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In last week’s episode, we looked at what nature can tell us about ourselves—especially through the lens of eighteenth-century philosopher and theologian Emanuel Swedenborg’s theory of correspondences. In this episode, hosts Curtis Childs and Jonathan Rose go live to dig in deeper, focusing on the symbolism of mountains.
How can you tell the difference between positive and negative kinds of love or pleasure?
Love is extremely important to the Swedenborg’s whole philosophy, as is the concept that there are both heavenly and hellish kinds of love.
The way that Jonathan tells the difference between them is to think about how he felt after taking a certain action. Did he feel love or did he feel anger? Another big hint for him is how people react to his behavior—sometimes he’ll learn that something he said didn’t come off in the same way that he meant it.
This question makes Curtis think of MSG—the food additive that kind of amps up flavor. Hellish loves can feel like that, sort of out of control. It’s nice at the time, but the net effect is misery. On the other hand, heavenly loves, which may not feel as satisfying in the moment, grow over time and move in a good direction.
Significant and Immovable
We talked at length about mountains in the last episode, and mountains, especially, have their good sides and their bad sides. Correspondences like this aren’t accidents—Swedenborg understood every characteristic to have an important meaning.
Dylan Odhner joins to discuss how symbolism works to unite context and content. For a mountain, its specific meaning may change, but it will always be significant. Sometimes, mountains can mean something pretty dark.
And something like a huge mountain burning with fire. This symbolizes self love and from that a love for one’s own intelligence . . . . This kind of love is meant by this mountain because a “mountain” in the Word can symbolize either kind of love—namely, heavenly love or hellish love. The subject here is the evil who are to be separated from the good. (Apocalypse Explained §510:1)
No matter what your cultural background, you’ll almost always connect mountains with the idea of size. They are, almost by definition, immovable. Negatively, that means that it can be hard for us to change or improve ourselves, but mountains can also have a positive meaning in that their size and stability represent the power of positive love.
In one of our previous episodes (“The Spiritual Future of the Human Race”), Jonathan walked us through the beautiful future that Swedenborg saw—and how it all hinged on love, which is symbolized by mountains.
So what do mountains in the spiritual world, according to Swedenborg, tell us about love?
The reason why a mountain can mean either heavenly love or hellish love is this: Angels of the third heaven, who have heavenly love, live on mountains in the spiritual world. So . . . “mountain,” means that third heaven. Or, in terms of the way angels think about it—abstracted from people and places—it means the heavenly love that makes heaven heaven. In the negative sense, however, a mountain means a love for oneself, because those who are immersed in self-love constantly want to climb mountains, to make themselves equal to angels in the third heaven. Because they think about doing this in their fantasies, they also try it when they are outside of hell. This is why “mountain” in a negative sense means self-love. In a word, those who are immersed in self-love always yearn for high places. So after death, when all the states of love become correspondences, they have the illusion of propelling themselves way up high, and believe they are on high mountains, when in fact their bodies are in hell. (Apocalypse Explained §510:2)
Noah, Moses, and Jesus
Beyond significance and size, mountains also seem to be connected to creation and recreation. A prime example of this is the story of Noah, which is really a story of a process of spiritual rebirth.
The symbolism of the mountains of Ararat as a bit of light is established by the symbolism of a mountain as the good that comes of love and charity and of Ararat as a bit of light—the light that a regenerate person enjoys. The new glimmer—the first glimmer—that comes to the regenerate individual never rises out of a knowledge of faith’s truth but out of charity. Faith’s truths are like rays of light; love, or charity, is like a flame. The enlightenment of one who is regenerating does not radiate from the truth belonging to faith but from charity. (Secrets of Heaven §854)
Mountains can also be connected to enlightenment and transcendence, as can be seen in Moses’s ascending Mount Sinai and receiving the Ten Commandments. But why did the whole event seem really scary to the people on the ground?
