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Temptations in the Other Life

So far as a man has entered the regenerate life on earth, he is exempt from severe "vastations" in the other life. Nor does he have to undergo temptations, "for he who is tempted in the world, is not tempted after death."1 No one is regenerated without undergoing temptations. And "all who are let into temptations are saved." But those who are brought up in churches in which there are no genuine truths, may yet live a good life according to their religion, and thus be saved. For "the good of life holds deep within it the affection of knowing truths," and when such come into the other life they easily receive truths and drink them in.2 They can therefore be instructed in genuine truths and be confirmed by states of spiritual temptations which they formerly could not have sustained on account of the falsities of their religion.

The evil, who have no conscience, do not feel spiritual temptations. In the course of their vastation they gradually reject the truths they once pretended to believe, and forget them or contort them. Thus they are deprived of their intelligence and led to accept the falsities which match and express their evil loves.


Vastation, when suffered by good spirits, is simply a gradual removal of external evils, fallacies, and faults, which would make their companionship with angels impossible.3 But with the wicked, vastation consists of a removal of the external truths and natural goods by which they have disguised their evil purposes. Thus in both cases the object of vastations is that the character of the spirit may be integrated so that his external behavior and appearance may accord with his inward quality.

Vastations take greatly different forms. To illustrate their need the Spiritual Diary records how personal enmities and jealousies can pursue spirits and adhere, to their sorrow, long after death, until overcome. An instance is also given of a well-disposed spirit who on earth had habitually exploded into cursing, calling everything disagreeable "infernal" and constantly using the name of "the Devil."4 The spirits around him were indignant at such expressions, and he came to suffer agonies—feeling himself as if wrapped in a veil or net from which he could not escape. But eventually he was delivered not only from the phantasy of the veil but from the habit itself, which was represented by the veil. For man is actually enshrouded by a spiritual veil which cuts off the light of heaven, when his thoughts are ruled by some cupidity, such as prompts impatience or contempt of others.

Another form of vastation occurs with those whose habit it has been to use passages of the Holy Scripture to evoke laughter or derision, thinking that this is a form of elegant wit. Such holy things are profaned when by habit immersed in worldly and corporeal ideas, and have to be separated by a method which feels like a tearing apart of their spiritual bodies! "Let men beware, therefore, how they mix holy things with things profane. . . . Let this suffice for a warning, for these things can scarcely be cured except by painful methods." "Then their comedy turns into tragedy."5

A thousand different phantasies are caused in the spiritual world by the return of corporeal states. States of the mind, which seem so abstract and vague in our earthly life, there become clear, objective, and tangible in representative forms. Many of our faults and cherished persuasions which here condition or contort our thinking, may there bind our spirit or submerge it as if in a vat, to the point of suffocation.6 Many of our wish-thoughts, if stubbornly maintained, may in the other life bring us into a spiritual captivity—a life where our progress is arrested.

This is also the case when false doctrines or mistaken notions about spiritual duties or the way of salvation have brought men into needless fears and unsound inhibitions, or into reliance on their own "merit." Good spirits may thus linger for long periods in what the Writings describe as a "lower earth," beneath the World of Spirits—in societies connected with heaven but surrounded by the hells.7 They live an obscure life, but sometimes a cheerful one, for angels are occasionally sent to comfort them. Some seem to themselves to be cutting wood, thinking to merit heaven by their labors. Eventually they are redeemed from their vastation period and instructed in heavenly life. It is recorded about Melanchthon that he was repeatedly permitted to resume his writing about salvation by "faith alone," although what he wrote by day was obliterated by night. Other novitiate spirits who had been incurable bookworms and anxious for a reputation for learning, seemed to themselves in a cellar full of books where the candles continually blew out.8

One reason why good spirits may have to suffer such spiritual vastations is that old habits and false beliefs may be seen for what they are—as obstructions to heavenly life; and that conceits and feelings of merit may be softened and removed. Novitiate spirits generally entertain the idea that heaven is a place where any one who is admitted comes automatically into a state of joy. But since this concept partakes not of ignorance only, but of selfishness, one impatient spirit was told "that he could not come into heaven until he had lost the cupidity of entering it."9

