Online works based on the Writings of Emanuel Swedenborg
11 “Cuticular Spirits” and “Sirens”
“Love not the world, nor the things that are in the world . . . For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father . . . And the world passeth away and the lust thereof.” John’s First Epistle 2: 15-17
It is impossible even to classify the various spirits who inject evil enticements of different kinds. But two types are described in the Writings and these may serve as examples.263
Swedenborg once became aware of the predominance of certain spirits from the province in the Grand Man which answers to the cuticle or the surface of the skin. And it was then shown him what the state is of a person “who takes an excessive care of his skin, which is the same as to have his mind ruled by such spirits.” “When a man is in this state, he is withheld from all useful endeavors (studio), and at the same time there is insinuated into him a distaste for doing anything real, so that there is a certain reaction and consequent repugnance against any project, whether in civil or moral life or in matters of faith and charity, and whether in deed or in thought. For he is held back from these, while at the same time certain blasphemies against them are insinuated into him. …” There is then a distaste for anything interior or spiritual.264
“Cuticular spirits” flock cajolingly around those who place their delight in the appearance or in the sensations and delights of the skin, and draw them away from any good or essential work. Such people are called “delicate” and “fastidious,” placing life in daintiness, culture, refinement, and judging all things by aesthetic standards rather than by their moral, civil, and spiritual values. And so naturally their tendency is also to “place their wisdom … in being able elegantly to vituperate or refute the doctrine of an internal man. . . . “265
It is difficult for a man to guess the tremendous forces of evil that are sometimes present around him, laboring to establish their power by what appears as relatively innocent habits. Evil spirits can hide themselves behind apparent goods, turning these goods gradually to a sinful or shameful end; with a view to exclude spiritual and celestial spheres from the mind and to fill it with worldliness or with externals. All of us find a number of good things to do just to make life pleasant and safe for ourselves and our families—enough to fill our day without taking time out to read the Word or to enjoy a while of worship and meditation before the family shrine. It is a question of Martha versus Mary.
The superficial uses of life, which regard the introduction of grace and beauty and soft comforts into the home and the society, are in themselves good. But they represent only the cuticle, the scarf-skin, of that eternal body of human uses which doctrine calls “the Grand Man.” Their proper function is to introduce, to contain, and to defend interior things. And when there is an equilibrium with other obligations, and they are pliably disposed to serve interior uses, then only are they genuine and in their place.266 Tremendous groups of good and salvable spirits therefore belong to the province of the skin. And their character varies widely.
In relation to heaven as a whole, the spirits who come from our planet mostly serve the function that is described by that of the skin, the membranes and external senses of the Grand Man. Thus their uses have to do with the sciences which are based on sensual observation.267 Yet this does not mean that the spirits of our earth cannot “easily come into the interior and inmost heaven after their exteriors have been devastated.” And some can serve as “ministries for the instruction of others who have no knowledges from revelation” such as our Word provides.268 Among those who come to constitute the skins, cartilages and bones of the Grand Man are also many gentiles who while on earth could not be reached by the Gospel. The modest uses which these perform after death still give them the highest joy of which they are capable.269
All spirits of the province of the skin are comparatively external in type. Since they have no extension of mind, they are mostly easily deceived. Some are devoid of perception and only want to argue about everything, and always from the appearances of the senses.270 Being in relatively little of spiritual life, such spirits dwell in the entrances or forecourts of heaven.271
The “Sirens,” and Interior Obsessions
Depraved skin-spirits are all in the desire to possess man’s whole life. If it were possible, such spirits would fain cast out man’s own spirit, and enter instead. But this can, of course, be done only in fantasy, for man’s spirit is his interior organism which cannot be changed for another.272
