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Zoroastrianism was popular during the Hebrews’ captivity in Persia and made its mark on their biblical writings. While their religion did not allow for any gods other than Yahweh, the idea of angelic intermediaries to the Divinity was acceptable and adoptable.
Angels appear as guides to heaven in the Jewish Kabbalah, secret writings containing mystical knowledge that is passed on to those advanced enough to comprehend it. There are also beings called sefirot, which are composed of the energy of God and are known as Grace, Wisdom, Splendour, Understanding, Knowledge, Foundation, Eternity, Power, Beauty, and Crown. They stand together to form a tree – the Tree of Life.
At the top of the tree is the Angel of the Lord, Metatron. He is considered in some accounts to be the greatest of the angels – there is scarcely an angelic duty or function that is not related to him. Metatron also is the representative of God who led the tribes of Israel through the wilderness, and probably is the dark angel who wrestled with Jacob. He is sometimes identified with Satan. In Judaic literature, the principal name of Satan is Samael, which means ‘poison angel.’
The etymology of Metatron is unclear. Possibly, the name itself was intended to be a secret, and may have been produced through a glossolalia-type of altered state of consciousness. Glossolalia is speaking in tongues, and is perhaps best-known for its part in charismatic religions. Metatron is sometimes called the Prince of the Countenance, meaning he is the chief angel of those angels who are privileged to look upon the countenance of God.
Descriptions of him tell of a spirit or pillar of fire with thirty-six pairs of wings and myriad eyes. His face is more dazzling than the sun. He serves as God’s Angel of Death, instructing Gabriel and Samael which human souls to take at any given moment.
ENOCH’S SEVEN HEAVENS
We might think that the Bible would inform us about the origin, nature and functions of angels, but it falls far short of the task. In fact, the Bible is rather vague on the subject, mentioning angels or alluding to them without offering much in the way of specifics. Only two angels are mentioned by name: Michael (‘who is as God’), and Gabriel (‘God is my strength’). The Apocrypha mentions others, most notably Raphael (‘the shining one who heals’) and Uriel (‘fire of God’). According to the Book of Revelation, in the New Testament, there are seven archangels who stand before God, but we are left to guess at their identities.
Most of the angel lore that has been handed down through the centuries comes from the Apocrypha (‘hidden books’), writings that were declared heretical by the Church for one reason or another. The Apocryphal Book of Tobit tells a great deal about the archangel Raphael. It is the Chronicles of Enoch that tell us the most about angels in general.
According to legend, Enoch was a prophet who was so spiritually advanced that God had angels take him directly to heaven to record what he saw. Enoch recorded his travels there in detail. His experiences enlightened him so much that God turned him into the angel Metatron.
Most likely, the Chronicles of Enoch were written by numerous anonymous authors around the first and second centuries A.D. The Chronicles were declared apocryphal in the fourth century A.D. by Saint Jerome. One of the chief objections to them was that they portray a multi-layered heaven that contains hell, populated by fallen angels. The concept of hell within heaven apparently was too much for early Church authorities.
Enoch’s accounts are compelling reading. According to the story, Enoch was 365 years old when two angels appeared and whisked him off to heaven.
Enoch remained in heaven for sixty days. He recorded what he saw in 366 books, which were handed down to his sons. After a hiatus back on earth of thirty days, Enoch was once again transported to heaven, where God immortalized him as Metatron, installing him in the seventh heaven.
Enoch’s heavenly adventures began one day when he was asleep on his couch. A ‘great distress’ came into his heart, which he could not understand. Two beings appeared before him, which he described as men:
And there appeared to me two men, exceedingly big, so that I never saw such on earth; their faces were shining like the sun, their eyes too were like a burning light, and from their lips was fire coming forth with clothing and singing of various kinds in appearance purple, their wings were brighter than gold, their hands whiter than snow.
Enoch was frightened, but the angels assured him to fear not – they had been sent by God to take him into heaven. They bore him up on their wings to the clouds to the first heaven. In all, Enoch found seven heavens and seven corresponding earths, all united to each other by hooks. Beyond the seventh heaven lay three more heavens.
