Many people have trouble imagining what life would be like in the spiritual world. But it is not too difficult to conceive of such a life when we use the science of correspondences.
If the natural atmosphere consists of natural Light, air, water and earth, by correspondence, the spiritual atmosphere must consist of Spiritual light or Love, spiritual air or rational Truth, spiritual water or faith and spiritual earth or sensual knowledge. Thus, the natural world consists of natural substances and forms while the spiritual world must necessarily consist of spiritual substances and forms or affections and ideas.
In the natural world, we have a natural body of natural flesh and blood. This natural body consists of organic cells, organs and members. We have natural eyes to see the shades or colors of Light, ears to hear music or words. We have a nose to smell the various odors in the air and the scent of flowers. We have a mouth and a tongue to receive, taste and eat food as well as to speak. We have feet and legs to stand firm on the ground and walk to various places. And finally, we have hands to work and do useful tasks.
Well, life in the spiritual world is similar in many ways. While in the spiritual world, Swedenborg discovered that spirits and angels also have a body and bodily senses. The only difference is that the outer body they project is in exact correspondence with their real affections and beliefs. Thus the flesh of their spiritual body consists of their real loves and its blood is their real beliefs. In fact, this spiritual body is an exact representation of who they really are inwardly. Hence, angel bodies display the graceful proportions of Heaven because Heaven itself is in the Divine-Human form or Divine Truth. In contrast, evil spirits tend to project a distorted spiritual body in the spiritual atmosphere because their loves are evil (selfish) and their beliefs are irrational (false). And, by Divine Mercy, evil spirits cannot see their imperfections because the hellish atmosphere in which they subsist is relatively obscure. However, in Heaven’s Light their distorted forms are clearly perceivable.
Now, in the spiritual world, our sense of sight is in exact correspondence with our understanding. And, the more we understand, the more enlightened and beautiful our environment appears to be. The more we obey the Laws of Heaven, the more melodious the sounds and speech we can hear. The pleasant scents we can smell from flowers are also in exact correspondence with our sense of justice. This is why in hell evil spirits are attracted by foul odors; they lack judgment.
In the spiritual world, our garments are a projection of our intelligence. The more we are in spiritual truths, the more splendid is our heavenly garment. Our house tends to be a representation of our usefulness because it reflects the nobility of our function in spiritual society. Thus, in Heaven, we receive all these blessings gratuitously from the Lord because we perform our work purely out of Love. However, in hell, devils must periodically refrain from their mischievous and selfish deeds and compel themselves to do some menial useful work in order to be fed, clothed and sheltered.
Since the spiritual world is omnipresent, we are always present with those whom we love and separated from those who do not have the same loves and beliefs as our own. And, consequently, there is a great gulf between Heaven and hell because Heaven is a kingdom of love and usefulness while hell is a kingdom of selfishness and abuses.
Heaven is filled with gardens, trees and fruits because these represent the spiritual knowledge or intelligence that flows through the minds of angels and the useful works that they do. Gentle and useful fish, birds and animals are also part of the scenery because these represent their meaningful ideas, thoughts and affections. Hell, on the other hand, is filled with underground caves, dark tunnels and deserts inhabited by unclean, wild and ferocious beasts because the mind of devils is filled with negative thoughts and their heart with selfish lusts. Moreover, the lands in which they reside are not fertile because their natural mind is selfish and uncultivated.
The city in which we live in the spiritual world is in exact correspondence with the doctrines that we value. Its gates are the introductory truths by which we have entered. This city is usually protected by walls and towers which represent the truths by which we defend our values. Thus, the cities in which angels live are well-protected because their souls are defended by the truths of the Word. And the streets on which they walk correspond to the truths from the Word by which they live and which lead to useful works of Good. In contrast, the cities in hell are in a state of devastation and have no walls because devils are unprotected by truth and their streets lead nowhere because they are in fantasy, falsehood, selfishness and abuse.
