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The Celestial Hierarchy

Angels, in general, are considered to be spiritual beings that have been created by God to act as messengers. Usually, they are considered to be invisible and they fulfil their tasks that have been assigned by God. In Christianity, there is believed to be a hierarchy of angels who are split into three orders, from lowest to highest. The hierarchy of angels was proposed by Dionysius the Pseudo-Areopagite in the 4th and 5th centuries. The ‘celestial hierarchy,’ was considered to be a theology that there are 9 types of angels that are organized into three orders. Let’s explore these orders.

Highest Order              

Dionysius describes as the first order of angels to be those who are in closest proximity to God, are perpetually pure and they also contain His interminable Knowledge. They basically hold the most understanding of the Divine and revel in their knowledge as primal and pure splendours. They remain in God’s presence at all times and this topmost order in the hierarchy of angels are called ‘Seraphim,’ which translates to, ‘the burning ones,’ which symbolizes the passionate love they possess for God. The Cherubim and The Thrones are also considered to be part of the highest order.

Middle Order

Dionysius describes the middle order of angels to be those who are a level lower than the Seraphim, and kind of operate as the ‘middle management.’ They are selfless, aspiring to be as close to the Lord as possible and doing all that they can to fulfil their duties. They are known to lead those from the lower order to possess Divine Knowledge. This choir of angels are known to be God’s tools in ordering and navigating all of his creating and helping in guiding the universe. The Dominion, the Virtues and the Powers are known to be part of the middle order.

Lowest Order

Dionysius describes the lowest order of angels to be those who have established control over specific groups of people and also helped to organize the nations. They are basically known to be the tier of angels who have direct contact with humans. This order comprises of Archangels and Angels as well as Principalities. It is believed by Christians that not only does every person have a Guardian Angel, but every nation does too. They are God’s messenger angels who delivered messages like when Messiah was born to Virgin Mary.

Catholic belief usually considered this traditional hierarchy of angels to be the most trusted. However, the code of the Church does not actually officially include this order.

Of course, Dionysius never claimed that he has all the answers and that there may be a lot more or fewer angels and they may have different tasks and hierarchies. But, these three orders are known to be the most plausible due to Dionysius’s in-depth research and it is said to be in accordance with Catholic theology.

The hierarchy of angels, of course, does differ depending on which religion you research along with the jobs, appearances and traits of the angels.

Hierarchy of Angels

Angelology is a theological doctrine pertaining to angels and can be found in different religions depicted in different ways. The hierarchy of angels basically refers to the belief that angels have different rankings or levels in a religion. The angels at a higher ranking are usually assumed to have a greater amount of authority or power over those with lower rankings. It is also perceived that angels of different rankings differ in their appearances, for example, having a difference in the number of faces or wings. Let’s explore the hierarchy of angels as depicted in different religions.

Christianity

The most widely believed hierarchy of angels for Christians was actually influenced by Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite’s 5th-century manuscript, ‘De Coelesti Hierarchia,’ which translates to ‘On the Celestial Hierarchy.’ Pseudo-Dionysius made three orders in which he grouped the 9 levels of angels or spiritual beings. The lowest order consists of archangels, angels and principalities. The middle order consists of virtue, powers and dominions. The highest order consists of Cherubim, Thrones and Seraphim.

During the Middle Ages, a variety of schemes were introduced. Some expanded and drew on the hierarchal standard that Dionysius proposed, whereas others classified angels completely differently.

Thomas Aquinas (Summa Theologiae) and Pseudo-Dionysius (On the Celestial Hierarchy) drew their conclusions after going through the New Testament, in particular two passages from it (Ephesians 1:21 and Colossians 1:16). They developed a diagram consisting of three triads, spheres or hierarchies of angels. Each hierarchy contained three choirs or orders.

Judaism

In Judaism, the angelic hierarchy has been established in the Talmud, Hebrew Bible, Jewish liturgy and Rabbinic literature. The categorization of the hierarchies has also been proposed by different theologians as well. In the Yad ha-Chazakah: Yesodei ha-Torah or Mishneh Torah by Maimonides, ten rankings of angels have been specified.

Zoroastrianism

The angelic hierarchy in Zoroastrianism is not formally specified. Their angel beings, that are called yazatas, are believed to have important positions. In the Zoroastrian calendar, some of the days are named after the yazatas in their honour.

Islam

Islam does not categorize angels into a different hierarchy as there is in Christianity and their separation of angels into different spheres or choirs. The topic of a hierarchy of angels is not addressed directly in the Holy Quran. It is still, however, clear in Islam that a hierarchy or an order does exist pertaining to angels. Their differentiation is through the different tasks that they are said to be given by God. A few scholars of Islam propose that the angels in Islam could be grouped into 14 categories.

Some games, particularly role-playing games also have adopted the idea of using angels as characters that can be summoned by different players. Shin Megami Tensei and Dungeons & Dragons are examples of such RPG games who have adopted this hierarchal structure. In Shin Megami Tensei, the angels can belong to two different categories, Heralds or Divine. In Dungeons and Dragons, there are three classifications of angels – Solar, astral Deva and Planetar.

