I have returned from the land of margaritas and I am back with a tale of the guardians of the gate.
In the last of verse of Genesis 3 (3.24), God turns on the security by placing “at the east of the garden of Eden cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life”.
We began Chapter 3 with “what’s a serpent”. It seems fitting therefore to close with “What are cheribum”, which sadly is a lot like asking what’s an angel. Cheribum is the plural of cherub and there are two branches to the cherub tree.
The Greco-Roman Branch is associated with putti (plural of putto), Italian for boy or child.
Once upon a Greek time Aphrodite (Venus in Rome) goddess of love, beauty, and pleasure had a son Cupid. Cupid is the one that shoots arrows of lust indiscriminately at mortals, primarily for his own amusement. Through the contortions of time, representations of Cupid became associated with putti (plural of putto). Often winged the putti (plump flying toddlers) (1), became a symbol for God’s love. By the time the Rococo era in painting arrived (Late Baroque) in the 18th Century, these angelic creatures flew amok on many a ceiling.
Mystic Madness Branch
According to dictionary.com an angel is “one of a class of spiritual beings attendant upon God. … ” Once upon a time Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite (c. 650-c. 725 C.E.) concocted a hierarchy of angels. There are according to this man’s writings, 9 orders or dominions of angles divided into 3 spheres, with 3 orders in each sphere.
(3) The first sphere contains the angels which serve as heavenly counselors and are the closest to God.
1 – Seraphim
2 – Cherubim
3 – Thrones
The second sphere are angels which work as heavenly governors and are the angelic middle managers of the vast angel realm.
4 – Dominions or Dominations
5 – Virtues
6 – Powers
The third sphere are angels who function as heavenly messengers and are the ones closest to the human experience.
7 – Principalities or Princedoms
8 – Archangels
9 – Angels
Strange as it may seem images of second order angels are hard to locate. The image below is from a Wikipedia (4) entry which in turn links to a Russian source, written in Russian. There my research stopped as I decided not to go down the translation rabbit hole.The above image is an example of a tetramorph (5) and as the Wikipedia entry on tetramorphs goes on to say, “such composite creatures are found in many mythologies”.
The two cherub branches in common parlance have melded together. As a result putti and cherubim are often both referred to as cherubs. You may still be wondering about an answer to the question “What are cherubim?”, and frankly dear reader I haven’t clue.
Footnotes and Bibliography
- (1) Thank you Elizabeth Lunday http://www.lunday.com/looking-at-art-whats-up-with-the-flying-babies/
- (2) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Giulio_Quaglio_the_Younger
- (3) http://www.penhook.org/angels.htm
- (4) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cherub
- (5) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tetramorph
- Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite (fl. c. 650—c. 725 C.E.)