The Metaphysical/New Age subculture, which is the principal locus
of contemporary angel interest, grew out of several different nineteenth-
century movements, including Theosophy. Although Theosophy
embodies more than one set of ideas, in contemporary usage it
refers to the particular synthesis of ideas from the philosophical systems
of China and India and the works of the Gnostics, the Neoplatonists,
and the Cabalists, manifested in the Theosophical Society,
founded in New York in 1875 by Helena Blavatsky.
Theosophy postulates a complex view of the universe within
which humanity’s origins, evolution, and ultimate destiny are delineated.
The visible world arises from the ultimate, immutable Source,
an immaterial reality of which, as in Hindu philosophy, the universe is
the manifestation and from which it is guided. The process of cosmic
manifestation is characterized by two phases, the first being involution,
during which a multitude of spiritual units emerge from the Source
and, after becoming more and more involved in matter, finally
achieve self-consciousness in the physical world. During the second
phase, evolution, the human monads (souls) develop their inner potentials,
free themselves from matter, and return to the Source with an
The eternal human spirit attains mastery through cycles of reincarnation,
in accordance with karma, the moral law of cause and effect. In
each incarnation new experiences are attained, leading to the development
of the soul to a degree that is proportionate to the use that is
made of each experience. According to Theosophy, a long series of
reincarnations is required for the soul to achieve its supreme aim.
Like the ancient Gnostics, whom they view as predecessors,
Theosophists populate the cosmos with innumerable spiritual entities.
A significant class of these entities are what Theosophists call the
devas, a Sanskrit term for the demigods of Hinduism and Buddhism.
Within Theosophy, devas are roughly equivalent to angels, although
devas have many more functions than do traditional angels. In particular,
devas oversee natural forces and are responsible for building up
forms on inner planes as well as on the physical plane.
Some strands of Theosophy view devas as human souls who have,
through the process of reincarnation, evolved into higher spiritual
beings. Other strands, such as the Theosophy of Alice Bailey’s Arcane
School, place the devas on a separate evolutionary path. In particular,
Bailey sees devas as evolving from elemental spirits and fairies, rather
than from human forms.
Devas became part of the metaphysical subculture in the early
seventies when the Findhorn community was being featured in New
Age periodicals. The early community focused around a highly successful
vegetable garden in which community members were engaged
in a unique cooperative arrangement with agricultural devas (understood
in theosophical terms). Thus the devas, who had long been
identified with the angels of Western religious traditions, entered the
consciousness of the New Age.