The knowledge of correspondences is the key to the spiritual lessons of the Bible. By its aid the parables and histories and strange prophecies of the Word are opened to disclose the heavenly and Divine truths which they contain. Surely nothing can be of greater importance than to gain ourselves, and to impart to our scholars, a clear, reasonable understanding of this science and a practical acquaintance with it which will enable us to see everywhere, as we read the Bible, lessons of heavenly wisdom.

How easy this study would be, how living and delightful, if we lived in heaven! if the children walked with their teacher in heavenly fields and needed but a word from him to interpret to them the thousand beautiful truths which would seem almost to shine forth from the sunlight and flowers and birds and precious gems! They would feel the relation of all things around them to the thoughts and feelings within themselves. The objects would embody and interpret to them the things of inner wisdom.

Or, suppose that we were children of the ancient Golden or Silver Age on earth. We should then walk amid the beauties of this world almost as angel children do in heaven, and should recognize them all as full almost to overflowing with spiritual life. We should see the message of the flower in the sparkling beauty almost bursting from its delicate folds. We should feel a heavenly affection echoed in the soft notes of the birds. All nature would seem to us but a veil concealing and at the same time revealing the presence of the Lord and heaven. We should delight to point out to one another what we saw and felt. We should, in our conversation with one another, delight to use the beautiful things around us as a language to convey thoughts of higher things which we all perceived them to contain. Then, when the Lord Himself spoke to us children of the ancient age a message of heavenly and Divine truth, it would delight us to receive it in the form of parables- the very language which we were so fond of speaking, and of reading in the objects of beauty and use around us. The study of correspondences would then be our highest pleasure; it would be a real and living experience.

Fortunately the perception of a relation between inward things and outward has not yet been wholly lost in the world, though it is dim and incomplete compared with the perception of the ancient days or of heaven. The perception still lingering in men’s minds of a relation between natural things and spiritual gives a living basis for the study of correspondences. This almost instinctive perception is what we must awaken in the children, and develop and make more definite. Then they too can read the message of nature and the spiritual lessons of the Bible. If we begin here we strike at once a vein of interest, and one which leads on into increasing enjoyment – an interest which is wholly lacking if we begin in an arbitrary, dictionary way to say, This corresponds to truth and this to love – a mere matter of authority and memory.

To illustrate the kind of perception upon which we have to build, take the varying expressions of the face and the movements of the hands. Do children need to be told that these are natural things, and that they are manifestations, expressions, correspondences of feelings and thoughts which are spiritual things? A child knows at a glance the feeling of pleasure which finds expression in a smile, or the sorrow which causes tears. And the tones of the voice: is an interpreter needed to tell us that one cry is expressive of pain, and another of joy? that a word spoken in a gentle, soothing tone is inspired by kindness, and a harsh tone by anger? Does a child need to be told that one motion of the hand is an invitation to come, and another is a command to go? In a word, children perceive the correspondence of the expressions of the face, the gestures, and the tones of the voice with the feelings and thoughts of the mind.

There is a peculiar advantage in drawing our first illustrations of correspondence from the relations of the human body and mind, for here both the spiritual side and the natural are within ourselves, and it is distinctly perceived that they have relation to each other. Moreover, it is evident here that the spiritual is the cause of the natural, and not the reverse – a relation which always exists in correspondence, and which it is important to have from the first distinctly in mind. It is the feeling of sorrow which causes the tone of sadness in the voice, or the tearful eyes. It is the emotion of joy which finds expression in the cheerful voice and smile. Even if this is not stated in so many words, the children learn from such examples to regard correspondence as a relation of cause and effect.

We may now pass on to objects outside of ourselves, for the influence of a man’s character extends to all the objects which surround him, arranging and shaping them as far as it is able into accord with himself. Every one can read something of another’s character in his house and the order and decoration of his room. We perceive here a correspondence, not so perfect as exists between angels and their heavenly surroundings, where all outward objects are a manifestation and exact expression of the angels’ states of feeling and thought, but what we see is enough to enable us to conceive of that more perfect correspondence.

