Man from his birth is in the midst of infernal societies, and enters into them, precisely as he develops the evil affections of his will. These are all derived from the love of self and the love of the world; the reason is, that these loves turn all the powers of the mind downwards and outwards, thus to hell, which is beneath them, and extraneous to them, and so he turns them away from the Lord, and thus from heaven. The interiors also of everything belonging to the human mind, and also the interiors of everything belonging to man’s spirit, are capable of being turned either downwards or upwards; they are turned downwards when a man loves himself above all things, and upwards when he loves the Lord above all things. It is an actual turning; man of himself turning them downwards, but the Lord of Himself turning them upwards. It is the ruling love that causes the turning. It is only so far as the thoughts are derived from the will that they act in this way upon the interiors of the mind. Man does not know that this is the case, and yet he ought to know, in order that he may understand how he is led by the Lord out of hell, and into heaven.[AE 1163.]
In regard to the number of the hells, there are as many of them as there are angelic societies in the heavens, since there is for every heavenly society a corresponding infernal society as its opposite. That the heavenly societies are numberless, and are all distinguished in accordance with the goods of love, charity, and faith, may be seen in the section that treats of the societies of which the heavens consist (n. 41-50), and in the section on the immensity of heaven (n. 415-420).  The like is true, therefore, of the infernal societies, which are distinguished in accordance with the evils that are the opposites of those goods. Every evil, as well as every good, is of infinite variety. That this is true is beyond the comprehension of those who have only a simple idea regarding any one evil, such as contempt, enmity, hatred, revenge, deceit, and other like evils. But let them know that each one of these evils contains so many specific differences, and each of these again so many specific or particular differences, that a volume would not suffice to enumerate them. The hells are so distinctly arranged in order in accordance with the differences of every evil that nothing could be more perfectly ordered or more distinct. Hence it can be established that the hells are innumerable, near to and remote from one another in accordance with the differences of evils generically, specifically, and particularly.  There are also hells beneath hells. Some communicate with others by transits, and more by exhalations, and this in exact accordance with the affinities of one kind or one species of evil with others. How great the number is of the hells I have been permitted to realize from knowing that there are hells under every mountain, hill, and rock, and also under every plain and valley, and that they stretch out beneath these in length and in breadth and in depth. In a word, the entire heaven and the entire world of spirits are, as it were, excavated beneath, and under them is a continuous hell. These things regarding the number of the hells. [HH 588]
So long as a man lives, the ideas of his thought are varied, that is, they are multiplied and divided, and are thus extended to various and new societies; with those who are in evil, to infernal societies, as also with those who are in the persuasions of falsity. But with those who are in persuasions of truth, that is, in persuasive faith, the ideas of the thought are exceedingly confined; while with those who are being regenerated, the thoughts and affections are continually insinuated into new heavenly societies, and the extension increases. The former thoughts and affections are also divided; and being divided, are associated with ideas, which are again communicated to new societies. More especially generals are filled with particulars, and these with singulars, thus with new truths, whereby the illumination increases. [AC 6610. ]
In order, therefore, that the Divine Providence with the wicked may be clearly seen and thus understood, the propositions stated above now fall to be explained in the order in which they were presented.
First: There are innumerable things in every evil. In man’s sight every evil appears as one single thing. This is the case with hatred and revenge, theft and fraud, adultery and whoredom, arrogance and high-mindedness, and with every other evil; and it is not known that in every evil there are innumerable things, exceeding in number the fibres and vessels in a man’s body. For a wicked man is a hell in its least form; and hell consists of myriads of myriads of spirits, and every one there is in form like a man, although a monstrous one, in which all the fibres and vessels are inverted. The spirit himself is an evil which appears to himself as a “one”; but there are innumerable things in it as many as the lusts of that evil, for every man is his own evil, or his own good, from the head to the sole of his foot. Since then a wicked man is such, it is evident that he is one evil composed of innumerable different evils each of which is a distinct evil, and they are called lusts of evil. Hence it follows that all these in their order must be restored and changed by the Lord in order that the man may be reformed; and this cannot be effected unless by the Divine Providence of the Lord, step by step from the earliest period of man’s life to the last.
 In hell every lust of evil when visually represented appears like a noxious creature, as a dragon, or a cockatrice, or a viper, or a bird of night, or an owl, and so on; and similarly do the lusts of evil appear in a wicked man when he is viewed by angels. All these forms of lusts must be changed one by one; and the man himself, who with respect to his spirit appears as a human monster or devil, must be changed to become like a beautiful angel; and every lust of evil must be changed to appear like a lamb, or a sheep, or a pigeon, or a turtle dove, as the affections of good in the angels appear in heaven when visually represented; and to change a dragon into a lamb, a cockatrice into a sheep, and an owl into a dove can only be effected step by step, by rooting out evil from its very seed and implanting good seed in its stead. This, however, can only be done as is done, for example, in the grafting of trees. When their roots with some of the trunk remain, the engrafted branch draws sap through the old root and turns it into sap that makes good fruit. The branch that is to be engrafted can only be taken from the Lord, who is the Tree of Life. This, moreover, is in accordance with the words of the Lord (John xv. 1-7).