Thus, different religions classify angels under different ranks and hierarchies depending on either their physical attributes, the jobs they do or their personality traits.

Mary Frith (aka Moll Cutpurse)

This is the story of a 16th century woman who was anything but typical for the period. For the distinctive characteristics she had it wouldn’t be wrong to say she was way ahead of her time.

Mary Frith was born in 1584, born to a shoemaker in Barbican Estate, she gained the alias of Moll Cutpurse due to her reputation as a crafty pickpocket. However, she was also known as the Roaring Girl, for brawling in the street.

She was notorious, rebellious, and a loudmouth, and was said to be the first woman ever to smoke, openly dress as a man, and live among the underworld of London.

The Beginning

Despite being born to a simple shoe maker and his very domesticated housewife, this celebrity criminal girl had always been aggressive, wild and bawdy. An uncle of hers was a minister but these facts wouldn’t keep her tamed. In fact her very first recorded theft of two shillings was at the age of sixteen, and a considerable amount of money for the time. Her uncle had her shipped off to New England hoping for her to make a fresh start.

She proved to be nothing less than her heralded reputation and even before the ship sailed, she jumped out and swam all the way to the shore. From that point onward her new life of wild lawlessness began. She’d go to taverns knock herself out drinking, would carry a sword with her and dress like a man smoking a long clay pipe.

On the Fence of London’s Underworld

She wasn’t easily scared either. She had her hand burned four times, which was a common practice for punishing thieves, but this did not discourage her from stealing again. In fact she became the “go-to” person for thieves who would pay her something to get what they wanted done.

She was also notorious for pimping. She would connect rich men with women who were interested in being their mistresses. Contrary to her lifestyle, her house on Fleet Street was known to be quite feminine and immaculate. Along with three maids she kept full time for help, she also had pets in her house. Perhaps very opposing sides of her character for many who did not understand her.

At a later point she was sent to trial and sentenced to death, but she got away from being hanged by paying the hangman, and was later released. From that point onward the woman had grown psychotic in her body and her manners.

Moll Cutpurse was pronounced dead on the 26th of June, 1659. She is buried at St. Bride’s churchyard, Fleet Street with an inscribed epitaph that was later destroyed in the Great Fire of London.

The Book of Revelation – Symbolism

We have discussed how the language and visions present in the book may instigate fear into some, which is perhaps the very reason why it was referred to as a very misunderstood book. The Book of Revelation speaks mostly about the visions in a very symbolic description whether discussing upcoming events or be it about a person. The language of the book, just like the extensive presence of symbology needed to match the theme, and thus the linguistics were also written in a rather allegorical manner. The main idea behind this book is to bring forth the covenant of God through the prophesized scriptures.

This book by John is called the Book of Revelation due to the very fact that most of its content consists of inevitable prophecies, hence it only seemed befitting for the book to be considered a Revelation from the Almighty.

As mentioned last week, we shall look deeper into understanding how symbols are present in the book and why they are needed in the Divine Scripture in the first place.

Symbols and the meanings

Beginning from the bizarrely repulsive description of Jesus Christ, the book also speaks about women in a very unrealistic manner. Christ was defined as a lamb having about seven eyes and seven horns in Rev 5:6. The idea was that, just like in dreams everything that we see is symbolic, the seven eyes and seven horns have deep connotations behind it. Seven being God’s number, thus a divine association of the number with Jesus Christ. Considering how the universe as well as man is somehow allotted the number seven to its making. The Seven Princes of Hell, the seven heavens, the seven colors of the rainbow, the seven days of a week, seven senses, the seven layers of skin and this can go on.

Now that we understand the importance of the number seven in the divine order, know that in this text seven was used for representing ‘universal’. Let’s understand why Christ was referred to as a Lamb? And why seven horns and seven eyes? Lamb is the sign of innocence, purity and gentleness. Judging from the events to follow, its reference to Christ also means both triumph as well as suffering. Whereas the horns represent power and wisdom, like a divine crown of universal power and wisdom placed naturally on one’s head. Eyes, however, stand for knowledge. Thus, putting it together it represents ‘universal knowledge’.

Universe’s Encoded Messages

One might find themselves thinking what is the reason behind such encodings, when this could have been written in a more self-explanatory manner? Here’s what one needs to understand. God speaks through the language of the universe. The signs from the universe are nothing vague or coincidental but Him speaking directly to you. But due to the fact that we in our minuscule form, the human version, are not able to decipher if God was to speak directly to us, so He speaks through symbols and numbers. Just like a child regardless of all its intellect, this human miracle is born with, doesn’t always understand what an elder has to say to them. In order to fully comprehend, the child needs to go through certain experiences to grow and evolve intellectually. This same phenomena is applied to us humans through divine messages. It’s the different level of intellect that makes it sound obscure and thus intimidating. If you actually think of it, in order for one’s intellect to grow, one has to put work into understanding these encodings and symbols, everything else in the universe will then begin to make sense.

