The Six-Winged Seraph

Quick! What do angels look like?

Probably not like this, at least not according to most images in the media.

From the Isenheim Altarpiece by Mathias Grunewald, Colmar, France.

The angel in the foreground is what we tend to think of. The angel in the background is closer to what is described in the Book of Daniel. The artist who painted this amazing altarpiece had a very different “take” on a lot of things compared to his contemporaries, and the people who commissioned the work gave him a great deal of freedom.

“At His feet the six-winged seraph/ Cherubim with sleepless eye/ Veil their faces at His presence and in ceaseless voice they cry/ Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia Lord most High.” From the last verse of “Let all Mortal Flesh Keep Silent”, often sung at Advent but actually about the second coming.

Those who have read Madeline Le’Engle’s A Wind at the Door might recall that one of the characters is a cherubim, who looks nothing at all like the “cherubs” or putti seen in church and other art. They are not plump babies with wings, oh no, not in the Tanakh or the Book of Revelation, not in the least. If they were, their first words would not be “Fear not!” every time they appear in their true forms.


9 thoughts on “The Six-Winged Seraph

  1. “True Forms”?

    Or the forms they take so the people who see them survive? 😉

  2. Indeed.
    And outside the descriptions in Daniel, Ezekiel, and Revelations, I’m pretty sure Jewish mystics had an informal competition describing angels as Lovecraftian horrors. (The ban on graven images meant an arresting description was important, and if it couldn’t be easily depicted, so much the better. )

    I was going to supply examples, but I can’t access the computer I have that research on right now. So I’m going to have to rely on memory for estoric trivia I haven’t looked at for a few years. (Caveat emporator!)
    Samiel was the adversary of man in general, and the Jewish people in particular. (But importantly, not of God.) He was described as writhing mass of tongues, one for every man, woman, and child alive. (That’s an awful lot of small, fleshy tentacles. )

    • Or Lovecraft was riffing off of Jewish ideas about Angels and Christian ideas about God.

      Fall of Delta Green uses separate stability and sanity scores. By the standards of the Pagan Romans, modern Jews and Christians would have no sanity.

    • Generally speaking, there are no descriptions of angels given.

      There is at least one vision where the person seeing it saw six-winged beings but that vision also included G*d on a throne so IMO what he saw had little to do with the True Appearance of Angels.

  3. What do angels look like? Whatever they want to– no physical body. 😀

    The descriptions of angels always seemed like trying to describe an idea when you don’t have the vocabulary– imagine trying to describe “tomorrow” when you don’t have even a grasp of “yesterday,” it’s like that.

  4. Their true form is probably so far from mortal understanding that they must say “fear not” first. If there is time or preparation needed for a message (Abram, Lot, the apostles at the Ascension, the Nativity appearance to shepherd, etc., then they take on a human form.

    Another tell may be a description as close to some thing. I’m singing in Elijah this summer, and the fiery chariot, fiery horses, and whirlwind can be a very rough description of an angel bearing him up. Interpreting this to a secular choral director MAY take the ” yes, you should fear He Whom I speak for.”

    Yes ma’am, the chorus is difficult, but not as much as the painfully inadequate or missing theological story. Baal’s followers should know better than to attempt that copyright infringement.

  5. The angel in Gen. 15 isn’t described. In Gen 18, we have three “men” who in 19 whose description is typically translated as “angels.” Both Abraham and Lot offer them hospitality so it’s pretty clear that they look human.

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