An excerpt from Heaven and Hell by Emanuel Swedenborg, sections #29-77
There Are Three Heavens
The Heavens Are Made Up of Countless Communities
Each Community Is a Heaven in Smaller Form and Each Angel a Heaven in Smallest Form
The Whole Heaven, Grasped as a Single Entity, Reflects a Single Individual
Each Community in the Heavens Reflects a Single Individual
Therefore Every Angel Is in Perfect Human Form
There are three heavens, very clearly distinguished from each other. There is a central or third heaven, an intermediate or second one, and an outmost or first. These follow in sequence and are interdependent, like the highest part of the human body, the head; the middle, or torso; and the lowest, or feet; or like the highest, middle, and lowest part of a house. The divine life that emanates and comes down from the Lord is in this kind of pattern as well. It is this necessity of design that determines the tripartite arrangement of heaven.
The deeper levels of the human mind and disposition are in a similar pattern as well. We have a central, intermediate, and outmost nature. This is because when humanity was created the whole divine design was gathered into it, to the point that as to structure, the human being is the divine design and is therefore a heaven in miniature. For the same reason we are in touch with heaven as to our inner natures and come into the company of angels after death—of angels of the central or the intermediate or the outmost heaven depending on our acceptance of divine good and truth from the Lord during our earthly lives.
The divine nature that flows from the Lord and is accepted in the third or central heaven is called heavenly, and the angels there are consequently called heavenly angels. The divine nature that flows from the Lord and is accepted in the second or intermediate heaven is called spiritual, and the angels there are consequently called spiritual angels. The divine nature, though, that flows from the Lord and is accepted in the outmost or first heaven is called natural. However, since the “natural” of that heaven is not like the “natural” of our world, but has something spiritual and heavenly within it, that heaven is called “spiritual-natural” or “heavenly-natural,” and the angels there are called “spiritual-natural” or “heavenly-natural.” The angels called spiritual-natural are the ones who accept an inflow from the intermediate or second heaven, which is the spiritual heaven, while the angels called heavenly-natural are the ones who accept an inflow from the central or third heaven, which is the heavenly heaven. Spiritual-natural and heavenly-natural angels are different from each other, but they constitute one heaven because they are all on the same level.
There is an outside and an inside to each heaven. The angels who are in the inner region are there called “inner angels,” while the ones in the outer region are called “outer angels.” The outside and the inside in the heavens (or in each particular heaven) are like our own volitional side and its cognitive aspect. Everything volitional has its cognitive side—neither occurs without the other. The volitional is like a flame and the cognitive like the light that it sheds.
It needs to be quite clear that it is the inner nature of angels that determines which heaven they are in. The more the deeper levels have been opened, the more inward the heaven they are in. There are three inner levels of every angel and spirit, and of every person here as well. The people whose third level has been opened are in the central heaven, while the people whose second or first only has been opened are in the intermediate or the outmost heaven.
The deeper levels are opened by our acceptance of divine good and divine true gifts. People who are actually affected by divine true gifts and let them directly into their lives—into their intentions and therefore into act—are in the central or third heaven, located there according to their acceptance of what is good in response to truth. People who do not let such gifts directly into their intentions, but into their memory and from there into their discernment, intending and doing them as a result of this process, are in the intermediate or second heaven. People who live good moral lives, though, and believe in the Divine with no particular interest in learning, are in the outmost or first heaven. We may therefore conclude that the state of our inner natures is what constitutes heaven and that heaven is within each one of us, not outside us. This is what the Lord teaches in saying, “The kingdom of God does not arrive when we are looking for it, nor do they say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is.’ Behold, you have the kingdom of God within you” (Luke 17:20–21).
All perfection increases as we move inward and decreases as we move outward, because more inward things are closer to the Lord and intrinsically purer, while more outward things are more remote from the Lord and intrinsically cruder. Angelic perfection consists of intelligence, wisdom, love, and everything good, with happiness as their result. It does not consist in happiness without these former qualities, since happiness without them is merely superficial, with no depth.
Since the inner reaches of angels of the central heaven are opened at the third level, their perfection far surpasses that of angels in the intermediate heaven, whose inner reaches are opened at the second level. By the same token, the perfection of angels of the intermediate heaven surpasses that of angels of the outmost heaven.
