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It was suggested in a former chapter that evil spirits really live in a different world from the good. Our mental life on earth is excited by both these worlds, and the spirit of man is therefore balanced between heaven and hell, receiving the influx of each. Heaven is present when man is in the inner acknowledgment of the Lord and of His laws of order and thus sees all things, spiritual and natural, as they really are; sees the real purpose of life, sees that only a life according to the Lord's teaching and leading can fulfill the conditions for eternal happiness. But hell enters in where this is denied and the Lord's doctrine of charity and faith is viewed with aversion and hatred; and this results in man creating a different universe for himself, in which there are no spiritual laws, and no sins against God but only sins of others against oneself.

This imagined universe — in which man is the master and might is right and only such theories as work out to one's pleasure and advantage are true — is the special world in which the evil spirits of hell live and love to live. While he is on earth, a man's cherished falsities are only felt as opinions, as abstract knowledge in his memory, expressed at times as speech or writing. But in the other life, his delights and thoughts become changed into forms of most lifelike and tangible correspondences.1 Those who have cultivated an aversion for spiritual truth seek refuge in dark caves and valleys, in the hells. The avaricious dwell in cells and vaults, guarding their imagined treasures with greatest cunning.2 Those who ascribe all things to nature and to their own prudence, delight in studying magical arts, for which they had no use on earth. The most fastidious gourmet forms an unaccountable appetite for most disgusting fare!3 Ambitious priests persist in a desire to build, not dogmas only, but houses — which usually fall to ruin by the next day for lack of any real cohesion. Many who are in the pride of erudition find themselves in library cells underground — for they want to escape "life" by their abstractions: but unfortunately, as they read, their candles or lamps go out, and what they write vanishes from the paper by morning.4

In other words — and without giving any more shocking examples — the world which evil spirits build for themselves is bound to fall apart whenever any ray of truth finds its way in. Their lives are a web of beloved illusions, which they protect so far as they can because their delight depends on them.

Speaking of the state of the hells in general, the Writings testify that "phantasies are the things which rule there, and these appear altogether to the life ... for they have no other life than that of phantasies. ..." They perceive them as living realities, with all the fulness of sense, not only sight, but touch and sound and taste.6

Essentially, the phantasies of the devils are based on the same laws of spiritual sensation as the sensory life of the angels. Evil spirits have the same bodily senses as the angels and even if not so perfect as those of the angels they are yet incredibly more keen and sensitive than man's. This enables them to feel both delight and torment far more acutely than men can.

"But it should be known that the sensitive life of spirits is twofold, namely, real and non-real. The one is distinguished from the other in this, that all that which appears to those who are in heaven is real, and that which appears to those in hell is not real. . . . The real differs from the non-real in this, that the real is actually such as it appears, while the non-real is actually not such as it appears."6

By this definition, "all things which appear in the hells are non-real," but they appear as it were real "because those there are themselves in phantasy, and not in thought from faith. . . ."7 And further reading shows that the evil spirits, "as far as they are in the lusts of evil and the persuasions of falsity, are nothing but phantasies as to their thoughts; and to see anything from phantasies is to see things which are real as not real and things which are not real as real; and that, unless it were freely given them by the Divine mercy of the Lord to have their senses affected in that manner, they would have no life of sense, and accordingly no life.. . ."8

Strangely enough, evil spirits can—in certain states—calmly recognize that their phantasies were phantasies, and that "the sum total of their existence" consisted in such phantasies.9 We must also notice that they have both pleasant phantasies and tormenting phantasies. They can induce on themselves forms of beauty and adornment — as do sirens and others by means of sensuous thought.10 They can represent magnificent things by closing the interiors of the mind of others and opening its exteriors only.11And they themselves see their own abodes and tawdry possessions as things of extra-ordinary beauty and wealth and themselves as men of dignity and importance; not from any state of contentment, but from pride of achievement. In persuading others of their importance they, like supreme actors, also persuade themselves; although not for very long.

In such phantasies, they also find freedom to indulge in all the dreams of their imagination with a sense of actual realism, seeming to ensnare and torture their enemies, to deceive and rob and slaughter them to their hearts content or subdue them under their power; and all with impunity .

