Topical and Doctrinal Notes
Leading Thought: Horses and Chariots of Fire
When we read in the Word about people who have gone up to heaven as Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven; as the angel seen by Manoah and his wife, the parents of Samson, ascended in the flame of the altar (Judges 13:20), and as the Lord Himself was seen forty days after His resurrection to ascend into heaven where a cloud received Him out of the sight of the apostles - such ascensions were always seen with the eyes of the spirit of the beholders, not with the eyes of the material body. The horses and chariot of fire that were seen when Elijah went up into heaven, then, were not in the natural, but in the spiritual world.
Swedenborg tells us in the largest work he wrote, the Arcana Coelestia, and also in the very smallest he wrote - consisting of a few pages - on the White Horse, that he also has seen horses and chariots of fire in the spiritual world. Before we read what he says on this subject, we want to remember that in the spiritual world differently from the natural world, the surroundings of people are always in correspondence with their character. By this I mean that the scenery, the trees, bushes and flowers, the birds and animals, the houses, the sky and the clouds, the atmosphere, the very ground upon which they walk, always show very accurately what they love, what they think, and what they do. So that you can tell at a distance from the objects you see what kind of people they are whom you are approaching. If they are people who are very curious to know things, calves appear grazing and sporting in a meadow. If they are people who are very keen in seeing the truth, eagles are soaring in the sky. If they are people who are great lovers of liberty, there are deer in beautiful parks.
The reason why animals and plants and other objects that are mentioned in the Word mean spiritual things, and represent them, is because such objects appear in the spiritual world, representing spiritual and heavenly things. There is no other reason. Therefore, when the Lord revealed to people the long-lost science of correspondences, through Emanuel Swedenborg, He introduced Swedenborg into the spiritual world so that he lived consciously in both worlds, the spiritual and the natural at the same time, for many years, and he described many of the sights he witnessed in the spiritual world.
So he tells us many interesting things about horses there. He says that where the intelligent and wise people live in the spiritual world, there you always see horses and carriages. The horses are beautiful and spirited, of various sizes and appearance. The harness they wear is often mounted with silver and gold. The carriages are also of various sizes and shapes. Some look like the ancient chariots, carved in the shape of eagles, whales, stags with antlers, unicorns, etc. The horses all represent the understanding: that is, they represent how people learn the truths the angels teach them from the Lord, and how they receive them. The most beautiful horses are white, like those described in the book of Revelation (19:11, 14). This represents the true understanding of the Lord's Word. Carriages and chariots represent the teaching or doctrine of truth.
When in the world of spirits, people have been instructed by angels in the truths of the heavenly doctrine, then they are ready to ascend into heaven because then they have heavenly intelligence, and they are taken up into heaven in a chariot of fire drawn by shining horses. The chariot of fire represents the heavenly doctrine which teaches about love for the Lord and the neighbor.
After we know about such occurrences in the other life, is it not easy to understand why Elijah, who represented the Word and therefore people who love the Word, was taken up into heaven in this way?
Unless we knew this, it would seem very strange that Elisha should call Elijah a “chariot,” and “horses,” for we read “And Elisha saw, and cried, ‘My father, my father, the chariot of Israel and the horsemen thereof!’”
But when we realize that Elijah represented the Lord as the Word, and that “chariot” means teaching from the Word, and “horsemen” means the understanding of the Word, then we can clearly see why he was called “the chariot of Israel and the horsemen thereof,” for the Lord teaches us by His Word, and thus enables us to understand all things relating to Himself and the Word.
You have doubtless studied Greek and Roman mythology in school. Do you know that those mythologies are full of correspondences which were learned from the Ancient Church - from the Egyptians and Phoenicians and other nations who belonged to that church? You know that they described the sun, by the god Helios, and sometimes by Phoebus Apollo. This god represented Wisdom and Intelligence to them, and therefore you see him, in pictures and sculptures, sitting in a splendid chariot drawn by four horses.
So Neptune, the god of the ocean, is also depicted
with horses because the sea, being a great collection of water, signifies
knowledges and sciences of truth. These belong to the intellect, and this
is represented by the horses. In fact, sciences arise from the intellect,
and to represent this origin, the Ancients told a story about the winged
horse Pegasus, who with his hoof burst open a fountain at which sat the
nine Muses, who represent the different sciences.