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The more we learn about the dark, the easier it is to move into the light. With those words, host Curtis Childs launches into an episode about the dark side of Swedenborg’s spiritual experiences. Alongside featured guests, Curtis explores what Swedenborg discovered about how the dark side can influence our thoughts—and what we can do to stop it.
Evil can be unsettling, but it doesn’t need to consume our thoughts. The opposing forces of heaven and hell are immensely powerful, but they balance each other enough that their influence in our lives can be invisible. Nevertheless, just as knowing that UV rays exist might inspire us to wear sunscreen, knowing about evil can inspire us to take steps to protect ourselves.
All spirits, including the evil, are grouped into their own kinds and species. (Spiritual Experiences §405)
Swedenborg writes that each person self-selects a destination in the afterlife depending on what they loved most while on earth. Those who become evil spirits are people who love things like power and wealth and even being cruel to others at the cost of all else. After death, such people push away anything that was good within them and become completely focused on the thing that they value above all else—they become their emotions in tangible form. Spirits are grouped together into societies according to what they love.
Societies sometimes compete for a person’s thoughts, that is, good societies, and evil ones. I learned today by actual experience how heavenly societies were competing for my thoughts. Spirits worrying about bodily concerns were on the outside, a little overhead, trying to create thoughts and desires from everything that confronted my senses. Sometimes they reach out for everything they see. A good society within [was] obviously trying to draw me toward themselves. I felt the pull. Meanwhile they spoke about whether they would win out. (Spiritual Experiences §1205)
In other words, when we have positive thoughts, we’re in connection with good societies in the afterlife; if we’re having negative thoughts, we’re in connection with evil ones. Every day, these spirits affect the way we think and feel—each trying to pull us to their side.
The first category of evil spirits is revenge spirits. These spirits are comprised of the negative impulse of revenge. Psychology professor Dr. Erica Goldblatt Hyatt discusses how revenge has become an issue throughout history. This spirit perpetuates a cycle of violence and even leads individuals to lose contact with reality as they sink farther and farther into their revenge narrative.
There are some who take such pleasure in revenge that, as they themselves describe it, nothing is more delicious than to take revenge, to be gripped by a passion for vengeance. They even call it “delights,” and hardly want to express it by any other term. (Spiritual Experiences §1488)
These spirits are often focused on killing the object of their revenge—killing in the spiritual sense, that is, which means corrupting a soul or turning it away from divine goodness.
What does that kind of hatred turn you into? If your emotions determine your appearance in the spiritual world, then what do these spirits look like? Swedenborg writes that such spirits may initially look pleasant or gentle, but that changes over time and they begin to turn on each other.
If you’re a fan of Swedenborg, you know that he compares the structure of heaven and all the communities within it to the human form—a single human form, in fact, that is called the Grand Man or Universal Human (see our past episode “The Shape of Heaven” for a complete breakdown). Different communities have different spiritual functions that correspond to the functions of the human body. Revenge spirits, Swedenborg says, correspond to mucus:
Meanwhile, [a revenge spirit Swedenborg encountered] was inwardly thinking nothing else but revenge, and in fact so covertly that I saw nothing of what he was thinking. He raised up in every one his own subjects. From my mind he raised up whatever he could distort into evil and then into hatred, and so he fed himself continually. He even held the thoughts of other spirits so bound up that they could not get loose from all that he had scattered around. I noticed this in my case also, that is, that he was able to hold my inward thoughts virtually fixed and manipulate them—which is that stickiness of mucus. (Spiritual Experiences §1270)
New Century Edition translator Lisa Hyatt Cooper sheds light on the phrase “raised up in every one his own subjects,” explaining that Swedenborg was talking about objects or topics that people think about. Swedenborg goes on to describe the spirit’s appearance and behavior, explaining how a revenge spirit can bind other spirits to its cause.
Revenge is dangerous, and research shows that forgiveness is far more powerful over time. This attitude is how you defeat revenge.
Manipulation is its own kind of evil. Psychology professor Dr. Soni Werner discusses how manipulative strategies might make you a good chess player, but immoral use of these skills is driven by a desire to dominate. Swedenborg calls the spirits who are dedicated to manipulation “sirens,” referring to a specific type of creature from Greek mythology that lured sailors onto the rocks to kill them. Dr. Wendy Closterman, an expert on Greek history, gives some context on who and what sirens are.
Swedenborg writes about sirens often, and he describes them as having a wide range of characteristics, but the one thing that links them all is this characteristic of manipulation.
[The sirens] would steal into the feelings of anyone at all, pretending to be like them, seeking their indulgence so as to be welcomed. But the sirens went on from place to place behaving in this way, like flies in latrines, outwardly of a golden sheen, but being inwardly filthy, having no other intention than to dominate, and by hook or by crook—especially by a pretense of uprightness toward the good—to captivate their minds, whom, having taken captive, they lead wherever they want, thus into disgraceful and filthy ways of life. (Spiritual Experiences §4304)
Sirens use information that they’ve learned—even a person’s own thoughts—to manipulate people, and can change their appearance to appear as friends or trustworthy guides. Sirens might work together with other types of spirits to spread confusion and darkness.
We can even see parallels to this in our world—people who bend others to their own way of thinking and influence them for their own gain.
“Countless Kinds and Species”
New Century Edition Series Editor Jonathan Rose joins to discuss the many other spirits that Swedenborg encountered.
Some had faces like torches—it seemed as if their heads were on fire. These are people who are the total embodiment of a certain type of craving or lust.
Other spirits are just hair without a face. They lack human features, because they have become more like beasts—they’ve lost all sense of personal restraint and compassion toward others, instead acting only to satisfy their own desires.
One spirit has “something bony” in the place of a face. Bones in Swedenborg’s writings represent something lifeless, and thus when he describes a skeleton, he’s talking about a person with no spiritual life whatsoever. Swedenborg also describes spirits for whom only the teeth are visible, indicating that they enjoy tearing down the truth. These are people who love to make biting remarks.
These are all representations of a mindset—a type of inhuman behavior that starts on earth and gets worse in the afterlife.
The Power of Knowledge
It also needs to be recognized that all evil flows in from hell, and all goodness from the Lord through heaven. The only reason evil is ever assigned to us as ours is that we believe and convince ourselves that we think it up and do it on our own. So we make it ours. If we believed the fact of the matter, we would be assigned not evil, but goodness that comes from the Lord. That is because the moment evil flowed in we would think, “This is from the evil spirits with us,” and when we did, angels would turn it away and cast it aside. Angelic influence acts on what we know and believe, not on what we do not know or believe. It attaches only when there is something in us to attach to. (Secrets of Heaven §6206:1)
Because of free will, nothing can make us do or feel anything that isn’t part of us. Knowing the source of dark thoughts allows us to challenge them directly. Recognizing the spirits and calling in the good spirits can make all the difference.
- In the spirit world, if we become who we “really are,” would it be possible to change who we “really are” once we are there?
- Did Swedenborg speak about spirits knowing future events, sometimes with some detail? Did he explain this phenomenon at all?
- If you are being attacked by a bad spirit, does acknowledging their presence and showing respect get them to back off?
- What is the difference between sirens and demons?
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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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