3 The Danger of Open Communication with Spirits
"Regard not them that have familiar spirits, neither seek after wizards to be defiled by them. I am Jehovah your God." Leviticus 19: 31
Sensual Thought about the Afterlife
Despite the official teachings of the churches, few men in Christendom believe that they will live after death.23 Few believe that there are spirits with them, or "even that there are any spirits." The chief reason assigned for this prevalent condition is that at this day there is no faith, because genuine charity is lacking.24 So testify the Writings.
Belief is more than a mere lame assent. There are few who would not give a superficial assent to the possibility, nay the probability of human survival after death. But only those believe who live in the full conviction and consciousness that this earthly existence is but a preparation for eternal life.
Among the winds of doctrine that blow across the world, one of the chilliest is this fallacy that nothing is real beyond the world of matter and that the grave marks the end of all our hopes. It looks back to childhood with nostalgia as the halcyon time of one's life, when one could still live in blessed fancies. It robs manhood and even parenthood of any genuine delight, leaving only the struggle for bread and social position. It saves up for old age only the dried crusts of memory and a final disillusionment.
Perhaps it might be doubted that so few, in their actual life, are motivated by a belief in another world. And fortunately "few" is an elastic word! Yet compared to the time of Swedenborg, to whom this scarcity of faith was revealed, this our day presents on the surface an even bleaker picture of spiritual desolation. Religious hopes are pushed to the side in modern life, where the mind is instead preoccupied with so many concerns for the improvement of the mechanism of natural existence that there is room for little else. Natural life has become an end in itself. The art of living gracefully and in comfort here on earth is dignified as the height of achievement, ranking above the wisdom of spiritual charity. And though many find that the art of "getting along" requires them to conform to customs and to belong to a church, to profess a creed and to give to some philanthropic cause, yet what meditative thought do they ever give to the question of eternal life, unless they are confronted by the shock of death to kin or companion?
How empty life must seem for those who think of death as the termination of everything, and those whose only sure hope of immortality lies in the size of their gravestones or the survival of their names. The thoughts of those who attend the funeral of a friend are usually directed to natural life, in tribute to his virtue or accomplishment; yet his death stands out as an object lesson that all is vanity. For before the thought of an afterlife most men's minds recoil with a deep discomfort, a pathetic realization of ignorance and doubt, which the formal confessions of their churches cannot dispel.
At such times those who are bereaved grope about for comfort, and their minds are somewhat more ready than usual to seize upon either truth or falsity if it will but relieve their sadness and apprehension. Their hearts may be hardened and embittered and they may sternly dismiss the possibility of the soul's survival. But others may feel a desperate desire for some confirmation that the dead still live, or will live; may seek for something of a purpose in this endless waste of human lives, and for an ordered scheme and goal in the otherwise futile struggle of existence.
Even so, people are wont to think sensually about the life beyond the grave. Even when the teachings of the New Church are presented, the imagination often kindles only to the descriptions of the objective appearances of heaven which seem to fulfil some of our beautiful wish-thoughts, while the real fact is forgotten that all things in the eternal world are spiritual. Swedenborg's revelations of the afterlife have indeed had a tremendous influence quite apart from the New Church, and have colored the thoughts of millions. But when first broached, our doctrine about heaven usually meets only with an interested tolerance and a politely suppressed wonder that we seem so sure about it all. For to the average person in Christendom nothing is very sure. There are few champions of definite views of the afterlife, although you often meet with the complacent philosophy that no one church has a monopoly in matters of truth, and that there may be some truth in all religions, however contradictory. And so the pulpits in most churches avoid preaching against falsities; perhaps on the principle that those who live in glass houses should not throw stones, but also because "church-goers" absorb far more of their spiritual food from prevailing spheres of thought —from opinions which are dished out promiscuously in magazines and books or offered in casual conversations—than from their own church.
A certain saving measure of common sense has to a large part modified the orthodox teachings of Protestants that the dead sleep in the grave until the Day of Doom and the general resurrection. Hamlet's reverie recurs: "To die: to sleep— perchance to dream. For in that sleep of death what dreams might come. ..." The idea has found favor that the spirit —waiting for the final judgment—is somewhere consciously alive. But his state during this interval between death and judgment is a matter of speculation. Whether he flits amid dark space as a luminous etherial body which possibly might haunt mortals below; or whether memory might through some fourth dimension reconstruct a dreamlife in which the consequences of error are punished according to poetic justice; or whether the soul, released, lives on as a flame of life awaiting a new incarnation! What does it matter, men ask, if we cannot know for sure?
