Choirs of Angels
colored pencil and watercolor
26” x 36" 2001

Catholic tradition assigns structure to the spiritual world, organizing it into patterns, systems, and hierarchies. Pursuing a desire to draw white birds, I found an ideal theme in the ordering of the angelic host into nine hierarchical “choirs” as established by the 6th century mystic Dionysius the Areopagite. Through the centuries, abundant images, symbols, and meanings have become associated with the individual choirs. I found myself with a wealth of symbolic images that allowed me to unite birds, animals, flowers, and plants with spiritual significance in each composition.



know God through direct contemplation.
They surround his throne and sing his praises



Seraphim, represented by whooping cranes, are symbolic of Divine Love and attend God on his throne. Accompanied by snow buntings, they dance in a circular motion and chant “Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus” (holy, holy, holy, Isaiah 6:1). In the architecture are winged wheels, the earliest visual descriptions of angels (Ezekiel 1:16). Symbolizing love are red and white roses, ivy, crabapple blossoms, heart-shaped caladiums. Red hot poker flowers represent the flame of love A white sidewinder indicates Satan, who was the greatest seraph before his fall. Seraphim the cat peers out from behind the caladiums.



Cherubim, represented by Snow Owls, are symbolic of Divine Wisdom and keep the records of heaven. Owls are classical symbols of wisdom because of their ability to see in darkness. Other traditional symbols of wisdom are the fig tree, crocuses, hyacinths, olive tree, Solomon’s seal flowers, peacock feathers with their all-seeing eyes, and the pearly eye butterfly. The turtledove carries a scroll inscribed “Pleni sunt coeli et terra gloria tua” (heaven and earth are full of your glory, Isaiah 6:1-7).



Thrones, represented by Mute Swans, are symbolic of Divine Justice. They support God’s throne and carry out his justice. Their symmetrically balanced arrangement suggests balance and fairness in justice. Also representing justice are marigolds, broom plants, palm tree leaves. The thrones are able to judge objectively because of their perfect humility, indicated by the lilies of the valley. Justice is traditionally said to be blind, represented by the mole. The Sara Orange Tip butterflies recall the thrones’ color of fire. Long-finned angelfish swim through the garden.


know God through contemplation of the principles underlying all phenomena.
They oversee the physical universe.



Dominions, represented by white cockatoos, are symbolic of the Power of God. Power, kingship, and strength are signified by the gold “crowns” of the cockatoos’ crests, the sun, monarch butterflies, king birds of paradise, oak trees, saxifrage flowers, dragonflies, and snapdragons. Dominions maintain the order of the cosmos—the laws of physics—which are represented by the sun, rainbow trout (physics of light), and Sir Isaac Newton’s apple.




Virtues, represented by white ibis, are symbolic of courage. Indicating courage are dandelions, lionfish, nettle, borage, columbine, and sweet peas. They preside over the elements of the world, represented by the periodic table of elements, and keep heavenly bodies in order, represented by star magnolias and a starfish.




Powers, represented by gannets, are defenders of the cosmos and mankind against evil. Their protective character is symbolized by an herb garden of traditional protective plants: nasturtiums, rosemary, basil, iris, sage, venus flytrap, dogwood, digitalis, willow, mountain ash, and armored animals: box turtle, bumblebee, harlequin stink bugs and tree snails.



know God through His Creation.
They are directly involved with humanity.



Principalities, represented by white pelicans, are the caretakers of all human communities from nations to households. Sharing a similar protective relationship to humanity that St. Joseph had with Mary and the Christ Child, they are represented by many of the same symbols: St. Joseph lilies, daylilies, spider lilies, ginger lilies, fleur-de-lis. Other icons of protection are the oleander, palms, bay tree, buckeye butterfly, and soldier beetles.




Archangels, represented by gyrfalcons, are God’s messengers to humanity in times of crisis. Crisis at the beginning of the 21st Century is defined by the events of September 11, 2001. The victims are mourned by the bleeding heart flowers and mourning clock butterfly. The archangels’ duties as messengers are indicated by trumpet creeper vines and angel trumpet flowers. Homing pigeons and a turtledove bring a message: “May they rest in peace.”




Guardian Angels, represented by great white egrets, are the caretakers of humanity: an angel protects every human soul. Surrounding the egrets are the branches of a green ash tree, which in the 19th Century language of flowers and plants says, “you are safe with me.” Guardian angels are often associated with the innocence that they protect, symbolized by lamb’s ears, pansies, daisies, baby birds, eggs, chickadees, and white lilies. Angelwing butterflies share the garden.




©2008 Mary Lee Eggart
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