I have a thing for angels, always have. Not the touchy feely cute chicks in flowing white dresses angels, who you're supposed to become when you die, but real angels.
You might think, with an angel page and all, that I'm a religious person- in fact, I'm anything but. I don't believe in anything but possibilities, I don't discount the existence of things beyond my experience- whether it be angels, God, dragons, fairies, vampires, but I don't believe in them either. When I say "what I like to think of angels," I mean in the abstract sense, as things in stories, as ideas. I used to refuse to go inside a church because I thought it was hypocritical (cut me some slack, I was 10), but I got over it. Now I go for the architecture, and take lots of pictures. Really funny thing is, I was a religions major, and I enjoyed it.
Literally, angel means messenger. Not even necessarily non human messenger. And the actual "angels" (as opposed to those referred to by other names, like Cherubim and Seraphim) were messengers (literally), of an indeterminate nature, although they carried the message of God. But to my mind, what I like to think of as angels, are the sexless beings (Matthew 22:30), each with its own distinct purpose. The cherubim (pronounce it ker-u-bim and maybe you won't get it confused with the chubby babies with wings) with the flaming swords positioned at the gates of Eden, given the task of keeping Adam and Eve out forever. Here I will be showing you my take on angels, there are more interpretations that stars in the sky- because that's what Judaism and Christianity are really all about. Angels have no will power, but they don't need any, because they each have a specific purpose, and the only thing they need to do is fulfill that purpose. They don't have the trials and tribulations, the choices, that face humans every day. And that is the reason they were not the favored creation, they couldn't help but love God and do what they were told. And Lucifer couldn't help but fall, he thought he was excercising his own will, but in fact it was built into him. His rule of Hell was built into him, he had to fill that vacuum needed for those with free will. Because after all, isn't it built into the definition of God that he knows everything that is, everything that was, and everything that will be?
The heirarchy of angels is divided into 9 sub sections, "choirs," which are divined from the writings of Paul. Depending on who you ask, they're in a different order, but the generally accepted (Christian, remember, Paul was a hyper epileptic Christian writer) organization is something like this:
Seraph (plural "Seraphim") comes from a root meaning "to burn." The word is used in Numbers 21:6,8; Deuteronomy 8:15; and Isiah 14:29; 30:6; where it is translated as "fiery serpent." They are mentioned in Isiah's vision of God's heavenly throne room (Isiah 6:1-7). The Lord is seated between two Seraphim, each with six wings, two covering his face, two covering his feet, and with two he flies.
Cherubim (singular "Cherub") are first mentioned in Genesis 3:24, when Adam and Eve are expelled from the Garden, two cherubim are set at the gate with flaming swords to guard it, so none may enter. In Exodus 25 and 36, the Isrealites are given instructions for building the Ark of the Covenant, and on the lid two cherubim are to be placed, with their wings arching overand meeting in the middle. Other than their wings, the cherubim are not described, it is assumed the Isrealites already knew what Cherubim were supposed to look like. In Psalms 18:10; 80:1; and 99:1; God is positioned between two cherubim, therefore the Ark of the Convenant that represented the presence of God, is also flanked by a pair of Cherubim (although God is also said to be uncontainable, even by the entire universe, but such paradoxes are a part of religion). Ezekiel has two visions of the Lord (Ezekiel 1 and 10), enthroned above four cherubim. They each have four wings, and four faces, one facing each direction, a man, a lion, a bull, and an eagle. In the Book of Revelation (4:6-8), John sees four winged creatures before the throne, which are not expressly identified as cherubim, the first is like a lion, the secondlike an ox, the third like a man, and the fourth like an eagle. These four creatures are also taken to be the four Gospels (and by extension, the four writers the Gospel are attributed to).
Thrones are the angels of justice. The Thrones wheel around the throne of God, where the deeds of men are weighed, and judgement is served. They are thought to be the wheels Ezekiel saw in his visions (Ezekiel 1 and 10), wheels within wheels, and the rims were covered in eyes.
Dominions keep track of the angels, and regulate their duties. They dwell in the second Heaven, and govern angelic duties in all the spiritual and physical worlds.
Virtues provide miracles, give us courage, and bless us with the Divine's grace. They work miracles on earth, and serve somewhat the same role as the popular "guardian angels," aiding people to grow in holiness and watching over them to help them avoid accidents.
Principalities are the protectors of large groups on earth, like religions, nations, and cities. They influence through human ideas, circumstances they stir up, and can even interfere with human affairs to accomplish the direct will of God.
Archangels are the most important messengers and emesaries between the Divine and humanity. They also believed to have commanded the heavenly army against Lucifer and his legion of angels.
Angels are the closest to us, and are the divine messengers. They take many forms. By some accounts (The Apocryphal Book of Enoch) angels are credited with giving humanity the knowledge of agriculture, meteorology, astronomy, pharmacy, language, writing,
medicine, alchemy, diagnosing, and curing diseases, how to perform abortions, magic and astrology. Some of this knowledge was forbidden, and the angels who brought the knowledge are referred to as the Watchers, Nephilim, who fell from grace by giving this information to the humans, and becoming attracted to the women of earth.
However, from the passages in the Pauline letters, some may attribute some of the groups as fallen angels- Thrones, Dominions, Principalities, and Powers could all be taken as evil angels, who oppose humans.
The Bible only mentions four angels by name- Gabrielle ("God is Mighty"), Michael ("Like God"), Raphael ("God Heals"), and Lucifer ("Light Bearer"). Gabriel is the speical bearer of messages from God to men. It appears in Daniel 8:16; 9:21, and the first chapter of Luke.
Michael is the captain of the heavenly armies. It is mentioned in Daniel 10:13, 21; 12:1; in Jude 9 (where Michael is fighting with the devil over the body of Moses), and in Revelation 12:7 (where Michael is fighting against the dragon- the Devil, and casts Satan and his angels out of heaven). In iconography it is generally pictured in full armor, carrying a lance, and with its foot on the neck of a dragon, like St. George, although Michael has wings, or the defeated Devil (with demon characteristics).
Raphael appears in the Apocryphal book of Tobit (accepted as part of the Canon of Scripture by the Catholic Church), where, disguished as a man, he accompanies Tobit on a quest, and gives him a remedy for the blindness of his aged father.
Lucifer, of course, was the angel who rebelled against God, a creation that did not agree with its creator, generally Lucifer is attributed with the sin of pride as its downfall, though exactly why it rebelled is one of some debate- whether it coveted the throne of God, or it was jealous of the humans, the new creation God was paying more attention to than it, the favored of all the angels. Generally the accepted mythos is the war in Heaven, resulting in Lucifer's fall from grace, being defeated by the Archangel Michael (Revelation 12:7, called the Devil and Satan), and cast down to Earth, and eventually Hell. After the fall Lucifer became known as Satan ("Adversary"), or the Devil ("Accuser of Breathren").
And I'm not going to even get into the Book of Enoch, or we'll be here all night.