Attendant Angels and Spirits
by Rev. Victor J. Gladish
It is written in the Sacred Scripture that "He shall give His angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways" (Psalm 91: 11); and in the Heavenly Doctrine we read: "In order that the life of the Lord may flow in and be received according to all law in man, there are continually with him angels and spirits - angels from heaven and spirits from hell; and I have been informed that there are with everyone two spirits and two angels. That there are spirits from hell is because man of himself is continually in evil, for he is in the delight of the love of self and of the world, and in so far as man is in evil, or in this delight, so far angels from heaven cannot be present." (AC 5848)
These teachings bring before us the subject of our attendant spirits: the angels and spirits who are in particular attendance upon each man, that is, who are in a particular state of consociation with each man because they act as emissaries, or subject spirits, for the inflowing of certain societies of heaven and hell, and thus as the final means, or agents, for maintaining the influx of heaven and hell into man, by which influx he is preserved in equilibrium and thus in freedom. Indeed, man could not even live - could not draw the breath of the body, to say nothing of thinking and willing, and learning to be a spiritual being in the image and likeness of God - if there were not maintained the mediate influx from the heavens and the hells as well as the immediate influx from the Lord Himself into each man.
There are present with us angels and spirits of various types and qualities, varying according to the changes of our states of affection, internal and external. In these changes in accordance with the passing into consociation with different societies lies the explanation of the remarkable changes of state of mind which we undergo; in this lies the power of moods over us. But we are taught that there are always at least two angels from heaven and two spirits from hell in a special kind of attendance upon each one of us, and that they are the means of mediating, directing and moderating the influence of all the spirits who are adjoined to us, and also of mediating the inflowing of the heavens and the hells in general.
It is written:
Elsewhere we are told that the angels who operate into man's will are called celestial angels, and those who operate into his understanding, spiritual angels. The spirits of hell who inflow into his will are called genii, or devils, while those who inflow into his understanding are called satans.
Actually the teaching is that the attendant spirits are neither devils nor angels, but are of the good and evil in the world-of-spirits state through whom the societies of heaven and of hell inflow into the thought and will of each man. It may be noted that in the several passages where the two good - celestial and spiritual - and the two evil - diabolical and satanic - attendants are spoken of it is said, "two angels from heaven and two spirits from hell." (AC 5848, 5976, 5993, 6189) That is, the angelic attendants are not in heaven, although of angelic quality, but are let down from heaven into the world-of-spirits state in order to act as emissaries of an angelic society, to act as what might be called subject-angels. So also the evil spirits are not in hell, although of infernal quality, but are sent up into the world-of-spirits state to act as emissaries of a society of hell, to act as subject-spirits. It is written: "The evil spirits with man are indeed from the hells, but while they are with him they are not in hell, but taken out from thence. The place where they then are is midway between hell and heaven, and is called the world of spirits, of which mention has often been made." (AC 5852)
Lack of complete collation and harmonization of the teaching on attendant spirits has caused some people in the New Church to say that there appears to be a contradiction in the teaching of the Writings on the subject, since in some passages it is said that there are many spirits with man, in some that there are four, in some that there are two, and in one or two places that "there is a consociate spirit who is similar to the affection of man's will and thence to the perception of his understanding." But to understand the various things which are said in the Heavenly Doctrine about the angels and spirits who are "with man," are "adjoined to man," are "attendant upon man," and so on, as integral parts of a united and harmonious teaching is by no means impossible. In fact, a general sense of harmony is readily obtained; the ordinary affirmative reader is not apt to feel that there is any contrariety of doctrine. For the most part it is only the scholar's search, if it does not search far enough, that yields any serious difficulty.
Let the following stand as a summary explanation of the various numbers of spirits which are said, in different passages of the Writings, to be with men. We have drawn attention to the fact that there are many angels and spirits who operate into the things of man's affection and thought, but that there is mediation of all at any given time through four of different types: a celestial spirit, a spiritual spirit, a diabolical spirit and a satanic spirit. But it may be seen further that at any given time one of these attendants is more nearly consociated than any other in the whole spiritual world. For man undergoes alternating states throughout his life: now he is in a state in which the understanding predominates, and now in a state in which the affections of the will are especially active; and during the former he is closer to the intellectual spirits, that is, to the spiritual angel or the satan, while during the latter he is surrounded more immediately by the affectional spirits, that is, the celestial angel or the opposite devil. Hence came the ancient idea of two special attendant spirits, one an angel and the other an evil genius; and since man cannot be simultaneously centered in two states, but is either in a state of good or of truth, or in a state of evil or of falsity, we arrive by the process of elimination at the fact that each man is, most especially, in communion with one spirit who is at the time nearer to him than any other being in the whole spiritual world.
This digest of the teaching explains also the ancient and modern notion of "wraiths" or "doubles" or "familiar spirits," together with the conception of the ancient pagans that a special spirit is born at the same time as every man and woman and remains with that person throughout life. There is no such thing as a "wraith" or "double," for every spirit in the universe has a distinct individuality, different from that of every other spirit or man; and our attendant spirits are continually changing, according to our own changing states.( AC 5851) It is written: "The states of a man are changing every moment; but into whatever state a man may come, spirits with whom a like passion has been dominant during their lifetime correspond and co-operate; thus they are not the same, but very many, and they all suppose themselves to be the man." (SD 1928)
Further demonstration of the need for the Lord's governance of man being mediated by the assignment of attendant spirits corresponding to the general states of his life may be derived from the following quotations taken from the section, "The Angels and Spirits with Man," which is subjoined to the unfolding of Genesis 45 in the Arcana Coelestia.
