A guardian angel is a type of angel that is assigned to protect and guide a particular person, group or nation. Belief in tutelary beings can be traced throughout all antiquity. The idea of angels that guard over people played a major role in Ancient Judaism. In Christianity, the hierarchy of angels was extensively developed in the 5th century by Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite. The theology of angels and tutelary spirits has undergone many changes since the 5th century. The belief is that guardian angels serve to protect whichever person God assigns them to.
The idea of a guardian angel is central to the 15th-century book The Book of the Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage by Abraham of Worms, a German Cabalist. In 1897, this book was translated into English by Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers (1854–1918), a co-founder of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, who styled the guardian angel as the "Holy Guardian Angel."
Aleister Crowley (1875–1947), the founder of the religion Thelema, considered the Holy Guardian Angel to be representative of one's truest divine nature and the equivalent of the "Genius" of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, the Augoeides of Iamblichus, the Atman of Hinduism, and the Daimon of the ancient Greeks. Following the teachings of the Golden Dawn, Crowley refined their rituals which were intended to facilitate the ability to establish contact with one's guardian angel.
In the Hebrew Bible and Old Testament
The guardian angel concept is present in the books of the Hebrew Bible and the Old Testament, and its development is well marked. These books described God's angels as his ministers who carried out his behests, and who were at times given special commissions, regarding men and mundane affairs.
In Genesis 18-19, angels not only acted as the executors of God's wrath against the cities of the plain, but they delivered Lot from danger; in Exodus 32:34, God said to Moses: "my angel shall go before thee." At a much later period, we have the story of Tobias, which might serve for a commentary on the words of Psalm 91:11: "For He will command His angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways" (Cf. Psalm 33:8 and 34:5 — 34:7 and 35:6 in Protestant Bibles).
The belief that angels can be guides and intercessors for men can be found in Job 33:23-26, and in Daniel 10:13 angels seem to be assigned to certain countries. In this latter case, the "prince of the kingdom of Persia" contends with Gabriel. The same verse mentions "Michael, one of the chief princes".
In rabbinic literature, the rabbis expressed the notion that there are indeed guardian angels appointed by God to watch over people.
Rashi on Daniel 10:7 "Our Sages of blessed memory said that although a person does not see something of which he is terrified, his guardian angel, who is in heaven, does see it; therefore, he becomes terrified."
Late and modern Judaism
According to Rabbi Leo Trepp, in late Judaism, the belief developed that, "the people have a heavenly representative, a guardian angel. Every human being has a guardian angel. Previously the term `Malakh', angel, simply meant messenger of God."
Chabad believes that people might indeed have guardian angels. For Chabad, God watches over people and makes decisions directly with their prayers and it is in this context that the guardian angels are sent back and forth as emissaries to aid in this task. Thus, they are not prayed to directly, but the angels are part of the workings of how the prayer and response comes about.
In the view of rabbi Adin Steinsaltz:
The nature of the angel is to be, to a degree, as its name in Hebrew signifies, a messenger, to constitute a permanent contact between our world of action and the higher worlds. An angel's missions go in two directions: it may serve as an emissary of God downward… and it may also serve as the one carries things upwards from below... The angel cannot reveal its true form to man, whose being, senses and instruments of perception belong only to the world of action — it continues to belong to a different dimension even when apprehended in one form or another... The angel who is sent to us from another world does not always have a significance or impact beyond the normal laws of physical nature. Indeed it often happens that the angel precisely reveals itself in nature, in the ordinary common-sense world of causality.
In the New Testament the concept of guardian angel may be noted. Angels are everywhere the intermediaries between God and man; and Christ set a seal upon the Old Testament teaching: "See that you despise not one of these little ones: for I say to you, that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father who is in heaven." (Matthew 18:10). Guardian angels work both for single persons and for communities of people. Revelation 2:1–29 and Revelation 3:1–22 refers of the angels of the seven churches of Asia who work in the role of their guardians.
Other examples in the New Testament are the angel who succoured Christ in the garden, and the angel who delivered St. Peter from prison. In Acts 12:12-15, after Peter had been escorted out of prison by an angel, he went to the home of "Mary the mother of John, also called Mark". The servant girl, Rhoda, recognized his voice and ran back to tell the group that Peter was there. However, the group replied: "It must be his angel"' (12:15). With this scriptural sanction, Peter's angel was the most commonly depicted guardian angel in art, and was normally shown in images of the subject, most famously Raphael's fresco of the Deliverance of Saint Peter in the Vatican.
