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PLANTS >> Knowledge
USEFUL PLANTS >> Useful Knowledge,
POISONOUS PLANTS >> Useless, Harmful Knowledge

The correspondence of plants with elements of humanity is less evident than that of animals; for the activity and demonstrativeness of animals force upon us a recognition of their likeness to ourselves, and call out our sympathy with the affections and passions which they exhibit. But plants, on the other hand, are stationary and passive; they seem less like living creatures, and, consequently, less like men. Yet there is a very real delight in the companionship and cultivation of plants of various kinds: the silent forests have power to excite human feeling in harmony with themselves; the daisies and violets typify to everyone’s perception certain human attributes; the brilliant purples, crimsons, and scarlets of our cultivated flowers surely have some relation to the thrills of human feeling which quicken our hearts as we look at them; that “the Sower soweth the Word,” is accepted as a perfect truth, without question of the correspondence it implies between seed grain and principles of human life; an institution for implanting such principles we call a “seminary”; and we give the name of “nurseries” alike to the ground in which young trees are growing, the neighborhoods in which new principles are cherished, and the rooms for tending little children. There can be no doubt of our recognition of a general relation between the plants around us and the principles, theories, and plans in our minds.

It is the teaching of the New Church that this relation is that of full correspondence; that the same creative influence which, received by human minds, gives the power of knowing, of perceiving truth, and of developing principles of life to their natural fruit, received by suitable materials in the earth, manifests itself as plant life; and that the phenomena presented by this life in the vegetable kingdom represent perfectly, as to all the processes of growth as well as the varieties of form, the growths of intelligence and wisdom in the mind.

Speaking generally, animals are distinguished from plants by powers of locomotion, by sensitiveness,  and by feeding upon vegetable substances. And there are corresponding general differences between affection and wisdom. Affection is ever in motion, entering with sympathy into new states, and adapting itself to new circumstances; but definite forms of knowledge are based upon definite sets of facts, and there they remain. If transplanted to other dissimilar sets, they accommodate themselves with difficulty, though new plants of the same kinds might readily grow from seed. A love of being helpful, for instance, enters readily into entirely new situations, wherever help is needed; but definite knowledge of what is helpful must be based upon circumstances; a theory formed for one situation will rarely flourish in another; and the difficulty is the greater as the theory is more mature, and its details more fully developed. Affection, again, is sensitive, and conscious of pleasure or pain; knowledge in itself, and separated from the affections which enjoy it, is sensible neither of growth nor of mutilation. There is an affection for thinking, which is delighted with the act of intelligent perception, and is pained by obscurity. But a theory, a plan, or knowledge of any kind, in the mind, has no sense of pleasure or of pain; though its development may give a very keen enjoyment to the affections which meditate upon it, either in pride or in charity or in simple love for truth.

The third general distinction between plants and animals is that plants live upon inorganic materials from the earth and the air, while animals need to have these materials organized for them by plants. The mental correlative of this fact is that wisdom grows by the application of general truth to particular circumstances; but that affection is not expanded by general, abstract truth, until this is embodied in definite knowledge of states or forms of life which are lovely. General truths concerning the duty of uprightness and usefulness have a moderating and purifying effect upon the affections, but have no power to enlarge them; they present no  definite object of interest and satisfaction. But from these truths, with some acquaintance with present circumstances and opportunities, definite social theories and plans for useful work may grow up, which furnish materials for meditation and new activity and enlarged enjoyment to the affections.

These distinctions between animals and plants are clearly defined and easily recognized in the higher types of the two kingdoms; but the simplest living organisms consist merely of minute specks of protoplasm, called monads, endowed with powers of motion, of nourishment, and of reproduction, with regard to some of which it seems impossible to determine whether they are animals or plants. There is a corresponding meeting of mental growths on the lowest plane of spiritual life—the plane of sensation. Do an infant’s first impressions belong to the domain of understanding or of affection? Are his first intentional sounds expressive of thought or of feeling? Is it possible to distinguish in these first productions of his mind thought from feeling? This seems to be common ground.

Again, in speaking of affection and wisdom as entirely distinct and in contrast with each other, we are using the terms in a manner which needs some qualification; for, wisdom does not grow from facts and abstract truth without some desire and effort to be wise, by which the abstract truth is seized and applied and organized. And this desire to be wise is itself an affection which is the formative life of the wisdom. But it is affection operating in a purely intellectual way, giving rise to purely intellectual developments. The same affection which produces the intellectual growths also loves them when produced—produces them for the sake of enjoying them. Thus, it is not too much to say that one and the same affection operating in our faculty for becoming wise produces spiritual plants; and, exhibited in its proper nature as a living affection, produces also those enjoyments in the fruits of wisdom which are spiritual animals.

This is curiously illustrated by Swedenborg from his experience in the spiritual world. He says:

The origin of animals, which also is their soul, is a spiritual affection, such as belongs to man in his natural degree. . . . That plants also have the same origin is evident, especially from the plants in the heavens, as that they appear there according to the affections of the angels, and also represent those affections, insomuch that in them as in their types, the angels see and know their own affections, as to their nature and quality. . . . The only difference is that the affections appear formed into animals by the spiritual life in its middle principles, and into plants in its lowest, which are the earths there; for the spiritual life from which they exist, in middle principles, is alive, but not so in the lowest, in which the spiritual influence retains no more of life than is sufficient to produce the likeness of it. . . . That the plant soul is from the same origin as the soul of the beasts of the earth, of the birds of the heaven, and of the fishes of the sea, does not appear at first view, by reason that the one lives and the other does not; but still it is manifestly evident from the animals and plants seen in heaven, and also from those seen in hell. In the heavens there appear beautiful animals and beautiful plants; but in the hells noxious animals and also similar plants; and angels and spirits are known and their qualities distinguished by the appearance of the animals, and likewise of the plants; there is a full correspondence [of both] with their affections, and so much so that an animal can be changed into a correlative plant, and a plant into a correlative animal. (Apocalypse Explained #1212)

Plants represent affections in the effort to be wise, and to gather the elements of knowledge which in themselves are dead, and to arrange them in their relations to life and duty so that they may give enjoyment and support to the living affections; animals represent the affections themselves in their activity and enjoyment. Plants express the loveliness of wisdom and the goodness of the works of wisdom, produced by and living from affection; animals show forth the warm life of the affection, with its delight in wisdom and in the fruits of wisdom.


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