9 Enthusiastic Spirits

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9 Enthusiastic Spirits

“Believe not every spirit . . .” John’s First Epistle 4: 1

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Emotional Good without Truth

It is a matter of common observation that even good men are often misled. If we stop to reflect, we find that the impulse which is thus misdirected is usually “good without truth”; and especially natural good, such as pity or generosity or “sentimentality.”

All men are endowed by nature (or heredity) with inclinations toward certain “goods” or virtues. Some are by nature brave, others seem to be born cautious and meek. Some are naturally generous or affectionate, loyal or trusting, apt to be guided by family feeling, friendship, love of ease, social praise or pleasure. Various circumstances may also encourage the development of certain good natural traits. Yet the Writings teach us to distrust our “natural good.” Not only does it hide the evils of selfishness under a pleasant exterior, but it makes self-examination difficult. Man is apt to take a good deal of credit for his “natural good”; when yet he is no more responsible for it than an animal is for its instinctive nature. We are also warned that natural good is like a reed, on which it is dangerous to lean. It is fickle, deceptive, easily bent. It lays a man open to all sorts of influences. It can turn us to defend evil, it weakens the judgment. It is easily swayed and persuaded. It receives the influx of evil spirits, and thus works harm which we may not intend.

Good, when undisciplined by truth and antagonistic to instruction, is not really good, but is a mere emotionalism. It must therefore be tutored, guided, held under control, made to serve under rational principles. The doctrine is, that “those who are not as yet in truths, are not in safety.”225

True faith, faith in true doctrine, gives protection. The general doctrines of the New Church are compared to the four walls of the New Jerusalem, into which there shall not enter anything that defileth or maketh a lie. Doctrine protects against evil spirits and their false persuasions. It is doctrine which leads to salvation, with gentiles and babes as well as with adult members of the Church.

In the world of spirits, those who are not in any doctrine but are led hither and thither by their emotions and fantasies cannot dwell in cities. Cities there impose a certain restrictive order. Evil spirits untutored by the self-restraining influence of doctrines or common principles cannot enter the cities, or, if they do, can only traverse the public streets. But in the less inhabited regions around the towns they feel more free to carry out their impulses. Cities represent doctrines. Yet cities in the other life may represent doctrines that are vitiated by falsities. If so, the protection which they give is only temporary. There is no permanent safety against infesting spirits, no permanent salvation except in true doctrine.225

The statement is made that “non-truths communicate with evil spirits.” This seems to mean that falsities and fallacies are planes into which evil spirits can operate effectively and conveniently. When a man has fallen into a belief in some false principle, he opens himself to be led from this error into a series of other fallacies, and into doubts about truths, and thus into a negative attitude. Fortunately, if a man is well disposed, he will—with the aid of good spirits—resist following the logic of his position if he perceives that it is leading him into absurdities or into evils. The Writings cite instances of such a blessed inconsistency. Many who accept the Lutheran dogma of salvation by faith alone apart from charity, would be horror-stricken at the idea of Predestination and “infant damnation”—which yet flows directly from the premises of their own creed! Luther himself, being a good man at heart, did not confirm the dogma of faith alone in his life, although he preached it and confirmed it intellectually. He had been fascinated by the principle of “Faith Alone,” because he saw in it a weapon against some of the abuses of the Catholic Church. And when it was received with acclaim by his followers, spirits infused a pride of self-intelligence— flattering him on his originality and keenness—and induced him to confirm it. He suffered for centuries in the other life for this weakness, and not until after the last judgment did he see his error, and resume his search for the true doctrine of salvation.226

Misconceptions about the Holy Spirit

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Swedenborg himself confesses that he had formerly entertained—from the universal doctrine of Christendom—the false persuasion that the Holy Spirit was the third person of the Divine Trinity. This laid a plane in his external mind for infestations by spirits who supposed themselves to be the Holy Spirit and who terrified him. “But afterwards”—he writes— “I became persuaded that the Lord alone is holy, and that all, both angels and spirits, are profane in themselves, and are called ‘holy’ only from those true and good things which are from the Lord; so I am no longer infested. …” For spirits are obliged to assume the persuasions of the men with whom they are.227

It is of interest to note that clergymen, on their entrance into the other life, are straightway instructed that the Holy Spirit is not a distinct person or separate spirit.228 For if a spirit should hold that idea, he is set upon by so-called “enthusiastic spirits” who are in the insane fantasy that they are the Holy Spirit, and who terrify others if they do not obey them; since many, in the world, were taught that a sin against the Holy Spirit was unpardonable. “Enthusiastic spirits are distinguished from other spirits by this, that they believe themselves to be the Holy Spirit and believe that the things which they say are Divine.”229 The word “enthuse” literally means to “fill with God.” Clergymen are especially vulnerable to these infestations, and also to these fantasies. It is believed by many ministers that while they are preaching from zeal, they are “inspired”; so that some even affirm that they have felt the influx of the Holy Ghost. The fact is—as the True Christian Religion points out—that they have confused the zeal they exhibit while preaching, with the Divine operation in their hearts; when yet zeal is only a violent heating up of the natural man! And this is just as easily excited with preachers who are in extreme falsities, and even more so with enthusiasts, or those who are in the effort to stir up emotions and external affections and play on the feelings of their hearers. Revivalists—under the influence of enthusiastic spirits, the Writings point out—often produce louder shouts and deeper sighs than is usual with those who are in zeal from heavenly love !230

