Are Angels Real?
Plus: A Talk with Angel 'Expert' Dr. Doreen VirtueThis story and interview are slightly longer versions of the ones that were in the Spirit Guide, a digest-size special magazine about spirituality and faith published in November 2004. (If you came here looking for my Lucille Ball site, just click on "LUCY" at the bottom of the page.) — MAK.
"Do not forget to entertain strangers,
for by so doing some people have
entertained angels without knowing it."
– The Bible, Hebrews 13:2
"When I was young (between 4 and 7 years old), I used to see angels above my bed in the morning. I saw them as tiny, baby-faced angels, just the heads and the wings, like the Fiorucci angels, without sunglasses. They sang ‘Good morning’ to me in lilting tones. I had the impression that this went on for a while, and my mom recalls speaking to me about it and asking to whom I was talking in my room. I would reply, ‘the angels.’ She thought this was a nice little story about imaginary friends, but after it went on for a while and she kept getting the same answer, she encouraged me to talk to her about them. I’m not sure why there were three angels (if we each get one guardian angel — but maybe that’s not set in stone), but it did open up for me the possibility that a realm existed beyond the concrete one." —Lesley Goddin, communications coordinator of the Albuquerque, N.M. Labyrinth Meditation Society (ALMS)
Are angels real? Do they appear to us at our most intense times of suffering or depression, and help us? The concept of angels and their existence has been around ever since mankind developed the ability to reason and wonder — specifically, to wonder "Why am I here?" and "Why does life seem so hard, or even impossible, to navigate sometimes?" Whether or not angels do, in fact, exist, "One out of every five Americans believes he or she has seen an angel or knows someone who has," according to Thomas Hargrove of the Scripps Howard News Service, writing in the Albuquerque Tribune. Scripps Howard and Ohio University conducted the survey of 1,127 adult residents of the United States.
Seventy-seven percent of adults in the poll answered "Yes" to the question, "Do you believe angels, that is, some kind of heavenly beings who visit Earth, in fact exist?" Another 73 percent believe angels still "come into the world even in these modern" times.
Robert W. Graves, author of The Gospel According to Angels, believes that "Interest in angels is healthy in the sense that it offers us an opportunity to discuss spiritual matters….Belief in angelic beings cuts across almost all ranges of education, income and lifestyle," Graves notes. "Women and young people are slightly more likely to believe than are men or older Americans, but a majority of almost every demographic group has faith in these supernatural beings."
Scripture of four of the world’s major religions describes angels as special beings, created by God as watchdogs, helpers, or messengers to guide human beings in making the right choices in their lives. Indeed, the word angel comes from the Greek, meaning messenger.
There is a Hebrew equivalent, according to Rabbi Dr. Michael Samuel, on his website www.jewish.com/askarabbi: ma’lak, also meaning messenger. "Those are the two most common terms used to describe this class of beings in the Bible," Samuel says. "In general, in texts where an angel appears, his task is to convey the message or do the will of the God who sent him. Since the focus of the text is on the message, the messenger is rarely described in detail." In general, Samuel adds, "Angels are spiritual beings who mediate between the transcendental realm of the sacred and the profane world of man."
Human perception and views of angels have changed over the centuries. Just as there are billions of human beings with different views on any number of subjects, through the ages, the category of angels has been broadened to include "good" angels and "bad" angels (such as the fallen angel, Lucifer). By the time the Gospels were written, notes Rabbi Samuel, "Angels were described as suprahuman or spiritual beings who were allied with God in opposition to Satan and his angels [also known popularly as devils]."
Fr. William Saunders writing in the Arlington Catholic Herald, 1997, noted, "The existence of the spiritual, non-corporeal beings that Sacred Scripture usually calls ‘angels’ is a truth of faith….Given that we do believe in angels, we define them as pure spirits and personal beings with intelligence and free will. They are immortal beings. As the Bible attests, they appear to humans as apparitions with a human form."
Buddhism treats angels a bit differently in its teachings: "Buddhism speaks of the existence of category of beings called devas," says author Dr. V.A. Gunasekara. "This term is generally translated as ‘gods’ (with a simple ‘g’ and in the plural). The term deva literally means ‘a shining or radiant being,’ and describes their physical appearance rather than their supernatural powers….Devas are essentially irrelevant to the human situation. …The devas are not particularly endowed with special powers to influence others, and far from saving anyone else, they themselves are not ‘saved.’" Salvation in Buddhism comes only from full enlightenment, which could be best accomplished from the human plane of existence, Gunasekara explains.