Hebrews 1:14 says: "Are they not all ministering spirits, sent to minister for them, who shall receive the inheritance of salvation?" In this view, the function of the guardian angel is to lead people to the Kingdom of Heaven.
According to Saint Jerome, the concept of guardian angels is in the "mind of the Church". He stated: "how great the dignity of the soul, since each one has from his birth an angel commissioned to guard it".
The first Christian theologian to outline a specific scheme for guardian angels was Honorius of Autun in the 12th century. He said that every soul was assigned a guardian angel the moment it was put into a body. Scholastic theologians augmented and ordered the taxonomy of angelic guardians. Thomas Aquinas agreed with Honorius and believed that it was the lowest order of angels who served as guardians, and his view was most successful in popular thought, but Duns Scotus said that any angel is bound by duty and obedience to the Divine Authority to accept the mission to which that angel is assigned. In the 15th century, the Feast of the Guardian Angels was added to the official calendar of Catholic holidays.
In his March 31, 1997 Regina Caeli address, Pope John Paul II referred to the concept of guardian angel and concluded the address with the statement: "Let us invoke the Queen of angels and saints, that she may grant us, supported by our guardian angels, to be authentic witnesses to the Lord's paschal mystery".
In his 2014 homily for the Feast of Holy Guardian Angels, October 2, Pope Francis told those gathered for daily Mass to be like children who pay attention to their “traveling companion.” “No one journeys alone and no one should think that they are alone,” the Pope said. During the Morning Meditation in the chapel of Santa Marta, the Pope noted that oftentimes, we have the feeling that "I should do this, this is not right, be careful." This, he said, "is the voice of" our guardian angel. "According to Church tradition we all have an angel with us, who guards us..." The Pope instructed each, "Do not rebel, follow his advice!" The Pope urged that this "doctrine on the angels" not be considered "a little imaginative". It is rather one of "truth". It is "what Jesus, what God said: 'I send an angel before you, to guard you, to accompany you on the way, so you will not make a mistake'".
Pope Francis concluded with a series of questions so that each one can examine his/her own conscience: "How is my relationship with my guardian angel? Do I listen to him? Do I bid him good day in the morning? Do I tell him: 'guard me while I sleep?' Do I speak with him? Do I ask his advice? ...Each one of us can do so in order to evaluate “the relationship with this angel that the Lord has sent to guard me and to accompany me on the path, and who always beholds the face of the Father who is in heaven."
There was an old Irish custom that suggested including in bedtime prayers a request for the Blessed Mother to tell one the name of their guardian angel, and supposedly within a few days one would "know" the name by which they could address their angel. An old Dominican tradition encouraged each novice to give a name to their Guardian Angel so that they could speak to him by name and thus feel closer and more friendly with him. The Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments discourages assigning names to angels beyond those revealed in scripture: Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael.
My work is done
My task is o'er,
And so I come
Taking it home
For the crown is won
My Father gave
In charge to me
This child of earth
E'en from its birth
To serve and save.
And saved is he.
This child of clay
To me was given,
To rear and train
By sorrow and pain
In the narrow way,
From earth to heaven.
Angels as guardians
According to Aquinas, "On this road man is threatened by many dangers both from within and without, and therefore as guardians are appointed for men who have to pass by an unsafe road, so an angel is assigned to each man as long as he is a wayfarer." By means of an angel, God is said to introduce images and suggestions leading a person to do what is right.
Saints and their angels
Father Giovangiuseppe Califano recounted how, one day, a newly appointed bishop confessed to Pope John XXIII “that he could not sleep at night due to an anxiety which was caused by the responsibility of his office.” “The pope told him, ‘You know, I also thought the same when I was elected pope. But one day, I dreamed about my guardian angel, and it told me not to take everything so seriously.’” Pope John attributed the idea of calling Second Vatican Council to an inspiration from his guardian angel.
Saint Gemma Galgani, a Roman Catholic mystic, stated that she had interacted with and spoken with her guardian angel. Saint Pio of Pietrelcina was known to instruct his parishioners to send him their guardian angel to communicate a trouble or issue to him when they could not travel to get to him or another urgency existed.
