I received a request for information on the 7 Heavens and the 7 Celestial Mansions (Heavenly Palaces) by email. I'm posting my response here so the information is accessible to anyone else seeking it. I will start with a brief description of each Heaven and its inhabitants. Then I will continue on the next post with information on the palaces and the concept of the 3-in-1 Heaven in the 7th Heavens design - the idea of 10 versus 7 Heavens. The final post will be for listing references to find information on concepts of the Heavens' design based on schemes not well associated with angelology (such as the Mayan Heaven's etc.).
This first post is going to be a somewhat brief description. A full breakdown would require a full description of the known choirs/orders of these 7 spheres, and I do not have one posted to the forum yet. If more information is needed on any particular Heaven, I will respond in more detail, but the undertaking of writing out all at once would be exhausting.
The Heavens according to the common Judeo-Christian scheme are broken into 7 spheres which surround each other. This theme can not be simply defined as being derived from Judaism & Early Christianity, as each adopted ideas based on older Zoroastrianism and Gnosticism, along with the polytheistic religions of the ancient Levant (Sumer, Median) and African/Meditteranean coastal religions including the Egyptians. Every scheme had an average at 7-10 Heavens, each with its own deity ruler or rulers, palace or tower of headquarters and each "Heaven" enveloping a higher one, until at last, in the 7th Heaven (or 10th), the creator of Supreme God's throne is at the center of all.
Some variations (and older themes) have the 7th Heaven divided into 3 smaller spheres, making a total of 10 Heavens in all. This description will cover the 7 sphere layout, as it is the most commonly referenced scheme in angelology.
Here is a description of the inhabitants of the first 3 of 7 spheres of Heaven. I will continue updating them and have the next 4 up shortly...
The First Heaven:
Name: Shamayim or Wilon
Etymology: From a root word meaning "lofty height" or "sky." Shamayim literally means "The Heavens" or "The Skies." Wilon (Vilon) means "curtain" or "veil." It also directly implies cloud cover or atmosphere, coming from 'Sham'-'mayim', meaning: "there is water."
Ruler: Levannah (Gabriel)
Governors: Sidriel and Hasidel
Function: The lowest Heaven which borders this world. It is the firmament, or atmosphere & acts as a veil covering. This is where those angels who work directly with the world (or perhaps, physical universe), and its creatures. It is a border which is passed when traveling between the higher spheres of Heaven to Earth. It is where the upper waters, clouds and winds are held. These are all held, according to Enoch, in a "great sea" which connects to a river in which fire flows like water that stretches throughout the upper Heavens, ending at the foot of God's throne as the "lake of fire." The land is said to be shimmering, and "seven times brighter than silver." Time in the Shamayim is regulated to reflect our reality, and there are hours and days in this Heaven that flow naturally, though they can be manipulated by the inhabitants such as the Watchers, who can speed or slow moments on Earth for their observation.
Inhabitants: Primarily those in the choir of Angels and Archangels. All guardian angels and lunar angels spend much of their time here under the authority of Gabriel. The astronomy angels or "Rah" (guardians / personifications) of the stars dwell within the First Heaven, as do the "Rah" of snow, ice and dew. The 200 Watchers which were called "Grigori" who came to Earth and corrupted mankind were stationed in the Shamayim as well. It is also the eternal home of Adam and Eve. All stars, planets and galaxies are found in this Heaven along with their ruling angels.
The Second Heaven:
Etymology: Most accurately translated as "expanse", though the Hebrew word for "firmament" is similar and often considered a translation.
Ruler: Labbiel (Raphael)
Governors: Barakiel and Zacharael
Function: Dwelling place of the chariot / palaces of the Sun (where solar angels dwell) and also of Christ & John the Baptist. This Sphere of Heaven has an almost direct line to Gehenna, the borders of Hell, where those of the fallen who can be saved are kept in darkness awaiting judgement (according to Enoch this includes the fallen Grigori, though they are also said to be imprisoned in the 6th Heaven). According to Jewish mysticism, this connection between Heaven and Hell is used by the order of restoration/healing angels known as the Labbim to retrieve the lost who wish to be pure but can not save themselves. As the angel of restoration, Raphael (Labbiel) is the governing prince of the Labbim and is primarily stationed here where several Labbimic temples throughout the Raqui'a are used by the inhabitants of Heaven to keep their purity. The sun rises and sets here as it does on Earth, revealing the night sky stars of the First Heaven (Though time is said to be somewhat different, in the Raquia, from our reality and the Shamayim).
