from Brian Kingslake, "Inner Light: Swedenborg Explores the Spiritual Dimension (J. Appleseed & Co. : Boston, MA 1991)

Table of  Contents


Chapter 4

The Natural and Spiritual Worlds

Where is the Spiritual World?

The world in which we are now consciously living, with its earths, rocks and water, plants and animals, the air we breathe, the sky above us, the sun, moon and stars ... these all constitute the natural world, which is also called the "material" or "physical" world. Our physical bodies are part of it, including our eyes, nose and mouth, our brain, our sense of touch. Thus we can only see, hear, taste and touch natural, physical or material objects.

We know, however, that there is also a spiritual world. Where is it? Some say, "Up in the sky!" Yet, however high up you go in a jet or rocket, you will not find it there. We have already visited the moon, and one day we will travel to the planets, and even perhaps to the stars; yet, wherever we go, the things we see will be natural, material or physical, just like the ones here on earth. The truth is that the spiritual world is here—all around, below and above us, just as the natural world is. If someone were to ask you where the natural world is, you would have to answer, "Here!" The same answer would be correct if they asked you where the spiritual world is.

But, the spiritual world is on an entirely different plane of being and is made of a different kind of substance altogether. It is not made of matter but of spiritual substance. Therefore our eyes, which are made of matter, cannot see it, nor can our hands feel it. We can walk right through its most solid objects. Because of this, some people have doubts whether the spiritual world exists; yet it is here, quite as "real" as anything physical—even more real; and we are part of it, just as we are part of the natural world.

 The Spiritual World Visible after Death

When a person is said to "die," it is only the physical body that dies. He is drawn out of it, and it rots away, since the spiritual body is no longer vitalizing it. It has served its purpose. He no longer needs it, just as an ocean diver no longer needs his diving suit when his work at the bottom of the sea is completed. The dead person's consciousness slips over into his or her spiritual body, which indeed he or she had always possessed, but without being conscious of it previously. The spiritual body becomes adapted to life on the physical plane. Moreover, spiritual substance appears just as "solid" to the spiritual eyes as physical objects appear to the physical eyes. At first after death there is no awareness of any change. The newly-awakened spirit finds themselves in a body closely resembling their former body, with all the organs and limbs complete: eyes, ears, hands, feet; a blood system, breathing apparatus, and so on, but all made of spiritual substance and responding to spiritual stimuli. The person's situation is now reversed: natural objects are now invisible. He or she walks right through them as if they did not exist, since the person now lacks the organs with which to register them. But they now exercise sensory organs that make them fully conscious of spiritual objects.


All who have discarded their physical bodies and are living consciously in the spiritual world are called "spirits." The good ones are "angels" and the evil ones are "satans" or "devils." They are not at all like a breath of air or a puff of smoke, nor do they appear to one another as ghosts. On the contrary, if a spirit could see you now, he would probably think you were a ghost or a puff of smoke! Are you a ghost? Of course not! You seem to yourself to be real and solid, with your organs and limbs complete. So you will feel yourself to be, after death. Maybe you have a physical handicap now? Perhaps a missing hand, arm or leg? After death your body will be perfect.

Death, then, merely involves a switch-over of consciousness from the physical body to the spiritual body, after which the physical body is disposed of. You will not need it again: it can be buried, burnt, cut up by medical students, eaten by wild beasts. You yourself will never know what happens to it, nor will you care.

When people die, they do not make a journey of any kind; they just stay where they are. But they now look out into the spiritual realm instead of into the natural realm. The process of death is so smooth and easy, and the new environment so closely resembles the old, that many people, when they first wake up after death, do not realize what has happened to them. Those of a materialistic nature who have confirmed themselves in a denial of life after death continue to deny it, even after they have been "dead" for hundreds of years by earthly reckoning! Swedenborg met many such, who argued hotly that they were still alive on earth, and that when they died they would be snuffed out like a candle!

Seeing Visions

While we are in the natural world, our spiritual body is, as it were, "asleep." In special cases, however, it can be awakened, allowing us to have glimpses of the life beyond. Abraham, Gideon and several other characters in the Bible, met and conversed with angels as with people. Elisha's servant had his inner eyes opened at Dothan, and saw horses and chariots of fire in the spiritual world. (II Kings 6:17.) On the Mount of Transfiguration, Peter, James and John saw Moses and Elijah, hundreds of years after these men had "died." Emanuel Swedenborg enjoyed this gift to a remarkable degree: for nearly thirty years he was conscious, sometimes in the natural world, sometimes in the spiritual world, and sometimes in both simultaneously.

Quite ordinary people have been known to see spirits or ghosts. This can be explained by saying that their spiritual eyes have been half-opened but not properly focused, like our physical eyes when we first awake from sleep. Such ghosts may actually be real people in the spiritual world, only they are not seen clearly. Remember how Jesus once restored the sight of a blind man, who at first saw "men as trees walking," and only afterwards perceived them clearly. (Mark 8:23-25.) Spirits can sometimes see into our natural world through the eyes of someone living here. For example, spirits were able to look out through the eyes of Emanuel Swedenborg and see what he saw in Stockholm or London.

Angels and Devils not a Separate Species

All human beings live forever. Everyone who was ever born since the Creation still lives—first in this world and then in the spirit. The converse is also true. Everyone now in the spiritual world came originally from the human race, on this earth or some other earth in the material universe. Death is the only gateway into eternal life. No angel was ever created as an angel and there are no "fallen angels" in Hell.

Angels do not have wings, as is so often believed. True, the Bible says they can "fly," but we are never told they have wings. (Surely Abraham would have noticed it if his three visitors had wings? [Genesis 18:1-16.]) Nor do devils have horns, hooves and tails. I don't know where this idea came from, but anyway it is utter nonsense! Angels and devils are just "people," ordinary human beings, like you and me. One day we shall be of their number, angels or devils, as we wish. (See also "Do Angels fly?")

Symbolic Figures

The Bible refers to certain symbolic figures which appear sometimes in the spiritual world, usually representing the state of the church: creatures with four faces and cows' hooves; composite figures looking like a mixture of a human, a lion and an eagle, and so on. Isaiah saw a seraph with six wings that carried a live coal from the altar. In just such a way do our artists represent symbolic figures, such as a horse with wings, Hermes with wings on his feet, and such like. But these symbolic figures are not angels! You might just as well conclude, because artists in Victorian times painted pictures of winged Cupids shooting arrows into lovers' breasts, that chubby babies in those days fluttered about like birds!

Postscript on Reincarnation

Owing to the influence of Asian religions, many people today believe in reincarnation. This is not supported by Swedenborg; and indeed it seems to pose more questions than it answers.

(1) How could a mature adult come back into the world as an ignorant baby? And what would be the use if he could not remember any of his former experiences? And what guarantee would there be that he would not merely repeat his former mistakes? Would not a mature adult after death, who felt he had missed out on some element of his education, prefer to attend adult classes rather than go back to kindergarten?

(2) Can the theory of reincarnation account satisfactorily for the inequalities of life on earth? How about the millions of Jews rounded up and put to death in Nazi concentration camps: did they all have exactly the same need of expiation? And the millions of Blacks taken into slavery? And the whole villages in India and elsewhere, rendered homeless by earthquake and flood?

(3) Reincarnation is supposed to account for infant prodigies and child geniuses, like Mozart. Swedenborg would explain these by emphasizing the tremendous influence that attendant spirits have upon each one of us, more on some than on others, depending on receptivity. Many creative artists have gladly acknowledged that they have been inspired from within. The presence of spirits also accounts for what the reincarnationists call "long memory"- where a person seems to remember scenes and events which took place "in a former incarnation." The true explanation is that the person concerned has unconsciously tapped into the latent memory of an attendant spirit who actually did live in that long ago time and far-distant place. He has understandably mistaken the spirit's memory for his own.

To Chapter 5