Online works based on the Writings of Emanuel Swedenborg
8 Influx and Cupidity
“So the devils besought Him, saying, If Thou cast us out, suffer us to go away into the herd of swine.” Matthew 8:31
The Awakening of Hereditary Evils
It is a general doctrine that the life of man’s understanding and thought is constantly stimulated and enriched from the sensations of his body, or from without, while the life of the will, or that of his emotions, seems to well up from the depths of his being, or from within. In other words, truth comes from without, good comes from within. That which affects his understanding can be traced to other men and to various other agencies and sources; while that which is of his will seems to originate in himself.
Yet the doctrine shows that even the life of man’s emotions or affections comes to him through media, namely, through the spiritual world and its many societies. The influx of life from the Lord is both immediate, into man’s soul and essential human faculties, and mediate. And the mediate influx from the Lord is through heaven. The Lord rules men mediately through angelic societies which are in subordination and mutual dependence. He rules also by lower types of spirits, good and evil, who are present in endless chains connected with all the particulars of man’s memory, on which his conscious life is founded.
The infinite operation, or the ordering influx of the Lord, is not made any the less infinite or less Divine, although it works through these finite mediations. Yet there are also things which come to man from the media themselves, that is, from angels and spirits: and it is true of this influx that it takes color and character from the qualities of the life of those angels and spirits. The life which the evil spirits voluntarily transmit is evil and is felt by man as perverse and harmful cupidities. It is even true that “the things that come from the angels themselves” and “accommodate themselves to the affection of man,” “are not in themselves goods, yet still serve for introducing the goods and truths which are from the Lord.”199
“There is no good without influx through societies.”200 Nor is there any evil which does not have extension into infernal societies according to the quality and extent of their evil. All man’s affections arise from the influx of spirits. It is therefore stated that evil spirits induce in man cupidities, but no persuasions; and that they operate into man through his affections, and that they excite his evils.201 But it is specified that spirits are not allowed to operate into those evils which are hereditary—as long as such evils are merely latent, as in infancy. Evil spirits do not venture to introduce any evil so long as the apparent goods of ignorance hold sway. Evil spirits are then held in subjection, and merely serve. But the case is quite different when man has procured evil to himself by sinful acts, and has acquired a sphere of cupidities and falsities. Then the evil spirits as it were rebel, and stir up his evils, and seek to dominate. This is represented by the rebellion of Sodom against Chedorlaomer.202
If evil spirits could operate directly into the hereditary tendencies to evil before these come to man’s consciousness, there could be no salvation for man. For they would then excite his whole native will, and set loose such an influx of cupidity that man would perish as with a flood. This actually took place with the antediluvian race—the decadent offspring of the celestial church—which lived at the time of Noah. Their whole mental life became inundated with passions which turned their unresisting thought into terrible fantasies.
But the Lord, whenever possible, acted to save the human race by separating man’s understanding from the primal emotions and thus preventing the evil will from swamping man’s conscious life. This He did by confining to hell all those evil genii in the spiritual world who operated into man’s hereditary will; and by placing man’s conscious development in the realm of his understanding. He thus absolved men from responsibility for their inherited evil will. He permitted no spirits to dominate any man unless that man had invited them through actual evils and thereby had taken over conscious responsibility for their presence.
What is this ‘actual evil,’ into which spirits are permitted to inflow? It is evil which is recognized as such by the understanding, and yet condoned, excused and defended. If a man sees an evil as evil, and yet approves it by the understanding, he confirms it and appropriates it to himself, and becomes responsible for it.203
It becomes clear, therefore, that the evil will is not suddenly loosed in man. In childhood, when angels and good spirits rule, man’s first life, with its slumbering cupidities and unanalyzed delights, is however nursed by an influx from evil spirits; and this in order that he may be sustained and not perish.144 At first this is wholly unrecognized by the child and man. Evil is hidden or only latent, because the evil spirits serve and do not rule.204 But as the child emerges from the state of innocence and becomes selfconscious, affections of evil from the will gradually extend themselves into the understanding, and there they appear before man’s judgment, one by one, as his understanding grows: at first external evils, many of them from maternal inheritance; and later more interior evils, derived from the father. If man then should turn away from these evil affections as they seek to clothe themselves with knowledges and persuasive reasonings and symbolic forms in his imagination, evil spirits would have to stop infesting him—although still remaining to serve in various ways.205
In this connection we may understand the statement that in the temptations of a man of the spiritual church “evil spirits are associated who excite nothing but his scientifics and rational things,” while “spirits who excite cupidities are entirely warded off from man.”206 For the evils or cupidities of the native will are not excited, except so far as these are confirmed in the understanding, or have taken on the form of perverted knowledge, sordid imaginations, and false principles.
It is the man himself who thus confirms by thought the cupidity or evil which the spirits infuse, or else refuses to think from that evil and instead decides to think from the purer motives that emanate from good spirits.