Inhabitants: Solar angels and Principalites, who govern regions of the Earth and properties of creation. The angels who govern Earthly elements, called the Af. Although some Malachim of the choir of angels work here, they inhabit the First Heaven primarily. Dominions, the angels who distribute charges to angels of lesser choirs can sometimes be found here. Angels of fury and wrath were once kept here, but are now in the 5th Heaven. Nuriel and his host of 50 angels "composed of fire and water" once dwelled here, but are usually found in the 6th Heaven.
The Third Heaven:
Name: Sagun or Shehaqim
Etymology: Shehaqim Sagun (Sakun) is a variation of the word "shakhan" which means, "to dwell (in)" or "home." In Akkadian, shakan meant "place of peace" or "perfection" and was synonymous with paradise.
Shehaqim is derived from the root "shachaq" which means "small dust ground from the skies" from the older form of "shakh'ak", meaning: "to grind, beat, or wear down". It has been translated as mist, clouds, or ash smoke as it can indicate any extension of the firmament... However, it is most likely a term referring to the manna production of this Heaven, where the substance is made by refining through attrition by grindstones. The term "shehaqim" is most commonly used in Hebrew to refer to "clouds" or "grindstones."
Governors: Azrael and Baradiel
Function: This heaven is the spiritual resting place of the garden of Eden, where it borders on the 5th Heaven. Shehaqim, like the Raqui'a, also borders on Gehenna just north of Eden. The flaming river runs through this sphere and separates Hell from paradise along a desolate expanse of cold and ice. Here, according to Enoch, was the original habitations of the angels of retribution and wrath, who bound & punished the wicked. In paradise, angels under the authority of Michael carry and store manna (brought from the 4th Heaven) as bees store honey (these angels are actually often referred to as actual manna producing bees). The manna is also refined through a pair of vast millstones and made into a fine powder (hence the name for the heaven: "Shehaqim" ). According to St. Paul, the heaven has a gate of golden pillars and is the dwelling place of Enoch the scribe. Three hundred angels of light accompany him there and guard the orchards of paradise which stretch into the 5th Heaven and include the Tree of Life. Time in the Shehaqim somewhat resembles time in the 2nd Heaven, though it is more unstable and can be faster or slower (less linear) than time in our reality.
Inhabitants: The "shining ones" who guard the gates of Eden. Those cherubim who guard the Tree of Life. Many Arelim are stationed here as well as Michael's angels of manna. Most angels of the choir of Powers make their home in the Shehaqim, where they administer control over the borders of Gehenna. Dominions are often working between the 4th and 6th Heavens, and so are found here also. By name: Zotiel, Zefon, Johiel, and Azrael dwell here.
The Fourth Heaven:
Name: Machanon (Machen) or Zebhul (Zevul)
Etymology: Machanon comes from the root word "makhon", and means "central site", "base" or "foundation." Zebhul means "the innermost part of a house" or roughly "home/temple." Because it is a name for Heaven, in Akkadian it was roughly translated to mean "high place" or "mansion."
