Humans always refer to ideas but they do not always understand what “an idea” really is. Now the root of the word “idea” is “ideal.” We know that the things or objects in the world are not ideal; they are actual. This means that they exist in actuality or space and time. Most of us refer to the actual world of space and time as the real world while we characterize the world of our thoughts, ideas and imagination as not existing in reality. However, let us discover what ideas really are.

Objects in the world of actuality have specific substances and forms. For example, an actual fork has a specific size, is shaped in a specific way and made of a specific substance. But the “idea” of a fork does not have a specific form; it refers to all possible forks. And moreover, it has no substance. Actual forks, on the other hand, could be made of stainless steel, iron or silver. Some could be small like dinner forks or some could be as large as a pitchfork. But we all have an “idea” as to what the form of a fork is. We also have “an idea” as to what an elephant or a human being is. It is easy to think about the idea of a great pyramid, but it takes much effort and hard work to build it in the actual world.

In fact, we must always use the world of ideas before we do or manifest anything in the actual world. The sequence is intention, thought and action. For example, architects must think of the possible idea of a house before they draw the plan and build it with physical materials in the actual world of space and time. And the idea of the house is always more ideal than the actual house because it is not limited by the actual materials, space and time constraints.

The world of mathematics is a world of abstract ideas and forms. It lacks substance. A form without substance cannot be real because every real form must be associated with a substance. This is why some mathematicians tend to lose themselves in an ideal world of symbols and equations. But the mathematical world can be useful because it allows scientists to discover the forms, laws or structures of the universe. For example, E = mc2 is an abstract equation. But, when we associate these abstract symbols to actual things, the equation now refers to a universal law. This equation then describes the actual relationship between physical energy (E), mass (m) and the velocity of Light (c). From this equation, we uncover that every massive object is energy that has been crystallized into matter by vorticity.

Now, scientists tell us that elementary physical particles emerge from an uncertain world of possibilities or possible states. The whole physical world emerges from this world of possibilities or “ideas” by involution and evolution. But the question is: are these particles guided by an Idea or do they simply emerge randomly? Surely, if involution and evolution were not continuously guided by an Idea, the human species would never have emerged. Instead, survival of the fittest would rule and the earth would be populated by dinosaurs or other selfish creatures.

Ideas are in fact spiritual forms. And the realm of ideas is enlightened, ruled, maintained and guided by God’s Idea or Divine Truth. The spiritual substance of this Divine Idea is Divine Love. Thus in the Bible, we read that “ In the beginning was the Word [Divine Truth], and the Word was with God [Divine Love], and the Word was God (John 1:1). All substances and forms in the universe derive their substance and structure from Divine Love and Wisdom. In fact, the realm of Reality is not the actual or physical world; it is the Heaven within us that consists of the substance of Divine Love organized according to the form of Divine Wisdom. This is probably why the universe seems more real, meaningful and purposeful when our mind is enlightened by Divine Truth and our heart is enlivened by Divine Love.

The Divine Idea of Heaven is the origin of our rationality. But we can reject rational ideas and cling to irrational or false ideas because we have freedom and access to all possible ideas. Before they are actualized, ideas are not real; they are only possibilities. For example, we may receive a selfish (evil) idea within our mind. If we freely reject this idea, it will not become substantial or enter our will. But, if we freely choose to put this idea into effect in the actual world, it will enter and change our will. This is very important to understand because our will is who we really are. And we can only prove what our intentions are or who we really are by what we ultimately do. This of course also holds true for rational ideas. We do not become good by thinking about God or good ideas but by intending, thinking and doing what is good and useful.

We should now be able to understand what certain ideas really mean. For example, people speak a great deal about Justice in an abstract way. But Justice is a real form because it is linked to a real substance. In fact, in Heaven, beautiful cities, houses and churches are harmonically proportioned because their proportions correspond to the spiritual forms of Justice. Thus, in the Bible, the “New Jerusalem” or the Lord’s New Church is described as to its harmonic, righteous and just proportions:

And the city lieth foursquare, and the length is as large as the breadth: and he measured the city with the reed, twelve thousand furlongs. The length and the breadth and the height of it are equal. Revelation 21: 16

Swedenborg observed that the whole spiritual world consisted of affections because affections (or loves) are spiritual substances. And these substances appeared in their corresponding spiritual forms, thoughts or ideas. Thus, Heaven was filled with unselfish or useful affections and their corresponding rational ideas or beautiful forms while hell was filled with lust, greed and hate and their corresponding morbid ideas and distorted and irrational forms.

We know that the physical universe consists of natural substances, forms and actions. Hence the spiritual world must consist of spiritual substances, forms and actions. Spiritual substances are loves or affections, spiritual forms are ideas or beliefs and spiritual actions are uses. Thus, the Celestial Heaven consists of Celestial angels whose substance is the love of Good, the Spiritual Heaven consists of Spiritual angels whose substance is the love of Truth and the Natural Heaven consists of Natural angels whose substance is the love of Use. And hell consists of devils, satans and genii whose substance is the love of self, love of the world and love of abuses. All these spiritual beings appear in a form that corresponds exactly to their beliefs because ideas or beliefs are spiritual forms.


