Are Angels Gender Neutral?

Arkane Curiosities

Often Angels are depicted in art with male dress. The named angels also sound very masculine — Michael or Gabriel. Even the Greek word angelos (as well as the Hebrew word מֲלְאָךְ malak) are both masculine meaning a messenger from God. But is it really right to speak of angels as being masculine? Are angels gender neutral?

Man Was a Neutral Word for Centuries

The default to masculine names and male dress might have been influenced by the use of “man” as a gender neutral term (at least in English).

The proverb, man does not live by bread alone, refers more to humankind rather than just men. 

Up until a thousand years ago, the word for a male person was “wǣpmann” and a female person was “wīfmann”. This root word, “mann” means a person.

Angels Are Spirits with No Form

Humans and other Earthly creatures were designed to breed, thus the male and female forms. Unless they breed asexually, that is. Yet angels are not related to these mortal creatures at all. 

In Hebrews 1:14 (the New International Version) states this about angels:

Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?

God created the angels completely by scratch. They were never meant to reproduce, and thus have no need of genders. 

Additionally, angels are constructs of pure thought. They have no physical form but are simply spiritual beings. Assigning them a gender is pointless. 

Perhaps the reason we depict them as some form of gender speaks to our own limitations on how to perceive the divine. It makes it easier for our limited mortal brains to comprehend the angels. As spirits, they have no physical form at all. 

Tim Kane

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Gods of Thieving

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In the various mythologies around the world, we can find plenty of luck and gambling deities. Yet there are very few gods of outright theft. Saint Nicolas (yes, the Santa Claus guy) comes close with his breaking and entering, but he’s the patron saint of reformed theives. Who exactly are the gods of thieving and outright stealing?

Hermes the Trickster

One of the most famous gods of mischief and trickery is Hermes, who started his career in crime as a baby. It seems the infant god had a hankering for some beef and left his cradle to wrangle up fifty cattle belonging to his brother, Apollo.

To keep the theft secret, Hermes marched the cattle backward, thus disguising which direction the cattle were traveling. Hermes also invented sandals to hide the shape of his feet. All of this so he could roast up a good side of ribs.

He was eventually caught, but Apollo was so amused by the youngster’s trickery that the two became fast friends. Apollo even gave the trickster god a golden caduceus, becoming a symbol for Hermes ever since. 

Santa Muerte

The newest addition to the small pantheon of criminal deities is Santa Muerte, also known as Señora de las Sombras (Lady of the Shadows) or La Santísima Muerte (The Most Holy Death). The phrase Santa Muerte means good death and comes from a Catholic prayer asking for a peaceful passing into the afterlife. Since then, Santa Muerte has become the beloved saint of any who are dispossessed. 

Figures of death have been a common fixture  in Catholic iconography since the thirteenth century, originating with the European plagues. Santa Muerte’s first appearance was in a 1797 inquisition report on the practices of indigenous worshipers. She was mentioned again in the novel Los hijos de Sánchez by American anthropologist Oscar Lewis. 

However Santa Muerte exploded into celebrity with the season three episode of Breaking Bad (No Mas), depicting the Santa Muerte shrine. Since the early 2000s, the cult of Santa Muerte has grown exponentially.

She is popular with migrants as well as sex workers and those in LGBTQ communities. Santa Muerte is associated with those who live precarious lives or are engaged in dangerous undertakings. Worship of her derives from indigenous practices including elements of Spiritualism, Santería, and New Age ideas about spiritual energy.

Santa Muerte’s appeal lies in her non-judgemental nature. She will grant wishes in return for a pledge or an offering. She holds no moral judgment over your actions. 

Both the Catholic Church and the Mexican government oppose and outlaw the worship of Santa Muerte, despite the millions who pay homage to her. 

Laverna the Lost Goddess of Thieving

Laverna was the Roman goddess who answered the prayers of robbers and thieves. The Porta Lavernalis on Aventine Hill was named after her. 

Little is known of this ancient goddess. She may have originated with the Etruscans, where she was venerated as a goddess of the underworld. Since most thieving happens in the dark, the connection is obvious. The word Laverna derives from the Latin latere (to lurk) and levator (a thief).

To honor Laverna, you pour libations with your left hand. This ensures that you have a successful heist without getting caught. She might have also been a goddess of vengeance. In a Plautus play, a cook calls upon Laverna to seek revenge on some thieves who pilfered his tools. Perhaps Laverna served the person who called upon her first (or offered her the most). Or maybe she simply gets annoyed with thieves who were bungling enough to let their crimes be known. 

Tim Kane

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Angels Are Horrifyingly Beautiful (What Angels Really Look Like)

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When I first picked up the book A Wind in the Door by Madeleine L’Engle, I was transfixed by the image of a Cherubim. How could that be an angel? I couldn’t reconcile the image I was seeing with the more traditional depiction of angels, with their human-like bodies and pair of wings. Yet this is what angels really look like.

Renaissance Created the Disney-Versions of Cherubs

Those cute baby angels you see fluttering around every February, those are the sanitized versions of Cherubs (originally known as Cherubim). It seems Renaissance painters mashed together angelic Cherubs with the Greek god Cupid. 

Raphael created characters in his paintings called “putti”, from the Latin word putus, meaning boy. These little toddlers represented pure love. Soon, people began referring to these putti as “Cherubs” because of their association with the pure love of God. 

Yet the true visage of these angels is anything but cute.

The True Meaning of Awesome

The word awesome has taken a left turn in modern English. It now simply refers to something amazing or wonderful. The original meaning is darker. Awesome meant to feel awe, as in bone shaking fear and admiration for what you beheld. It was a word tailor-made for looking on the true image of angels.

The Cherubim — Multi-Faced Creatures of Fire

The putti versions of Cherubs float on clouds and shoot arrows at love-sick teens. The true Cherubim are engulfed in the fiery light of God’s Glory. 

Instead of a single pudgy baby head, the Book of Ezekiel says these angels have four heads: a lion, an ox, an eagle and a human. They also have four wings, two of which tilt down to cover their legs, which have bull hooves by the way.

Art from Isis Sangare

Ezekiel also mentions that every part of the Cherumin — hands, wings, feet — are covered with eyes. This is what Madeleine L’Engle was going for with her description of the angel in A Wind in the Door.

But this is not the most bizarre angel out there. While Cherubims clock in at number three on the angelic hierarchy, Seraphim are number one. 

Seraphim — A Mess of Wings and Flame

The word Seraphim translates to “burning ones”. According to the prophet Isaiah, these angels surround the throne of God. They have six wings, two to cover their legs (because feet are unclean and unworthy to show God), two to fly, and two to cover their face. The result, all you see is wings. This seems to also match Madeleine L’Engle’s depiction of angels.

Art by Aeriel Lee

Depicted as being red, Seraphim are associated with Fire. They each hold a flaming sword with the words “holy, holy, holy” on the blade. In the vision, a Seraphim touches a burning coal to Isaiah’s lips in order to purge him of his sin and to make him fit to be a prophet. 

But at least the Seraphim have recognizable parts, wings and eyes. The number two ranked angel in Heaven doesn’t even have a body.

The Ophanim — Giant Winged Wheels

In Ezekiel’s account, he describes the Ophanim as giant golden wheels, each covered with multiple eyes. In fact the word Ophanim means “wheels”. They had four interlocking golden wheels and could fly in any direction. They are tasked with guarding the throne of God.

The next time you envision an angel, perhaps you will better understand the true meaning of the word awesome. These spiritual beings are meant to instill wonder and fear at the concept of God. 

Tim Kane

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