Yet in hell, they are not content with these delights of the imagination; but they seek to impose phantasies upon others. For in the other life, thoughts can not only be represented to the life before others, but actually be induced upon the minds of selected victims when these have no Divine protection. Spirits can make another spirit believe himself to experience with the keenest pain the horrors which they desire him to feel, by enveloping him in the nets or clouds of their own phantasies. All evil spirits are subjected again and again to persecutions by their companions, because their own cherished falsities and their stubborn self-reliance make them vulnerable. They live in constant fear, therefore, studying how to avoid and avert the schemes of their rivals, and to hide themselves from their influence until they themselves can retaliate.12

The extent to which phantasy can go is illustrated by a punishment imposed on certain spirits who longed to be again possessed of an earthly body by obsessing men. A phantasy of a body was induced upon them even to the sensations, and they were then, in phantasy, mangled and broken and inspired with horror, exquisite pain, and shame, until their ambition was quelled.13

"All things that really appear in the spiritual world are correspondences," for they correspond to the mental states of the angels or spirits, and signify nothing else.14 The spiritual, that is, the affections and thoughts, clothes itself there with forms such as appear in the three kingdoms of nature. The surroundings of the angels are therefore quite permanent, changing only in details. But phantasies, the Writings explain, "are not correspondences."15The reference is to appearances of palaces and beautiful garments and adornments which evil spirits present to view from phantasy, and which perish in a moment when the phantasy ceases; for then the true correspondences of the states of the devils appear, and foul things, ruins and sordid ugliness, come to view.16

Yet even the creations of phantasy are correspondences, but they correspond to unreal things — to impossibilities and distortions, which are the imaginations bred in the minds of the devils. They correspond to falsities, that is, to nothing real. They describe things which can exist only in corrupt human minds. There is no truth in them.

For this reason phantasies cannot be maintained for long. They come to a sudden forcible end by encountering some bitter reality that cannot be evaded. An evil spirit cannot live in a dream-world for long. He is, after all, an inhabitant of a very real world — the spiritual world — which has its unchanging laws. He is a member of a society on which he depends for subsistence. He has a spiritual body which hungers and thirsts and feels cold and heat. His enjoyable life of phantasy can be fed only by contacts with the actual world around him. He has no power even to think and will unless he can have a share of spiritual food to sustain him. And the Writings state that food in the spiritual world "is similar to food in our world, but it is from a spiritual origin and is given from heaven by the Lord to all according to the uses they perform; to the idle, nothing is given, because they are useless."17

The Food of the Devils

What can be meant by this "food from heaven"? For do not evil spirits feed on falsities, and on evil delights?18 This is indeed so, since all that enters their minds is turned into falsities and evils. Yet it is also true that they must base their falsities on the appearances of truth and their evils on pretensions of good. Evils conjoined with falsities have no power whatsoever — even in the world of phantasy — unless they rest on the appearances of realities! And whatever goes on in their minds, yet their spiritual bodies are a part of the actual and substantial spiritual world and must be fed on real spiritual food, on food from heaven.19

Spirits are human minds released from the physical body. And the spiritual body is really the lowest degree of the mind which we use in this world, and which we organize out of our experience to become an image of our inner or rational minds. This lowest degree, or ultimate, of our mind is the memory with its affections, which is no longer used for thinking in the other world but appears as a body and is felt as a body for our spirit. The food for this body is knowledge; but to the senses of spirits it does not appear as knowledge, but as food and drink such as he had on earth. In fact, the kind of knowledge which men have and know as knowledge, as natural ideas, such as those of the literal sense of the Word, does not enter the minds of spirits as knowledge, but it is seen by them as food! What they think of as knowledge is cognitions or rational knowledge, and the memory they use in the other life for thinking is the interior memory, which is the memory of their ruling love and character, thus of their rational mind.20

The angels know full well that this is so, and with them the knowledge which appears only as food is as it were digested quite unconsciously until its inner essence is freed as spiritual ideas or celestial and spiritual truths, such as are present in the spiritual sense of the Word and make them wise and intelligent. But knowledges or scientifics in which there is no life from the goods of truth cannot sustain the interiors of the mind of a spirit, but only the externals of his mind and his body.21 And thus the devils in hell feed on knowledge, but not on truths and goods, and this food nourishes their body, but is turned into falsities in their minds.

