5 Spirits and Human States

Swedenborg Study.comOnline works based on the Writings of Emanuel Swedenborg

5 Spirits and Human States

“My name is Legion, for we are many.” Mark 5:9

The World of Spirits after the Last Judgment

After the Last Judgment, the spirits who are in the “world of spirits,” or—what is much the same—the spirits who attend man more nearly, are reduced into such an order that they cannot for long arrest the progress of a novitiate spirit, that is, cannot for long evade judgment nor for long hinder him from entering either heaven or hell.

This new order makes it impossible for false religions to establish permanent strongholds in the spiritual world, as was often the case before the last judgment. Spirits from each religion do, as formerly, flock together, and engage in common life and worship. But their doctrines and principles of life are continually challenged, their societies are repeatedly broken up, and the individual spirits are separately judged soon after their death. Within about thirty years, each spirit has passed through the three states of the world of spirits, and enters his heaven or his hell (See LJ 64).

This new order is referred to, when it is stated that in the year 1770, on the nineteenth day of June, after the True Christian Religion had been written out, the Lord sent His twelve disciples into all parts of the spiritual world, proclaiming the gospel that “the Lord Jesus Christ reigneth.”140

A new light came into the world of spirits.141 For whereas spiritual truth had before been revealed to men and spirits only in the forms of natural and moral truth, as in the New Testament, the second advent of the Lord was a revelation of Divine truth in the forms of rational ideas and in terms of open doctrine. Thenceforth all judgment took place on the basis of rational thought, and this penetrates through all possible human disguises and makes impossible any evasion, any hiding of evil motives behind external piety or by a nominal adherence to church bodies and their symbolic creeds. This new law of judgment, which produced a new order in the world of spirits, is now eternal. “Of His kingdom there shall be no end.” The Lord governs the spirits of that world and—from His will, His good pleasure, His leave or His permission142—assigns what spirits shall remain in the Intermediate State and who shall attend each man.

The spirits now in the world of spirits are being prepared for judgment and are thus destined either for heaven or for hell. And some of these spirits surround the spirit of every man living on earth, and act upon him according to their own particular genius and state. Man is free to choose between good and evil, and as he does so, he receives influences from spirits who accord with his choice. But he still has near him the opposite type of spirit. And, moreover, his choice does not extend very widely or deeply. If he shuns some suggestion or intention of evil that is formulating itself in his conscious mind, this may indeed cause that certain evil spirits no longer take any pleasure in the things then active in his mind, and thus remove themselves for the time being. But it does not mean that he has changed his whole spiritual association, his mental state, or his mood. Such a general change is achieved very gradually. It involves many things over which man can have no control.

Spirits and Man’s Progressive States

We may see this in connection with adolescence. An infant is attended, in general, by spirits and angels of a celestial type—and no exertion on the part of the infant or his parents can change this general fact, and its resulting states. We cannot hasten growth. We can disturb it somewhat, by unwise treatment; but we cannot stop it nor accelerate it. The same applies to later ages: spiritual angels and spirits, and then natural ones, come by degrees to dominate the child’s spiritual environment and thus influence his states. No choice of man’s can change this orderly progression of general states, although at each moment particular states may be changed as if of man’s will.143

The Lord rules these progressions by means of angels and spirits. If the Lord should remove the spirits proper to such states, man would perish. If He removed all evil spirits from man, man would die—for his natural heredity is in the perverse form of self-love, and requires for its nutriment or life the mediating presence of some evil spirits.144Only gradually can these be displaced by good spirits. In the meantime they must be controlled or kept in the external order which is proper to society.

It is the same with the adult. He is free to choose between good and evil when he discerns that he is faced by a clear choice: if he evades his clear responsibility, it means that he is choosing evil. On the other hand, he often feels himself captivated by a mood, a state which he can hardly understand and cannot shake off. He becomes conscious of a limitation in his mind, a sense of obscurity, confusion, discouragement, or unhappiness. He can sometimes see its causes, but usually he does not. If he sees its natural causes, he might find a way out, a remedy which he may regard as orderly and good, or at least such that it does not lead into worse states. But if he is wise, he sees that the natural cause of a state is never the whole cause! That there is something intangible and spiritual which is beyond any sudden remedy; something which cannot be changed or removed “except by prayer and fasting”—except by the Lord’s help.

The appearance is, of course, that our various moods are the results of our physical states of health or disease, weariness, penury or struggle, lack of proper food or pleasure or of mental stimulus or companionship. Many people unhappily married seek to reach an elusive bliss by divorce and remarriage, only to find that the source of their unhappiness still pursues them. It is not their conditions that are at fault, but their state and attitude. Others seek increased wealth or comfort as an assurance of content. Certainly the restoration of health or fortune does produce remarkable changes in a man’s perspective. Still, these physical blessings do not by themselves give happiness. They give the natural man a sense of well-being and self-sufficiency. And the Lord knows that some can stand such blessings without detriment to their spiritual states. But a complete natural satisfaction—if alone —is apt to hold a man enthralled in externals, while he becomes somnolent as to his soul and evasive of all spiritual issues.

Happiness—eventual, eternal happiness—cannot be gained except by the struggles of the mind against evils or sins. It is not reached unless man undergoes spiritual temptations. For it is only by temptations that the spiritual environment of the man’s spirit is radically changed. It is only by temptations that new and different groups of spirits can become associated with man, and a new spiritual orientation be accomplished. The result of a temptation-period is a general change of state, and with this, of course, there is the appearance of a new freedom, a freedom to progress, to come nearer to the heaven of one’s final destiny.

Spiritual Temptations

The state of temptation is not to be confused with the act. of choice. In choice, man is active from a conscious freedom granted by the Lord. In temptation, man feels relatively passive, from lack of freedom to progress. Even during temptation, man is interiorly free145 and acts from the love already established with him, and as it were combats as of himself, cooperating with the good spirits who oppose the evil spirits who attend him. But he does not feel free. He is in anxiety, suffering, feels himself surrounded by his own evils and falsities as by mighty walls; scandals and doubts are insinuated against goods and truths; so that there is an apparent shutting up of his interiors, and of the capacity of thinking from his own faith and willing from his own love. His interior love is hemmed in—it cannot find a resting place in his conscious mind.146

Nevertheless, when the temptation has passed its climax of despair, the general state of man is changed. He feels a new peace, a unity of mind, a consolation that perhaps there may be salvation, after all. This feeling comes not from any reflection upon the good things he may have done, but from a realization that evil comes from evil spirits whose main object is to discourage man and make his own cooperative efforts seem useless. When man admits that his efforts indeed are in vain, and that the victory must be from the Lord, then the temptation is soon over.

The fact that good is from the Lord alone, does not imply that man should fold his hands and wait for influx. In temptation man must fight—urged by the necessity of the moment. If he does not fight it means that there is no heavenly love within him to resist the onslaught of evil. He then gives in to the delights which the infesting spirits seek to instil, and they remain with him and consolidate their position in his mind.

Man must fight for the love and the faith which he seems in danger of losing. He must fight from the knowledge and affection of truths and goods, (rather than from himself, or from pride in what he believed as his state of good). And he prays to the Lord for deliverance, for a change of state. Yet often the Lord does not hear the prayers that are offered during temptations !147

Prayer to the Lord is a powerful means of changing a man’s particular state, or aiding man to choose aright in clear issues and matters that lie waiting for his conscious decision. But general states involve too many elements that are beyond man’s scrutiny. He must wait for the Lord. The temptation must run its course, the state of the spiritual society from which the infestation originates, must be judged. And this takes time.

Nor is the time wasted. For man is not ready for the new state, is not ready for the extension of his freedom. His progress is held back in mercy. Man may have free choice: but—fortunately—the Lord rules the circumstances.

Man’s mind is very complex. Each idea of his thought has hidden connections with all his past states, long forgotten. But to the spirits and angels who are with him, all these states are available as bases of their own perceptions. Thus man’s thoughts and affections extend unbeknownst into societies both in the world of spirits and in heaven; yea, also in hell. The Lord governs man’s mind by ruling these societies and controlling their emissaries or “subject spirits.” Man may long to change an unpleasant state, but if this is to be done, the Lord must change or reorder and gradually transplant the deep-lying roots of his whole being, one by one.148

How States Are Changed

Much, however, is still left for man to do. Whether he is conscious of it or not, he is continually changing his particular states—every moment of his life. So, for instance, he often seeks some recreation to change his mood. He is so busy changing his states that he seldom reflects that he is doing it. And certainly he is quite unaware that by so doing he is also “changing spirits.”

Ordinarily, the spirits who are affected by his sudden changes are those associated with the surface, the superficial ripples, of his mind. Yet all his changes of state have their roots in the world of spirits, and occur according to spiritual laws. A man who, visiting friends at a distance, feels a certain homesickness, is quite unaware that some of the spirits who are with him are attached to the idea of objects and things which are not so sharply in his mind while he is away from home. If he returns home, the nostalgia ceases.

Here, indeed, we meet with an important law which governs the presence of spirits with man. Swedenborg records that after he had been long in one room, he could better command his ideas there than in some strange room. A certain tranquillity was induced among the spirits attending him, when he was in his own familiar surroundings. He noted the fact that “spirits wish to have their ideas connected with a place”; their ideas, which are spiritual, are in themselves not determined, defined, terminated, or limited, without space or structure, and this is provided for them in the material ideas which are available in the men with whom they are.149

Every one knows that the crucial changes of our thought and thus the determination of the important trends of external events are often clearly occasioned by trivial things. We might see a certain book on a shelf. We might stop to pick up a paper flying in the breeze. Our whole earthly career may turn on such a chance-event, on certain coincidences, in themselves trivial. But spiritual doctrine makes us realize that there is no “chance”; that the Divine Providence, in order to be universal, must also be most detailed, in every single thing, in the fall of a sparrow, in the turn of a page, or the twist of the dice. If the Divine government is in all things, it must see and rule things as a whole, somewhat in the manner that the soul rules the body. All the states of human consciousness, whether in this life or the next, must —in some way—be a unit, an interdependent whole, a cooperative scheme in which each state contributes its distinctive element to every other.

Thus it should be realized that angels (of each heavenly degree), spirits (interior and external), and men, all have their own distinctive function in that spiritual world the outskirts of which man senses in what he calls his “mind.”

After some reflection, few would deny that the crowning purpose of creation lies in the development of the human mind. Many would also see that in the mind, the gifts of created nature are turned to eternal uses; and that we truly live, not in the physical world, but in our mental world, in our states, our thoughts, our moods of consciousness. It is also evident that the mind is formed largely by means of the senses and especially by the experience of sight and hearing. Objects, images, enter through the physical organs of the body into the interiors of the brain and nervous system. There they are given an interpretation, a meaning, a value; in each man, the same object may be given a different value, according as it has been associated with some previous mental state of delight or pain. A rare stamp is by some discarded into the wastebasket, while by a collector it becomes cherished as a symbolic center of his own small world of ideas and delights. Children hug objects to their bosoms which to adults are utterly meaningless. Lovers attach a sentiment to a withered rose, perhaps, and the sight of one sends the echoes of past states trembling through the chambers of their hearts! In adult life, we have inexplicable aversions to, or preferences for, certain colors, or melodies, or names, or objects; having long forgotten why, or what they stand for in our slumbering past. Perhaps we never knew; but the instinctive association was caused by spirits who were once with us.

It should not be so incredible, then, when Swedenborg tells us in his Diary that certain spirits with him pressed him to use one certain tea-cup, others another; that some spirits had one of his bound journals as their special ultimate, while other spirits chose another! They were particular about what garments he wore. It sounds childish, this preference, until we realize that our own minds work in the same way. We are, in the state in which we are on earth, utterly lost without ultimates of thought. We wish to be surrounded by objects which bring a memory that is cherished or a field of ideas that stimulates certain delights. We attach strange values to things that are valueless in themselves.150 In dreams we may sometimes suffer tortures because of the impending loss of something utterly trivial.

Spirits are in a different situation after death. For many good reasons, their natural memory—the chronological record of their earthly experience, fixed in space-time imagery, or as material ideas—is gradually closed and becomes quiescent. Otherwise they could not progress into interior states, into thought which is spiritual and not bound to the imagery of spatial objects.

