Angels are semi-divine beings found within some of the major world religions – Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and even Zoroastrianism. They are considered to be a higher life form than humans, and the spiritual counterparts to demons. Angels have as their purpose to be messengers, heralds, and protectors of the faithful.
In Western thought, the main source of angel lore is the Holy Bible, the sacred text of Christianity. Although angels are referred to collectively, only a handful are specifically named: Michael, who is mentioned in both the Old and New Testaments; Gabriel, who gave a vision of the future to the prophet Daniel; and Lucifer, who, although now the Prince of Darkness, once reigned as the highest of angels. In the Apocrypha (i.e., sacred Christian writings not held in as high esteem as the Bible), the angel Raphael is mentioned as being an ‘archangel,’ or angel of higher rank. In Islam, Azrael is the name given to the angel of death.
Within the Bible, the appearance of angels is supposed to be possessed of great beauty, though they are able to pass as regular human beings unless or until they reveal themselves in all their Heavenly glory. The popular conception of angels possessing birdlike wings, in proportion to their size, is an invention of medieval artist (though this idea persists unto the present day.) Angels are reputed to have superhuman abilities, such as the ability to cause objects to burn at their touch, as well as imperviousness to fire; the ability to fly; and the ability to teleport between locations. Angels are sometimes described as carrying swords or riding horses.
The gender of angels is apparently masculine, owing to the names of specific angels known. They are often portrayed in art, however, as female.
In popular culture, every human being is reputed to have a guardian angel which watches over him or her, to keep the person from harm, presumably at God’s command. It is not known whether death and injury result from an angel’s dereliction of duty, or from a direct command from God for the angel to allow the harm to occur.