An excerpt from Heaven and Hell by Emanuel Swedenborg, sections #41–50
The angels of any given heaven are not all together in one place, but are separated into larger and smaller communities depending on differences in the good effects of the love and faith they are engaged in. Angels engaged in similar activities form a single community. There is an infinite variety of good activities in heaven, and each individual angel is, so to speak, his or her own activity.
The distances between angelic communities in the heavens also vary as their activities vary, in general and in detail. This is because the only cause of distance in the spiritual world is the difference of the state of our more inward natures—in the heavens, then, differences in the state of love. When communities are very different, the distance between them is great; when the difference is slight, the distance is slight. Likeness makes for unity.
All the individuals in a single community are distanced from each other by the same principle. The better ones, that is, the ones who are more complete in goodness and therefore in love, wisdom, and intelligence, are in the center. Those who are less outstanding surround them at distances graded in proportion to their lessened perfection. It is like the way light decreases from a center toward a circumference. The ones who are in the middle are in the greatest light, while the ones who are toward the perimeter are in less and less.
Kindred souls gravitate toward each other spontaneously, as it were, for with each other they feel as though they are with their own family, at home, while with others they feel like foreigners, as though they were abroad. When they are with kindred souls, they enjoy the fullest freedom and find life totally delightful.
We can see from this that the good gathers everyone together in the heavens, and that angels are differentiated by what good they do. Still, it is not the angels who gather themselves, but the Lord, the source of all that is good. He leads them, unites them, differentiates them, and keeps them in freedom to the extent that they are engaged in what is good. So he keeps every individual in the life of his or her own love, faith, intelligence, and wisdom—and therefore in happiness.
Further, people of similar quality all recognize each other there just the way people in this world recognize their neighbors and relatives and friends, even though they may never have seen each other before. This happens because the only relationships and kinships and friendships in the other life are spiritual ones, and are therefore matters of love and faith.
I have often been allowed to see this when I was in the spirit and therefore out of body and in the company of angels. Then some of them looked to me as though I had known them from infancy, while others seemed totally unfamiliar. The ones who looked as though I had known them from infancy were the ones who were in a state like that of my own spirit, while the unfamiliar ones were in dissimilar states.
All the individuals who make up a particular angelic community have a general facial resemblance, but differ in detail. I could grasp this general similarity and particular difference to some extent on the basis of similar situations in this world. We know that every race has a general similarity about the face and eyes that enables us to recognize it and distinguish it from other races, and that the same is even more true from one family to another. This holds true much more perfectly in the heavens, because there all the deeper feelings are visible and shine forth from the face, the face there being their outward and graphic form. It is not possible in heaven to have a face that differs from our feelings.
I have also been shown how this general similarity is varied in detail in the individuals of a single community. There was a kind of angelic face that appeared to me, and this was varied according to the qualities of affections for the good and the true that were characteristic of the individuals in a particular community. These variations lasted quite a while, and through it all I noticed that the same general face remained constant as a basis, with everything else being simply derivations and elaborations from it. In this way, too, I was shown the affections of the whole community that occasioned the differences in the faces of its members, for as already noted, the faces of angels are their deeper qualities taking form, which means they are forms of the affections proper to their love and faith.
This is also why an angel of outstanding wisdom sees the quality of others instantly, from their faces. In heaven, no one can conceal inner character by facial expression and pretend, much less lie and deceive others by guile and hypocrisy.
It does sometimes happen that hypocrites steal into [heavenly] communities, hypocrites trained in hiding their inner nature and arranging their outward appearance in the benevolent form they present in public, thereby misleading angels of light. However, they cannot stay around very long. They begin to feel inner discomfort and torment, their faces start to turn blue, and they almost faint—changes caused by their opposition to the life that is flowing in and affecting them. So they promptly cast themselves back into the hell of people like themselves and no longer dare to climb up again. These are the people meant by the man who was discovered among the dinner guests without a wedding garment and was thrown out into outer darkness (Matthew 22:11[–14]).
All the communities communicate with each other, but not through open interaction. Actually, not many individuals leave their own community to go to another, because leaving their community is like leaving themselves or their life and crossing over into another that does not suit them. Rather, they all communicate by the outreach of the auras that emanate from the life of every individual. An aura of life is an aura of affections based in love and faith. This reaches out far and wide into surrounding communities, farther and wider as the affections are deeper and more perfect. Angels possess intelligence and wisdom in proportion to this outreach. The ones who are in the most inward heaven and therefore at the center have an outreach into all of heaven, so that there is a communication of everyone in heaven with each individual and of each individual with everyone. We will have more to say about this outreach below, though, when we discuss the heavenly form in which angelic communities are arranged (and also when we discuss the wisdom and intelligence of angels), for all the outreach of affections and thoughts follows this form.
We have noted above that there are larger and smaller communities in the heavens. The larger ones consist of tens of thousands of individuals, the smaller of some thousands, and the smallest of hundreds. There are even people who live alone, house by house, so to speak, and family by family. Even though they live apart, they are still arranged in the same pattern as those who live in communities, with the wiser of them in the center and the simpler at the periphery. They are very closely under the Lord’s guidance, and are the best of angels.