Saturday, October 27, 2007

The Origin of the Soul, Reincarnation, and the Collective Unconscience


Where does the soul originate? According to Swedenborg, the soul originates from the seed of the father, whereas the "covering" for the body originates from the mother. This thought has several consequences: one is, we only live once in this material world, and the other is that life begins at conception. Those who are considering abortion should think again. The fact that life begins at conception is a biological fact, as the cells begin dividing at that point. We die when our cells are unable to divide any longer. However I have heard some people argue that perhaps the soul enters the body at a later stage in fetal development. That this is not so, is shown in the following passage written by Swedenborg, long before anything was known about genetics:
"the soul which comes from the father is the person himself, and the body which comes from the mother, is not in itself the person, but a product of the person. This is merely its covering, woven of substances from the natural world, while the soul is of substances from the spiritual world. After death every person lays aside the natural which he got from his mother, and keeps the spiritual which he had from his father, together with a sort of fringe (limbus) around it composed of the purest natural substances. In the case of those who come into heaven this fringe is below with the spiritual side uppermost; with those who come into hell, the fringe is uppermost and the spiritual side is below. That is why a human angel receives what he says from heaven, so that it is good and true, but a human devil receives what he says from hell when he speaks from the heart, as he does in private, but as if from heaven when he speaks with the lips only, as he does in public.
[2] Since a person's soul is his very self, and by its origin the soul is spiritual, it is clear why the father's mind, attitude, character, inclination and affection of love live on in one descendant after another, and show up from one generation to the next. That is why many families, even whole nations, are recognisable likenesses of their ancestor; there is a shared type which shows up in the faces of each of his descendants, and this is only changed by the spirituality of the church. The type shared by Jacob and Judah still lives on in their descendants, allowing them to be distinguished from others, because down to the present day they have kept strictly to their religion. For in the seed from which each individual is conceived there is a shoot or cutting of the father's soul in all its completeness, wrapped in a covering of natural elements. These control the formation of the body in the mother's womb, where it may take on a resemblance to the father or the mother, though the father's type remains in it and constantly strives to come out. So if it is unable to do so in the first generation, it achieves this in subsequent ones.
[3] The reason why the father's type in all its completeness is in the seed is that, as already said, the soul is in origin spiritual, and the spiritual has nothing in common with space, so it can be reproduced in a small compass just as well as on a large scale. As for the Lord, when He was in the world, He put off by redeeming acts all the human He had from His mother, and put on the Human from the Father, that is, the Divine Human. That is why it is that in Him man is God and God is man." (True Christian Religion, 103)
The only caveat with the above passage, is that Swedenborg sometimes drew conclusions from his own experiences. The part that I still have questions about is that he states that the soul in its origin is spiritual, outside of space, yet contained in the seed of the father. So where did that originate? Is it possible that the soul has a pre-existent state before being born? According to Swedenborg, the answer is no. The purpose of the material world, all of creation, is to produce angels of heaven from the human race. And the only way to increase the number of angels of heaven is through the generations of the human race in the material world.

The other conclusion, is that the soul of Jesus was Divine, whereas his body was just like ours, which he received from his mother. On the resurrection, this body was put off, and transformed into a Divine Human. This was the one time in history, to all eternity, that God would become incarnate. Thus as far as we know, it never happened before, and will never happen again.


Concerning reincarnation, where the soul incarnates from one body to the next, many ancient cultures believed this, and this belief is still prevalant in eastern religions. However it is practically absent in the three religions founded on the Bible: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Still, even within these religions some people surmise we may have a chance to be born again. As Swedenborg had 27 years of visions from heaven, what did he have to say? The answer is quite interesting:
"An angel or spirit is not permitted to speak with a man from his own memory, but only from the man's memory; for angels and spirits have a memory as well as man. If a spirit were to speak from his own memory with a man the man would not know otherwise than that the thoughts then in his mind were his own, although they were the spirit's thoughts. This would be like the recollection of something which the man had never heard or seen. That this is so has been given me to know from experience. This is the source of the belief held by some of the ancients that after some thousands of years they were to return into their former life, and into everything they had done, and in fact, had returned. This they concluded because at times there came to them a sort of recollection of things that they had never seen or heard. This came from an influx from the memory of spirits into their ideas of thought." (Heaven and Hell, 256)
Reincarnation only comes up in the context on his discussions concerning memory. Which is interesting, because now there are so many books out there which discusses past life regresstion through hypnosis. Through these past life regressions, despite the skepticism hypnotists have been able to retrieve facts about historical events that the subject had no knowledge about. Not only that, but subjects have been able to pick up accents, and even speak in foreign languages that they did not know before (xenoglossy). The hypnotic state is a natural state of mind we pass through every day - and apparently this is the state where the mind becomes aware of other levels of existence. According to Swedenborg, this has nothing to do with reincarnation, but rather communication has opened up with the spirits that are influencing the subject's life. Thus past-life regression is a useful tool in therapy - one can remove bad behaviours, phobias, and even sicknesses. It is also the simplist explanation. Hypnotists who believe in reincarnation become confused when they see one life time overlapping chronologically with another life time. Another indicator is that hypnotic past life regressions can have one past life be of a male, and then it can switch to a female. According to Swedenborg, once born one is always male or female, the sex will never change.