Because of this difference, an angel of one heaven cannot gain admission to angels of another heaven: someone from a lower heaven cannot come up, nor can someone from a higher heaven come down. Anyone who comes up is seized by anxiety even to the point of pain and cannot see the people who are there, let alone talk with them. Anyone who comes down from a higher heaven loses his or her wisdom, stammers, and loses confidence.
There were some people from the outmost heaven who had not yet been taught that heaven is a matter of angels’ deeper qualities, but believed that they would find greater angelic happiness if only they were admitted to the heaven where these angels lived. They were allowed to visit them, but when they arrived, even though there were a great many angels there, they did not see anyone no matter where they looked. The deeper levels of the newcomers had not been opened at the level where the more inward angels lived, so they had no sight. Before long, they were seized by heart pain and eventually could scarcely tell whether they were still alive or not. So they quickly made their way back to the heaven they had come from, and were delighted to be among their own people. They vowed that they would never again crave conditions that were higher than the ones that suited their own way of life.
It is different when the Lord raises people from a lower heaven into a higher one so that they can see its splendor, which happens quite often. Then they are prepared in advance and provided with mediating angels who serve as agents of communication.
We can see from all this that the three heavens are quite distinct from each other.
However, people who live in the same heaven can associate with anyone there, and their delight in getting together is in proportion to the similarity of the values they are devoted to. There will be more about this, though, in later chapters.
Even though the heavens are so distinct from each other that angels of one heaven cannot have regular dealings with angels of another, still the Lord unites all the heavens by means of a direct and an indirect inflow. The direct inflow is from him into all the heavens, and the indirect is through one heaven into another. In this way, the Lord brings about a unity of the three heavens. They are all linked together, from the First to the last, so that nothing exists that is not connected. Anything that is not connected to the First by some intermediary does not endure, but disintegrates and becomes nothing.
Anyone who does not know how the divine design is arranged in levels cannot grasp how the heavens are distinguished from each other, or for that matter, what the inner person and the outer person are (in an individual). The only idea most people in this world have about inner and outer things is one of continuity, or of a coherence along a continuum from the finer to the coarser. Inner and outer things are not arranged in a continuum, though, but with definite boundaries.
There are two kinds of levels, continuous and noncontinuous. Continuous levels are like decreasing levels of light from a flame, all the way to darkness, or like decreasing amounts of sight from objects in the light to objects in the shade, or like levels of density of the atmosphere from the lowest to the highest. These levels are measured by distance.
Noncontinuous or distinct levels, though, are separated like prior and posterior, cause and effect, producer and product. Anyone who looks closely will discover that there are these kinds of stages of production and composition in everything in the world, no matter what, with one thing arising from another, and a third from that, and so forth.
People who do not acquire a grasp of these levels have no way of knowing how the heavens are arranged or the arrangement of our own deeper and more outward abilities, or the difference between the spiritual world and the natural world, or the difference between our spirit and our body. This also means they cannot understand what correspondences and images are or what inflow is like. People who are attentive only to their physical senses do not grasp these differences, but regard them as instances of increase and decrease on the model of continuous levels. As a result, they cannot think of the spiritual except as a kind of purer natural; so they stand outside, far removed from intelligence.
Lastly, let me disclose a particular secret about the angels of the three heavens that people have not been aware of until now because they have not understood levels. It is this, that within every angel—and within every one of us here—there is a central or highest level, or a central and highest something, where the Lord’s divine life flows in first and most intimately. It is from this center that the Lord arranges the other, relatively internal aspects within us that follow in sequence according to the levels of the overall design. This central or highest level can be called the Lord’s gateway to the angels or to us, his essential dwelling within us.
It is this central or highest level that makes us human and distinguishes us from the lower animals, since they do not have it. This is why we, unlike animals, can be raised up by the Lord toward himself, as far as all the deeper levels of our mind and character are concerned. This is why we can believe in him, be moved by love for him, and therefore see him. It is why we can receive intelligence and wisdom, and talk rationally. It is also why we live forever.
However, what is arranged and provided by the Lord at this center does not flow into the open perception of any angel, because it is higher than angelic thought, and surpasses angelic wisdom.
These, then, are some of the general facts about the three heavens. In the following pages, we will need to say more about each heaven in particular.