Let us not decry zeal! “If there is within it the love of truth, then it is like the sacred fire which flowed into the apostles”—when, on Pentecost, tongues of fire appeared over their heads.230 But emotional appeals which are not from a love of truth, nor directed to stimulate love of truth, are dangerous. For when a person is under the influence of strong natural emotions, his rational balance can easily be upset, and he may be carried in any direction.

There is that in human nature which makes one love to be stirred by emotion. We enjoy being carried along in mass-emotions—which is an explanation of certain phases of the behavior of a mob, or of a people during war, or at election-time, or at football games. We enjoy being carried off our feet by thrills of various kinds. There is a delight—a sensual pleasure—in casting prudence and responsibility aside, at times, and simply surrendering to the whirl of an emotion.

Some types of people are more than others susceptible to being led by impulse or to being sphered by eloquence and persuasion. Hence religion takes an emotional and fanatical form with such people. It is not as if the emotions were necessarily evil: the main difficulty being, that in states of high-strung natural emotion, the good and the evil cannot be distinguished. Hope and the assurance of faith, high resolve and deep contrition, mingle with guilt and fear and a lust for power or repute. It is a common fact, that at every “camp-meeting” of revivalist sects, there are not only cases of “conversions” but cases of “reversions”—in that some are so moved by the general hysteria that all their moral inhibitions become loosened. If the desire for an emotional outlet does not find a sincere religious form, it may seek a satisfaction in various sensual and sexual excesses.

The pervading idea among the “enthusiastic” sects, is to find salvation by a personal surrender to the Holy Spirit, until its leading is felt, sensibly felt, as a bodily reaction. The “converted soul” is moved by the “Holy Spirit.” The Quakers and the Shakers were so called, because they actually began to tremble, twitch and jerk, or rhythmically dance, under the hypnotic influence of their emotion. The paroxysms, obsessive convulsions, marchings and shoutings which often occur at revival meetings, are reminiscent of the corresponding features of other religions, as that of the whirling dervishes, and of the ritual abandon which marks primitive peoples. In some cases, the religious zealot is apparently acting in a convulsive trance. The Jewish prophets—and Saul was also among them—were thus possessed.

It is obvious that when emotion is given such free range, the spirits who are with the man are afforded an unusually delightful opportunity to take control. And the spirits who inflow are those who rejoice in the flattery offered by the deluded human who gives them credit for being “the Holy Spirit.” Indeed, these spirits then come solemnly to believe —unless challenged—that they are “the Holy Spirit,” and even that they were from eternity !231

The history of such a type of spirits is interesting. The hells of the Noahtic or Ancient Church consist for the most part—we are informed—of “magicians”; spirits who still practice their arts by the abuse of correspondences, by inducing illusions and fantasies and by persuasive assurances and prophesying. It is from the influx of these hells that the various “enthusiastic” movements have arisen in the Christian world.232

As a matter of record, the early Christian Church was very hardly beset by the contagion of old customs and beliefs from the corrupted religions of the ancient East. The most developed philosophies of antiquity contained the central concept that the real, inmost self of man, was a spark of God’s life. This had sprung from the persuasion of the antediluvians that God had transfused His Divine into men so that they were inwardly gods.233 In time, the Orientals—as for instance the Hindoos—began to feel that the God they must seek, was an “inner God.” Brahm (God) and Atman (the soul) were identical. If they could turn their thoughts inwardly, and know their own souls, they would know God. If they listened to their souls, they would come to hear the voice of God ! The real source of wisdom was not—they felt—outside of them, or from experienced knowledge, but within them, in an inner light Divine. All the Christian gnostics, mystics and “Quietists” also sought for illumination from within themselves ; and when they felt a profound perception, or a vague “elevation,” they were assured that this was the light of “the Holy Ghost.”

The Quaker Movement

The Writings speak of this in connection with the Quakers. But there were many enthusiastic spirits in the other life even before the Quaker movement arose about 1650. Swedenborg wrote, a century later: “Almost the whole world of spirits is wicked and enthusiastic, and is sedulously desirous to obsess man.”234 The belief in the falsity that the Holy Spirit was a separate Divine person laid men particularly open to such infestations. In the spiritual world, such enthusiastic spirits as believe themselves the Holy Spirit are held separated from others, and wander about. When Quakerism commenced, however, there came a powerful call for such spirits, who then came out of the forest districts around the world of spirits and obsessed many men. They infused the persuasion that men were moved by the Holy Spirit. With some men their influx was sensible, and resulted in a convulsive trembling.235 For a time, the Quaker movement went from bad to worse, and the usual effects of religious hysteria were manifested by secret and hushed up excesses, into which their “Holy Spirit” led those who gave no moral resistance.

