Throughout the bible, angels typically appear as men or a masculin form. They're often described as warriors, engaging in battle.

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However, in modern, generally Western (or at least American) culture, angels are thought of as feminine figures, often portrayed by women (or Victoria Secret models).

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When (about) did this change occur?

I realize this may not be a very well-developed question (please, feel free to modify/enhance it), but I think I'm on to something here - even if it is merely a curiosity.

I get the feeling that one of the reasons for angels being thought as feminine has something to do with the New Age movement and their concept (and often worship of) Guardian Angels, but it's just a gut feeling or sorts.

  • I was going to comment that 'angelus' in Latin and 'ἄγγελος' in Greek are unequivocally masculine words (i.e, by ending in -us/-ος) and so the change you're asking about would have to have been after those ancient languages were common and the gender of the word wasn't so strongly indicated. After checking the facts, though, I remember that Greek is less strict about the ending and I found that apparently the Greek ἄγγελος can be masculine or feminine—according to Liddell and Scott's Greek-English dictionary, one of the epithets of the goddess Artemis was 'Artemis Angelos' (Artemis Messenger). – Muke Tever Feb 27 '12 at 13:53
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    The Hebrew (מלאך) is also masculine, if I recall correctly. – cwallenpoole Feb 27 '12 at 14:51
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    I suspect it's part of the general feminization of Christianity. Jesus said, "From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it." (Matt 11:12, NIV) But today our philosophy seems to be "The kingdom of heaven has been meakly retreating, and we beg weak little girls to join it". :-) – Jay Feb 28 '12 at 7:12
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    note: in language, the gender of the word is not necessarily the same as saying that the thing it refers to has that gender. The issue of the word being masculine in Greek/Latin, while interesting, does not strictly say much about the target. – Marc Gravell Feb 28 '12 at 9:12

According to this websitesite, the change occurred gradually over time, as the representation of the human form in art changed. In the middle ages, artists rarely painted distinctly masculine characteristics on their subjects:

…what modern viewers and artists perceive as “feminine” angels in many famous medieval European paintings were not intended by the artists to be females at all. Particularly during the Medieval period, the overt “sexuality” of much classic Greek and Roman art was almost totally repressed. Bodies were totally covered, both male and female, in long robes.

But artists of the time seldom painted overtly “chiseled,” square-jawed, masculine features on the faces of men. So unless a male was bearded, and particularly if he was represented as a young man, it wasn’t all that easy to sort out the vaguely uni-sex heads in pictures by gender.

In the 1800s, a move toward more realistic depiction of the human form in art coincided with a growing interest in angels apart from their original biblical context:

They may have a “spiritual aura” connected to them, which makes them look otherworldly, but without any special link to a Heaven where God’s throne is. They are viewed by many as being benevolent supernatural beings whose primary interest is helping out people—not necessarily because they have been sent by God to do so, but because it is just “their nature.”

And as this “new” kind of angel has taken shape in the past century or two, the emphasis has shifted more and more to a sort of gentle, nurturing, “motherly” (or “big sisterly”) role for angels—hence the trend toward almost entirely representing them as female.

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