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The concept of Angels : from the Early Christianism and Gnosticism to Post New Age NRMs

by Sylvian Imbs
© This text may be published or quoted free of rights on condition that the author is informed - A paper presented at The 2001 Conference in London

In the study of angelism, considered in a wider way as a part of a panoramic view of sources and evolution of western esotericism, we discovered much to our surprise how various the notion of Angel appears, in the same time so popular (well, even trivial) and so far-fetched, but how far it can also reach in the present-day context of NRMs. Such a question about Angels is amazing and paradoxical for many reasons : though it happens on the one hand in the New Age thinking (i.e. the " channelling " which is based upon the dialogue between Angels and human beings is one of the criteria giving the definition of New Age, according to Hanegraaf [1]), the worship of Angels, or in other words, the dealing with Angels, perfectly suits to catholic theology on the other hand [2].

Guardian Angels have become one of the most popular subjects of spirituality for the general audience, because of the several interpretations in the form of novels (Gustav MEYRINK’s Angel at the western Window as well as Bernard WERBER’s The Empire of Angels), movies (Wim WENDERS‘ Himmel über Berlin) or even TV- soap-operas (like Charmed on M6)!

Our aim is to demonstrate that the concept of angels or messengers bringing teachings to mankind is indeed at the roots of occidental esotericism, but the fashion of messianic angelism in New Age, in fact based on books by Alice BAILEY, is a deceit.

Some NRM’s sharply mark these two evolutions, and as an example and an original case , we‘ll deal with the Lectorium Rosicrucianum. This contemporary NRM takes root in the Western Esotericism in the sense of Antoine FAIVRE [3]. Its teachings present a cosmogony and refer to the intervention of " messengers of light ".

The etymological sense of the word " Angel " (from the greek " aggellos ") means : " messenger ". This is not a name of nature but a name of function [4]. The concept of Guardian angel and messenger angel is very present in the Cabala and was explored by Isaac LOURIAT for instance. It is also present in the Sufi tradition as described by Henri CORBIN [5]. Roman Catholic Theology is full of references to angels as guardians or messengers of divine orders [6]. Catholic dogmas, however, generally tend to wipe off the cabalist references, often by modifying the original texts [7] and established a popular cult of angels, somewhat ridiculous [8].

Many "revelations" sporadically appeared, since the beginning of 20th century, as the Dialogs with the Angel of Gitta MALLASZ, the movement around the MONTFAVET’s Christ in France, or the "Revelation of DOZULE". But it is in the so-called New Age nebula (according to Hannegraaf) that Angels messages repeated [9]. As in Catholic Theology, angels are also messengers whose duty is to foretell a renewed order in the world; they are teaching and they eventually participate in the formation and the reformation of the new inhabitants of a brand-new world.

The Aquarius era that is supposed to have begun in the seventies, is thus amalgamated with the beginning of a new "Golden Age". The messages of Angels are the premises of a "return of Christ" in direct line from Alice BAILEY’s teaching, but opposite to BLAVATSKY’s The Secret Doctrine [10]

As Gordon MELTON says [11] the idea of a material forthcoming of a new world, which was at least present at the beginning of the New Age thinking, has been changing step by step during the 80ies and the 90ies.This change leads to the following conception : the perspective of a radical transformation of the society disappeared in favor of a hopeful inner renewal, a kind of transmutation, while the material world remains the same or even degenerates. In this respect the several books issued upon Celestine Prophecy are emblematic.

In the New Age NRM’s, the 90ies was the period for a kind of folklore of angels [12]. But this period is marked with a lack of discernment: each entity getting in touch with a human being is supposed to be inevitably an Angel, though the orders given to man may be very different from each other : either saving the planet and communicating with the spirit of plants for Eileen CADDY [13], or opening the spiritual gates of a new arising world based on the number eleven for SOLARA, or re-creating a perfect humanity thanks to genetics and laboratory manipulations for the Raëlian movement, or prepare the return of MAITREYA with group praying and World Good Will Lodges for Benjamin CREME.

Though the dialogue with Angels rather takes on an " antiscientific " color, Angels don’t consider beneath them to use new technologies : On the Internet you can find at least 298 specialized Websites and 5 web rings.