The only type of obsession possible at this day is called “interior obsession.” Bodily obsession of healthy individuals by spirits, such as occurred in the time of the Lord, has not been permitted since; although something similar apparently takes place in insanity (which is a physical disorder) and with “mediums” who invite a control by spirits. The things of the body have been exempted from the particular influx of spirits and angels and are instead ruled by a general influx.273 There are indeed spirits (or societies) allotted to the office of ruling the body, but these—like the man—are unaware that they do so. But if spirits should inflow to rule man’s members without such an appointment, and so “that they are quite aware that they are there,” this would constitute a bodily obsession.274 The spirit would then take possession of all man’s senses, speak through his mouth and act through his limbs. In ancient times there were spirits abroad in the world of spirits who could in that way actually possess men’s bodies, which took place by an influx which caused not only endeavors, but acts. Such spirits are now all confined to their hells. Yet the desire to obsess men is still present with many kinds of evil spirits, especially the adulterous, the cruel, and the “corporeal” type.275
Among these are the “sirens,” so called because they allure the unwary. They obsess man’s interiors through his exteriors.276 Such sirens are both male and female, but are mostly women who on earth were distinguished and esteemed, having lived in fair externals and in elegance—in which alone they delighted.277 They are bound by a regard for decorum and apparent propriety which had influenced them more than others; but when acting among themselves, their external bonds are relaxed. Their influx is especially destructive of conjugial love and tends to loosen the bonds of marriage and insinuate what is obscene and voluptuous. The main delight of the sirens is to obsess man and thus as it were return into the world.278With remarkable obstinacy they attempt to insinuate their fantasies even while man sleeps—fantasies which Swedenborg describes. They present themselves in a beauty almost angelic, naked (in order to suggest innocence), and contort themselves like snakes, with the view of breaking down any internal bonds of conscience.279 They labor to come into the very senses of man, especially into the sense of taste (which is however forbidden), and cause an itch in the skin.280 They try to put on the external memory and imagination of man, to obsess and hold it for themselves, clothing their designs by whatever of knowledge and cognition they find. And their power is such that they can identify themselves with good affections and inflow approvingly into the ideas of what is holy and innocent and even doctrinal. In that way they stimulate what is good and true and retain the pretext of what is honorable, while all the time they strive to obsess man’s interiors. They do not so much disturb the exteriors of man’s mind, as his interiors. They enter the thought of some one, follow it for a while, and then they begin to lead it.
We cannot refrain from suggesting that it is the hells of the sirens that are the real source of much of the literature and drama of today which flood the mind with prurient and profane imagery under the pretense of “realism” or “art”; hovering on the brink of the forbidden, making mock of innocence and marriage and the sanctities of human life, or insinuating contempt for the Lord and the Word under the guise of learning. This is the modern form of sorcery and obsession.
Man is of course ignorant of the interior obsession which results from such spheres of thought. But Swedenborg testifies, “This is the obsession which exists at this day.” There is an “incredible multitude” of obsessing spirits, “mostly from the church.” Their power over other spirits was such, he writes, that “unless the Lord should deliver the world of spirits from such, scarcely any good spirits could be in that world without being led captive by them.” He compares them to modern Nephilim, because of the terrible sphere of persuasion which they emit. They could only with difficulty be dislodged from the world of spirits. For they are present with men through simple spirits who relate to man’s external thought; and through these they enter into man’s thoughts and wholly lead them, “so that, being internal, they are the worst who take possession of men; and men cannot be defended from them at all, except by the Lord.”281
At the last judgment the sirens were confined in their hells. But continually new spirits of the same type enter the other life from the earth, and especially from the “civilized” world. And for our admonition the seer was prompted to write:
“Whether many persons are at this day thus obsessed may … be inferred from this: Let a man examine himself as to whether he is in any internal bond so that his thoughts abhor and turn away with loathing [from evil], and he suffers himself—inwardly or as to the thoughts—to abstain in some way from the most wicked, unmentionable, and obscene things; or whether it is merely external bonds which detain him.” Man may then find out whether he is struck with shame and fear and recoils in horror from the thought of such evil, or whether, if fear of the law and public opinion were removed, he would desire to do it. For if the latter is the case, “then he is inwardly obsessed by such sirens.” “Let a man thoroughly ponder whether he is of such a quality, for he is now able to know !”282
This is the purpose of these revelations of the Second Advent. “Man is now able to know.” He is able to know that when his thought is led into evil, this is the direct result of spirits who belong in hell and who must not be entertained in the human mind. But such thoughts—entering as they do even through innocent channels—are not imputed to man nor appropriated by him if he acknowledges their source and prays to the Lord for deliverance.
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