Rafael — East — Air; Michael — South — Fire; Gabriel — West — Water; and Oriel [Auriel] — North — Earth.I addressed this topic somewhat in "The Book of Self Creation," saying:
"In Kabbalah the 'Four Elements' have been attributed to the four letters of the Ineffable Name, four Archangels, four Sefirot, four directions, the four seasons, the four phases of the Moon, etc., etc. However, attempting to find a uniform set of attributions from primary Kabbalistic literature is extremely difficult, since there have been major differences of opinion in this regard. In fact, nowhere does the statement 'there is only one thing Kabbalists agreed upon and that is that they don’t agree,' apply more accurately than in this instance.
In many instances authors were dealing with the topic from a single perspective alone, without consideration of any 'broader implications,' so to speak. As a case in point, consider the traditional bedtime prayer (Kriat Sh’ma al ha-Mitah) from the Siddur (Hebrew prayer book). Here we find the invocation 'To my right Michael and to my left Gavriel, in front of me Uriel and behind me Rafael, and above my head Shechinat El.' This portion of the evening prayer is claimed to be based on Midrash Bamidbar Rabba 2:10 and the Pirke d’Rabbi Eliezer 4:1.
Now, in this night-time prayer the four archangels are aligned with the 'position of service' each archangel held around the 'Throne of Glory' in early Jewish mysticism, e.g. as depicted in the large merkavistic portion of the Pirke d’Rabbi Eliezer, where we read (4:1) 'Four classes of ministering angels minister and utter praise before the Holy One, blessed be He: the first camp (led by) Michael on His right, the second camp (led by) Gavriel on His left, the third camp (led by) Uriel before Him, and the fourth camp (led by) Rafael behind Him; and the Shechinah of the Holy One, blessed be He, is in the centre.'
Here it is clear that Michael is in attendance to the right of the 'Throne of Glory,' hence is guarding our right; Gabriel to the left, thus guarding our left; Uriel [Auriel] to the front, and guarding our front; and lastly Rafael, positioned behind the 'Throne of Glory,' is protecting our rear. Keep in mind these attributions were made in very early Midrashim some centuries prior to the appearance of the Sefer ha-Zohar, and long before the Tree of Life was fully formulated in its current order.
If one is facing East while uttering this bedtime invocation, the positions of the four Archangels would naturally be Michael in the South, Gabriel in the North, Uriel in the East and Rafael in the West, and this set of attributions is in fact maintained in some Kabbalistic writings. However, inspecting the positions of the archangels in Midrash Bamidbar Rabba (2:10), considered one of the sources of the bedtime protection invocation, the entire issue gets quite confusing. Scrutinising the 'four directions,' which the four archangels are respectively said to be associated with in this verse, suggests that those who originally listed the positions of these 'spirit entities' around the 'Throne of Glory,' did not have specific directions in mind, i.e. East, West, etc., when they listed the positions of the archangels around the 'Throne of Glory.' Such directional attributions appear to have been added somewhat later, and are simply not reconcilable with the associated celestial positions of the four archangels.
Of course, problems inevitably arise when one attempts to broaden the application of a set of attributions initially employed in a singular manner, unrelated to any broader perspectives. Regarding this issue we read in Midrash Bamidbar Rabbah 2:10 'As the Holy One blessed be He created four winds (directions) and four banners (for Israel’s army), so also did He make four angels to surround His Throne — Michael, Gabriel, Uriel and Rafael. Michael is on its right, corresponding to the tribe of Reuben; Uriel on its left, corresponding to the tribe of Dan, which was located in the north; Gabriel in front, corresponding to the tribe of Judah as well as Moses and Aaron who were in the east; and Rafael in the rear, corresponding to the tribe of Ephraim which was in the west.'
Here the archangels are attributed to the directions in the following order, and despite alternatives listed elsewhere, this order became generally accepted:
Michael to the South; Uriel [Auriel] to the North; Gavriel to the East; Rafael to the West.
