The Place of the Holy Creatures in the Heavenly Realms
The living creatures, living beings, or Hayyoth (Hebrew חַיּוֹת chayot, from חַיּ chai, “live”) are a class of heavenly beings described in the prophet Ezekiel‘s vision of the heavenly chariot in the first and tenth chapters of the Book of Ezekiel. References to the creatures recur in texts of Second Temple Judaism, in rabbinical merkabah (“chariot”) literature, in the Book of Daniel, and in the Book of Revelation in the New Testament.
Ezekiel’s four living creatures
Ezekiel’s vision of the four living creatures in Ezekiel chapter 1 are identified as cherubim in chapter 10 who are God’s throne bearers. Cherubim as minor guardian deities of temple or palace thresholds are known all over the Ancient East. Each of Ezekiel’s cherubim have four faces, that of a man, a lion, a cherub, and an eagle. However, their human shape appearances set them apart from the griffin-like cherubs of Babylonia and Assyria. In their ability to move, Ezekiel’s cherubim do not need to turn, as they front all directional points of the compass. This description of movement differs from the seraphim in Isaiah’s vision (Isaiah 6:2) who have an extra set of wings for their ability to fly.
Daniel’s four living creatures
In the Book of Daniel, four living creatures surround the white throne upon which the Ancient of Days sits Daniel 7:7-13. This white throne is also referenced in the final judgement in Revelation 20:11-15. The four beasts differ from the four beasts in Ezekiel chapter 1 and Revelation 4:6–8 in that there are a lion, a calf, an eagle and a man faced creature. The beasts have four wings, as the beasts in Ezekiel have eight wings, as contrasted with the beasts in Revelation which each have six wings. The first beast has its wings removed, it is stood upright, and it is given the mind of a man. The second beast, which resembles a bear, has three ribs in its mouth and is told to ‘Get up and eat your fill of flesh!’ The third beast, which resembles a leopard, is described as having four heads, like the beasts in Ezekiel and Revelation. This beast, which is given authority to rule, closely matches the description of the Dragon, the “beast out of the sea” in Revelation chapter 13, which is also given authority. The final beast is a mechanical beast with large iron teeth. It crushes and devours its victims, and tramples underfoot whatever is left. This beast most resembles the winepress spoken of in Revelation 14:18-20.
Revelation’s four living beings
In Revelation 4:6–8, four living beings (Greek: τέσσαρα ζῷα, tessera zō[i]a) are seen in John’s vision. These appear as a lion, an ox, a man, and an eagle, much as in Ezekiel but in a different order. They have six wings, whereas Ezekiel’s four living creatures are described as only having four. In verse 6, they are said to have “eyes all over, front and back”, suggesting that they are alert and knowledgeable, that nothing escapes their notice. The description parallels the wheels that are beside the living creatures in Ezekiel 1.18; 10.12, which are said to be “full of eyes all around”. The Hebrew word for “wheel” (ôpannîm) was also used in later Jewish literature to indicate a member of the angelic orders (1 Enoch 71.7; 3 Enoch 1.8; 7.1; 25.5-6, etc.). The term “eyes” can also be used as a metaphor for “stars”. In this passage in Revelation, the four beasts surround “the one” on the red throne (which is of ruby and sardius), which is contrasted with the white throne in Daniel 7:9 and Revelation 20:11-15.
Comparing the living creatures in Ezekiel with Revelation‘s is a prominent apocalyptic study in Western Christianity. An example is the 18th Century works of Jonathan Edwards‘ recorded interpretation of 1722/23. The four living creatures that John of Patmos sees in the Book of Revelation, is the author’s reworking of the living creatures in the visions of Ezekiel (Ezekiel 1:5-28) and Isaiah (Isaiah 6:2). William D. Mounce noted a belief that the living creatures may have been associated with the four principal signs of the zodiac.
In a critical analysis of John’s vision, April De Conick’s 2006 essay outlines that the hayyot in Ezekiel are perhaps not original with the author of Revelation. De Conick suggests that John may have drawn from other merkabah-related texts and by subtly working with images already known to his audience, he reshaped them for his own purposes. With John blending and transforming the images of his sources, it has given way to different interpretations.
