A reader named Rod submitted a spiritual conundrum about Swedenborg and spiritualism. We’ll dig into his question in a minute. First, here’s a thumbnail sketch of what Swedenborg says about contacting spirits.
It is perfectly possible for angels and spirits to talk to people on earth. All that’s necessary is for our spiritual ears to be opened up briefly so that we can hear the angels and spirits who are with us all the time. Angels and spirits commonly spoke to people in the Bible. Many people throughout history and right up to the present have felt the presence or heard the voices of spiritual beings, both heavenly and demonic.
God sometimes sends angels to people who are struggling and in need of spiritual encouragement and inspiration. When we are blessed by a visit from these messengers of God, it is a wonderful thing!
However, when we initiate contact with spirits, we lay ourselves open to many dangers. The spiritual beings who are closest to us while we are living here on earth are not angels, but spirits in an intermediate realm. And due to the dynamics of the spiritual world, the spirits we contact will be very much like ourselves; they will usually just confirm what we already believe, even if it’s not true. So we will most likely end out strongly believing things that are actually false.
In short, when it’s God’s idea to send an angel to us, it is a good and helpful thing. But when it’s our idea to contact the “angels” . . . not so much. Spirits are very good at impersonating angels and revered historical figures. We simply don’t know who we’re really getting at the other end of the line.
To fully understand what’s going on when we contact spirits, we’ll need some background on the spiritual world and how it works. So let’s take a look at Rod’s question, and dig deeper into this fascinating subject.
Swedenborg and spiritualism
Here is the spiritual conundrum Rod posed:
In Michael Tymn’s book, The Afterlife Revealed, he notes that after the advent of Spiritualism in 1848, Swedenborg is said to have appeared to several spiritualists and mediums. More than one writer proclaimed Emanuel Swedenborg as “the father of Spiritualism.” Yet, even though Swedenborg was in contact with the spirit world for 27 years, he warned against attempting contact with unseen spirits. Swedenborg’s writings/theology are Christ-centered, while most spiritualists are not.
First, a quick response to some of these issues about Swedenborg and spiritualism.
Yes, a number of spiritualists and mediums have claimed to be in contact with Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772) in the spiritual world. Sometimes they claim that he has now reversed the positions he took in his books on such subjects as reincarnation and the eternity of the hells.
But if Swedenborg actually did have the ability to be fully conscious the spiritual world for the last twenty-seven years of his life on earth, he would have had plenty of time to investigate these and other spiritual subjects. Why would his views suddenly change when he moved to the spiritual world permanently after he died?
It is far more likely that the spiritualists and mediums were actually in contact with spirits posing as Swedenborg, who told them what they wanted to hear.
It is common for spirits to pose as great spiritual teachers and historical figures. They do this to lend weight and authority to their own opinions, and to get a following. It’s similar to the common practice in ages past—and sometimes even in the present—of writing a philosophical or literary piece and publishing it under the name of some famous philosopher or poet. Spirits can have false and mistaken beliefs just as people on earth do. And they are very skillful at convincing people that their opinions are God’s own truth.
So we can safely take with a grain of salt spiritualists’ and mediums’ claims that they have spoken to Swedenborg and to many other great historical figures. If you want to know what Swedenborg thought on some subject, read what he wrote about it!
As for Swedenborg being the “father of spiritualism,” it is true that he has had a major influence on many spiritualists. However, his ability to be fully conscious with all of his senses in the spiritual world, and to live and travel among angels and spirits over a period of nearly three decades as one of them, is unique in the history of the world. It is entirely different from the experience of spiritualists and mediums, who generally hear voices and feel spiritual influences, but are not fully conscious in the spiritual world.
Finally, it’s a great observation that Swedenborg’s theology and writings are Christ-centered, whereas most spiritualists are not. In his final massive tome on theology, True Christianity, Swedenborg signed himself as “servant of the Lord Jesus Christ.” And in #779 of that book, Swedenborg stated that even though he had been in contact with angels and spirits for many years, he had not accepted any teachings from them, but only what came from the Lord (Jesus Christ) while he was reading the Bible. Swedenborg’s own practice was to not blindly trust what spirits and angels told him.
Now let’s dig into the real subject here, which is whether it’s a good idea to contact spirits.
