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This interesting tidbit comes from the first chapter of Moncure Conway's “Demonology and Devil-lore”:

“These have been associated in rabbinical mythology with the angels Michael (genius of Water) and Gabriel (genius of Fire); but they refer both to the phenomenal glories and the purifying effects of the two elements as reverenced by the Africans in one direction and the Parsees in another.”

How did the angels Michael and Gabriel came to be associated with water and fire respectively? Are other angels associated with elements?

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Gabriel:

There are a number of midrashim that tie Gabriel to fire:

Devarim Rabbah 5:12:

"...He imposes peace in His heights." Said Reish Lakish, Michael is entirely snow and Gabriel is entirely fire, and they stand one beside the other and do not harm one another."

Bamidbar Rabbah 12:8:

"..."Dominion and dread etc" - the dominion, this is Michael and he is of snow, and the dread, this is Gabriel and he is of fire..."

Shir Hashirim Rabbah 3:11:

"Dashing to and fro [among] the creatures was something that looked like flares" and this one doesn't put out that one and that one doesn't put out this one. Michael the lord of snow and Gabriel the lord of fire and this one doesn't put out that one and that one doesn't put out this one."

Midrash Tehillim 117:4:

"...said to Him Gabriel: I am the lord of fire; I shall go and heat him up from the outside and cool him down on the inside and I shall make a miracle within a miracle..."

and from the Zohar 1:16a:4:

"...And Gabriel, the Prince of His Left, Fire..."

and 3:225a:11:

"...And Gabriel who is the fire of intellect..."

and there are many more kabbalistic or semi-kabbalistic sources that state the same.

Michael:

As mentioned by @solsdottir and in the midrashim I brought about Gabriel, Michael was often connected to snow. However, there are other sources that connect him to water:

Zohar 1:16a:4:

"..."He makes peace in His heights". We learn that Michael, the Prince of the Right Side of Hashem, water and hail."

and 3:225a:11:

""...and Michael who is the waters of intellect..."

Divrei Nagidim on the Hagaddah, Magid, Arami Oved Avi:

"...and it is written: "your prince, Michael"...and these two angels, Michael of water...and He raised Michael from water..."

Chiddushei Aggadot on tractate Berachot 4b:

"Michael etc. The essence of Michael is water, on the right and in charge of grace..."

Sefer Habahir 11:

"..."He imposes peace in His heights" - comes to teach that Michael is the lord of the Right of The Holy One, Blessed Is He [and is of] water and hail..."

Kli Yakar on Genesis 28:12:

"...and as infers the Recanati, Uriel lord of air, Michael lord of water, Raphael lord of earth and Gabriel lord of fire..."

and there are many more kabbalistic or semi-kabbalistic sources that state the same.

Other angels:

The Kli Yakar source brought above paraphrases the Recanati who stated that Uriel is related to air and Raphael to earth.

This is likely based on this Zohar:

"...Uriel, who is air. Meaning the wind (or spirit) of intellect. With Raphael, who is ashes, meaning the dirt of intellect..."

This same idea is brought several times by Shnei Luchot Habrit, for example, here.


Note: Other than the Zohar 1:16a:4, all the sources were translated into English by myself.

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    Excellent sourcing! Thanks for contributing!!! – DukeZhou Oct 10 '20 at 1:41
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After a brief search on Google, I found the following in the Jewish Encyclopedia, which I quote:

Michael is snow, Gabriel is fire (Lüken, l.c. p. 55; comp. Yoma 21b, bottom). Nevertheless, it is the prince of fire and not the prince of ice that is commissioned to rescue Abraham as well as Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah from the fiery furnace (Pes. 118a; Ex. R. xviii. and parallel passage). In a single passage only (Targ. Job xxv. 2), Michael is called the prince of fire, and Gabriel the prince of water. As prince of fire Gabriel is also prince of the ripening of fruits (Sanh. 95b). As an angel representing an element of nature he is also connected with the metals: Gabriel is gold (the color of fire), Michael is silver (snow), Uriel is copper (Yalḳ., Ḥadash, s.v. "Gabriel," No.75). Gabriel, girded like a metal-worker, shows Moses how to make the candlestick (Men. 29a). He has wings, like all the angels, but while Michael reaches the earth in one flight, Gabriel requires two (Ber. 4b, bottom).

I realize that this links Michael to snow, not water. The Jewish Heritage Magazine also echoes this idea, quoting Job 25:2 and Deut. Rabbah 5:12 in support. Still, snow is close to water, so that may be how Conway got the idea.

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In most schools of "Western Ritual Magic," some of which seems to have Judaic roots, Michael is invoked in the South as Archangel of Fire & Gabriel in the West as Archangel of Water.

I don't know the original source of this symbolism, but it is widespread. An example is the famous "Banishing Ritual of the Lesser Pentagram."

Sorry if this seems off topic for Judaism, but it may be of interest. Here is an example: The Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram.

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The archangels are derived from older Mesopotamian stories. These stories were first written down by one of the earliest literate civilization of man, the Sumerian civilization over 5,500 years ago.

All archangel names end in "el". This is derived from Sumerian IL, Akkadian ELI meaning "high, above,highness".

Michael (Sumerian: Enki) Enki is the Sumerian god of water, who in the epic Gilgamesh slays the dragon Kur.

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This is the mythological basis of our common depiction of Michael slaying a dragon.

Gabriel (Sumerian: Gibil) Gibil in Sumerian mythology is the god of fire.

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  • Interesting. It seems that etymologically, though, there's no connection between the names. Michael in Hebrew means מי כאל, who is like El (God) while Enki apparently means lord of earth. Gabriel means גברי אל, my courage is El (God) while Gibil apparently means a fire-brand. So your basis is that variants of the word "El" existed in various Mesopotamian and Semitic languages and were consistently used to refer to powerful entities, and it just so happens that there are four entities related to the same two elements (as were many other beings in other pantheons and myths). – Harel13 Oct 8 '20 at 20:07
  • "El" is a Sumerian & Akkadian suffix meaning high(ness). As you noted, this is also one of the names of Yahweh. The similarity of the pronunciation Gabriel/Gibil is undeniable. And Enki is not the god of the element earth, his name means "Lord of the Earth (the world, not the element)". He is primarily the god of fresh water. As for Mikhael, the linguistic association is from the West Semitic (Canaanite) way of saying Ea, Enki's Akkadian name, associating the Canaanite theonym Yahu, and ultimately Hebrew YHWH. That is why the name means "like God". – Codosaur Oct 9 '20 at 7:24

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