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It is recognized by all sensible men that human life is laid within certain limits, some common to all men, others individual to each person. One's heredity marks one limitation, for all have not equal native abilities. Opportunities differ according to environment and social groupings. Experience also may be wide or narrow, quite apart from one's own endeavors. And because of all these factors, it is obvious that man's freedom is also circumscribed. Although all men are born with the same faculties of liberty and rationality and can turn to good or to evil, every one differs as to the things in which he can exercise a choice.

Observing these inequalities, some moral philosophers have sought to maintain that there is a "law of Compensation" by which all the lacks or sufferings which men experience would be made good, if not in this world yet in another life. The poor would be made rich, the foolish wise, those without honor would become exalted. Presumably the reverse would also hold true, the wise would become foolish, the rich poor, etc.; and life would thus even out all differences into a deadly equality, in the name of justice. Nobody dares to say that the good shall become evil and the evil good: that would push the law of Compensation too far! But there are those who suggest that since some choose evil on earth they should be given other opportunities in the hereafter: or perhaps be born again on earth (by a transmigration of their souls) so that they may redeem their mistakes.

There is something radically wrong with such concepts of Divine justice. For man's spirit is formed once and for all by his life, however short, on earth. Every one is born under different limitations in order to become a distinctive vessel responsive to the influx of the Lord's life, and thus to be able to contribute to the marvelous perfection of the heavens, which depends on endless varieties of human conditions and endeavors. Apart from the fact that no human race could possibly exist under the condition of absolute equality, we must recognize that the heavens, as to spiritual uses, are a Grand Human Form in which all existing varieties compensate, each for the lack of the others. It is this inequality and this diversity which enable spirits to work together for the perfection of the whole. Every one there has a place reserved for his unique abilities, and may enjoy the delight of his part in the Lord's work.

At the risk of repeating what was said in previous pages, we must note that the penalties suffered by the spirits in hell have no other source than a resentment against their limitations. Evil spirits, in effect, rebel against being finite. They want to act as gods and decide what is good and evil, want to exert omnipotence, to claim omniscience. Yet they are compelled to realize that there are laws which they cannot oppose laws which describe what is possible and what is impossible. They see these laws not as merciful provisions for eternal salvation, but as laws of inexorable necessity from which they continually seek to escape.

Punishments in the World of Spirits

Evil spirits, like all others, enter the spiritual world immediately after dying, in a state of utmost peace, protected by celestial and spiritual angels who seek to hold them in the state of love and charity which still are stored up as "remains" of their childhood innocence. They are then attended by friendly spirits who arouse their memory of moral and social affections not perverted. But these states of their resuscitation are forgotten like a dream that has passed, when, on the third day after death, they wake up in the world of spirits, as if from sleep. They then resume the thread of their life where they had left it off on earth. They soon find companions like themselves, and live a life of the same habits as they had on earth. Indeed, the same states in which they had been while in the world, return and cause them to act in much the same ways as they did on earth. Their disposition leads them into one wickedness after another, not only against each other but against good spirits who, especially in the first state of the world of spirits, are associated with them in the same societies, even as on earth. Evil spirits do not, however, succeed in doing any real harm to the good; for those evils which they seek to inflict are turned by the Lord into good having the effect only of temptations or trials by which the good are strengthened rather than weakened.1 Nor are the evil spirits punished for their wicked attempts, for this is their nature from their life in the world. But if they do any evil "beyond what they have acquired from life in the world," punishers are instantly at hand to chastise them for it! "For the law in the other life is, that no one must become worse than he had been in the world."2

We may indeed wonder why this should be so. But it is plain that here the wicked meet up with their first limitation. What they are is tolerated: but they must not pervert any new truth or adulterate any new good, and thus "exceed the delight of their life" by stealing some truth which they had not yet known and thus not turned into a falsity, or by entering into some use not theirs and spoiling it for others in order to enhance their own depraved delight.3

Yet this is what they try to do. And so persistent are they that they are not deterred until after many punishments sometimes repeated two hundred times during the several years that they remain in the world of spirits.4