And spirits have very different notions of what heavenly joy is— ideas often based on biblical descriptions. Many imagine it as a paradise, or a festive garden with banquets or sensual pleasures. Some think of it as a social gathering where all converse to their heart's content, eager to talk or listen on the subject of their choice. Others, of pious or mystical bent, believe that heavenly life consists in an ecstatic worship of God in a phantasmal cathedral resounding with continual praise, with nothing to disturb the elevated mind. Again, some think of heaven as a reward, where "the elect" may sit on thrones as judges or kings.

And indeed there are "heavens"—probationary heavens—for those who seek to satisfy the joys of their imagination. Any one may enter such a "heaven," but none may leave until he is convinced by sad experience that a life of pleasure, or of mystic abstraction, or of continual praise of God, or of personal glory, will pall in a few days and turn into mental torture.10

Those who think of heaven as a "place" may also, if insistent, be permitted to visit some society of heaven, and be shown its marvels. If unprepared, the light of heaven would blind them, their heart would palpitate, they would be unable to breathe. They would perhaps recall the parable of the man who came to the wedding without a wedding garment.11 They might feel as if stripped naked, or like an owl of the night, and might throw themselves out of heaven, to return to their home in the world of spirits. Their inordinate desire for heaven would be modified, and they would be ready to learn that "the joys of heaven and eternal happiness are not the enjoyment of a place, but of the state of a man's life"—from the conjunction of love and wisdom in a life of use.

Good spirits, having been made to realize the false conceptions they have of heaven, are imbued with renewed zeal to return to their own place and find their happiness in active uses.

Progress into Interior Uses

A good spirit's approach to "the state of his internals" would take the form of his entering more interiorly into his use.12 It is legitimate to imagine that a spirit in a city of newcomers would first enter into his customary activities among his fellows and into civic relations as on earth. An optician, for example, would want to provide lenses to correct faulty vision. Indeed, he would find that many novitiate spirits have experienced unbelievably strange things in their new life which they might, in their recurring doubtful states, attribute to their own eyesight! The optician would then, perhaps, examine their spiritual spectacles. If he had entered somewhat interiorly into his use, he might procure a real adjustment, a focussing of the blurred vision of those spirits to the perspectives of the spiritual world. He might do this by a gentle leading into the light of truths hitherto unknown, or by a kindly philosophy which opened new vistas of understanding.

A merchant, with whom charity would take the form of honesty, trust in the Divine providence, and a shunning of avarice as the root of many evils, would enter interiorly into his use when he comes to act from the faith that all the fruits and profits which he reaps, are really derived from the common good. He sees that the good of his fellow citizens, the public welfare and civic order, must be loved and protected because they all look to the treasures of wisdom, truth, and sustaining delight which the Lord provides out of heaven. He sees that the real trading of spiritual life is the exchange of spiritual truths and goods.13

We may surmise that similar experiences befall those in other uses. And if some occupation is such that it does not conduce to a progression into interiors, a good spirit would find no difficulty in finding some employment which can be a better means to express an interior charity.14

Exploration by Angels

In the "first state" of the world of spirits, newcomers are examined as to their external acts. Evil doers who cannot control their vices are separated in various ways. Some cast themselves into the hell of their delight within a few days.15 Yet, if any doubt appears—certain signs of external amendment or self control or some remnant of religious acknowledgment — they are permitted to return into the world of spirits and adjust themselves to society with other unjudged spirits.

But when they enter the state of their internals, and resume their life of vice, they are subjected to an exploration by angelic examiners—who may be the invisible governors of the society. The exploration takes many forms. Sometimes, when a spirit denies his guilt and pretends innocence, the contents of his memory is opened up—in an unveiling, before other spirits, of his past deeds and intentions. His thoughts can be reconstructed without error, as they had been in their order, day by day, for any period of his past; and even letters and documents can be reproduced visually when necessary.