Yet spirits newly risen instinctively hunger for the objects which by them were vested with symbolic importance. With these they wish to clothe their thought. To them they look as a source of past states of delight, as a stimulus to fields of ideas and affections. And they find plenty of such objects in the natural thought of man: for man’s mind unconsciously is a part of the spiritual realm—a realm where space does not intervene, and where ideas are transmitted between all who are in common states of affection. “Into whatsoever state a man comes, spirits with whom a like passion had been dominant in their life-time”151 attach themselves to the material ideas and sensory memories of his mind, and give meaning to these things, so that man can—according to his state—sense them, understand them, interpret their life-value, their possible mental worth.

This law of spiritual association is of course the underlying principle of all symbolic ritual as was shown in a former chapter. But it also operates in our most ordinary life.

Spirits and the Objects of Man’s Thought

Spirits have the peculiar power to lead man to fix his attention upon such ultimates of thought as please them, i.e., they run through all the possible states of his mind in a moment until they find something familiar to them, and then they come into their own life. Sometimes, when spirits thus fix man’s reflection on objects, they create trouble for a man; they cause accidents, break his line of thought, cause worries, deliriums and even insanities.152 They are not aware of the man, however, but believe that they think from themselves. Evil spirits love to fix his mind on objects which to the man are invested with a sphere of the forbidden, or with suggestions of disease, cruelty, monstrosity, stagnation, hatred, pride, disorder, excrementitious or lascivious things, or filthy

language. Indeed, it may indeed in this sense be true that cleanliness—mental cleanliness—is next to godliness. There is a sphere of spirits even around the words we use, spirits of holiness, zeal and use; or spirits of contempt, of obscenity., of impatience and cruelty.

That spirits seek for evil ultimates which correspond to their states is illustrated and symbolized by the spirits called Legion, who—on being driven out of the man at the Gadarene shore—fled into the herd of swine.153

A change even of a word may change the spirits who are with us, Swedenborg reports.154 And here the power of man to change his states, enters in. That power is not from himself. He is kept in freedom by the fact that no one spirit, or no one group of spirits, can totally dominate him, as long as he is in this world. Nor can there now be any such corporeal obsessions by spirits as we read of in the Gospel. For the Lord holds man in freedom, through the presence of angels.

Even the wisdom of angels finds its basic focus and resting point in material ideas such as are with man, and especially in the sense of the letter of the Word. But the values which angels attach to such ultimates is not the same as that which good spirits would see, or still less what man sees. Man sees mostly material uses for the objects he beholds. Spirits see more interior delights and uses, suitable to their life and their ideas. But angels see the spiritual and celestial uses and meanings of each object. In their eyes, man’s material ideas and scientifics are valued and endowed with meaning so far as they are “open even to the Lord” and thus contain a sphere of charity and faith, wisdom and love to the Lord.154b In the ideas man has derived from the Word they see Divine uses, Divine eternal values; yea, they see the presence of the Lord Himself. And therefore our attending angels imbue the objects in man’s memory-world with new values and thus new uses. They instil into man a delight in the interior implications of the things of man’s thought, and if man receives this delight through them, evil spirits depart.

Swedenborg records in his Journal of 1744 that in one of his struggles against infesting spirits who sought to obsess his mind he finally found refuge by fixing his gaze on a piece of wood, and from this his thought was led to the wood of the cross, and then to the thought of the Lord. By a shift of attention, he thus broke the hold of the evil spirits upon his mind.155

A normal, wholesome life implies a variety of experiences, and changing states. The Lord therefore ordains for us a life of active uses, by which the objects which we see and remember are associated with useful values, states of charity and service to others, to society and to the church. Evil spirits who love idleness put a value on things merely so far as they favor our self-indulgence.

But the Lord also ordains that the Divine Word shall be with men, so that by means of its Divinely ordered field and sequence of material ideas—historicals, propheticals, and parables—the angelic hosts may have their own ultimates with men. Every word, every natural idea in the Scripture possesses a spiritual value and meaning for the angels. If we habitually read the Word in reverence, we invite ever new groups of angelic societies into our mind; and we are thus led to travel an orderly road in the pilgrimage of our spirit towards heaven; to progress under the Lord’s own protection through the many stages of life.


New book: Starting Science from God.
Links theism (religion) to science (psychology and physics) without reduction.





4 Our Spiritual Guardians

Swedenborg Study.comOnline works based on the Writings of Emanuel Swedenborg


4 Our Spiritual Guardians

“The angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear Him, and delivereth them.” Psalm 34:7

Angelic Mediations

At creation, as recorded in the book of Genesis, God said, “Let us make man in our image after our likeness.” Some have been disturbed by this wording, which suggests that many Divine creators might have been at work. And the Hebrew word for God is Elohim, which is a plural construction. It is a “plural of eminence” used for the one God; but only when the Divine truth is referred to, for truth displays the manifold powers and aspects of God. Many Divine laws concurred in man’s creation. The same word, elohim, is however used also for the false gods of the nations and even for the angels and prophets who receive Divine truths.73 And in the spiritual sense, the six days of creation describe the process of man’s regeneration, the name Elohim being used to indicate that in regenerating man the one God acts through innumerable agencies, and that it is through the ministry of angels that He leads, awakens, governs, and disposes man’s spiritual life and thus bestows upon him the truly human qualities which are meant by the image and likeness of God.74

The inmost soul of man, or the human internal, is indeed not affected by this angelic ministry. For it is, in degree, far above the angelic heavens and is acted upon only by the Lord whose life inflows into it by an immediate way.75 But as to the interiors of his spirit or mind, and as to his ruling love and its inner thought which does not fall within the consciousness of man himself, he dwells in a society of heaven or of hell.76 And as to his natural, or what is the same, his rational mind and its conscious thought and will, man is—in all but realization—an inhabitant of the world of spirits.77

The body of man is under the general influx of heaven. It is in the order of its creation and governed by the soul. Spirits are not adjoined to man’s body,78 and do not affect its life and its states directly; nor do they have any part in the expression of our thought and will in speech and act; for this influx of the mind into the body follows orderly laws outside of the control of either men or spirits.79

Spirits do however “inflow” into what is thought and consciously desired by man. Their hidden operations are what make possible man’s conscious life and affection, and manifest themselves in us as impulses, imaginations and reasonings. The angels, on the other hand, act upon man’s interiors, and produce no perceptible effects in man’s mental life. For their influx is “tacit.” It does not stir up material ideas or object-memories ;80 but is directed to man’s ends or inner motives, which are not consciously articulated in man’s mind, but which are none the less efficient and secretly powerful.81 The angels also rule and regulate the evil spirits who are near a man, generally without the knowledge or perception of these spirits.82

Guardian Angels

The revelations of the Second Advent lay bare the magnificent order of the spiritual empire of the Lord, in which the Lord correlates the finite wills of all men, spirits, and angels, and holds them in mutual freedom, under the rule of a law which is able to guarantee a sense of “as-of-one’s-self” life to every living being on every plane, yet is able to weave their uses together for the creation of a glorious form wherein the happiness of each one is reflected to all and that of all to each.

To every man the Lord has assigned two guardian angels, one celestial and one spiritual.82 This is not an arbitrary number. It results from the fact that man’s will and understanding, at every stage of life, each have a ruling state and quality which responds to that particular influx which is most kindred to it. And each angel in heaven also instinctively seeks that ultimate expression for his life which most closely corresponds to his love. For life descends to ultimates. Yet the angel does not desire to descend to the level of merely external human life, or to face again the imperfections of earthly conditions, such as are reflected in man’s outward thinking. He dwells with man in the community of those spiritual riches of the internal man with which man’s supraconscious thought is stored; which include not only childhood “remains” of innocence, but all the later states of faith and worship which abide where moth and rust do not corrupt.

In this life, man is not conscious of his spiritual treasures, or of the brilliant wealth and glory that is concealed within his vague spiritual perceptions. They come to him only as the stirring of something of charity, or as occasional enlightenment and delight in truth.83 The spiritual thought of man flows into his natural thought, which in turn clings to his memory. With Swedenborg, the case was indeed different. With him, by a Divine provision, a certain separation took place between the thought of his spirit and the thought of his body. And he could therefore perceive the presence of the angels and spirits who were with him; which is not possible to ordinary men.84

It is not possible for guardian angels to see the man with whom they are, although they know when they are with a man. To lead and moderate his affections, and to modify and bend them in various directions as far as man’s free will permits, is indeed one of the specific functions of angelic service.85 The angels observe if any new hells are opened; and if man brings himself into any new evil, they close those hells as far as man suffers it. They dissipate foreign or strange influxes which may tend to harm man, calling forth goods and truths from man’s mind to combat the evil put forth by the wicked spirits; and they are vigilant every moment in regard to man’s safety.86 They attentively and continually notice what the evil spirits and genii with man are intending and attempting, and they feel great joy when they perceive that their service has made it possible to remove some evils and to lead man nearer heaven.87

These angels, or angelic spirits, were seen by Swedenborg “near the head” of man. Yet it does not appear that they visualize the man. Unless they reflect, they think no otherwise than that they are the man—but the interior man, the man as to his interior thought which man does not yet consciously realize. If they reflect, they are able to discern that they are angelic spirits,88 and have been with a man; even as we know that some impulse we feel came from spirits. But the angelic spirits consciously perform the use of extending the Lord’s protection to man. And the union at the time is intimate: they dwell in the man’s affections,89 live themselves into his inmost unconscious life, and feel the utmost sympathy with all the good thoughts which thence issue into man’s mind.

They consider man as a brother and even defend his faults against too intensive self-criticism; or, on the other hand, they may keep him within sight of his evils.90

Yet angelic spirits are not aware of what man is doing or thinking in the externals of his thought. For their sphere is that of the interior memory.91 And especially is this the case, Swedenborg notes, at this day when angels cannot have any direct conjunction with man.92 The angels therefore have an ardent longing that the kingdom of God Messiah might come so that a closer conjunction might be brought about between them and mankind.93

In most ancient times, as still on certain other earths, spirits were at times able to communicate openly with men and converse with them. The spirit is then reduced to the state in which he was when on earth; his external memory is aroused so that he assumes again the whole complex of his former natural thought; and then the interior sight of the man is opened, and they appear to each other as if both were men together.94 In such a way angels appeared to the prophets. But at this day such vision is rarely given, lest men be compelled to belief. On the other hand, even today, those men who think abstractedly from the body, while in meditation, interior reflection, or sustained abstruse ideas, are sometimes seen as to their spirits in their own society in the spiritual world.95 There such are easily distinguished from other spirits; “for they go about meditating and in silence, not looking at others and apparently not seeing them; and as soon as any spirit addresses them, they vanish.”96

Swedenborg’s Testimony

Because Swedenborg thought profoundly, he would, like other men, normally have appeared at times in societies of angelic spirits. But the peculiar state of Swedenborg was such that he could maintain himself in independent abstract thought and thus consciously converse with spirits and enjoy spiritual sensation even while in bodily wakefulness.

When his spiritual thought was not abstracted from the thought of material objects he was invisible to the angelic spirits. For material objects cannot be reproduced as such in the spiritual world; and the ideas of such objects in time and space cannot be expressed by the universal spiritual language. But when he became “in the spirit”—that is, when material ideas were separated from his spiritual thought (and only those material ideas which were in entire correspondence with the spiritual ideas were at all active)—then he became visible to the spirits, could perceive their wisdom, and consociate with them as one of themselves. It was thus that Swedenborg could explore the heavens and live the life of angels and spirits. It was thus that the treasures of the spiritual sense of the Word, and every Divine arcanum, could be conveyed to his mind and be grasped in enlightenment and later, under Divine inspiration, could be written in rational natural language, “clear as crystal” (DV 6).

But Swedenborg’s mission also gave him an opportunity to instruct angels about their relation to men. We do not imagine that when he visited some heaven he reduced all the angels there into the state of that class of angelic spirits who “are with men” and are called “guardian angels.” Still, Swedenborg was sometimes allowed to direct his spiritual thought into natural thought, and thus—by way of experiment —show approximately the change which occurs when angelic spirits are with men.

