As we well know, there are big differences in assigning the diverse categories of angels in certain hierarchies. Every tradition in the monotheistic religions has its own, but the source of them is the Jewish tradition. The Old Testament influenced both Christianity and Islam, and it is normal that we appeal to the Jewish tradition to sketch a better vision of the angelic hierarchies. According to the great kabbalist Maimonides in his “Sefer Yad ha-Chazakah”, there are ten orders or angelic Choirs, that correspond to the ten sephiroth of the Tree of Life. Beginning with the highest and ending with the lowest, these are Chayyot Ha-Qodesh (Holy Living Ones), Ophanim (Wheels), Erelim (Brave Ones), Hashmallim (Glowing ones, amber ones), Seraphim (Burning ones), Elohim (Godly Beings), Bene Elohim (Sons of Elohim), Malakim (Messengers), Cherubim and Ishim (Man-like beings, Just Man).
Chayyot ha-Qodesh means “Holy Living Ones”. The term Chay (plural, chayyot) is hard to translate, but approximately means Living Creature, Alive Being, Soul. These living creatures are the highest angelic order, and as we can see, they are so high and so different from what people call angels, that we don’t even know how to describe them. They have two attributes that describe them: they are living and holy, through their maximum closeness to Divinity. The Islamic tradition knows these angels under the name Hamalat al-Arsh or “Carriers of the Throne”, usually being identified with Mikhail, Jibril (or Jibra’il), Azrail (or Azra’eil) and Israfil. In the book of prayers As-Sahifa Al-Kamilah, a collection of psalms also called as the Sister of the Qur’an, the third prayer of the 54 is dedicated to the Carriers of the Throne.
The Holy Beings appear for the first time in the Bible, in the Book of Ezekiel, in his description of his vision in chapter I:
“5 Also from within it came the likeness of four living creatures. And this was their appearance: they had the likeness of a man.
6 Each one had four faces, and each one had four wings.
7 Their legs were straight, and the soles of their feet were like the soles of calves’ feet. They sparkled like the color of burnished bronze.
8 The hands of a man were under their wings on their four sides; and each of the four had faces and wings.
9 Their wings touched one another. The creatures did not turn when they went, but each one went straight forward.
10 As for the likeness of their faces, each had the face of a man; each of the four had the face of a lion on the right side, each of the four had the face of an ox on the left side, and each of the four had the face of an eagle.
11 Thus were their faces. Their wings stretched upward; two wings of each one touched one another, and two covered their bodies.
12 And each one went straight forward; they went wherever the spirit wanted to go, and they did not turn when they went.
13 As for the likeness of the living creatures, their appearance was like burning coals of fire, like the appearance of torches going back and forth among the living creatures. The fire was bright, and out of the fire went lightning.
14 And the living creatures ran back and forth, in appearance like a flash of lightning.”
Their appearance is terrible, as we can see. Because of their nature is composed of four elements, they were also called Tetramorphs, meaning Those With Four Forms. The four forms hide a divine secret: they are the living expression of the letters in the name of God, YHWH.
Every letter corresponds to an element, to a being and to a fixed zodiacal sign. The four beings are the key to understanding the mystery.
The head of a Bull corresponds to the Taurus sign and the Earth element; the Lion head corresponds to the Leo sign and the Fire element; the eagle head, according to an Chaldean astrological system, to the Scorpio sign and the Water element; and the Human head corresponds to the Aquarius sign and the Air element.
Not only are these Living Creatures created from the celestial position of the elements, but they also contain in themselves the mystery of the Divine Name.
Tetragrammaton, the sacred name of four letters, has the numerical value 26 (YHWH written in hebrew can be read as 10-5-6-5, which give 26). The four astrological signs each have a number, according to the order in the zodiac: Taurus is 2, being the second sign, Leo is 5, Scorpio is 8 and Aquarius is 11. Totalized, the numbers of the 4 fixed signs give the value of the Tetragram: 26. The Carriers of the Divine Throne are also the Carriers of the Divine Name.
(Ezekiel’s vision 1)
(Ezekiel’s vision 2)