Online works based on the Writings of Emanuel Swedenborg
“So He giveth His beloved in sleep.” Psalm 127:2
The Blessing of Sleep
The stream of man’s conscious life is intermittent, broken by recurring lapses into the unconscious state of sleep, from which he wakens with a new vigor of mind and body, in a new state and with a new start. The state of yesterday is still with us in the morning, as a memory that calls to us for a resumption of our duties or our routine; but it does not bind us entirely. Much is happily forgotten, and the thought of the burden and the heat of yesterday is not so oppressively present. Gradually we pick up the threads of former thoughts, discarding much that is unimportant.
It might seem as if our life was cut up into disjointed segments by these periods of sleep. But nothing is lost from our mind. The stream of consciousness has simply found rest in a limpid pool where its waters are clarified for its further progress. It is the conscious mind—the self-directed thought —that is affected by the apparent death of sleep. “Love does not sleep,” we read in the Arcana Coelestia.283The affections, the subconscious yearnings, instincts, and delights of the will provide a continuity of the whole personality. Man wakes the same man. And through the miracle of memory he has still at his disposal all his past experience and knowledge.
The function of sleep is so important that even the angels, in their evening states, find comfort and refreshment in slumher. For their bodies and their minds—though both spiritual —are yet finite, and all finite things have limits of endurance.
Man’s body, during the day, is largely governed by the caprice of his own will, by his voluntary decisions, which are not always rational. If man could know the exact degree of strain which each part of his body could bear without injury, he might avoid some of the abuses to which he actually exposes his organism. But even so there would be need for relaxation of body and brain and for a restoral of equilibrium after every sustained exertion.
In his philosophical works, Swedenborg offers an explanation of the physiology of sleep. He states that man’s conscious will (or voluntary) resides in the cerebrum or anterior part of the brain, and that deliberate action is initiated from the “cortical glands” there. These brain-cells, by extending fibres, govern all the muscles of the limbs and of the skeletal frame, and force the body into motion and position. The cerebellum or hind-brain, on the other hand, has control of all the viscera and their internal workings, quite independently of man’s will and unbeknown to his consciousness. The cerebellum also causes “antagonistic” muscles to counterpoise, makes smooth the workings of the muscles controlled by the cerebrum, and restores the natural equilibrium of forces which the conscious will has disturbed. In wakefulness, the cerebellum is relatively overruled and not active to its fullest extent. But in sleep, which comes over a man when the abused fibres of body and brain are no longer responsive to his will, the little cells of the cerebrum become relaxed. They are then isolated from the continual stream of subtle nourishment which is offered them through the arteries; so that they no longer receive the “purer blood” which they otherwise renovate and propel into the fibres. They continue indeed to receive, for their own future need, constant supplies of what Swedenborg calls “etherial chyle” through the “corporeal fibres”; and the inmost circulation of the “spirituous fluid”— the soul’s own vice-regent—continues as before. But the connections between the various glands and between the cortex and the body, are temporarily broken. And thus there are but slight muscular motions and no voluntary action. Sensations cannot reach the seat of consciousness, and the sceptre of the body is handed over to the cerebellum.284
In sleep, therefore, the soul, acting through the cerebellum, restores the order of nature. Acting by involuntary fibres it mends the broken or strained tissues, reestablishes a balance in the metabolism of the cells of the whole body, and improves the spontaneity of the various organs.285
The Arcana states that “the cerebellum is awake in time of sleep when the cerebrum slumbers.”286 “The Lord guards man with most especial care during his sleep,” for without sleep “the human race would perish.” In sleep, the Lord Himself watches even over His enemies and does them good.287 He loves all, and “He giveth His beloved in sleep.”288
Sleep bears a certain likeness to death. In sleep man retires from the world and its anxieties and departs from all his fellowmen. His senses being inactive, he not only becomes oblivious to the fixed world about him, but his memory of it also sinks into quiescence. Up to a certain point, physical pain and states of emotion which stir up his blood may prevent such a retirement. But when he finally gives way to sleep, he enters a world without sense of time and indifferent to space.
Even as the angels of the resurrection are celestial in type, so also are the angels whom the Lord appoints to guard man in sleep. They are in fact angelic spirits of the province of the cerebellum; for the cerebellum perceives the states of the body by an “involuntary sense.” It is their duty to prevent evil spirits from infesting man during his slumbers—a duty which they perform with the greatest delight, so that there is a rivalry among them as to who should be present. Only persons who have “delighted, and loved in every way and with the utmost effort, to make the life of others delightful,” are eligible to serve such offices after death.289
The World of Dreams
Sleep is a state of unconsciousness. Yet there are certain factors—conditions which we cannot catalogue—which cause the return of consciousness in a strange and partial way. “To sleep—perchance to dream.” The natural memory may be aroused in a new manner, and man comes into that state on the borderland of the unconscious which we call the world of dreams: a strange world of fancy, built up from the broken fragments of experience into sequences which defy the logic by which we discipline our conscious thinking.
