(The Tree of Life and the Archangels)
Seraphim? Cherubim? Archangels? They’re all angels, right? Yes and no.
We will see why they are and why they are not.. A domain of great interest for those thirsting for knowledge, especially the knowledge of the Heavenly, is the type of organization of the angelic beings.
We must say from the beginning that we cannot know for certain anything about this organization, but we can relate the religious and mystical traditions that are part of the monotheistic religions. Every area of the globe has its supernatural beings and a hierarchy of them, every religion has a tradition and every tradition can have different variants. Some are concordant with the others, some are not, but we don’t have to see this as a reason of disappointment or to try to find out which is wrong.
From a point of view or another, every tradition was correct at the moment of its revelation and continues to be correct to some degree. We will study in this vast and wonderful domain of knowledge, the Kabbalistic tradition of angel organization and the Christian doctrines of the celestial hierarchies.
The most known Christian author who tries to put an order to what the New Testament and Old Testament mention as angelic beings is Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopogate in the treatise “The Celestial Hierarchies”. He mentions three spheres, each being populated by three groups of angels. These groups are also known as Choirs, reminding of the church choir, that raises songs of glory and praise. The closer they are to God, the higher and more powerful they are, and the lower they are on the hierarchy, the more they are liken to humans.
The nine choirs of Pseudo-Dionysius are the following: In the First Sphere are the Seraphim, Cherubim and the Thrones, in the Second Sphere are the Dominations, Virtues and Powers and in the Third Sphere, the Principalities, Archangels and Angels.
Pseudo-Dionysius wasn’t the first to offer an opinion about the organization of celestial armies. It is believed that the Essene sect had a concrete order of angels, as we can see in the “Book of Enoch”, and the gnostic groups from the first centuries also had their cosmologies full of hierarchical orders of the Heavenly powers.
Pseudo-Dionysius wasn’t even the first Christian to do it. In the first century, Clement of Rome considers the existence of eleven such Choirs: Seraphim, Cherubim, Aeons, Hosts, Powers, Authorities, Principalities, Thrones, Archangels, Angels and Dominions. St. Ambrose describes, in the 4th century, nine Choirs: Seraphim, Cherubim, Dominations, Thrones, Principalities, Potentates (or Powers), Virtues, Angels and Archangels. Also in the 4th century, St. Jerome describes a Celestial Hierarchy having seven such Choirs, like Seraphs, Cherubim, Powers, Dominions (Dominations), Thrones, Archangels, Angels.
These are just a few examples, in order to figure that no hiearchy of these superhuman beings can be fixed, even by the Church Fathers: no matter how much knowledge these people had and no matter how important they were, they were still humans.
But it was not only Christianity that had such an organization of angels. The Jewish tradition is as rich in organization models of the celestial beings. One of the greatest Jewish philosophers of the Middle Ages, Maimonides, mentions ten classes of angels. These are Chayoth-ha-Qodesh/Cahyot HaKodesh (Holy Living Ones), Ophanim (Wheels) Erelim (Brave ones), Hashmallim (Glowing ones), Seraphim (Burning Ones), Malakim (Messangers, angels), Elohim (Godly Beings), Bene Elohim (Sons of Elohim), Cherubim and Ishim (man-like beings, saints).
We will see in the following series of ten articles, what these beings are, what they do, where their names come from, their attributes and where they are situated on the celestial map as viewed by the mystics. We will study the kabbalistic ordering of angels on the Tree of Life as we have studied the archangels, enriching the Christian knowledge with information from magical or esoteric sources, but also from paleographic sources. We will start with the highest order, meaning the Holy Living Ones.