 Second: A wicked man from himself continually leads himself more and more deeply into his evils. It is said, from himself, because all evil is from man, for man turns good that originates from the Lord into evil, as was said above. The real reason why the wicked man immerses himself more deeply in evil is that as he wills and commits evil he advances into infernal societies more and more interiorly and also more and more deeply. Hence also the delight of evil increases, and so occupies his thoughts that at last he feels nothing more pleasant. He who has advanced more interiorly and deeply into infernal societies becomes as if he were bound with chains. So long as he lives in the world, however, he does not feel his chains, for they are as if made from soft wool or from fine threads of silk, and he loves them as they give him pleasure; but after death, instead of being soft they become hard, and instead of being pleasant they become galling.  That the delight of evil mounts up from strength to strength is well known from thefts, robberies, plunderings, acts of revenge, tyranny, unlawful acquisition of wealth and other evils. Who does not feel the exaltation of delight as he succeeds in them and as he practises them without restraint? It is well known that a thief feels such delight in thefts that he cannot desist from them, and what is wonderful, that he finds more pleasure in one stolen coin than in ten that are given him as a gift. It would be the same with adultery if it had not been provided that the power of committing this evil decreases with its indulgence; but yet with many there remains the delight of thinking and talking about it; and if nothing more, there is still the lust of touch.
 It is not known, however, that this increase of delight comes from a man’s penetrating into infernal societies more and more interiorly and more and more deeply as he commits the evils from will and at the same time from thought. If the evils are only in thought and not in the will, the man is not yet in an infernal society with the evil, but he enters it when the evils are also in the will. If he then also thinks that the evil is contrary to the precepts of the Decalogue, and considers these precepts as Divine, he commits the evil of set purpose, and thereby plunges to a depth from which he can be led out only by actual repentance.
 It should be known that every man as to his spirit is in the spiritual world in some society there, a wicked man in an infernal society and a good man in a heavenly society; and sometimes he also appears there when in deep meditation. Moreover, as the sound of the voice with the spoken words diffuses itself in the air in the natural world, so affection with its thought diffuses itself among societies in the spiritual world; and there is a correspondence between them, for affection corresponds to sound and thought to speech.
 Third: The Divine Providence with the wicked is a continual permission of evil, to the end that there may be a continual withdrawal from it. The Divine Providence with wicked men is a continual permission because nothing but evil can proceed from their life; for man, whether he is in good or in evil, cannot be in both at the same time, nor in each alternately unless he is lukewarm; and evil of life is not introduced into the will and through it into the thought by the Lord but by man; and this is called permission.  Now since everything that a wicked man wills and thinks is of permission the question arises, What then is the Divine Providence here, which is said to be in the most individual things with every man, both wicked and good? It consists in this, that it continually grants permission for the sake of the end, and permits such things as pertain to the end and no others; and the evils that proceed by permission it continually keeps under view, separates and purifies, sending away and removing by unknown ways whatever is not consistent with the end. These things are effected principally in man’s interior will, and from this in his interior thought. The Divine Providence is also unceasing in providing that what must be sent away and removed is not received again by the will, since all things that are received by the will are appropriated to the man; but those which are received by the thought and not by the will are separated and removed. This is the Lord’s continual Providence with the wicked and is, as has been stated, a continual permission of evil to the end that there may be an unceasing withdrawal from it.
 Man knows scarcely anything of these operations because he does not perceive them. The chief reason why he does not perceive them is that the evils pertain to the lusts of his life’s love, and these evils are not felt as evils but as delights to which no one pays attention. Who pays any attention to the delights of his love? His thought floats on in them like a boat which is borne along on the current of a river, and there is perceived as it were a fragrant-smelling atmosphere, which is inhaled with a full breath. Only in his external thought can he feel something of them, but even there he pays no attention to them unless he knows well that they are evils. But more will be said concerning this in what follows.
 Fourth: The withdrawal from evil is effected by the Lord in a thousand ways that are most secret. Of these only some have been disclosed to me, and none but the most general, as, that the delights of lusts of which man knows nothing are admitted by companies and groups into the interior thoughts of man’s spirit and from these into his exterior thoughts in which they make their appearance under a certain sense of satisfaction, pleasure, or longing; and there they mingle with his natural and sensual delights. Here are the means of separation and purification, and also the ways of withdrawal and removal. The means are chiefly the delights of meditation, thought and reflection for the attainment of certain ends which are uses; and ends that are uses are as many in number as the particular and individual matters of one’s business and office. They are also as many as the delights of reflection for the attainment of certain ends, as that he may appear to be a civil and a moral man and also a spiritual man, besides the undelightful things which interpose. These delights, because they belong to his love in the external man, are the means of separation, purification, rejection and withdrawal of the delights pertaining to the lusts of evil that belong to the internal man.
