Greetings! This weekend I'll be at Marcon in Columbus, OH. One of the panels I'll be on concerns the popularity of angels in fantasy. Since I'm currently writing an urban fantasy featuring an angelic being, I thought this panel would be fun, especially since I've been doing research on the topic and sharing my findings here at the blog.
In the previous posts I discussed angels in Christianity, Judaism and Islam. Today, I'll touch on angelic beings from other cultures and religious traditions.
Angelic Beings in World Mythology
Beliefs in beings similar to angels are found in many cultures throughout human history. The idea of representing spirits as winged figures is thousands of years old. Ancient Egyptians portrayed the sun god Horus as a winged disk. The Assyrians believed in the Shedu or Lamassu, a protective spirit or deity often depicted with a man’s head, a bulls body and eagle’s wings that may have influenced the Israelite’s view of angels. Winged beings can be found in ancient Greek and Roman art, such as the depiction of the god of love Eros and his consort, the personification of the soul, Psyche.
Indian mythology includes several beings that act in a similar way to angels. Devas are gods and goddesses whose name literally means “shining ones”. They are also referred to as Sura. Evil spirits or demons that embody baser instincts are called Asura.
In the retinue of the chief of the gods Indra are also beings called apsaras and gandharvras. Apsaras are beautiful, seductive female dancers and gandhavras are handsome male musicians. Apsaras are often the wives of gandhavras. The apsaras are guardians of fallen heros, like the Norse Valkyrie and like the muses in Greek mythology they represent various forms of art. Gandhavras may be warriors as well as performing artists. Both apsaras and Gandhavras are said to fly and act as intermediaries of the gods.
Dakini are female spirits in Buddhism, Hinduism and Tantra. The word Dakini means essentially a “woman who walks in the sky”. In India, dakini are the attendants of Kali and sometimes inhabit battlefields and cremation grounds. In Tantric Buddhism, the dakini is seen as the embodiment of enlightened energy.
Tennin are female heavenly messengers in Japanese Buddhism. They are depicted as beautiful women who wear exquisite feathered kimonos and have the ability to fly. They sometimes are companions to Bodhisattva, enlightened beings that are looked upon as angels or gods by some. The term Bodhisattva, however, also means anyone on the path to enlightenment.
Some Central African tribal groups, particularly in Gabon, believe in Ombwiri. These are ancestor spirits similar to guardian angels.
Orisha are spiritual beings in the West African religion Yoruba that have been compared to angels. The Yoruba believe that the Orisha were once human beings who led notable lives and became Gods at death. Orishas are also important in Santeria.
The Norse believed in the Valkyrie, female spirits that could either take the form of swans or Amazonian warriors, depending on the source. “Light” elves are fair, beautiful beings with supernatural powers, similar to angels. However, surviving tales depicting these elves may have been somewhat be influenced by the Christian belief in angels brought into Scandinavia.
As I've said before, this particular topic is vast. I've barely scratched the surface in these posts. If any of the readers would like to contribute to the discussion, please feel free to mention your findings in the comments.
My next post in the series will be on BANSHEES.
Have a great day!