The fact of this dream-world has ever fascinated men. Primitive peoples saw in it a sign that there existed another world—a world of “doubles”—which they mostly confused with the spiritual world itself, but in which they saw themselves as actors. For in dreams the spirit of man seems to be released from the body to wander abroad in wider fields. The ancients also attached special meanings to their dreams, seeing obscure warnings and predictions in the jumbled recollections of their nocturnal experiences. Plato believed that our dreams gave us intimations of the various appetites and instincts which lay hidden in our nature; including bestial desires which the self-rebuke of reason kept out of our consciously directed thoughts, but which were given free rein during sleep.290 And in these modern days the Platonic view has again become the vogue. Dr. Sigmund Freud of Vienna founded upon it a new school of psycho-therapy, by analyzing the repressed longings and forgotten fears of the “subconscious mind” from the dreams in which these secret emotions reveal themselves in symbolic forms. The fact that Dr. Freud cynically traced all such emotions to a sexual origin does not take away all truth from Plato’s sage observations, nor does it lessen the value of further studies along this line.
Indeed, behind all these traditional views of dreams there lies a substratum of truth. Dreams do touch the fringe of the spiritual world. Dreams do at times have a prophetic burden or some special significance. Dreams occasionally reveal to man some of the longings and delights that are submerged and repressed in the depths of his being. Robsahm writes in his memoirs: “I asked Swedenborg whether, in our times, it was worth while to pay attention to dreams; upon which he answered that the Lord no longer at the present day makes revelations by dreams, but that nevertheless it may happen that one who understands correspondences may derive advantage from his dreams; just as a person who is awake may examine his own state by comparing his own will with God’s commandments.”291
This account by Robsahm cannot be taken as entirely correct, but is none the less interesting when we consider that in the period when Swedenborg’s spiritual faculties were first being opened he kept a private record of his dreams and of the interpretations that he put upon them. He instinctively felt that his dreams were—like his commencing visions—significative and symbolic. In his humility he did not spare himself in these interpretations. Yet it may be questioned whether he as yet knew the science of correspondences sufficiently to make those dreams more than the background for his own perceptions about his state while he was grasping for some indications of the work into which the Lord was leading him. (See his Journal of 1744).
That dreams, whether they are orderly or incoherent, are significant is as true as that the whole world is a theater representative of uses. Everything in both worlds, and in both body and mind, is symbolic of the forces at work—could we but know what these are. In the Writings these forces are described. And it appears from the teachings that no blame is attached to man for things occurring during sleep. For then man relinquishes his command. His will, or proprium, is taken away, and his natural understanding is laid asleep.292 In dreams, his “spiritual sight” is helpless and irresponsible and therefore usually quite impersonal, while the contents of his memory are being reconstructed into vivid imagery and into situations which symbolize states that are not his own, but which belong to spirits, and perhaps to angels, who are with him.
“Such stuff as dreams are made on” comes from the man. Nothing actually new—never before seen or felt—comes through dreams. But because man’s internal sight then is only a beholder,292 and man not really a responsible actor, the most strange and impossible situations usually cause him no surprise, the most ridiculous happenings cause no amusement, terrors may cause no fear. His memory may retain the dream in part, or he may—like Nebuchadnezzar—be unable to remember it. When an emotion, such as fear or shame, is felt in a dream, the man on waking need not take any responsibility for it. The thing is a matter of record, but not a part of his nature. In other words, if his external memory retains an impress of the dream, yet his internal memory, his interior thought and affection, has felt no influx and received no stain.