This can be seen especially from the angels of heaven and from the spirits of hell, all of whom are affections; the spirits of hell evil affections, which are lusts, and the angels of heaven good affections. Every man is an affection, for the reason that his life is love, and the continuations and derivations of love are what are called affections; consequently affections in themselves are loves, but subordinate to the general love as their lord or head. Since, therefore, life itself is love, it follows that each and all things of life are affections, and consequently that man himself is an affection.

Most persons in the world will wonder that this is so, as it has been granted me to know from the testimony of all who pass from the natural world into the spiritual world. Thus far I have not found one who had known that he was an affection; few even knew what affection is; and when I said that affection is love in its continuation and derivation, they inquired what love is; saying that, they know what thought is, because they perceive it; but not what affection is, because no one perceives this. That in the nature of things there is love, they said that they knew from the love of a bride before marriage, and from a mother’s love towards infants, and in some small measure from a father’s love when he kisses a betrothed wife or his infant; and some in place of these said harlot.

When I said to them that thought is nothing whatever by itself, but is something by affection, which is of man’s life’s love, because thought is from affection, as a thing is formed by that which forms it; also that thought is perceived, and not affection, because the thing formed is perceived and not what forms it, just as the body is perceived by the bodily senses and the soul is not,-inasmuch as they were amazed at what was said to them, they were instructed in the subject by many experiments; as for example, that all things of thought are from affection and according to it; again that they could neither think without affection nor contrary to it, also that every one is such as his affection is, and therefore every one is explored from his affection, and no one from his speech; for speech proceeds from the thought belonging to external affection, which is a desire to be courteous, to please, to be praised, to be regarded as good citizens, and men of morality and wisdom, and all these things for the sake of ends belonging to internal affection, of which ends such things are means. And yet from the sound of his speech, unless a man be a consummate hypocrite, the affection itself is heard; for vocal speech belongs to thought, but its sound belongs to affection. Wherefore they were told that as there is no speech without sound, neither can there be thought without affection; and that it is plain therefore that affection is the all of thought, as sound is the all of speech,* for speech is only the articulation of sound. By all this they were instructed that man is nothing but affection; and further, as a consequence, that all heaven is divided, and all hell, as a kingdom is, into provinces and societies, according to generic and specific differences of affections, and not at all in accordance with any differences of thoughts; also that the Lord alone has knowledge of these differences. From this it follows that there are infinite varieties and differences of affections, as many as there are men that have been born and will be born to eternity. Emanuel Swedenborg [On Divine Love 16]

Divine Love

1 In the world it is little comprehended what love is; and yet it is man’s very life
2 The Lord alone is love itself, because life itself, while men and angels are only recipients
3 Life, which is Divine love, is in a form
4 That form is a form of use in its whole complex
5 In such a form is man individually
6 In such a form is man in general
7 In such a form is heaven
8 All things of the world tend to such a form
9 There are as many affections as there are uses
10 There are genera and species of affections and varieties of species to infinity; so of uses
11 There are degrees of affections and of uses
12 Each use draws its life from the general use and from that the necessary, useful and enjoyable things of life flow in according to the quality of the use and the quality of its affection
13 So far as man is in the love of use, so far is he in the Lord, so far he loves the Lord and loves the neighbor, and so far he is a man
14 Those who love themselves above all things, and the world as themselves, are not men, nor are they in the Lord
15 Unless use be the affection or occupation of man, he is not of sound mind
16 Every man is an affection; and there are as many various affections as there are men that have been born, and will be born to eternity
17 Man has eternal life according to his use
18 The will of man is his affection
19 In the Word to love means to perform uses
20 Love produces heat
21 Divine love, which is life itself, by means of heat produces spiritual animal forms, with each and every thing in them

Divine Wisdom

1 In the heavens the Divine wisdom appears before the eyes of the angels as light
2 The Lord created with man and afterward forms with him a receptacle of love, which is his will; and he adjoins to this a receptacle of wisdom, which is his understanding
3 The formation of man in the womb by the Lord by means of influx into these two receptacles
4 There is a likeness and analogy between the formation of man in the womb and his reformation and regeneration
5 With man after birth the will becomes the receptacle of love and the understanding the receptacle of wisdom
6 There is a correspondence of the heart with the will and of the lungs with the understanding
7 The conjunction of the body and the spirit in man is through the motions of his heart and lungs, and a separation takes place when these motions cease
8 There is and there can be no angel or spirit that was not born a man in the world
9 Divine love is Divine good, and Divine wisdom is Divine truth
10 There is a reciprocal conjunction of love and wisdom
11 Love to the Lord from the Lord exists in charity, and wisdom in faith
12 The Lord . . . animates all things in heaven and all things in the world Emanuel Swedenborg [Table of contents to On Divine Love and Divine Wisdom]