The Spiritual Life

1. How Spiritual Life is Acquired

Spiritual life is acquired solely by a life according to the commandments in the Word. These commandments are given in summary in the Decalogue, namely, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet the goods of others. These commandments are the commandments that are to be done, for when a man does these his works are good and his life is spiritual, and for the reason that so far as a man shuns evils and hates them so far he wills and loves goods.

For there are two opposite spheres that surround man, one from hell, the other from heaven; from hell a sphere of evil and falsity therefrom, from heaven a sphere of good and of truth therefrom; and these spheres do [not immediately] affect the body, but they affect the minds of men, for they are spiritual spheres, and thus are affections that belong to the love. In the midst of these man is set; therefore so far as he approaches the one, so far he withdraws from the other. This is why so far as a man shuns evils and hates them, so far he wills and loves goods and the truths therefrom; for no one can at the same time serve two masters, for he will hate the one and will love the other. (Matt. vi. 24).

But let it be noted, that man must do these commandments from religion, because they are commanded by the Lord; and if he does this from any other consideration whatever, for instance, from regard merely to the civil law or the moral law, he remains natural, and does not become spiritual. For when a man acts from religion, he acknowledges in heart that there is a God, a heaven and a hell, and a life after death. But when he acts from regard merely to the civil and moral law, he may act in the same way, and yet in heart may deny that there is a God, a heaven and a hell, and a life after death. And if he shuns evils and does goods, it is merely in the external form, and not in the internal; thus while he is outwardly in respect to the life of the body like a Christian, inwardly in respect to the life of his spirit he is like a devil. All this makes clear that a man can become spiritual, or receive spiritual life, in no other way than by a life according to religion from the Lord.

I have had proof that this is true from angels of the third or inmost heaven, who are in the greatest wisdom and happiness. When asked how they had become such angels, they said it was because during their life in the world they had regarded filthy thoughts as abominable, and these had been to them adulteries; and had regarded in like manner frauds and unlawful gains, which had been to them thefts; also hatreds and revenges, which had been to them murder; also lies and blasphemies, which had been to them false testimonies; and so with other things. When asked again whether they had done good works, they said they loved chastity, in which they were because they had regarded adulteries as abominable; that they loved sincerity and justice, in which they were because they had regarded frauds and unlawful gains as abominable; that they loved the neighbor because they had regarded hatreds and revenges as abominable; that they loved truth because they had regarded lies and blasphemies as abominable, and so on; and that they perceived that when these evils have been put away, and they acted from chastity, sincerity, justice, charity and truth, it was not done from themselves, but from the Lord, and thus that all things whatsoever that they had done from these were good works, although they had done them as if from themselves; and that it was on this account that they had been raised up by the Lord after death into the third heaven. Thus it was made clear how spiritual life, which is the life of the angels of heaven, is acquired.

It shall now be told how that life is destroyed by the faith of the present day. The faith of this day is that it must be believed that God the Father sent His Son, who suffered the cross for our sins, and took away the curse of the law by fulfilling it; and that this faith apart from good works will save everyone, even in the last hour of death. By this faith instilled from childhood and afterward confirmed by preachings, it has come to pass that no one shuns evils from religion, but only from civil and moral law; thus not because they are sins but because they are damaging.

from Spiritual Life and the Word of God


Some souls recently from the world who long to see the glory of the Lord before they are qualified to be admitted, are lulled in regard to the exterior senses and lower faculties in a kind of sweet sleep, and then their interior senses and faculties are aroused into a high degree of wakefulness, and thereby they are admitted into the glory of heaven, but when wakefulness is restored to their exterior senses and faculties, they return into their former state.

Evil spirits most vehemently desire and burn to infest and attack man when he is sleeping, but man is then especially guarded by the Lord, for love does not sleep. The spirits who infest are miserably punished. I have heard their punishments oftener than I can tell; they consist in rendings, under the heel of the left foot, and this sometimes for hours together.