Nor does the common perception of relation between natural things and spiritual stop here with objects which bear directly the imprint of our hands. We look out upon a soft spring day, when everything is blossoming with beauty; and the sweet air and sunshine and bright colors and gay songs touch a chord of sympathy in our own hearts. They awaken a peaceful delight. There is some relation between this vernal beauty and human happiness. We express it by saying that the day, as well as we, is peaceful; that the colors and the songs are cheerful. Again, we look upon a storm and destructive torrents, and we call them fierce and cruel. In a word, we perceive a relation between these things of nature which we had no part in making, which in no direct way bear the imprint of our hand, and the feelings and thoughts of our own hearts.

This is a curious fact. How shall we account for it? We come into this natural world and find evidences of human presence before us. It is almost as if in a wild, untrodden wood we came upon signs of human habitation. It is very favorable to our comfort and happiness in this world that this is so, that we find all earthly objects adapted to our physical wants, and also of a quality to touch responsive chords in our hearts and minds. This human quality of nature is not an accident, but of purpose. It is nothing less than the imprint of the Creator’s Divine human hand, modified into more and less perfect forms, and even perverted into evil forms, by the heavenly and the infernal channels through which spiritual forces reach this world of matter.

Every object of nature, every phenomenon, is as a smile on nature’s face, or a tear, or a tone of nature’s voice which embodies to us feelings and thoughts within. Every one is an effect which invites us to trace it back to its cause in the world of human mind and originally in the Lord Himself.

The common perception of a relation between natural objects in the world about us and spiritual things within ourselves, the perception that they are indeed the same things on different planes of life, leads us every day to call natural and spiritual things by the same names, and to describe their qualities by the same terms. We speak, for example, of a lofty mountain, or a lofty ambition; a low place, or a low motive. So we use the word hard – either a hard rock, or a hard saying; a tender leaf, or a tender feeling; a rough country, or rough people; a warm day, or a warm heart; a cold winter, or a cold reception. So we say that both plants and ideas grow; that both bear fruit.

It is to be noted in all such cases that the word is used first of natural things and natural qualities; that it gets its clear, definite meaning from what we see and hear and feel, and that it is afterwards borrowed to describe spiritual things and qualities which we perceive to be analogous to the natural. The fact is that all words used of mental things gained their definite meaning in application to natural objects, and were borrowed for the higher use. It amounts to saying that we gain from nature the impressions which give us our only distinct ideas of spiritual things. Could we not see and feel natural height and depth, we could not conceive of spiritual exaltation and depression. The idea of a spiritual quality is derived from nature, and the term used to describe it is borrowed from nature.

If we went far in this study of words we should find many which in their origin gained their meaning from nature, but are now losing, or have quite lost, that association, and are used only of spiritual and mental things. An example of a word in the state of transition is inspire. The Roman boy may have inspired his football, and even Pope and Shakespeare inspired their instruments of music; but we inspire chiefly things of feeling and thought. The word spirit has in common speech quite passed over from the thought of breath or wind to that of the inner world with its mental forces and phenomena. So also we would hardly speak of fundamental stones, though we do of fundamental principles. We do not today despise the prospect from a mountain, though we do look down upon it. A word used apparently with a spiritual meaning only, is really no exception to the rule, but always, in its root, gained its meaning from nature, and was borrowed to describe what is spiritual.

The study of correspondences is of supreme importance, for as fast as we can learn to see in natural phenomena their spiritual cause and meaning we shall delight to turn to the parables of the Bible – for all its chapters are parables – and to read there, in this same language, of heaven and the Lord.