The first heaven, ruled by Gabriel, is the one closest to Earth, and contains the winds and the clouds. The angels who live here are astronomers and rule the stars and heavenly bodies. There also are angels who are guardians of ice, snow, flowers and dew.
The second heaven is ruled by Raphael and is a dark penal area where fallen angels await judgment. His guiding angels, said Enoch, ‘showed me darkness, and there I saw prisoners hanging, watched, awaiting the great and boundless judgment, and these angels were dark-looking, more than earthly darkness, and incessantly making weeping through all hours.’
Enoch was told that these prisoners were ‘God’s apostates,’ fallen angels who had turned away from God with their prince, who was fastened in the fifth heaven.
The third heaven is ruled by Anahel and is a land of contrasts. One part of this heaven, the northern section, is actually hell, ice cold and sulfurous, filled with torturing angels who punish the evil souls who reside there. The condemned include those who dishonor God, sin against nature, and practice enchantments and witchcraft. However, the rest of this heaven is an Eden-like garden where manna is made and the souls of the holy – those who are righteous and compassionate – reside. Angels of light watch over this heaven.
The fourth heaven, under the jurisdiction of archangel Michael, contains Holy Jerusalem and its temple, all made of gold, surrounded by rivers made of milk, honey, wine and oil. The Tree of Life is to be found in this heaven, as well as the sun and the moon. Here Enoch heard the singing of angels:
In the midst of the heavens I saw armed soldiers, serving the Lord, with tympana and organs, with incessant voice, with sweet voice, with sweet and incessant voice and various singing, which is impossible to describe, and which astonishes every mind, so wonderful and marvelous is the singing of those angels, and I was delighted listening to it.
The fifth heaven is yet another prison, a fiery ravine where the angelic Watchers, or Grigori, are being imprisoned for marrying into the human race.
The sixth heaven is full of scholarly angels, studying astronomy, nature, and homo sapiens. Here Enoch found archangels, as well as angels who rule over all the cycles and functions of nature – the seasons, the calendar, the rivers and seas, the fruits of the earth, the grass, etc. There also are angels who record all the lives and deeds of every human soul, to set forth before God.
In the seventh heaven, Enoch found the higher angels, such as the thrones, cherubim, seraphim and dominions, as well as ‘fiery troops of great archangels.’ These angelic hosts bowed down before the Lord, singing his praises.
Enoch’s two angel guides left him at the end of the seventh heaven. He was terrified, but Gabriel appeared before him, caught him up as though a leaf caught up by wind, and transported him higher.
In the eighth heaven, called Muzaloth, Enoch saw the ‘changer of the seasons, of drought, and of wet, and of the twelve signs of the zodiac.’ The ninth heaven, called Kuchavim, holds the heavenly homes of the twelve signs of the zodiac.
Then archangel Michael escorted Enoch to the tenth heaven, where he held the face of God. It was, said Enoch:
… like iron made to glow in fire, and brought out, emitting sparks, and it burns.
Thus I saw the Lord’s face, but the Lord’s face is ineffable, marvelous and very awful, and very, very terrible…
And I cannot tell the quantity of his many instructions, and various voices, the Lord’s throne very great and not made with hands, nor the quantity of those standing round him, troops of cherubim and seraphim, nor their incessant singing, nor his immutable beauty, and who shall tell of the ineffable greatness of his glory?
God instructed Michael to ‘take Enoch from out of his earthly garments, and anoint him with my sweet ointment, and put him into the garments of my Glory.’ Enoch then took on a shining appearance, like the angels around him. God summoned the archangel Pravuil, ‘whose knowledge was quicker in wisdom than the other archangels, who wrote all the deeds of the Lord,’ to bring out the books of knowledge for Enoch to read.
After instruction from Pravuil, Enoch wrote his 366 books in thirty days. He was then summoned by the Lord, who revealed to him the creation story, and that the world would end on the eighth day of creation (or after 8,000 years), when time would cease. Enoch was given all the rules of morality and righteousness for humans to live by.
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