Thus it is told how certain angelic spirits, when they retired from Swedenborg into their own spiritual society, came into a spiritual state and into supereminent ideas of spiritual thought and into the understanding of spiritual speech and writing which conveyed this thought most accurately and fully.97 But when they returned to Swedenborg, they found themselves to have come into his natural state and were entirely unable to express their spiritual ideas or to understand the speech or writing of heaven : but they could now think only in terms of Swedenborg’s thoughts or, rather, converse with each other by his ideas and speak to him only by the natural languages that he knew. In other words, from their ordinary state as angelic spirits they had been reduced to attendant spirits, by their directing their attention to his thoughts which were conjoined to his natural memory. Yet they were still able to converse openly and consciously with Swedenborg as a person, for he was in a state widely different from that of other men, and was obviously a different individual from them. Some of these spirits actually accompanied him to his home, and as he began to write they could see through his mind a moth which was walking on his paper.97 This is not possible to our attendant spirits.

The State of an Attendant Spirit

From these incidents it is very clear that our guardian angels are—for the sake of their use—reduced into a state resembling man’s. Angels principally inflow into the interior thought which a man is unable to perceive within himself because it is in the realm of ends and is not articulated to his conscious reflection. This interior thought they assume as their own, implying an accommodated state not comparable to angelic wisdom itself. Since it is true of all angels that

their common basis must be the human race on earth ;98 and since man is the plane upon which the thoughts of the angels rest; it might perhaps seem strange that angels attendant upon man are reduced into man’s own general state. For if this is so, whence comes the progress of the heavens?

The answer must be that the angels have access to mankind as a general basis even when not serving a use as man’s guardians. And it is indeed said that the particular spiritual beings who “are with men” are not from heaven or from hell, but are spirits who as yet await their judgment or final preparation.” But such statements do not contradict the principle elsewhere laid down, that spirits who are with men can indeed be from hell or from heaven. If from hell, they must be such as are not confined there but who—not having been as yet fully vastated—have emerged into the world of spirits for a more complete vastation and are thus in the state of the world of spirits, or in something of a natural-rational state. In the case of angelic guardians, they—whether spirits or angels—must also be reduced into the state of man’s natural thought and life. And the general rule may thus be seen that the guardian spirits with man are all emissaries or representatives of some spiritual society either in heaven or in hell. In other words, they are “subject-spirits.”100

If all angels were reduced into a state attuned to that of man, it would defeat the purpose of influx and guardianship. Instead the Lord provides that each angelic society should act upon man through intermediates. These may be spirits in the world of spirits into one of whom the angels of the society concentrate their thought, and whom they inspire with their own illustration and power so that he may act for them and from them. Or else, one of the members of that society serves as an emissary and subject. In either case the subject acts and speaks and thinks from the society; he thinks nothing from himself, although he feels entirely as if he did so from his own choice and his own thought. The greater the numbers in a society who thus “turn themselves” to some spirit and direct their “intuition” into him, the greater power and clarity does this spirit possess.101

Through these particular spirits the currents of life and illustration are directed to the varied states of man, so as to stir particular states in his mind, without rousing the whole dormant will of the proprium. For his will, from heredity and birth, is entirely evil in tendency. His will is a malformation which can receive only the life of hell. If there should be a sudden excitation of the whole of this life, all would be over with man. He would be submerged in a flood of passion and fantasy; and heavenly influx would be impossible.

The Lord has ordained otherwise. He has provided that man’s native life shall not suddenly exhibit all its hideous potentialities, but that it shall be revealed only little by little while earth-life progresses—aroused only so far as it can be comprehended by conscious thought. In other words, the Lord has provided that there shall be no general influx into the conscious part of the mind, but that man’s responsible life shall be carried on in the understanding by states of thought and will that develop gradually; and that all the forces of the spiritual world shall have their representatives near man and shall balance each other’s influence, and so leave man in freedom.

The Number of Our Attendant Spirits

In general, each man has four attendant spirits. Two angelic spirits are present. The other two are the subjects—respectively—of the hell of “genii” and the hell of “satanic spirits.” These four are generally invisible to each other, with the exception that the good spirits see the evil spirits whose wicked intent they seek to frustrate.102 And none of them see the man with whom they are, but only his affections.103

The intimacy of these spirits with man’s whole mind may be seen from the revealed fact that the spirits near to man think that they are the man and, if evil, are unwilling to admit that they are no longer living in the body, although this could easily be shown them if they were willing to reflect.104 The appearances upon which their self-deception rests are indeed strong. For such spirits, while they are near man, possess or assume his whole memory! Angelic spirits would assume his whole interior memory; other spirits his exterior memory105 with all his past, with his whole personality, his active self; yet all this without disturbing man’s feeling of self-life and freedom in the least. Nothing of a spirit’s own natural memory is permitted to be active. Spirits forget themselves and their own natural past, lest confusion should result in man’s mind by their communicating their memories to him. Several spirits, forgetting their own identities, may at the same time suppose themselves to be the man, and yet man be happily oblivious of their illusions !106 Each spirit would then take, from the mazes of man’s memory, all that harmonizes with his own affection, and man may thus find himself torn by opposing delights. But all the attending spirits, because they thus identify man’s mind with their own, act as his friends.107

Spirits generally do not remain long with a man but are always changing according to man’s advance in age or state. A striking exception to this rule is suggested in the teaching that death does not separate conjugial partners, “since the spirit of the deceased dwells continually with the spirit of the one not yet deceased, and this even until the death of the other, when they meet again and reunite, and love each other more tenderly than before, because in the spiritual world.”108 But that the partner is always in the state typical of an attendant spirit is not said, and in no wise follows.

From a certain relation we judge that these four special attendants, or at least one among them, may be the same for a long time. In the presence of Swedenborg, and through his memory, spirits could sometimes become aware with what men they were closely consociated. Such consociate spirits resemble their earthly alter ego, sometimes even as to dress. One such spirit declared that he could understand clearly all that the man he attended said, but that the man could not understand the things he, the spirit, said. Another admitted that he thought and spoke from a certain man on earth as the man did from him.109 But this realization was exceptional, due to Swedenborg’s presence.

Without an associate spirit with an affection similar to his own, and thence perceptions of a like kind, a man could not think analytically, rationally or spiritually.110 The attendant spirits may take on the man’s whole memory or only a part, and remain with the man as long as they represent a general state. As the man advances from childhood, both his angelic guardians and his infernal attendants are changed. In infancy, angels of the celestial type, including infant spirits, are with him and insinuate innocence. In childhood, spirits of the natural heaven are close, instilling an affection of knowing. In youth, spirits of intelligence, subjects of the second heaven, are his guardians. And in old age there attend, if man permits, spirits of wisdom and mature innocence, who communicate with the third heaven.111

Yet more remotely there are hosts of other spirits, good and evil, who make temporary use of the shifting ideas of man’s memory and arouse in him passing delights and tentative affections, without so fully identifying themselves with the man. In this variety man finds a freedom of choice, and his thoughts are through them extended to new societies in heaven or in hell.112 Every moment there passes a swift flow of such spiritual associates—like specific radio-currents to which our mind is tuned in—to inspire, maintain and enrich the colorful procession of our thoughts, evoking old memories, suggesting new connections of one idea with another, inducing new moods of courage or dismay, and kindling flashes of new perceptions.

People whose thoughts are fixed upon sensual objects have few spirits with them,113 while with men whose ideas are more interiorly active and are constantly “multiplied and divided,” there are obviously very many more associations made with spirits, good or evil.114 With those who think abstractly there are therefore many spirits in constant flux.115 But it is intimated that those who are led more according to spontaneous order—as for instance children in their innocence—need fewer spirits to govern them than do most adults. Adults, who act from prudence and are apt to resist the truths of faith more stubbornly, require a greater force of spirits to reform them.116The orderly thing is for these spirits to be adjoined when man’s affections are stirred. But there are also “strange influxes” from spirits who are not invited by man’s real consent, but who induce moods of sadness, melancholy or homesickness.117

Such nostalgia seemingly results from spirits who fail to leave man when his state changes, but become attached to the idea of certain places and objects and induce the man to return to them at least in thought. Our guardian angels then have the task of driving such spirits away, by concentrating his interest on some use and bending his affections towards spiritual things.

Spirits Rest on Symbols

Spirits find their resting-place with man in the “ultimates” of his mind—that is, in external signs and symbols which are indications of his inner purposes and loves. To avoid confusion and to prevent strange and unwanted influxes, man has to order his life by self-imposed habits and established externals of worship and morality. The object of all the sacraments, rites, blessings, and institutions of the church is to help to introduce our spirit into heavenly societies. Baptism is a most striking example. For is not its avowed purpose to transfer a man into the society of his faith—into the company of souls who rejoice in the heavenly doctrine and who can protect him against “wandering spirits?” Is not the Holy Supper a means for introducing our spirit into heaven, and a sealing (in the sight of all spirits) of our desire to become the children of God. Is not every good habit of worship and piety, of order and cleanliness, of industry and courtesy, an ultimate protection against strange spirits who would insinuate fantasies, doubts, and conflicts and thus harm our devotion to the uses which we have freely assumed ? Inauguration into the priesthood ensures—so far as the candidate permits—the guardianship of societies which love the priestly use and the salvation of souls, and which encourage interior progress in this use. Betrothal, marriage, and priestly blessings of all kinds have within them the same intent—to assure an interior progress by conjunction with our heavenly guardians.

In each case, these ceremonies are marked by specific acts or procedures which set the person apart, not only in the eyes of men but also to the minds of spirits. Spirits do not see the man baptized, but the memory of the act inheres as a permanent and ineradicable basis of association with spirits of his faith, and as a fulcrum for the presence of angelic societies. The impress of the rite in the external memory is made a symbol for the celestial and spiritual “remains” and for the deep stirrings of charity and faith which at the same time are insinuated in the interior memory—a memory which is forever exempt from any infestation by evil spirits. The knowledge of baptism becomes the center for a gathering group of ideas open to spiritual influx. The Writings aid us to become aware of the spiritual significance and effect of our external acts, customs and decisions. The real issues of our life have to do with the question as to what unseen spiritual associates we invite to linger and lodge in our mind, our imagination, our thought, and our heart. And spirits are associated with our minds by many seemingly inconsequential and trifling circumstances, which yet have deep symbolic significance. Even as a world of emotion can be stirred up in us by the sight of a rose or a child’s toy, so spirits see—in the objective things of our memory—great depths of associated meanings which have immense importance for them and hence for us. This is the basic reason for correspondential rituals.

The mind is ritualistic. We are compelled to resort to ritual to compensate for the fact that we do not fully comprehend the simplest elements of our own thought. We recall an object, and may have to be content to recollect that it once suggested a world of particular meanings—meanings which we ourselves now have forgotten and cannot fathom or explain ! But the spirits with us—they understand ! They cause a host of “such things as were adjoined” to be lifted up around our material idea of the object, as an undulating sphere of associated ideas. By such “spiritual wings” the inner meaning of the object is elevated from the grave of the memory into what we call “consciousness.” “Thereby man has apperception of a thing.”118

In other words, without spirits we could not be humanly conscious—could not interpret our memories into meanings. Our words and memory images would be without sense or import unless there were spirits who can, by their peculiar power and prerogative, see and gather all the implications and arouse all the thoughts and delights that are interiorly attached to these dead symbols. Their prerogative is to see spiritual relations—to see the whole thought with its complex roots and branches. Even with the help of his attendant spirits, man can see only the vaguest generals.118

It is thus clear that a man can think and will only together with the spirits who are with him.119 The teaching that “spirits and men are in each other’s thoughts and affections”120 is countered by another which shows that “everything of thought and affection flows in through spirits and angels,”121 by a third, which states that men and spirits “are not conjoined as to thoughts, but as to affections,”122 and by a fourth, which tells that spirits do not introduce thoughts into man, but only affections.123

It is indeed the affection of the spirit which flows in. But so far as this affection is in accord with man’s interior affection which is built up from his free choice, it can also flow into his understanding and manifest itself there as perception and thought. Man is active as to memory-ideas; the spirit is active as to the affection which carries its own wisdom or meaning within it; and so the two act as one, man and spirit in one mental act which each senses as his own.

Man as a Plane for Spirits and Angels

The evidence presented in the Writings concerning the relationships of spirits and men is very complex and extensive, and as it is largely descriptive in character, it leaves room for uncertainties and for various interpretations. Thus it is the general doctrine that “angels and spirits cannot be separated from men” ;124 yet their life is in effect quite independent as far as all appearances go. We are convinced that angels are not always in the need of assuming some man’s interior memory as their own, any more than all spirits need to identify themselves definitely with man’s personality and natural memory.