The doctrine of the Roman Catholics is couched more definitely. It states that the soul is committed to heaven or to hell immediately after death, although even a penitent person must make up for his omissions by sufferings in the fires of purgatory; and later—at the last judgment—each soul will join its body in a material resurrection on a reconstructed earth.
Sensual thought about heaven places its reality in material things. It pictures a place—whether this earth, purified by fire, or some central star—in which the blessed should gather in refined and sexless material bodies; perhaps a place presided over by a race of "angels" created before earth ever was. It pictures heaven as a place of sensual rewards. The quality of men's ideas of what they expect heaven to be is described in the work on Conjugial Love, where it is told how novitiate spirits were cured of their persuasions as to the various imaginary joys in which they believe eternal bliss to consist: paradisal delights, feasting, conversations, wealth and power, or perpetual glorifications and ecstatic songs of praise; or— as some thought—mere admission into the sphere of heaven.25
Ignorance about man's state after death naturally breeds fantasies. Lack of any rational teaching encourages the imagination to roam at will. Heaven becomes merely the fulfilment of the cravings thwarted on earth, the satisfaction of natural affections, such as we see instanced in the mythologies among the heroes of Valhalla or, for the more philosophically minded Greeks, a submersion into the memories of earthlife, as was the fate imagined for the brooding shades of the Underworld. The idea of real spiritual uses and of delights of charity and wisdom is seldom given any stress or significance in connection with such imaginary heavens. Nor is the concept of God's justice purified from questionable ethics—for most of the "orthodox" doctrines give little chance of salvation except to the elect few. But whatever ideas about heaven they have been offered, men in these distracting times of ours have found it increasingly difficult to believe in the afterlife at all merely upon the say-so of the churches. They have demanded proofs in personal experience by which to confirm the very existence of spirits, if not of angels. And like every church in the past, so the Christian Church began from olden times to give birth to various irresponsible sects which particularly catered to such a desire and purported to furnish sensual proofs of the presence of spirits.
Ancient and Modern Spiritism
Divine revelation has consistently warned against this attempt of man to pry open the gates of the unseen world. "Regard not them that have familiar spirits, neither seek after wizards . . . "—it was written in the Mosaic law. "There shall not be found among you any one . . . that useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch, or a charmer, or a consulter with familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer. . . . "26 Such were to be punished with death. But this prohibition soon proved to be ineffective. Israel could not resist the pressure of the combined superstitions of the East! Even Saul, after banishing all sorcerers, succumbed to the temptation and sought counsel of the ghost of Samuel. But Isaiah later warned against witchcraft when he proclaimed, "When they shall say unto you, Seek unto them that have familiar spirits, and unto wizards that peep and mutter: Should not a people seek unto their God ? For the living unto the dead ? To the Law and to the Testimony! If they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them."27
The Lord while on earth constantly refused the testimony of evil spirits as he drove them out of those who were "possessed." And in one of His parables He cites Abraham as refusing to send Lazarus back into the world to warn the five brethren of the rich man; saying, "If they hear not Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rose from the dead."28 But even at that time angels, unsolicited, appeared to men in vision. And in the early days of Christianity, the Christian Fathers were careful to warn their followers against trusting spirits. John wrote in his epistle, "Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God. . . . Any spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh, is not of God. . . . "29 But the early Christian "gift of prophecy" inadvertently paved the way for incantations and sorcery, and in medieval times the belief in the afterlife was accompanied by a dread of ghosts and ghouls that haunted the cemeteries, and of fantastic vampires and of elemental spirits that could control the wild forces of nature unless curbed by magical formulas or exorcised by the prayers and solemn rites of the church. Within the pale of the church, priests and "saints" were subject to visions and revelations, while unauthorized mystics and seers claimed intercourse with the unseen world. The hysteria which marked the great witch-trials even on the American continent was but an indication of the insanities to which men laid themselves open by illicit attempts to communicate with spirits and thus invite obsession.