Ruler: Michael or Phanuel (equated Ariel & Uriel in unison)
Governors: Anael and Zahakiel
Function: The center-most Heaven. Zebhul runs into the Shehaqim (3rd Heaven), so that the garden of Eden is at its borders. The Tree of Understanding (knowledge of good and evil) is held here in a great orchard, along with, according to Enoch, the Tree of Life. (Most accounts place the Tree of Life surrounded by Cherubim within the 3rd Heaven, with the Tree of Understanding in Zebhul where it is guarded by Azrael.) Also in Zebhul is the site of the Heavenly Jerusalem and the Temple and altar of God, all prepared for the saints and the souls of the righteous who are spared after judgement. The city is made of gold, encircled by 12 gated walls each with its own tower, and surrounded by four rivers of honey, milk, wine and oil respectively. The geography of this Heaven is peculiar, as it has no defined borders but stretches from the 5th Heaven to the 3rd. Its boundaries are defined by the Tree of Knowledge which stands in the orchard of Eden (which is divided between the 3rd Heaven and Zebhul), and the outskirts of the New Jerusalem which run into a great ocean that borders the prisons in the 5th Heaven. This sea stretches into a river which runs through the 5th Heaven and another which runs into the 3rd to cross into Eden (some say it is the river called Pison). The 4th Heaven is the domain of duality (sometimes this title is credited to the 6th Heaven) and the seat of time (and inevitability). It acts as a clock which keeps time in Heaven (although, in the Machanon, time stands still like at the eye of a storm). Time, as we would see it is then completely based on will and personal perception of its inhabitants, and events do not occur in a definable linear pattern (this is true of the 6th and 7th Heaven as well). The chariots of the sun & moon cross the 4th Heaven drawn by winds shaped like a phoenix and a brazen serpent, with faces like lions and lower parts like that of Leviathan. When the phoenix chariot crosses the sky, Ariel governs this Heaven, and when the serpent is above the Heaven is ruled by Uriel. Together they are equated with the angel Phanuel, and they regulate time as it is experienced in the Heavens.
Inhabitants: Azrael and the "shining ones" who guard the gates of Eden. Primarily Arelim, Af (elemental property angels) and angels of time. Most of the choir of Dominions make their home in the Zebhul. Mohammed, Melchizedek and Enoch are among the earthly prophets who live here. Other saints who are charged with preparing the new Jerusalem are said to dwell here, though it is also said that no souls of men can cross the borders of the 3rd Heaven.
The Fifth Heaven:
Name: Mathey or Machon or Ma'on
Etymology: Mathey comes from the word Mattithiah, which means "gift of the hand of God." Machon comes from the root word "makhon", and means "central site", "base" or "foundation." Ma'on is a variant of Mavon/Mahon and means "habitation."
Governors: Sammael and Arioch/Orion
Function: In the north of this Heaven (and crossing into the next) is where the prisons holding the Grigori are stationed. Af, an angel of anger, is chained in black and red fire along with the other Avenging angels who are held here to protect the world from their fury. In and around these prisons are great mountains of black crystal and living pillars of flame. In the South, multitudes of angels gather to sing the Trisagion through the night, which is said to be both the source of the vibrations in the universe and also a song of praise to God. At dawn, the Trisagion ceases, allowing God to hear the worlds praises and petitions. It is said that the Trisagion is also used to soothe those angels bound in their fury within the prisons. Sammael was once the ruler of this sphere, although having now fallen from grace, it is ruled by another angel of matter and power, Sandalphon. This Heaven is the source of direction in the universe, and holds the four winds and the four towers which mark the cardinal points.
Inhabitants: The Powers and the Archangels, who are in charge of guarding the prisons of the angels. The Guardians of the Towers of the Four cardinal points. Also, the avenging angels and the ministering angels. According to the prophet Zephaniah, an order of Dominions known as the Lords are found here. The angel Salamiel and Na'ahayael are guardians of the Grigori who are imprisoned in Mathey. (Though there may be some confusion behind this, as Salamiel is also known as a Grigori himself).
The Sixth Heaven:
Name: Zebul or Makhon
Etymology: Zebul means "the innermost part of a house" or roughly "home/temple." Because it is a name for Heaven, in Akkadian it was roughly translated to mean "high place" or "mansion." Makhon means "central site", "base" or "foundation."
Ruler: Tzadkiel and Gabriel
Governors: Sabath and Zebul
Function: As with the 4th Heaven, the 6th is also called a domain of duality, where the turning of day and night change its properties and rulership. By day, Sabath (who rules under Tzadkiel) is the governor, and by night it is Zebul (who rules under Gabriel). By Sabath, the Heaven is primarily concerned with justice and order in severity, by Zebul, the Heaven's properties are mercy, endurance and understanding. This Heaven houses a great university where scholarly angels gather to study God's properties through recording and debting on astronomy, time, ecology, change and humankind. It is guarded by seven phoenixes and seven Cherubim who sing the Trisagion. It also holds at its central courtyard, a statue made of a substance like snow and fire, which is the likeness of the first angel (Beqa/Lucifer), once called the Guardian Angel of Heaven and Earth. In addition to this university, the borders of this Heaven hold the prisons which extend from the 5th Heaven, and a repository of natural disasters such as hurricanes, plagues, earthquakes, and floods are kept, as well as snow, hailstones, dew and rain with chambers of storms and caves of fog. Nuriel, a great angel of the order of Powers, and his host guard a vast stretch of gates which lead to all points in the universe (or abyss). At the borders of this Heaven (or its center), a great rift divides it from the great walls of the 7th Heaven. A bridge, called the Daath (or Haalath / Daalath), stretches across the rift (which is sometimes described as abysmal and sometimes called a flaming river) to the gated wall.