 Take, for example, an unjust judge who regards gains or friendship as the ends or uses of his office. Inwardly he is continually engrossed in these, but outwardly his object is to act as a skilled lawyer and a just man. He continually delights in meditating, thinking, reflecting and framing intentions that he may bend, turn, adapt and adjust the right so that it may still appear to conform to the laws and bear a semblance to justice. He does not know that his internal delight consists of cunning, fraud, deceit, clandestine theft and many other evils; and that this delight, composed of so many delights of the lusts of evil, rules in every detail of his external thought, where he harbours the delights of appearing to be a just and sincere man. Internal delights are let down* into these external delights and they are mingled like food in the stomach; and there they are separated, purified and drawn away. This, however, is done only with the more grievous delights of the lusts of evil.
 With a wicked man no separation, purification and removal is possible other than of the more grievous from the less grievous evils. With a good man, however, there can be the separation, purification and removal not only of the more grievous but also of the less grievous evils. This is effected by the delights of the affections of the good and the true, of the just and of the sincere, into which he comes so far as he regards evils as sins, and so shuns and turns away from them, and still more if he fights against them. These are the means by which the Lord cleanses all who are saved. He cleanses them also by external means which pertain to fame and honour, and sometimes to wealth; yet into these the Lord introduces the delights of the affections of good and truth, by which they are so directed and adapted as to become delights of the love of the neighbour.
 If anyone were to see the delights of the lusts of evil together in some form, or were to perceive them distinctly by any sense, he would see and perceive them to be so numerous that they could not be defined; for the whole of hell is only a form** of all the lusts of evil, and there no lust of evil is exactly like another or the same as another, nor can there be such likeness to eternity. Of these innumerable lusts man knows scarcely anything, much less how they are linked together. Yet the Lord by His Divine Providence continually permits them to come forth, to the end that they may be withdrawn; and this is effected in their every order and series; for a wicked man is a hell in its least form, as a good man is a heaven in its least form.
 That the withdrawal from evils is effected by the Lord in numerable and hidden ways cannot be better seen and thus acknowledged than from the hidden operations of the soul in the body. Those of which man has some knowledge are the following: The food which he is about to eat he looks at, learns its nature from its odour, has an appetite for it, tastes it, chews it with his teeth, rolls it with his tongue down to the gullet, and thus to the stomach. But the hidden operations of the soul, of which man knows nothing because he does not perceive them, are the following: The stomach rolls about the food it receives, opens and separates it by means of solvents, that is, digests it, and distributes appropriate portions to the little mouths opening there of the veins which drink them in. It also sends some to the blood, some to the lymphatic vessels, some to the lacteal vessels of the mesentery and some down to the intestines. Then the chyle, conveyed through the thoracic duct from its cistern in the mesentery, is carried into the vena cava, and so into the heart. From this it is carried into the lungs, from them through the left ventricle of the heart into the aorta, and from this by its branches into the viscera of the whole body and also to the kidneys. In each of these organs is effected a separation of the blood, a purification, and a removal of heterogeneous substances, not to mention how the heart sends up its blood to the brain, after it has been purified in the lungs, which is done by the arteries called carotids, and how the brain returns the blood, now vivified, to the vena cava mentioned above, where the thoracic duct brings in the chyle, and so back again to the heart.
 These and innumerable others are the secret operations of the soul in the body. They are not felt by man, and he who is not versed in the science of anatomy knows nothing of them. Yet similar operations take place in the interiors of man’s mind; for nothing can take place in the body except from the mind, since a man’s mind is his spirit, and his spirit is equally a man, with this difference only that whatever is done in the body is done naturally, and whatever is done in the mind is done spiritually: there is a perfect similitude. Hence it is evident that the Divine Providence operates with every man in a thousand hidden ways; and that its unceasing care is to cleanse him because its end is to save him; and that nothing more is incumbent on man than to remove evils in the external man. The rest the Lord provides, if His aid is earnestly implored. [DP 296.]
It is worthy of note, that as the universal heaven bears relation to a man, who from this is called the Grand Man (as shown at the end of many chapters), so each society in like manner bears relation to a man; for the image of the universal heaven flows into the societies, and causes them to be like it; and not only into the societies, but also into the individuals in the society, whence each individual has a human form; for everyone in an angelic society is a heaven in least form. The varieties of their human form are in accordance with the quality of good and of truth with them. Hence it is that every spirit and angel appears in a form wholly in accordance with the communication of his thoughts and affections with the societies. Hence the more they are in good and truth, so are they in a more beautiful form. But if the communication of the thoughts and affections has been diffused into societies not according to heavenly order, then the form is to the same extent unbeautiful. And if the communication is with infernal societies, then the form is ugly and devilish; and those who are in total opposition to good and truth, being in opposition to the form of heaven (which is the human form), in the light of heaven appear not as men, but as monsters. This is the case with the whole of hell, with the societies therein, and with the individuals in the societies; and this also with variety according to the degree of opposition of evil against good and of the derivative falsity against truth. [AC 6605.]
Author: EMANUEL SWEDENBORG (1688-1772)