Sirens, who are interior enchantresses, are they who are especially insidious in the night time, and then try to insinuate themselves into a man’s interior thoughts and affections, but are as often driven away by the Lord by means of angels, and are at last deterred by the severest punishments. They have also spoken with others in the night time, exactly as if they spoke from me, and as it were with my speech, so like that it could not be distinguished, pouring in filthy things, and persuading false ones.

I was once in a very sweet sleep, in which I had nothing but soft repose. When I awoke, some good spirits began to chide me for having (as they said) infested them so atrociously that they supposed they were in hell-throwing the blame upon me. I answered them that I knew nothing whatever about the matter, but had been sleeping most quietly, so that by no possibility could I have been troublesome to them. Astonished at this, they at last had a perception that it had been done by the magic arts of sirens. The like was also shown afterwards, in order that I might know the quality of the crew of sirens.

They are chiefly of the female sex, who in the life of the body had studied to allure male companions to themselves by interior artifices; insinuating themselves by means of outward things, captivating their lower minds in every possible way, entering into each one’s affections and delights, but with an evil end, especially that of exercising command. Hence they have such a nature in the other life that they seem able of themselves to do all things, imbibing and inventing various arts, which they absorb as easily as sponges do waters, whether clean or filthy. So do they imbibe and put into act things profane as well as holy, with the end, as before said, of exercising command. It has been granted me to perceive their interiors, and to see how foul they are, being defiled by adulteries and hatreds. It has also been granted me to perceive how powerful in its effects is their sphere. They reduce their interiors into a state of persuasion, in order that these may conspire with their exteriors toward such things as they intend. They thus compel and violently draw spirits to think exactly as they do.

No reasonings appear in connection with them, but they make use of a kind of simultaneous rush of reasonings that are breathed into the person’s evil affections and so they work by applying themselves to the natural inclinations, and thereby they get into the lower minds of others, whom they lead on, and by persuasion either overwhelm or captivate them. They study nothing more than to destroy the conscience, and when it is destroyed they get possession of men’s interiors, and even obsess the men, although these are ignorant of it.

At this day there are not as formerly external obsessions, but there are internal ones, by spirits of this class. They who have no conscience have become obsessed in this way. The interiors of their thoughts are insane in a manner not unlike this, but are concealed and veiled over by an external decorum and a pretended honorableness, for the sake of their own honor, gain, and reputation. And this such men may know, if they pay attention to their thoughts.

from Arcana Coelestia, Sections 1982-1983


Moreover there are other spirits, who belong to the province of the left side of the chest, by whom they are often interfered with; as well as by others whom they disregard.

After such dreams I have very frequently been permitted to speak with the spirits and angels who had introduced them; and they told what they had introduced, and I what I had seen. But it would be too tedious to relate all my experience of these matters.

It is worthy of mention that when after waking I related what I had seen in a dream, and this in a long series, certain angelic spirits (not of those spoken of above) then said that what I related wholly coincided, and was identical, with the subjects they had been conversing about, and that there was absolutely no difference; but still that they were not the very things they had discoursed about, but were representatives of the same things, into which their ideas were thus turned and changed in the world of spirits; for in the world of spirits the ideas of the angels are turned into representatives; and therefore each and all things they had conversed about were so represented in the dream.

They said, further, that the same discourse could be turned into other representatives, nay, into both similar and dissimilar ones, with unlimited variety. The reason they were turned into such as have been described, was that it took place in accordance with the state of the spirits around me, and thus in accordance with my own state at the time. In a word, very many dissimilar dreams might come down and be presented from the same discourse, and thus from one origin; because, as has been said, the things that are in a man’s memory and affection are recipient vessels, in which ideas are varied and received representatively in accordance with their variations of form and changes of state.

I may relate one more instance of a similar kind. I dreamed a dream, but a common one. When I awoke, I related it all from beginning to end. The angels said that it coincided exactly with what they had spoken of together; not that the things seen in the dream were the same, for they were wholly different, being things into which the thoughts of their conversation were turned, but in such a way that they were representative and correspondent; and this in every particular, so that nothing was wanting.