A thumbnail sketch of the spiritual world
First, let’s demystify the spiritual world, based on Swedenborg’s eyewitness account in his most popular book, Heaven and Hell.
There are three major regions of the spiritual world:
- Heaven: The final home of all people of good will
- The world of spirits: Where all people gather temporarily after death
- Hell: The final home of all people of evil will
Contrary to popular belief, hell is not a place where people roast over fire pits to all eternity while devils brandishing pitchforks dance around them. See the article, “Is There Really a Hell? What is it Like?”
Similarly, heaven is not a place where angels sit on clouds and play harps to eternity. Angels live active, useful, enjoyable lives in community with other angels—as you can see in the article, “Who Are the Angels and How Do They Live?”
All of the angels in heaven and all of the evil spirits—sometimes called “devils,” “demons,” or “satans”—in hell were once human beings living right here in the material world. There is no separately created race of angels or of devils.
However, we do not go directly to heaven or to hell after we die. Instead, we spend a shorter or longer time in a region between heaven and hell called “the world of spirits.”
It is called a “world” because it is so vast that it forms a world all of its own, complete with mountains, hills, and valleys, rivers, lakes, and oceans. And it is the world “of spirits” because it is filled with all the spirits, or souls, of the huge number of people who die day after day, month after month, year after year, and move on to the afterlife.
In the spiritual world, our spirit is just as solid and real as our body is here in the material world. And because the world of spirits is inhabited by human beings, it also has towns and cities, roads and bridges, theaters and libraries, and everything else that we have here on earth. In fact, the world of spirits looks and feels so much like the natural world that when we arrive there we may not even believe that we have died.
Some people find their eternal home in heaven or hell very quickly. For others, it may take the equivalent of twenty or thirty years’ worth of experience to get ready and move on to their final home. You can read about that process in the article, “What Happens To Us When We Die?”
This means that at any given time, there are millions, if not billions of spirits inhabiting the world of spirits.
And these spirits in the intermediate region—not angels in heaven or devils in hell—are the spiritual beings who are closest to us here on earth.
Why is that?
Because spiritually, birds of a feather flock together.
How the spiritual world is organized
In our lives here on earth we move around for many reasons, such as:
- To be near family members
- To get a job or a promotion
- To be where it is less expensive to live
- To be in a region and climate we enjoy
Because of this, we tend to live surrounded by a mixed group of people. Some of our neighbors we feel close to and get along with; others we have little or nothing in common with or are even in conflict with.
That’s not how it works in the spiritual world. There, we fairly quickly sort ourselves out into communities and groups based on our character and personality, our loves and beliefs. That’s why heaven is in a higher region, the world of spirits is in a middle region, and hell is in a lower region. And within each of these regions, there are millions of communities, each with its own character based on the type of angels or spirits who live there.
Even while we are living here in this world in our mixed communities, our spiritual associations operate by the same principle. We have spiritual beings around us all the time. And the ones who are closest to us are the ones who are most like us in character, personality, feelings, and beliefs.
For most of us here on earth, the spirits who are in a state of mind most like ours are not angels or devils, but spirits in the world of spirits. That’s because for much of our time in the world of spirits, we are in a state of mind very much like the one we are in here on earth—which tends to be a mixture of good and bad motives and actions.
Yes, we do have angels from heaven and evil spirits from hell associated with us also. But because their state of mind is generally quite different from ours, they usually work through the spirits from the world of spirits who are most closely associated with us.
That is why, when we seek out contact with angels and spirits, we will rarely make direct contact with an angel—which usually happens only when God sends an angel to us. Rather, when we initiate the contact, we will almost always get in touch with the spirits in the world of spirits who are associated with us.
Spirits aren’t any smarter than we are
Now here’s the trick.
We naturally assume that once people die and go to the spiritual world, they gain access to much greater spiritual information and enlightenment than we have here on earth.
Theoretically, that’s true.
But in practice, it usually doesn’t work that way.
Because after we die, we are exactly the same person as we were before we died. Our character, beliefs, emotions, desires, and motives don’t change at all. The only difference is that instead of a physical body we have a spiritual body. But even that looks and feels the same as the body we had before. As counterintuitive as it may seem, dying does not change us at all—especially not in the early stages of our life in the world of spirits.
