Swedenborg, The Four-Part Psyche, And The Climb To Enlightenment


My first post on the philosophy of Emanuel Swedenborg centered mostly around his Correspondence Principle, the belief that everything in this world corresponds to something in the Spirit World.  This is tantamount to saying that everything in this world is symbolic of something in the Spirit World.  This concept underlies the philosophy behind the Symbolist movement in 19th century France.

I wanted to push this Correspondence Principle to include Events as well as things (meaning that a war down here in our world might correspond to some sort of Spirit World conflict), but I’ve found nothing in Swedenborg’s work so far that allows me to go quite that far.  He seems always talking about correspondence of things solely.  However, since “Events” are things acting upon, and in some way altering, other things– the idea that Earthly Events also come under the Correspondence Principle is not entirely out of line.  In other words, if A, B, and C all correspond to things in the Spirit World, and if A and B give rise to C during some Event, then it’s hard to see how Events would not come under the Correspondence Principle.

An important assumption for Swedenborg is that the Spirit World is a “higher” realm full of “deeper truths.”  However, I personally think this is an outrageous bias against our own world.  Couldn’t one make the argument that our world, containing both Spirit (souls) and Matter, is actually the higher realm of Existence?  Even if the Spirit World gave birth to our world, why should that make it superior?  Any good American knows that each generation should advance! (the fact that we are currently not doing so well in that department is beside the point).

But back to the Symbolism implied by Swedenborg’s Correspondence Principle:  Swedenborg believed that if someone could obtain the “key” that unlocks (explains) the Correspondences between the realms, one can become enlightened with deeper Truths.


Let us now leave the Spirit World for a time, and go back to our original trinity of congruence from yesterday:  every element of the Universe has a corresponding element in Man-the-Microcosm (because both were created in God’s image).  Given that… What in Man then corresponds to God, the creator of the Universe?  The answer, according to Swedenborg, is the Soul.  Just as God created the Universe, our Souls created our bodily forms.

In the next century after Swedenborg (the 1800s), Ralph Waldo Emerson will draw from this correspondence and refer to God as the “OverSoul” of the world.  And perhaps Hegel wasn’t so many city blocks away when he claimed the existence of a “World Spirit.”

The thinking is this:  as our Souls permeate our bodies, God permeates the world.  He is in everything.  Even ourselves.  Benz declares that God pours as life into all living things, but the form of each life varies with the vessel receiving it.

Later interpreters would think of God’s existence inside us as a “Divine Spark” shared from His “Eternal Flame.”  Some even consider the individual Soul as a piece of God placed within each of us.

As far as I know Swedenborg never referenced the Soul as “Divine Spark,” but he did believe that the Soul “corresponds” to God, and that the Soul is immaterial and indestructible.  (As a matter of fact, Swedey says that the Soul is immaterial and thus indestructible—although I’m not sure that is not another illogical leap).



If we accept that the Soul is the God of the body, then we can apply the Correspondence Principle again and say that just as the Universe is representative of its creator-God, so is one’s body representative of its (most direct) creator, the Soul.

According to Benz, Swedenborg saw Form as active, and Matter as passive.  And, in fact, Matter “longs for Form.”  So the active agent of the Soul applies its particular Form recipe to Matter and creates the body appropriate for it.

There is at least one pesky illogical leap here, and that is how something non-material, such as the Soul, acts on something material.  But no one in the history of philosophy has solved this problem, so I don’t feel guilty in allowing that dragon to live for another day.

Swedenborg also seems to have been convinced that the Soul not only creates our bodies but our thoughts as well.  He believed that thoughts are material.  He bases this on a couple of observations:

1.  our thoughts are affected by material things, such as what we eat or drink (which they would not be if our thoughts were non-material),  and

2.  our thinking ability suffers when we are tired (and only physical things become tired).

Swedenborg brushes past the problem of how the non-material Soul acts upon material thoughts, figuring that the radiations of the Soul simply “activate” our thoughts as light-waves “activate” our sight.


The Soul, said Swedenborg, has not created the body in order to torment it.  Our drives and hungers and lusts are not evil or shameful, nor are they instilled within us to bring us to ruin.

Although no philanderer, himself (one wonders if he suffered the same libidinous fate as it is assumed Newton did), Swedey was no prude.  He thought it was unhealthy for someone to attempt to utterly destroy the natural appetites within.  What he supported was balance.  Things in their appropriate measure.  He felt that it is as bad to entirely repress the drives as it is to entirely give into them.

Furthermore, he believed that we can learn something about ourselves through our longings.  According to Swedenborg scholar Ernst Benz, Swedenborg felt that since the body is created in the Soul’s image, we can discern something about our Souls by paying attention to the things that our physical forms are drawn toward.  Says Benz:  “Everyone determines [figures out] his own inner form and his understanding through the object of his Love,” elsewhere adding that a person *IS* what he loves.


When I spoke of Swedenborg’s belief in psychic balance a few paragraphs back, I was specifically referring to the balancing of Swedenborg’s theorized four parts of the psyche.

