Singular Cerebrations: Angelic Attributes

Pictured: An angelic starter kit.

Pictured: An angelic starter kit.

Angels are often pictured in popular culture as winged humans with bright, golden halos floating above their heads.  The bible doesn't support any of that, of course, but why start going by what it actually says at this point, am I right?  Like so much other religious imagery, the origin of these angelic attributes begins in paganism.

Halos are based on the Egyptian Crown of Justification.  Such crowns were made from laurel, palm, feathers, or papyrus, and worn by devotees of the sun god Ra.  Ra's worshipers believed that these crowns symbolized a circle of light that distinguished the god's divinity.  They believed that wearing the crown, or halo, gave them the divinity of their god, and this idea was later used in Christian art to represent the divinity inherent to angels.

Winged human-like beings have been a consistent part of mythology since at least ancient Greece, so it's no surprise that they made their way into Christian art.  No human-looking angels have wings in the bible, though, nor does early Christian art portray them as winged.  It wasn't until the 4th century or so when they began to be depicted with wings, and the most popular idea to explain it came from Saint John Chrysostom, who essentially said that they're a way to show the angels' elevated nature.

If you asked anyone on the street to draw you an angel, I bet 9 times out of 10 you'd end up with a stick figure drawn with wings and a halo--and that 10th person probably just didn't have time to do it.  And I think that's amazing.  The fact that artistic license developed over a thousand years ago is still informing our ideas on spiritual beings today is a testament to the power of art in culture, and it makes me wonder what effect our art might still have in the 31st century and beyond.

Yours in Impossibility,

Tobias

Tobias WaylandComment