In religions, a celestial being that usually is a messenger between God and human beings.
Russian Christian icon of Archangel Gabriel.
The word comes from Greek angelos meaning "messenger".
Angels instruct, inform or command human beings. Angels can also be protective spirits, heavenly warriors or even strong cosmic powers. Angels can be good as well as bad, bad angels easily fall into the category of demons.
Angels appears largely with monotheistic religions. With monotheistic incentives to embrace one god, the rich world of gods of earlier religious systems were redefined into angels.
Angels are important to the spiritual world of many religions like Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Two Middle Eastern religions have no concept of angels: Isma'ilism; Druze religion.
The is no angels in ancient religions, but in Sumerian religion and Ancient Egyptian religion there are representations of winged humans.
Zoroastrianism emerged from Iranian religions' rich polytheism, and the process of defining faith in one good god, left many deities without proper definitions. From this emerged the two concepts of angels; yazatas and amesha spentas.
One of the amesha spentas, Vohu Manah, revealed to Zarathustra the divine message.
Over time, the Zoroastrian angels were attributed with more functions and powers. One interesting journey is that of Mithra, who was a strong god in pre-Zoroastrian myths, who was redefined as one of several angels, but who would after centuries return as a god in Hellenistic times.
In the 6th century BCE, Judaism introduced wings for the angels, inspired by Babylonian religion. From Zoroastrianism, the idea of angels alienated by God and rebelling against him was introduced.
The nature of angels is little described by Judaism, rather angels are understood by more limited qualities like their functions and close relationship to God.
The concept of angels was one that allowed much theological speculation, as well as folklore.
Christianity's ideas on angels begin where Judaism was in the 1st century CE. But the importance of angels became much reduced since Jesus introduced a new concept compared to Judaism, in which God now was acting on earth in between human beings. Jesus fulfilled much of the role of angels.
Popular ideas have over time given angels functions that bring them close to that of gods.
In Christianity, angels have still played an important role in popular religious understanding of the world. Angels appear often in popular culture, like cinematic movies, which have contributed much to an understanding of angels as both real, as well as their roles.
Similar to what happened with Zarathustra, Muhammad of Islam also received the divine message through an angel, Gabriel.
Gabriel is described in a manner similar to that of the amesha spentas, called "The spirit of holiness" and "The faithful spirit".
The concept of angels exists in Alevism, but has little importance to their faith and understanding of the world.
In Ahl-e Haqq there is a concept of 6 intermediaries between God and the human world, that comes close to that of angels. A competing system of the 12 imams derived from Twelver Shi'i Islam also fits the basic ideas of angels.
Yazidism is a religion that has its name from the Persian word for "angel". Also, central to their theology is the concept of the peacock angel, Malak Ta'us, which falls into disgrace, but repents. After that there is no trace of any world of angels.
In Baha'i angels seem to have an important position, they are confirmations of God and heavenly powers. Also angels are human beings that have freed themselves from the earthly existence. It is therefore possible for human beings to become angels by leading a just life.
In Sumerian religion there is no concept of angels. But the religion had the concept of a ghost for each human being, often represented as a human with wings. Although not angels, dimensions of these ghosts seems to have been central to the development of angels in Judaism.
Ancient Egyptian religion
Similar to Sumerian religion, there was no angels in Ancient Egyptian religions. Here too, there was imagery of human figures with wings. These were usually goddesses like Isis and Maat.