We know the Quakers as a very peaceful, thrifty people, who suffered much unjust persecution in the early periods. But the Writings give a different side of the picture, a side which was observable in the other life, where the logic of human attitudes is finally displayed. George Fox, the founder of the movement, and William Penn, who settled Pennsylvania, both spoke to Swedenborg in the other world, disavowing such abuses as later occurred.236 But it is inevitable that where a conscious leading by spirits is sought by men as the perfection of life, terrible profanations can arise, in both worlds, among those who are evil. The description of Swedenborg’s encounter — in the other life — with these excesses which destroy the sanctity of marriage and abolish the sacraments and profane them, is such that we cannot even cite it. What can be stressed, however, is this, that because the Quakers have no fixed doctrinals of faith, except what they have confirmed in themselves when the spirits move them, they have no protection against alien falsities. They read the Word, and thus accept the Lord about the same as other Christians. But the Word is subordinated to the interpretation which is given in their “quiet time” by the private revelation of the “Holy Spirit” within them.237

Thus they are bound to no doctrine — for what they rely on finally is “the Inner Light.” This is clear from their history : for by degrees the denial of the full Divinity of the Lord Jesus Christ took a hold on many in the sect, and the movement called Hicksite Quakers was organized, in 1827; where the emphasis is laid on Christ only as the chief member — or head — of the spiritual body of the church.

In the spiritual world, no society is formed from Quakers. They are spiritual nomads. Other spirits cannot explore them, for they are secretive, reserved in opinion and actions. They are unwilling to speak of their own doctrinal things, yet desire to hear the doctrines of others, but as it were surreptitiously, and without either being impressed by them or rejecting them. Those not confirmed strongly are brought together in desert places; but those who are confirmed in the reliance upon their “Holy Spirits” habitually wander about in forests in the world of spirits, until judged.

It is the most gross among them who become “enthusiastic spirits” and are persuaded in the fantasy that they are the Holy Spirit. These—having no fixed spiritual locality, because no fixed doctrine—inflow with spirits or with men wherever there is the awaiting of influx from the Spirit—or wherever there is a reliance on an “Inner Light.” For adoption of this chief principle of the enthusiasts connects man with enthusiastic spirits, without violating the law that spirits are attached to man according to his faith.

“Those who are taught by influx what to believe or what to do, are not taught by the Lord or by any angel of heaven.” “All influx from the Lord takes place by an enlightenment of the understanding and by an affection of truth, and through this affection into the understanding.”238 The “Light Within,” about which the Quakers are wont to preach, is not intellectual light, but a mere obscure luminous something which does not enlighten at all.

In illustration of the influence of the Quaker principle of an inner guidance, we may refer to the wide and sudden spread some decades ago of a non-sectarian movement whose devotees sit silent, pencil in hand and minds in a blank, waiting for the Holy Spirit to dictate a Divine message as to what they should do or speak.

Mysticism versus Enlightenment

The New Church man knows that there is Divine guidance, or government, in all things of life; and Swedenborg perceived in a spiritual idea that man “can never be led better than he is led; so that there are necessities every moment of his life, and that it was foreseen from eternity and provided that each and all things tend to our ultimate end, which is to be parts in the Grand Man, that is, in the Lord’s kingdom.”239

In internals the Lord operates without man’s cooperation —as is plain from the secret processes of bodily growth and digestion and from the operations of spirits and angels upon us and the subconscious effects of these in our minds. But “in externals man is led and taught by the Lord, in all appearance as if by himself.” Man is given the rational responsibility of using his best thought and effort to act as of himself, in all the circumstances of his life. If he seeks Divine guidance and Divine light, it is possible for him to find it in the Word of God, and receive it rationally as enlightenment in the understanding. Man “is led and taught immediately by the Lord alone when this is done from the Word.”240

Enthusiastic spirits operate very differently with different men. While clergymen sometimes feel the zeal of their preaching as Divine inspiration, other men often take a general emotional hysteria to be a sign of the stir of the Holy Spirit. Some again—mostly simple recluses—believe that any spirit which may address them in the course of their religious brooding, is the Lord, or the Holy Spirit. To “quietists,” like the Quakers, a bodily trembling and the fancy of an inner lumen, betokens the presence of the Holy Spirit. And this is sometimes varied, as in Buchmanism, into the belief that God indicates to them what to do.