Our guide and authority in the interpretation of the Word by the knowledge of correspondences is the revelation of its spiritual meaning given by the Lord through the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg. We find in these writings explicit instruction in regard to the spiritual meaning of certain books of the Word and of very many scattered passages, and a direct statement of the correspondence of many objects which is a guide to the spiritual meaning of all passages of the Word where those objects are named. It is however most desirable in the study of correspondences to avoid the mistake of thinking that correspondence is artificial and arbitrary, and to learn to see the living relation between the natural and the spiritual objects which correspond to each other. We therefore appeal first to the almost instinctive perception that the object or phenomenon which we are studying has relation to some state or activity of the mind, a relation to which common speech often bears witness. This perception we seek to make more full and exact, using as our guide the statements of Swedenborg of the correspondence of the natural object in question. Then we turn to the Word for illustration of the use of our newly-discovered symbol, and by its help draw beautiful and helpful spiritual lessons, as many as we are able. (HH 89-91, 103-115; AE 1080-1082; TCR 201-208)


What correspondence is is not known at the present day, for several reasons, the chief of which is that man has withdrawn himself from Heaven by the love of self and love of the world. For he that loves self and the world above all things gives heed only to worldly things, since these appeal to the external senses and gratify the natural longings; and he does not give heed to spiritual things, since these appeal to the internal senses and gratify the mind, therefore he casts them aside, saying that they are too high for his comprehension. This was not so with the ancient people. To them the knowledge of correspondences was the chief of knowledges. By means of it they acquired intelligence and wisdom; and by means of it those who were of the church had communication with heaven; for the knowledge of correspondences is angelic knowledge. The most ancient people, who were celestial men, thought from correspondence itself, as the angels do. And therefore they talked with angels, and the Lord frequently appeared to them, and they were taught by Him. But at this day that knowledge has been so completely lost that no one knows what correspondence is.{1} [HH87]

Since, then, without a perception of what correspondence is there can be no clear knowledge of the spiritual world or of its inflow into the natural world, neither of what the spiritual is in its relation to the natural, nor any clear knowledge of the spirit of man, which is called the soul, and its operation into the body, neither of man’s state after death, it is necessary to explain what correspondence is and the nature of it. This will prepare the way for what is to follow. [HH88]

First, what correspondence is. The whole natural world corresponds to the spiritual world, and not merely the natural world in general, but also every particular of it; and as a consequence everything in the natural world that springs from the spiritual world is called a correspondent. It must be understood that the natural world springs from and has permanent existence from the spiritual world, precisely like an effect from its effecting cause. All that is spread out under the sun and that receives heat and light from the sun is what is called the natural world; and all things that derive their subsistence therefrom belong to that world. But the spiritual world is heaven; and all things in the heavens belong to that world. [HH89]

Since man is both a heaven and a world in least form after the image of the greatest (see above, n. 57), there is in him both a spiritual and a natural world. The interior things that belong to his mind, and that have relation to understanding and will, constitute his spiritual world; while the exterior things that belong to his body, and that have relation to its senses and activities, constitute his natural world. Consequently, everything in his natural world (that is, in his body and its senses and activities), that has its existence from his spiritual world (that is, from his mind and its understanding and will) is called a correspondent. [HH90]

From the human face it can be seen what correspondence is. In a face that has not been taught to dissemble, all the affections of the mind present themselves to view in a natural form, as in their type. This is why the face is called the index of the mind; that is, it is man’s spiritual world presented in his natural world. So, too, what pertains to the understanding is presented in speech, and what pertains to the will is presented in the movements of the body. So whatever effects are produced in the body, whether in the face, in speech, or in bodily movements, are called correspondences. [HH91]


What correspondence is has been told in the preceding chapter, and it has there been shown that each thing and all things of the animal body are correspondences. The next step is to show that all things of the earth, and in general all things of the universe, are correspondences.[HH 103]