Every detail of a murder by poison can, for example, be recounted as it appears in the memory of the criminal—even to his superstitious fears that the victim would haunt him.16 And since the spiritual body is the product of all his moral and civil life, and the very substance in which his memory and character are inwrought, the exploration may involve an examination of the whole body, member by member, beginning with the fingers of each hand. The angels can thus "read him like a book"; for the memory is man's immortal book of life.17 As spiritual physicians, they can thus uncover the unwholesome rationalizations and subconscious complexes which are hidden behind the material symbols and associated ideas of the spirit's memory, and so compel him to admit his real intentions and loves. When guilt is finally confessed, the spirit is separated from the society and wanders about until he finds a home. After many vain attempts to join with good spirits, with a view to master them by some subterfuge, he will tire of pretense and fling himself into some open hell where he can indulge his phantasies without censure.

Separation of the Evil

The entrance into the "second state" marks a gradual separation between good and evil spirits. In part, this separation—or at least distinction—begins earlier, through the simple fact that evil spirits are generally not interested in internal things such as the truth of the Word or the uses of the church, while the good listen attentively to such information.18 After the separation, good spirits are not visible to the evil spirits, while the latter can still be seen by the good, who turn away from them and thus become invisible.19

But the evil are not punished or removed except when they transgress the decorum and order which their society requires. As long as they live morally, they can remain in their cities.20 In the suburbs there are usually present both good and evil spirits who have recently died and have not yet suffered vastation, but serve men for communication with heaven or with the hells. Some, although cast into hell, may for this reason return repeatedly into the world of spirits.21 Outside the cities, spiritual "robbers" often roam, who sometimes come into the streets. But they have no power there, for "in the cities law always reigns, and hence there is security, as in the cities of the world."22 But with general changes of state, as during the Last Judgment which Swedenborg witnessed in the year 1757, when most of such cities were usurped by the evil, the houses as well as the spirits disappear, and reappear in a different situation.23

The Fate of the Wicked

In a memorable relation, in the work The Apocalypse Revealed, the dismal story is told of what happens to evil spirits who are not affected by truth but by falsities. For he who loves falsities cannot but love evils also. Since in the world they had feigned good affections, they continue to be kept in orderly externals when they at first come into the world of spirits. But by turns their inner contempt of truth and justice comes out, and even if they at first be set over societies in the world of spirits, they lose their position after a few days. Indeed, they are given chance after chance to perform some office or employment, but are as often dismissed for dishonesty or laxity. "After frequent dismissals, some out of weariness will not, and others from the fear of losing reputation dare not, seek for offices any more, wherefore they withdraw, and sit in sadness; and then they are led away into a lonely place where there are some huts which they enter, and some kind of work is given them to do, and if they do it, they receive food, but if they do not do it, they go hungry; wherefore necessity compels. . . ,"24 They try begging, but to the idle nothing is given in the other life. They are reduced to menial labor in some cavernous workshop. The evil spirits, after their work is done, are permitted to walk about and converse and afterwards to sleep. They are permitted to associate with harlots—but must remain in their infernal prison, appearing among themselves as men, but to the angels as ugly monsters. And some no longer remember in what offices they had been in the world.

The Fork of the Road

The real touchstone by which the evil reveal themselves as to character and thus begin to separate themselves from the good, is spiritual truth. This is the truth derived from the acknowledgment of the Divine Human of the Lord. All of heaven is in the worship of the Lord in His glorified Human. The knowledge of the Lord is the universal of all things of doctrine and hence of the church, and is essential for entrance into heaven. Although there are many gates into the New Jerusalem, each gate is the same pearl of truth—the acknowledgment of the Lord as the God of heaven and earth.25

This fundamental truth through which there is introduction into heaven, was also called, in the Word, "the stone which the builders rejected" but which "is become the head of the corner." "Whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken," the Gospel continues.26

Swedenborg was shown a broad way where many novitiate spirits were travelling, both good and evil together, talking with each other like friends. At some distance there was a great stone or rocky ledge where the broad way turned obliquely down towards hell, while a narrow path forked off to the left and led up towards heaven. The rock at the corner where the roads forked represented the acknowledgment of Peter, on which, the Lord said, "I will build My Church."27 The truth concerning the Divinity of the Lord's Human becomes a stumbling block to the evil who do not see it, and who turn away to the broad way "that leadeth to destruction." And "many there be which go in thereat."