We have been treating of dreams in general. But the Writings tell us that there are at least three distinct kinds of dreams, or dreams from three sources.293
The first type is a dream which comes from the Lord Himself, either immediately or mediately through heaven.294 Such were the prophetic dreams mentioned in the Word. This is a form of Divine revelation. Thus an angel was filled with the Divine to the exclusion of his own proprium and consciousness, and appeared in a dream to a prophet on earth, clothing himself in the mental imagery of the man’s external memory and, thus seen, impressed the man with a series of representations which were adopted as the direct symbols of the Lord’s Divine truth. Such dream-visions sometimes conveyed to the prophet’s mind an external significance, as for instance a prediction of some future event. But the spiritual meaning of dreams was seen only by internal men such as the people of the most ancient church.295
One class of dreams stands by itself, although it somewhat resembles the prophetical. We refer to a dream in which the Lord was seen by Swedenborg. The actual call to his mission had occurred in a state of vision.296 But in the Diary he jotted down the following remarkable memorandum: “The Lord was seen by me in a dream with the face and form in which He was in the world. It was such that it was interiorly full and thus so that He could rule the whole heaven within. . . . And He often as it were slept with His eyes when He was inwardly within Himself. . . . And it was said that such had been His appearance. In a word, He was full of heaven and the Divine. (The night between Nov. 18 and 19, 1751).”297
The second kind of dream comes through angelic spirits who from an ardor for the happiness of others serve as guardians over those who sleep. These angels are at the entrance of those heavenly “paradises” which to the angels represent only celestial and spiritual things, but which spirits delight in for their own sake. These paradises appear in the externals of heaven, or are created there when angels of a superior heaven converse together intellectually about truths of wisdom and faith. The angelic spirits in question love to affect a man who is asleep and thus receptive, with the enjoyable and delightful things which they see in his affection and genius. They arouse from the dreamer’s mind beautiful and pleasant representations which refresh him with tranquil charm. But Swedenborg observed that they did not themselves know whence such beautiful presentations came to them “all in a moment,” except that they came “from heaven.” Nor is it orderly that they should know the man whom they are watching over.298
Presumably all men, when asleep, have such heavenly guardians, more or less distantly present. Yet the statement is that these are “entrusted with the duty of watching over certain men”—as if all were not equally favored. And this suggests that the Lord may have a particular concern about those in this world who perform more eminent or responsible uses; whose reliance on the spiritual reserves of the other world and of the subconscious processes of the mind must be greater. Such men, by day, enjoy the illustration of their use, which comes from their being spiritually present in the societies of such use in the other world. But at night their reserve powers must be filled up, and this by the angels of sleep.
Dreams such as are induced by these angelic spirits actually originate in angelic discourse—in conversations between angels on spiritual subjects. The order of the angelic ideas is at once presented in the world of spirits in representatives of great variety, differently in every group of spirits that is affected. Thus with Swedenborg and the spirits associated with him as a man—spirits who were using his memory —the forms of the dream which resulted were shaped according to his memory and his general affection. From the same spiritual origin can thus arise dreams totally different, yea, opposite. For what may cause joy to one man, may to others call up tedium and nausea, shame or horror.299 The reason for this lies in the universal spiritual law that no influx from spirits or angels can introduce new persuasions or alter the faith or memory of spirit or man.
On some occasions, Swedenborg related his dreams to the angelic spirits who caused them, and they recognized in his mental pictures and states the correspondential representations of their own conversation.300 Yet he also saw the diversified dreams caused in various spirits from the same origin, and confessed that it could never be known from the natural imagery of their dreams what the spiritual influx involved or contained; and he suggests that the influx was not always strictly “an influx by correspondences.” The imagery was not purely correspondential. Yet it was representative. Strictly speaking, “correspondences” are true creative relations of cause and effect, the same everywhere. So for instance, light corresponds to truth and heat to love—always. But the objects of the dreams represented different things to different spirits; for every man clothes familiar objects with a sphere of ideas and a meaning all his own. The things of man’s affection as well as his memory invite dreams of varying type. But in his dreams the objects are arranged with reference to the angelic ideas which inflow—thus as symbols of their corresponding states, symbols which indeed represent, but do not correspond; and which mean one thing to the angels, and quite another to the man. Only the angels could recognize the relation of the dream to their own ideas.301 We may doubt, therefore, whether New Church men will ever attempt to become interpreters of dreams; although—strange to say—one of the very first volumes in the vast collateral literature of the New Church was entitled “Oneiromancy !”302 But its anonymous author merely used the science of correspondences as a guide for interpreting the bewildering phenomena of the world of dreams.
The dreams introduced by angelic spirits contain within them the order of heaven, even if man cannot discern it. Normally the dreams they induce are pleasant, sweet, and peaceful ; but with the man they may also be turned into warnings, as is often done on some other planets when men fall into evil. Such dreams can be induced not only upon men, but even upon spirits. Swedenborg relates a strange thing—that while he was among the cerebellar spirits as a spirit, he also was able, repeatedly, to introduce dreams into a sleeper.303 He checked the experiment with the man upon whom he had acted—which spirits can, of course, not do. Yet men also can impose dreams upon their fellow-men, by using hypnotic methods.
Dreams Induced by Spirits
The third type of dreams spoken of in the Writings is not produced through angels, but through the spirits who are near man while he sleeps.304 Such dreams are also significative, for the influx calls forth from man’s memory such things as have a special significance, but a significance to the spirits, not to the man.