Angels who are not assigned to particular men are at greater liberty to use the memories of many men at the same time for their basis. “Many men can at the same time serve as a plane for one angel,” we read. “The Lord so arranges that what is absent in one may be [found] in another ; He also composes one thing from many, so that it may still serve simultaneously for a plane.”125 And if mankind were deficient, it would be possible for the natural memories of spirits to be sufficiently activated so as to become a fulcrum and plane for angelic ideas.126 In fact, things from the memory of an intelligent man may serve for such a plane whether he be thinking about them or about other things, or even while he is asleep. Whatever in the memory of mankind and of spirits might correspond to an angel’s active affection can be called into use as a reflective basis for his heavenly perceptions—as if the whole human race lay before him as an open book, in order that no impediments may prevent his progress into ever greater wisdom.125

But a special widening of the vision of the angels occurs when men on earth read the Word reverently. For the natural thoughts of the man are then not so limited or so colored by his own states as ordinarily. He is in Divine ultimates. And the angels with him then “pay no attention whatever to . . . those things which are in the thought of the man at the time he reads it,” nor to those things which are in the sense of the letter; but only to the interiors of the Word, from the man.127

Angels in this state “take delight in the man because of the wisdom which then flows through the Word to them.” But this approbation of the man is an afterthought.128 They are not aware of the man. They are perhaps reading the Word as it exists in its spiritual form in heaven, and the things within the Word appear to them “as if they thought them from themselves”—appear presented before their eyes “in a celestial and spiritual manner, with innumerable representatives, in the light of life.”129

The question might be raised as to what would happen if the race on some earth in the universe should perish—which is a possibility as a result of man’s freedom to separate himself from the Divine and to rush into unchecked wickedness and race suicide, despite the Lord’s intervention.130 The answer is given that the heavens from the inhabitants of that earth would then be “transferred” to rest on the minds of men on some other planet.131 It was to prevent such a contingency that the Lord came in the flesh and that the written Word was provided as a perpetual ultimate.132

Angelic Perception of Our Word

There are two groups of teachings about the way in which human states affect the angels and qualify their wisdom. On the one hand it is said that the angels are in greater clearness as to the spiritual sense “when little children are reading the Holy Bible” or when the reader “pays no attention to the things he reads and has no perception of them.” Then “the sense and perception of those things are elevated to the angels more distinctly than when the natural human mind is also active.”133 And the general doctrine is given, that when the Word is read by men who are in the life of faith, the spiritual things of the continuous internal sense “lie open to the angels . . . even if they who read do not attend to its meaning.” And the Jews, when in states of external holiness, could also be a means by which the Word was presented before the angels; for the correspondences communicate, whatever the quality of the person who reads, if only he acknowledges the Word to be Divine.134 “All the wisdom of the angels is given by means of the Word, since in its internal and inmost sense it is the Divine wisdom, which is communicated to the angels through the Word when this is read by men and when it is thought from. . . . “135

It would seem that man’s wisdom and understanding do not necessarily have any part in limiting the angelic perceptions. What is more essential to angelic illustration seems to be the quiescence and silencing of our natural imagination and the states of our proprium. Then the angels can use us for a reflecting plane, and can see the interiors of the Word of God in its own glory and light.

But it is otherwise when the angels become our guardians. They then accommodate themselves to the particular spiritual things, be they few or many, which we have appropriated unconsciously within our interiors. They are then performing a use; and a use implies certain temporary sacrifices, which eventually are rewarded by still ampler delights. Our most loftly intellectual states are usually not reached in the midst of our uses. A teacher, for instance, must at times enter into the deeper perceptions of his subject by further studies in his field, and he then feels a delight of wisdom. Afterwards he accommodates himself to others and speaks, so far as possible, in their terms, in order that he may convey his message to them. He is not then in the delight of wisdom, but in the delight of his use; and his illustration is very much affected by the response to his efforts, and the reception which he meets will finally make for a conjunction of thought between teacher and pupils.

Thus it is quite comprehensible that there should be a difference of illustration with the angels when they “are with men”—a difference due to the different qualities of the personal states of the men. “As are the ultimates, so are the primaries.”136 Concerning this we read:

“If the men who are reading the Word or thinking or preaching from the Word, are wise, then the angels do not know it, but still the wisdom of their thought falls into them (illa) as into its plane, . . . and they are entirely unaware that it so happens.

“Angels have told me that they are sometimes in great wisdom, sometimes in less, sometimes in clarity, sometimes in obscurity; and that their thoughts are variously directed to the quarters, now this, now that; and that they are in greater clearness or obscurity according to the direction—but that they are [then] not turned to themselves,

but to man; and that thence they know that [they are turned] to the human race where such things are to which they are determined. They said that they have this from much experience; and that when [they are turned] to those things which are in my thought from the Heavenly Doctrine, they are then in greater clearness than otherwise.”137

We may therefore understand how the changes of state with the angels are based upon their uses to each other and to men; how the wisdom of heaven is derived from the Word when this is read by men; how the wisdom and delight of the angels inflow into regenerating men and make it possible for them also to perceive the depths of the Word so far as their natural cognitions allow; and how there is thus a conjunction of thought and life between angels and men—with a lifting of man’s mind and a gracious accommodation on the part of the angels.

For this is a part of the angelic use. And thus although, when man enters with attention and understanding into the interior meaning of the Word, the perception of the angelic spirits is in a measure limited by the alien elements that man may introduce, yet it is better “if man also is at the same time in light” and thus be conjoined with the angels. The higher angels—who love others more than themselves—gladly perform this use. But angelic spirits of a lower order may, at times, instinctively snatch away man’s illustration and delight, by failing to enter fully into their use as guardian angels.138

If man’s mind is furnished with light from the Heavenly Doctrine—and if he loves the Lord and holds evils in aversion —he will not demand so great accommodation or sacrifice of illustration on the part of his angelic guardians. The angels can then retain great wisdom, and will—in all but appearance —consociate their conscious thought with the as yet ineffable depths of the man’s thought, in a common enlightenment.139 This is the manner in which heaven and earth may again be conjoined through the Word.

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There is infernal freedom, and there is heavenly freedom. Thinking and willing evil and also speaking and doing it so far as civil and moral laws do not prevent, is from infernal freedom. But thinking and willing good and speaking and doing it so far as opportunity offers, is from heavenly freedom. A man perceives as his own what he thinks, wills, speaks and does in freedom. The freedom anyone has always comes from his love. The man in an evil love cannot but deem infernal freedom to be real freedom, and a man in love of the good perceives that heavenly freedom is real freedom; consequently each regards the opposite of his freedom as bondage. No one can deny that one or the other must be freedom, for two kinds of freedom opposed to each other cannot both be freedom. Furthermore it cannot be denied that to be led by good is freedom and to be led by evil is bondage. For to be led by good is to be led by the Lord, but to be led by evil is to be led by the devil.

[2] Inasmuch as all he does in freedom appears to a man to be his own, coming as it does from what he loves, and to act from one’s love, as was said, is to act freely, it follows that conjunction with the Lord causes a man to seem free and also his own, and the more closely he is conjoined to the Lord, to seem so much freer and so much more his own. He seems the more distinctly his own because it is the nature of the divine love to want its own to be another’s, that is, to be the angel’s or the man’s. All spiritual love is such, preeminently the Lord’s. The Lord, moreover, never coerces anyone. For nothing to which one is coerced seems one’s own, and what seems not one’s own cannot be done from one’s love or be appropriated to one as one’s own. Man is always led in freedom by the Lord, therefore, and reformed and regenerated in freedom. On this much more will be said in what follows; also see some things above, n. 4. [DP43]

The reason why the more distinctly a man seems to be his own the more plainly he sees that he is the Lord’s, is that the more closely he is conjoined to the Lord the wiser he becomes (as was shown, nn. 34-36), and wisdom teaches and recognizes this. The angels of the third heaven, as the wisest angels, perceive this and call it freedom itself; but to be led by themselves they call bondage. They give as the reason for this that the Lord does not flow immediately into the perceptions and thoughts of wisdom, but into the affections of the love of good and by these into the former, and this influx they perceive in the affection by which they have wisdom. Hence, they say, all that they think from wisdom seems to be from themselves, thus seemingly their own, and this gives reciprocal conjunction. [ DP44]

As the Lord’s divine providence has for its object a heaven from mankind, it has for its object the conjunction of the human race with Him (see nn. 28-31). It also has for its object that man should be more and more closely conjoined to Him (nn. 32, 33); for thus man possesses a more interior heaven. Further, it has for its object that by the conjunction man should become wiser (nn. 34-36) and happier (nn. 37-41), for he has heaven by and according to wisdom, and happiness by wisdom, too. Finally, providence has for its object that man shall seem more distinctly his own, yet recognize the more clearly that he is the Lord’s (nn. 42-44). All these are of the Lord’s divine providence, for all are heaven and heaven is its object. [ DP45]

How far distant heavenly freedom (which is from the affection of good and truth) is from infernal freedom (which is from the affection of evil and falsity), is evident from the fact that when the angels in heaven merely think about such freedom as is from the affection of evil and falsity, or what is the same, from the cupidities of the love of self and the world, they are immediately seized with internal pain; and on the other hand, when evil spirits merely think about the freedom which is from the affection of good and truth, or what is the same, from the desires of mutual love, they at once come into anguish; and what is wonderful, so opposite is the one freedom to the other, that the freedom of the love of self and the world is hell to good spirits; and on the other hand, the freedom of love to the Lord and mutual love is hell to evil spirits. Hence all in the other life are distinct according to their kinds of freedom, or what is the same, according to their loves and affections, consequently according to the delights of their life, which is the same as according to their lives; for lives are nothing else than delights, and these are nothing else than affections which are of the loves. [AC 2873]


0179a Because Jehovah hath hearkened to thine affliction. That this signifies while it was submitting itself, is evident from what was said above (n. 1937), in that to “humble and afflict oneself” denotes to submit to the sovereign control of the internal man, which submission was there treated of, and it is shown that this is to compel oneself; also that in compelling oneself there is freedom, that is, what is spontaneous and voluntary, by which compelling oneself is distinguished from being compelled. It was also shown that without this freedom, that is, spontaneity or willingness, man cannot possibly be reformed and receive any heavenly Own; and further that there is more of freedom in temptations than out of them, although the contrary appears to be the case, for the freedom is then stronger in proportion to the assaults of evils and falsities, and is strengthened by the Lord in order that a heavenly Own may be conferred upon the man; and for this reason the Lord is more present with us while we are in temptations. It was shown further that the Lord never compels anyone; for he who is compelled to think what is true and do what is good is not reformed, but thinks falsity and wills evil all the more. All compulsion has this effect, as we may see from the records and examples of life, for from them we know these two things: that consciences do not suffer themselves to be compelled, and that we strive after what is forbidden. Moreover everyone desires to pass from non-freedom into freedom, for this belongs to man’s life.

[2] Hence it is evident that anything which is not from freedom, that is, which is not from what is spontaneous or voluntary, is not acceptable to the Lord; for when anyone worships the Lord from what is not free, he worships from nothing that is his own, and in this case it is the external which moves, that is, which is moved, from being compelled, while the internal is null, or resistant, or is even contradictory to it. While man is being regenerated, he, from the freedom with which he is gifted by the Lord, exercises self-compulsion, and humbles and even afflicts his rational, in order that it may submit itself, and thereby he receives a heavenly Own, which is afterwards gradually perfected by the Lord, and is made more and more free, so that it becomes the affection of good and thence of truth, and has delight, and in both the freedom and the delight there is happiness like that of angels. This freedom is what the Lord speaks of in John:

The truth shall make* you free; if the Son makes you free, you shall be* free indeed (John 8:32, 36).

[3] The nature of this freedom is utterly unknown to those who do not possess conscience, for they make freedom consist in doing as they please and in the license of thinking and speaking what is false, of willing and doing what is evil, and of not compelling and humbling, still less of afflicting such desires; when yet the very reverse is the case, as the Lord also teaches in the same gospel:

Everyone that committeth sin is the servant of sin (John 8:34).

This slavish freedom they receive from the infernal spirits who are with them and who infuse it, and when they are in the life of these spirits they are also in their loves and cupidities, and an impure and excrementitious delight breathes upon them, and when they are being as it were carried away by the torrent, they suppose themselves to be in freedom, but it is infernal freedom. The difference between this infernal freedom and heavenly freedom is that the one is that of death, and drags them down to hell, while the other, or heavenly freedom, is of life and uplifts them to heaven.