All things of the earth are distinguished into three kinds, called kingdoms, namely, the animal kingdom, the vegetable kingdom, and the mineral kingdom. The things of the animal kingdom are correspondences in the first degree, because they live; the things of the vegetable kingdom are correspondences in the second degree, because they merely grow; the things of the mineral kingdom are correspondences in the third degree, because they neither live nor grow. Correspondences in the animal kingdom are living creatures of various kinds, both those that walk and creep on the ground and those that fly in the air; these need not be specially named, as they are well known. Correspondences in the vegetable kingdom are all things that grow and abound in gardens, forests, fields, and meadows; these, too, need not be named, because they are well known. Correspondences in the mineral kingdom are metals more and less noble, stones precious and not precious, earths of various kinds, and also the waters. Besides these the things prepared from them by human activity for use are correspondences, as foods of every kind, clothing, dwellings and other buildings, with many other things.[HH104]

Also the things above the earth, as the sun, moon, and stars, and those in the atmosphere, as clouds, mists, rain, lightning and thunder, are likewise correspondences. Things resulting from the presence and absence of the sun, as light and shade, heat and cold, are also correspondences, as well as those that follow in succession therefrom, as the seasons of the year, spring, summer, autumn, and winter; and the times of day, morning, noon, evening, and night. [HH105]

In a word, all things that have existence in nature, from the least to the greatest thereof, are correspondences.{1} They are correspondences because the natural world with all things in it springs forth and subsists from the spiritual world, and both worlds from the Divine. They are said to subsist also, because everything subsists from that from which it springs forth, subsistence being a permanent springing forth; also because nothing can subsist from itself, but only from that which is prior to itself, thus from a First, and if separated from that it would utterly perish and vanish.[HH106]

Everything in nature that springs forth and subsists in accordance with Divine order is a correspondence. Divine order is caused by the Divine good that flows forth from the Lord. It begins in Him, goes forth from Him through the heavens in succession into the world, and is terminated there in outmosts; and everything there that is in accordance with order is a correspondence. Everything there is in accordance with order that is good and perfect for use, because everything good is good in the measure of its use; while its form has relation to truth, truth being the form of good. And for this reason everything in the whole world and of the nature thereof that is in Divine order has reference to good and truth.{1}[HH107]

That all things in the world spring from the Divine, and are clothed with such things in nature as enable them to exist there and perform use, and thus to correspond, is clearly evident from the various things seen in both the animal and vegetable kingdoms. In both there are things that any one who thinks interiorly can see to be from heaven. For illustration a few things out of a countless number may be mentioned; and first some things from the animal kingdom. Many are aware what knowledge there is engrafted as it were in every animal. Bees know how to gather honey from flowers, to build cells out of wax in which to store their honey, and thus provide food for themselves and their families, even for a coming winter. That a new generation may be born their queen lays eggs, and the rest take care of them and cover them. They live under a sort of government which all know by instinct. They preserve the working bees and cast out the drones, depriving them of their wings; besides other wonderful things implanted in them from heaven for the sake of their use, their wax everywhere serving the human race for candles, their honey for adding sweetness to food.

[2] Again, what wonders do we see in worms, the meanest creatures in the animal kingdom! They know how to get food from the juice of the leaves suited to them, and afterward at the appointed time to invest themselves with a covering and enter as it were into a womb, and thus hatch offspring of their own kind. Some are first turned into nymphs and chrysalides, spinning threads about themselves; and this travail being over they come forth clad with a different body, furnished with wings with which they fly in the air as in their heaven, and celebrate marriages and lay eggs and provide posterity for themselves.

[3] Besides these special instances all creatures in general that fly in the air know the proper food for their nourishment, not only what it is but where to find it; they know how to build nests for themselves, one kind in one way and another kind in another way; how to lay their eggs in the nests, how to sit upon them, how to hatch their young and feed them, and to turn them out of their home when they are able to shift for themselves. They know, too, their enemies that they must avoid and their friends with whom they may associate, and this from early infancy; not to mention the wonders in the eggs themselves, in which all things lie ready in their order for the formation and nourishment of the chicks; besides numberless other things.