I then spoke with them about influx, as to how such things flow in and are varied. There was a person of whom I had the idea that he was in natural truth, which idea I had gathered from the acts of his life. There was a conversation among the angels about natural truth, and on this account that person was represented to me; and the things he said to me, and did, in my dream, followed in order representatively and correspondently from the discourse of the angels with one another. But still there was nothing precisely alike, or the same.

from Arcana Coelestia, Sections 1978-1981


As regards dreams, it is known that the Lord revealed the arcana of heaven to the prophets, not only by visions, but also by dreams, and that the dreams were as fully representative and significative as the visions, being almost of the same class; and that to others also as well as the prophets things to come were disclosed by dreams; as by the dreams of Joseph, and of those who were in prison with him, and by those of Pharaoh, of Nebuchadnezzar, and others, from which it may be seen that dreams of this kind, equally with visions, flow in from heaven; with this difference, that dreams occur when the corporeal is asleep, and visions when it is not asleep. How prophetic dreams, and such as are found in the Word, flow in, nay, descend from heaven, has been shown me to the life; concerning which I may relate the following particulars, from experience.

There are three kinds of dreams. The first kind come from the Lord mediately through heaven; such were the prophetic dreams that are treated of in the Word. The second kind come through angelic spirits, especially those who are in front above at the right, where there are paradisal scenes; from this source the men of the Most Ancient Church had their dreams, which were instructive. The third kind come through the spirits who are near when man is sleeping, which are likewise significative. But fantastic dreams come from a different source.

In order that I might fully know how dreams flow in, I was put to sleep, and I dreamed that a ship came laden with delicacies and savory food of every kind. The things in the ship were not seen, but were stowed away. Upon the ship stood two armed guards, besides a third who was its captain. The ship passed into a kind of arched dock. So I awoke and thought about the dream. The angelic spirits, who were above in front to the right, then addressed me, and told me that they had introduced this dream; and in order that I might know with certainty that it was from them, I was put into a state as of sleep and at the same time of wakefulness; and they introduced in the same way various things that were pleasant and delightful; for instance, an unknown little animal which was dispersed in a likeness of blackish and shining rays, that darted with marvelous quickness into my left eye. They also presented men and also little children adorned in various ways; and other things besides, with inexpressible pleasantness, about which I also spoke with them. This was done, not once, but many times, and each time I was instructed by them with the living voice.

The angelic spirits who are at the entrance to the paradisal scenes, are they who insinuate such dreams; and to them is also intrusted the duty of watching over certain men when they sleep, lest they should then be infested by evil spirits. They perform this duty with the greatest delight, so that there is rivalry among them as to who shall be present, and they love to affect the man with the enjoyable and delightful things which they see in his affection and genius. They who have become angelic spirits are from those who in the life of the body had delighted and had loved in every way and with the utmost pains, to make the life of others delightful. When the hearing is opened sufficiently far, there is heard from them, as from a distance, a sweetly modulated sound, as it were of singing.

They said that they do not know whence such things, and representatives so beautiful and pleasant, come to them in a moment; but it was said that it was from heaven. They belong to the province of the cerebellum; for, as I have been informed, the cerebellum is awake in time of sleep, when the cerebrum sleeps. From this source the men of the Most Ancient Church had their dreams, together with a perception of what they signified; from whom in great part came the representatives and significatives of the ancients, under which were set forth things that are deeply hidden.

from Arcana Coelestia, Sections 1975-1977


To describe all the kinds of visions would be too tedious, for there are many.

For the sake of illustration, I may describe two visions, from which their character may be seen; and also at the same time how spirits are affected by the things which they see, and how evil spirits are tormented when the ability to see the things that others are seeing and hearing is stolen away from them, for they cannot bear to have any such thing taken away from them; for spirits have not the sense of taste, but in place of it they have a desire, or a kind of appetite, for knowing and learning. This is as it were their food by which they are nourished. The nature of their distress, therefore, when this food is taken away may be seen from the example that follows.