The angels of any given heaven are not all together in one place, but are separated into larger and smaller communities depending on differences in the good effects of the love and faith they are engaged in. Angels engaged in similar activities form a single community. There is an infinite variety of good activities in heaven, and each individual angel is, so to speak, his or her own activity.
The distances between angelic communities in the heavens also vary as their activities vary, in general and in detail. This is because the only cause of distance in the spiritual world is the difference of the state of our more inward natures—in the heavens, then, differences in the state of love. When communities are very different, the distance between them is great; when the difference is slight, the distance is slight. Likeness makes for unity.
All the individuals in a single community are distanced from each other by the same principle. The better ones, that is, the ones who are more complete in goodness and therefore in love, wisdom, and intelligence, are in the center. Those who are less outstanding surround them at distances graded in proportion to their lessened perfection. It is like the way light decreases from a center toward a circumference. The ones who are in the middle are in the greatest light, while the ones who are toward the perimeter are in less and less.
Kindred souls gravitate toward each other spontaneously, as it were, for with each other they feel as though they are with their own family, at home, while with others they feel like foreigners, as though they were abroad. When they are with kindred souls, they enjoy the fullest freedom and find life totally delightful.
We can see from this that the good gathers everyone together in the heavens, and that angels are differentiated by what good they do. Still, it is not the angels who gather themselves, but the Lord, the source of all that is good. He leads them, unites them, differentiates them, and keeps them in freedom to the extent that they are engaged in what is good. So he keeps every individual in the life of his or her own love, faith, intelligence, and wisdom—and therefore in happiness.
Further, people of similar quality all recognize each other there just the way people in this world recognize their neighbors and relatives and friends, even though they may never have seen each other before. This happens because the only relationships and kinships and friendships in the other life are spiritual ones, and are therefore matters of love and faith.
I have often been allowed to see this when I was in the spirit and therefore out of body and in the company of angels. Then some of them looked to me as though I had known them from infancy, while others seemed totally unfamiliar. The ones who looked as though I had known them from infancy were the ones who were in a state like that of my own spirit, while the unfamiliar ones were in dissimilar states.
All the individuals who make up a particular angelic community have a general facial resemblance, but differ in detail. I could grasp this general similarity and particular difference to some extent on the basis of similar situations in this world. We know that every race has a general similarity about the face and eyes that enables us to recognize it and distinguish it from other races, and that the same is even more true from one family to another. This holds true much more perfectly in the heavens, because there all the deeper feelings are visible and shine forth from the face, the face there being their outward and graphic form. It is not possible in heaven to have a face that differs from our feelings.
I have also been shown how this general similarity is varied in detail in the individuals of a single community. There was a kind of angelic face that appeared to me, and this was varied according to the qualities of affections for the good and the true that were characteristic of the individuals in a particular community. These variations lasted quite a while, and through it all I noticed that the same general face remained constant as a basis, with everything else being simply derivations and elaborations from it. In this way, too, I was shown the affections of the whole community that occasioned the differences in the faces of its members, for as already noted, the faces of angels are their deeper qualities taking form, which means they are forms of the affections proper to their love and faith.
This is also why an angel of outstanding wisdom sees the quality of others instantly, from their faces. In heaven, no one can conceal inner character by facial expression and pretend, much less lie and deceive others by guile and hypocrisy.
It does sometimes happen that hypocrites steal into [heavenly] communities, hypocrites trained in hiding their inner nature and arranging their outward appearance in the benevolent form they present in public, thereby misleading angels of light. However, they cannot stay around very long. They begin to feel inner discomfort and torment, their faces start to turn blue, and they almost faint—changes caused by their opposition to the life that is flowing in and affecting them. So they promptly cast themselves back into the hell of people like themselves and no longer dare to climb up again. These are the people meant by the man who was discovered among the dinner guests without a wedding garment and was thrown out into outer darkness (Matthew 22:11[–14]).
All the communities communicate with each other, but not through open interaction. Actually, not many individuals leave their own community to go to another, because leaving their community is like leaving themselves or their life and crossing over into another that does not suit them. Rather, they all communicate by the outreach of the auras that emanate from the life of every individual. An aura of life is an aura of affections based in love and faith. This reaches out far and wide into surrounding communities, farther and wider as the affections are deeper and more perfect. Angels possess intelligence and wisdom in proportion to this outreach. The ones who are in the most inward heaven and therefore at the center have an outreach into all of heaven, so that there is a communication of everyone in heaven with each individual and of each individual with everyone. We will have more to say about this outreach below, though, when we discuss the heavenly form in which angelic communities are arranged (and also when we discuss the wisdom and intelligence of angels), for all the outreach of affections and thoughts follows this form.