In all these cases, the fact is that spirits operate into man and persuade him that what is human is Divine. In men who —by education—are intellectually mature, indoctrinated and self-disciplined, spirits cannot act so crudely. But if man believes it possible, spirits are given the power to infuse the feeling that what he does is from the Holy Spirit or that some perceptions of his mind are Divine. And Swedenborg records a meeting—in the other life—with some learned English priests, who held that faith alone produces good works, man being devoid of any freedom to do good, except what is meritorious.241 Faith, they held, produces works through the Holy Spirit. They believed that “when man feels that operation, and from a perception of the operation of the Holy Spirit, does good, then it is good.” But if he does not perceive it, and does good, then, they thought, it is only meritorious, because man’s will is in it.242 Such was their claim.

If this were true, the Lord could not do good through man’s cooperating will, unless man were conscious of the Holy Spirit acting through him! Nor could the Lord cause man to think what is true, except while man felt the Holy Spirit thinking in his understanding!

The error of the English priests was disturbing to Swedenborg, who again and again confutes it. He shows that there is no reception of good and truth except when man acts and thinks as of himself; yet “the good which is imparted by the Lord is wrought within him while he does not reflect from himself upon it; that is, while man remains ignorant of it.”243 This does not mean that man acts from himself or meritoriously whenever he acts from the Word. When he obeys the Lord’s commandments he does good from the Lord. And if all that proceeds from man were to be condemned as meritorious, how could the Lord have said that we would be judged according to our works?244

Through reliance on the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, many mystically inclined persons have claimed that their words are holy and infallible Divine truths, or that their perceptions constitute a private Divine revelation apart from the Word. The German mystic, Jacob Boehme, defined this state of an inner light which he felt in himself, as “the self-knowledge of God in man.” He called the Divine wisdom perceived in such a state, “theosophy.” It is the Divinity in man, not the mortal intellect, he taught, which is in possession of Divine knowledge.245

But man cannot rely on any inner light, cannot by any self-conscious process reach for illustration. Light from the Lord does not come by making the mind blank or by placing our God-given faculties at the disposal of nomadic spirits who are on the look-out for an empty mind. Light comes from truths —from the Divine truth revealed in the Word.

Therefore we read: “Illustration is from the Lord. Perception is with man according to the state of his mind, formed by doctrinals; if these are true, the perception becomes clear from the light which illustrates; but if they are false, the perception becomes obscure, which, however, may appear as if clear, from confirmations; but this is from the light of infatuation, which to merely natural sight is like clearness.”246

Illustration is from the Lord alone. Yet it is still effected by the mediation of spirits and angels, and by the introduction of man’s mind—although he is not sensibly aware of it—into association with such spiritual societies as arc in light.247 For spiritual light, which in its essence is the Divine wisdom, enters man’s understanding as far as, from knowledges, he has the faculty of perceiving it. It “does not pass through spaces, like the light of the world, but through the affections and perceptions of truth, thus in an instant to the last limit of the heavens. . . . “248 And we are now assured that “the time is coming when there will be enlightenment.”249

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Are Ghosts Real?

Swedenborg Foundation

Tales of ghostly encounters range from creepy stories of haunted spaces to uplifting meetings with loved ones who have passed on. As someone who spent years writing about his experiences in the spiritual world, Emanuel Swedenborg had a lot to say about people who have crossed over. But what about encounters with spirits in this world?


First, a quick detour into terminology. Swedenborg uses the term spirit (Latin spiritus) to refer to the soul or consciousness of a human being that continues to live on in the spiritual world after the physical body stops working. (In this footnote: what Swedenborg means when he says ghost.) He says that the only inhabitants of the spiritual world are human beings: every angel in heaven and every devil in hell used to be a person living on earth. In the spiritual world they might be transformed so that they are indescribably beautiful (in the case of angels) or twisted and bestial (in the case of evil spirits), but at their core, they’re still people.

Is it possible for those people to communicate with us here on earth? Yes, Swedenborg says. In fact, he says that every person living on earth is already in contact with angels and evil spirits, even if we don’t realize it. The influence most often comes in the form of a stray thought or impulse disguised as our own inner voice—a little psychic push toward good or evil rather than a being appearing out of nowhere and talking to us.

Outright communication with spirits, he adds, is both rare and potentially dangerous. He describes the spiritual world as a reality that is so close to our own that the two essentially coexist on different planes. Just as we are very rarely aware of the other side, the other side is often not aware of us. This protects us from evil spirits, whom Swedenborg describes as utterly malicious beings who will sometimes pretend to be familiar figures or good spirits to cause us harm. Even though Swedenborg himself talks about crossing from one world to the next and conversing with both angels and evil spirits, he warns others against trying the same thing because of those very dangers. (See Heaven and Hell #249 for the dangers of evil spirits and this interesting passage from True Christianity for more on the separation between the two planes).

Unfortunately, the same separation between physical and spiritual that protects us might also prevent good spirits from contacting us. For more, see “Why Don’t Those Who’ve Died Communicate With Us More?” from our weekly webcast Swedenborg and Life.