Finally, Heaven is filled with Light, beauty, joy, peace and warmth because the angels are conjoined with God by means of Divine Love, Wisdom and Use. But, in hell, devils subsist in spiritual darkness, conflict, violence and war because their mind is in selfish opinions, lies and falsehoods and their heart consists of unfulfilled lusts, desires and passions.
The things that manifest themselves visibly in the world of spirits and in heaven are too numerous to recount. Since the subject here is the light, let an account be given of the things that are the direct product of the light, such as the skies, paradise gardens, rainbows, palaces, and dwelling- places. These to the eyes of spirits and angels are there so bright and vivid, and at the same time appreciated with each of the senses, that they say those objects are real while those in the world are in comparison not real.
As regards the skies which surround the blessed, which are attributable to the light because they are the product of that light, they are countless; and such is their beauty and loveliness that they defy description. There are adamantine skies which glitter in every smallest part, as if made of tiny spherical diamonds. There are skies that resemble the sparkling of every precious stone. There are skies that look like great pearls with light streaming through their centres and shot through with the brightest colours. There are skies aflame as if made of gold or of silver, even of diamond-like gold and silver. There are skies consisting of flowers varying in colour, but too small to be seen individually. Such, in their countless varieties, fill the heaven of little children. Indeed skies also manifest themselves there which seem to contain the shapes of little children at play, but too small to be seen individually and perceptible solely in the inner recesses of the mind. From these shapes little children gain the idea that everything around them is alive and shares in the Lord’s life. This idea gives them a feeling of happiness in their inmost being. There are many more kinds of skies, for their varieties are countless and beyond description.
As regards the paradise gardens, these are breath-taking. Such gardens are to be seen, of vast extent, consisting of trees of every kind, and so beautiful and lovely as to surpass everything imaginable. These are presented so vividly before the eyes of spirits or angels that they not merely see them but even perceive the details far more vividly than the sight of the eye can take such things in on earth. To prevent my having any doubt about it, I too have been taken there. It is in front and a little higher- near the corner of the right eye. This is where those are who live the life of paradise; and there I saw them. Every single thing growing there appears at its loveliest as in spring and blossom-time, with astounding magnificence and variety. Every single one owes its life to being representative, for there is nothing that is not a representation and does not carry some celestial or spiritual meaning. In this way they not only delight the eye but also fill the mind with happiness.
There were certain souls recently arrived from the world who, on account of the assumptions they had adopted during their lifetime, doubted whether things of this sort could possibly be found in the next life where there is no wood or stone. They were brought up to that place, and from there they talked to me. In their amazement they said that it was beyond description, that they could never think of any way of representing how far beyond description it was, and that forms of joy and happiness shone from every detail – and this in ever-changing variety. Souls who are introduced into heaven normally make first of all for the paradise gardens. The angels however look at those gardens quite differently. It is not the gardens that delight them but what they represent, the celestial and spiritual things which give rise to them. These also account for the paradise gardens which the Most Ancient Church had.
As regards rainbows, there is a kind of rainbow heaven where the whole sky seems to be made up of a succession of tiny rainbows. In that region are those who belong to the province of the inner eye. They are on the right, in front, and a little way up. The entire sky or air there consists of such sparkling forms, with rays emanating so to speak from separate sources. Around runs a very beautiful large-scale rainbow, composed of similar smaller rainbows, each of which is a very beautiful likeness of the larger one. Each colour consists of countless rays, so that myriads make up one perceptible and general whole. This is a kind of modification of the sources of light by the celestial and spiritual things which produce them, and at the same time present before the eyes an idea that is representative of themselves. The differences and the variations in rainbows are countless, some of which I have been allowed to witness. To convey some idea of the ways in which they differ, and to make it clear how one visible band consists of countless rays, let just one or two of them be described.