After the last judgment in 1757, there came something of a lull in the efforts to seek intercourse with spirits. It became frowned upon as superstitious, and although the same abuses continued, outstanding instances became rarer. And then, towards the middle of the nineteenth century, there sprang up a new movement towards its revival in a more respectable garb and in more "scientific" form: a movement which goes under the name of Modern Spiritualism. This was supposedly a research into occult phenomena by empirical methods.
Although claiming continuity with the work of seers, prophets and mystics of all previous ages and denying any kinship to sorcerers and magi, the partisans of this movement date its practical beginning with the "Rochester spirit-rappings" in 1848, when the Fox family heard knocks and noises which they ascribed to spirits who answered their questions according to a pre-arranged code. Children at that time, the Fox sisters later toured this country and England to display their peculiar spirit-telegraphy. And although one of them publicly disavowed her own part in these phenomena as so much fake, the movement had gathered too great momentum to be stopped. People were eager to believe the marvelous, and many soon discovered themselves also to be "sensitives" ; found that they could serve as "mediums" for spirits who then "controlled" them. Once established as mediums, they could draw profitable audiences of ardent believers; and from time to time for the next fifty years the free publicity given these mediums was tremendous. In 1884 unsubstantiated claims were made of many million "adherents" in America. It was claimed by spiritists that the world of the departed had long been seeking for this means of coming into contact with mortals, and that now spirits were crowding the air and descending to inaugurate a new era in which unbelief would be wiped out.
The particular accomplishments which spirits learned to perform included the power to give messages about dead friends, through the voice or pen of the medium; to write on covered slates; to lift bouquets of flowers from room to room, blow trumpets and beat tambourines without human aid; to suspend the laws of gravity, lifting people or chairs or tables into the air; and finally—but more rarely—to materialize themselves in a substance ("ectoplasm") which perspired from the body of the medium so that they could become tangible and visible, and even be kissed and photographed and engaged in conversation.
The spirits (or the mediums) were unwilling to participate in most of these phenomena except amidst small groups of affirmative friends, and an extra-ordinary preference was shown for dark rooms and closed cabinets. Yet several prominent scientists, like Sir William Crookes, Sir Oliver Lodge, W. F. Barrett and Charles Richet, were converted to a belief in the genuiness of some of the phenomena. In many lands some society for psychical research now gathers and sifts the evidence presented by alleged mediums and others, and so far as is possible, some of their learned investigators have imposed almost fool-proof conditions upon their experiments. One fact, however, is universally admitted: that almost every "physical" medium has been proved at some time to have cheated by producing the desired phenomena by clever trickery. This is variously explained by spiritualists: first of all they admit that the spirits who use the medium are quite apt to encourage deception, since they retain human failings; secondly, they concede that a medium whose powers are exhausted and abused, will naturally be reluctant to admit it; and thirdly, the genuine adherents disown all responsibility for professional exhibitionists.
The societies and laboratories established for psychical research and "parapsychology" make it their task to investigate all proffered claims to extra-sensory perception, telepathy, precognition, clairvoyance, psycho-kinesis, etc., as well as alleged occurrences of "materializations" and poltergeists. Most of such studies are conducted quite apart from any religious inferences. Within the small group of learned men who confess themselves baffled by some of the experiments, many are inclined to explain their results as due to physical and mental powers within man, hitherto not understood. Certain psychologists have indeed suggested that some echo of man might survive death, not as an individual but as a part of an interpersonal psychic field perhaps capable of contact with the living.* But the hope of spiritualists to convince the world of the survival of the dead has not been fulfilled. To most people, the clever accomplishments of the mediums are a nine-days wonder soon dismissed. And the vapid messages of cheer from the other world which the seances produced have been so ambiguous and valueless that they spoke poorly for the intelligence of the departed. Confused pratings that suggest marvelous revelations to come—but which never come—hold the attention of the devotee. People soon recognized that an atmosphere of unbounded credulity was basic to the spiritistic movement. Its organized cults have dwindled in membership, although it has uncounted adherents and sympathizers among the laity and even the clergy of various denominations, and its beliefs and practices are shared by several strange sects that dabble in occultism.