Inhabitants: The Powers and the Archangels, who are in charge of guarding the prisons of the angels. Also, the Dominions and Tafsarim (an order of Virtues), along with other scholarly angels. Ischim and guardian angels who learn in the university also dwell there temporarily. The Seven Phoenixes and Seraphim, Nuriel and his host. The 10 judges of Heaven, including the great twin angels called the Irin & the Quadisin are said to be stationed here also.
The Seventh Heaven:
Etymology: Can be translated from the root words for "sweet/pleasant" and "west" (as in a specific place), or from the roots OrbTh, meaning "mixed matter." The word is most modernly translated as "plains" or "desert", signifying an empty expanse that holds life behind an apparent lack of abundance (so appearing both barren & full, holding both many things and nothing). "Araboth" is also commonly translated to mean "clouds", indicating the mixture of air & water. Again, as in the plains or desert, the clouds 'appear' to be empty, but are actually substantial.
Aeon: Nathanael or Beqa (Lucifer)
Function: The seat of God and the center of creation. This Heaven is of unique structure. Surrounded by a great rift, it appears as a city or tower whose walls are unscalable, but it is surrounded by doors (each gated). The Heaven itself is circular, sectioned into 7 Heavenly halls all leading to its central throne, resembling an Ophanim (in the shape of a spoked wheel). It contains 3 parts (which is where the 10 Heaven system likely comes from), The rooms (or river of fire) between hallways where the Shekinah dwells form the outer ring, the Heavenly throne room in a central ring, and the Ga'ar, a great curtain behind the Throne which none but God can pass through (the innermost ring). All three are said to be immeasurable in perception, making them appear as individual worlds or Heavens. God is seated on his throne - made of, suspended & surrounded by Cherubim, Seraphim and Ophanim. He is usually accompanied by Metatron (or some other herald) and at least 1 of the angels of the Presence (Aeons) at all times.
Inhabitants: The majority of Seraphim and Cherubim, as well as many Ophanim in the form of wheels. The angels of the Presence (Aeons or Seven Archangels). Metatron and Cassiel, who dwells in his home within Araboth's walls. The Hayyoth and the Prophets/Saints. The spirits of creatures not yet born are held here within the wellspring of the river of fire (called the "nahar shel esh" in Hebrew, and the "nahar di nur" in Aramaic). The angel of divine law (who serves under Danyael), named Zagzguel, also dwells here, where he serves as a scholarly angel by observing the presence of God.
I will continue shortly with a post on the 7 Heavenly Palaces...
Notes on Araboth
I have actually updated the above brief description on this Seventh Heaven as I found more information I had been lacking in my original info. The Araboth is the highest Heaven and is called either the 7th or 10th Heaven - when in reality, it is likely both, and the source of the confusion between whether or not there are 7 or 10 spheres of Heaven.
The primary source of the Heavens description is found in Merkabah mysticism, Kabbalism and Gnosticism. In all three, the numbers 7 and 10 are prevalent as being holy or powerful, and most importantly - as being numbers which represent "completion." There are associations with 7 and 10 throughout the Bible, the Torah, the Talmud, The Book of Enoch, The Sefer Raziel.. etc. However, these references of 7 and 10 are not mutually exclusive. They are all connected to the 10 Sephiroth - the divine emanations which are the pattern of creation (and the bridge to the divine) - of which there are 10: 7 constructed emanations & the 3 in 1 emanations (Kether, Chockmah & Binah) which are expressed through them. This makes 7 visible and accessible emanations that we can call "reality", but in them & through them, 3 unsubstantial emanations are known.