One can feel only a limited interest in most of these web-sites (among which there is a great number of ‘personal pages’), because they come down to the relation by the author of his mystical experience and of his meeting an Angel, sometimes a member of his family dead in an accident and snatched from his relatives!

The messages delivered by Angels are often so commonplace that they definitely fill you with consternation.

In order to compare Post New Age millenaristic evolution and occidental esotericism, we will study with more details the Lectorium Rosicrucianum , grown from the occidental "scientific" esotericism, founded by Jan Van RIJCKENBORGH in 1924 in the Netherlands.

The teaching of the Lectorium Rosicrucianum, based on a dualism similar to Gnostics’ doesn’t belong to the New Age current, but from the " esoteric knowledge or Universal Teaching" brought to mankind by messengers. In this sense, although the LR recognizes "messengers from Light", it makes a strong difference between "speaking with angels" and receiving "the Universal Teaching". Where the LR uses texts from BLAVATSKY, Rudolf STEINER and to a lesser extent Max HEINDEL [14], Annie BESANT and especially Alice BAILEY ‘s theosophy is thought to be a masquerade, and this is a strong difference with post New Age movements [15].

The writings published by the LR are mainly texts of conferences or speeches given by JAN VAN RIJCKENBORGH.

In a first period of time going from the 30ies to the post-war years, he warns with emphasis against the dangers of the " reflection sphere ". The reflection sphere is a stratum around the earth, whose inhabitants are dead, deprived of their physical body, who attempt to maintain themselves in this space by parasitizing the living who still have a physical body. JVR definitely refuses the common idea of a heavenly paradise full of Angels willing to make better the human living conditions; he definitely refuses mediumnity whatsoever and gives an absolute refusal to the dealings with Angels - most of the time a nasty trickery, according to him. His point of view in the first books brought out by the Rozekruis Pers, the editor of the LR, is very close to Gustav MEYRINK’s one as related in his novel The Angel at the western window [16].

In the first part of the book Unmasked (pp. 9-52 in the French edition) published in Holland in the 40ies JAN VAN RIJCKENBORGH describes on the contrary how a huge mystification is built up in order to make us believe that Jesus Christ is coming back, and in that way to impose a sort of theocratic fascism. Such a world-wide ‘production’, called " The great Game " by JAN VAN RIJCKENBORGH, will begin with the creation of an " international association of religions " uniting all the visible or invisible brotherhoods (for JAN VAN RIJCKENBORGH life goes on after the death in an intermediate space, as discussed above about the so-called " reflection sphere ", where the great amount of human projections and speculations are gathered). Then a mediatic campaign (a kind of mediatic messianism) will start on TV and so on; heavenly apparitions of Jesus the Lord with Angels in crowds around Him will be broadcast and telecast. As a result, a religious and political world-wide government, a kind of absolute theocracy will rule over the whole planet at the end of a spiritual " putsch ".

A lot of articles and conferences of the Lectorium Rosicrucianum stress this particular point of view which the bulk of the members of the movement endorse. It is probable that the LR would oppose or at least take distance to the creation of a "brotherhood of religions" including the four main world religions.

The concept of hierarchies is very present in the LR [17]. Several Gnostic texts and apocryphal evangils are commented [18].

The apocalypse with descriptions of "seven angels" is regarded by JAN VAN RIJCKENBORGH and generally by the Lectorium Rosicrucianum as the " revelation " emanating from a mystery school, and describing an inner process of change of consciousness, but never the prophecy of disastrous events on earth.

The hierophants of " the pure and unknown half part of the world " are quite different from angelic apparitions. JAN VAN RIJCKENBORGH even gives criteria in order to make the difference between both of them : true messengers are speaking straight and " face to face ". They incarnate in flesh and blood and contribute to the construction of the new church or Ecclesia while Angels issued from the reflection sphere take advantage of credulous people. The messengers coming from the Immovable Kingdom, never act selfishly and don’t aim to make profit, whereas etheric apparitions look after remaining in the reflection sphere through mediums.