Justin Fontenot of the Prayerful Anglican states that the "guardian angel concept is clearly present in the Old Testament, and its development is well marked" and he continues, stating that in "the New Testament the concept of guardian angel may be noted with greater precision". Fontenot also cites Jerome, a Church Father, who said: "'how great the dignity of the soul, since each one has from his birth an angel commissioned to guard it.' (Comm. in Matt., xviii, lib. II)." In the same vein, Of the Intercession and Invocation of Angels and Saints, printed in the Library of Anglo-Catholic Theology, held that "Many learned Protestants think it probable that each of the faithful, at least, has a guardian angel. It seems certainly proved by Scripture. Zanchius says that all the Fathers held this opinion." Building upon Sacred Scripture and the teachings of the Church Fathers, Richard Montagu, the Anglican Bishop of Norwich in the 17th century, stated that "It is an opinion received, and hath been long, that if not every man, each son of Adam, yet sure each Christian man regenerate by water and the Holy Ghost, at least from the day of his regeneration and new birth unto God, if not from the time of his coming into the world, hath by God's appointment and assignation an Angel Guardian to attend upon him at all assayes, in all his ways, at his going forth, at his coming home".
Eastern Orthodox Church
each man has a guardian angel who stands before the face of the Lord. This guardian angel is not only a friend and a protector, who preserves from evil and who sends good thought; the image of God is reflected in the creature—angels and men—in such a way that angels are celestial prototypes of men. Guardian angels are especially our spiritual kin. Scripture testified that the guardian ship and direction of the elements, of places, of peoples, of societies, are confided to the guardian angels of the cosmos, whose very substance adds something of harmony to the elements they watch over.
As such, before the Eastern Orthodox liturgy of the Communion of the Faithful, a prayer asks "For an angel of peace, a faithful guide, a guardian of our souls and bodies, let us entreat the Lord. Amen."
The Reverend Donald Schneider, a Lutheran priest, wrote that the concept of a guardian angel is found in Psalm 91, which includes a verse stating “For [God] will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone”. He states that Martin Luther may have based Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer found in the Small Catechism on this text, as these prayers include the supplication "Let your holy angel be with me, that the evil foe may have no power over me."
Perhaps every Christian has a guardian angel. It may be that there is one angel to every Christian, or a score of them; or one may have charge of a score of Christians. Some of the ancient fathers believed that every city had a guardian angel, while others assigned one to every house and every man. None of us know how much we are indebted to angels for our deliverance from imminent peril, disease, and malicious plots of men and devils. Where the pious die, angels are to carry the soul to heaven, though it be a soul of a Lazarus."
In May and June 1743, Methodists experienced persecution in Wednesbury and Walsall and the founder of the Methodist Church, John Wesley, was threatened with death by a mob who dragged him in the rain; however, "Wesley escaped unharmed" and he "believed that he had been protected by his guardian angel".
Reformed and Presbyterian Churches
That as a rule to each elect person a certain particular good angel is appointed by God to guard him, may be gathered from Christ's words, Mt. 18. 10, where it is said 'Their angels do continually behold the face of my Father.' Also from Ac. 12.15 where the believers who had assembled in Mark's house said of Peter knocking at the door, 'It is his angel'. These believers were speaking according to the opinion received among the people of God."
There is a similar Islamic belief in the Mu'aqqibat. According to many Muslims, each person has two guardian angels, in front of and behind him, while the two recorders are located to the right and left.
Also known as Arda Fravaš ('Holy Guardian Angels'). Each person is accompanied by a guardian angel, which acts as a guide throughout life. They originally patrolled the boundaries of the ramparts of heaven, but volunteer to descend to earth to stand by individuals to the end of their days.
The Ashvins (Sanskrit: अश्विन्, romanized: Aśvin, lit. 'horse possessors'), also known as Ashwini Kumara and Asvinau, are Hindu twin gods associated with medicine, health, dawn and sciences. In the Rigveda, they are described as youthful divine twin horsemen, travelling in a chariot drawn by horses that are never weary, and portrayed as guardian deities that safeguard and rescue people by aiding them in various situations.
The Ashvins are generally mentioned as the sons of the sun god Surya and his wife Sanjna, but there are some varying accounts. The goddess Sūryā is described as the common wife of the Ashvins and they are associated with the dawn goddess Ushas as her close companions. In the epic Mahabharata the Pandava twins Nakula and Sahadeva were the spiritual children of the Ashvins.
