The Appearance, Location, and Number of the Hells

IN the spiritual world, the world where spirits and angels live, things look much the same as they do in the natural world where we live—so similar that at first glance there seems to be no difference. You see plains there, mountains, hills, and cliffs with valleys between them, you see bodies of water and many other things that we find on earth. However, they all come from a spiritual source, so they are visible to the eyes of spirits and angels but not to our eyes because we are in a natural world. Spiritual people see things that come from a spiritual source, and natural people see things that come from a natural source. This means that there is no way for our eyes to see things in the spiritual world unless we are allowed to be in the spirit, or until we become spirits after death. On the other hand, angels and spirits are utterly incapable of seeing anything in the natural world unless they are with some one of us who has been allowed to talk with them. Our eyes are adapted to receive the light of the natural world, and the eyes of angels and spirits are adapted to receive the light of the spiritual world; yet the two kinds of eyes look exactly alike.

Natural people cannot understand that the spiritual world is like this, and sense-centered people even less so, being people who believe nothing unless they can see it with their physical eyes and touch it with their hands. This means they believe only what they glean through their sight and touch and that they think on this basis; so their thought is material and not spiritual. Because of this resemblance between the spiritual world and the natural world, it is hard for people after death to realize that they are not in the world where they were born, the world they have just left; so they actually call death nothing but a crossing from one world into another like it.

On this kind of resemblance between the two worlds, see the discussion above of representations and appearances in heaven (Sections 170–176).

The heavens there are on the higher ground, the world of spirits there is in the lower areas, and beneath both lie the hells.

The heavens are not visible to spirits in the world of spirits unless their inner sight has been opened. Sometimes they do appear, looking like gleaming white clouds. This is because heaven’s angels are in a more inward state as regards their intelligence and wisdom, so they are beyond the sight of people in the world of spirits.

The spirits who are in the plains and valleys can see each other, though when they are being sorted out (which happens when they are being let into their inner natures), then evil spirits do not see the good ones. The good ones can still see the evil ones, but they turn away from them, and spirits who turn away become hard to see.

The hells themselves, though, are not visible, because they are closed. All one can see are the entrances, called gates, when they open to admit spirits like the ones already there. All the gates into the hells open from the world of spirits, none from heaven.

from Heaven and Hell, Sections 582-583


Sections 170-176: Published 12/12/2016-12/15/2016


Hellfire and Gnashing of Teeth (Continued)

Because hellfire means the urge to do the evils prompted by love for oneself and the world, and because this kind of urge is characteristic of everyone in hell (see the preceding chapter), when the hells are opened one sees the kind of smoky fire you get in conflagrations. An intense fire rises from the hells where love for oneself rules, and a flickering one from the hells where love of the world rules.

When the hells are closed, though, this fire is not visible. Instead, there is something dark, as though made from thickened smoke. Still, that fire is raging inside, as you can tell from the radiating heat. It is like the heat of ruins after a conflagration, or in some instances like the heat of an active furnace, or in others like that of a hot bath. When this heat flows into us it rouses our cravings—hatred and vengefulness in evil people, and dementia in the ill.

This kind of fire or heat is characteristic of people who are engrossed in the aforementioned loves because in spirit they are in touch with these hells even while they are still living in their bodies.

It does need to be known, though, that the people in the hells are not actually in fire. The fire is an appearance. They do not actually feel any burning, only the kind of warmth they knew in the world. The reason there seems to be fire is correspondence, since love corresponds to fire, and everything we see in the spiritual world has its visible form from its correspondence.

We should bear in mind that this hellish fire or heat changes into an intense cold when warmth flows in from heaven. Then the people there shiver as though they had feverish chills and are in inner torment. This is because of their absolute opposition to the Divine; and heaven’s warmth, which is divine love, snuffs out the warmth of hell, which is love for oneself, and along with it the very fire of their life. This is what causes the cold, the shivering, and the pain. It also then brings about darkness there, and folly and confusion. This does not happen very often, though; only when there is need to quell rebellions that are getting out of hand.

Since hellfire means all the craving to do evil that flows from love for oneself, that same fire also means the kind of torment that occurs in the hells. This is because the impulses that arise from that love are urges to wound people who do not offer respect and deference and reverence. To the extent that rage takes charge, and the hatred and vengefulness that come from rage, people are driven to attack others viciously. When this impulse is inherent in everyone in a community where there are no external restraints, no fears of the law or of loss of reputation or position or profit or life, everyone attacks everyone else out of sheer malice. The strong conquer and subject the rest to their tyranny, cheerfully torturing any who do not surrender. This latter delight is integral to the delight in tyranny to the point that they are of equal intensity. This is because sadism is inherent in hostility, envy, hatred, and vengefulness, which as already noted are the evils of a love of cruelty.

All the hells are communities like this, so everyone there cherishes hatred toward others in her or his heart and bursts out in savagery whenever there is the strength to do so.

These acts of savagery and torture are what are meant by hellfire, because they are the results of their obsessions.

from Heaven and Hell, Sections 571-573