After a troubled sleep, about the first watch, a very pleasant sight was presented. There were wreaths as of laurel, quite fresh, in most beautiful order, with motion as if alive: of such form and elegance of arrangement that description fails to express their beauty and harmony, and the affection of bliss that flowed forth from them. They were in a double series, at a little distance from each other, and running on together to a considerable length, and constantly varying the state of their beauty. This was plainly seen by spirits, even by evil ones. This was afterwards followed by another sight still more beautiful, in which there was heavenly happiness, but it was only dimly visible: there were infants in their heavenly sports, that affected the mind in a manner inexpressible.

I afterwards spoke with spirits concerning these sights, who confessed that they saw the first as much as I did, but the second only so dimly that they could not tell what it was. This caused them to feel indignation, and afterwards by degrees envy, from the fact that it was said that angels and little children had seen it; and this envy of theirs it was given me to perceive sensibly, so that nothing escaped me so far as concerned my instruction. The envy was of such a nature as to cause in them not merely the utmost annoyance, but also a feeling of anguish and interior pain and this merely because they did not see the second vision also, and the consequence was that they were led through varieties of envy until they were in pain in the region of the heart.

While they were in this state I spoke with them about the envy, telling them that they might be content with having seen the first vision, and that they would have been able to see the second also if they had been good; but this excited in them a feeling of indignation which intensified their envy, causing it to increase further to such a degree that they could not afterwards bear the least recollection of the matter without being affected with pain. The states and progressions of the envy, together with its degrees, aggravations, and varied and mingled distresses of mind and heart, cannot be described. It was thus shown how much the wicked are tormented by envy merely, when they see from afar the blessedness of the good, and even when they merely think of it.

from Arcana Coelestia, Sections 1973-1974


By genuine visions are meant visions or sights of such things in the other life as have real existence, and are nothing but actual things that can be seen by the eyes of the spirit and not by the eyes of the body, and that appear to a man when his interior sight is opened by the Lord (that is, the sight which his spirit has), and into which he comes when, separated from the body, he passes into the other life; for a man is a spirit clothed with a body.

Such were the visions of the prophets. When this sight is opened, then those things which have actual existence with spirits are seen in clearer day than that of noon in this world, not only the representatives, but also the spirits themselves, together with a perception of who they are, also what they are, where they are, whence they come, whither they are going; also of what affection, what persuasion, nay of what faith they are, all confirmed by living speech, exactly as if it were human speech, and this free from all fallacy.

The visions that come forth before good spirits are representatives of the things that are in heaven; for when that which exists in heaven before the angels passes down into the world of spirits, it is turned into representatives, from which and in which it may be plainly seen what they signify. Such things are perpetual with good spirits, and are attended with a beauty and pleasantness than can hardly be expressed.

As regards the visions, or rather sights, that appear before the eyes of the spirit, not before the eyes of the body, they are more and more interior. Those which I have seen in the world of spirits I have seen in clear light, but those in the heaven of angelic spirits I have seen more obscurely, and still more obscurely those in the heaven of angels, for the sight of my spirit has rarely been opened to me so far, but it has been given me to know what they were saying, by a certain perception, the nature of which cannot be described, and frequently through intermediate spirits; the things which are there have sometimes appeared in the shade of the light of heaven, which is not like the shade of the light of the world, for it is light growing thin and faint from its incomprehensibility equally as discerned by the understanding and by the sight.

from Arcana Coelestia, Sections 1970-1972


Few know how the case is with visions, and what visions are genuine; but as for some years I have been almost continually with those who are in the other life and have there seen amazing things, I have in this way been informed by experience itself in regard to visions and dreams, concerning which I may relate what follows.

Much has been said about the visions of certain persons who have declared that they have seen many things, and who did see them, but in phantasy. I have been instructed about them, and it was likewise shown how they take place. There are spirits who by means of phantasies induce appearances that seem to be real. For example, if anything is seen in shadow, or in moonlight, or even in daylight, if the object be in a dark place, these spirits keep the mind of the beholder fixedly and continually in the thought of someone thing, be it an animal, a monster, a forest, or any other thing; and so long as the mind is held in this thought, the phantasy is increased, and it grows to such a degree that the person is persuaded, and sees just as if the things themselves were there, whereas they are nothing but illusions. Such things befall those who indulge much in fancies, and are subject to infirmity of mind, and have thereby become credulous. These are visionaries.