[4] That all true internal worship comes from freedom, and none from compulsion, and that if worship is not from freedom it is not internal worship, is evident from the Word, as from the sacrifices that were freewill offerings or vows, or offerings of peace or of thanksgiving; which were called “gifts” and “offerings” (concerning which see Num. 15:3, etc.; Deut. 12:6; 16:10-11; 23:23-24). So in David:

With a free-will offering will I sacrifice unto Thee; I will confess to Thy name, O Jehovah, for it is good (Ps. 54:6).

So again from the contribution or collection which they were to make for the Tabernacle, and for the garments of holiness, spoken of in Moses:
Speak unto the sons of Israel, and let them take for Me an offering; from every man whom his heart impels willingly ye shall take My offering (Exod. 25:2).

And again:

Whosoever is of a willing heart let him bring it, Jehovah’s offering (Exod. 35:5).

[5] Moreover the humiliation of the rational man, or its affliction (from freedom, as before said), was also represented by the affliction of souls on days of solemnity, as mentioned in Moses:

It shall be a statute of eternity unto you; in the seventh month, on the tenth of the month, ye shall afflict your souls (Lev. 16:29).

And again:

On the tenth of the seventh month, this is the day of expiations; there shall be a holy convocation unto you, and ye shall afflict your souls; every soul that shall not have afflicted itself in that same day, shall be cut off from his peoples (Lev. 23:27, 29).

It was for this reason that the unleavened bread, in which there was nothing fermented, is called the “bread of affliction” (Deut. 16:2-3).

[6] “Affliction” is thus spoken of in David:

Jehovah, who shall sojourn in Thy tent? who shall dwell in the mountain of Thy holiness? He that walketh uprightly, and worketh righteousness; he that sweareth to afflict himself, and changeth not (Ps. 15:1-2, 4).

That “affliction” denotes the mastering and subjugation of the evils and falsities that rise up from the external man into the rational, may be seen from what has been said. Thus “affliction” does not mean that we should plunge ourselves into poverty and wretchedness, or that we should renounce all bodily delights, for in this way evil is not mastered and subjugated; and moreover some other evil may be aroused, namely, a sense of merit on account of the renunciation; and besides, man’s freedom suffers, in which alone, as in ground, the good and truth of faith can be inseminated. (Concerning “affliction” as denoting also temptation, see above, n. 1846.) [AC 1947]

The reason why the evil succeed in accordance with their skill, is that it is according to order that everyone should do what he does from reason and also from freedom; and therefore unless it were left to a man to act in freedom according to his reason, and thus also unless the consequent arts succeeded, the man could not possibly be disposed to receive eternal life, because this is instilled when the man is in freedom, and his reason is enlightened. For no one can be compelled to good, because nothing compulsory cleaves to the man, for it is not his. That becomes the man’s own which is done from freedom, for that which is from the will is done from freedom, and the will is the man himself; and therefore unless a man is kept in the freedom to do evil also, good from the Lord cannot be provided for him. [AC 10777]

Author: EMANUEL. SWEDENBORG (1688-1772)



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3 The Danger of Open Communication with Spirits

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3 The Danger of Open Communication with Spirits

“Regard not them that have familiar spirits, neither seek after wizards to be defiled by them. I am Jehovah your God.” Leviticus 19: 31

Sensual Thought about the Afterlife

Despite the official teachings of the churches, few men in Christendom believe that they will live after death.23 Few believe that there are spirits with them, or “even that there are any spirits.” The chief reason assigned for this prevalent condition is that at this day there is no faith, because genuine charity is lacking.24 So testify the Writings.

Belief is more than a mere lame assent. There are few who would not give a superficial assent to the possibility, nay the probability of human survival after death. But only those believe who live in the full conviction and consciousness that this earthly existence is but a preparation for eternal life.

Among the winds of doctrine that blow across the world, one of the chilliest is this fallacy that nothing is real beyond the world of matter and that the grave marks the end of all our hopes. It looks back to childhood with nostalgia as the halcyon time of one’s life, when one could still live in blessed fancies. It robs manhood and even parenthood of any genuine delight, leaving only the struggle for bread and social position. It saves up for old age only the dried crusts of memory and a final disillusionment.

Perhaps it might be doubted that so few, in their actual life, are motivated by a belief in another world. And fortunately “few” is an elastic word! Yet compared to the time of Swedenborg, to whom this scarcity of faith was revealed, this our day presents on the surface an even bleaker picture of spiritual desolation. Religious hopes are pushed to the side in modern life, where the mind is instead preoccupied with so many concerns for the improvement of the mechanism of natural existence that there is room for little else. Natural life has become an end in itself. The art of living gracefully and in comfort here on earth is dignified as the height of achievement, ranking above the wisdom of spiritual charity. And though many find that the art of “getting along” requires them to conform to customs and to belong to a church, to profess a creed and to give to some philanthropic cause, yet what meditative thought do they ever give to the question of eternal life, unless they are confronted by the shock of death to kin or companion?

How empty life must seem for those who think of death as the termination of everything, and those whose only sure hope of immortality lies in the size of their gravestones or the survival of their names. The thoughts of those who attend the funeral of a friend are usually directed to natural life, in tribute to his virtue or accomplishment; yet his death stands out as an object lesson that all is vanity. For before the thought of an afterlife most men’s minds recoil with a deep discomfort, a pathetic realization of ignorance and doubt, which the formal confessions of their churches cannot dispel.

At such times those who are bereaved grope about for comfort, and their minds are somewhat more ready than usual to seize upon either truth or falsity if it will but relieve their sadness and apprehension. Their hearts may be hardened and embittered and they may sternly dismiss the possibility of the soul’s survival. But others may feel a desperate desire for some confirmation that the dead still live, or will live; may seek for something of a purpose in this endless waste of human lives, and for an ordered scheme and goal in the otherwise futile struggle of existence.

Even so, people are wont to think sensually about the life beyond the grave. Even when the teachings of the New Church are presented, the imagination often kindles only to the descriptions of the objective appearances of heaven which seem to fulfil some of our beautiful wish-thoughts, while the real fact is forgotten that all things in the eternal world are spiritual. Swedenborg’s revelations of the afterlife have indeed had a tremendous influence quite apart from the New Church, and have colored the thoughts of millions. But when first broached, our doctrine about heaven usually meets only with an interested tolerance and a politely suppressed wonder that we seem so sure about it all. For to the average person in Christendom nothing is very sure. There are few champions of definite views of the afterlife, although you often meet with the complacent philosophy that no one church has a monopoly in matters of truth, and that there may be some truth in all religions, however contradictory. And so the pulpits in most churches avoid preaching against falsities; perhaps on the principle that those who live in glass houses should not throw stones, but also because “church-goers” absorb far more of their spiritual food from prevailing spheres of thought —from opinions which are dished out promiscuously in magazines and books or offered in casual conversations—than from their own church.

A certain saving measure of common sense has to a large part modified the orthodox teachings of Protestants that the dead sleep in the grave until the Day of Doom and the general resurrection. Hamlet’s reverie recurs: “To die: to sleep— perchance to dream. For in that sleep of death what dreams might come. …” The idea has found favor that the spirit —waiting for the final judgment—is somewhere consciously alive. But his state during this interval between death and judgment is a matter of speculation. Whether he flits amid dark space as a luminous etherial body which possibly might haunt mortals below; or whether memory might through some fourth dimension reconstruct a dreamlife in which the consequences of error are punished according to poetic justice; or whether the soul, released, lives on as a flame of life awaiting a new incarnation! What does it matter, men ask, if we cannot know for sure?

The doctrine of the Roman Catholics is couched more definitely. It states that the soul is committed to heaven or to hell immediately after death, although even a penitent person must make up for his omissions by sufferings in the fires of purgatory; and later—at the last judgment—each soul will join its body in a material resurrection on a reconstructed earth.

Sensual thought about heaven places its reality in material things. It pictures a place—whether this earth, purified by fire, or some central star—in which the blessed should gather in refined and sexless material bodies; perhaps a place presided over by a race of “angels” created before earth ever was. It pictures heaven as a place of sensual rewards. The quality of men’s ideas of what they expect heaven to be is described in the work on Conjugial Love, where it is told how novitiate spirits were cured of their persuasions as to the various imaginary joys in which they believe eternal bliss to consist: paradisal delights, feasting, conversations, wealth and power, or perpetual glorifications and ecstatic songs of praise; or— as some thought—mere admission into the sphere of heaven.25

Ignorance about man’s state after death naturally breeds fantasies. Lack of any rational teaching encourages the imagination to roam at will. Heaven becomes merely the fulfilment of the cravings thwarted on earth, the satisfaction of natural affections, such as we see instanced in the mythologies among the heroes of Valhalla or, for the more philosophically minded Greeks, a submersion into the memories of earthlife, as was the fate imagined for the brooding shades of the Underworld. The idea of real spiritual uses and of delights of charity and wisdom is seldom given any stress or significance in connection with such imaginary heavens. Nor is the concept of God’s justice purified from questionable ethics—for most of the “orthodox” doctrines give little chance of salvation except to the elect few. But whatever ideas about heaven they have been offered, men in these distracting times of ours have found it increasingly difficult to believe in the afterlife at all merely upon the say-so of the churches. They have demanded proofs in personal experience by which to confirm the very existence of spirits, if not of angels. And like every church in the past, so the Christian Church began from olden times to give birth to various irresponsible sects which particularly catered to such a desire and purported to furnish sensual proofs of the presence of spirits.

Ancient and Modern Spiritism

Divine revelation has consistently warned against this attempt of man to pry open the gates of the unseen world. “Regard not them that have familiar spirits, neither seek after wizards . . . “—it was written in the Mosaic law. “There shall not be found among you any one . . . that useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch, or a charmer, or a consulter with familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer. . . . “26 Such were to be punished with death. But this prohibition soon proved to be ineffective. Israel could not resist the pressure of the combined superstitions of the East! Even Saul, after banishing all sorcerers, succumbed to the temptation and sought counsel of the ghost of Samuel. But Isaiah later warned against witchcraft when he proclaimed, “When they shall say unto you, Seek unto them that have familiar spirits, and unto wizards that peep and mutter: Should not a people seek unto their God ? For the living unto the dead ? To the Law and to the Testimony! If they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.”27

The Lord while on earth constantly refused the testimony of evil spirits as he drove them out of those who were “possessed.” And in one of His parables He cites Abraham as refusing to send Lazarus back into the world to warn the five brethren of the rich man; saying, “If they hear not Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rose from the dead.”28 But even at that time angels, unsolicited, appeared to men in vision. And in the early days of Christianity, the Christian Fathers were careful to warn their followers against trusting spirits. John wrote in his epistle, “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God. . . . Any spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh, is not of God. . . . “29 But the early Christian “gift of prophecy” inadvertently paved the way for incantations and sorcery, and in medieval times the belief in the afterlife was accompanied by a dread of ghosts and ghouls that haunted the cemeteries, and of fantastic vampires and of elemental spirits that could control the wild forces of nature unless curbed by magical formulas or exorcised by the prayers and solemn rites of the church. Within the pale of the church, priests and “saints” were subject to visions and revelations, while unauthorized mystics and seers claimed intercourse with the unseen world. The hysteria which marked the great witch-trials even on the American continent was but an indication of the insanities to which men laid themselves open by illicit attempts to communicate with spirits and thus invite obsession.

After the last judgment in 1757, there came something of a lull in the efforts to seek intercourse with spirits. It became frowned upon as superstitious, and although the same abuses continued, outstanding instances became rarer. And then, towards the middle of the nineteenth century, there sprang up a new movement towards its revival in a more respectable garb and in more “scientific” form: a movement which goes under the name of Modern Spiritualism. This was supposedly a research into occult phenomena by empirical methods.

Although claiming continuity with the work of seers, prophets and mystics of all previous ages and denying any kinship to sorcerers and magi, the partisans of this movement date its practical beginning with the “Rochester spirit-rappings” in 1848, when the Fox family heard knocks and noises which they ascribed to spirits who answered their questions according to a pre-arranged code. Children at that time, the Fox sisters later toured this country and England to display their peculiar spirit-telegraphy. And although one of them publicly disavowed her own part in these phenomena as so much fake, the movement had gathered too great momentum to be stopped. People were eager to believe the marvelous, and many soon discovered themselves also to be “sensitives” ; found that they could serve as “mediums” for spirits who then “controlled” them. Once established as mediums, they could draw profitable audiences of ardent believers; and from time to time for the next fifty years the free publicity given these mediums was tremendous. In 1884 unsubstantiated claims were made of many million “adherents” in America. It was claimed by spiritists that the world of the departed had long been seeking for this means of coming into contact with mortals, and that now spirits were crowding the air and descending to inaugurate a new era in which unbelief would be wiped out.