Finally, in the Muslim tradition, "Angels have no gender (neither male nor female)," says Dr. Ibrahim B. Syed, Clinical Professor of Medicine at the University of Louisville (Ky.) School of Medicine and president of the Islamic Research Foundation International. "From [Muslim literature] we get the following information: Angels are created from light and are invisible. They do not have any free will or an independent will to act on their own….They have only a one-dimensional nature, something like a programmed robot….They carry out their functions honestly, efficiently and responsibly and are never guilty of shirking work."
Ultimately, Syed says, "Angels can be interpreted as messengers or instruments of Allah’s will, and may have a few or numerous errands entrusted to them."
"It was 1979, I was 23 and seeing a guy who was very keen on me. We lived in Inverness, which was not exactly famous for its nightlife, so my boyfriend arranged to go clubbing with some friends and me. He would drive. He met us, but there were extra people who wanted to go, so we crammed six into the car. I was stepping in when suddenly the whole world seemed taken up by fog. I couldn’t see anything but this grayness, or hear anything except a voice (quite ordinary, but insistent) saying, "Fasten the seatbelt, fasten the seatbelt." This was before the seatbelt law and I had never previously fastened the belt in a car before.
"I had to fight to get it shut as it was adjusted for my boyfriend’s mum, who was a tiny woman. I just managed it and looked up to see lights right in front of me. There was a sickening crash and screaming. There had been a three-car crash and I was the only person to walk away from it. At the [same] time, in Glasgow, my Nana had a nightmare and kept repeating the name of the hospital I was taken to for a checkup. Also, when she recovered, my friend in the back of the car asked ‘Who was the man sitting on my knee?’ She said he was dressed in black with a moustache and looked old-fashioned. I didn’t have anyone earthly sitting on my knee, but I believe my guardian angel saved my life." — Eyewitness account, taken from the iVillage.co.uk. website
Robert Todd Carroll, in the Skeptic’s Dictionary, describes angels as having, "different functions. Some do nothing but worship their Lord. Others are sent to deliver messages to creatures on earth. Some are sent as protectors of earthlings. Still others are sent to do battle with devils, who are viewed as initiators of evil temptations."
But, being a skeptic, he felt compelled to add this cautionary note [italics his]: "Since angels are invisible but capable of taking on visible forms, it is understandable that there have been many ‘sightings.’ Literally anything could be an angel and any experience could be an angel experience. The existence of angels cannot be disproved. The downside of this tidy picture is that angels cannot be proved to exist, either. Everything, and every experience, that could be an angel could be something else. Belief in angels, angel sightings and angel experiences is entirely a matter of faith."
Many people, especially after the tragic events of 9-11, believe the real angels in our lives are more corporeal, in other words, people that we view as a cut or two above the average mortal:
— The firefighters, emergency workers and policemen who, literally and figuratively, helped New York and the country survive 9-11.
— The teachers who report to work everyday, underpaid but determined to influence positively the minds of young Americans.
— Individuals like Helen Keller, who achieved so much in the face of being told she would never achieve anything.
— Everyday heroes who help a disabled person cross the street, or take a homeless person to a shelter.
Still, we can understand and logically process a firefighter’s bravery, or an average citizen’s burst of good will in a crisis. What about stories and behavior that cannot rationally be explained?
Almost everyone has a tale they can attribute to a guardian angel. Including me.
My mother died in the fall of 1991, after fighting colon cancer for two years; her passing left my family bereft. The next year, I was not able to attend our yearly Passover Seder, held in Boston where the majority of our family lives. It would be the first one without Mom.
I decided, in her honor and because I knew she’d get a kick out of it, to make Matzo ball soup. When I got home from the grocery store, I looked at the package and realized I’d bought the wrong kind of mix. I cursed, but determined to make the soup, ran right back out to exchange it.
I had been outside, in the hallway on my floor in the building, literally seconds before. This time, when I opened my apartment door, an overwhelming and familiar rush greeted me: the smell of fresh roses, mom’s favorite flower.
I stood there, in the doorway, mouth open, and began to cry. I knew in my heart that it was my mother’s way of telling me, "It’s okay, honey, I miss you, too, but I’ll always be there for you."
