In his writings, Swedenborg often describes things he has seen in heaven, including conversations he has had with angels there. While some traditions see angels as a supernatural class of beings, Swedenborg declares that every angel was once a human being living on earth:
“On the grounds of all my experience, which has lasted for several years now, I can say with full confidence that in their form, angels are completely human. They have faces, eyes, ears, chests, arms, hands, and feet. They see each other, hear each other, and talk to each other. In short, they lack nothing that belongs to humans except that they are not clothed with a material body.” (Heaven and Hell #75)
All people on earth have the potential to become angels, regardless of where they are from or what religion they practice. Swedenborg emphasizes that we are all born for heaven; if we don’t end up there, it is because of the choices that we make in life.
When people shed their physical bodies and enter the spiritual world, at first they look much the same as they did on earth. Over time, however, their inner selves are revealed, and it changes the way they appear to others. Angels become more and more beautiful the closer they get to the Lord: “I have seen faces of angels of the third heaven so beautiful that no painters, with all their skill, could render a fraction of their light with their pigments or rival a thousandth part of the light and life that show in their faces” (Heaven and Hell #459).
Angels do not have halos or wings, and Swedenborg says that the clothes they wear change according to their state of being, sometimes without the angels themselves being aware their clothes have changed. Angels of the highest heavens might appear to be dressed in radiant light because bright light corresponds to wisdom. Similarly, when the Bible speaks of people being “clothed in righteousness” (Isaiah 61:10), it is not referring to literal clothing, but rather to people who love truth and live according to it. The garments of angels, then, while they appear to be real, are, in actuality, correspondences of their spiritual states.
Angels all look youthful. This is because “people in heaven are continually progressing toward the springtime of life.” Swedenborg adds, “The more thousands of years they live, the more pleasant and happy is their springtime.” This, too, is in direct correspondence to their continually deepening spiritual states: “This continues forever, increasing according to the growth and level of their love, thoughtfulness, and faith” (Heaven and Hell #414).
Contrary to the popular image of lazy angels floating around on soft, white clouds and strumming harps, Swedenborg tells us that angels live busy lives that may not seem that different from ours. They live in houses with all the usual sorts of rooms, and their communities are organized very much like towns and cities, with streets and parks and other central buildings.
Communities in heaven are distinguished by the type of service they provide; for example, some communities may be dedicated to raising children who have crossed over (see below), while other communities may be focused on serving people who are being awakened from death. Swedenborg says that angelic tasks are so numerous, and so diverse, that it would be impossible to list them all. In general, however, angels perform the specific service for which they are best suited, and this work is one of their greatest joys.
While angels love the work that they do, they are not doing it for their own sake—they are doing it out of a love of being useful and serving others. The Lord works through angels, and this is true to such an extent that Swedenborg tells us angels won’t take credit for any of the good that they do. Everything comes from the Lord.
The language of angels, like their lives, may seem superficially like our own. Swedenborg describes their language as being like ours in that it can be spoken or written down, but also completely unlike human languages in that it can convey a much deeper meaning. Angels’ speech comes from their inner core, and therefore angels can express concepts that don’t exist in human languages, or say things in a few words that we could not say in thousands. Likewise, angels can tell everything about another person by hearing only a few words.
All angels speak the same language, regardless of where they come from or which part of heaven they live in, so they can always understand each other. They also use facial expressions and body language in much the same way that we do, but in ways that can instantaneously convey vast ideas and intricate concepts with amazing accuracy.
There are times, too, when angels are allowed to communicate with us—and we with them. While Swedenborg warns against seeking otherworldly communication, there are occasions when it is allowed to happen, usually to comfort a grieving spouse, parent or friend. When such communication occurs, angels seem to speak in our native language.
Swedenborg tells us that because we are all born for heaven, and because children have not yet had the chance to make life choices that might have distanced them from God, all children who leave this world are immediately taken up to heaven and become angels.
When children first arrive in heaven, they look just as they did on earth—babies are still babies, children still appear to be the same age they were when they crossed over. They are raised by angels who particularly love children, and who enjoy teaching them spiritual truths. Gradually these children grow to adulthood and are welcomed into angelic communities that perfectly correspond to the innate gifts, talents, and capacities of the children.
Later on, when family members cross over, they and the children of those families are reunited, though if they have different natures they will ultimately end up living in different spiritual communities. This, however, is not a sadness but a joy—for all must eventually find that place where they are most at home and where their innate gifts can find fullest expression.
When people who were married on earth meet again in the afterlife, if they were truly of one mind, their marriage will continue in heaven. However, if the two people were not truly compatible, they will gradually separate of their own accord.
Swedenborg writes that all angels have a perfect match—we could think of it as a “soul mate,” although he never used that term—and if the two don’t meet on earth, they will find each other in heaven:
“Throughout heaven, people who are similar gather together and people who are dissimilar part company. This means that every community consists of like-minded people. Like are drawn toward like not by their own will but by the Lord. In the same way, spouse is drawn toward spouse when their minds can be united as one. So at first sight they love each other most deeply, see each other as married partners, and enter into their marriage.” (Heaven and Hell #383)
Swedenborg describes both betrothals and marriages in heaven. During the course of a marriage, because of the way that people’s minds are open to each other in the spiritual world, the partners gradually enter into each other’s thoughts and affections until they become like a single person. In fact, Swedenborg says that “two spouses living in heaven are not called two angels but one angel” (Heaven and Hell #367).
Angelic marriages of this kind are eternal. What God joins together, he keeps together, forever.
Heaven and Hell is Swedenborg’s classic work describing the nature of heaven and the lives of angels; you can download an electronic copy for free or buy a print copy in our bookstore. The book has been abridged into its essentials (without changing Swedenborg’s words) in Afterlife.
The Lives of Angels is a collection of Swedenborg’s experiences of how angels live, love, and watch over us in heaven.
Conversations with Angels is a collection of Swedenborg’s stories about interacting with angels taken from across his many volumes of theological works.
In Angels in Action, Robert Kirven takes Swedenborg’s writings about angels and puts them into a more modern context, relating them to our daily spiritual lives.
For a fictional look at angels in our lives, check out Grant Schnarr’s The Guardian Angel Diary.