Further, since we soon group together with people who have a character and beliefs similar to our own, we tend to become even more firmly entrenched in our beliefs—whether true or false—than we were before. Truth is not a popularity contest. But we humans have this funny idea that the more people there are who believe something, the truer it is. And if we surround ourselves with people who believe the same way we do, it only confirms in our minds the idea that our beliefs are absolutely true.
Are you starting to see why contacting spirits is not a good way to learn about God and spirit?
The fact is, most of the spirits we get “on the other end of the line” are not any smarter or more enlightened than we are. In fact, because of the spiritual law that people of like character and beliefs group together, we are almost certain to get in contact with spirits who think and believe very much like we do.
What does this mean?
- If we believe in reincarnation, the spirits we contact will tell us that reincarnation is a true belief.
- If we believe that all people eventually go to heaven, the spirits we contact will tell us exactly that.
- If we believe that we are all part of God, and evil is just an illusion, the spirits we contact will strengthen our belief.
- If we believe that only people who share our particular beliefs—whatever they may be—are enlightened and will go to heaven or nirvana or whatever we believe in, then the spirits we contact will assure us that we are right about that, too.
In other words, spirits are useless for guiding us toward genuine spiritual truth. They will simply tell us whatever we want to hear.
And then they’ll use it to manipulate us.
Because any spirits who want to teach us things are more interested in having power over us than they are in leading us toward God and heaven.
Real angels don’t want to teach us
You see, real angels value our spiritual freedom above everything else. They know that the only way we can become truly enlightened is if we seek out the truth for ourselves, and learn it through our own effort and experience. Quite often we must learn the truth the hard way, by trying out everything except the best path until we finally are willing to accept God’s guidance and follow the path God is laying out in front of us.
Angels trust God to guide us, and they get directly involved in our lives only when God specifically sends them to help us.
When God does send angels to help us, it rarely involves teaching us things we didn’t know before. Instead, it almost always involves giving us hope and comfort. You see, real angels tend to skip our head altogether, and go right for the heart. They want us to know not intellectually, but in our heart that we are loved and cared for.
When angels come to us, we feel the warmth of God’s love as expressed through the angels who are God’s messengers. This can give us the hope and confidence we need to keep moving forward on our spiritual path. We can then turn toward the usual sources of spiritual knowledge, understanding, and wisdom—primarily the holy books and spiritual teachers of our religion.
Unenlightened and evil-leaning spirits, on the other hand, have no such limits on their approach to us. They do not respect our freedom, nor do they have any interest in moving us toward God and heaven. They are quite happy to fill us with all sorts of ideas that appeal to us, right or wrong, in order to gain our confidence and get power over our minds. They will then begin to lead us step by step toward more and more false and mistaken beliefs.
As a result, if we seek out spirits in order to gain spiritual comfort or enlightenment, and we persist in doing so over an extended period of time, we are likely to be led more and more astray in our beliefs.
Is all contact with spirits bad?
That sounds pretty grim. And it certainly can be. There are many people firmly convinced of beliefs that are not true at all because they believe they were instructed by angels. And those false beliefs can do real damage to our spiritual state.
However, there are also many other influences and sources of knowledge that people interested in spiritual things turn to. And even false beliefs do not cause people of good will to have an evil heart. Many people who believe things that aren’t true still live good lives of loving and serving their fellow human beings. Loving God and loving our neighbor trumps mistaken beliefs.
Further, people who merely dabble in contacting spirits are not likely to experience any deep or lasting harm. Even if the spirit contacted isn’t really their deceased mother or father or sister or brother, but a spirit impersonating their loved ones, people can still gain a sense of hope and a belief in the afterlife based on these contacts.
Though seeking out contact with spirits is generally not a good thing, God can turn it toward good in our lives if we don’t persist in attempting to gain knowledge through spirit contact instead of learning it from the sources of spiritual knowledge that God has given us right here in the material world.
And of course, as mentioned earlier, if we did not seek out spirit contact, but it came to us spontaneously in a time of need, and gave us comfort, hope, and strength, then we can take joy in the knowledge that God has reached out to us through the angels to assure us that even though things may seem dark and hopeless here, we are loved, and God has better things in store for us.
This article is a response to a spiritual conundrum submitted by a reader.