This view on reincarnation is also consistent with the view on the origin of the soul. Probably many people who are interested in New Age material will be disappointed with this answer. In consolation, Swedenborg declared the New Age long before they discovered it.

In addition to spirits who may pass on their memories to us, perhaps in a desire to communicate, there are also evil spirits - who seek not only to take over the memory, but the entire body. Swedenborg called this phenomenon "obsession", and it was much more common in ancient times. It is now known as "demoniac possession", and apparently it is happening more frequently. The Catholic Church still maintains a class of exorcists. Here is what Swedenborg stated:
"There are also spirits called natural and corporeal spirits. When these come to a man they do not conjoin themselves with his thought, like other spirits, but enter into his body, and occupy all his senses, and speak through his mouth, and act through his members, believing at the time that all things of the man are theirs. These are the spirits that obsess man. But such spirits have been cast into hell by the Lord, and thus wholly removed; and in consequence such obsessions are not possible at the present time." (Heaven and Hell, 257)

We have discussed the origin of the soul, and reincarnation. Now some people who have experienced past life memories, or deja vu, will state that the memories that came to them showed them things that were similar to their own life experience. Why the similarity? We now come to the topic of a "group soul", or what Swedenborg called "angelic societies", and what Carl Jung then called "the Collective Unconscious". Carl Jung's idea concerns the origin of archetypes, but he basically took his idea from Swedenborg (he called them "correspondences" but that is another topic). What Swedenborg discovered is that the mind of man is in constant communication with spirits and angels, who are similar to that person according to their love:
"With every individual there are good spirits and evil spirits. Through good spirits man has conjunction with heaven, and through evil spirits with hell. These spirits are in the world of spirits, which lies midway between heaven and hell. This world will be described particularly hereafter. When these spirits come to a man they enter into his entire memory, and thus into his entire thought, evil spirits into the evil things of his memory and thought, and good spirits into the good things of his memory and thought. These spirits have no knowledge whatever that they are with man; but when they are with him they believe that all things of his memory and thought are their own; neither do they see the man, because nothing that is in our solar world falls into their sight." (Heaven and Hell, 292)
For the most part, the spirits that are in communication with us communicate via affections and emotions, rather than by thought. In fact, this is the origin of all thought and emotion: it belongs to the spiritual world. Man, on his part, has the free will to choose what thoughts and affections he or she will appropriate to himself (or herself):
"The spirits who are with man, both those conjoined with heaven and those conjoined with hell, never flow into man from their own memory and its thought, for if they should flow in from their own thought, whatever belonged to them would seem to man to be his (see above n. 256). Nevertheless there flows into man through them out of heaven an affection belonging to the love of good and truth, and out of hell an affection belonging to the love of evil and falsity. Therefore as far as man's affection agrees with the affection that flows in, so far that affection is received by him in his thought, since man's interior thought is wholly in accord with his affection or love; but so far as man's affection does not agree with that affection it is not received. Evidently, then, since thought is not introduced into man through spirits, but only an affection for good and an affection for evil, man has choice, because he has freedom; and is thus able by his thought to receive good and reject evil, since he knows from the Word what is good and what is evil. Moreover, whatever he receives by thought from affection is appropriated to him; but whatever he does not receive by thought from affection is not appropriated to him. All this makes evident the nature of the influx of good out of heaven with man, and the nature of the influx of evil out of hell. (Heaven and Hell, 298)
When we die, we shed our external body, and we become aware of the society we belong to, either in heaven and hell. In reality, no one goes to heaven or hell: we are already there. We just become aware of this internal reality after we die:
"Souls newly arrived from the world, when about to leave the company of the spiritual angels to go among spirits, and so at length to come into the society in which they had been while they lived in the body, are led about by angels to many mansions or abodes, that is, to societies which are distinct and yet conjoined with others; in some of which they are received, while in other cases they are led to still other societies, and this for an indefinite time, until they come to the society in which they had been while they lived in the body; and there they remain." (Heavenly Arcana, or Arcana Coelestia, 1273)

Despite the fact that the information Swedenborg gives makes common sense, he is completely ignored. Why? Because no one at this day believes people can receive heavenly visions, and even discount the existence of the spiritual world. So instead, the modern world has to flounder around guessing, depending on psychologists who view the mind as a black box. Naturalistic materialism only goes so far. When it comes to the soul, the afterlife, and the things that really matter, science is completely blind.

When it comes to many religions, the priests or spiritual leaders just love to call attention to themselves. They are often the worse, for their own pride is veiled with religion. Many of these false leaders will claim to have visions, in order to mislead people. Pride is the hardest evil to conquer, and Swedenborg had to go through many trials to conquer it before he was allowed to see what he saw, in a completely wakeful state for 27 years. All of his works were published anonymously, at his own expense. He only became known when at a dinner in Germany, he had a clairvoyant experience where he described a fire in Sweden, that it threatened to burn down his house and all his books. When asked why he was so worried, he was pressed and described the fire, and all the factual details became known several days later. It was then he became famous, and people finally guessed it was he who had been publishing these volumes of his visionary experiences. The incident was investigated by none other than the German philosopher Immanuel Kant.

So, when it comes to religious matters, who would you choose? Someone writing about their own opinion or guess, or someone who was a witness to spiritual events in heaven and hell, whose experiences were later validated by factual evidence? I am going to pick the latter.