The Enochian system of 16th-century occultist John Dee discusses the guardian angel. In this dialog between Dee and the angel Jubanladace on p. 18, Cotton Appendix XLVI 1, the angel says the following:
Jubanladace: Unto men, according unto their deserts, and the first excellency of their soul, God hath appointed a good Governor or Angel, from among the orders of those that are blessed. For every soul that is good, is not of one and the self same dignification. Therefore according to his excellency we are appointed as Ministers from that order, whereunto his excellency accordeth: to the intent that he may be brought, at last, to supply those places which were glorified by a former: and also to the intent, that the Prince of darkness might be counterposed in God's justice.[a]
The term Holy Guardian Angel (HGA) originates in the Catholic Church where a morning prayer is recited which reads, "Holy Guardian Angel whom God has appointed to be my guardian, direct and govern me during this day/ Amen". The idea of a Holy Guardian Angel is central to the book The Book of the Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage by Abraham of Worms, a German Cabalist who wrote the book on ceremonial magic during the 15th century and which was later translated by Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers, a co-founder of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. He elaborated on this earlier work, giving it extensive magical notes, but the original concept goes back to the Zoroastrian Arda Fravaš ('Holy Guardian Angels'). In Mathers' publication of The Book of the Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage, he writes:
If thou shalt perfectly observe these rules, all the following Symbols and an infinitude of others will be granted unto thee by thy Holy Guardian Angel; thou thus living for the Honour and Glory of the True and only God, for thine own good, and that of thy neighbour. Let the Fear of God be ever before the eyes and the heart of him who shall possess this Divine Wisdom and Sacred Magic.
Later, author and occultist Aleister Crowley popularized the term within his religious and philosophical system of Thelema.
Aleister Crowley's teachings
Within the system of the magical Order A∴A∴ founded by Aleister Crowley, one of the two most important goals is to consciously connect with one’s Holy Guardian Angel, representative of one's truest divine nature: a process termed “Knowledge and Conversation.”
It should never be forgotten for a single moment that the central and essential work of the Magician is the attainment of the Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel. Once he has achieved this he must of course be left entirely in the hands of that Angel, who can be invariably and inevitably relied upon to lead him to the further great step—crossing of the Abyss and the attainment of the grade of Master of the Temple.
Crowley considered the Holy Guardian Angel to be the equivalent of the Genius of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, the Augoeides of Iamblichus, the Atman of Hinduism, and the Daimon of the ancient Greeks.
Methods of achieving knowledge and conversation
Crowley said that the Abramelin procedure was not the only way to achieve success in this endeavour:
It is impossible to lay down precise rules by which a man may attain to the knowledge and conversation of His Holy Guardian Angel; for that is the particular secret of each one of us; a secret not to be told or even divined by any other, whatever his grade. It is the Holy of Holies, whereof each man is his own High Priest, and none knoweth the Name of his brother's God, or the Rite that invokes Him.
Since the operation described in Abramelin is so complex and requires time and resources not available to most people, Crowley wanted to provide a more accessible method. While at the Abbey of Thelema in Italy, he wrote Liber Samekh based on the Bornless Ritual, a ritual designed as an example of how one may attain the Knowledge and Conversation with one’s Holy Guardian Angel. In his notes to this ritual, Crowley sums up the key to success: "INVOKE OFTEN."
Crowley also explains, in more detail, the general mystical process of the ritual:
The Adept will be free to concentrate his deepest self, that part of him which unconsciously orders his true Will, upon the realization of his Holy Guardian Angel. The absence of his bodily, mental and astral consciousness is indeed cardinal to success, for it is their usurpation of his attention which has made him deaf to his Soul, and his preoccupation with their affairs that has prevented him from perceiving that Soul.
The effect of the Ritual has been
- to keep them so busy with their own work that they cease to distract him;
- to separate them so completely that his soul is stripped of its sheaths;
- to arouse in him an enthusiasm so intense as to intoxicate and anaesthetize him, that he may not feel and resent the agony of this spiritual vivisection, just as bashful lovers get drunk on the wedding night, in order to brazen out the intensity of shame which so mysteriously coexists with their desire;
- to concentrate the necessary spiritual forces from every element, and fling them simultaneously into the aspiration towards the Holy Guardian Angel; and
- to attract the Angel by the vibration of the magical voice which invokes Him.
The method of the Ritual is thus manifold.
Another detailed description of the general operation is given in The Vision and the Voice in the eighth Aethyr and is also described in Liber 8.
