Prior to the invention of the telescope and the Copernican revolution,
it was generally believed that the earth was the stable center of the universe,
around which the Sun, Moon, stars, and the five known planets
revolved. Because the Sun, Moon, and planets moved along paths of
their own, entirely independently of the stars, it was believed that they
were “stuck” on a series of concentric crystalline (i.e., transparent)
spheres that revolved around the Earth between the stars and the Earth.
From this conception of the universe arose the idea of seven “levels
of reality,” corresponding to the seven celestial spheres. The ordinary
level of humanity’s experience was referred to as the “sublunar”
realm, meaning that it is the level below the sphere of the moon.
Another popular number was nine, which seems to have been derived
by considering the Earth itself as well as the sphere composed of the
fixed stars as constituting distinct levels. Given this view of reality, it
was natural that the angels should be regarded as being arranged in a
hierarchy of levels, hence Dionysius’s schema of nine choirs of angels.
In ancient Neoplatonism the various levels of reality were regarded
as having been sequentially “emanated” by the formless Godhead
from the realm of the fixed stars to the physical plane. The Gnostics
introduced an interesting twist on this basic idea by asserting that the
physical world was created by mistake and is a prison from which we
should attempt to escape. Trapping human spirits in this world, the
evil creator established archons (evil archangels) at each of the seven
levels to prevent humans from escaping.
Traditionally, the seven heavens are as follows:
First heaven (Shamayim)
The lowest heaven, Shamayim borders the Earth and is ruled by
Gabriel. It contains the clouds, the winds, the Upper Waters, and is
home to the two hundred astronomer-angels who preside over the stars.
Second heaven (Raquia)
Raquia is ruled by the angel Raphael, and, according to Enoch, it
is within this heaven that the fallen angels are imprisoned awaiting
final judgment in complete darkness.
Third heaven (Sagun or Shehaquin)
According to Enoch, hell lies within the northern boundaries of
the third heaven. Sagun is ruled by Anahel, and is the residence for
Izra’il, the Islamic angel of death. It is here that the wicked are tortured
by angels. In the southern regions, however, there exists a bountiful
paradise, thought to be the Garden of Eden, where the souls of
the righteous will come after death.
Fourth heaven (Zebhul or Machanon)
Ruled by Michael, the fourth heaven “is the site of the heavenly
Jerusalem, the holy Temple and its Altar” (Godwin, p. 122). It is here,
according to Enoch, that the Garden of Eden is actually housed, not
in the third heaven.
Fifth heaven (Machon or Ma’on)
Machon is home to God, Aaron, and the avenging angels. The
northern boundaries, said to be ruled by either Sandalphon or Sam
mael, is home to the fallen grigori (watchers). In the southern
regions, on the other hand, reside the ministering angels who endlessly
chant the praises of the Lord.
Sixth heaven (Zebul or Makhon)
The sixth heaven is ruled by Zebul at night and Sabath during the
day. This stormy, snow-ridden dwelling is home to the seven phoenixes
and the seven cherubim who sing the praises of God. A multitude
of other angelic beings also reside here who study an array of subjects
including astronomy, ecology, the seasons, and mankind.
Seventh heaven (Araboth)
The holiest of heavens, Araboth is ruled by Cassiel, and is home
to God on his Divine Throne, along with the highest orders of
angels—the seraphim, cherubim, and thrones.