If the Lectorium Rosicrucianum indeed deals with " messengers " or " hierophants ", i.e. messengers coming from the Immovable Kingdom, the original life space of mankind, allusions to Angels on the opposite occur very seldom, and they never refer to popular " angelism ". On the contrary man is fit out with free will, which caused by the way his fall but also offers the possibility of redemption.

Indeed a thematic research on the issues of the Rosekruis Pers, the publishing house of the Lectorium Rosicrucianum, that are 49 books, and on the revue " Pentagramm ", published since 21 years, only finds out 5 quotations about Angels, among which one is in the first book published in the forties by Rozekruis Pers, The Brotherhood of Shamballa, three are in the comment of JAN VAN RIJCKENBORGH upon classical rosicrucian writings ascribed to Johann Valentin ANDREAE (Christianopolis, The chemical Wedding of Christian Rosycross, anno 1459) and the last in a book of Antonin GADAL [19] : On the way to the Holy Grail [20].

In the book The Brotherhood of Shamballa [21] we find one of the first explanation of LR’s point of view on angels: Gnosis, the Divine force emanating from the real Kingdom of mankind, is an intercosmic vibration, absolutely devoid of personality. This force intervenes cyclically, attempting to save the fallen mankind and bring it back to it’s real home. This vibration is perceived "as a sound, a voice, and speaks to mankind". It is because men made a figuration of this vibration that the concept of messenger angels appeared. According to JVR, Gnosis is impersonal and is not interested in mundane and earthly matters, although it tries to speak to mankind and awaken men.

At the beginning of his comment on ANDREAE’s Christianopolis, JAN VAN RIJCKENBORGH writes in chapter one, page 12, that the human life reign, because of its interdependence with other reigns ( on the one hand with the inferior reigns - animals, vegetals and minerals - of which it takes care, and on the other hand with the angelic reign which guides it), has been victimized by a cosmic accident caused by " a part of mars spirits ". Indeed JAN VAN RIJCKENBORGH says there is an influence of the angelic reign on the human one. Here we are once again very close to the conceptions of HEINDEL or the Theosophy. In the following, we can read : " In the oldest Antiquity we had been victimized by experiments of dissenting luciferian spirits. They went then a deviated way of evolution; that made it possible for negative influences to lead astray the young mankind. Consequently the form degenerated and so, death must have been introduced as well as the following incarnation in order to preserve the possibility for the human reign to develop upwards. " Very similar notions can be read by STEINER too. However, the concept of reincarnation is not thought in an evolutionistic sense but conceived as a means of rescue, and we believe that this is a distinctive criteria with HEINDEL’s Rosy-Cross and one of the reasons why VAN RIJKCENBORGH founded an independent movement.

At the end of his statement upon the Chemical Wedding, JAN VAN RIJCKENBORGH explains that some hierarchies guide human beings, like in STEINER or BLAVATSKY’s teachings : former mankind was guided by moon Angels, guardians of races and nations, bringing into life juvenile mankind. But Christ manifesting himself on Golgotha as the incarnation of the solar logos put an end to the childhood of mankind and lead it up to adulthood. Now it is guided with comprehension and light by solar Angels, among whom Christ is the greatest. The redemption of fallen spirits (whose head is Lucifer) will occur thanks to the light of Christ. In this way mankind will find back its original vocation. The first Adam will wake up again and the gates of the promised land will open for humanity. A new consciousness proceeding from a new superior soul will mark out this tranfiguration - it sounds like millenarist prophecies in post-New Age currents.

According to the comment upon the Chemical Wedding [22], JAN VAN RIJCKENBORGH explains an excerpt of the first day as follows :

an Angel is a natural force, a natural being living in the space of our life field, a focus point of the seventh aural circle. The good Angel is thus a force developing thanks to a pupil dealing with a leading focus of the sixth magnetic circle. " He goes on and says that all our acts and thoughts create in us and around us a tension field. All these tensions put together, make our good or bad Angel, according as they are oriented towards Good or Bad, that is to say, towards Gnosis or ordinary life. This conception is close to the Cabalists’ and is to be drastically distinguished from catholic theology. It is to mention that neither Johann Valentin ANDREAE nor JAN VAN RIJCKENBORGH recognize in the figure of the messenger inviting for the wedding an Angel. The messenger with wings covered with eyes and with a trumpet represents the Gnostic field, the Virgo Lucifera; she only exists as a representation of this force. Due to the fundamental incompatibility between Gnostic and ordinary field, violent tempests are rising. JAN VAN RIJCKENBORGH identifies the particular force present in the Lectorium Rosicrucianum with the field of the Virgo Lucifera. " All the pupils of the Spiritual School have received the invitation... Many knows the violence of magnetic tempests, they can say, they have received an inner invitation. "