So, to go back to the question that kicked off this article, are ghosts real? Swedenborg would likely say yes—as long as you’re talking about the spirit of someone who’s crossed over to the other side. While he described good and evil spirits as having the ability to sometimes come back from the spiritual world and influence us, he also says that after death everyone makes the transition to the spiritual world, so there’s no such thing as a “lost soul” who is unable to cross over to the afterlife.

However, Swedenborg was also a scientist by training, so he might also point out that sometimes our eyes and ears can fool us. Sometimes we experience things that seem to have a supernatural origin that was caused by something mundane in our own world.

Swedenborg also said often that the Divine—in whatever form and by whatever name you might call it—is stronger than any evil influence out there. At times when he felt besieged by evil spirits, he knew he could pray for help and protection, and he would encourage anybody in this world to do the same if they experience something frightening, which is a very likely scenario around this time of year. Happy Halloween!


Footnote: Swedenborg wrote in Latin, and he consistently used the word spiritus(spirit) to talk about people who had crossed over. However, there were places where he uses words like larva, umbra, and the Greek phantasma, all of which we would translate ghost. When he uses these terms, he’s often contrasting our preconceptions about what it means to be dead with what it’s actually like to be on the other side—alive, vibrant, and still learning and progressing toward a much more spiritual state. So for Swedenborg, a “ghost” is something unreal or less than human—like an illusion, we might see it, but it has no substance or spiritual reality. back

References in this post:

Heaven and Hell #249

Talking with spirits is rarely allowed nowadays, though, because it is dangerous. The spirits then actually know that they are with us, which otherwise they would not; and evil spirits harbor a murderous hatred for us and crave nothing less than our total destruction, body and soul. This is what actually goes on in people who regularly lose themselves in delusions, even to the point that they lose touch with the pleasures appropriate to their natural person.

There are some people who lead solitary lives who sometimes hear spirits talking with them without risk; but the Lord keeps these spirits a little space away so that they do not know they are with these individuals. Most spirits, you see, are not aware that there is any other world than the one they are living in or therefore that there are people anywhere else. So we are not allowed to talk back to them, since if we did, they would know.

People who are constantly thinking about religious matters, so wrapped up in them that they practically see them within themselves, also begin to hear spirits talking with them. This is because when we voluntarily get wrapped up in religious matters, no matter what kind, without the interruption of various useful activities in the [external] world, these matters enter into us very deeply and take substance there so that they occupy our whole spirit, move into the spiritual world, and affect spirits there. However, people like this are visionaries or fanatics, and no matter what spirit they hear, they believe it is the Holy Spirit, even though the spirits they hear are fanatical. Spirits like this see false things as true; and because they see them as true they convince themselves and also convince people into whom they flow. Further, since spirits like this who command obedience have also begun to urge people to do evil things, they have gradually been moved away. Fanatical spirits can be differentiated from other spirits by the fact that they believe they are the Holy Spirit and that what they are saying is divine. They do not harm us, because we offer them divine worship. back

True Christianity, “Author’s Index of Memorable Occurrences,” #280

People who are in the spiritual world cannot appear to people who are in the physical world, and neither can people in the physical world appear to people in the spiritual world. Therefore spirits and angels cannot appear to people, and people cannot appear to spirits and angels. This is due to the difference between what is spiritual and what is earthly, or, to put it another way, the difference between what is substantial and what is material. It is because of this that spirits and angels have completely different language, different writing, and different thinking than people do. . . .

They also think things that are beyond an earthly person’s comprehension. The reason behind these differences is that spirits and angels are at the level of primary structures, whereas people in the world are in derivations from them. To put it another way, spirits and angels live among primary things that act as causes of secondary things; people live among these secondary things. back

Addiction – A form of spiritual slavery?

Addiction means that when you crave something, you engage in habitual self-destructive activity driven by obsessive thought. This happens in drug dependency, alcoholism, compulsive gambling, and compulsive eating. We can extend this idea to include any activity that we have repeatedly failed to eliminate from our lives and that is detrimental to inner well-being – both our own and those around us. There are many hidden and subtle forms of addiction. We can become driven by a compulsion in just about any area of life. Examples include watching porn when you crave sexual excitement, verbal cruelty when you crave expressing resentment, or when you crave power or success at any cost.

External force in addiction

We subjectively sense these patterns of thought and behaviour as aspects of our own being. However they can also be seen as learned behaviours due to external events. For example if we receive abuse, we are likely to become abusive or associate ourselves with an abuser. If we experience sarcasm, we are likely to become sarcastic or associate with those who are. None of us can escape the results of negative life experience.

“We don’t want to eat that second piece of pie. We don’t want to snipe at our children or spouse with snide comments. We don’t want to work overtime every day, leaving us with no family time…. But these good impulses to escape the addiction are dwarfed by the power of the possessing forces.” (E. Kent Rogers, Co-Founder of the Loving Arms Mission)

addictionAnd so a key element of addictive craving is when one’s desire has become a slave to something external to oneself. If things have got as bad as this then it amounts to enslavement: a dependency which is often so subtle that we fail to distinguish our own will from that of the external force.