Consider that according to the bedtime prayer, Michael is to my right, and we are told in the Midrash that he is associated with the 'South'.....so I must be facing East, which I am! However, Gavriel, located to my left according to the same sources, is associated with the East....which is in front of me? Worse still, Uriel is supposedly in front of me but, hold on to your seat, if I am facing East—because Michael is on my right, and Gavriel is associated with the East, which is somehow supposed to be to my left—how in blazes can Uriel be in front of me when he is associated with the North? Even Rafael appears to be oddly placed. Also, if I keep Michael, the archangel associated with the South, to my right, i.e. as if I were facing the 'Throne of Glory' myself, I would be looking in the direction of Rafael who is positioned 'behind the Throne'.....that would be East.....but this archangel is associated with the West? If the traditional bedtime invocation was aligned with this arrangement of their respective positions, it should read 'To my right Michael and to my left Uriel, in front of me Gavriel and behind me Rafael.' Keep in mind that there are other variations to this Angels/Directions theme, e.g. South – Uriel; North – Gavriel; East – Michael; West – Rafael; or again South – Michael; North – Uriel; East – Gavriel; West – Rafael. There is simply no general agreement on this topic to be found throughout the primary texts of Traditional Kabbalah.
It is worth noting that much of the early 'angel teachings' in both Judaism and Christianity, were derived from Zoroastrianism. In this regard, it is recognised that the archangelic protection portion of the bedtime prayer was derived from the ancient Babylonian incantation which reads 'Shamash before me, behind me Sin, Nergal at my right, Ninib at my left'.
Now, considering this subject and related issues, we should also peruse the attributions made of the mentioned four archangels to the 'Four Elements.' In the Sh’lah al Sefer Vayik’ra by Yeshayahu ben Avraham we are told that 'Micha’el is the base source of Spirit Water, Gavri’el of Spirit Fire, Auri’el of Spirit Air, Rafa’el of Spirit Earth.' These attributions are based on teachings found in Kabbalistic literature in which the archangel Michael is attributed to the Sefirah Chesed (Mercy), Gavriel to Gevurah (Severity), Uriel to Tiferet (Beauty), and Rafael to Yesod (Foundation). In this case, Chesed, attributed to 'Spirit Water,' is the domain of Michael, while Gevurah, the domain of 'Spirit Fire,' belongs to Gavriel. In turn, the sphere of Tiferet, being the balancing central Sefirah between Chesed and Gevurah, is attributed the 'Spirit Air' and Uriel, this being aligned with the statement in the Sefer Yetzirah about 'Air tipping the scale' between 'Fire' and 'Water.' Finally, in this instance, Yesod is attributed to Rafael and 'Spirit Earth.'
As we know well enough by now, these attributions are by no means universally accepted amongst Kabbalists, and there are again numerous variant attributions of these four, as well as other archangels, to the ten Sefirot. Some of these attributions are decidedly odd, but they are always in accordance with specific mind-sets. Here are a few examples of attributions of the four archangels to the sefirot to be found in traditional Kabbalistic literature:
- Michael – Binah; Chesed; Tiferet; Hod; Yesod;
- Gavriel – Binah; Gevurah; Netzach; Yesod;
- Rafael – Tiferet; Hod; Yesod; and
- Uriel (Auriel) – Tiferet; Netzach; Yesod.
It gets even more befuddled when we investigate the related planetary and zodiacal attributions. We can be certain that it took a lot of careful investigation and consideration of all the details involved, including a study of related material, i.e. the writings of Averoes and the literature of ancient astrology, in order to arrive at the neat, coherent and efficient systems used in the Hermetic Orders."Following the publication of "The Book of Self Creation" I have encountered further details and variants, one of these, listed in "Me’irat Einayim" by the 13th century Rabbi Isaac of Akko, offered the following angelic/directions arrangement: North – Rafael; South – Uriel; West – Gavriel; and East – Michael. I have included these details in my "The Book of Seals & Amulets." As it is, I have found further information on this very topic in the many Hebrew Kameot (amulets) written over the last millennium, i.e. those in which the Names of the four "Archangels of the Quarters" are employed. To date I have noted the following combinations in primary Hebrew sources:
- South – Michael; North – Gavriel; East – Uriel; West – Rafael.
- South – Michael; North – Uriel; East – Gavriel; West – Rafael.
- South – Michael; North – Gavriel; East – Rafael; West – Uriel.
- South – Uriel, North – Gavriel; East – Rafael; West – Michael.
- South – Uriel; North – Gavriel; East – Michael; West – Rafael.
- South – Uriel; North – Rafael; East – Michael; West – Gavriel.