Archival Dross: Sister Angels

Originally posted at FMH.

I went to an Anglican elementary school. Every Christmas we put on a nativity play at the local church. One year I was Joseph, another year Herod. But one thing I could never be was an angel. That was reserved for the girls.

As a good Mormon boy among those apostate Anglicans, I knew that something was terribly wrong with the angels. For one, they wore wings. But worse, they were girls, and we all know angels are men.

Rubbish, right? Right?

What’s the Mormon doctrine of angels? And, where are the female angels?

Here’s what Mormons believe about angels:

- They exist.
– They act on Earth as God’s agents and messengers (the literal meaning of “angel” in Hebrew).
– They are, like us, the offspring of God.
– “There are no angels who minister to this earth but those who do belong or have belonged to it” (D&C 130:5).
– Angels can be either: premortal spirits; postmortal spirits; resurrected beings; translated beings.
– Angels preach the Gospel, restore priesthood keys, offer comfort and assurance.
– “Angel” is also the designation for those who are “saved” in heaven, but are not exalted (D&C 132: 16-17; Mark 12: 25) [A unique Mormon interpretation of Jesus’ statement on marriage, I think. The Bible provides no difference between “angels” and “angels-as-celestial-singles,” however. In Hebrew thought, no class of angel is married.]

In only one of these roles (that of restorer of priesthood keys) can I see any reason in orthodox Mormon doctrine why there wouldn’t be female angels. So where are they?

Most angels in the scriptures are not sexed, but when they are, they tend to be male: angels are sometimes called the “sons of God” (although this may mean the generic “offspring”); Moroni and the named ministrants to Joseph Smith were male; Gabriel is male (the name could mean either “man of God” or “God is my warrior,” but in any case, Joseph Smith believed Gabriel was a resurrected Noah); Michael, inasmuch as he is equated with Adam, is male. And so it goes…

So, whilst there are no major obstacles to female angels in Mormonism, the fact is that when we know their sex, they are male. This may reflect the priesthood role of many angels; still, I wonder, do you imagine the angels as an exclusively all-male cadre? There seems to be no reason to do so. So where are they?

Comments

  1. They’re in Minerva Teichert’s paintings. I’ve got this one on my wall.

  2. And they’re in Relief Society. Angel mothers, anyone?

  3. I’ve never imagined angels as an all male cadre. I suppose, though, based on what you’ve written, that some Mormons would. Still, I don’t think many Mormons would take the fact that, due to what they would ascribe to priesthood roles, the angels whose identities we know because of what their mission was were males to mean that all angels are males. I’m sure they would fall back on the idea that angels can be either male or female.

  4. In addition to Minerva Tichert, angels appear as exclusively female in this Mormon favorite.

  5. KLS,
    Bah! Men with long hair.

    JF,
    Well, there’s obviously no doctrinal impediment and you are right that most would accept that. But art lags, don’t you think?

    (It’s akin to the No Black People in Artistic Representations of Heaven thing.)

  6. Girlishly styled long hair, plus breasts and lipstick.

    Transvestite angels=even more impressive.

  7. Cool.

  8. Girl angels, like Mother in Heaven, are too sacred and pure to be known by vile humanity. We have to send the tough boy angels to take care of business.

  9. Wasn’t “angel mother” allegedly a Lincoln line? (All I am, or ever hope to be, etc.) Whether he said it or not, somebody obvious believes that there are angel mothers who never made it to Relief Society. (And, since Nancy Hanks Lincoln died in 1818, the odds are pretty good that she didn’t.)

  10. I had always assumed that there were both male and female angels. It never occurred to me that it would be otherwise. The first time I heard a church member insist that all angels were male, I was on my mission. My trainer said that it was impossible for there to be female angels. (She never backed that assertion up, and she had some other seriously off-base ideas about the abilities and roles of men and women, so I didn’t give her view much credence.)

  11. do you imagine the angels as an exclusively all-male cadre? There seems to be no reason to do so. So where are they?

    Last time I saw a female angel: a ward Christmas party nativity play a few years ago. The female angel shared the glad tidings with the shepherds.

    I’ve also seen some female angels in Harry Anderson’s painting “Second Coming.”

  12. Huh. Had never thought of this. Perhaps in the same vein as Julie Smith’s recent post at Times & Seasons about how every culture interprets supernatural manifestations in their own way (i.e., an Eskimo creche), we need to start interpreting and characterizing those angelic visitors as both male and female.

    “The Angel Gabrielle,” anyone? How about “the Angel Moronia”?

  13. I think the Angel of Harlem was female, right?

  14. >How about “the Angel Moronia”?

    “[Her robe] was open, so that I could see into [her] bosom”?

  15. Yeah, I thought about that but didn’t want to go there. Thanks for going there for me.

  16. My, my!

  17. “As Sisters in Zion” insists that “the errand of angels is given to women.” So I guess women are angels on earth, and men are angels . . . later, or something.

  18. They had to quit using female angles because they kept being mistaken for appearances of the virgin Mary. It happened all through the Middle Ages and they soon realized (well soon in the sense of eventually, after a couple of thousand years) they were going to have to revise policy. Personally I think it was the headdresses they made the female angels wear back then that exacerbated the confusion.

  19. read Paracletes. All LDS, women and men, are angels in a certain sense. But you mean in the Angels in America sense, which sort of answers itself.

