In their spiritual state, Swedenborg’s devils (Van Dusen’s lower order) get pleasure by victimizing others because their surroundings in the lower spheres is a grim and dark disaster area. This is the psychological milieu that narcissists (selfish, self-centered people) create during their lives, and their spirits maintain that same attitude after their deaths. While alive, their needs and desires revolve around themselves, and they use other people as props for their own pleasure. In the words of Robert Hare, Professor of Psychology at the University of British Columbia, sociopaths, (psychopaths created by abusive upbringing) “ruthlessly plow their way through life, leaving a trail of broken hearts, shattered expectations and empty wallets”, (Without Conscience, Guilford Press, 1993).
The discarnate spirits of these people do not change their habits after death. They simply become what Swedenborg called “devils”. Most of these spirits, upon the death of their bodies, descend to one of the lower Winterlands or even below. Swedenborg refers to each of these planes as “one of the many hells.” There, a narcissist “lives” only for himself. His selfish nature leads him to build structures and relationships based on his own desires, but everything he builds is, in the end, destroyed out of envy and greed by the other narcissists who share his sphere. However many of these ignorant or evil spirits (often the souls of drunkards and petty criminals) are able to ascend to the transitional plane using energy supplied by living people with similar mindsets. Once there, they may infect living people, especially those who are both psychic sensitives and weakened by mental illness.
On the other hand, Swedenborg’s “angels” (Van Dusen’s higher order) are the spirits of deceased persons who not only led virtuous lives, but also overcame their natural narcissistic tendencies, their addictions and their longing for excessive material pleasures. This is NOT to say that while alive they eschewed material comforts. Far from it! Material wealth and comfort do NOT disqualify good souls from the higher spheres provided they acquired their wealth properly and used it for good purposes as well as for their own comfort. Many angelic spirits were once rich persons who spent the better part of their lives helping to improve the lot of other souls who came within their spheres of influence. Many other angelic spirits were once the souls of poor people who dedicated their lives to doing the best they could for their families and others in spite of their poverty. Some of these angelic souls return to the transitional plane as “missionaries” to help the living.
People with higher natures derive greater pleasure from helping others, and doing all in their power to avoid doing harm. In their spiritual state, they become what Swedenborg called angels by virtue of their positive natures. (Not their superior knowledge!) Their surroundings in the higher spiritual realms reflect their natures. Working together, they create a communal environment that is happy, bright, and full of natural beauty. On the higher planes, they build beautiful homes for themselves, and other structures which are meant to be shared and enjoyed by others. And unlike structures in the lower spheres, these structures endure because the like-minded spirits in these environments see their value and help to maintain them. It is upon this gentle and lovely vision that the Christian image of heaven is based. Some of these angelic souls return to earth as “missionaries” to help the living.