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.
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.
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.