The experience of perceiving an
angel with one or more of the five senses is called an "angelophany."
Our present interest in angels has created an intense desire on the part of
many people for angelophanies. The more dramatic, the better, we say.
Somehow, a heavenly display of phenomena and special effects make angels "real."
But God does not send angels into our midst for our entertainment. An
angelophany has a divine purpose. It is a call to a higher consciousness--often a wake-up call to a
sleeping soul. Sometimes there is sensory drama, sometimes not. Sometimes the greatest and most
soul-shaking angelophany is a profound inner revelation, an aha! that gives us a cosmic
understanding that goes beyond mere words.
If we look at the literature of angelophanies, we find that their
characteristics have changed in accordance to cultural factors and expectations.
Among the ancient Hebrews, angelophanies were grand visionary experiences.
Visions and dreams
were the primary media for prophecy. Indeed, one could not be taken
seriously as a prophet without having such interactions with the messengers of God. Great prophets
such as Ezekiel, Moses, Isaiah and Enoch told of extraordinary visions of angels and trips
to heavenly realms. They beheld the throne of God and were anointed as holy messengers to return to
their people and disseminate the word of God through warnings and moral and ethical codes.
They heard the voices of angels and the voice of God. Such visions involved common elements of
brilliant light, fire and lightning, and sounds of thunder and earthquakes. The angels were described
as having the forms of men, but being clothed in brilliant light or garments. Sometimes they were
said to have wings; other times wings are not specified. Daniel described trance experiences with
"men" of fire, gold and lightning.
The dramatic nature of such visions was necessary to gain the attention of
people; the angelophanies--and theophanies, or experiences of God--certified the
prophets as official agents of the Lord. Such visions--especially that of Ezekiel--also formed the basis
for early Hebrew mysticism in which one rode to the heavens via prayer and meditation to
attain access to the "throne-chariot" of God.
On some occasions in early writings, angels took a more benign form and
passed for mortals. In Genesis, Abraham was so fooled when three men visited him on the plains of
Mamre, and ate a feast he offered them in hospitality. They conversed with him. Similarly,
the archangel Raphael appeared as a mortal man in the Book of Tobit, acting as a guide on the
journey of young Tobias.
In Catholicism, angels are considered to be pure spirits who have the
ability to take the form of men and women. They intervene to help people in their spiritual and temporal
needs. Catholic literature of the saints is full of angelophanies, but of a much milder nature. The
flames, lightning, thunder and heavenly chariots of the Hebrew prophets gave way to more human-like angels
who acted as guardians and spiritual companions and often brought pleasant smells with
In the modern West, our culture does not support grand prophetic visions in
the style of the Old Testament prophets. A visit by a being of lightning would probably terrify
most people, and thus the purpose of the angelophany would be lost.
Instead, we encounter the "mysterious stranger" angel. Mysterious strangers
show up when a problem demands immediate action. They can be male or female, and of any
race. Most often, they are male--usually a fresh-looking, clean-cut youth. They are invariably
well-dressed, polite and knowledgeable about the crisis at hand. They often are calm, but can be
forceful, and know just what to do. They speak, though they talk sparingly, and they will even take
hold of the people in distress. They eat food. They are convincingly real as flesh-and-blood
humans. However, once the problem has been solved, the mysterious strangers vanish. It is their
abrupt and strange disappearance that makes people question whether they have been aided by
mortals or angels. Upon reflection, the arrival of the mysterious strangers--sudden, out of
nowhere, or in the nick of time--adds credence to the angel-as-stranger belief.
More often than not, however, modern angelophanies are much more subtle: a
perception of a ball or pillar of light; an inner voice; an awareness of an invisible presence;
a prompting to take a certain course of action. Angels also act through other agents, such as people and
In seeking communion with the angelic realm, we should not be disappointed
if we are not given a display of celestial fireworks. All mystical traditions teach that to be
caught up in phenomena is to be diverted from the path of Truth. God sends angels to remind us of our path,
and does so in ways that best serve each individual. Listening to the voice of angels means
listening to the voice of God within. That voice is best heard through prayer and meditation, and through
acting out of love.
Copyright 1998 by Rosemary Ellen Guiley. All rights reserved.
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