Online 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.
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.
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