There had been no flower deliveries that day to the building. Even though the idea of a New York apartment dweller spraying the hallway of his or her apartment to keep it smelling fresh would be treated with derisive laughter by most New Yorkers, I canvassed my neighbors when I ran into them, and none of them had sprayed the floor.
I’m still convinced Mom dropped by to tell me not to be upset or sad.
She was, in fact, acting at that moment as my guardian angel. Do I believe? Yes, I do. I also believe there are many things in this world and our universe that defy explanation. They require faith. I can live with that. And apparently, so can most of us. — Michael Karol
A Date with an Angel (Expert)No talk about angels would be complete with speaking to the renowned angel expert, Dr. Doreen Virtue. (Before you ask, that is her real name.) A doctor of psychology who holds BA, MA, and Ph.D. degrees in counseling psychology, Dr. Virtue calls herself a "spiritual clairvoyant." She is the author of 22 books on angels and related issues, including Healing with the Angels, Divine Guidance, and Angel.
She says her practice has "naturally evolved into Angel Therapy, in which she combines her skills as a psychologist with her spiritual abilities." Her website bio notes that "Dr. Virtue is the founder and former director of WomanKind Psychiatric Hospital at Cumberland Hall Hospital in Nashville, Tennessee. She was also an administrator at Woodside Women's Hospital in the San Francisco Bay Area."
M.A.K.: Is there any way to prove the existence of angels in real life?
Dr. Doreen Virtue: There’s no way to scientifically prove that angels are real with our current technology, in the sense of using a controlled experiment. However, using the scientific "empirical" approach, we have a lot of support for the evidence of the existence of angels. The empirical approach uses case studies, and we have thousands of stories from people of all ages, faiths, and backgrounds reporting similar experiences that can’t be explained. For instance, thousands of people report that during a time of danger, a well-dressed stranger appears and rescues or heals them, and then disappears without a trace. With so many people reporting the same phenomenon worldwide, you begin to believe that it really exists.
As a former psychotherapist, I have interviewed many people who’ve had angel experiences. In my opinion, these are intelligent, lucid adults who are not hallucinating or lying. They also seem unconcerned whether other people believe them or not. In other words, they don’t have an agenda and they’re not trying to convert, convince, or impress anyone — so what would motivate them to talk about these angel experiences unless they really had them?
M.A.K.: Is there a specific way to summon them, such as prayer?
D.V.: Angels are always with us, so we don’t need to summon them. Instead, we have to listen to their guidance. And if we want their help, we have to ask. The "Law of Free Will" prevents them from intervening into our lives without our permission, with the exception of a life-endangering situation before it’s "our time" to go.
In times of danger, angels appear without us having to summon them. However, they often give life-saving advice that we have to adhere to (like immediately changing the lane we’re driving in) to help save our own lives. In times of peril, angels speak in a loud voice that people easily understand.
During everyday events, the angels speak much more quietly. For this reason, we have to carve out quiet moments so that we can more clearly hear them.
Angels hear our thoughts, so we can speak to them through a silent conversation from our minds to theirs. We don’t need to use specific words to elicit the angels’ help; we just need to ask.
M.A.K.: Could I expect an angel to come to me in a dream? How do they typically "appear" to people, in your experience?
D.V.: The number one way that people experience angels is by feeling their presence — the feeling that someone else is with you. The angel’s love makes it a very pleasant and healing experience. Some people feel their angels like an air pressure or temperature change; other people feel their angels’ embrace or touch.
The second most common way is via visual experiences. People see evidence of their angels’ energy and presence through dream visitations. These dreams are usually quite vivid and memorable. Other people see their angels’ energy as sparkles or flashes of light. I’ve also interviewed a few people who’ve seen apparitions of angels for very clear, but very brief, moments of time.
Most people who clearly see a full angel report seeing a very tall, large and benevolent being of light. Sometimes, the bright light obscures the face, so no gender or details are apparent. Other people clearly report seeing details of a large male or female angel, [wearing] elaborate gowns. Several hundred people have told me about seeing wings on the angels, although the wings aren’t flapping or used for transportation. Apparently, angels appear to people as we expect them to look. We expect to see wings on angels, so that’s how they appear to us.
M.A.K.: Do angels have corporeal shells? Or are they more spirit-like?