Angels produce dreams that please, because they take care that what they draw forth should be associated with delight in the man’s mind. They look for such ultimates in man because they always consider first the freedom of man, and lead him only so far as his own affections respond. But spirits in the world of spirits are not so considerate. Fortunately they have no power to harm man while he sleeps, although they use his mind as their own. But if they could, they would exclude everything from a man’s waking life which is not in line with their own delights. They would impose their own will upon him and sometimes desire to obsess him utterly—and if he should then resist them they would seek to destroy him. For this reason spirits who are with men are kept quite ignorant of the fact. They know not the man, but believe that they think quite independently of men. Yet they think and converse among themselves by using the ideas of the men with whom they are associated; and—as has been pointed out repeatedly—the spirits most closely adjoined to a man assume his whole memory and think themselves to be the man. They become so immersed in man’s attitudes and memory that they may even impersonate him in the other world—look like him in dress and demeanor. Each man has at least one such “consociate spirit.”305
When a spirit is asleep, good spirits can act through him. It is therefore provided that when a man falls asleep, his closer attendant spirits will also fall asleep, since the memory of the man then becomes inactive. If the spirits are evil they are indeed compelled to sleep, for as long as they are awake, man’s affections are being stimulated.306 The state of a man’s ruling love would not be disturbed, but he would no longer be receptive of the influx from the society closest to his inner delights, but would remain conscious of the irritations and anxieties of his external mind so that sleep would be impossible.
But while the attendant spirits dwelling in his superficial spheres of thought fall asleep along with the man, other spirits, more distant from the ordinary states of his life, may still exert their influence upon him. They have indeed no power to stir up his interior thought or affection; for if they did the man would awake in a moment.307 But they can use the memory of man quite freely, although it is the Lord Himself who gives the final permission and prevents abuses.
And now there commences in man—and somewhat similarly in his consociate spirits—the strange fantasmagoria of dreams. Each spirit takes on from man’s memory whatever objects or sensory stimuli that agree with his own life. It is a characteristic of such dreams that, if persons should figure in the scene, each spirit assumes all that a man knows about a certain individual, and actually impersonates him and acts his part in the mental drama. And some may also impersonate the sleeper himself, and speak to other spirits in his tone of voice; but the contents of the speech may not at all be what the man would normally say, but the most stupid nonsense or the grossest falsehood.308
At times, actual spirits may themselves, by the Lord’s leave, be seen in a dream under an appearance that is familiar to the sleeping man. It is told of Louis XIV that he gave warnings to one of his descendants in a dream; and Swedenborg once saw Peter the Great and spoke to him during a dream.309
And Spirits who sleep simultaneously with man sometimes oversleep! Swedenborg found them sleeping, yes, and dreaming, after he himself had awakened. He compared experiences with them and found that they sometimes dreamt when man was not dreaming—which no doubt allows man to change his state.310 Yet the rule is that their dreams are mostly garbed in the ideas of man’s memory. The dreams of spirits are generally caused by spirits who are in a more interior state than they are themselves. But sometimes evil spirits can induce bad dreams upon spirits that are to be vastated.311
Apart from these three types of dreams—those caused by the Lord, those induced through angels, and those which spirits inject—the Arcana Coelestia speaks of “fantastic dreams.”312 This class is dismissed with a bare mention. But with us mortals here below, such fantastic dreams may be quite disturbing. They seem as disordered processions of fragmentary thoughts, unconnected pictures, ludicrous figments of a fevered imagination, meaningless, isolated; or perhaps as images and situations that rise up to strike us with horror, as in nightmares or in some delirium that attends an illness. That their origin is from the other world is of course necessarily true. No emotion or consciousness is possible with man except from the presence of spirits. Yet these fantastic dreams are, we surmise, not characteristic of the true sleeping state in which the natural memory is closed from below and is moved only from within. Our nocturnal fancies may at times be symptomatic of disturbing desires or secret fears which gnaw the mind in our wakeful state but are not released in our imagination except in the symbolism of dreams. But grave injury might be done if man made himself responsible for the disorders of his dream-life which after all occur after he has relinquished his control.
In states of disease or discomfort such as may result from overstrain or from too rich food or from the use of various drugs, the senses are sometimes still pounding from below upon our consciousness even after we have fallen asleep. And while the state of the blood and the senses is such that the brain cannot find continual repose, there are countless opportunities on the part of hordes of wandering spirits—such as the curious spirits belonging to the “province of the chyle-duct”—to seek a temporary lodgment in the mind of a man. But this kind of influx touches closely upon another phase of our general subject, namely, the connection of spirits with disease.
The teachings concerning dreams may not appear to be, by themselves, an important part of the doctrine of the church. Yet they present another aspect of the marvelous economy of human life, which is ordered by infinite protective agencies and is ruled in every detail by the Lord of creation.
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