It is to be understood from certain teachings that among the punishments just mentioned are those consequent upon the many evils which do not necessarily spring from the ruling love of the evil spirit, but from his external character, and which are aroused when his worldly states return, as they all do in the world of spirits. Among such evils are: hidden enmities, self-indulgence, adulteries, and other evils of thought or habit, which not only return but are manifested before spirits and angels with shame and grief, and lead to punishments, with much variety.5

For an evil spirit is at first in externals such as he had in the world. But after a period which varies from a few days to a year, he comes into the state of his internals. He is then more and more separated from association with good spirits and enters more blatantly into his real character and into a communion with the hells that correspond to his particular evils.6 At the same time he is also deprived of the good traits and moral habits that he had in the world, and also of the truths of faith in which he had been brought up. This vastation of good and truth follows the law which the Lord expounded: "Whosoever hath, to him shall be given; and whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken even that which he seemeth to have."7 But before he is vastated of his former knowledge of the truth, he is brought face to face with the fact that he has forsaken it: he is convicted in his own sight of having lived contrary to his avowed belief. This, however, is not so with those who had had neither any truth nor any charity, for they are carried into hell without such a judgment.8

Having renounced the truths or standards which he had externally professed, the evil spirit becomes openly evil. His evils are as it were collected together as the evils of his own genus. Yet at the same time the fear of punishment becomes so great, the while his impulse for wickedness is irresistible, that he casts himself gladly into the hell where he finds others of his own quality. Thus the evil spirit enters into his ruling love.

This deprivation of truth and of the pretences of external goods has the effect of confirming the evil spirit in the fact that he is in evil of his own free choice; and by punishments he is forced to confess that he cannot blame any one else. No one is ready for hell until he himself knows and is inwardly convinced that he is in evil and could not possibly be in heaven.9 Punishments endure and warnings continue until he realizes this. We therefore read in the Writings many accounts of infernal spirits who with the utmost frankness and something of boasting tell of their evil delights and disgusting preferences for filth and corruptions. They feel nothing of self-consciousness about their state, no embarrassment or regret.10 Their only regret is that when they instinctively seek to vent their fury upon the good they are foiled and punished.

Punishments in Hell

In his own hell, the evil spirit is punished that is, chastised by other spirits "according to the evil actually acquired in the world," thus for the evils of their ruling love. This love is perpetual with them, as a passion which smoulders or flames; wherefore the hells spiritually appear as a lake of sulphurous fire. Hence the Son of Man in the parable says to the wicked, "Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels"; and their lot is called "everlasting punishment." It is so called because to the good the passions of hell would be a terrible punishment. Yet to the evil, the angry flames of their own loves are the delight of their existence. "They find rest in their evils and in the falsities therefrom." They retire into their hells to escape the pains and torments which they suffered in the world of spirits when the light of heaven fell upon them.11

In the hells they are not under any judgment for their evil loves, but are among their like. But what they now feel as punishment is not any eternal or unceasing torment, but the anguish when they are withheld from their love, when it is quenched for a time by a fear of doing the evil to which their heart inclines.12 And this fear is induced by the punishments which follow when they rush upon each other and try to subjugate one another and inflict injury, or by continual controversy, bickering and contemptuous mockery fight each for their own falsity. The latter is heard from a distance as a gnashing of teeth.13

The life of the internals among themselves is far more various than the lift of men in earthly communities, and their intrigues and persecutions are made exceedingly much worse by the skill of evil spirits in magical practices. By this is meant the subjugation of others by the power of hypnotic thought, which in the other life can be employed for torturing other minds with phantasies of excruciating terror. One spirit can impose phantasies upon another, and thereby punish him. If we remember that somewhat the same sensations can be experienced by the mind on earth in nightmares in which a bodily condition invites free access for evil spirits, and in the hallucinations attending mental diseases, it can be realized that, in the spiritual world, spirits (who are minds set free to follow out their loves and secret fears) can suffer most exquisite pains in their spiritual bodies as well as in their imaginations. And it is noted that spirits have senses far more keen and perfect than men, thus can feel incomparably more profound delights and if evil suffer more acute agonies.