We have noted above that there are larger and smaller communities in the heavens. The larger ones consist of tens of thousands of individuals, the smaller of some thousands, and the smallest of hundreds. There are even people who live alone, house by house, so to speak, and family by family. Even though they live apart, they are still arranged in the same pattern as those who live in communities, with the wiser of them in the center and the simpler at the periphery. They are very closely under the Lord’s guidance, and are the best of angels.
The reason each community is a heaven in smaller form and each angel a heaven in smallest form is that the activity of love and faith is what makes heaven. This good activity is in every community of heaven and in every angel of a community. It does not matter that this activity is different and distinctive everywhere, it is still the activity of heaven. The only difference is that heaven has one activity here and another there. So whenever anyone is raised into any community of heaven, they say that he or she has arrived in heaven. They say of those who are there that they are in heaven, each in his or her own. All the people who have arrived in the other life realize this; so individuals who are standing outside or below heaven and looking off into the distance where there is a gathering of angels say that heaven is there—and over there as well.
It is rather like the situation of officials and functionaries and servants in a royal palace or court. Even though they live individually in their dwellings or in their rooms, some higher than others, still they are in a single palace or a single court, each one involved in a particular function in the service of the king. We can see from this what is meant by the Lord’s saying that “in my Father’s house there are many dwellings” (John 14:2) and by “the stories of heaven” and the “heavens of heavens” in the prophets.
We may also gather that a community is a heaven in lesser form from the fact that the heavenly form in each community is of the same nature as it is in heaven overall. In heaven overall (as noted above), the most outstanding individuals are in the center, and around them, in decreasing order all the way to the circumference, are those who are less outstanding. It follows also from the fact that the Lord leads all the people in the whole of heaven as though they were a single angel, and does the same for those who are in any particular community. As a result, sometimes a whole angelic community appears as a single entity in the form of an angel, a sight that the Lord has allowed me to see. Further, when the Lord appears in the midst of angels, he does not appear surrounded by a crowd but as a lone individual in angelic form. This is why the Lord is called an angel in the Word, as is also a whole community: Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael are nothing but angelic communities that are given these names because of their functions.
Just as a whole community is a heaven in lesser form, so too an angel is a heaven in least form. For heaven is not outside angels but within them. Their deeper levels, the levels of their minds, are arranged in the form of heaven and therefore are arranged to accept all the elements of heaven that are outside them. These elements they accept according to the quality of the goodness that is within them from the Lord. As a result, an angel is also a heaven.
It can never be said that heaven is outside anyone. It is within; because every angel accepts the heaven that is outside in keeping with the heaven that is within. We can see, then, how mistaken people are who think that getting into heaven is simply a matter of being taken up among the angels, regardless of the quality of their inner life, who believe that heaven is granted merely because of [the Lord’s] mercy. On the contrary, unless heaven is within an individual, nothing of the heaven that is outside flows in and is accepted.
There are many spirits who hold this opinion and who, because of their faith, have been taken up into heaven. However, once they arrived, because their inner life was contrary to the life angels are engaged in, they began to be blinded in their understanding to the point that they became virtually idiotic, while in regard to their self-control they began to be so tormented that they carried on like people gone mad. In short, people who have lived evil lives and who arrive in heaven bring their souls with them and are tormented like fish out of water, in the air, or like animals in the vacuum in air pumps once the air has been pumped out. It stands to reason, then, that heaven is within us and not outside.
Since everyone accepts the heaven that is outside according to the quality of the heaven that is within, angels accept the Lord in the same way, because it is the Lord’s divine nature that constitutes heaven. Consequently, when the Lord renders himself present in any particular community, his appearance depends on the nature of the good activity that community is engaged in. It is therefore not exactly the same in one community as in another. It is not that this difference is in the Lord: it is in the individuals who are seeing him from their own goodness and therefore in keeping with it. They are affected by the sight of him according to the quality of their own love. The ones who love him deeply are deeply moved, while the ones who love him less deeply are less deeply moved. Evil people, who are outside of heaven, find his presence intensely painful.