As a religion, spiritualism is of course founded on a sifting out of certain common elements within the contradictory "revelations" of the mediums and the "automatic writers." This means that they honor the Lord, but usually only as a great medium and a lofty spirit; they place the Bible among a number of other messages from above; they picture the spiritual world as a realm of unending progress, with redemption possible for evil spirits also—who, they say, are merely "undeveloped" ; and they reject the idea of any resurrection of the material body. One organization encourages belief in astrology, palmistry, prophecy, and the interpretation of dreams. Another believes in elemental spirits, and has chosen as its emblem the pond lily which shoots up from the mud "through putrid waters," yet evolves beauty and purity. But all encourage the seeking of sensual proofs of the soul's survival.
The opposition to Spiritualism comes mainly from the Roman Catholic Church, from many literalistic sects, from some of the clergy of more conservative churches, from most scientists and from skeptics everywhere. Each group has reasons of its own, either doctrinal or pragmatic, for resisting the movement. But as is usual in such opposition, each—in denouncing the spiritistic movement—also rejects the fundamental truths which that movement has misused and perverted. An instance of this is seen in the attitude of some physicians who from their studies of the psychopathic wards have contracted the habit of regarding all extraordinary human states as abnormal and due to mental disorder. Such men are not content to condemn the practice of spiritism because of its ill effects on the nervous system of its victims: they also regard all claims to spiritual intercourse as the result of a disordered mind and would classify even the visions of the prophets and disciples as sensory hallucinations due to paranoia, paraphrenia, or other forms of disease. Such an attitude, born from a preconceived denial of the existence of a spiritual world, precludes all further understanding of the distinctions between the orderly means by which, in the Lord's providence and according to His protecting laws, the spiritual world could at times of need be opened to allow prophets and seers to serve as instruments of a Divine revelation, and the disorderly enterprises by which men seek to pry into the unseen world and by which spirits seek to dominate and obsess human minds when these are diseased or voluntarily submissive.
Swedenborg and Modern Spiritualism
In several works on the history of modern spiritualism, considerable space is given to Emanuel Swedenborg, who has been labeled as "the foremost mystic and seer of modern times" or as "the father of our new knowledge of supernal matters." "When the first rays of the rising sun of spiritual knowledge fell upon the earth they illumined the greatest and highest human mind before they shed their light on lesser men. That mountain peak of mentality was this great reformer and clairvoyant medium, as little understood by his own followers as ever the Christ has been. ... In order fully to understand Swedenborg one would need to have a Swedenborg brain, and that is not met with once in a century." So writes Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, lately the leading champion and biographer of the movement. His words are nattering to Swedenborg; but not to the New Church, which—he says—"has allowed itself to become a backwater instead of keeping its rightful place as the original source of psychic knowledge."30
It would seem that Conan Doyle, delving into clues for the solution of the final mystery, himself lacked the Swedenborg brain. For the theology of the New Church and the disclosure of the spiritual sense of the Word, which were the net result of Swedenborg's revelations, are not of any comfort to the spiritistic movement. But in spite of this side of Swedenborg's work, Doyle hails "the immense store of information which," he says, "God sent to the world through Swedenborg. Again and again they have been repeated by the mouths and the pens of our own Spiritualistic illuminates."30
To the eyes of New Church readers this admission unwittingly reveals more than was intended. For when spirits do speak to men, it is spirits who are of his own religion or who adopt his ideas; they can only "confirm whatever the man has made a part of his religion; thus enthusiastic spirits confirm in a man all that pertains to his enthusiasm; Quaker spirits all things of Quakerism; Moravian spirits all things of Moravianism, and so on." This is said to show that it is untrue "that man might be more enlightened ... if he had direct revelation through speech with spirits and angels."31 Spirits who speak with a man speak only from his affections and according to his thoughts and knowledge. This provision is made to preserve man's freedom even when he tries to squander it by offering himself as the dupe of evil spirits.
The only real information that has been given to men since known history began comes, of course, from the Word and now especially from the Writings of Swedenborg. And some of this knowledge, mixed with all manner of superstition, contorted by Christian traditions and modified by wishful thinking and hoax, has found a fruitful soil in the imagination of many a spiritist. At the seance, this welter of information is present in the mind either of the medium or the questioner. So far as there is any clarity in the supposed answer, it comes indirectly from the Writings. Nothing new—nothing which in the slightest adds to the comprehension of the life and order of the spiritual world—has ever been furnished by the "wizards that peep and mutter." The futility of seeking open intercourse with spirits is abundantly clear from the paucity of the results.
