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