When the Lord does appear in any community, he appears there as an angel, but he is identified by the divine quality that shines through. Further still, heaven is where the Lord is recognized, trusted, and loved. The different ways he is worshiped—in variations that stem from the difference of activity from one community to another—do not cause harm but bring benefit, because they are a source of heaven’s perfection.
It is hard to explain this in such a way that it can be grasped without resorting to expressions usually found in academic circles and using them to explain how a perfect whole is formed from a variety of elements. Every perfect whole arises from a variety of elements, for a whole that is not composed of a variety of elements is not really anything. It has no form, and therefore no quality. However, when a whole does arise from a variety of elements, and the elements are in a perfected form in which each associates with the next in the series like a sympathetic friend, then it has a perfect quality. Heaven is, then, a single whole composed of a variety of elements arranged in the most perfect form; for of all forms, the form of heaven is the most perfect.
We can see that this underlies all perfection from every instance of beauty, charm, and delight that moves both our senses and our spirits. Such instances arise and flow invariably from a harmonious agreement of many things that are in sympathetic concord, whether they are together simultaneously or follow in a sequence. They do not flow from a single unit that lacks plurality. So we say that variety delights, and recognize that the delight depends on the quality of the variety. We can see from this, as though in a mirror, how perfection stems from variety in heaven as well, since things that happen in the natural world offer us a reflection of things in the spiritual world.
We can say the same of the church as we have of heaven, since the church is the Lord’s heaven on earth. It also has many components, and yet each is called a church and is a church to the extent that the qualities of love and faith rule within it. In it, the Lord forms a single whole out of the varied elements, and therefore makes a single church out of many churches.
Much the same can be said of the individual member of the church as has been said about the church in general, namely that the church is within and not outside, and that anyone is a church in whom the Lord is present in the qualities of love and faith.
Much the same can be said of the individual who has the church within as has been said about the angel who has heaven within, that such an individual is a church in least form as the angel is a heaven in least form. Even more, we can say that the individual who has the church within is a heaven just as much as an angel is, for we have been created to enter heaven and become angels. So anyone who has the quality of goodness from the Lord is an angel-person.
It is worth noting what we have in common with angels and what we possess that they lack. We have in common with angels the fact that our deeper levels are formed in the image of heaven and that we also become images of heaven to the extent that we participate in the qualities of love and faith. What we have that angels lack is that our more outward levels are formed in the image of this world; and that to the extent that we are engaged in what is good, the world within us is subordinated to heaven and serves it; and that then the Lord is present with us on both levels as he is in his heaven. He is actually present on both levels in his divine order, for God is order.
It should be noted in closing that people who have heaven within themselves have heaven not only in their larger or shared aspects but also in their smallest or most specific ones, with the smallest ones in them reflecting the largest. The reason for this is that as individuals we are our love and have a quality that depends on the quality of the love that is ruling. Whatever rules flows into the specifics and arranges them, and imposes everywhere an image of itself. In heaven, it is love for the Lord that rules, because the Lord is loved there above all else. As a result, the Lord is the sum and substance of everything there, flowing into absolutely everything, arranging everything, clothing everything with his likeness, and making heaven to be where he is. So an angel is a heaven in least form, a community a heaven in greater form, and all the communities together a heaven in greatest form.
It is a secret not yet known in this world that heaven, taken in a single all-inclusive grasp, reflects a single individual. In heaven, though, nothing is better known. Knowing this, knowing particulars and details about it, is the hallmark of angelic intelligence there. In fact, many other things follow from it and do not come clearly and distinctly to mind without this as their general principle. Since angels do know that all the heavens, like their communities, reflect a single individual, they refer to heaven as the universal and divine human—“divine” because the Lord’s divine nature constitutes heaven.
People who do not have an appropriate concept of spiritual and heavenly realities cannot grasp the fact that heavenly and spiritual realities are arranged and connected in this form and image. They think that the earthly and material elements that make up their outmost form really make them what they are, and that without them they would not be human. Let them know, though, that they are not human beings because of these elements but because they are able to understand what is true and will what is good. These are the spiritual and heavenly realities that make them human.
