in his book Conjugial Love'' that a soul of a man and a soul of a woman who are (happily) united by marriage enter heaven and become an angel. This could be a married couple on earth or a couple that met after their earthly deaths.
Occult author Samael Aun Weor argues that a soul cannot evolve to become an angel through mechanical evolution — the Buddhist Wheel of Life has involution of nature as well as evolution - as such the steps would be mineral, plant, animal, human, animal, plant, mineral. To evolve to become an angel involves conscious work and voluntary suffering: marriage is treated as a sacrament, and is the means which Swedenborg was referring to. The mystics were not referring to the death of the human body, but to the "dissolution of the ego"; the psychological death; the Buddhistic annihilation; the death of "myself"; the method of the removal of all our sins which Jesus Christ so wisely pointed out, and which was emulated by innumerable Saints.



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  • Driver, Samuel Rolles (Ed.) (1901) The book of Daniel. Cambridge UP.
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angel in Old English (ca. 450-1100): Engel
angel in Arabic: ملاك
angel in Azerbaijani: Mələk
angel in Bosnian: Anđel
angel in Breton: Ael
angel in Bulgarian: Ангел
angel in Catalan: Àngel
angel in Czech: Anděl
angel in Danish: Engel
angel in German: Engel
angel in Estonian: Ingel
angel in Modern Greek (1453-): Άγγελος
angel in Spanish: Ángel
angel in Esperanto: Anĝelo
angel in French: Ange
angel in Western Frisian: Ingel
angel in Scottish Gaelic: Aingeal
angel in Galician: Anxo (cristianismo)
angel in Korean: 천사
angel in Hindi: फ़रिश्ता
angel in Croatian: Anđeo
angel in Indonesian: Malaikat
angel in Zulu: Ingelosi
angel in Italian: Angelo
angel in Hebrew: מלאך
angel in Javanese: Malaikat
angel in Kongo: Wanzio
angel in Latin: Angelus
angel in Lithuanian: Angelas
angel in Lingala: Anjelu
angel in Hungarian: Angyal
angel in Malayalam: മാലാഖ
angel in Malay (macrolanguage): Malaikat
angel in Dutch: Engel
angel in Japanese: 天使
angel in Norwegian: Engel
angel in Norwegian Nynorsk: Engel
angel in Polish: Anioł
angel in Portuguese: Anjo
angel in Romanian: Înger
angel in Quechua: Killki
angel in Russian: Ангел
angel in Albanian: Engjëlli
angel in Sicilian: Àncilu (spìritu)
angel in Simple English: Angel
angel in Slovak: Anjel
angel in Slovenian: Angel
angel in Serbian: Анђео
angel in Finnish: Enkeli
angel in Swedish: Ängel
angel in Tagalog: Anghel
angel in Thai: เทวดา
angel in Vietnamese: Thiên sứ
angel in Cherokee: ᎠᏂᏓᏪᎯ
angel in Turkish: Melek
angel in Ukrainian: Ангел
angel in Samogitian: Aniuols
angel in Chinese: 天使

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Dionysus, Maecenas, Santa Claus, abettor, admirer, advocate, aficionado, almoner, almsgiver, ancestral spirits, angelology, angels, apologist, archangels, assignor, attendant godling, awarder, babe, baby, baby-doll, backer, bestower, buff, buttercup, champion, cheerful giver, cherub, cherubim, chick, chickabiddy, child, conferrer, consignor, contributor, control, daemon, darling, dear, deary, defender, demon, dependence, doll, dominations, dominions, donator, donor, dove, duck, duckling, encourager, endorser, exponent, fairy godmother, familiar, familiar spirit, fan, favorer, feoffor, financer, friend at court, funder, genius, genius domus, genius loci, giver, good angel, good genius, grantor, great soul, grubstaker, guarantor, guardian, guardian angel, guardian spirit, guide, guru, holy man, hon, honey, honey bunch, honey child, household gods, imparter, infant, innocent, invisible helper, lady bountiful, lamb, lambkin, lares and penates, lares compitales, lares familiaris, lares permarini, lares praestites, lares viales, love, lover, mahatma, mainstay, maintainer, manes, meal ticket, mere child, ministering angel, newborn babe, numen, paranymph, partisan, patron, patroness, penates, pet, petkins, philanthropist, powers, precious, precious heart, presenter, principalities, promoter, protagonist, reliance, rishi, saint, second, seconder, sectary, seraphim, settler, sider, snookums, special providence, sponsor, staker, stalwart, standby, starets, subscriber, sugar, sugar daddy, support, supporter, surety, sustainer, sweet, sweetheart, sweetie, sweetkins, sweets, sympathizer, testate, testator, testatrix, thrones, totem, tutelar god, tutelary, upholder, virtues, votary, vouchsafer, well-wisher
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