Evolution of Crowley's teachings
Crowley only states that the Holy Guardian Angel is the 'silent self' in his early life. In his late sixties, when composing Magick Without Tears, he states something very different. According to Crowley's later definition, the Holy Guardian Angel is not one's 'self', but an independent and discrete being, who may have been a human like oneself at one stage:
Now, on the other hand, there is an entirely different type of angel; and here we must be especially careful to remember that we include gods and devils, for there are such beings who are not by any means dependent on one particular element for their existence. They are microcosms in exactly the same sense as men and women are. They are individuals who have picked up the elements of their composition as possibility and convenience dictates, exactly as we do ourselves... I believe that the Holy Guardian Angel is a Being of this order. He is something more than a man, possibly a being who has already passed through the stage of humanity, and his peculiarly intimate relationship with his client is that of friendship, of community, of brotherhood, or Fatherhood. He is not, let me say with emphasis, a mere abstraction from yourself; and that is why I have insisted rather heavily that the term 'Higher Self' implies a damnable heresy and a dangerous delusion.
Guardian angels were often considered to be matched by a personal demon who countered the angel's efforts, especially in popular medieval drama such as morality plays like the 15th-century The Castle of Perseverance. In Christopher Marlowe's play The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus, c. 1592, Faustus has a "Good Angel" and "Bad Angel" who offer competing advice (Act 2, scene 1, etc.).
Guardian angels appear in literary works of the medieval and Renaissance periods. Later the Anglican English physician and philosopher Sir Thomas Browne (1605–1682), stated his belief in Religio Medici (part 1, paragraph 33):
Therefore for Spirits I am so farre from denying their existence, that I could easily beleeve, that not onely whole Countries, but particular persons have their Tutelary, and Guardian Angels: It is not a new opinion of the Church of Rome, but an old one of Pythagoras and Plato; there is no heresie in it, and if not manifestly defin'd in Scripture, yet is it an opinion of a good and wholesome use in the course and actions of a mans life, and would serve as an Hypothesis to salve many doubts, whereof common Philosophy affordeth no solution:
By the 19th century, the guardian angel was no longer viewed in Anglophone lands as an intercessory figure, but rather as a force protecting the believer from performing sin. A parody appears in Lord Byron's 1819 poem Don Juan: "Her guardian angel had given up his garrison" (Canto I, xvii).
Author A.L. Mengel's 2016 novel War Angel explores the mystery surrounding guardian angels.
In popular culture
- Clarence Odbody, the guardian angel in the 1946 film It's a Wonderful Life and the 1990 film Clarence, "earned his wings" through bringing awareness that life was worth living to the 1946 film's protagonist, George Bailey.
- Teen Angel, Frenchy’s guardian angel in the 1978 film Grease, who advises her to return to high school in the song “Beauty School Dropout".
- Peter J. Carroll
- Guardian Angel of Portugal
- Patron saint
- Recording angel
- C.F. Russell
- Shoulder angel
- Territorial spirit
- Thelemic mysticism
- Third Man factor
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Luther's prayers are cast in the singular and the German has "let your holy angel." This could be a reference to one's guardian angel, and thus when the prayer is put in the plural the noun angel should logically be made plural also.
- Hanner, John W. (1858). William T. Smithson (ed.). Angelic Study. The Methodist Pulpit, South. Methodist Episcopal Church, South. p. 77.
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- "Quran Surah Ar-Ra'd ( Verse 11 ) with English Translation لَهُ مُعَقِّبَاتٌ مِنْ بَيْنِ يَدَيْهِ وَمِنْ خَلْفِهِ يَحْفَظُونَهُ مِنْ أَمْرِ اللَّهِ ۗ إِنَّ اللَّهَ لَا يُغَيِّرُ مَا بِقَوْمٍ حَتَّىٰ يُغَيِّرُوا مَا بِأَنْفُسِهِمْ ۗ وَإِذَا أَرَادَ اللَّهُ بِقَوْمٍ سُوءًا فَلَا مَرَدَّ لَهُ ۚ وَمَا لَهُمْ مِنْ دُونِهِ مِنْ وَالٍ". IReBD.com. Archived from the original on 2018-01-26. Retrieved 2018-01-26.
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- Media related to Guardian angels at Wikimedia Commons
- Joe Nickell. (2011). "On a Wing and a Prayer: The Search for Guardian Angels". Csicop.org