The punishments of hell are in every detail symbolic or correspondential, for they represent the state of the spirits mind. In every case they fit the crime. In the physical world many such punishments would appear absurd and some impossible. Spirits who deceitfully say one thing and think the contrary seem to be on the rack or hurled against walls or rent asunder. One who from pride had contempt for others was seen by Swedenborg to become inflated like a balloon that seemed to fill the universe, until he had no place to go!14 Other spirits are immersed in a black lake, or into boiling water, or suffer the horror of total darkness. Some are whirled around or rolled naked on the ground or contorted in painful fashion, or put into a pyramidal sack or infested with snakes, vermin or ulcers, or burnt with fire.15 One common form of punishment is to be confined in a veil from which one cannot struggle out, or else locked inside a tun, or wrapped up and twisted in a woolen cloth, or suspended in mid-air like a ghost. Or the body of the spirit may feel and appear as if torn apart.

The devils are not punished for being evil. Indeed it is permitted them to enjoy visiting such punishments as we have described upon companions who have done evil to them; for such penalties are according to the law of retaliation, which is the law of infernal societies. Yet in hell they "chastise one another according to the evil which they actually acquired in the world, for this evil they bring with them into the other life."16 For such is their ruling love, their very nature which they cannot and will not change.

But the reason why such punishments are permitted is that there may be an amendment of their external life. The dread of sure punishment causes them to retreat within themselves, and to sit in morbid solitude like skeletons or ugly, deformed monsters, brooding in internal torment, until they can again return to their society, its external order, and its gross delights.17 Still they repeat their offenses and are as often punished. They soon learn that to return into the world of spirits means a worse penalty, for until their corporeal delights can be laid asleep, they cannot abstain from evil acts. Therefore they recede into their hells and remain there until cowed by the dread of punishments.18

Let us note here that evil spirits may descend into their hells, sometimes different hells, before they are finally confined there. And also, that punishments are apparently administered in special hells; not in their own abodes, but in places which the devils themselves regard as "hells." When their punishment is completed, they are drawn up from these places of torture and returned to their own abodes. This lends the appearance to certain passages in the Writings as if the hells were not eternal. Thus it is said: "Such is the equilibrium of all things in the other life, that evil punishes itself, and unless it were removed by punishments, the evil spirits must necessarily be kept in some hell to eternity. . . ."19

It is of mercy that evil spirits are thus brought out from these special hells of punishment. And it is also of mercy that the penalties meted out to them by their like are kept within bounds by angels who are present to regulate their severity and "alleviate the pains of the sufferers as much as they can."20

The Governors of Hell

It is said in the Apocalypse that the Lord has the keys of hell and of death. It was to subjugate the hells that He came on earth to be tempted and to conquer, to be slain and to rise again, and thus prove the futility of the efforts of the hells. Differently from man, He fought all the hells. His government is over all. But in exercising this government He not only rules immediately by His sphere of Divine truth, but also mediately, both by means of angelic spirits and in a sense through evil spirits, though never through their evils.

The hells are organized much like earthly societies, with the difference that all in hell are evil. And it is important to note that the love of dominating over others is the most virulent lust of hell. The ones who gain control of an infernal society are those who are most malignant, whom the rest obey from fear. These are set over them and maintain an external order.21 They rule of course from a love of self, and hate those who do not fawn upon them. They are willing to be called devils provided that they be allowed to command others. As with all despots, their rule is insecure and precarious, for their unwilling subjects are in constant rebellion and continually plot their overthrow.22 Like Pilate and Herod, they make common cause when united in like phantasies and lusts; but when the common enemy is apparently defeated, they fall out and then rush at each other.23 Since the internals do not acknowledge the Lord, they may even worship some powerful devil that is set over them, as their god. So long as they maintain the justice of expediency, such demagogues are permitted to be masters within their domain, and administer the punishments of retaliatory law.

But such governors of hell can maintain their power over other evil spirits only so long as they do not transgress the law. And to see that this is not done, angels of various heavens are placed as moderators over them, and as judges, guardians of justice. It is related in the Spiritual Diary24 that the punishers in the places of punishment are of a varied sort. Some are of course the evil. But there are also some spirits who are interiorly good, but who from their external man wish to rule, and are for a time, supposedly given this opportunity. There are also certain spirits belonging to the province of the kidneys in the Grand Man who have a strict sense of justice but who also from a communication with the hells have a delight in punishing or convicting others to be punished. Such sometimes serve as judges in hell.25 Neither is there any lack of moderators of different character.