The four component parts that Swedenborg believed comprise the human psyche are:

1.  the Senses,

2.  the Reasoning Intellect (what he calls the “Mens”)

3.  the Intuitive Soul (what he calls the “Anima”),  and

4.  the Drives (the “Animus”) [his terminology hints that he thinks of the Soul as feminine and the Drives as masculine].

When it comes to our activities, the Senses and the Mens (Intellect) are neutral:  they do not impel us, but simply help us to get what we want.  It is the Anima (Soul) and the Animus (Drives) that are the animators, hence their names.

Swedenborgian psychic balance means not allowing one part of the psyche to overstep its bounds and dominate the Self to the detriment of the other three psychic components.  And because the Senses and the Mens are neutral, the battle often comes down to one between the Soul and the Drives.  Swedenborg doesn’t seem worried that Man will allow his Soul too much sway; what he worries about is the Drives dominating:  the Drives are what must be kept in check.

I hasten to add that Swedenborg also worried that modern man has allowed the Mens to assume too high a place our lives. The Soul, which operates on the level of Intuition, is just as valuable to us as the Mens, which operates in the realm of Reason and Science.


There was a time, according to Swedenborg, when Man still possessed the “key” to the Correspondences, and he could access the Spiritual World by using his Soul’s Intuition to interpret the symbols of this world.  In those days, the things around us still whispered to us what Benz calls “their secret inner meanings.”

However, since that time, man has “fallen.”  His fall, according to Benz’s interpretation of Swedenborg, was due to the ultimate sin of Selfishness.  Whenever a person “considers himself the origin and author of his life,” says Benz, he becomes “inflamed in selfish opposition to God.”  This sin of Selfishness blocks us from achieving communion with the Universe, and thus, keeps us from understanding the deeper truths of the Spirit World.

Swedenborg believed that the passionate emotions such as anger and hate have a distorting effect on one’s existence.  He cites as support for this belief the fact that the face undergoes contortions when angry.  This distorting effect –mirrored in the physical world in the face, the tenseness of the muscles, et cetera— signals the deeper spiritual disturbance the violent emotions cause within.

I get the sense that Swedenborg traces all the violent emotions ultimately back to Selfishness, and he felt that it is our selfish urges that (in Benz’s words:) disorder, deflect, and obstruct the flow of impressions from the outer world to our inner world.

“The inner connection is torn apart and confused” by Selfishness, says Swedenborg, “and no longer flows continuously as before.”

Because our Soul is hampered by Selfishness and the Violent Emotions, and we have thus lost the ability to fully tap into our Intuition, we are forced to rely on our Intellect.  This underscores Swedenborg’s worry, mentioned earlier, that we have come to worship Reason too much and that we do not value Intuition highly enough.

For Swedenborg, mere cognition is not nearly as powerful as direct Intuition when it comes to reading the Symbols of this world and grasping the higher truths of the Spiritual World.

As we shall see in a moment, Creation is comprised of a series of ascending degrees of existence.  In this series, Reason lies below Intuition, and so the Soul’s innermost life remains unknown to us because the Soul, according to Benz, “cannot be grasped in words and concepts” and “we can speak of it only in derivative concepts and images.”


Luckily for us, even though we have “fallen,” the Correspondence Principle still exists between our world and the Spiritual World.  Thus, it is possible, using the symbols around us to gain experience and wisdom, for us to climb our way to higher understanding.  Nevertheless, Swedenborg warns us that this way requires a tremendous amount of effort, and the knowledge acquired through mere Reason is derivative and abstract, unlike the direct knowledge which comes from the Soul’s Intuition.

Besides the laborious use of our inferior Reason to work our way up to higher truths, I also feel that, implied in Swedenborg’s work, there is second path to Enlightenment.  That path would necessitate cleansing our Souls, which have become clogged with too much Selfishness and Violent Emotion and blinded by our over-reliance on Reason.  In my readings so far, it does not seem that Swedenborg spends a lot of time stressing the cleansing of the Soul as a path to Enlightenment; in fact, I get the impression that he feels the loss of our ability to understand higher truths via Intuition is all but lost in us and will remain that way.  Still, the Intuitional path to higher knowledge appears to me suggested in Swedey’s works.


Lastly, according to Benz, Swedenborg saw Existence as being made-up of a series of directional Degrees, the Degrees growing more developed or valuable (in some mystical sense) the higher one goes.

For example, in the scale of degrees, minerals are “lower” than plants, and plants are lower than animals.  And remember when I said that Swedenborg describes Matter as “wanting” Form?  Well, in a similar way, a mineral “wants” to move up and become a plant– and plants, animals– et cetera.

Swedenborg believed that entities have the power to climb the series of Degrees and obtain a higher existence– not because the entities undergo a radical change, but because the Higher is already contained within the Lower.

Humans, for whom Intuition has become all but inaccessible in our fallen state, can nevertheless travel the path of understanding up the series of Degrees, says Swedenborg, by using our experience and reasoning.

So basically:  Our weapons are weak, our chances are slim, and the path is long and treacherous.

I’m in.


Other Hammering Shield articles on Swedenborg:

Swedenborg’s Correspondence Principle

Swedenborg’s View On Church Dogma

Swedenborg:  The After-Life And Meeting One’s Soul Mate On Mars


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