Thus, we now understand that the context of the Book of Revelations is much more deeper than just the concept of God putting fear and wrath upon the world.

The Book of Revelation (Part 1)

The Book of Revelation also seen as the book most Christians are scared of, has other names too, which are as, Revelation to John, the Revelation of Jesus Christ, the Apocalypse of John or simply the Revelation. It is the final book of the New Testament or the Christian Bible. Its title is derived from the first Greek word of the texts ‘apokalypsis’, which means revelation or unveiling. But why does it have John’s name in it? It is there, because of the fact that the name of the book’s author was John.

Although it is unclear whether it was John the apostle or a different John, most believe him to be the exiled John, also called John the Divine. Due to the fact that this entire book is congested with symbolism, it is often not very well understood by everyone. The very reason for this book’s negative reputation is based on man’s oldest, most primitive reaction to the unknown — Fear.

The Book of Revelation throughout the years has been seen in many different ways:

Conceptual Division

To make this twenty-two chapter long book comprehensible, many school of thoughts have divided the book into three sections. For certain scholars, they slot down the book into present, past and future; while others more specifically see it as: Section One ‘all that John has seen’, Section Two ‘all the things at the present Church’ and Section Three ‘all that will take place’. Thus, categorically these are the past, present and future, respectively, with Section One being the First Chapter. Section Two encompassing Chapters Two and Three. And Chapter Four onwards till the end falls under Section Three, all of which is heavily packed with divinations and predictions.

Some disagree and believe the past is from Chapter 1 to 5, present from Chapter 6 to 11 and the future from Chapter 12 to 22.

Apocalypse, a Destructive Series of Events?

It would be wrong to say that most find the book to be rather fearful considering the linguistics used appear to be demonstrations of God’s wrath, while another big reason is the End of Times destructive predictions. But for those who have read through the books’ allegorically written pretexts and the heavy use of symbolism, understand that it isn’t literal but rather more analogical with codes that need to be deciphered.

Considering how the book reads on about the End of Times and the Apocalyptic events that may follow, it is natural for one to develop fear. This is due to the fact that an association with apocalypse is immediately assumed as great disastrous unfolding. But from the very beginning till the end of the book, it states that if you read it, then by understanding and following it in accordance to that, you shall be successful and you shall be happy.

Next on, we shall discuss further how this most widely misunderstood scripture should not be taken literally and how symbolism is used in the New Testament.  

Louisiana Voodoo

The power of voodoo. Who do? New Orleans do! Voodoo has been and still is displayed in many famous fictitious works, ranging from books and movies to comic books and stage plays. However, its portrayal is usually contradictory to the reality of voodoo and all that it entails. Voodoo is often portrayed as evil, involving the use of potions, dolls, and sacrifices. Even though there may be useful or historical references behind the use of those tools, that display is more in line with Hoodoo rather than voodoo. Louisiana is known for its history of voodoo practices, and was even the setting for the popular Disney movie, “The Princess and the Frog.” Let’s explore the significance of Voodoo practices in Louisiana from the olden days till now.

Establishment of Voodoo Practices in Louisiana

The history of Voodoo can be traced back to West Africa centuries ago. Voodoo was introduced in Louisiana during the period of French Colonization back in the late 1600s. During the early 1700s, the practice of Voodoo was becoming increasingly common because, during the period between 1719 and 1731, African captives were being brought to Louisiana as slaves. The African group which was known as Fon (and is now known as Benin) were the majority that had been brought over, alongside were many other tribes such as Ewe, Mina, Chamba, Mandinga, Bambara, Sango, Ado, Congo, and Ibo. But, these captives did not come alone, they brought with them their religious beliefs, languages, and cultural practices that were all linked to the importance of ancestor and spirit worshipping. Louisiana Voodoo, as it is now known, became popular due to the knowledge that these tribes knew about poisons, herbs, amulets, and charms.

Adaptation of Voodoo in Louisiana

During the period of French colonization in Louisiana, selling the children of African slaves and separating them from their families was illegal. Thus, the huge population of native Africans in Louisiana and their importance of maintaining close ties to each other is what helped them keep their culture and old world traditions alive. During that time, voodoo was adapted into Louisiana in a number of ways. The production and use of wearing amulets and charms to protect oneself or harm others were very much popular and became significant in Louisiana Voodoo. A poisonous charm known as Ouanga was adapted into Louisiana Voodoo and was used to poison enemies. Ouanga contained the toxic components of the figuier maudit trees that were brought from West Africa and cautiously preserved in Louisiana. The poisonous roots were ground up and combined with elements such as nails, roots, bones, crucifixes, holy incense, holy candles, holy bread, and holy water. Since these African rituals and beliefs were allowed to be practiced, they adopted Catholic beliefs and practices into the Louisiana Voodoo rituals.

Another reason Louisiana is so rich in knowledge about Voodoo is due to the importance the native Africans gave to respecting elders and worshipping ancestors. The older African slaves lived much longer and thus helped to keep Voodoo practices alive in Louisiana and the effects of that can be seen until today.