[4] Who that thinks from any wisdom of reason will ever say that these instincts are from any other source than the spiritual world, which the natural serves in clothing what is from it with a body, or in presenting in effect what is spiritual in the cause? The beasts of the earth and the birds of the air are born into all this knowledge, while man, who is far superior to them, is not; for the reason that animals are in the order of their life, and have not been able to destroy what is in them from the spiritual world, because they have no rational faculty. Man, on the other hand, whose thought is from the spiritual world, having perverted what is in him from that world by a life contrary to order, which his rational faculty has favored, must needs be born into mere ignorance and afterwards be led back by Divine means into the order of heaven. [HH108]

How the things in the vegetable kingdom correspond can be seen from many instances, as that little seeds grow into trees, put forth leaves, produce flowers, and then fruit, in which again they deposit seed, these things taking place in succession and existing together in an order so wonderful as to be indescribable in a few words. Volumes might be filled, and yet there would be still deeper arcana, relating more closely to their uses, which science would be unable to exhaust. Since these things, too, are from the spiritual world, that is, from heaven, which is in the human form (as has been shown above in its own chapter), so all the particulars in this kingdom have a certain relation to such things as are in man, as some in the learned world know. That all things in this kingdom also are correspondences has been made clear to me by much experience. Often when I have been in gardens and have been looking at the trees, fruits, flowers, and plants there, I have recognized their correspondences in heaven, and have spoken with those with whom these were, and have been taught whence and what they were. [HH109]

But at the present day no one can know the spiritual things in heaven to which the natural things in the world correspond except from heaven, since the knowledge of correspondences is now wholly lost. But the nature of the correspondence of spiritual things with natural I shall be glad to illustrate by some examples. The animals of the earth correspond in general to affection, mild and useful animals to good affections, fierce and useless ones to evil affections. In particular, cattle and their young correspond to the affections of the natural mind, sheep and lambs to the affections of the spiritual mind; while birds correspond, according to their species, to the intellectual things of the natural or the spiritual mind.{1} For this reason various animals, as cattle and their young, rams, sheep, he-goats, and she-goats, he-lambs and she-lambs, also pigeons and turtledoves, were devoted to a sacred use in the Israelitish Church, which was a representative church, and sacrifices and burnt offerings were made of them. For they correspond in that use to spiritual things, and in heaven these were understood in accordance with the correspondences. Moreover, animals according to their kinds and species, because they have life, are affections; and the life of each one is solely from affection and in accordance with affection; consequently every animal has an innate knowledge that is in accord with its life’s affection. Man is like an animal so far as his natural man is concerned, and is therefore likened to animals in common speech; for example, if he is gentle he is called a sheep or lamb, if fierce a bear or wolf, if cunning a fox or serpent, and so on. [HH110].

There is a like correspondence with things in the vegetable kingdom. In general, a garden corresponds to the intelligence and wisdom of heaven; and for this reason heaven is called the Garden of God, and Paradise;{1} and men call it the heavenly paradise. Trees, according to their species, correspond to the perceptions and knowledges of good and truth which are the source of intelligence and wisdom. For this reason the ancient people, who were acquainted with correspondences, held their sacred worship in groves;{2} and for the same reason trees are so often mentioned in the Word, and heaven, the church, and man are compared to them; as the vine, the olive, the cedar, and others, and the good works done by men are compared to fruits. Also the food derived from trees, and more especially from the grain harvests of the field, corresponds to affections for good and truth, because these affections feed the spiritual life, as the food of the earth does the natural life;{3} and bread from grain, in a general sense, because it is the food that specially sustains life, and because it stands for all food, corresponds to an affection for all good. It is on account of this correspondence that the Lord calls Himself the bread of life; and that loaves of bread had a holy use in the Israelitish Church, being placed on the table in the tabernacle and called “the bread of faces;” also the Divine worship that was performed by sacrifices and burnt offerings was called “bread.” Moreover, because of this correspondence the most holy act of worship in the Christian Church is the Holy Supper, in which bread is given, and wine.{4} From these few examples the nature of correspondence can be seen. [HH111]