People do recognize that the humanity of every individual depends on the quality of his or her understanding and intentions. They can also realize that the earthly body is formed to serve them in this world and to perform useful actions in a suitable manner in this outmost sphere of nature.
This is also why the body does not do anything on its own, but acts in complete obedience to the bidding of our understanding and intentions. This holds true even to the point that our tongue and mouth say whatever we think, and the body and its limbs do whatever we intend. The actor is therefore our understanding and intention, not the body on its own. We can see from this that matters of our understanding and intention are what make us human, and that these are in a similar form because they act into the very details of the body just the way an inner reality acts into an outer one. It is because of these facts that we are called inner and spiritual humans. Heaven is this kind of person in the greatest and most perfect form.
This is the angelic concept of person, so angels never pay attention to what someone’s body is doing, but rather to the intent from which the body is acting. They call this the essential person, together with the intellect to the extent that it is acting in unison with the intent.
Actually, angels do not see heaven in a single overview in this kind of form, since the entire heaven does not lie within the scope of any angel’s sight. However, they do consistently see particular communities that are made up of many thousands of angels as single units in this kind of form; and from the community as a sample they draw their inference about the totality that is heaven. This is because in the most perfect form the greater elements are arranged like the parts, and the parts like the greater elements. The only distinction is between what is greater and what is lesser. Therefore they say that the entire heaven looks like this in the Lord’s sight, because the Divine sees everything from the very center and summit.
Since heaven is of this nature, it is also governed by the Lord as though it were a single individual and therefore a single unit. We ourselves consist of countless different things, both overall and in our parts. We are made up overall of our limbs, organs, and viscera, and in our parts of series of nerves, fibers, and blood vessels—made up of members within members, then, and parts within parts. Still, we do of course recognize that when we do anything, we do it as whole individuals. This is what heaven is like, too, under the Lord’s guardianship and guidance.
The reason so many varied elements act as one in an individual is that there is nothing whatever there that does not contribute something to the common good and do something useful. The inclusive body serves its parts and the parts serve the inclusive body because the inclusive body is made up of parts and the parts make up the inclusive body. So they provide for each other respectively, they focus on each other mutually, and they are united in the kind of form that gives every single component a relationship to the inclusive entity and its well-being. This is what enables them to act as a unit.
It is the same with assemblies in the heavens. People there unite in this kind of form in pursuit of any worthwhile activity. As a result any individuals who do not serve some use for the larger body are cast out of heaven because they are misfits. To “serve some use” is to intend well to others for the sake of the common good, while “not to serve some use” is to intend well to others not for the sake of the common good but for the sake of oneself. People who act in this latter fashion are people who love themselves above all, while people who act in the former fashion are the ones who love the Lord above all. This is why people in heaven act in unison not from themselves but from the Lord. They in fact focus on him as the unique source of all, and on his kingdom as the commonwealth that is to be cared for. This is the meaning of the Lord’s words, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and everything will be given you in addition” (Matthew 6:33). To “seek his righteousness” is to seek his good.
There are people who in this world love the good of their country more than their own and the good of their neighbor as their own. They are the ones who love and seek the kingdom of the Lord in the other life, since there the kingdom of the Lord takes the place of one’s country. Further, people who love to do good to others not for self-centered reasons but for the sake of the good itself are people who love their neighbor, since in the other life the good is one’s neighbor. All individuals who are of this quality are in the universal human—that is, in heaven.
Since heaven in its entirety does reflect a single individual, and is in fact the divine spiritual person in its greatest form and image, heaven is therefore differentiated into members and parts like a person, and these are given similar names. Angels know what member one community or another is in and say that this community is in the member or province of the head, that one in the member or province of the chest, that one in the member or province of the genitals, and so on.
In general, the highest or third heaven forms the head down to the neck, the middle or second forms the torso as far as the genitals and knees, and the lowest or first forms the feet to the very soles and also the arms all the way to the fingers, since the arms and hands are among our “lowest things” even though they are at our sides. We can see from this again why there are three heavens.
Spirits who are below heaven are amazed when they hear and see that heaven is both below and above them. They have had the faith and opinion common to people in this world that heaven is only overhead. They do not really know that the locations of the heavens are like the locations of the members and organs and viscera in a human being, with some above and some below, and that it is also like the locations of the parts within each member and outer or inner organ, with some within and some outside. This is the reason for their confusion about heaven.
