Malakim are not just feathery-winged happy "angels" as the Western world
would paint them. Malakim can appear in many forms, humanoid and otherwise,
and may serve in a number of roles (some of which are not always beneficent).
They appear in almost every culture on earth, each of which has given them
different names and appearances.
Even individual malakim
can cross different cultures, where they have often been given different names.
Gabriel is one example of this - that entity is known as Jibril
to the Islamic peoples, Gabriel or Gabrial to most
Judeo-Christians, and Gavreel to the Ethiopian Jews. In each
culture, he holds a subtly different role.
Over the centuries, a handful of Malakim have survived a number of
transformations imposed on them by human belief, and absorbed numerous
roles or personae. Jewish, Catholic, and Muslim cultures, to name a few,
have all added to the history and variety of these entities. Depending on the viewpoint of
the observer, they can take on any of these Aspects as well as their own natural form.
Expectation and previous experience always play a role in the viewer's
perception. It is sometimes said of supernatural entities that they are 90%
expectation and 10% actuality. That is, when a person perceives a
supernatural entity, that entity's appearance is 90% based on what the person
expects to see, whether because of previous experience, culture, or even
the movies. The other 10%... well, that's private to the Malakim
themselves. But one might be able to distill the 10% by combining
all cultures' accounts and finding common points--for instance, a glowing
appearance, some object out to the sides likes wings or arms, and a superior
In Judaic lore, Malakim are divided into a number of Tribes, each of which
serves a subtly different purpose. Various groups, including the Catholic
church and modern-day Kabalists, have divided and ordered these Tribes
differently over the centuries. However, most groups agree on several
in common (the following is Gregory the Great's classification):
The Zohar, in Exodus 43a, lists them as follows:
As noted, variations do occur. In addition, individual malakim,
particularly the greater ones, can be members of more than one tribe.
Mikal, for instance, is a member of the Malakim, Seraphim, and Beni
Elohim tribes, among others.
Picture: Detail from J.M.W. Turner, "Angel Standing in a Storm"