This is also expressed by the Aeons or the Angels of the Face. These angels are emanations, NOT manifestations (as other created beings) of God. There are 7 of these, and together they comprise all the knowable & unknowable qualities of God. As such, they are the active agents of Heaven. They express the will of God as their will, and fully represent God's will as a whole. However, God is merely emanated in them, but exists as a real personality, divided into 3 parts: The Father, The Son & The Holy Spirit. Similar to the 3 unsubstantial Sephiroth, these 3 forms of Deity are emanated in the 7 Aeons. In this sense... the 7th Heaven is seen expressed throughout the lower Heavens, but exists in itself in a very different (and somewhat inaccessible) state.
"Araboth" is usually translated as `Plains'. It refers to a large and empty expanse - an emptiness which is, paradoxically, most full. It is the emptiness of particular forms, in which all forms find their source. Its equation in the Kabbalah, (Hebrew mysticism) is -infinity + infinity = 0; all things are contained herein, negated in their balance.
The true contemplation of such a place is perhaps, impossible for man, but the key to what one CAN understand about this concept lies in the division of this 7th Heaven into three parts. Though these parts are described above as being concentric to one another, they are not simply so. Each of the 3 parts of Heaven overlaps, or perhaps wholly dominates, the sphere of Araboth. The view described by the prophets who have seen it is narrated as above: with the Shekinah's dwelling place in the rooms between the outer halls which lead to the throne room where God is seated, behind which flows a curtain of fire called the Gaar: a doorway to infinity. The 1st Sphere of Araboth is the seat of creation and the Throne of God. It is described as a very physical manifestation, but the Shekinah and its ministers are often described as pure spirit, and are not 'formed', and the Gaar can not be accessed by any creature. This leaves the Araboth 'apparently' empty. It would make sense to describe it as such. In reality, however, Araboth is full of 'mixed matter', even though it may not be accessible to all.
According to Merkabah mysticism, the seven Heavenly hallways (called the Hekhalot) which lead to the throne at the center of Araboth are guarded by angels from each of the seven Palaces of Heaven. These are the halls of the Palaces of Heaven and are said to 'dwell' within each Palace. (Meaning they exist in Araboth AND their respective Heaven, simultaneously.) Whether the angelic guards of each Hall exist in both Heavens at once is unclear, but if they only take form in their respective Heaven, both the Halls and the rooms between them (where the Shekinah dwells) may 'appear' empty, leaving only the throne room, which is usually described as full of angelic creatures (the Angels of the Presence, the Cherubim who hold the throne, the Hayyoth, etc.).
If the Hekhalot appear empty because their angelic wardens are occupying them in different spheres of Heaven (in what we might identify as 'dimensions' or 'planes of existence'), then this 2nd Sphere of Araboth - the Shekhinah's dwelling - could 'appear' empty for a similar reason. The Shekinah is the spirit of God, it is the Holy Spirit, and called the feminine aspect of God's nature. It is also "exiled" (or chooses to dwell) in our world of living things, and is said to remain here, on Earth, until Judgment. (In essence, it is God's spirit remaining, in empathy, with God's children until they return 'home' to eternity.) This does indicate that, though the Shekinah has a 'dwelling' in Araboth, it is actually absent in some form or another because it is dwelling here, on our Earth.
How to gain access to Araboth is another mystery. In Rabbinical teaching, it is a place reserved for the most righteous souls, but elsewhere in Judeo-Christian lore, it is only accessible to the highest angels (with the exception of Judgement Day, when all will pass through it and face the throne of God). The Hekhalot are said to be like trials, guarded by mighty angels who test the faith and righteousness of all who try to access the seat of God. In some descriptions, the walls of the central tower at Araboth are surrounded on all sides by fields of beauty and splendour but with no habitations. (This could be related to the translation: "plain" from "Araboth".) In myth of the ancient Levant, plains such as this symbolized inaccessible lands, going on forever without end or destination.
The Araboth is surrounded by a rift which appears as the abyss: black and void, but is sometimes described as the river of fire & ice, which comes up from under the unscalable walls & passes into the throne room. The Gaar: a great curtain behind the Throne, is made of living fire just like the river, and pours down into it. Behind the Gaar (which literally means "shut up/enclosed" and "rebuke" - indicating all who would attempt to pass through it would be chided severely) is the infinite. It is formless, shapeless eternity as we would call it. Absoluteness & Nothingness knowable only to God. This is the 3rd sphere of Araboth.