We have presented these statements about heaven as the universal human because without them as preface there can be no comprehension whatever of the things about heaven that are to follow. No clear concept of heaven can be gained, either, no clear concept of the union of the Lord with heaven, of the union of heaven with us on earth, of the inflow of the spiritual world into the natural world, and none whatever of correspondence, all of which must be discussed in sequence in the pages that now follow. This material has been presented first, then, to shed light on these matters.
Several times I have been allowed to see that each community of heaven reflects a single individual and is in the likeness of a human being as well. There was one community that was infiltrated by a number of spirits who knew how to assume the guise of angels of light. They were hypocrites. As they were being set apart by some angels, I observed that the whole community first looked like something cloudy, then gradually took on a human form, though still a cloudy one, and finally appeared in the light as a person. The individuals who were in that person and made it up were the ones who participated in the benevolence of that community. The others, who were not in the person and did not make it up, were the hypocrites. These latter were cast out, while the former ones were retained. This is how the separation was accomplished.
Hypocrites are people who speak well and even behave well, but who are focused on themselves in specifics. They talk like angels about the Lord and heaven and love and heavenly life and they also behave well, so that their character seems to be in accord with their speech. However, they are thinking differently. They do not believe anything or will well to anyone but themselves. Any good they do is done in their own interests. If it is in the interest of others, it is for the sake of appearance, and therefore in their own interest.
I have also been allowed to see that a whole angelic community appears as a single entity in human form when the Lord makes himself present. High up toward the east, there appeared something that looked like a cloud, white at first and then reddening, surrounded by little stars. It came down, and as it gradually did so, it became brighter and finally took on a perfect human form. The little stars that surrounded the cloud were angels, who looked like that because of the light from the Lord.
We do need to realize that even though all the individuals in a community of heaven look like a single entity in human likeness when they are all together, still one community is not the same person as any other. They are differentiated like the faces of individuals of one lineage. The reason for this is the same as that given above, namely that they differ depending on the various good activities that they participate in and that give them their form. Those communities that are in the central or highest heaven and are at its center appear in the most perfect and lovely human form.
It is worth noting that the more members there are in a single community and the more united they are in action, the more perfect is their human form. This is because variety arranged in a heavenly form makes perfection, as explained above; and variety occurs where there are many individuals.
Every community in heaven is growing in numbers daily, and the more it grows, the more perfect it becomes. In this way, not only is the community perfected, but heaven in general is perfected as well, since the communities constitute heaven.
Since heaven is perfected by its numerical growth, we can see how mistaken people are who believe that heaven will be closed to prevent overcrowding. Actually, it is just the reverse. It will never be closed, and its ever increasing fullness makes it more perfect. So angels long for nothing more than to have new angel guests arrive there.
The reason each community appears in human likeness when it is seen all together as a unit is that heaven as a whole has this likeness, as may be seen in the preceding chapter; and in the most perfect form, like the form of heaven, there is a likeness of parts and whole, of lesser and greatest. The lesser elements and parts of heaven are the communities of which it consists, each of which is a heaven in lesser form, as may be seen above.
The reason for this constant likeness is that in the heavens all the qualities stem from a single love and therefore from a single source. The single love that is the origin of everything good in heaven is love for the Lord from the Lord. This is why all heaven is a likeness of him on the grand scale, every community a likeness on a less grand scale, and every angel in specific.
It has been explained in the two preceding chapters that heaven as a whole reflects a single individual and that the same holds true for each community in heaven. From the chain of causes presented there, it follows that each single angel reflects the same as well. As heaven is a person in greatest form and a community of heaven is a person in lesser form, so an angel is a person in least form; for in the most perfect form, like the form of heaven, there is a likeness of the whole in the part and of the part in the whole. The reason for this is that heaven is a commonwealth. In fact, it shares everything it has with each individual, and individuals receive everything they have from the commonwealth. An angel is a recipient and therefore a heaven in least form, as has been explained in the relevant chapter above.
To the extent that they accept heaven, people here too are recipients and heavens, and are angels (see above).