Good spirits do not find their final abode without some special preparation. When they enter the state of their internals—called "the second state after death"—well-disposed spirits usually have to undergo certain states of "vastation" through which they are divested of the falsities of doctrine, the social insincerities or pretenses, and the bad habits which cling to them.28 They are then separated from the evil and led to societies which represent good natural affections. Evil spirits disdain any instruction in spiritual truths, but plunge instead into the phantasies of their ruling loves; and their "second state" is therefore also their "third state."29 But good spirits, before they can enter heaven, must enter a third state in which they learn to think like the angels—by spiritual ideas. This state of instruction, with adults, is of relatively short duration, for spiritual ideas are universals, which comprehend innumerable particulars within single concepts.30Besides, such instruction is to be continued in heaven. Those taught are all in the love of truth for the sake of uses.31 The cognitions they imbibe are not committed to memory, but are shown in their relation to life, whereby matters of morality and justice and civil duty are made into spiritual virtues which have the love of the Lord as their inner motive.

To obtain such instruction, the spirits are introduced into special societies presided over by angels. There the newcomers learn to think, speak, and act in "choirs"—that is, in the rhythm of angelic uses. The Writings sometimes call these novices "angelic spirits."32 For each one, the Lord prepares uses, suited to his genius, for him to love; and that love is exalted by his hope of becoming an angel. Those being instructed are therefore said to "dwell apart," for each one is connected with the society of heaven for which he is being prepared.33

In reference to the Grand Man, these places of instruction seem to be represented by the "province" of the liver, which receives and prepares the aliments which are to enrich the blood and feed the body tissues, and by the "province" of the mesentery and the lacteals where the digested food from the intestines is converted into chyle—both streams of nutriments to be eventually refined and purified in the lungs for the use of the brain.34

These outposts of the heavens are spread out widely in the world of spirits. There are places nearest heaven, for the instruction of those who have died in childhood and were brought up in heaven; there are places where Christian adults are taught; other places for Mohammedans, others for gentiles and pagans of different cults; among whom, it seems, "the best are from Africa."35Those who had died as infants are taught by angels of the interior heavens. Their affections are stimulated by various representations of heavenly uses which bring with them interior delights. Some of these representations are taken from the literal sense of the Word.36 Adults are instructed mainly by angels of the ultimate heaven. Mohammedans and gentiles are under the tutelage of angels who had been of those religions and later accepted Christianity. Christians are taught from "the heavenly doctrine" which is the soul of the Word and which contains inner vistas of meaning beyond exhaustion. All others are taught from doctrines adequate for their comprehension — the spiritual life being taught by means of moral precepts agreeing with the good tenets in their own religion.37

The Homecoming

When their preparation is completed the angelic spirits are given garments, mostly of glowing white, to signify their state. A profound longing for heaven possesses them, and they are brought to the way that leads upwards to their final abode.38 Two such ways pass from each of the places of instruction, and these winding roads are bordered and adorned by corresponding fruit trees, or by vines and laurels. The heavens formerly had seemed to be far above them and beyond attainment, but now for the first time they see the way.

Still, the novitiates do not necessarily find their own final home at once.39 Instead they might be given a general commission as "disciples of the Lord," and sent out from their situation in the "northern quarter" towards various directions, until they find those with whom they are in interior conformity. But everywhere, the angels greet them with joy and hospitality, and furnish them with angel guards. And they taste of the blessedness of all the societies in which they are received.