How conjunction of heaven with the world is effected by means of correspondences shall also be told in a few words. The Lord’s kingdom is a kingdom of ends, which are uses; or what is the same thing, a kingdom of uses which are ends. For this reason the universe has been so created and formed by the Divine that uses may be every where clothed in such a way as to be presented in act, or in effect, first in heaven and afterwards in the world, thus by degrees and successively, down to the outmost things of nature. Evidently, then, the correspondence of natural things with spiritual things, or of the world with heaven, is through uses, and uses are what conjoin; and the form in which uses are clothed are correspondences and are conjunctions just to the extent that they are forms of uses. In the nature of the world in its threefold kingdom, all things that exist in accordance with order are forms of uses, or effects formed from use for use, and this is why the things in nature are correspondences. But in the case of man, so far as he is in accordance with Divine order, that is, so far as he is in love to the Lord and in charity towards the neighbor, are his acts uses in form, and correspondences, and through these he is conjoined to heaven. To love the Lord and the neighbor means in general to perform uses.{1} Furthermore, it must be understood that man is the means by which the natural world and the spiritual world are conjoined, that is, man is the medium of conjunction, because in him there is a natural world and there is a spiritual world (see above, n. 57); consequently to the extent that man is spiritual he is the medium of conjunction; but to the extent that a man is natural, and not spiritual, he is not a medium of conjunction. Nevertheless, apart from this mediumship of man, a Divine influx into the world and into the things pertaining to man that are of the world goes on, but not into man’s rational faculty. [HH112]

As all things that are in accord with Divine order correspond to heaven, so all things contrary to Divine order correspond to hell. All things that correspond to heaven have relation to good and truth; but those that correspond to hell have relation to evil and falsity.[HH113].

Something shall now be said about the knowledge of correspondences and its use. It has been said above that the spiritual world, which is heaven, is conjoined with the natural world by means of correspondences; therefore by means of correspondences communication with heaven is granted to man. For the angels of heaven do not think from natural things, as man does; but when man has acquired a knowledge of correspondences he is able, in respect to the thoughts of his mind, to be associated with the angels, and thus in respect to his spiritual or internal man to be conjoined with them. That there might be such a conjunction of heaven with man the Word was written wholly by correspondences, each thing and all things in it being correspondent.{1} If man, therefore, had a knowledge of correspondences he would understand the spiritual sense of the Word, and from that it would be given him to know arcana of which he sees nothing in the sense of the letter. For there is a literal sense and there is a spiritual sense in the Word, the literal sense made up of such things as are in the world, and the spiritual sense of such things as are in heaven. And such a Word, in which everything down to the least jot is a correspondence, was given to men because the conjunction of heaven with the world is effected by means of correspondences.{2} [HH114]

I have been taught from heaven that the most ancient men on our earth, who were celestial men, thought from correspondences themselves, the natural things of the world before their eyes serving them as means of thinking in this way; and that they could be in fellowship with angels and talk with them because they so thought, and that thus through them heaven was conjoined to the world. For this reason that period was called the Golden Age, of which it is said by ancient writers that the inhabitants of heaven dwelt with men and associated with them as friends with friends. But after this there followed a period when men thought, not from correspondences themselves, but from a knowledge of correspondences, and there was then also a conjunction of heaven with man, but less intimate. This period was called the Silver Age. After this there followed men who had a knowledge of correspondences but did not think from that knowledge, because they were in natural good, and not, like those before them in spiritual good. This period was called the Copper Age. After this man gradually became external, and finally corporeal, and then the knowledge of correspondences was wholly lost, and with it a knowledge of heaven and of the many things pertaining to heaven. It was from correspondence that these ages were named from gold, silver, and copper,{1} and for the reason that from correspondence gold signifies celestial good in which were the most ancient people, silver spiritual good in which were the ancient people that followed, and copper natural good in which were the next posterity; while iron, from which the last age takes its name, signifies hard truth apart from good.[HH115]

Author: Emanuel Swedenborg