The particular accomplishments which spirits learned to perform included the power to give messages about dead friends, through the voice or pen of the medium; to write on covered slates; to lift bouquets of flowers from room to room, blow trumpets and beat tambourines without human aid; to suspend the laws of gravity, lifting people or chairs or tables into the air; and finally—but more rarely—to materialize themselves in a substance (“ectoplasm”) which perspired from the body of the medium so that they could become tangible and visible, and even be kissed and photographed and engaged in conversation.

The spirits (or the mediums) were unwilling to participate in most of these phenomena except amidst small groups of affirmative friends, and an extra-ordinary preference was shown for dark rooms and closed cabinets. Yet several prominent scientists, like Sir William Crookes, Sir Oliver Lodge, W. F. Barrett and Charles Richet, were converted to a belief in the genuiness of some of the phenomena. In many lands some society for psychical research now gathers and sifts the evidence presented by alleged mediums and others, and so far as is possible, some of their learned investigators have imposed almost fool-proof conditions upon their experiments. One fact, however, is universally admitted: that almost every “physical” medium has been proved at some time to have cheated by producing the desired phenomena by clever trickery. This is variously explained by spiritualists: first of all they admit that the spirits who use the medium are quite apt to encourage deception, since they retain human failings; secondly, they concede that a medium whose powers are exhausted and abused, will naturally be reluctant to admit it; and thirdly, the genuine adherents disown all responsibility for professional exhibitionists.

The societies and laboratories established for psychical research and “parapsychology” make it their task to investigate all proffered claims to extra-sensory perception, telepathy, precognition, clairvoyance, psycho-kinesis, etc., as well as alleged occurrences of “materializations” and poltergeists. Most of such studies are conducted quite apart from any religious inferences. Within the small group of learned men who confess themselves baffled by some of the experiments, many are inclined to explain their results as due to physical and mental powers within man, hitherto not understood. Certain psychologists have indeed suggested that some echo of man might survive death, not as an individual but as a part of an interpersonal psychic field perhaps capable of contact with the living.* But the hope of spiritualists to convince the world of the survival of the dead has not been fulfilled. To most people, the clever accomplishments of the mediums are a nine-days wonder soon dismissed. And the vapid messages of cheer from the other world which the seances produced have been so ambiguous and valueless that they spoke poorly for the intelligence of the departed. Confused pratings that suggest marvelous revelations to come—but which never come—hold the attention of the devotee. People soon recognized that an atmosphere of unbounded credulity was basic to the spiritistic movement. Its organized cults have dwindled in membership, although it has uncounted adherents and sympathizers among the laity and even the clergy of various denominations, and its beliefs and practices are shared by several strange sects that dabble in occultism.

As a religion, spiritualism is of course founded on a sifting out of certain common elements within the contradictory “revelations” of the mediums and the “automatic writers.” This means that they honor the Lord, but usually only as a great medium and a lofty spirit; they place the Bible among a number of other messages from above; they picture the spiritual world as a realm of unending progress, with redemption possible for evil spirits also—who, they say, are merely “undeveloped” ; and they reject the idea of any resurrection of the material body. One organization encourages belief in astrology, palmistry, prophecy, and the interpretation of dreams. Another believes in elemental spirits, and has chosen as its emblem the pond lily which shoots up from the mud “through putrid waters,” yet evolves beauty and purity. But all encourage the seeking of sensual proofs of the soul’s survival.

The opposition to Spiritualism comes mainly from the Roman Catholic Church, from many literalistic sects, from some of the clergy of more conservative churches, from most scientists and from skeptics everywhere. Each group has reasons of its own, either doctrinal or pragmatic, for resisting the movement. But as is usual in such opposition, each—in denouncing the spiritistic movement—also rejects the fundamental truths which that movement has misused and perverted. An instance of this is seen in the attitude of some physicians who from their studies of the psychopathic wards have contracted the habit of regarding all extraordinary human states as abnormal and due to mental disorder. Such men are not content to condemn the practice of spiritism because of its ill effects on the nervous system of its victims: they also regard all claims to spiritual intercourse as the result of a disordered mind and would classify even the visions of the prophets and disciples as sensory hallucinations due to paranoia, paraphrenia, or other forms of disease. Such an attitude, born from a preconceived denial of the existence of a spiritual world, precludes all further understanding of the distinctions between the orderly means by which, in the Lord’s providence and according to His protecting laws, the spiritual world could at times of need be opened to allow prophets and seers to serve as instruments of a Divine revelation, and the disorderly enterprises by which men seek to pry into the unseen world and by which spirits seek to dominate and obsess human minds when these are diseased or voluntarily submissive.

Swedenborg and Modern Spiritualism

In several works on the history of modern spiritualism, considerable space is given to Emanuel Swedenborg, who has been labeled as “the foremost mystic and seer of modern times” or as “the father of our new knowledge of supernal matters.” “When the first rays of the rising sun of spiritual knowledge fell upon the earth they illumined the greatest and highest human mind before they shed their light on lesser men. That mountain peak of mentality was this great reformer and clairvoyant medium, as little understood by his own followers as ever the Christ has been. … In order fully to understand Swedenborg one would need to have a Swedenborg brain, and that is not met with once in a century.” So writes Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, lately the leading champion and biographer of the movement. His words are nattering to Swedenborg; but not to the New Church, which—he says—”has allowed itself to become a backwater instead of keeping its rightful place as the original source of psychic knowledge.”30

It would seem that Conan Doyle, delving into clues for the solution of the final mystery, himself lacked the Swedenborg brain. For the theology of the New Church and the disclosure of the spiritual sense of the Word, which were the net result of Swedenborg’s revelations, are not of any comfort to the spiritistic movement. But in spite of this side of Swedenborg’s work, Doyle hails “the immense store of information which,” he says, “God sent to the world through Swedenborg. Again and again they have been repeated by the mouths and the pens of our own Spiritualistic illuminates.”30

To the eyes of New Church readers this admission unwittingly reveals more than was intended. For when spirits do speak to men, it is spirits who are of his own religion or who adopt his ideas; they can only “confirm whatever the man has made a part of his religion; thus enthusiastic spirits confirm in a man all that pertains to his enthusiasm; Quaker spirits all things of Quakerism; Moravian spirits all things of Moravianism, and so on.” This is said to show that it is untrue “that man might be more enlightened … if he had direct revelation through speech with spirits and angels.”31 Spirits who speak with a man speak only from his affections and according to his thoughts and knowledge. This provision is made to preserve man’s freedom even when he tries to squander it by offering himself as the dupe of evil spirits.

The only real information that has been given to men since known history began comes, of course, from the Word and now especially from the Writings of Swedenborg. And some of this knowledge, mixed with all manner of superstition, contorted by Christian traditions and modified by wishful thinking and hoax, has found a fruitful soil in the imagination of many a spiritist. At the seance, this welter of information is present in the mind either of the medium or the questioner. So far as there is any clarity in the supposed answer, it comes indirectly from the Writings. Nothing new—nothing which in the slightest adds to the comprehension of the life and order of the spiritual world—has ever been furnished by the “wizards that peep and mutter.” The futility of seeking open intercourse with spirits is abundantly clear from the paucity of the results.

Possibility of the Intercourse of Spirits and Men

There are many powers latent within man that are not well understood. Far above our conscious thought there is an interior memory in which all that we have experienced resides in perfect detail, although beyond our ability to recollect. In known cases, as for instance in hypnotic sleep, the astonishing contents of this memory may be divulged or become active as “subconscious intellection,” as “automatic writing,” or as somnambulency. That spirits can operate this memory of man is clear from our dreams and may lie behind the emergence of a “split personality.”

There is also a possibility that people who are united in bonds of kinship or affection may at times convey their thoughts or fears to each other at a distance by what is called “telepathy.” There is attested evidence that in rare cases visual ideas may similarly be communicated by “clairvoyance.” It is told of Swedenborg that when at Gothenburg he was able to report on the progress of a fire raging near his house in Stockholm (Docu. 273). Seemingly the prophet Elisha was clairvoyant when he told the king of Israel the plans of the Syrians (2 Kings 6:12). That such unusual occurrences are caused by the communication existing between associated spirits is not unlikely.

But it is also well to note that many of the claims of modern mediums go directly counter to what is taught us in the Writings. There is indeed an influx of the spiritual world into the natural, and it is by this influx that all organic growth, vegetable and animal, takes place. Destructive organisms, such as noxious pests, are—we are taught—creations that received their contorted forms from the influx of the hells into corresponding substances on earth.32 But this influx is not any materialization of the evil spirits; it is merely an activity of the spheres of the hells. There is no conjunction of the two worlds except by the mediation of man, that is, by man’s mind.33 We find no ground in the Writings for a belief that spirits can move the objects of earth or sky without the agency of the human body, or that they can materialize, whether through a man or separately. Since biblical times, Jews and Christians have thought that angels appeared by suddenly assuming material bodies when they were seen by prophets or apostles. Before his full enlightenment, Swedenborg also endeavored to reconcile such a belief with his conception of the nature of the soul, suggesting that by the omnipotence of God a spirit might be clothed with a temporary embodiment from materials present in the atmospheres.34 But in the inspired Writings we read this disavowal: “It is believed in the Christian world that angels have assumed human bodies and have thus appeared to men; but they did not assume them, but the eyes of the man’s spirit were opened, and so they were seen.”35 The explanation is simple and reasonable. For man is created with spiritual senses as well as with natural senses. He possesses a body of matter held together by physical forces —by electromagnetic and gravitational fields of force. But these fields of force are ruled, unified, disposed and directed by a soul or spirit, and thus by a spiritual purpose and a superconscious wisdom which is far above our comprehension. In fact, the spirit is the real man, and is organized far more intricately than the body. It is indeed a spiritual body36 which is endowed with spiritual senses and thus with the power to perceive knowledge—to see spiritual objects, “see” truths, civil, moral and spiritual, and to feel and recognize mental states and sense the relations of all the things which compose his spiritual environment. These things are seen by the understanding more clearly than physical objects are seen by the bodily eyes. But ordinarily they are sensed by us only as abstractions, as thoughts, imaginations and logical relations. Yet if “the eyes of a man’s spirit were opened,” he would see beyond the contents of his own memory. He would see the spirits and angels immediately present with him, and see these in their own spiritual and mental environment which in every detail would be descriptive of their character and state. All men are thus equipped for actual vision into the spiritual world.37 And if men were in the perfect state of the celestials, as Providence had intended, angels and men could openly dwell together without harm.38

Swedenborg distinctly claimed that such intercourse as his own with spirits was not miraculous. “These revelations,” he wrote, “are not miracles, since every man as to his spirit is in the spiritual world without separation from his body in the natural world; but I with a certain separation, but only as to the intellectual part of my mind. . . . “39 He claimed no uniqueness in being able to converse with spirits, but noted that the type and the marvelous extent of these revelations surpassed even the visions of the men of the Golden Age; for they remained in natural light while Swedenborg was granted to be in spiritual light and in natural light at the same time. Such intercourse had never before been known in history, and —taken in connection with the manifestation of the Lord in person to Swedenborg and the revelation of the spiritual sense of the Word—was “superior to any miracles.”40 In the Most Ancient Church, direct or immediate revelations were given through open intercourse with angels, and there was no need for a written Word.41 This is indeed the mode of revelation on other earths also, because of the genius of their inhabitants.42 But when our race, through the eating of the fruit of knowledge came into its peculiar external and scientific genius, this way of communicating with heaven was closed. Instead, the Word of God was given through appointed prophets whose spiritual senses were opened;43 and by means of this Word, written and preserved for all ages, men could be reformed through rational things of doctrine. Indeed, the Writings abound in statements to the effect that no one is reformed by visions and by speech with the dead, because such things compel.44


Something should here be added concerning the visions which were permitted to the prophets and others whose spiritual senses were opened so that they could perceive events which occurred in the spiritual world.