And the sight of Jehovah’s glory was like a consuming fire on the head of the mountain, in the eyes of the children of Israel symbolizes divine truth in heaven itself, radiant with a loving goodness, although to people intent on the outer aspect of that truth in isolation from its inner aspect it brings trauma and devastation. . . . It is now time to say how divine fire—divine love—works in people who possess heavenly love and how it works in people who possess hellish love. In people with heavenly love, divine fire or love is constantly creating and renewing the inner reaches of their will and illuminating the inner reaches of their intellect. In people with hellish love, divine fire or love is constantly inflicting trauma and devastation. In the latter people, you see, divine love alights in what is opposed to itself, and those opposite qualities destroy it. In such people it turns into the fire of self-love and materialism and consequently into contempt for others, hostility toward everyone who does not favor them, and therefore into acts of hatred, revenge, and finally, savage cruelty. That is why the fire of Jehovah, in the eyes of the children of Israel, looked like a consuming fire. (Secrets of Heaven §9434:1, 3)
Later, even Jesus had a powerful experience atop a mountain, as he was transfigured before three of his disciples.
Mountains mean people who possess the goodness of love, inasmuch as angels dwell upon mountains—those motivated by love toward the Lord on loftier mountains, and those motivated by love for the neighbor on less lofty ones. Consequently “every mountain” symbolizes all goodness of love. . . . Since a mountain symbolized heaven and love, therefore Jehovah came down upon the top of Mount Sinai and proclaimed the Law. And therefore the Lord was transfigured before Peter, James and John on a high mountain. Therefore Zion also was located on a mountain, and so, too, Jerusalem. (Apocalypse Revealed §336:1, 3)
During this live show, viewers chatted in their questions. Just click a question to see the answer:
- Why did God make spiders, scorpions, deer flies, etc.?
- Do we inherit from God like we inherit from our dad?
- Many spiritual traditions, some centuries old, claim that this reality is illusion. Does Swedenborg address this? Thanks.
At the beginning, we asked viewers how they can tell when a love is good or bad. Here are some of the answers.
- The negative kinds end up with crummy consequences! Positive ones come out of love of God and love of neighbor.
- I tell these apart because true love is proven by what is done and not just what is said.
- I think they feel the same, but the after-taste is different maybe. Most negative pleasures bother your conscience.
- The way I tell the difference is true positive loves and actions will never hurt or abuse someone else. Intention is everything.
- If you are spiritually aware, the positive kind of love will always leave you feeling uplifted and joyful. The negative kind of love never lasts long and you end up feeling deflated and disillusioned.
- Evil can be done for good reasons. Good can be done for bad reasons. It is the purpose, end goal, with a mix of justice and mercy that determine if it is truly good.
- Positive love and pleasure: our loves are in the right order, love of God, others first.
- I try to ask myself if it’s from love of self or love toward others and or God.
- Yes, if your self-importance is stoked, that’s a great indication your influence is hellish.
- Positive pleasures benefit more than just yourself. Negative pleasures tend to be more self-centered. Such as conditional love, or when someone’s ego is being fed when doing self-righteous things.
- Real love is the person who puts the sacks of groceries on the poor people’s porch. Rings the bell and runs away, never telling anybody they did it, because they did the act out of love not limelight.
- Positive love desires to cause no harm but rather desires to be of service to bring joy, healing, pleasure to another human being and all humanity. Negative love is self-centered, harms others, etc.
Thanks for joining us—we’ll see you next week!
Related Swedenborg & Life Videos
“False Gods: Mysteries of the 10 Commandments Explained”
“The Meaning of Noah and the Flood”
“The Spiritual Future of the Human Race”
“Who Was Swedenborg?”
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In a lighthearted and interactive webcast format, host Curtis Childs from the Swedenborg Foundation and featured guests explore topics from Swedenborg’s eighteenth-century writings about his spiritual experiences and afterlife explorations and discuss how they relate to modern-day life and death.
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