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While the importance of medicine can’t be discounted, human understanding does have its limits. Talk to doctors about physical and mental health, but when it comes to spiritual health, we need a second opinion.
In this episode, host Curtis Childs and featured guests explore what eighteenth-century scientist and philosopher Emanuel Swedenborg learned during his mystical explorations of the afterlife. Join in as they delve into Swedenborg’s fascinating accounts of how the spiritual world can affect our health in the physical world.
An “In Your Body” Experience
Our spiritual and physical selves are tied together through correspondences, which are connections between spiritual causes and physical effects.
The universal human is the whole of heaven, which is a composite likeness and image of the Lord. The Lord’s divine nature corresponds to the heavenly and spiritual attributes there, which correspond to earthly entities in the world, particularly those belonging to a human being. Through heaven or the universal human, then, the Lord’s divine nature corresponds with a human being and with all the parts that make up a human being—so much so that we spring from, or in other words, are sustained by, this correspondence. (Secrets of Heaven §3883)
Swedenborg describes heaven as a universal human—one human form made up of infinite interconnected parts. We and our bodies are a microcosm of that spiritual reality, and our correspondence to it is what sustains our life.
As he experienced the spiritual world, Swedenborg felt its connection to his own body and the way that his own organs reflected the functions of the greater whole.
In the other life it is possible to tell what areas various angelic communities belong to by their location relative to the human body and by their operation and influence—since they operate into and influence that organ and limb in which they dwell. Their influence and operation can be perceived only by inhabitants of the other world, though, and not by people on earth, except one whose inner depths have opened up to that world. Not even then is it possible unless the Lord enables the person to reflect on incoming sensations and perceive something from them. (Secrets of Heaven §5171)
We may not be able to fully sense our own connection to heaven, but if we could, we might have an experience like Swedenborg’s, where we could sense which community in heaven is affecting us by the sensation in our body.
Before we move on, a quick break for some fan art from a graffiti artist in Stockholm.
The Hell Factor
Swedenborg’s opened inner senses allowed him to experience both heaven and hell. While contact with heaven gave him a sense of health and vitality, his contact with hell had the opposite effect.
He had some truly horrendous experiences as he encountered various spirits dedicated to destroying different sacred things. A frequent contributor to the show, Dr. Jonathan Rose re-enacts Swedenborg’s experience of being attacked by evil spirits.
Swedenborg experienced physical symptoms from his contact with these spirits. Does that mean that disease comes from hell?
All hellish spirits bring on illness (with differences) because all the hells crave evil and are obsessed with it. They therefore work against influences from heaven and have the opposite effect on us. Heaven, the universal human, keeps everything connected and safe from harm. Hell, being opposed, destroys everything and rends it apart. If hellish spirits latch on, then, they trigger illness and eventually death. However, hellish spirits are not permitted to exert their influence right on the solid parts of the body, or the parts composing a person’s organs, viscera, and limbs, just on a person’s corrupt desires and distorted ideas. Only when we fall sick do they act on the unclean substances connected with disease. . . . Nonetheless, this does not block the possibility of physical cure. The means of healing coincide with the Lord’s providence. Much experience has taught me that this is the case, so many times and for so long a time that not a shred of doubt remains. Evil spirits from these kinds of places have often latched onto me for long periods, causing pain and also illness, depending on where they were present. I was shown where they were located and what they were like and was told where they came from. (Secrets of Heaven §5713)
This doesn’t mean that physical diseases do not exist, and it doesn’t mean that people who are sick have done something bad. It just means that whenever someone contracts a physical illness, the spirits that correspond to that disease may also be present.
What’s the Crossover?
The struggle between good and evil has been going on for a long time, and it manifests in the battle between spiritual health and spiritual sickness.
But what are spiritual health and spiritual sickness? They have to do with the state of your spirit. When God’s love is flowing into you and your mind is full of a desire to be loving to others, that’s spiritual health. Spiritual sickness, on the other hand, is when harmful impulses and self-justification lead you on the wrong path. We get from spiritual sickness to spiritual health through regeneration, a process of personal growth.
Just as our spiritual being is constantly under attack by negative thoughts, our physical immune system is constantly at work to protect us from disease, as biologist Dr. Ed Higgins describes. You can think of a spiritual trial, or crisis, as your body’s spiritual immune system at work trying to fight off the influence of evil. It’s an ongoing, invisible battle.
Swedenborg suggests that when spirits act on us spiritually or mentally, our minds create the physical sensations or symptoms in our body. This isn’t a unique idea—many cultures have systems of medicine based on the interaction between mind, body, and spirit. We can see support for this concept in modern medicine when we take a look at psychosomatic pain, with psychologist Dr. Erica Goldblatt Hyatt.
So the battle for our spiritual selves could take the form of a purely spiritual or psychological trial—a sickness of the soul—or a mostly physical one where a person’s body becomes sick. We can also have experiences that are a little bit of both, especially if, for example, we approach a physical illness as a spiritual learning experience. Erica talks about the benefits of treating illnesses holistically, addressing mind and body.
The welfare of the mind matches conditions in the parts of the body receiving [its influence], just as the quality of vision matches the condition of the eye. (Secrets of Heaven §8378)
We have an obligation to take care of our body, which is like taking care of the soul. We take care of our souls by being useful in making the world a better place. That is our true goal.
People who trust in the Deity are always moving forward to a state of eternal happiness, and . . . no matter what happens to them in the temporal world, it still contributes to that state. (Secrets of Heaven §8478:3)
Some people believe that everything is physical and the spiritual doesn’t matter; some people believe the opposite. Swedenborg offers a middle way that combines the two perspectives.
- If negative thoughts come from the spirit world when we think them, then wouldn’t they technically be coming from us too?
- How does Swedenborg explain ghosts, spirits that stay on earth?
- Does Swedenborg talk about the relationship between emotional and mental attributes?
- Is worrying or being afraid a form of evil? Does Swedenborg teach us how to control worry and fear?
Related Swedenborg and Life Videos
“Swedenborg 101: The Basic Nature of Everything”
Swedenborg and Life Spiritual Toolkit Series
“Who was Swedenborg? What should I read?”
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About Swedenborg and Life
In a lighthearted and interactive live 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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When we wake up in heaven, Swedenborg tells us, angels roll a covering from off of our left eye so that we can see everything in a spiritual light. The offTheLeftEye YouTube channel uses an array of educational and entertaining video formats to look at life and death through an uplifting spiritual lens.
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