The form of one of the large rainbows was shown to me, so that from it I could get to know what their smallest forms were like. It was a pure white light with a kind of border, in the middle of which was a dark object as if made of earth. This was surrounded by an extremely luminous halo, itself variegated and divided up by another luminescence that had yellow dots like tiny stars. Additional variegations were produced by flowers of different colours entering the luminous area. The colours of these flowers emanated not from a white light but from a flame-like one. All of these appearances were representative of celestial and spiritual things. All the colours that are seen in the next life represent that which is celestial or spiritual. The colours emanating from the flame-like light represent things that belong to love and the affection for good, whereas colours emanating from the white light represent those that belong to faith and the affection for truth. These are the sources of all colours in the next life, and they are therefore so resplendent that the colours of this world cannot compare with them. Colours also exist there which are never seen in this world.
I also saw a rainbow shape which had a green area, the colour of grass, in its centre; and I was aware of a kind of sun to one side, and so out of sight, which illuminated it with a flood of light so white as to defy description. It was edged with most attractive variations of colour on a surface of shining pearl. These and other things demonstrated the forms that rainbows take in their tiniest parts, and that countless variations exist, which are determined by the charity, and faith deriving from this, of the person to whom the representation appears. He also resembles a rainbow to those who can see him in all his beauty and glory.
In addition to the gardens, cities too are to be seen with magnificent palaces, built in terraces, resplendent in colours, and far superior to anything architects can design. It is not surprising therefore that the like were also seen by the prophets when their interior sight had been opened, seen indeed so plainly that nothing in the world is ever plainer, such as the New Jerusalem seen by John, which he also describes in the following words,
He carried me away in the spirit on to a great and high mountain and showed me the great city, the Holy Jerusalem, having a wall great and high, having twelve gates. The structure of its wall was jasper, and the city was pure gold like clear* glass. The foundations of the wall were furnished with every precious stone, the first foundation was jasper, the second sapphire, the third chalcedony, the fourth emerald, the fifth sardonyx, the sixth sardius, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, the twelfth amethyst. Rev. 21:10, 12, 18-20.
Similar scenes were witnessed by the prophets as well. Countless things such as these are seen in broad daylight by angels and angelic spirits, and what is astonishing, they are perceived by each of the senses. This no one is ever able to believe who has done away with spiritual ideas by means of the terms and definitions employed in human philosophy and by means of reasonings; yet they are utterly true. That they are true could have been grasped from the fact that they have been seen so often by saints.
In addition to the cities and palaces, I have also on occasions been allowed to see the decorative work there, such as that of stairways and of doors. These decorations are full of movement, as though they were living, and constantly change to reveal new beauty and symmetry. I have been told that such variations can continue in this fashion, even for ever, with a harmony for ever new, and with the very succession of variations forming a harmony as well. I was also told that these were merely some of the least significant things.
All angels have their own dwellings in the places where they are, and these are magnificent. I have been to those places; I have seen them frequently, and have been astonished; and I have talked to those there. They stand out so clearly and distinctly that nothing can be more clear and distinct. Dwellings on earth scarcely stand any comparison with them whatever. The angels go so far as to declare that dwelling places on earth are dead and unreal, whereas their own are alive and true because they come from the Lord. Their architecture is such as to be the source of the art of architecture; and it is endlessly varied. They have said that if they were offered all the palaces existing in the whole world they would not exchange them for their own. So far as they are concerned, what is made of stone, clay, or wood is dead, whereas what derives from the Lord, and from life itself and light itself, is alive – the more so since they experience them with all of their senses. For what exists there is utterly appropriate to the senses of spirits and angels, while what is illuminated by the physical sun they cannot see at all with their own sight. Things made of stone and wood however are appropriate to the senses men possess while they live in the physical body. Spiritual things go with spiritual, and physical with physical.
The dwellings of good spirits and of angelic spirits usually have porticoes or vaulted, sometimes double-vaulted, galleries where they can stroll. The walls of these porticoes are variously constructed. They are also decorated with flowers and with marvelously woven garlands of flowers, besides many other decorations which, as has been stated, change and replace one another. Sometimes they see them in brighter light, sometimes in dimmer, but always with interior delight. The places also where they reside change into more beautiful ones as spirits grow in perfection. When they are changing, something like a window appears on the side. This is then enlarged and greater obscurity develops inside, and one sees something of the sky so to speak with stars, and a kind of cloud. This is a sign that their dwelling-places are changing into more pleasant ones.