Imputation and Control of Cupidities
Hereditary evils which have not been made actual are not imputed as guilt in a man. Neither is a man blamed for evils which spirits infuse without his knowledge—evils which man has not recognized as evils, nor confirmed by his understanding. Such evils or cupidities are only of the will, and not of the understanding.207 Gentiles and children are not rightly held responsible for all their behavior—on the principle, “If ye were blind, ye would have no sin.” This does not mean that such evils do not carry their weight of consequences, but that these miserable consequences are external rather than internal. With those who are in periodic self-examination and are in repentance in the matter of certain sins which they have found in themselves, the law of eternal imputation therefore contains the saving clause, that “if they sin from ignorance, or from some very powerful lust, it is not imputed to them, because they did not propose it to themselves, nor do they (afterwards) confirm it in themselves” by self-justifications.208
Certain acts of sudden passion may thus be caused by an influx of cupidity from spirits in the other life, before a man finds time to consider rationally how insane they are. Even in courts of law, such lack of premeditation is considered a mitigating circumstance, although the crime still remains. If such crimes were not punished at all, society would dissolve. If we were simply to condone our own momentary lapses, we would soon be a prey to evil spirits, a tool in their hands. For we would then relax the effort to use our God-given faculty of reason for disciplining our will: and we would revert to the level of beasts, and go back to the state of the antediluvians, whose own will was their only law. And all hell would rejoice.
Still it is told that good spirits, when angry, have been known to burst forth into effusions which one would expect only from the worst. The cause of their anger—Swedenborg observed—was that they were not admitted to do good.209 An upright man, when angry, is acting from the external man, from the proprium. Yet interiorly he feels that his good intention is foiled, or that a good love is assaulted. His anger, inwardly viewed, is only a zeal to remove obstacles; and to do this by the brute force of his natural affections, without consulting the understanding, is often fatal. With the good, this impure zeal does not last for long. It fights, perhaps, only to “remove those who are in what is false and evil lest they should injure those who are in what is good and true.” A good soldier exercises mercy after the battle is over. But a wicked man continues to persecute his foe from hatred and revenge, and wills evil to all with whom he fights; and his anger persists and accumulates within and is not extinguished.210
It was intimated above that no spirit is allowed to teach or lead man “except from cupidity.”211 Spirits do not infuse new thoughts, whether false or true, into any man. But it is also true, that “the life of cupidities tends to induce persuasion” ; although man must lend his consent to this.212 When a man has confirmed some lust, spirits can inflame him to a high pitch of rage from which his imagination is filled with fantasies of revenge and murder—insane persuasions about how ill-treated or persecuted he is, thoughts of self-importance and of envy which distort the perspective of his whole mind. Evil spirits are then in their delight, for such thoughts exalt their own fantasies with a sense of power and fulfilment. They cause the man to take delight in these thoughts, and—unknown to both—the spirits then rule the man, and hold him so bound that only the Lord can disentangle him.213
The more a man confirms an evil and takes delight in it and persuades himself that it is allowable,214 the more intimate becomes his conjunction with the society in hell which is in that special evil and in its many fantasies and falsities. Indeed, he is preparing himself for that society in which he will be a slave after death. A succession of emissaries from that infernal society are always with him—spirits who for a time are lifted out of that hell into the world of spirits to rule him. Or else he is attended by unjudged spirits who are like him.215
Yet the whole leading of the Divine Providence seeks to prevent a man from confirming his favorite vices except so far as he insists. The pressures of daily necessity, the rush of natural routine, the fact of man’s limitations and lack of opportunity to enter very deeply into his particular evils, are all means that tend to mitigate his state, and preserve him from rushing headlong into his hell. By his everyday life, his work and his social contacts, he is kept in a state of freedom—a state in which other spirits can operate upon him. Even if he lacks an interior plane of conscience through which angels can be near him, still good spirits can associate themselves with him externally whenever he is not in open evils.216 For even a wicked man may have a hereditary good nature and possess many lovable traits and apparent goods; and he may have many truths in his understanding. Heaven can inflow through spirits into his externals, into his regard for others and into his fear of the law, even though this proceeds from a dread of losing reputation or life. Thus they hold him in an external honorable conduct as far as they can. “This is the plane into which heaven inflows at this day”; but this plane is not retained in the other life.217
The Lord thus rules the thoughts and speech of man through good spirits, who hold him as it were bound while he is engaged in thinking about his uses. And in this state the evil spirits with the man are also held in servitude. It is related of a preacher who lived a bad life, that while he was preaching and commending the life of good, the angels excited the evil spirits present to think and speak in a similar vein. But when the preacher returned to the state of his interiors, and his ordinary life, the evil spirits immediately began to control him.218
By a life of use to society, even an evil man is therefore a partaker in the benefits of heaven in that he is temporarily removed from the control of evil spirits, and can therefore be in external order. Indeed, all men come by uses into the stream of Providence. Swedenborg cites the Swedish proverb, “Idleness is the devil’s pillow,” as an indication that when we are no longer in the sphere of the love of uses we become the prey of disorderly spirits who roam through all sorts of by-places in the world of spirits seeking rest.219
It is remarkable that the Writings refer to the corrupt states of the Christian world, yet refer to each of the nations as noble, e.g., “the noble French nation,” “the noble German nation.” This is because a nation is an organization of uses, uses so ordered that heaven can be present in them. A country is therefore a higher form of the neighbor, inferior only to the church. When we depart from the spirit of cooperating in the uses of state, society, or church; or when, in the execution of our duties, we withdraw into ourselves and turn away from the common illustration of others who are in the same use, the protection of ultimate order is no longer over us. We become like a house, empty, swept, and garnished— inviting the influx of strange spirits.220 We become unable to see things in their true proportions or to see the true relative significance of things. Our mind comes into various moods, solicitudes, and fancies; comes to brood over imagined slights, to worry about unimportant details or obstacles, or feel frustrated because of certain conditions which are quite outside of our power or office to alter; to become despondent about the state of the people about us; in short, to come either into melancholy, pessimism, or sadness, or else into some fanatical zeal or into religious scruples. And in some cases, where bodily conditions and temperamental tendencies concur, this may even develop into delirium, self-delusions, and insanities. Indeed, bodily diseases which intercept the life of use, may themselves be sufficient to invite such states.
