Harps or Trumpets

by Barbara van Look, Content Development Group, Exclusively for Fire Mountain Gems and Beads®

Gabriel sounds his horn, announcing his messages while choir after choir of white winged beings sing and strum harps. In the Book of Mormon, concourses of singing angels line the paths of heaven. Meanwhile, Hindu religious law says that angels sing to celebrate every instance where women are treated with respect and honor.

In Judeo-Christian traditions, Sandalphon is known as heaven’s musical director and the patron of music for people on earth. In the Hadith, it is said that Moses knew what time it was by when the choirs of singing angels changed shifts. Meanwhile, Zoroastrian ahuras might sing or play tambourines, while Buddhist devas could contemplate the music of the spheres. Music and angelic beings have gone hand-in-hand for millennia, with the harp and the trumpet being the most popular instruments in their hands.

The Harp (or Lyre)

The harp is the oldest known stringed instrument. The word itself comes to English via the Old Norse word meaning "to pluck"--however, a harp-like stringed instrument shows up in 15,000-year-old cave paintings in France. One idea is that harps came from the twang of a hunter’s bowstring, another is from the plucking of a tightly strung loom. Harps (and their cousins the lyres) were common in ancient Egypt, Babylon, Greece and Rome. They maintained their popularity during the Middle Ages; their "heavenly" sound meant they were one of the few instruments allowed in monasteries and nunneries. This idea was likely influenced by contact with Gaelic (or Celtic) cultures. While the king was the top of the pile in Gaelic societies, their harpers were a close second and their music was considered holy. Harp music created a door to spiritual realms, so it made sense that angels and other divine messengers would carry a harp.

The Trumpet (or Horn)

Ancient cultures used trumpets and other straight horns to draw attention and precede important announcements. The earliest and simplest horns are made from hollowed out animal horns or marine shells. In ancient Mesopotamia, animal horns were used by the street messenger who delivered public announcements. In India, the horn of the water buffalo creates the shringa or singi and is mentioned in the ancient epic poem the Mahabharata. In Imperial Rome, the cornu was used by the famous legions. In sea-faring cultures, conch and other large trumpet shells are use for the same purposes. The conch shell trumpet is still considered holy in many Eastern cultures.

The Judeo-Christian archangel Gabriel is believed to sound his trumpet before Judgment Day, while in Islam, Israfil (Raphael) is the malaikah (angel) of the doomsday trumpet. In Hindu belief, the sankh (a conch shell trumpet) shall be blown to mark the end of this age of the world. Therefore, since divine beings brought the most important announcements, it only made sense that they would precede their messages with the blare of a trumpet or horn.

Other Instruments

Angels and other angelic beings are not limited to harps and trumpets however. Art through the ages has depicted them playing whatever instruments were at hand. Renaissance painters such as Fra Angelico and Jan van Eyck depicted western angels playing lutes, tambourines, flutes, mandolins, violins--even pipe organs!

So keep the harp and the trumpet, hold on to the choir book and the tambourine: music and angels have been tied together for millennia. Perhaps that is the music of the spheres.

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