As a conclusion we shall try to present the possible evolution of the New Age and the NRMs proceeding from Western Esotericism and to distinguish two different evolutions from the same basis of the theosophic texts of 19th century.

It seems that besides the big spirituality supermarket, (in which angelism is one of the most beneficial departments) are a lot of small shops which draw from the Western Esotericism sources. The appearance of anti-MacDonalds spiritual groups, which boycotts the great religious groups hegemony goes hand by hand with the evolution of society. After the enthusiasm period of the seventies and eighties and its active and positivist millenarism, the trend of the nineties is to bury the New Age, or at least a New Age molting. Post-New Age millenarism devotes itself to the inner change, to a conscious rising. Whereas some NRMs are still waiting for the messiah, others aim to inner consciousness modification. James REDFIELD’S books on Celestine Prophecy are from this point of view emblematic: after the ascension of consciousness of prophecies one to nine (first book), the 10th prophecy describes a kind of integration of esoteric knowledge in society (2nd book), while the 11th prophecy links to Shamballa, the departure point for all theosophical action and the return of Maitreya. The loop is looped - and everything is ready for a kind of spiritual totalitarianism.

Quite different is the Lectorium Rosicrucianum evolution; starting from the same place [23], it reaches a different goal : intend to break through his prison wall, and give birth to a new consciousness through autonomous choices. The point is not to make the world better, but to make the man free, and the indications for this process are given in the Gnostic and 17th Century Rosicrucian texts.

A more detailed compared study of specificities of occidental esotericism and post New Age millenarism would be from our point of view very useful. It would certainly bring new criteria towards the fast evolution of millenarist and esoteric NRM’s. We hope that this paper will contribute to a better knowledge of this field.



[1] see Hanegraaf Wouter J., New Age Religion and Western Culture : Esotericism in the Mirror os Secular Thought (Leiden/ New York/ Köln : E.J. Brill, 1996/ Albany, NY:SUNY Press, 1998), 385-88

[2] see Abbé Th. LAVAL Le monde Invisible ou Traité Dogmatique et Ascétique des Anges, Bruxelles, Librairie A. Dewit, 1909

[3] About Esotericism (in L'ésotérisme, Antoine Faivre, Que sais-je, PUF, 1992)

Western Esotericism consists in 6 basis elements; 4 are strictly necessary, 2 secondary : the four fundamental topics are following :

1. Correspondences ((microcosm/ macrocosm; below like above; world is as a universal mirror...)

2. living nature: world is magic, full with meanings; a kind of light or force is circulating within nature (see Paracelsism, magnetism, alchemy, Naturphilosophie, theosophy...)In this sense, gnosis is science of nature and knowledge of the triangle God-man-nature.

3. Imagination and mediations : in this context takes place angeology : the esotericist takes much into account the intermediate levels between God and Man, whereas the mystic prefers erasing the images and intermediate steps separating him from God. The esotericist faiths his creative imagination to contemplate angels going up and down on Jacob's scale. Only imagination can help to break through hieroglyphs of nature or symbols to the gnosis and see the entities who are mediators between heaven and earth.

4. Experience of transmutation

and practice of concordance

[4] In the Vocabulary of biblical theology, Angels are "  spirits destined to serve, sent in mission for the welfare of those who should inherit the realm of God (He I, 14). When the catholic theology refers to them, they are called messengers, intending to deliver divine orders; protectors of a race or a nation; or guides of the evolution of mankind.

