Swedenborg’s Rough Guide to Heaven, Hell, and Other Places | Reality Sandwich

…Many readers otherwise open to Swedenborg‘s thought are put off by his accounts of hell. This includes figures like William Blake and Ralph Waldo Emerson. Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell is a pointed criticism of Swedenborg’s vision, which separates the two realms. For Blake, Swedenborg’s heaven is a very dull place, while Blake’s own account of hell makes it attractive: angels are rather staid bores, but the devils are lively, vital characters. Emerson, who called Swedenborg a “colossal soul” and “one of the mastodons of literature,” also remarked apropos of Swedenborg’s hell that “A vampire sits in the seat of the prophet and turns with gloomy appetite to images of pain.”

It is not difficult to see why Emerson felt this. Swedenborg’s hell is an unremittingly revolting state of being, a nightmarish blend of Hieronymus Bosch and some of William S Burroughs‘ most paranoiac visions, and one cannot be censured for wondering if Swedenborg derived some gratification from knowing that the souls whose true affections brought them there deserved their fate. As in the case of Dante’s Inferno, there is a hint of sadism in Swedenborg’s account of the punishments inflicted on the damned, even if, as he maintained, punished and punisher are the same. Ordure, vomit, unspeakable stenches, insatiable desires, gnawing hungers, interminable darkness, the constant harangue of petty, bickering souls await hell’s inmates. “In some hells,” Swedenborg tells us, “one can see something like the rubble of homes or cities after a great fire . . . In milder hells, one sees tumble-down huts, crowded together . . . Within the houses are hellish spirits, constant brawls, hostilities, beatings . . .There are robberies and hold-ups in the street . . . In some hells there are nothing but brothels that look disgusting and are full of all kinds of filth and excrement.” (Even granting that street crime was far worse in Swedenborg’s day than in ours, it is surprising how reminiscent this description is of much of our own modern cities.) …

Read the entire overview @ Swedenborg’s Rough Guide to Heaven, Hell, and Other Places | Reality Sandwich.


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