Possibility of the Intercourse of Spirits and Men
There are many powers latent within man that are not well understood. Far above our conscious thought there is an interior memory in which all that we have experienced resides in perfect detail, although beyond our ability to recollect. In known cases, as for instance in hypnotic sleep, the astonishing contents of this memory may be divulged or become active as "subconscious intellection," as "automatic writing," or as somnambulency. That spirits can operate this memory of man is clear from our dreams and may lie behind the emergence of a "split personality."
There is also a possibility that people who are united in bonds of kinship or affection may at times convey their thoughts or fears to each other at a distance by what is called "telepathy." There is attested evidence that in rare cases visual ideas may similarly be communicated by "clairvoyance." It is told of Swedenborg that when at Gothenburg he was able to report on the progress of a fire raging near his house in Stockholm (Docu. 273). Seemingly the prophet Elisha was clairvoyant when he told the king of Israel the plans of the Syrians (2 Kings 6:12). That such unusual occurrences are caused by the communication existing between associated spirits is not unlikely.
But it is also well to note that many of the claims of modern mediums go directly counter to what is taught us in the Writings. There is indeed an influx of the spiritual world into the natural, and it is by this influx that all organic growth, vegetable and animal, takes place. Destructive organisms, such as noxious pests, are—we are taught—creations that received their contorted forms from the influx of the hells into corresponding substances on earth.32 But this influx is not any materialization of the evil spirits; it is merely an activity of the spheres of the hells. There is no conjunction of the two worlds except by the mediation of man, that is, by man's mind.33 We find no ground in the Writings for a belief that spirits can move the objects of earth or sky without the agency of the human body, or that they can materialize, whether through a man or separately. Since biblical times, Jews and Christians have thought that angels appeared by suddenly assuming material bodies when they were seen by prophets or apostles. Before his full enlightenment, Swedenborg also endeavored to reconcile such a belief with his conception of the nature of the soul, suggesting that by the omnipotence of God a spirit might be clothed with a temporary embodiment from materials present in the atmospheres.34 But in the inspired Writings we read this disavowal: "It is believed in the Christian world that angels have assumed human bodies and have thus appeared to men; but they did not assume them, but the eyes of the man's spirit were opened, and so they were seen."35 The explanation is simple and reasonable. For man is created with spiritual senses as well as with natural senses. He possesses a body of matter held together by physical forces —by electromagnetic and gravitational fields of force. But these fields of force are ruled, unified, disposed and directed by a soul or spirit, and thus by a spiritual purpose and a superconscious wisdom which is far above our comprehension. In fact, the spirit is the real man, and is organized far more intricately than the body. It is indeed a spiritual body36 which is endowed with spiritual senses and thus with the power to perceive knowledge—to see spiritual objects, "see" truths, civil, moral and spiritual, and to feel and recognize mental states and sense the relations of all the things which compose his spiritual environment. These things are seen by the understanding more clearly than physical objects are seen by the bodily eyes. But ordinarily they are sensed by us only as abstractions, as thoughts, imaginations and logical relations. Yet if "the eyes of a man's spirit were opened," he would see beyond the contents of his own memory. He would see the spirits and angels immediately present with him, and see these in their own spiritual and mental environment which in every detail would be descriptive of their character and state. All men are thus equipped for actual vision into the spiritual world.37 And if men were in the perfect state of the celestials, as Providence had intended, angels and men could openly dwell together without harm.38
Swedenborg distinctly claimed that such intercourse as his own with spirits was not miraculous. "These revelations," he wrote, "are not miracles, since every man as to his spirit is in the spiritual world without separation from his body in the natural world; but I with a certain separation, but only as to the intellectual part of my mind. . . . "39 He claimed no uniqueness in being able to converse with spirits, but noted that the type and the marvelous extent of these revelations surpassed even the visions of the men of the Golden Age; for they remained in natural light while Swedenborg was granted to be in spiritual light and in natural light at the same time. Such intercourse had never before been known in history, and —taken in connection with the manifestation of the Lord in person to Swedenborg and the revelation of the spiritual sense of the Word—was "superior to any miracles."40 In the Most Ancient Church, direct or immediate revelations were given through open intercourse with angels, and there was no need for a written Word.41 This is indeed the mode of revelation on other earths also, because of the genius of their inhabitants.42 But when our race, through the eating of the fruit of knowledge came into its peculiar external and scientific genius, this way of communicating with heaven was closed. Instead, the Word of God was given through appointed prophets whose spiritual senses were opened;43 and by means of this Word, written and preserved for all ages, men could be reformed through rational things of doctrine. Indeed, the Writings abound in statements to the effect that no one is reformed by visions and by speech with the dead, because such things compel.44
Something should here be added concerning the visions which were permitted to the prophets and others whose spiritual senses were opened so that they could perceive events which occurred in the spiritual world.
The fact that those who are infirm in mind and indulge much in fancies are apt to become subject to hallucinations, does not mean that genuine visions have never been granted. Pathological symptoms—such as manic-depressive delusions and schizophrenia and hallucinations—are only perversions of man's normal faculties and are due to "spirits who by means of fantasies induce appearances which seem to be real." People with visionary tendencies may thus—like credulous children—see monsters behind the trees of the forest or convert shadows into ghosts.45
But genuine visions are the actual seeing of "such things in the other life as have real existence."46 They are seen by the eyes of the spirit, either by day or night.47 Such were the visions of the prophets who saw not only various representatives shown in the spiritual world and containing Divine arcana, but saw the spirits themselves and heard their speech.
The men of the Most Ancient Church were instructed by such heavenly visions, for they were given to know their inner meaning.48 The Hebrew prophets, and John at Patmos, had such real or Divine visions significant of the thoughts and affections of angels, but understood them not.49 Some of the prophets were actually possessed by spirits; like Saul, who spoke and acted in a state of trance.50 Others exercised their own discretion, and spirits spoke to their inner hearing.51 When in "vision" the prophets were not in the body, but "in the spirit."52 As was foretold in Daniel, prophetic visions of whatever kind were discontinued after the Christian dispensation had begun.53
The Divine visions which the Lord from childhood had in His Human on earth were most perfect, because "He had a perception of all things in the world of spirits and in the heavens, and had an immediate communication with Jehovah."54
Swedenborg also experienced certain visions. But his normal state, he tells us, was not one of vision as usually understood or one of "trance." But what he saw, heard and felt in the spiritual world was experienced in full wakefulness of body.55 And like the "Divine visions" seen by the prophets, Swedenborg's explorations in the other world were for the sake of his being instructed by the Lord. The Scriptures were not revealed in a state of vision, but were "dictated by the Lord to the prophets by a living voice."56 In the case of Swedenborg, the Lord instructed him through spiritual sight, but the Heavenly Doctrine and the internal sense of the Word were given him by a dictation into the interiors of his rational mind, with varying degrees of perception, while he read the Word.57
A type of diabolical visions can be induced by "enthusiastic spirits." This is produced by the "magic" of hell, and it distorts the truth, as was the case with the lying prophets mentioned in the book of Kings.58 The spirits who cause such visions are now separated and restrained in their hells.59
The Writings have now made unnecessary any private revelations or visions. Divine or prophetic visions are no longer provided and would not be understood if they were. Diabolical visions are severely restricted by spiritual laws. And there remain now only fantastic visions, which are "mere delusions of an abstracted mind."60
Warnings against Seeking Speech with Spirits
"Nevertheless, conversation with spirits is possible, though rarely with the angels of heaven; and this has been granted to many for ages back."61 And human nature is such that those who have only had fantastic visions are inclined to boast about them and exaggerate them to gain the ear of an audience.62 Speech with spirits "is rarely permitted, because it is perilous. . . . Some who lead a solitary life occasionally hear spirits speaking to them, and without danger." A spirit may thus come to a man and communicate some words; but still it is not permitted the man to speak with him mouth to mouth, lest the spirit should come to realize that he is with a man.63 Therefore a spirit who addresses a man is permitted to speak "only a few words; and they who speak by the Lord's permission never say anything that takes away the freedom of reason, nor do they teach. For the Lord alone teaches man, but mediately by the Word in a state of illustration. . . . "64
A man who is in enlightenment from the Lord through a love of the truths of the Word may sometimes hear the speech of spirits, but he is never taught by them, but "led" with every precaution for his freedom.65 This speech may be perceived by such men as a kind of "response by vivid perception in their thought or by a tacit speech therein, and rarely by open speech; and it is to the effect that they should think and act as they will and as they are able, and that he who acts wisely is wise and he who acts foolishly is foolish; but they are never instructed what to believe and what to do. . . . They who are taught by influx what to believe or what to do are not taught by the Lord nor by any angel of heaven, but by some enthusiastic spirit . . . who leads them astray."66
Those who desire to be instructed by spirits "do not realize that it is conjoined with peril to their soul !"67 Only evil spirits come to the summons of man:
"When spirits begin to speak with a man he ought to take heed lest he should believe anything whatever from them; for they say almost anything! They fabricate things and lie. ... If they were permitted to describe what heaven is ... they would tell so many lies—and this with solemn affirmations—that a man would be amazed. Therefore when spirits are speaking, I have not been permitted to have faith in the things they related.