Good spirits are sometimes allowed to look into the hells and see what is going on there. The devils cannot see these visiting spirits, unless for some purpose. Indeed, the devils cannot even see those in the hells nearby; but the hells appear to angels whenever the Lord so pleases. And the object of this inspection is to moderate the hells and keep them in order.26

The middle hell is held in bonds through the spiritual angels, the first hell through the angels of the ultimate heaven. The celestial angels are the media by which the Lord restores order in the lowest hell.27 While they are there nothing of evil can touch them, since they are protected by a heavenly sphere of good from which the evil flee. We are also assured that any spirit who is in natural truth, having lived justly in the world, may pass safely through the hells. The power of truth in the other world is tremendous, for it shatters all those illusions and falsities which give the devils the ability to rule by fear.28

Angels on certain occasions are said to descend into hell. Yet they never leave their heavenly societies. In fact there is between heaven and hell a great gulf which cannot be crossed (Luke 16:26). This paradox is explained when we realize that there are no distances in the spiritual world; the angels descend into hell by means of aspect-presence by the projection of their thought or gaze.29 And thus they can observe when any new hell is opened and detect if any devil bent on mischief should escape into the world of spirits, and also, by merely revealing their presence, restore order in some hell or stop excessive punishments.30

When an infernal spirit is let out from his place of punishment, it is not to be supposed that his nature is changed. From a dread of the consequences to himself he is compelled of himself to put away certain evils. But he has not compelled himself in any freedom. And "in the whole spiritual world there is not a single instance of any one having been removed from evils in any other way than by combat or resistance as if from himself, or of any one doing this except from the Lord alone."31 To be forced by others to compel oneself is one thing. It is acting from a selfish pro-prium. To resist one's evils "as if from oneself," thus from freedom, is quite another. For with it comes the acknowledgment that the power comes from the Lord.

No. Punishments do not take away the will or thought or intention, but merely stop the determination to act. It is told in the Arcana that when released from age-long confinement in an infernal vat or "tun," certain deceitful spirits whose worldly success had gone to their heads were at once possessed of an insane phantasy that they were gods and owned the universe. That indeed kept them quiet, and out of harm's way, so long as they kept to themselves. But it showed that their nature had not changed. Their evil merely took a different form.32

* * * * *

We have traced the development of evil spirits to this point when fear of penalties render them less harmful to others, less aggressive. Three more phases of their life remain to be considered. One of these is their life of phantasy the real arena in which they Can indulge their full license. Another is the life of their necessities the labors to which hunger and want eventually drive them. For even devils must eat and find shelter: they cannot subsist on phantasy alone. And because they are thus driven to perform things needful in society they also will reluctantly seek a place in the real world of uses. For "by reason of the evils of punishment they at length abstain from doing evils."33

And the third aspect of the life of the infernals is their eternal fate the permanence of their ruling loves and the effect which this has on the spiritual equilibrium between heaven and hell.


1 SD 4471

2 AC 6559

3 SD 4471, 4055, 4224, AC 6569

4 SD 4471

5 SD 4110

6 Cp SD 5492ff

7 Lu. 8:18

8 AC 4169e, 7465e

9 AC 7469e

10 DP last Par.

11 AE 411a

12 AE 890, AC 8232

13 HH 573, 575

14 SD 3113

15 AC 963f

16 AC 6559, 8223

17 SD 4471, cp AC 824

18 SD 4471f, SD min. 4791f

19 AC 967

20 AC 967

21 HH 220, 543, 595

22 AC 5721, 1749, 7773, 8232

23 AC 1322, 8226, TCR 45

24 SD 5050

25 AC 5382, 5384

26 AC 8237

27 AC 6370, AE 1133:6

28 AC 6369f, 6423

29 Lu. 16:26, AC 8343, 4533

30 AC 5992, 4533, 6677, HH 400

31 AE 1164e

32 AC 947

33 AC 6071:6


The Spiritual World
Spirits and Men
Talks: Spiritual World
10Q: Life After Death


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21. Divine Justice

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