Steps to Freedom from addiction

According to this idea that external forces are wedded to one’s sense of self and will, there is no chance of getting rid of them without a great deal of help.

After many failed attempts to free yourself from your craving, you probably have come to realise that you have no power over your addiction. If your own will has been hijacked you have no chance of yourself of making any change.

According to the Twelve Steps Recovery Program, the first crucial step towards freedom is to admit you are powerless over the force of the addiction and that as a result your life has become unmanageable.

The divine spirit of healing for addiction

We need somehow to access something pretty powerful to rescue us from the habits which have taken over our life causing us such misery. This is where a spiritual approach may be said to come in. It encourages a belief that a power greater than oneself can restore one to sanity and asks us to decide to turn our will and our lives over to the care of what we understand to be the divine spirit of healing.

Lies in addiction

In his book “12 Miracles Of Spiritual Growth”, E. Kent Rogers suggests that the addictive force tells us lies in which we come to believe.

“I don’t have a problem”

“The addiction or habit is who I am”

“I can overpower the addiction on my own”

“I cannot change”

He points out that the lies can be seen to be unreasonable. The first two are mutually exclusive and the second two also contradict one another.

Alternative ways of thinking might be to say that you do have a problem in so far as you have given your life over to destructive forces within you, but you yourself are not the problem. Only with the help of the power of the divine spirit of healing which is greater than yourself, can you be set free.

Depiction of addiction

In the book, Rogers recounts the biblical story about a man called Legion, someone not in his right mind who lived alone among the tombs. He had often been chained hand and foot but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. Night and day he would cry out and, against his own will and better judgement, cut himself with stones. This man was enslaved to an evil force; a pawn to their destructive whims. There could be no better depiction of addiction as a living hell. When he saw Jesus Christ from a distance he ran and fell on his knees in front of him. And was healed of the evil spirits said to possess him.

In our current era, where scientific thought is the dominant way of thinking, it is difficult for us to relate to the idea of evil spirits, let alone demonic possession. However, are there not spirits of the past living within and animating us? Are these not the external forces that take over the will of the addict?

According to this way of thinking the spirits caused the man to abuse himself with stones even as he moaned and cried out in agony. Likewise, we moan with anguish as we watch ourselves sink further into self-destructive behaviour. Like Legion we live as if alone even when in the presence of others, feeling isolated from them and not making meaningful connections. Like Legion, who lived among the tombs, we also are amongst the dead in the sense that we when are possessed by addiction, we experience our own spiritual death and decay.

But like Legion, can we not find healing from spiritual slavery by asking for help from a divine healing power greater than ourselves?

Copyright 2014 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of  Heart, Head & Hands  Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems



A Sermon by Rev. Donald L. Rose Preached in Bryn Athyn February 2, 1997

“All their thoughts are against me for evil. They gather together, they hide, they mark my steps, when they lie in wait for my life” (Psalm 56:6).

There was a shepherd boy, strong and handsome. The meaning of his name is “beloved.” The name is David. The shepherd boy was destined to become king, destined to live a life of great adventure.

It was a life repeatedly attended with mortal danger. There were dangers that he was aware of. They were clear enough: danger from a lion and a bear; danger from a giant named Goliath; danger from hosts of Philistines with swords and spears.

But there were other dangers, more subtle but very real. And if he had not been told about those dangers, his life would have been short indeed. What we see happening in the story of David is his being warned of such dangers, particularly being warned about the intentions of King Saul. Saul was his king, his protector, his benefactor, and beneath it all his deadly enemy. Jonathan, David’s dear friend, saved his life by warning him. And David’s wife Michal warned David one night when the house was surrounded, saying, “If you do not save your life tonight, tomorrow you will be killed” (I Sam. 19:11).

Two of the psalms were composed at a time when David had learned that his life was in peril. Psalm 59 was composed that night when Michal revealed Saul’s plot and when David knew that he was in a house surrounded by those ready to kill him. The psalm begins as follows: “Deliver me from my enemies, O my God. Defend me from those who rise up against me … For look, they lie in wait for life … Not for my transgression nor for my sin, O Lord.”

Another psalm was written when David had sought refuge in Gath but there found that people were talking about him and planning to kill him. “Now David took these words to heart and was very much afraid of Achish king of Gath” (I Sam. 21:12). Because he knew of the danger he was in, he was able to pretend madness and make his escape. The fear he felt before he made that escape is evident in the psalm which he then composed. But infinitely more is contained in the psalm, for it is the Word of God. In it David says, “All day they twist my words; all their thoughts are against me for evil. They gather, they hide, they mark my steps when they lie in wait for my life” (Psalm 56:5, 6).

