As we leave the darkness of All Hallow's Eve behind and wake to the sanctity of All Hallows Day, or All Souls Day as it is also known, Unknowncountry looks at the presence of angels in modern-day life.
The word "angel" derives from the Greek "angelos", meaning "messenger, and angels are generally accepted to be messengers of God, spiritual beings of pure love sent to do God's work on Earth. Angels are present in large numbers throughout religious history, but when it comes to acknowledging their existence in our current reality, angel sightings are often treated in much the same way as encounters with ghosts, as a "paranormal" entity. Yet there have been countless sightings of angels in recent times from extremely reliable witnesses.
Illinois Senator Mark Kirk believes that he met no less than 3 angels when he was in hospital recovering from a massive stroke. He was seriously ill and knew that he was close to death, and he claims that the celestial beings asked him if he wanted to accompany them, presumably to heaven. Kirk politely declined and they disappeared.
Scientists suggest that near-death experiences like Kirk's are merely hallucinations induced by a lack of oxygen to the brain, or by stimulation of the brain's right temporoparietal junction, but around 8 million Americans claim to have had similar encounters. This does not account for those who claim to have witnessed angels when fully cognizant, however, and also for those sightings, as Anne Strieber detailed in her diary entry "I met an angel in Kinkos", when angels appear in human form.
A Baylor Religion Survey in 2007 discovered that 57 percent of Catholics, 81 percent of Black Protestants, 66 percent of Evangelical Protestants, and 10 percent of Jews claimed to have had a personal experience with a guardian angel. Nor does it appear to be necessary for those witnessing the phenomena to have religious beliefs as 20 percent of those claiming to have had an angelic encounter did not have any religious affiliation.
John Geiger, a renowned explorer and author, has been investigating the mystery for many years:
"The stories are always similar -- that there's a sense of another being, a presence very vividly," Geiger said. "There is never any fear or panic when this being appears. There is just a sense of calm, peace and a sense of benevolence, a sense that there's something good there, something that will help them."
Stephanie Schwabe, 54, from Charleston, S.C., lost her safety line whilst cave diving in the Bahamas.
"I suddenly realized I was in trouble," she said. "My heart rate, I could hear it bouncing in my eyes, and I just kind of sat down on the [cave] floor and cried."
Ironically, Schwabe had lost her husband in a diving accident Sea only weeks before. She was sure that in her moment of despair, he communicated to her, saying: "Believe you can, believe you can't; either way, you are right."
"Suddenly, the whole cave brightened up," she said. "And then I calmed down and then I suddenly looked around and I saw what I thought was a white thread," she said. "It was kind of like he was there for me, in a way -- in an emotional way."
Geiger has his own theory about what happened. He suggests that witnesses are not hallucinating, but that human beings have a "very concrete survival mechanism" which kicks in to help us through life-threatening situations by over-riding our terror with a sense of calm. This then allows us to think rationally, and may help us to escape our peril.
"The brain is able to sort of stand back from that, and sort of rise above that and rationally help this person get through that," he said. "The guardian angel is us."
Geiger believes that the mechanism is powerful enough to generate a subconscious companion who takes the form of a physical or spiritual entity, and guides us out of danger, when in truth we are just acting on our own intuition.
For those who have witnessed the phenomena at first-hand, this theory is unlikely to provide a satisfactory explanation. Rose Benvenuto was involved in one of the most famous 'angel' encounters in recent years.
In 1988, she was involved in a horrific car accident which left her vehicle almost unrecognizable. Amazingly, she escaped with her life and suffered only a minor arm injury, a miracle which she attributes to the presence of a guardian angel. To add further weight to her testimony, two photographs of the wreck taken for the Fire Department shows a white apparition near the car, and also near Rose as she was taken away by paramedics. Although it is rarely possible to conclusively verify the authenticity of such images, the photograph and negatives have apparently been examined many times over the years and no evidence of a hoax has ever been determined.
Geiger remains unconvinced by the photograph, and it seems that, despite the religious association, angel sightings will always be regarded as 'paranormal' in the same way as any other phenomena not easily explainable by scientific means.
Whether the entities are self-generated, as Geiger suggests, generated by brain abnormalities, or whether they really are messengers from God, there is no doubt that these encounters are very positive, bringing a warmth and comfort to the witness which can remain with them for the rest of their lives, and which for some, can change their lives for the better.
Whatever the skeptics say, recent polls taken by Associated Press-GfK over the past few years indicated that around 80 percent of American adults believe in the existence of these enlightened celestial beings, regardless of whether or not they have had an experience themselves. Of those with no religious beliefs, four out of ten still believed in angels. It seems that a belief in what is essentially "the power of good" is inherent in most people, and angels seem to embody this belief.
Whitley Strieber himself has had a personal encounter with an angel, and you can listen to the audio here: