An excerpt from Secrets of Heaven by Emanuel Swedenborg, sections #1620–30
There are more objects to be seen in the world of spirits and heaven than can be listed. As the present subject is light, let me tell about the things that arise directly out of the light, such as atmospheres, parks, rainbows, palaces, and houses. With their outward eyes, spirits and angels see these items as being so radiant and alive, so perceptible to all their senses, that they declare them to be real and the objects of the world to be unreal by comparison.
I start with the atmospheres that the blessed live in, which are made of light, because they rise out of the light there. The number of different kinds cannot be counted, and they are so beautiful and pleasant that they cannot be described. There are diamond-like atmospheres that flash in all their most minuscule elements, as if they were made of diamond pellets. There are atmospheres that resemble the gleam of all kinds of gems. There are atmospheres seemingly made of translucent pearls glowing from within, streaking the air with the most brilliant colors. There are atmospheres afire with gold, it seems, or with silver, or with diamond-like gold and silver. There are atmospheres composed of multicolored flowers so small they cannot be seen; countless variations on this type of atmosphere fill the heaven where small children live. In fact one even sees atmospheres composed of what seem to be children at play, again at a size that is too small to see but that can be perceived, although only by the deepest power of thought. This gives young children the idea that everything around them is alive and is part of the Lord’s stream of life—a thought that gladdens them to the core.
There are many other kinds of atmosphere besides, because the variations are beyond number and also beyond description.
To turn now to the magnificent gardens: they are breathtaking. Huge parks containing every kind of tree come into view, so beautiful and so charming that they defy all power of imagination. They are presented to the inhabitants’ outward sight in such a living way that not only are they seen, they are also perceived in all their detail much more vividly than anything our physical eyesight discerns on earth.
To remove any doubts I might have on the subject, I was taken there (where people who live the life of paradise are located), and I saw. Absolutely everything appears in its loveliest springtime and its loveliest bloom, with stunning magnificence and variety. Every single object is alive with representation, since nothing exists there that does not represent or symbolize something heavenly or spiritual. So the sights not only please the eyes but also cheer the mind. . .
As for rainbows, there is a kind of iridescent heaven, in which the whole atmosphere seems to be made of tiny rainbows, one after another. The entire atmosphere there—all the air—consists of these gleams of light and therefore radiates out of each individual “beacon,” so to speak.
A much larger rainbow (compounded of similar smaller ones that are exquisite miniatures of the big one) forms a gorgeous belt around the outside.
Each color, then, consists of many, many rays, so that millions of rays make up a single, all-inclusive rainbow visible to the eye. The rainbow is a modification of the points of light, a modification produced by the heavenly and spiritual forces that create the rainbow and in the process present before the observer’s eyes a picture full of representative meaning.
There is no limit to the different types and varieties of rainbows, several of which I was privileged to see. To grasp in some measure the kind of variation they display, and to see how very many rays of light go into a single visible one, let me describe just one or two.
Once a large-scale rainbow appeared before me so that I could learn from it what rainbows are like at the smallest scale. There was a brilliant white light with a kind of belt about it. At the core of the belt was something dim and earthlike surrounded by a bright radiance. The radiance was dappled and broken up by another kind of light containing golden star-like sparkles. Other changes occurred when flowers of different colors entered into the bright radiance—colors produced not by white light but by a fiery kind of light. All of it represented heavenly and spiritual qualities.
In the other world, all visible colors represent something heavenly or spiritual. Colors that partake of fire represent aspects of love and of a desire for what is good. Colors that partake of white light represent aspects of faith and of a desire for truth. All colors in the next life come from these sources and therefore gleam so brilliantly that colors in this world cannot be compared to them. There are also colors that have never been seen in the world.
A rainbow shape with something grass-like and green at its center also appeared, and I sensed a kind of sun off to the side, out of sight, gleaming, and giving off a light so bright that it cannot be described. At the edges were the most beautiful variations of color possible, in a luminescent, pearly field.
These and other experiences showed me what a rainbow is like in its smallest components. They also showed me that there is no end to the number of variations, which depend on neighborly love and the resulting faith in an individual who sees them represented. That individual in turn looks like a rainbow to others when presented to their view in all her or his beauty and glory.
In addition to these wonders of paradise, one also sees cities full of splendid mansions, one after another, gleaming with color, beyond the skill of any architect to create. Not surprisingly, cities like them appeared to the prophets as well, when their inner eyes were open; and these cities were as plain to see as any that could exist in the world. The New Jerusalem appeared to John, for instance, and he described it in these words:
He took me away in spirit onto a mountain big and high and showed me the great city, Jerusalem the Holy, having a wall big and high, having twelve gates. The structure of the wall was jasper, and the city was pure gold, like golden glass. The foundations of the wall were adorned with every precious stone. The first foundation was jasper, the second sapphire, the third chalcedony, the fourth emerald, the fifth sardonyx, the sixth sard, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh hyacinth, the twelfth amethyst. (Revelation 21:10, 12, 18, 19, 20)
The prophets also describe the new Jerusalem.
Sights like these in countless numbers appear to angels and angelic spirits in broad daylight, and surprising to say, the angels and spirits perceive them with all their senses. This will never be believed by anyone who has blotted out all spiritual thinking by means of the terms and definitions used in human philosophy and by argumentation—yet it is absolutely true. The fact that the saints saw them so many times could have convinced such people that it is true.
In addition to cities and mansions, I was sometimes able to see decorative elements, such as those that appear on stairways and main doors. These elements moved as if they were alive, and changed with ever fresh beauty and symmetry. I learned that such changes can keep going indefinitely, one after another, even to eternity, and there is a constantly renewed harmony among the variations, formed by the very sequence of changes itself. These were only the least of their wonders, I heard.
All angels have their own houses to live in—magnificent houses. While there, I saw them several times, with astonishment, and spoke with the angels in them. They are so clear to see, so visible, that nothing could be more so. Houses on earth are almost nothing by comparison. Angels also call earthly dwellings lifeless and unreal but their own dwellings alive and genuine, because they come from the Lord. The architecture is such that it is the source of the art itself, with unending variety.
They said that if they were given all the palaces in the whole inhabited world, they would not exchange their own for them. Anything made of stone, brick, or plank seems dead to them, but anything from the Lord, or from life and light itself, is alive. Such materials are all the more alive because angels experience them with the full range of senses, since objects there are perfectly suited to the senses of spirits and angels. Objects in the light of the sun’s realm are not the least bit visible to spirits’ eyes. To the senses we have in our bodies, though, stone and wood are well-suited. What is spiritual responds to what is spiritual, and what is physical responds to what is physical.
The houses of good spirits and angelic spirits usually have porticoes, or long entryways, vaulted and sometimes doubled, where they walk. The walls of the walkways are formed in many different ways and are graced with flowers and flower garlands woven in an extraordinary manner, not to mention other kinds of decoration that change and replace one another, as noted. These details appear to them in brighter light at one time, in weaker light at another, but always offering profound pleasure.
Their houses also turn more beautiful as the spirits grow in perfection. When the houses are undergoing change, something representing a window appears at the side and widens, and the inside grows darker. A piece of starry sky appears, as does a kind of cloud, which is a sign that their houses are changing into even more enchanting ones.
Spirits are quite disgusted by the poor opinion people have of the life that spirits and angels enjoy. They are upset to know that we imagine them as existing in a dim, obscure state (which would have to be awfully grim) and inhabiting a kind of vacuum or void. The truth is that they have the greatest possible light, enjoy every benefit available to each of the senses, and feel it very deeply.
There were also some souls just come from the world who brought with them (from assumptions they had adopted there) the idea that such vitality was not possible in the other world. As a result, they were taken into angel homes, where they talked with the angels and saw what was there. When they returned, they kept saying, “I can see it’s true!” “Those things are real!” “I would never have believed this during life in the body. I never could have.” They said that these have to be some of the most amazing things that exist, but no one believes in such things because no one understands them. Just because they do not understand it—and this is something they are told—they should not doubt it, since it is a matter to be experienced by the senses (the inner senses, at any rate). After all, if we believed only what we could grasp, we would not believe in anything at the microscopic level of the physical world, let alone anything having to do with eternal life.