The fact that those who are infirm in mind and indulge much in fancies are apt to become subject to hallucinations, does not mean that genuine visions have never been granted. Pathological symptoms—such as manic-depressive delusions and schizophrenia and hallucinations—are only perversions of man’s normal faculties and are due to “spirits who by means of fantasies induce appearances which seem to be real.” People with visionary tendencies may thus—like credulous children—see monsters behind the trees of the forest or convert shadows into ghosts.45

But genuine visions are the actual seeing of “such things in the other life as have real existence.”46 They are seen by the eyes of the spirit, either by day or night.47 Such were the visions of the prophets who saw not only various representatives shown in the spiritual world and containing Divine arcana, but saw the spirits themselves and heard their speech.

The men of the Most Ancient Church were instructed by such heavenly visions, for they were given to know their inner meaning.48The Hebrew prophets, and John at Patmos, had such real or Divine visions significant of the thoughts and affections of angels, but understood them not.49 Some of the prophets were actually possessed by spirits; like Saul, who spoke and acted in a state of trance.50 Others exercised their own discretion, and spirits spoke to their inner hearing.51 When in “vision” the prophets were not in the body, but “in the spirit.”52 As was foretold in Daniel, prophetic visions of whatever kind were discontinued after the Christian dispensation had begun.53

The Divine visions which the Lord from childhood had in His Human on earth were most perfect, because “He had a perception of all things in the world of spirits and in the heavens, and had an immediate communication with Jehovah.”54

Swedenborg also experienced certain visions. But his normal state, he tells us, was not one of vision as usually understood or one of “trance.” But what he saw, heard and felt in the spiritual world was experienced in full wakefulness of body.55 And like the “Divine visions” seen by the prophets, Swedenborg’s explorations in the other world were for the sake of his being instructed by the Lord. The Scriptures were not revealed in a state of vision, but were “dictated by the Lord to the prophets by a living voice.”56 In the case of Swedenborg, the Lord instructed him through spiritual sight, but the Heavenly Doctrine and the internal sense of the Word were given him by a dictation into the interiors of his rational mind, with varying degrees of perception, while he read the Word.57

A type of diabolical visions can be induced by “enthusiastic spirits.” This is produced by the “magic” of hell, and it distorts the truth, as was the case with the lying prophets mentioned in the book of Kings.58 The spirits who cause such visions are now separated and restrained in their hells.59

The Writings have now made unnecessary any private revelations or visions. Divine or prophetic visions are no longer provided and would not be understood if they were. Diabolical visions are severely restricted by spiritual laws. And there remain now only fantastic visions, which are “mere delusions of an abstracted mind.”60

Warnings against Seeking Speech with Spirits

“Nevertheless, conversation with spirits is possible, though rarely with the angels of heaven; and this has been granted to many for ages back.”61 And human nature is such that those who have only had fantastic visions are inclined to boast about them and exaggerate them to gain the ear of an audience.62 Speech with spirits “is rarely permitted, because it is perilous. . . . Some who lead a solitary life occasionally hear spirits speaking to them, and without danger.” A spirit may thus come to a man and communicate some words; but still it is not permitted the man to speak with him mouth to mouth, lest the spirit should come to realize that he is with a man.63Therefore a spirit who addresses a man is permitted to speak “only a few words; and they who speak by the Lord’s permission never say anything that takes away the freedom of reason, nor do they teach. For the Lord alone teaches man, but mediately by the Word in a state of illustration. . . . “64

A man who is in enlightenment from the Lord through a love of the truths of the Word may sometimes hear the speech of spirits, but he is never taught by them, but “led” with every precaution for his freedom.65 This speech may be perceived by such men as a kind of “response by vivid perception in their thought or by a tacit speech therein, and rarely by open speech; and it is to the effect that they should think and act as they will and as they are able, and that he who acts wisely is wise and he who acts foolishly is foolish; but they are never instructed what to believe and what to do. . . . They who are taught by influx what to believe or what to do are not taught by the Lord nor by any angel of heaven, but by some enthusiastic spirit . . . who leads them astray.”66

Those who desire to be instructed by spirits “do not realize that it is conjoined with peril to their soul !”67 Only evil spirits come to the summons of man:

“When spirits begin to speak with a man he ought to take heed lest he should believe anything whatever from them; for they say almost anything! They fabricate things and lie. … If they were permitted to describe what heaven is … they would tell so many lies—and this with solemn affirmations—that a man would be amazed. Therefore when spirits are speaking, I have not been permitted to have faith in the things they related.

For they have a passion for inventing; and whenever a subject comes up in conversation they think they know it and give their opinions—one after another—one in one way and another in another, quite as if they knew! And if a man then listens and believes, they press on and deceive and seduce in diverse ways. For example, if they were permitted to talk about things to come. . . . 68

And they can impersonate others so that they even deceive themselves that they are some one else! “Let those who speak with spirits beware, therefore, lest they be deceived when the spirits say that they are those whom they have known and who have died. For . . . when like things are called up in the memory of man and so are represented to them, they think that they are the same persons.”69“These things make evident the danger in which a man is who speaks with spirits or who manifestly feels their operation.”70

Such warnings against seeking sensual proof for the existence of spirits should suffice for any New Church man. Yet from the beginning, the temptation to explore the other world, as Swedenborg did, or to call upon its powers of influx illicitly, has threatened the New Church. A few instances may be cited.71 In 1786, a French society of “Illuminati” was formed by Abbe Pernety, which mixed New Church doctrine with spiritism and Freemasonry. Similar ideas, in milder forms, such as the practice of “animal magnetism” and the healing of the sick by exorcising spirits, brought an early end to a genuine New Church movement in Stockholm about 1790.

In 1817, James Johnston, a simple-minded working man belonging to the Salford New Church in England, began to receive visions in which Abraham and other “archangels” dictated nonsense which has been published in his spiritual “Diary.” In 1846, Ludwig Hofaker, who had edited and translated some of the Writings, died of insanity after harming the New Church in Germany by advocating spiritistic theories and practices. In 1844, Mr. Silas Jones, with the sanction of a leading New Church minister, conducted a spiritistic circle in Brooklyn, profanely mixing sorcery and astrology with New Church rites. In 1859, Thomas Lake Harris, who had ostensibly embraced the New Church after megalomaniac adventures with spiritism on this continent, visited England and almost succeeded in turning the Swedenborg Society there into an agency for spiritistic propaganda, converting, with his strange charm and marvelous eloquence, William White, the Swedenborg biographer, and Dr. J. J. Garth Wilkinson, a most profound student of the Writings; causing the latter to descend into the Hades of Harrisism for an interval of some years during which he produced verses by spirit-dictation. Harris’s career ended in scandal and disgrace.

But it is not enough to say that the New Church, like many other worthy movements, must have its “lunatic fringe.” For throughout the years the recurrent defense of spiritistic practices in several New Church journals has shown that the temptation to find a sensual approach to the spiritual world is likely to come wherever the faithful study of the Heavenly Doctrine is neglected, or where a secret or open desire is harbored to abandon the arduous way of redemption which the Lord offers to those who are of the spiritual church. This appointed way is reformation through doctrine and reason, through the discipline of self-compulsion and loyalty to the truth. It is a difficult road, but one which is necessary for our race and genius, that is, for all those whose hearts must confess to being subject to hereditary and actual evils.

The temptation is to think that we do not need to walk that road, to think that we have attained to a celestial state and may ignore the discipline of doctrine and can rely on our own power to withstand the onslaughts of the hells and on our instinctive discernment to know an evil spirit when we meet him. But let us humbly recognize that “the Lord enters into man through no other than an internal way, which is through the Word and doctrine and preachings from the Word.”72This way does not lead downward to a dependence on the senses and its innumerable fallacies, but up to the rational mind where alone a man is free to see the spiritual things of heaven in their own light.




2 Spirits and Men

Swedenborg Study.comOnline works based on the Writings of Emanuel Swedenborg

2 Spirits and Men

“What is man that Thou art mindful of him?” Psalm 8:4

Faith and Superstition

The ages preceding the dawn of the New Church were steeped in superstition. Every graveyard was peopled with spectres. The Devil made his appointments with witches and wizards, and ministers of the church solemnly cooperated with panicky magistrates to prevent unlawful intercourse with spirits. Diseases were often treated by exorcism—by driving the obsessing demons away.

Today most of us sneer at superstitions. And when we of the New Church nevertheless proclaim our faith in the proximity and influence of the spirit-world, there are those who sneer at us.

But true faith is a very different thing from superstition. Superstition wishes to assign to the supernatural all unknown causes of natural happenings and evades reasonable explanations. It lacks authority. It creates fear rather than understanding. It advances elusive claims to special sanctity or unusual enlightenment which some will capitalize for their own gain or repute. It leads not towards freedom and charity and social progress, but to a slavery to forms and castes, and often engenders distrust and persecution.

Superstition does not draw its origin from Divine revelation, but is conceived from human anxieties and undue ambitions while it is mothered by ignorance. It is not satisfied with the revealed knowledge and shows a lack of faith in the Lord’s omnipotent laws.

But over against Superstition stands Skepticism, which proudly spurns admitting the existence of any invisible factors in life except the purely physical. Not unlike a company of physicians of whom Swedenborg speaks in one of his memorable relations, and who claimed to have cured the pains of conscience by mustard-plasters and cupping-glasses, many skeptics now explain all unusual mental states as mere symptoms of digestive disorders, wrong diet, or glandular deficiencies, and deny any other cause for crime than physical appetites and social maladjustments.2

A rational faith in the interdependence of the inhabitants of the spiritual world and those of the natural, and in the normal but unconscious communion of spirits and men, stands free from both superstition and skepticism. Such a rational faith is derived solely from Divine revelation. Yet it is also founded on the primary testimony of man’s own consciousness —that he is essentially a spiritual being, a free thinking mind, although he is clothed by a body of carefully selected material substances which in many ways limit the expression of his mental powers. Nor can any authentic experience upset our faith in the continual operation of the spiritual world—the proper world of human minds and living forces—into the world of nature. Without any hesitation we can postulate, and challenge any one to disprove, that life does not inhere in matter but inflows from an inner source. Indeed it is beyond the scope of science ever to deny that—ultimately—matter is derived from life.

The mode by which the Lord created the universe is a subject far afield from our present discussion. Still it must be premised that the spiritual can act upon the natural, that the mind can be present in the body, and that there can be an influx of the life of spirits into men living on earth. And this because the world of matter is created and sustained by the Lord mediately through the spiritual world.3 The natural originates from the spiritual, as an effect is produced from its cause.4 The material world is therefore an “open world” which constantly receives a formative influx from the spiritual world. It is the spiritual world which—as the soul of the mechanical universe—imposes patterns and forms and at length moulds material substances to its own purposes, imaging its own forms in the forms of living organisms, whether plants or men. Only when the necessity of this is seen and acknowledged, can our faith in the existence of the spiritual world become rational.

Faith, to be rational, must be calm. It must not be based in hysteria or upon passing moods, or on the testimony of purely exceptional and questionable phenomena; nor on research conducted in darkened chambers. Faith must see the operation of the soul upon the body and of spiritual things upon natural, not as a mechanical process or as a transfer of energy from one physical realm to another, but as the bestowal of the qualities of life upon visible things of nature, which, so far as their own substance and motions are concerned, are dead. Such a bestowal of qualities takes place, we conceive, by what the Writings call “influx.” The spiritual does not act upon matter as do physical forces; instead, it bestows qualities.

When the Writings expound the doctrine that the life of God is mediated for human minds by the spiritual world, or by the spirits and angels there, they are not discussing the currents of natural energy which fashion corpuscular matter and course through the bodies of men, but the transmission of human qualities—of good and evil—qualities which make the natural activities of one man vastly different from those of another; different throughout, different in intention, different in mode, different in effect. The things of dead, elemental nature have attributes, dimensions, conditions, motions. But in a strict sense, nature has no qualities, no “states” of life. Its only state is one of death. Its only quality is its inertia, its lack of any power to change its state. All appearance of life in nature is borrowed from the spiritual world. In plants and in animals we see something added that is not of nature, something which gives an appearance not of blind motion but of purposeful change—a conatus or endeavor, an appearance of aspiration, will, and freedom.

Human Freedom

In man, this freedom becomes self-conscious. He is sensitive to the qualities of life. He is subject to various states and attitudes, and feels that he can to an extent determine them. He can choose between right and wrong. He cannot change his natural environment of a sudden, although this also will yield somewhat to his will. But in the inner realm of his spirit he feels himself above the conditions of nature, feels himself part of a free world in which he can will and think as he pleases; and for what he does in that world he feels responsibility.