The psalms sometimes portray man as under siege. He is in a predicament, surrounded by dangers and anxieties and fears. The psalms continually speak of “enemies.” Man is portrayed as being the object of threat and hatred. What is the reality? The Writings say that an incredible “intense hatred” prevails in the spiritual world against things relating to love and faith in the Lord. In fact they say that unless the Lord defended a person every moment he would perish as a result of this hatred (see AC 59). Jesus warned His disciples, “You shall be hated” (Matt. 10:27, Mark 13:13).

In our lesson from Divine Providence 211, we read that Divine Providence is like a person “in company with an enemy who intends to kill him which at the time he does not know, and a friend leads him away by unknown paths, and afterward discloses his enemy’s intention.”

When we say that a person is his own worst enemy, we are usually talking about a person who does not know is not aware of his problem. If only the person realized how much he or she is sabotaging his or her own happiness. It is not easy for another person to get the message across. To do it takes patience and tact and real caring. In the Divine Providence in time we learn about the things in our lives which we thought were our friends, which are our enemies. We walk through life with some loves which do a lot for us, just as Saul did a lot for David. There are many examples, such as a pride that has us taking credit and basking in the warmth of self-merit, even thinking that taking credit and bragging can be a source of happiness. If we think that, we have a lot to learn, and we may learn it very slowly through many experiences.

The Lord said, “A man’s foes shall be they of his own household” (Matt. 10:36). Our own evils, as dear to us as the inhabitants of our house, can be the foes of which the Word warns us.

But there is another sense in which we are in danger. The danger is from outside the house; it surrounds the house. We mean those forces from hell which intend us harm. The evil spirits who associate with us can stir up the evils within us.

There is a chapter in the book Heaven and Hell that is entitled “The Malice and Nefarious Arts of Infernal Spirits” (HH 576). In it we learn that evil spirits are subtle and devious, and we learn that they have a malice, that is, that they intend harm. “All their thoughts are against me for evil. They gather, they hide, they mark my steps, when they lie in wait for my life” (Ps. 56:5, 6). The teaching is that “so far as anyone is innocent they burn to do him harm; therefore they cannot bear to see little children, and as soon as they see them they are inflamed with a cruel desire to do them harm” (HH 283).

What are some of the things they endeavor to do? They are in a constant endeavor to dissolve marriages (see HH 382). They endeavor to stir up enmities. They lead a person into thoughts about himself (see HH 558a). Indeed, by leading a person into thoughts about himself, they can stir up those enmities. We read, “There is a certain kind of spirits, who … stir up enmities, hatreds, and fights among others. I have seen the consequent fights and wondered at them. I inquired who they were, and was told that they were that kind of spirits who excite such passions because they are bent on being sole rulers, according to the maxim, Divide and rule” (AC 5718). “Wondered” at them. Do you ever wonder at the fights you observe, or have you ever stood back far enough from the fights in which you have been involved to wonder at them?

We will return to that word “divide” in a moment, because the effort of evil spirits is to tear asunder, to dissolve, and to divide so that they can rule.

The effort of evil spirits is to destroy happiness. One way they do this is to accuse. They stir up memories of anything that one has done wrong, and they even take innocent memories and turn them into subjects of accusation. “They call up all the wrong things that from his infancy a man has either done or even thought … and condemn him” (AC 741). “They call forth from a person’s memory whatever he has thought and done from his infancy. Evil spirits do this with a skill and malignity so great as to be indescribable … This a person perceives “only by the recalling of such things to mind and a certain anxiety therefrom” (AC 751).

The word in the New Testament that is related to worry or anxiety is the word merimnao. Its root connotation is dividing. The root word to “divide” is merizo. It is used in the saying, “If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand” (Mark 3:25, Matt. 12:25, Luke 11:17).

The Writings mention an old maxim, “Divide and rule” (see AC 5718, SD 1793, TCR 133e). There are spheres that can affect us inwardly that can divide things in our minds. We read of spheres which pose blocks in our minds between faith and charity. We read in TCR: “I have felt this sphere, and at such times, when I thought of the conjunction of faith and charity, it interposed itself between them and violently endeavored to separate them” (TCR 619:6).

An experience described in the Arcana Coelestia seems a little closer to what we experience. “The effect of this sphere was to take from me the power of close application, and to make it so irksome for me to act and to think in serious matters, true and good, that at last I scarcely knew what to do. When such as these come among spirits, they induce on them a similar torpor” (AC 1509).

Does this relate to times when we just can’t make decisions of what to do or to times when we simply procrastinate and seem somehow unable to do the thing that most needs doing? Here is the same passage in more recent translation: “Their sphere was such that it took away from me my whole concentration and made it so extremely troublesome for me to carry out and to think about serious things, true and good, that at length I hardly knew what to do. When such individuals as these come among spirits, they bring upon them a similar listlessness” (AC 1509). There is a word used particularly in psychiatry which describes an inability to get started doing something or to decide what to do. The word is “abulia.”