For they have a passion for inventing; and whenever a subject comes up in conversation they think they know it and give their opinions—one after another—one in one way and another in another, quite as if they knew! And if a man then listens and believes, they press on and deceive and seduce in diverse ways. For example, if they were permitted to talk about things to come. . . . "68
And they can impersonate others so that they even deceive themselves that they are some one else! "Let those who speak with spirits beware, therefore, lest they be deceived when the spirits say that they are those whom they have known and who have died. For . . . when like things are called up in the memory of man and so are represented to them, they think that they are the same persons."69 "These things make evident the danger in which a man is who speaks with spirits or who manifestly feels their operation."70
Such warnings against seeking sensual proof for the existence of spirits should suffice for any New Church man. Yet from the beginning, the temptation to explore the other world, as Swedenborg did, or to call upon its powers of influx illicitly, has threatened the New Church. A few instances may be cited.71 In 1786, a French society of "Illuminati" was formed by Abbe Pernety, which mixed New Church doctrine with spiritism and Freemasonry. Similar ideas, in milder forms, such as the practice of "animal magnetism" and the healing of the sick by exorcising spirits, brought an early end to a genuine New Church movement in Stockholm about 1790.
In 1817, James Johnston, a simple-minded working man belonging to the Salford New Church in England, began to receive visions in which Abraham and other "archangels" dictated nonsense which has been published in his spiritual "Diary." In 1846, Ludwig Hofaker, who had edited and translated some of the Writings, died of insanity after harming the New Church in Germany by advocating spiritistic theories and practices. In 1844, Mr. Silas Jones, with the sanction of a leading New Church minister, conducted a spiritistic circle in Brooklyn, profanely mixing sorcery and astrology with New Church rites. In 1859, Thomas Lake Harris, who had ostensibly embraced the New Church after megalomaniac adventures with spiritism on this continent, visited England and almost succeeded in turning the Swedenborg Society there into an agency for spiritistic propaganda, converting, with his strange charm and marvelous eloquence, William White, the Swedenborg biographer, and Dr. J. J. Garth Wilkinson, a most profound student of the Writings; causing the latter to descend into the Hades of Harrisism for an interval of some years during which he produced verses by spirit-dictation. Harris's career ended in scandal and disgrace.
But it is not enough to say that the New Church, like many other worthy movements, must have its "lunatic fringe." For throughout the years the recurrent defense of spiritistic practices in several New Church journals has shown that the temptation to find a sensual approach to the spiritual world is likely to come wherever the faithful study of the Heavenly Doctrine is neglected, or where a secret or open desire is harbored to abandon the arduous way of redemption which the Lord offers to those who are of the spiritual church. This appointed way is reformation through doctrine and reason, through the discipline of self-compulsion and loyalty to the truth. It is a difficult road, but one which is necessary for our race and genius, that is, for all those whose hearts must confess to being subject to hereditary and actual evils.
The temptation is to think that we do not need to walk that road, to think that we have attained to a celestial state and may ignore the discipline of doctrine and can rely on our own power to withstand the onslaughts of the hells and on our instinctive discernment to know an evil spirit when we meet him. But let us humbly recognize that "the Lord enters into man through no other than an internal way, which is through the Word and doctrine and preachings from the Word."72 This way does not lead downward to a dependence on the senses and its innumerable fallacies, but up to the rational mind where alone a man is free to see the spiritual things of heaven in their own light.