The Causes of Morbid Moods
Swedenborg had experience with a great many of the different groups of spirits who caused these moods to which we are all so liable. Most of these spirits operate by holding man in reflection upon a certain object of thought, until the idea becomes almost an obsession, a “fixed idea” against which no argument or conscious effort avails. Thus Swedenborg found that as often as he was anxious about his garden and its care, about the probable reception of his Writings, or about money-matters and other like things, spirits would immediately throw in inconvenient, troublesome and evil suggestions, with confirmations and cupidities. He thus learnt that the longer a man is held in such thoughts, the more difficult do spirits make it for man to free himself of them.221
In the same way, when anyone comes to brood overly much upon spiritual or abstract things without finding relief in varieties and social contacts; or when his thought dwells on the fear of hell-fire or ruminates some misfortune; the spirits with him stir up his proprium and draw out from his memory many related things which thus continually haunt him so that the subject becomes—sometimes—a form of monomania.222 Those who live a solitary life are especially prone to melancholy and delirium. But there is particular danger when a solicitude of self-love, or a love of gain, prompts a man to be anxious about the future.
Modern psychiatrists indeed recognize the setting of these symptoms. They particularly mention the existence—deeply hidden among the forgotten things of the memory—of thwarted longings, repressed desires, and fears of various sort, forming “complexes” of subconscious ideas or states which have their disguised emissaries in the conscious thought. Mental patients sometimes have unreasonable antipathies or inhibitions, or fears of some ordinary object, such as a chair or a street or a certain room or a person, or a dread of heights or of crowds. Others have an inordinate and irrational delight in some color or some thing—which may recur in their dreams or their day-dreams.
But New Church psychologists know in addition that such phobias and fixations are organized by the influx of spirits and must therefore correspond to the lusts of a group of spirits in the other world. And just as each society sends out emissary spirits or employs some one spirit as a subject-spirit through which they can act with man, so these hidden knots of passion which are called “complexes” have symbolic representatives in the conscious mind—objects of thyught, which the spirits love to arouse. When man’s attention is held fixed on these objects, which are usually harmless in themselves, he comes into a certain mood because an influx from these spirits then takes place. These things occur with perfectly normal people. A man may be unable to account for his anxiety, his unreasonable fear or melancholy, or for his excitement and enthusiasm. His friends may wonder at his depression or elation—wonder why he is getting so excited or irritated over some triviality. Often he could not possibly explain. He does not know. But the spirits with him, they know; although they are not aware that they are with the man.
All human minds are subject to some of these irrational moods. Ordinarily their coming and passing is quite normal —part of the life of the mind. But—we read in the Diary— “some persons are led by spirits to such an extent that they cannot return into truths. Their fantasies have become so deeply rooted that whenever they fall into those thoughts, they are so altogether immersed in them, that they cannot be dislodged even through varieties. They remain persuaded that the matter is such or that the persons are such.” When these obsessions appear before the world, they are called monomania; for on all other subjects the man is sane.223
It is obvious that if evil held sway in man’s mind, his reason would soon totter. Passions such as envy distort man’s thought about others. Hatred or revenge fill his imagination with fantasies. The fear that springs from a sensitive self-love gives birth to hideous suspicions, utterly unfounded. And in the other world the lust for gain and wealth turns evil spirits periodically into gloating idiots. Indeed, hell is insane from no other source. And the Scribe of the Second Advent consequently writes :
“Therefore the Lord alone makes provision that man may not come into such insanities, and thence into innumerable fantasies : in order to prevent this, He commands that we shall have no care for the morrow; for this is what is meant by having solicitude for the morrow. Those, therefore, who are in such conceits, and strongly incline to them, can by no means be drawn out of them, except by faith in the Lord. Those who are in faith are liberated by the Lord, however infested by spirits, and this by innumerable methods, both external and internal.”224
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