If the core of happiness is in useful activity, then we are not surprised if the enemies of our happiness in various ways cripple our application to use. If they endeavor to harm innocence, to dissolve marriages, and to stir up fights among friends, they will undermine our love of use. Idleness is said to be “the devil’s pillow” (Charity 168). For, “In idleness the mind is spread out to various evils and falsities, but in work it is held to one thing” (SD 6088:4).

In the book Conjugial Love there is a chapter on causes of cold in marriage. One of the causes given is a lack of devotion to any useful pursuit or business. Here we read, “While a man is in some pursuit and business, that is, in some use, his mind is bounded and circumscribed as by a circle, within which it is successively integrated into a form truly human. From this as from a house he sees the various lusts as outside of himself, and from sanity of reason within, banishes them” (CL 249).

Any focus we have on what is useful is like a house, a house in which we can find comfort and from which we can view life with good perspective. If you know that your purpose in life is to promote the happiness of others, you look out upon the world with a sane perspective and with some taste of heaven’s delight.

The text from the psalms seems to picture one looking out from a house threatened with dangers. “They hide, they mark my steps, when they lie in wait for my life.” Does the knowledge that there are dangers make us feel less secure? Do we get a paranoid attitude, a persecution complex, from the knowledge that evil spirits would divide our house, would dissolve our marriages and interfere with our delight in use?

Well, the context of statements about this is not a fearful one, but rather one that has a special sense of security. We are reminded of the Lord’s saying, “In the world you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). The Lord said, “Blessed are you when men hate you” (Luke 6:22). “Blessed are you when they revile you and persecute you, and say all kind of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad” (Matt. 5:11).

Let us conclude with one example from the Writings and one from the Psalms. In the Arcana Coelestia we read: “I have sometimes been surrounded by thousands to whom it was permitted to spit forth their venom, and infest me by all possible methods, yet without their being able to hurt a single hair of my head, so secure was I under the Lord’s protection” (AC 59).

And in the Psalms it is said, “I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people who have set themselves against me all around” (Ps. 3:6).

There are indeed dangers and threats that surround us. Let the knowledge of this make us value all the more what we have. And let us, if we know there is a danger, always know at the same time that we have a Divine Protector. This is the reality of our lives. The passages about our enemies shows them turned backward, confounded, defeated and subjugated.

We have a shield, a rock, a fortress, a shepherd who prepares a table before us in the presence of our enemies, the Lord Jesus Christ who says, “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you … If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:19, 20). “In the world you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Amen.

Lessons: I Samuel 19:1-18, 21:10-15, Matt. 10:22-39, AC 5718, 1509, DP 211

Arcana Coelestia 1509

For several days such spirits were with me as during their life in this world had cared nothing for the good of society, but only for themselves, being useless members of the commonwealth, and who had had no end but to live sumptuously, to be clothed splendidly, and to grow rich; being well practiced in simulation, and in ways of insinuating themselves by various forms of flattering assent and a display of services, but only that they might seem devoted, and be intrusted with their master’s goods, while they looked down with contempt upon all who were earnestly employed. It was perceived that they had been courtiers. The effect of their sphere was to take from me the power of close application, and to make it so irksome for me to act and to think in serious matters, true and good, that at last I scarcely knew what to do. When such as these come among spirits, they induce on them a similar torpor. In the other life they are useless members, and are rejected wherever they come.

Divine Providence 211

The reason why the Divine Providence operates so secretly that scarcely anyone knows of its existence is that man may not perish. For man’s proprium, that is, his will, in no wise acts as one with the Divine Providence, against which man’s proprium has an inborn enmity; for it is the serpent that seduced our first parents of which it is said, “I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head” (Gen. 3:55). The serpent is evil of every kind, its head is self-love; the seed of the woman is the Lord; the enmity that is put is between the love of man’s proprium and the Lord, and thus between man’s own prudence and the Divine Providence of the Lord. For man’s own prudence is continually raising that head, and the Divine Providence is continually putting it down.

If man felt this he would be enraged and exasperated against God, and would perish; but while he does not feel this he may be enraged and exasperated against men and against himself and also against fortune, without perishing. Hence it is that the Lord by His Divine Providence continually leads man in freedom, and the freedom appears to him to be none other than his own; and to lead man in freedom in opposition to himself is like lifting up a heavy and resisting weight from the ground by means of screws, through the power of which the weight and the resistance are not felt; or it is like what happens to a man in the company of an enemy who intends to kill him, an intention he is not aware of; and a friend leads him away by unknown paths and afterwards discloses to him his enemy’s intention.

Arcana Coelestia 5718.

There is a certain kind of spirits who, because they wish to have dominion, and to be sole rulers over all others, to this end stir up enmities, hatreds, and fights among others. I have seen the consequent fights, and wondered at them. I inquired who they were, and was told that they were that kind of spirits who excite such passions because they are bent on being sole rulers, according to the maxim, Divide and rule. It was also granted me to talk with them, and they immediately said that they rule all. But it was given to answer that they were insanity personified if they sought to establish their rule by such means …