This is described in the Book of Revelation as follows: “The wall of the holy Jerusalem was measured, a hundred and forty-four cubits, the measure of an individual, that is, of the angel” (Revelation 21:17). “Jerusalem” in this passage is the Lord’s church, and in a more elevated sense, heaven. The wall is the truth that protects it from the assault of false and evil things. “A hundred and forty-four” refers to all good and true things as a whole.c “Measure” refers to its quality. The human being is where all these things are found, in general and in specific, and therefore where heaven is found; and since an angel is a person as well because of these characteristics, it says “the measure of an individual, that is, of the angel.” This is the spiritual meaning of these words. Apart from this meaning, who would understand that the measure of the wall of the holy Jerusalem would be the measure of an individual, which was the measure of the angel?
But let us turn to experience now. As for angels being human forms, or people, this I have seen thousands of times. I have talked with them face to face, sometimes with just one, sometimes with several in a group, and as far as their form is concerned, I have seen in them nothing different from that of a human being. At times I have felt surprised that they were like this; and to prevent it being said that this was some illusion or hallucination, I have been allowed to see them while I was fully awake, or while I was in full possession of my physical senses and in a state of clear perception.
I have often told them that people in the Christian world are in such blind ignorance about angels and spirits that they think of them as minds without form, as mere thoughts, and can conceive of them only as something airy with something alive within it. Further, since they attribute to them nothing human except a capacity for thought, they believe angels cannot see because they have no eyes, cannot hear because they have no ears, and cannot talk because they have no mouths or tongues.
Angels have replied that they know many people on earth have this kind of belief and that it is prevalent among the learned and—strangely!—among the clergy. They have told me that it is because some of the learned who were particularly eminent and who came up with this kind of concept of angels and spirits thought about them on the basis of the sensory faculties of the external person. If people think on this basis and not on the basis of a more inward light and the common idea native to everyone, they cannot help constructing images like this, because the sensory faculties of the external person grasp only matters that are within the bounds of nature and not things that are higher. So they do not grasp anything at all about the spiritual world. From these eminent people as leaders, false thoughts about angels spread to people who did not think independently but relied on others; and people who let their thinking rely primarily on others and then form their faith, and later look into these matters with their minds, have a hard time giving these ideas up. As a result, many of them cooperate in confirming these false notions.
Angels have also told me that people of simple faith and heart are not caught up in this concept of angels, but have an image of them as people in heaven. This is because they have not let erudition snuff out the image implanted in them from heaven and because they do not grasp anything unless it has some form. This is why the angels we see sculpted and painted in churches are invariably represented as human. As for this “image implanted in them from heaven,” angels tell me that it is something divine that flows into people who are intent on goodness of faith and life.
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. I have seen them in their own light, which is far, far greater than noonday on our earth, and in that light I have seen all the details of their faces more crisply and clearly than I have seen the faces of people here in the world.
I have also been allowed to see an angel of the central heaven. His face was more glorious, more radiant, than that of angels of the lower heavens. I looked at him very closely, and he had a human form in full perfection.
It does need to be realized, though, that we cannot see angels with our bodily eyes, only with the eyes of our spirit, because they are in the spiritual world while everything bodily is in the natural world. Like sees like because it is of like substance. Further, the body’s visual organ, the eye, is so crude that as everyone knows it does not even see the smaller elements of nature without a lens, much less things that are above the sphere of nature, as are all the realities of the spiritual world. These can be seen by us, though, when we are released from bodily sight and the sight of our spirit is opened. This happens instantly when it pleases the Lord that we should see. It then seems to us exactly as though we were seeing with our bodily eyes. This is how angels were seen by Abraham, Lot, Manoah, and the prophets. This is how the Lord was seen by the disciples after the resurrection. This is the same way, too, in which I have seen angels.
Because this was how the prophets saw, they are called “seers” and “ones whose eyes are opened” (1 Samuel 9:9; Numbers 23:3 [24:3]); and the act of enabling them to see this way is called “opening the eyes.” This is what happened to Elisha’s servant, of whom we read, “Elisha prayed, ‘Jehovah, open his eyes, I pray, so that he may see,’ and as Jehovah opened the eyes of his servant, behold the mountain was full of horses and fiery chariots surrounding Elisha” (2 Kings 6:17).
Some honest spirits I talked with about this were distressed at heart that there was such ignorance in the church about the state of heaven and about spirits and angels. They kept insisting that I should take back the message that they were not formless minds or ethereal breath but human in form, and that they saw and heard and felt just as much as people in this world do.