Heaven and Hell as States of Being
Swedenborg's wonderful book, Heaven and Hell, should be read by
everybody. It is crammed full of detailed information about the
spiritual world, "from things heard and seen," about the life after
death, which we shall one day experience. In a short chapter like this we
can consider only a few points.
Distance and Position in the Spiritual WorldSince the spiritual world is non-material, everything there springs from and reflects the spiritual nature of the local inhabitants. This includes nearness and distance in relation one to another; also the character of their surroundings, which corresponds exactly to their states of mind. The actual position each spirit occupies is determined by the way he loves the Lord. Those who love God most deeply are "nearest" to him; whereas those who detest, hate and fear God are "farthest" away. All others occupy positions somewhere in between, according to their ruling love. Heaven consists of those many regions where good spirits or "angels" dwell, whereas Hell is where the evil spirits ("devils" or "satans") live. Heaven and Hell appear to be far apart, because the characters of the inhabitants are far apart.
The Intermediate Region, or World of SpiritsThere is also another region, neither Heaven nor Hell but in equilibrium between the two. The existence, nature and function of this intermediate region (called "The World of Spirits") is basic to the Swedenborgian philosophy of life after death. The region lies alongside our natural or physical universe; we are living in it, as to our spirits, while we are in the natural world, and we wake up in it when we "die." Superficially, it closely resembles our world in almost every respect, which is not surprising, since our physical world and the World of Spirits are closely linked together, like soul and body. There are, as one might expect, regions in the World of Spirits corresponding to all towns and villages on earth, because wherever people are living here in this world, their spirits are (unconsciously) in the World of Spirits, coloring it with their quality. Here, then, is where the "dead" find themselves when they first become conscious on the other side, and here they remain for a while, before passing on to their eternal homes.
Sub-Divisions of Heaven and HellJesus said that in Heaven there are "many mansions." In other words, there are hundreds of thousands of communities or societies, comparable to our cities, towns and villages, each differing from the others. The same applies, of course, to Hell.
The Two Realms
In general, these communities fall into two categories or realms. This is because there are two basic types of people: those who think (as it were) with their hearts—the "affection" type; and those who think with their heads—the "intellect" type. The two types can be found right through Heaven and Hell, like the blood system and the nerve system in the human body. Swedenborg calls the “affection” type "celestial" and the intellect type "spiritual." These terms are continually recurring in Swedenborg's writings, and should be understood.
The Three Heavens
A different kind of division can be made into three Heavens and three Hells, three separate countries or nations, as it were, corresponding to the head, trunk and limbs of the human body. The characters of the inhabitants are as follows:
We shall deal more fully in our next chapter with the different kinds of ruling love which are responsible for producing these divisions.
It is quite easy to travel within one's particular Heaven or Hell, though not so easy beyond its borders. If you want to visit somebody at a distance, all you have to do is to bring yourself temporarily into harmony with their state, and you find yourself traveling towards them. You may be "walking" if the distance is short; or "flying" if the distance is considerable. This "flying" is a rapid projection from one place to another. Angels do not have wings! (The Bible refers to angels flying but does not mention wings.) If a journey is to be made to a distant region, where the state of the inhabitants is alien, a kind of flying machine is used, referred to in the Bible as a "chariot," or "chariot of fire." (II Kings 2:11, and 6:17)
It is easier still to speak to someone at a distance. For this you do not have to bring yourself into harmony with their state; you simply focus your thoughts on them, and they appear in front of you, and you can converse with them. When the conversation is ended, you cease to think of them, and they disappear like a video chat.
LanguageThere is only one language in the spiritual world, the language of thought. When you want to express yourself, your thoughts come out of your mouth as sound, and other people, hearing the sound, know at once what you are thinking. The language of thought can be written as well as spoken; the thoughts themselves are set down by little marks, and anyone seeing the characters can at once recognize the thoughts.
You do not have to study and learn the spiritual language. Anyone in the spiritual world can express himself, in speech or writing, so that everyone else can understand him. For example, a baby who has not learned any language can make sounds meaning, "I'm hungry," "I'm tired," "I'm bored," "I've a pain in my tummy," "I'm frightened," "I'm cross," and anyone in the world can understand it! Lovers can also communicate across language barriers by pure sound! Probably the polyglot crowd at Pentecost had their consciousness opened into the spiritual world and so could hear one another speak, each in his own tongue, the wonderful works of God. (Acts 2:4-11.)
Objects and Surroundings
All objects and surroundings in the spiritual world are a projection of the states of the people in the vicinity. The whole landscape is like a mirror reflecting their thoughts and affections by a system of symbolism. The rocks are formed by their basic beliefs; the birds are molded by their rapidly-flying thoughts, the animals by their affections, and so on. For example: if a group of angels is engaged in a lively discussion on spiritual matters, horses might appear, galloping around them, or they might seem to themselves to be riding on horseback—because horses correspond to an affection for intellectual truths. Angels who are particularly innocent are surrounded by sheep and lambs, because these soft woolly animals correspond to innocence. Angels who delight in "drinking in" truth live in regions of lakes and rivers, because water corresponds to truth. Angels of a "lofty" disposition live in high places, thus celestial angels live on mountains, spiritual angels on hills, and natural angels on level plains. Evil spirits dwell in deep valleys or holes in the ground, because they are of a "low" mentality.
In consequence of this law of correspondence, Heaven is a paradise of beautiful flower-gardens and orchards, wide pastures with flocks and herds, and pleasant streams of water—a perfect reflection of the beauty of character of the inhabitants. On the other hand, the scenery of Hell is, to the angels, threatening and repulsive. The inhabitants of these regions do not dislike the kind of country and climate in which they live. It agrees with them, because it is in harmony with their own inner nature. They would find Heaven intolerable!
The Spiritual Sun
The Sun of Heaven is the Lord himself as he first appears in his finite creation. The heat of the Sun is his love, and its light is his wisdom. Now here is a strange thing: since the angels always have the Lord in the forefront of their minds, the Sun is always directly in front of them, no matter which way they turn! It never sets; they are always in brilliant daylight. Clouds, however, sometimes cover the sun, as when they cease to think of the Lord for awhile and turn inward to themselves; then, temporarily losing their contact with him, they go to sleep. When eventually they awake, their Sun is brighter than ever! The inhabitants of Hell hate the Lord. They reject the divine Sun, putting it permanently behind their backs. Thus, no matter which way they turn, they are always in their own shadow.
Angels derive a great deal of their happiness from serving one another or performing "uses," without thought of reward or any kind of recompense. Thus Heaven is a very busy place, everybody fully occupied with work that suits them and that they can do well. There are far more types of employment in Heaven than on earth, many of them being the spiritual equivalent of worldly occupations. Besides serving one another in a thousand different ways, the angels care for people still on this earth—as our guardian angels— and also receive, help and guide new arrivals in the World of Spirits. Certain of the wisest and most loving of the angels are given the difficult and thankless job of policing the hells.
It is true we are told in the Bible that "the dead shall rest from their labors." But this refers to the work of resisting evils during the process of regeneration. Once we have left this world and entered Heaven, temptation combats cease, and in this sense we enjoy eternal rest. But how bored we should be if we had nothing to do!There are employments in Hell, also. These are mandatory, because being busy keeps the evil spirits away to some extent from the itch of their sinful desires; and so, the harder they have to work, the less miserable and frustrated they become. Of course, they don't like having to work and object strongly.