They are messengers from God, heavenly beings without material bodies, spiritual envoys carrying out God's will.
They are angels. And according to Lorna Byrne, everyone has one -- a guardian angel who’s always with you and will never leave you. She says they are “the gatekeepers of your soul.”
She knows this, she says, because all her life she's been surrounded by them and has talked to them. Her book, Angels in My Hair, recounts her lifelong experiences with angels directing her and teaching her.
Byrne's story begins with the telling of her toddler years, when the angels told her that her tiny playmate was the brother who had died before she was born.
"We actually touched while playing blocks," says the Irish-born Byrne, who is a practicing Catholic. "When I touched his, arm it sparkled, my hands went through his into mine. I was two and a half."
Whether the public believes Byrne's angel accounts is up to them. But the popularity of her book illustrates the fascination people have with these mystical beings. Her tome is an international bestseller, translated into 20 languages. Doubleday reportedly paid a six-figure advance for the U.S. publishing rights.
But this diminutive, mild-mannered 57-year old, who grew up dyslexic, says it's a miracle that she has even written a book. She says it was a directive from an angel she calls Michael, who she says is the archangel talked about in the Bible.
“When I was a child, the angels said I would write a book and tell people about God. After I had my first child, the angel Michael came up behind me and said, ‘It’s now time to write that book.'”
She believes she was told to write in order to give people hope that there is life beyond this material world. That we don’t just die and rot, but have an eternal soul.
Angels have been part of theology and folklore for centuries.
Judeo-Christian scripture illustrates that they can be divine, as in archangels -- or demonic, as in fallen angels. Satan is believed by biblical scholars to be an angel of light who was condemned by God. Jesus is quoted in the New Testament saying, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.” (Luke 10:18)
All told, there are 273 references to angels in the Old and New Testaments. Some angels have names, some don’t.
The angel with the flaming sword forbade Adam and Eve re-entry to the Garden of Eden after their fall from grace (Genesis 3:24).
An angel traveled in front of Israel's army as the Jews fled Egypt (Exodus 14:19).
An angel told Joseph not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife (Matthew 1:20).
The Koran also talks of angels, the most important being the Angel Gabriel, who Muslims believe was God's messenger who appeared to the Prophet Muhammad and dictated their holy book.
Of course, there is no scientific proof that angels exist. And that has made scientists like Matthew Alper very skeptical of Byrne.
Alper, the author of “The God Part of the Brain,” says there are only two options to explain Byrne’s angel claims.
“Either A, she actually believes it. Or B, she’s a complete charlatan,” he says.
“There is no option C -- that she would actually be talking to angels. It’s like me talking to Santa Claus,” Alper says.
“Human beings are genetically predisposed to believe in some kind of spiritual reality,” he says, calling it an evolutionary coping mechanism “for us to deal with death.”
“Basically,” he says “no one’s born Jewish or Christian or Muslim. We’re born with a predisposition to latching on to some sort of belief.”
Alper believes Byrne probably does believe she sees angels, but it could mean that her brain is wired so that she is hyper-spiritual.
And there is scientific evidence to support that theory. Earlier this year the journal Neuron published a report from the University of Udine in Italy, showing that the removal of specific parts of the brain can “induce increases in personality traits which predisposes people to spirituality.”
The research suggests there’s evidence that “some brain structures are associated with spiritual thinking and feeling and hints at individual differences that might make some people more prone than others to spirituality.” (http//scienceblogscom/neurophilosophy/2010/02/neurosurgical_patients_get_closer_to_god.php)
That would put Byrne in the Option A category. But Alper contends that the condition, known as temporal lobe epilepsy, may be the clue. People with the condition tend to be hyper-religious.
Scientists have speculated that Historic religious figures like Joan of Arc and even Muhammad may have had the condition.
Byrne says she was never tested for epilepsy, but she admits she suffered from fainting spells as a child, for which the doctor gave her medication.
But Dr. Andrew Newberg, an associate professor of radiology and psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Medicine, is not so quick to chalk up angel sightings as evidence of craziness.
Newberg, author of How God Changes Your Brain,” has conducted several brain imaging studies measuring prayer and faith and its effects on the brain.
“Science struggles because we don’t know what angels are,” says Newberg. “They don’t have weight, light or physicality.”
“If we scanned (Byrne’s) brain and found she has epilepsy, who’s to say that that makes it a false perception, rather than the brain being able to perceive things on a different level than the rest of us?”
Newberg says, “When I get out of bed I grab my glasses to see things better. It’s not that the world was fuzzy. It means I had a clouded view.”
By all accounts Byrne is normal, even if her message is not. She says no matter people’s race, sex or religious faith, they have a guardian angel.
“I see the light of angels of every human being…. Your angel is a gift from God.”
The bottom line could be that Byrne may simply have better vision.