But even in his mind man is not utterly free. His natural mind is built up out of elements drawn from heredity and from education, from early impressions and unconscious influences. Is he solely accountable for all the changes within his mind— all the suggestions and impulses of his inner world? If he were, would it not be a terrible responsibility—beyond his power to bear ? One moment of impulse could determine his entire spiritual destiny—one decision might send him into anguish forever—if that were so! And if thus determined, he would no longer be free to change his general state.

Even spiritual freedom is therefore governed most carefully by the Lord. The Lord leads man gently into his freedom. Even the spirit of man has to be surrounded by restraining conditions and circumstances. Its freedom has to be limited to a few things, tested. Its bounds have to be let out gradually, his states have to change by degrees.

Therefore it is provided, that man’s spirit should be surrounded with attendant spirits, good and evil, through whom the influx of life may be accommodated so that his choice and his responsibility can be particularized and limited to his capacity at each moment. It is of Divine mercy that this is so; otherwise man could never be saved, but he would plunge himself into hell with the first evil choice. Instead of being at once introduced into the responsibility for his whole spiritual destiny, he is therefore gradually introduced into a choice between particular states, or between the delights offered by particular spirits, good and evil. He is not made responsible for the state of his whole mind at once.

This, then, is the explanation of the many shifting and contradictory states of a man. He is held in an equilibrium between good spirits and evil spirits. He is given his chance to change his general state, by countless particular opportunities of choice. His spiritual freedom is doled out to him “piecemeal,” and from his moments of choice, a series of free decisions, his character is built up and gradually matures, and becomes able to enter an ever wider choice, a more intelligent freedom.

This is, of course, illustrated by the gradual way in which one acquires freedom in natural affairs in youth and adult age. Parents, teachers, masters or employers will give the youth more freedom, more autonomy, so far as he can be trusted to understand what he is actually committing himself to. But when it is seen that he does not yet have any real insight into a situation or into the consequences of his actions, but is blinded by prejudice or simply borne away by impulsive desires, so far his freedom is—if possible—prudently withheld by wise governors.

The spirit of man is therefore free and responsible only when he realizes the spiritual situation in which he is, and feels himself free to choose. In order that this may be the case, the Lord so orders the lives of men and spirits, that men should not sensibly feel the presence of spirits, or their influx into his mind. If we felt our will as the will of another prompting us we would not feel free—whether the prompting were good or evil. Yet at the same time, if we were never able to know how the case actually is, we would not be able to realize the nature of our choice. From doctrine we are therefore taught about the functions of the spirits who are with us; so that we may see the importance of our choice, the inward nature of our responsibility, the fact that in our consent or resistance to various states, suggestions, desires, and moods, we are in fact turning either towards heaven or towards hell.

Man’s Dependence on Spirits

It is therefore revealed as a truth in the Gospel, that man can do nothing except it be given him from above. And this general truth is in the Writings filled in with infinite particulars which show that man cannot lift hand or foot or think the least idea from his own will or understanding: for his will and understanding are vessels responsive to the spheres of spirits and angels. Swedenborg, in order that he might be instructed, was brought into a state in which he perceived the operation of spirits, yet—by a miracle—was at the same time not deprived of freedom.5 He then received “the clearest experimental proof that all human thought, will, and action are directed determinatively by the Messiah alone”; that there was “not even the least of thought that did not sensibly inflow” from spirits who were themselves also “ruled as passive powers” by the Lord. The spirits sensibly ruled the very movements of his body; convincing him that what appears to be our own deeds is the doing—or rather the willing—of spirits.6 Yet a man is free so far as he can decide what spirits shall attend him!

Spirits who use man as a subject in this manner are not aware that they are with man. Such a spirit “knows so little of the man that he is not even aware that the man is anything distinct from himself.” Man is thus nothing in the eyes of spirits. And if they knew him—as they did Swedenborg— they might chide him with “being nothing” or at best an inanimate machine. Meanwhile the man all the time supposes himself to be living and thinking and the spirits to be “nothing!”7

In his Diary Swedenborg tells that, despite the fact that he could not make the least little motion of his body from himself, yet at the same time there was insinuated into him a faculty of choice in whatever he did. Spirits then supposed (hat he might have acted otherwise. But it was shown them that as a matter of fact the circumstances and the spiritual influxes had conspired and led Swedenborg to what he had (afterwards) decided to do; and also that they themselves had effected nothing from themselves but were subjects of other spirits and societies in an unending chain. It then seemed to these spirits that, if so, they were “nothing”; and they were unwilling to admit this. But Swedenborg insisted that this was indeed true; still, it was enough for them that they seemed to themselves to be able to think, speak, and act as from themselves, and to be their own. What more did they want?8

Surprisingly, Swedenborg instructed some spirits that only when they acknowledge that they are nothing, can they begin to be something. Nor was it enough to know or say that one is nothing; one must believe it.9 “Such is the equilibrium of all in the universal heaven, that one is moved by another, thinks from another, as if in a chain; so that not the least thing can [occur from itself]; thus the universe is ruled by the Lord, and indeed with no difficulty !”10

But when some spirits were unable to tolerate the expression “that they were nothing,” the seer consoled them by saying that “they are always something, but that something is from the Lord.”11 And it is the same with man: “Unless the Lord saw the man to be something,” the whole world of spirits would see him as nothing—or as an inanimate thing. He is “something—not a mere idea of being !”12 And this something is something of reception. Man cannot control the experiences that come to him: but he can receive or reject, react affirmatively or negatively. Heaven consists in every one regarding himself as nothing.13 The celestials know this. They know that to attribute anything to themselves, except reception, is of evil. No doubt this is involved in the Lord’s saying: “Your speech shall be Yea, yea, Nay, nay; whatsoever is more than these, cometh of evil!”

The Non-appropriation of Evil

Evil has no power over one who in sincerity of faith believes himself to be nothing !14

How vitally important and practically effective this truth of faith is, may be judged from the doctrine which describes how evil enters into man. Evil is continually infused by unclean spirits into man’s thoughts, and is as constantly dispelled by the angels. This does not actually harm man.

“Not that which enters the mouth defileth a man,” but that which proceedeth from the heart! It is by detention in the thought and by consent and afterwards by act and enjoyment that evil enters into the will.15 If so, it is appropriated to man—imputed to him as his. But the reason that it is appropriated to a man is that the man believes and persuades himself that he thinks and does this from himself. He identifies himself with it—and so takes sides with the evil. Believing that it is his own, all his self-pride upholds it and defends it.

The evil was not produced by man! Evil spirits—the whole network of hell—produced it, infused it, and subtly made man to feel as if he did it from himself. “If man believed as the case really is, then evil would not be appropriated to him, but good from the Lord would be appropriated to him; for then, immediately when evil flows in, he would think that it was from evil spirits with him; and when he thought this angels would avert and reject it. For the influx of angels is into that which a man knows and believes and not into what man does not know and does not believe.”16

If an evil is appropriated it can be removed only by the arduous and long road of self-examination and of actual repentance. But here we are shown an easier way! Shown how to shun evils before they become man’s own or before they become actual or confirmed; shown how faith defends men from evil! And if a man really believes that the good that prompts him inflows from the Lord through heaven, he is thereby freed from any self-righteous reflection on his own act—a thought which would poison the good which he has received and turn it into the evil of merit and the pride and the contempt of others that follow in its wake.

The knowledge and belief that all our affections, emotions, and moods are the actual results of the presence of spirits, good or evil, must become a watchman who must never shimmer. This faith—that good inflows from heaven and that evil inflows from hell, and that man, except for reception, is “nothing”—must be firmly fixed in definite knowledge. And to the New Church the knowledge is given in a vast body of information about spirits of all types and classes. From the instruction given in the Writings we may perhaps also gather information as to how to say “Nay, nay” to the spirits who produce various evil moods that captivate us; as to how we can to some extent modify or change these states into which we fall—or rather withdraw from them by degrees.

Choice versus Freedom

Man’s spirit is free. Yet it is bound up with the states of the men and spirits around him. No one can deny that our thoughts and affections are influenced by the men of the society with which we are associated in the world’s work and pleasures. Even the church undergoes its cycles of common states, its temptations, its progression in which all take part. Even angelic societies whose uses are intertwined by marvelous modes experience common states, recurrent mornings, noons, and evenings; for each angel is a center for the influx of all others.17

Man’s spirit is free, but never independent! It cannot alter its general spiritual environment by any sudden decision, any more than a man in the world can change the face of nature. The speed of the growth of the mind and of the progression of a man’s spirit is not measured by the fixed time which is associated on earth with the clock and the calendar and the orbit of the planets. Yet spiritual states have their durations—require a preparation and a gradual growth, have their own cycles, rhythms, and climaxes which cannot be circumvented. And the development of the state of one spirit often waits upon that of another, for it depends upon the progressions of the society of which he is a part.

How men’s spirits are affected by the spirits who live in the world of spirits is seen from the state before the coming of the Lord, when no flesh could have been saved unless the spirits of that world had been reduced into order. And history repeats itself. For Swedenborg notes that in his day the, whole world of spirits had become evil, and therefore it could not but be that mankind should become worse through the nearer influx of hell. The good inflowing from the Lord availed less and less, until man could hardly be bent to any genuine good.18

A general judgment then became inevitable; and it took place in the world of spirits in the year 1757.19 Its result was to restore spiritual freedom. Men and spirits had been in spiritual captivity—had been in states which they could not alter or change. The progression of their spiritual life of reformation and regeneration had been arrested because they had been intricately entangled with evil spirits from whom they had no power to separate.

It is not to be thought that men living before the last judgment did not have free agency in spiritual things. All men have free choice, then as now. In the issues which they discerned from time to time they had their choice. But freedom implies more than choice. It implies that one should be free to follow out one’s choice, to progress according to the choice, and find and enter into the delights of his ruling love. Interiorly, all salvable spirits in this world and in the “lower earth” of the other life had made a choice of good as over against evil. Yet they were so much a part of the perverted world of spirits that they could not shake off their infesters who stole their delight in spiritual good and truth, insinuated unhappiness, destroyed cooperation, induced obscurity and confusion as to what was right and wrong, and prevented them from finding their way to heaven—or to the true uses of heavenly life.

The freedom to progress requires an ability to perceive interior truths. It was this new freedom that was “restored” when the Lord ordered the world of spirits by His redemptive work.20 The ordering was done by separating the spirits there according to their various qualities, so that spirits in different spiritual states might be seen in contrast, in their true colors, or—in the light of heaven.

The light of Divine truth which brought about the judgment and reduced the spiritual world into order is still present in that world; and that Divine light is spreading also into this world of ours, through the teachings of the Writings of the New Church. It is the same light. It passes “not through spaces, like the light of the world, but through the affections and perceptions of truth.”21 It affects, and tends to distinguish and order, the spirits who are with us. We would surmise that it also orders the things which go on—subconsciously—within man’s thinking; and thus ensures the free operation of the rational faculty with men, for good or for evil. But consciously and directly it reaches us in the Writings. The teaching is, therefore, that after the last judgment (when the group of spirits which the Apocalypse calls “the Dragon” was cast down), “there was light in the world of spirits. . . . A similar light also then arose with men in the world, from which they have a new enlightenment.”22

The Writings are shedding a new light on all the states through which men pass on earth. They also disclose the character of the spirits who are responsible for our moods of sadness, temptation, melancholy, enthusiasm, rashness, confusion. They give us a knowledge by which to judge wisely how far we can resist such states, and how far they should be left to the Divine providence. It is our purpose to consider this new approach to a rational and spiritual life thus opened to the New Church. But before we enter upon this task it is necessary to recount the perils which attend any mortal effort to break open the gates of the unseen world.

New book: Starting Science from God.
Links theism (religion) to science (psychology and physics) without reduction.




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So often when we think about images and pictures of angels, we imagine innocent beings of love peace and beauty who act as divine messengers and who comfort and care for us. These angelic symbols can provide great inspiration to us and indeed many people feel they are personally protected by an angelic layer of guardian angels.

Are angels just around us? Or should we also think about the potential angel within us and how we are all destined to become angels if we choose to? Follow the links to find spiritual wisdom about angels and to explore not just the angels out there but also the angel within.

To watch a video on how both good angels and bad spirits influence our daily lives click here: Guardian Angels


Click on links below to view articles

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