This food is given them "from heaven." In a sense, it is the same food as that which angels enjoy; even as both good and evil men can enjoy the same knowledge, although they interpret and use that knowledge in utterly opposite ways. Knowledge is neutral. "Facts are facts." It is the use you make of them that makes truth or falsity. Knowledge is derived by sensation from the ultimates of nature which were created by the Lord. And the entire field of natural knowledge is like a soil out of which springs spiritual food, for the sustenance of man's mind. It is a spiritual soil — a spiritual ultimate, the foundation of heaven. And indeed it is the very land or earth on which spirits walk, and on which their cities are built; and from this soil springs the vegetation seen in the other world, not from seeds sown, but from seeds created.22 In heaven this soil is fertile, but in the hells it is barren or full of noxious weeds.

The soil of hell is barren and can yield only a slight production of foodstuffs, because evil spirits cannot even develop knowledge with that detachment and fairness which is necessary if it is to be rightly organized for use. And therefore they are forced periodically to abandon their phantasies and seek their spiritual food from heaven!

In this world of ours, food is a material reality. In the spiritual world, it is a spiritual reality. And since the real spiritual world is a world of uses, evil spirits must seek some place in it —some employment in society — before they can obtain food. Their minds must become centered on something outside of themselves. Their first effort is of course to beg for food of others who are employed, but this does not succeed for long.23 Swedenborg reports that he often saw grandees and women of rank begging food and receiving only some bread and a little milk — the milk of human kindnessl — and being told to get to work, for food is not given to the idle. Such, in the world of spirits, gladly rise up and follow their benefactors, and are given various tasks to do. But they do them so unfaithfully — wanting only to talk and loiter about and sleep. They are unfitted for doing "works of good use," and only able to do "works of evil use!" So they are cast out as useless.24

Such vagrant spirits may wander about in deserts for a time. But eventually they find their way to a suitable hell, where an overseer or judge puts them to work for wages or for food and shelter, and at a task for which they are fitted. Unless they finish their task neither food nor clothing is given them.25 And if they do harm to others they are tormented until they show remorse and are willing to get back to work. Such hells sometimes appear as vast caverns where the spirit thenceforth is confined, finding a measure of sordid pleasure in intervals of dissolute life and private vices such as he longed for on earth.

Those in the world of spirits — not yet in hell — may spend their wages on bread, which can be bought from good spirits who work for their living willingly and thus have some abundance. But foods other than bread cannot be bought.26 Even those in hell are nourished by such food, which in their case is coarse and sparse. Their spiritual bodies are thereby restored with a sense of well-being, even if they complain about the quality and quantity of what they are given.

It is to be noticed that even as angelic happiness lies in the performance of uses and responsibilities, so the evil spirits are relieved of their insanity and of the pressure of their evil delights, so far as their minds are held to their work. In fact, when they are performing their tasks, which are described as menial and vile, they "are not so much in torment."27 For even though the devils do their work grudgingly, from necessity rather than from choice, yet their labor assists them to forget themselves to some degree; and it is the remembrance of self that is the cause of most human un-happiness.

Uses in the Hells

It might be questioned what kind of uses the evil spirits in hell are able to perform. We read in the Apocalypse Explained that "the uses performed in the heavens and the tasks done in the hells are in part like those done in the world, although for the most part they are spiritual uses which cannot be described by any natural language, and ... do not fall into the ideas of natural thought."28Certain heavenly uses, having to do with instruction or the communication of affections and thoughts, can be conceived as purely spiritual. But other spiritual uses can be thought of only in their correspondential appearance; for indeed they appear as earthly occupations, as a multitude of trades and manufactures, having to do with nourishment, clothing, habitation, recreation, etc.29 It must be understood that in heaven all these functions concern spiritual exchanges of knowledges and delights which are the real commodities that are shared by human minds.