  20. I am reminded of the following instructions from Brigham Young:

    “Young ladies, learn to be neat and nice. Do not dress after the fashions of Babylon, but after the fashions of the Saints. Suppose that a female angel were to come into your house and you had the privilege of seeing her, how would she be dressed? Do you think she would have a great, big peck measure of flax done up like hair on the back of the head? Nothing of the kind. Would she have a dress dragging two or three yards behind? Nothing of the kind. Would she have on a great, big—what is it you call it? A Grecian or Dutch—Well, no matter what you call it, you know what I mean. Do you think she would have on anything of that kind? Not at all. No person in the world would expect to see an angel dressed in such a giddy, frivolous, nonsensical style. She would be neat and nice, her countenance full of glory, brilliant, bright, and perfectly beautiful, and in every act her gracefulness would charm the heart of every beholder. There is nothing needless about her. None of my sisters believe that these useless, foolish fashions are followed in heaven. Well, then, pattern after good and heavenly things, and let the beauty of your garments be the workmanship of your own hands, that which adorns your bodies” (JD 16:21).

  21. John Mansfield says:

    The Salt Lake Temple, dedicated in 1893, was the first temple topped with an angel that was formally identified as Moroni. When President Wilford Woodruff asked non-LDS artist Cyrus Dallin to create a statue, Dallin declined, saying he “didn’t believe in angels.” Knowing that Dallin’s parents had once been active Latter-day Saints, President Woodruff encouraged him to consult with his mother.

    Dallin’s mother felt strongly that he should accept the commission. When he said he did not believe in angels, his mother asked: “Why do you say that? You call me your ‘angel mother.'”

    (link)

  22. I’ve always assumed that some angels were women. I think it’s just a coincidence that we haven’t heard any names of the female angels, but if you think about it, we know very few names of any of them. Usually the scriptures just refer to “an angel.” Could be female just as easy as male.

    “I think the Angel of Harlem was female, right?”

    No question about it:

  23. When I was taking my New Testament class in college (a Baptist college), my professor was reading aloud from the Bible this passage where an angel was speaking, and he was using this deep, booming voice, as he always did, when all of a sudden he interrupted himself and said, “Do y’all think of angels as being male or female? I usually think ‘male,’ but it doesn’t say one way or the other. It could be a female angel.” And then he proceeded to read the rest of the selection in falsetto, which wasn’t quite as effective as the other. I think that was the last time he experimented with the gender of angels in lass.

  24. When I was taking my New Testament class in college (a Baptist college), my professor was reading aloud from the Bible this passage where an angel was speaking, and he was using this deep, booming voice, as he always did, when all of a sudden he interrupted himself and said, “Do y’all think of angels as being male or female? I usually think ‘male,’ but it doesn’t say one way or the other. It could be a female angel.” And then he proceeded to read the rest of the selection in falsetto, which wasn’t quite as effective as the other. I think that was the last time he experimented with the gender of angels in class.

  25. Well, that was hardly worth saying once, let alone twice.

  26. I dunno, Rebecca, the “angels in lass” Freudian slip was perfect!

  27. There is no scriptural evidence that would indicate as to the gender of all angels. I suppose that the names given are quite revealing, but when the angels appear in 3rd Nephi, I’d like to think that both male and female where present.

    As an aside, may I suggest that whilst men typically feel the need to be identified in the scriptures, women carry the work often namelessly. We don’t know the names of the mothers of the strippling warriors, but they were taught alright. Maybe the angel that greeted Mary and Martha at the tomb was female. Though… is it THAT important if the angels were male or female or the message they delivered?

  28. I’ve always thought that there are both male and female angels. I don’t see any doctrinal reason to think otherwise

  29. Someone once implied to me that the “men-go-out-women-stay-home” paradigm applied to angels/messengers, which would make all angels male. Talk about projection.

  30. Latter-day Guy says:

    “We don’t know the names of the mothers of the stripling warriors, but they were taught alright.”

    To be fair, AlexG, we also don’t know the names of the warriors themselves.

  31. “As an aside, may I suggest that whilst men typically feel the need to be identified in the scriptures, women carry the work often namelessly.”

    Are you suggesting it’s the women’s choice to be unnamed? It seems likelier to be an artifact of sexism that reduces women to roles (mother, wife, daughter) rather than seeing them as individual subjects.

  32. But aren’t men reduced to “roles” too? Prophet, disciple, heretic, betrayer, anti-Christ?

  33. Begining with Queen Victoria’s timeangels have been almost universally depicted as female. It derived from the elevation of a woman to the throne who after the death of her husband ruled alone. It was part of a socieatal need to give women more status and to have an angel in the house in contrast to the demon who used to be.

  34. Thanks to RJH for helping me answer a gospel question I had about angels in regards to just who could be an angel in a certain point of time, and giving the link to lightplanet.

    I used to grapple with how an angel could have appeared to Adam before that angel had been upon the earth, but with that added understanding given in the D&C and the fact that spirits, or to be more specific pre-mortal spirits, could be angels, it clears it right up.

  35. Glenn Smith says:

    I’m comfortable with female angels as well as male. Likely, it was the female angels at the nativity who sang the prettiest anthems to the new born King.

  36. “where are the female angels?”

    Ronan posts this at a blog which features Margaret, Kathy, Kristine, and Tracy, as a re-post from a blog that features Lisa, Janet, E, Mel, Reese, Serenity and Spud.

    I have to assume that the question is rherotical.

  37. Aaron Brown says:

    I find the question intensely erotical, but not rherotical. :)

  38. Glenn Smith says:

    RJH, please visit http://www.reflectionsofchrist.org, click store, then click Fine Art Prints, and view “Angels” . Lots of sister angels here. This print is worth putting on the wall.

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