Probably in a “self-imposed” redemptive attempt to make logical sense out of these Four Living Creatures, Most New Testament commentators, throughout Church History, have made the increasingly self-entrenching traditional claim that: ‘these 4 creatures are symbols for the 4 Gospels’. So in this way it is commonly said that: “to John is attributed the Eagle; to Luke the Ox, to Mark the Lion, and to Matthew the Man, or angel in human form.” (=Adam Clarke Commentary on Rev 4:7 (early 1800’s); -the Gospels identifications/association may differ with others). While that is a surfacely plausible understanding, -as reflected by its common/popular citing amongst Christians still today, it, exegetically, is really only that: asurface understanding. Thus merely an assumption. A more indepth study, indeed in the symbolism involved here, helps to arrive at its actual/Biblical meaning and (application/fulfilment) understanding.
In Christianity, the four living creatures are Cherubim. A prominent early interpretation, variously modified by different interpreters, has been to equate the four creatures as a tetramorph of the Four Evangelists. Throughout church history, the most common interpretation (first laid out by Victorinus), but not the original or the only, is that the lion represents Mark, the calf Luke, the man Matthew, and the eagle John. Irenaeus was the first to make the association with the evangelists, but the interpretation laid out by Victorinus and adopted by Jerome, Gregory the Great, and the Book of Kells became dominant. Its influence has been on art and sculpture and is still prevalent in Catholicism and Anglicanism.
The Symbols of the Holy Living Creatures: The Four Elements or Swastika
All the words used to describe the Four Aspects are inadequate. The power of God are beyond the grasp of words so instead of being limited by them one should, by meditation, try to get beyond them to the truth that they so poorly represent. The symbols of the Holy Living Creatures will be recognised by astrological students to correspond with the zodiacal sign of Taurus, Leo, Scorpio and Aquarius. These are the Fixed Signs of the four Elements of Earth, Fire, Water and Air respectively for n Kether are the roots of the Elemental powers which are represented by the Tarot Aces of Coins, Wands, Cups and Swords, which were the original designation of the Diamonds, Clubs, Hearts and Spades of modern playing cards. The ancient said that all things were basically made up of the Four Elements and this is literally true, for the Elements are modes of action and not just the four physical elements, although these are reflections of the archetypal principles involved. The interlinking correspondences of the Elements are numerous. Students familiar with Jungian psychology can get some conception of their applications by considering the four (p.73) Jungian psychological functions of intuition, feeling, intellect and sensation., which correspond to Air, Water, Fire and Earth and which on the lower Sephiroth of the Tree can be equated with Tiphareth, Netzach, Hod and Malkuth. (Gareth Knight, A Practical Guide of Qabalistic Symbolism, p. 74)
Contacting the Holy Living Creature: Meditation on the Swastika
For contacting the angelic powers of Kether it is not really necessary to go into a long analysis of correspondences though. Perhaps the best image to build up is the Swastika, which is an emblem of Equal-armed Cross of the Elements in circular motion. One can picture a swastika of pure brillance, with a picture of one of the Holy Living Creature in each arm, and then visualise the swastika spinning rapidly on a brillant axis against a background of white flecked with gold. The spinning motion will call to mind the Mundane Chakra of Kether, the Primum Mobile, or First Swirlings.(Gareth Knight, A Practical Guide of Qabalistic Symbolism, p. 73)
Tree of Life Attributions
The Order of Angels assigned to Kether is The Holy Living Creatures. These are classified into four types in accordance with the Biblical system which describes them as having the forms of a Bull, a Lion, an Eagle and a Man. The Angels are concerned with the Formative World of a Sephirah and this is the clue to much, for what is formed in Kether will be reflected throughout the whole of manifestation. This is the basis behind the much maligned Four Elements of the ancients which the Jungian school of (p.71) analytical psychology is now doing much to restore its respectability. Esoterically speaking, God manifests in Four Aspects as opposed to the Three Aspects are the Father, Son Holy Spirit and the Destroyer or Disintegrator. The Aspects of the Father is the Power Aspect or Spiritual Will. The Aspect of the son is Love, that is, complete understanding of the needs of all, not sweet sentimentality. The Aspect of the Holy Spirit is Wisdom, Active Intelligence or Illumination. The Fourth Aspect is the Withdrawer of Life from the death of form and ultimately of all manifest life to the unmanifest.(Gareth Knight, A Practical Guide of Qabalistic Symbolism, p. 72)