It is told, in the Spiritual Diary, that in the other life "there must be no one who does not perform a use, to his world, to the human race, to the world of spirits, to heaven. . . ."30 Thus even devils perform uses. And we are reminded that in the human body, there are excretions from various organs that serve a use even though vile: as for instance the bile which aids in digestion, and even certain lymphs rejected by the brain, which temper the blood. And these excrementitious matters contain valuable chemicals, such as minerals, which are salvaged by the bloodstream and used again in the economy of the body, much as manure is utilized to enrich the soil of the fields.31

It is therefore stated that even those who have neither conscience nor charity can become "servants in the kingdom of the Lord" after death — even as, in the regenerate man, the love of self and the love of the world are servants under the rule and control of the love of the neighbor and the love of the Lord. And while the infernal spirits themselves do not have any correspondence with the heavens, yet their works do have "correspondences with the heavens," even as the representative worship of the Jews, who were idolatrous, had a correspondence to heavenly things.32

Evil spirits cannot carry on any exalted functions; although some of them are by turns made governors over the rest. Hell consists of innumerable prisons, workhouses, and camps of slave-labor. Some devils — more feared and hated than the rest — have slaves under them. But even such a position is unenviable, the work of a taskmaster ruling by force, and it must be classed as a vile and lowly use.

Each hell by itself is a society, with all the diverse uses created by common needs and necessities, like clothing and shelter, food and drink, and recreation, which must be supplied through the work of the evil spirits themselves.

The Writings present two somewhat different pictures of what the hells are like. Seen as to the evil loves which smoulder and chill and destroy, the hells appear like foul swamps, dark forests, and barren deserts, with ferocious beasts and venomous pests, where the spirits hide in terror or stalk in vengeful passion. But when the hells are seen as to their external uses, they are seemingly like cities, repellent and unclean, but ordered by some sort of law enforced in brutal fashion. They would resemble the slum districts of some earthly cities, where self-interest compels a certain unwilling cooperation to maintain an appearance of fair play, and crime and vice are kept somewhat indoors.

Uses of the Infernals in the World of Spirits

But the uses of the devils have wider applications than to their own world or their own society. When the corporeal delights of an evil spirit have been somewhat put to sleep and frustrated by inevitable punishments, he may then, we are told, be elevated into the world of spirits from time to time, that he may there serve for certain vile uses, but half-heartedly and with scarcely any delight. As soon as these are done, he reverts to his hell.33

What these uses are is only vaguely indicated. But instances are given of devils called up from hell in order to speak to Swedenborg and to spirits in the world of spirits in order that the state of the infernals might be understood. The evil spirits then are utterly frank and describe their delights and attitudes, hiding nothing about their punishments and displaying their contempt for truth and good with indifference to what the hearers think. There is even the desire to shock the good spirits.

But the infernals are sometimes brought up permissively, to serve as a leaven of judgment by tempting good spirits or hastening evil spirits on the road to hell. This is a purely negative use, which the Lord turns into good.

Another cause why an infernal spirit should be permitted to re-enter the world of spirits is connected with the fact that at least two angels and two infernal spirits attend every man. Usually these attendants are spirits connected with some heaven and an opposite hell which use the two groups oE spirits as subjects. But occasionally — to judge from certain teachings — angels from heaven and devils from hell are called to perform this work of guardianship.34With a good man, the devils or evil spirits would then be compelled to serve, under subjugation.35 For man, while on earth, requires to be nursed by an influx from hell also, before he is reformed, since otherwise his proprium would have no life at all, and his hereditary and natural affections—and with them the so-called mediate goods, or auxiliary natural motives—would wither away.36 "Man cannot live without communication with the hells by means of spirits there; for the whole of his life which he derives ... by inheritance, and everything that he himself superadds from himself," is a life of selfishness, cruelty and contempt. Hence man could not be bent toward heaven unless at the start he could have his own delights, thus unless spirits of a like nature were adjoined to him.37 When evil spirits thus emerge from hell to battle against angels, they come into a freedom they had not before enjoyed, and "are not in any infernal torment but in the enjoyments of the loves of self and the world, as also of all the pleasures in which man himself is; for they are in every thought and affection of man. But when they are sent back into their hell, they return into their former state.38

Man, when he opens the floodgates of his heart to unrestrained passions, may actually invite such devils to emerge from hell and possess his memory and knowledge — sometimes even his vocabulary! The devils may take on the things of man's sensual mind so completely that they do not know but that they are the man. The spirits and the man then think in conjunction and are of one will, yet each knows no other than that he thinks and feels in and from himself.39

Fortunately for man, the story does not end there. For in the meantime, the angels are present in man's interior ends, in his goods of life and truths of faith, thus in his inner aspirations. And by a tacit, imperceptible influx the Lord, through them, holds the man back from the freedom of thinking and willing evil.40 The man is thus free to repent and bethink himself as to what he is doing from the impatience of the flesh, and thus separate himself from the infernal spirits by a simple effort of thought.