Enthusiastic spirits are similar, but these have visions about things to be believed, of which they are persuaded and persuade others so strongly as to be ready to swear that what is false is true, and that a fallacy is a reality. Concerning this nature of spirits, many things might be related from experience; but of the Lord’s Divine mercy they will be treated of specifically. They have contracted this nature from persuasions and false principles, while they lived in the world.

Evil spirits in the other life are scarcely anything but cupidities and phantasies. They have acquired to themselves no other life. Their phantasies are such that they have no perception whatever but that the case is so. Men’s phantasies cannot be compared with theirs, for their state surpasses that of men even in regard to such things. Such phantasies are perpetual with the infernals, among whom one miserably torments another by means of phantasies.

from Arcana Coelestia, Sections 1966-1969

Key Concepts in Swedenborg's Theology: A Vision

Swedenborg’s theology is not just “brain faith,” but a kind of program for the healing of individuals and of human society. It calls for the fullest development of the individual emotionally, intellectually, and behaviorally.

It values open and profound love, clear and free thinking, and faithful activity. It relates these qualities directly to the nature of reality, thereby avoiding any system of arbitrary rewards and punishments.

Above all, it points toward an individual and collective oneness in which differences are not divisive but consistently enrich the whole, and sees the source of this “distinguishable oneness” as the wisdom and love of the one creator.


Key Concepts in Swedenborg's Theology: A Radical Claim

A central point of difference between Swedenborg’s theology and traditional Christian thought, supported but hardly foretold by the concepts of his system, is his announcement that biblical prophesies of a Last Judgment and a Second Coming of the Lord had been fulfilled in his lifetime.

He claims knowledge of these events on the authority of his having witnessed the judgment in the spiritual world, and interprets traditional concepts in their light. With the Last Judgment in 1757, as he sees it, the era symbolized by the “old” Christian church came to an end.

The Second Coming—the return of the Lord after his resurrection and glorification described in the Gospels—ushers in a new Christianity and the establishment in 1770 of a new church in the spiritual world. Swedenborg stated at one point that the church in the outward world would go on much as before, at least for a while, and he neither tried to found a new organization nor speculated on the form one might take.

He expected instead that a new freedom of thought in spiritual matters would counter the dogmatism of traditional Christianity.


Key Concepts in Swedenborg's Theology: Incarnation

As noted, Swedenborg regards the Incarnation as the central event of human history. In his view, the human race declined from a primal state of innocence, becoming progressively more materialistic, until the only way it could be reached was through the physical presence of deity. In the Christ, Swedenborg sees God as assuming our own fallen nature and transforming it by the process of conflict between the divine best and the human worst within him. This experience precisely parallels our own inner conflicts, and his life is therefore the model for our own.

The virgin birth, in this understanding, is essential for two reasons.

First, there must be a physical parent to transmit the fallen nature: for Swedenborg, an immaculate conception, conception by a sinless mother, would have been quite pointless and ineffective.

Second, there needed to be within that fallen nature an infinite capacity for the acceptance of the Divine. Without the first, Jesus’s life would have been irrelevant to ours; without the second, it would have failed in its purpose.

Jesus is then seen as having grown as we do, knowing doubt, selfishness, and all the distortions of humanity we can experience in ourselves. His life is the perfect exemplar of the process of transformation that is our own hope, and that, as already noted, is represented in the biblical story. He was in a very special sense “the Word made flesh” and the fulfillment of Scripture. The passion on the cross was not a sacrificial appeasement but a final trial, a final self-giving. By refusing to use miraculous means to override our rejection of him, Jesus took the last step into perfect, loving wholeness; and because that wholeness was complete, the resurrection included even his physical body.