Their reception is orderly. For each heavenly community has its gates or barriers where examiners meet visitors, and—in the name of the governor—invite them in to inquire whether there are houses anywhere which they can recognize as theirs.40 If not, some wise man may examine them more intimately, as to whether they are adjusted to stand the heat and light of that society. When this is not the case, they are not given a permanent welcome, but depart again by "ways that open among the societies of heaven"—through lands and scenes which indicate the nature of each heaven.41

When at last they find the house of their ruling love, all doubt vanishes and there are tender greetings. For they feel at once that they are "among their own as among relatives and friends" whom they love from the heart, amongst whom they may live and work in full enjoyment "from peace of soul." Indeed, "good spirits, on coming into a heavenly society, take on and possess all the wisdom of all in the society . . . although in the life of the body they had known nothing at all of such things as are talked about."42 One reason for this is that their internal memory had already on earth been furnished unconsciously with the receptacles of such wisdom, and is now opened.

Their interiors—within and above their rational mind—are opened.43 While they were still in the world of spirits, the rational of their natural mind was in process of formation, and their thought was held in a state of balance and choice.44 But now their ruling love itself guides them—the confirmed love that is peculiar to their own heaven.

* * * * *

It was previously noted that ideally a spirit's preparation for heaven should be completed on earth. And some, who are regenerated and instructed in spiritual thinking in the world need simply to "cast off natural impurities along with the body."45Swedenborg saw some such spirits taken up into heaven immediately after their resurrection had been effected. This is also the case with infants. Others, who have been sufficiently instructed while on earth, are taken up without entering "the third state."46

But such instruction in spiritual truth is far removed from the kind of teaching that men now obtain on earth. The spheres of modern Christendom spread a pall of darkness over any spiritual thinking.47 Yet the Heavenly Doctrine—the internal sense of the Word—is now revealed even for men, and all who are affected by a love for its truth may become the Lord's disciples and learn to think together with angels, in rhythms of purpose which accord with the gyres of the New Heaven.48

The New Church on earth is indeed established to serve as a society of instruction, to train our stubborn minds to think in terms of spiritual-rational ideas, ideas that flow from the love of the Lord and the charity of heaven, and open our understanding to view all things in the light that streams from the Sun of heaven.49


1 AR 185

2 AE 474, 452

3 AC 9763, 1106-1113, 7984, SD 4038f

4 SD 4056

5 SD 1304, AC 1878, DP 231, TCR 148e. Many spirits-especially from Christendom—suffer grievous vastations to free them from the spiritual consequences of profane cupidities entertained in the world, such as that of practicing venery for the sake of lust alone, without any desire for offspring. SD 1202f, 3697.

6 AC 948, SD 1398

7 SD 1771f, LJ post. 156, AC 1106, 7090

8 AC 4943, 6928, 1111, 1113, TCR 797, SD 385

9 SD 2049, 1962

10 CL 2-9

11 CL 10

12 Love xvii

13 DP 217:4, TCR 801, Love vi. 2, Char. 167, SD 3523, AC 5527

14 HH 394, Char. 142, 137ff, 158ff, AE 1191, Wis. vii. 5:3, Love xii

15 HH 491, 513, AC 2595, SD 5495

16 HH 462b

17 TCR 583, SD min. 4645, HH 463, 475, SD 5493, AC 2486, CL 261e

18 HH 496

19 HH 583

20 SD 5714, 5034f, 4930

21 SD 5529

22 SD 5361, 5365, 5714, 5711

23 SD 5252, 5531

24 AR 153:5-11

25 AR 916, 727

26 Ps. 118:22, Luke 20:17f, Matt. 21:44

27 Matt. 7:13, 14, 16:16-18, HH 534

28 HH 513 (ref's)

29 HH 512

30 HH 519

31 HH 517

32 DLW 140, AR 875:4, HH 517

33 HH 514

34 DP 164, AC 5173, 5180, SS 66

35 HH 514

36 HH 515, 335

37 HH 517

38 HH 519f

39 HH 519, CL 261

40 AR 611

41 AR 611, HH 520, cp CL 75:2, 3

42 AC 5859, 5649:3, 1390

43 HH 519

44 HH 430

45 AC 2960e, HH 491

46 HH 513, 426

47 TCR 619, AC 3489

48 AC 2595, 5173, 4041, cp 3350; SD 3494

49 See pages 146, 398f


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


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6. Judgment

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