Spirits are highly indignant that men have no conception of the life of spirits and angels, or that men imagine that they dwell in a state of obscurity, which must be very miserable, and that they are so to speak in an empty void, when in fact they live in the strongest light, can enjoy all good things with every one of their senses, so much so that they are able to perceive them most intimately. There were also certain souls recently arrived from the world who, on account of the assumptions they had adopted there, had brought with them the idea that such things did not exist in the next life. They were therefore taken into angels’ homes, where they talked to them and saw those things. When they resumed they said they perceived that it was true and that such things were indeed a reality, and that they never had nor could have believed it during their lifetime. They also said that these things belonged inevitably among the wonderful things people do not believe because they do not have any conception of them. As however this is an experience of the senses, although of the interior senses, they are told this, that they still ought not to doubt the reality of things merely because they do not have any conception of them. Indeed, they are told, if they believed nothing except that of which they have some conception, they would believe nothing concerning things of an interior nature, still less those of eternal life. Here lies the reason for the insanity of our own times.
On entering the next life people who have been rich during their lifetime and have dwelt in magnificent palaces, fixing their heaven in such things, and who, devoid of conscience or charity, have under various pretexts robbed others of their goods, are first led, as stated already, into the selfsame life that was theirs in the world. And sometimes they are allowed to dwell in palaces, just as they had done in the world. For all initially are received in the next life as guests and newcomers; and so that their interiors and aims in life may not yet be disclosed, angels from the Lord are sent to give them pleasure and treat them kindly. The scene however changes – the palaces slowly fade away and become small houses, becoming successively poorer until at length they cease to exist. At that point they go around like people begging for alms, and asking to be taken in. But being what they are, they are rejected from the communities. At length they become as excrement, and give off a stink like that of bad teeth. Emanuel Swedenborg [AC 1620-1631]
I have also been permitted to look into the hells and to see what they are within; for when the Lord pleases, the sight of a spirit or angel from above may penetrate into the lowest depths beneath and explore their character, notwithstanding the coverings. In this way I have been permitted to look into them. Some of the hells appeared to the view like caverns and passages in the rocks extending inward and then downward into an abyss, either obliquely or vertically. Some of the hells appeared to the view like the dens and caves of wild beasts in forests; some like the hollow caverns and passages that are seen in mines, with tunnels extending towards the lower regions. Most of the hells are threefold, the upper one appearing within to be in dense darkness, because inhabited by those who are in the falsities of evil; while the lower ones appear fiery, because inhabited by those who are in evils themselves, dense darkness corresponding to the falsities of evil, and fire to evils themselves. For those who have acted interiorly from evil are in the deeper hells, and those who have acted exteriorly from evil, that is, from the falsities of evil, are in the hells that are less deep. Some hells present an appearance like the ruins of houses and cities after conflagrations, in which infernal spirits dwell and hide themselves. In the milder hells there is an appearance of rude huts, in some cases contiguous in the form of a city with lanes and streets, and within the houses are infernal spirits engaged in unceasing quarrels, enmities, fightings, and brutalities; while in the streets and lanes, robberies and depredations are committed. In some of the hells there are nothing but brothels, disgusting to the sight and filled with every kind of filth and excrement. Again, there are dark forests, in which infernal spirits roam like wild beasts and where, too, there are underground tunnels into which those flee who are pursued by others. There are also deserts, where all is barren and sandy, and where in some places there are ragged rocks in which there are caverns, and in some places huts. Into these desert places, are cast out from the hells those who have suffered every extremity of punishment, especially those who in the world have been more cunning than others in undertaking and contriving intrigues and deceits. Such a life is their final lot. Emanuel Swedenborg [HH 586]
AFTERLIFE by Emanuel Swedenborg, Abridged and Rearranged by Donald L. Rose, Editor, courtesy of Swedenborg Foundation
Painting Credit: Venice – Ivan Aivazovsky, 1842