[5] Henri CORBIN, L’archange Empourpré ou L’homme de lumière dans la tradition soufie

[6] bull " Admonet nos " of Pope Léon X, on the 18th of April 1518, confirms the institution of " the office of the proper Angel ", which was proposed by François d’Estaing, bishop of Rodez -France.This officialized the worship of guardian Angels which was celebrated secretly within the catholic church.

[7] As showed by Robert FUNK in his well known book Honest to Jesus

[8] for instance, cf specialized Internet website www.multimania.com/tadou , where one can learn that Holy Agnes de Langeac while being a caretaker had a Guardian Angel, which angel called her when someone rang at the door…

[9] For instance in the Revelation of Seth, very typical of New Age angelic messages

[10] about the controversy between messianic aims of Annie BESANT, A BAILEY and BLAVATSKY’s teachings, see the biography of KRISHNAMURTI where he tells how he opposed to the "oriental star" project of theosophy to make of him the new MAITREYA, and Rudolf STEINER’s Biography where he tells how BLAVATSKY was deceived by BESANT and LEADBETTER.

[11] Melton Gordon, Post New Age Spiritual Emergence Movements, CESNUR 1999

[12] for instance, the " angels cards " from the FINDHORN community, the " angels tarot ", the pictures by JOHFRA, and many others

[13] the founder of the FINDHORN community and author of international best-seller the little voice

[14] The Voice of Silence of H.P  BLAVATSKY is commented, as the Christian Rosy-Cross and his mission conferences from STEINER. The Rosicrucian Cosmogony of HEINDEL is considered as a basis for the pupils of the LR.

[15] The Books by Alice BAILEY, for instance the return of Christ, are in the background of almost every post New Age NRM’s.

[16] This book is quoted in Van RIJCKENBORGH’s There is no empty space

[17] Here could be stressed the point that the Lectorium Rosicrucianum comes from Theosophy and the Rosicrucianism of Max HEINDEL (When he founded the independant movement of the LR in Haarlem, JAN VAN RIJCKENBORGH was the secretary of the Max HEINDEL Rosycross, responsible for the Netherlands). We must also take into account that HEINDEL came back to the sources of western esotericism and according to Helena BLAVATSKY distinguished nine hierarchy levels. Rudolf STEINER’s conception (see for example The Science of the Occult) is very similar. The description of the catholic church of the beginning is also very close to these considerations so that one can guess the influence of the Orient on the Occident and the common basis of such an esoteric knowledge.

[18] For instance : the Evangil of Maria, the Evangil of Truth, the Pistis Sophia

[19] Gadal Antonin, historian and archelologist, highly interested in catharism, describes in his main book On the way to the Holy Graal. the initiation way of the inner cathar church. His very controversal writings are published by the Rozekruis Pers.

[20] In a different way than JAN VAN RIJCKENBORGH, Antonin GADAL writes down the fondamental dualistic teachings of the cathar faith, which the young candidate Mattheus is confronted with :

The son ist the creator, Lucibel is the artisan who wanted to reproduce the work of Christ because of his pride and ambition; he counterfeited God’s work.
His work is nothing but lie, imperfection; it’s a fallen creation, a nothingness.
Man consists of Spirit and matter, of Shape and life : the Soul, the heavenly man, is the son’s work; the body, the earthly man is a material work;
Souls are inferior Angels expulsed from the heaven; man’s birth is the fall of an Angel;
therefore creation is a fall, life is an expiation, earth is place for probation and punishment...
unworthy souls are straying from a star to another till the last deliverance, God’s heart : no hell in ‘eternal love’

The Angel is thus the picture of the perfect original man.

[21] The Brotherhood of Shamballa, J.V. Rijckenborgh & C. De Petri, Rozekruis Pers, Haarlem, in chapter The double nature of the Elohim. This book is in fact a compendium of monthly lectures given to LR members in the main Haarlem Temple in the pre-WWII period, and is divided accordingly in twelve chapters.

[22] when Christian Rosycross just receives an invitation letter for the wedding brought by a " woman wearing a blue star-spangled dress, who also has wings covered with eyes ", he hesitates between fear and hope, and before he’s going to sleep, he says the deep and ardent prayer that his good Angel should appear.

[23] The first book publised by the LR refers to Shamballa : The brother hood of Shamballa, op. cit.

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