D.V.: Angels appear very translucent, although they have flesh-like bodies and colorful clothing and hair. They are definitely more spirit-like than material seeming. However, they’re able to move and interact with material objects. Many people report having angels cover them with real blankets, move their cars out of danger, and pull them by the hand from a drowning experience. In these experiences, angels temporarily take on the make-up of a solid human body in order to effect a cure or a rescue.
M.A.K.: What else are angels called?
D.V.: In Eastern cultures (Hindu or Buddhist), they are called Bodhisattvas, ancestors, or deities. In the west, we sometimes call them our spirit guides. The word angel means, "messenger of God."
M.A.K.: What are some of the things that angels do?
D.V.: Angels are unlimited and can do everything from helping us to get a great parking space, pay our bills, heal our bodies, recover a lost pet, find a soulmate, find lost keys, guide us to the best career, tell us what outfit to dress in for an important occasion, help us with work, warn us of potential problems in a contract we’re about to sign, guide us on the best route to drive to work, help us while traveling, protect our homes and children, help us to avoid danger, and rescue us from jams we get ourselves into.
The key is that we have to ask before they’re allowed to help us. How do you ask? Just think the thoughts, "Angels, please help me with (fill in the blank)" and then get out of the way so that they can do their work. Half of the time, the angels will directly intervene. Meaning, for instance, if we ask for a new job, they’ll make the phone ring with a job offer. The other half of the time, they’ll ask us to co-create the answer to our prayer. In those situations, they’ll give us repetitive messages through our thoughts, feelings, inner words, or visions. For instance, you may get a strong feeling to apply for a job at a certain place. When you do, you get offered the job of your dreams. That’s the angels acting as teammates to help you.
M.A.K.: Have angels always existed?
D.V.: We have evidence going back to the time of Babylon that all ancient cultures, eastern and western, modern and ancient, have all recognized the existence of the benevolent spiritual helpers that we call angels. The three monotheistic religions (Judaism, Christianity/Catholicism, and Islamic) have our modern view of angels as a core archetype. In monotheism, angels are heavenly postal carriers bringing messages from the Creator to the created (mankind). In other spiritual traditions, there are many deities who act in angelic ways.
M.A.K.: Why are angels interested in us?
D.V.: They want to bring about peace on earth, one person at a time. So whatever brings you peace, they’re very happy to help you with.
M.A.K.: Does the Bible say anything about guardian angels?
D.V.: The Bible is filled with accounts of angels and archangels, yes.
M.A.K.: Is the word "angel" ever used properly to describe a human?
D.V.: Yes, definitely. Speaking of the Bible, one of my favorite quotes is in Hebrews 13, in which Paul says, "Be careful when entertaining strangers, for by so doing, many have entertained angels unaware."
In other words, sometimes angels take on human form. So, you never know if the person you’re talking to is really an angel sent from Heaven or not. And ordinary people can definitely play an angelic role in your life. Besides being a kind and loving person, an "angel person" might say the exact words that you need to hear. Unbeknownst to that person, they’ve "channeled" a message from God to you, in answer to your prayers. This is definitely an example of someone being an earth angel.
M.A.K.: Do angels reveal the will of God? Or are they more personal messengers, trying to guide us on the right path(s) during our lives?
D.V.: The will of God, in terms of willing peace on earth and peace for all, is evident in all of the angel experiences that I’ve studied. People sometimes shut out their guardian angel’s messages because they don’t want to acknowledge the angel’s advice. That’s because the angels always ask us to improve some situation, such as improving our own lifestyle, health, career, the world, and so on. Many people don’t want to hear this advice, because they’re afraid of change — i.e., they don’t want to give up smoking or drinking, or they don’t think they deserve a happier or healthier life.
But I’ve found that the angels only ask us to make these improvements because we’ve prayed to be happier or healthier. The angels will also help us in making these changes. They can remove cravings for unhealthful substances or increase your motivation to exercise, for instance.
All you have to do is ask.
SCIENCE SAYS…Few topics in our lives are more a matter of faith than the question of whether or not angels exist. In fact, the only other question of faith as weighty might be whether or not God exists. Neither has an easy answer, if indeed there is a definitive answer, unless you have unshakeable faith in what we cannot rationally explain. From a scientist’s standpoint, if all the things that happen in our world, good and bad, are the function of angels working under God’s tutelage, "then [a] scientific explanation for the origin of those events will always be incomplete," notes Dr. Denis O. Lamoureux, of the University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada. It’s not hard to understand why many scientists bristle at that concept.