When this occurs, the devils have no place to go. They can be in man's ideas only so long as these accord. Nor can they remain in the world of spirits unless they are "with men" as attendant spirits. Their choice is therefore to plunge themselves back into their own hell, despite its many drawbacks. It would seem that this constitutes a final judgment on such devils, and that they, thereafter, never again emerge of their own choice. For their judgment is so severe, the pain of their banishment and of the heavenly sphere that they meet, is so severe as to be ever remembered.41 Their fate is described in the incident of the devils named "Legion" whom the Lord drove out of the man in the land of the Gergesenes and who then chose to go into a herd of swine which forthwith ran in panic into the sea and perished. (Matt. 8:28-34) Evil spirits naturally rush into the delights corresponding to their particular evils; here "swine" are mentioned because swine correspond to the delights of greed and avarice.42

Since the first advent of the Lord, evil spirits can no longer possess the bodies of men. But many devils — especially sirens and adulterers — are clever at obsessing a man's interiors, that is, his thoughts and affections, through his exteriors — through sensual experiences and seductive allurements to which he may be exposed or through the symbols of evil which lodge in every man's corporeal memory. By this means they seek to return into the world through men. And the only defense against them is the protection which is extended by the Lord through His Heavenly Doctrine in which He lays bare their deceits and artful appeals.43

The object of the last judgments performed by the Lord at His coming in the flesh and at the close of the epoch of the First Christian Church was to confine the hells within the compass of law, so that they could not break out repeatedly into the world of spirits and interfere with the spiritual freedom of mankind. But this does not mean that the hells are not still dependent on the human race as a common basis, even as are all angels and spirits. For through intermediating spirits which serve as their subjects, they rest — as to their mental life — upon the material ideas which are continually formed and stored up in the corporeal memory of the men living in the natural world — ideas which they interpret according to their own design and use to build up their phantasies. And through these subject-spirits, which they inspire with their hate and cunning, they tempt and mislead men; yet when those their agents are punished for evil-doing, the hells themselves feel the punishment as keenly as the subject spirits.

The Writings do not warrant any blurring over of the unhappy state of the infernals. Even the less distressing periods in their existence are spoiled by discontent and insatiable lustings for the impossible, and even their pride is accompanied with a self-pity that blames all failures on others.

Yet the almost incredible fact is that they wish to remain in hell; and also that they, through retaining the faculty of reason, can serve uses outside of hell.


1 HH 485-490

2 CL 268

3 AR 183:8

4 TCR 797

5 SD 4380, AC 4623

6 AC 4623

7 SD 5806

8 AC 4623

9 SD 4380

10 SD 5224, CL 505, TCR 80

11 AR 926:2

12 SD 4339

13 SD 4207, 404

14 AE 575:3

15 TCR78, AE 575:3

16 SD 5224, De Conj. 11

17 AR 153, vii.

18 AC 1695, 680

19 AR 153, x

20 AC 3114

21 AC 6078, cp. 6110; SD 818, 1563, 6088

22 AE 1211

23 SD 6088

24 AR 153, ix

25 AE 1226

26 SD 6088

27 Love xv, AC 696

28 AE 1226

29 Cp. AE 1191, Wis. vii, 5, Char. 142, DLW 333

30 SD 3147

31 AC 1103

32 SD 6088

33 SD 4471, AC 696

34 AC 5852

35 AC 968

36 AC 4563, HH 293

37 AC 5993:2

38 AC 6657, 5852

39 AC 5853

40 AC 5854

41 SD 4471f

42 AE 659:6

43 AC 1983, SD 3716, 4601, 3699, 4448, 4594


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


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22. Fantasy & Reality

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