Arcana 5993, the concluding paragraph of the section, begins with the words: "From all this it is now evident." "From all this" refers to the passage just quoted and other similar particulars about the spirits from whom man must be protected, also to teaching about the four attendants with man such as has been gathered together in summarized form in this presentation.
How man is "set in freedom" and in the "faculty of exercising choice" by the concurrent influx from evil spirits and angels is shown in the same section. To summarize: Evil spirits attack and stir up man's evils; angels protect, moderating the influence of the evil and preventing the approach of those spirits whom the man could not withstand at that time. So he is set free to choose according to his conscience.
The foregoing may stand as a general sketch of the teaching of the Heavenly Doctrine concerning our attendant spirits. It may be well to note here, however, two exceptions to the general laws which have been outlined. First, it is taught that no evil spirits can approach infants, but only good spirits and angels. (AC 5857) Second, there is an exception to the law that the spirits with man are frequently changed in order to guard his freedom; for it is said that "with those who have lived in love truly conjugial, the spirit of the deceased partner dwells constantly with the spirit of the other. (Cl 321) It is not stated whether this consociation involves the attendant-spirit state, but from the laws in regard to these attendants it might be inferred that the conjugial consociation stands as a special relationship in addition to the mechanism of equilibrium provided by the four attendants spirits.
A primary application to our daily lives of this teaching on attendant spirits is the ability which it gives us to recognize ourselves as subjects of influx, and thus as not responsible for the fact that thoughts and affections inflow into our minds, but responsible for how we use what inflows. We have seen that the influx of evil thoughts and affections as well as of good is a necessity for our regeneration; for without this the Lord could not lead us to see evil and good for what they are, and could not lead us away from self-life and into a life of use in His kingdom. It is the thought and affection that we consistently entertain and return to with the heart's affection that determines our character and makes the quality of our lives. "There is one only life, that of the Lord, which flows into all, but is variously received, and indeed according to the quality which a man has induced on his soul by his life." (AC 5847)
What has been shown of the permission of influx from evil spirits for the sake of our freedom of choice may not seem to accord with the scriptural assurance: "He shall give His angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways." But there are two things which need to be borne in mind in this matter. One is that the angels are given charge and have the office of moderating the influx of the evil, so that the infernal desire to work harm to man can find only such outlet as may give him the ability to know and reject his evils. When the excitation of evils passes the bounds of use to man - the possibility of turning him away from hell, or of restraining him from the lower hells toward which his native love drives him - the angels are given the perception and the power to restrain the diabolical infestation. Thus is man "kept in all his ways," preserved in the best way that he will accept.
Secondly, the word, angel, can include in its widest extent even the useful offices of the evil. Angel means, literally, messenger; the phrase, evil angel, is not without its truth. The Lord makes use even of devils as messengers or servants of His providence. By their evil loves themselves they are led to perform lowly services to the kingdom of God. It is their thought and will to attack, not to serve; nevertheless their vain and infernal efforts are made to meet the needs of mankind. For every man is permitted to make his love, his internal life, what he will, both here and in the world to come, but no one is permitted to be useless. The Lord's supreme end in creation, the preservation and protection of an angelic heaven from the human race, continues to be maintained; and for the provision of willing servants in the heavenly kingdom even the unwilling servants are led to contribute a certain use. That is to say, the lust of the evil to infest with falsities and to stir up the evils of others is used as a fermentation: a purifying process which, with the good, is preparatory for heaven, and with all serves to withhold from the deeper evils to which they tend. This process of fermentation is a necessity for regeneration. The inborn evils need to be stirred up - to come to the surface and be known for what they are - so that they can afterwards sink to the bottom as dregs, leaving the purified wine. Only thus can the regenerate man receive from the Lord, as if it were his own, pure truth from the Word.
The teaching concerning attendant spirits calls attention more than others to the completeness with which the Divine Providence provides for every contingency of man's nature. By it we see in detail how the Lord provides avenues of escape from our inherited and acquired evils. Nor need the knowledge of these means of salvation remain with us merely as knowledge. For in the consideration of these things there is a power to elevate the thought which in itself is a means of salvation. Such elevation of thought feeds heavenly affections - the love of use to others. It is true that knowledge of our spiritual consociations by itself will not make us better men, but thought about it from an affection of gratitude will do so. The acknowledgment that all salvation is of the Lord will be made by any professing Christian; but that acknowledgment does not have such power against the multitudinous impacts of the external things of life as has faith in the marvelous means of Divine leadership revealed in the Heavenly Doctrine. An immortal poet has said: "The world is too much with us late and soon. Getting and spending we waste our powers." Never was this more true than in our day. When we reflect on the continual impinging on our senses of the grosser things of life through the press, television, radio and ordinary conversation, and when we consider how much of our thought and act is bound up with getting and spending, we realize that the world is indeed "too much with us." No greater remedy for that condition exists than knowledge and thought about the spiritual world and its nearness to us. Such thought, both in a sphere of worship in church and at home, and in the sphere of reading and reflection, has power to help us see the many things of worldly thought and contact in their proper perspective. It gives that elevation of thought already spoken of which feeds the affection of eternal values. Such is one of the ways in which the Lord gives His angels charge over us to keep us in all our ways.
-New Church Life 1968;88:426-432