HORSES >> Understanding, CHARIOT >> Doctrine, 
WHITE HORSE >> Understanding the Internal Sense of the Word
BLACK HORSE >> Understanding of The Word destroyed as to Truth,
RED HORSE >> Understanding destroyed with respect to Good

When the angels are discoursing of that which relates to the understanding, then in the world of spirits, beneath the angels, or in the corresponding societies, there appear  horses; and these of a size, form, color, attitude, and varied equipment, in accordance with the ideas which the angels have concerning the understanding. There is also a place at some depth a little to the right, which is called the abode of the intelligent, where horses continually appear, and this by reason of those present being in thought about what is of the understanding; and when angels whose discourse is about this subject flow into their thoughts, there is a representation of horses. This shows what was signified by the horses seen by the prophets, and also by the horses mentioned elsewhere in the Word; namely, the things of the understanding (n. 2760-2762). [AC 3217]

hor1sesThat a horse signifies the understanding, is from no other source than from the representatives in the spiritual world. In that world horses are frequently seen, and persons sitting upon horses, and also chariots; and there everyone knows that they signify intellectual and doctrinal things. I have often observed, when any were thinking from their understanding, that at such times they appeared as if riding on horses; their meditation was thus represented before others, they themselves not knowing it. There is also a place there, where many assemble who think and speak from the understanding concerning the truths of doctrine; and when others approach, they see, the whole plain full of chariots and horses; and novitiate spirits, who wonder whence this is, are instructed that it is an appearance resulting from their intellectual thought. That place is called the assembly of the intelligent and the wise. I have likewise seen bright horses and chariots of fire, when some were taken up into heaven, which was a sign that they were then instructed in the truths of heavenly doctrine, and became intelligent, and thus were taken up; on seeing which, it occurred to my mind, what is signified by “the chariot of fire and the horses of fire by which Elijah was taken up into heaven”; and what is signified by “the horses and chariots of fire” that were seen by the young man of Elisha, when his eyes were opened. [ WH3]

That such is the signification of “chariots” and “horses” was well known in the ancient churches; for those churches were representative churches, and with those who were in them, the science of correspondences and representations was the chief of all sciences. The signification of the horse, as being understanding, was derived by the wise round about, even to Greece, from those churches. Hence it was, when they would describe the sun, in which they placed their God of wisdom and intelligence, that they attributed to it a chariot and four horses of fire. And when they would describe the God of the sea, since by the sea were signified sciences derived from the understanding, that they also attributed horses to him. And when they would describe the origin of the sciences from the understanding, they represented it by a winged horse, which with its hoof broke open a fountain, at which sat nine virgins called the sciences. For from the ancient churches they received the knowledge that “the horse” signifies the understanding; “wings,” spiritual truth; “the hoof,” what is scientific from the understanding; and “a fountain,” doctrine from which sciences are derived. Nor is anything else signified by “the Trojan horse,” than an artificial contrivance devised by their understanding for the purpose of destroying the walls. Even at this day, when the understanding is described after the manner received from those ancients, it is usual to figure it by a flying horse or Pegasus; so, likewise, doctrine is described by a fountain, and the sciences by virgins; but scarcely anyone knows, that “the horse,” in the mystic sense, signifies the understanding; still less that those significatives were derived by the Gentiles from the ancient representative churches.    [ WH4]

And I saw, and behold, a black horse, signifies the understanding of the Word destroyed as to truth, thus as to doctrine with these. That "a horse" signifies the understanding of the Word, was shown above; the reason why "black" signifies what is not true, thus falsity, is because black is the opposite of white, and white is predicated of truth (n. 167, 231, 232); white also derives its origin from light, and black from darkness, thus from the absence of light, and light is truth. But in the spiritual world there exists blackness from a twofold origin, one from the absence of flaming light, which light is with those who are in the Lord's celestial kingdom, and the other from the absence of bright light, which is the light with those who are in the Lord's spiritual kingdom; the latter blackness has the same signification as "darkness," but the former as "thick darkness." There is a difference between these two kinds of blackness, the one is abominable, the other not so much so; it is the same with the falsities which they signify. They who appear in the abominable kind of blackness are called devils, such holding truth in abomination as horned owls do the light of the sun. But they appear in that kind of blackness, which is not abominable, who are called satans; these do not abominate truth, but are averse to it; the latter may therefore be compared to owls, and the former to horned owls. That "black," in the Word, is spoken of falsity, may appear from these passages:

Her Nazarites were whiter than snow, their form is darkened more than blackness (Lam. 4:7-8).
The day shall grow black over the prophets (Micah 3:6).
In the day when thou goest down into hell, I will make Lebanon black over thee (Ezek. 31:15).
The sun became black as sackcloth of hair (Rev. 6:12).
The sun, the moon, and the stars, became black (Jer. 4:27-28; Ezek. 32:7; Joel 2:10; 3:15; and elsewhere).

The reason why "the third animal" showed "a black horse," was, because it had a face like a man, by which is signified the Divine truth of the Word as to wisdom (n. 243), therefore this animal showed that there was no longer any truth of wisdom with those who were the third in order. [AR312]

And that they should kill one another, signifies intestine hatreds, infestations from the hells, and internal restlessness. These things are signified, when by "taking away peace" is signified taking away charity, spiritual security, and internal rest, and when by "the red horse" is signified the understanding of the Word destroyed as to good; for these things exist when there is no longer any good; and there is no longer any good when it is not known what good is. That intestine hatreds exist when there is no charity, likewise infestations by the hells when there is no spiritual security, and internal restlessness when there is no rest from evils and their lusts, is evident; but this is the case after death, if not in the world. That "to kill" has such a signification, is plain from the signification of "a sword," in what follows. [AR307]

That a "horse" signifies the faculty of understanding is from no other source than the representatives in the other life. Often there, in the world of spirits, horses are seen, and this with great variety, and those also that sit on them; and whenever they are seen they signify the faculty of understanding. There are such representatives continually with spirits. It is from the representation of the horse, as being the understanding, that when horses are mentioned in the Word, the spirits and angels with man at once know that the understanding is what is treated of. It is also from this that when spirits from a certain distant world on being imbued with intelligence and wisdom are taken up from the world of spirits into heaven, there appear to them horses shining as with fire; which also I have seen when they were taken up.

ch75[2] From this I could see what is signified by the chariot of fire and horses of fire seen by Elisha when Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven; as also what is signified by the exclamation of Elisha then: "My Father, my Father, the chariot of Israel and the horsemen thereof" (2 Kings 2:11, 12); and by Joash king of Israel saying the same to Elisha when he was dying: "My Father, my Father, the chariot of Israel and the horsemen thereof" (2 Kings 13:14). That by Elijah and Elisha was represented the Lord as to the Word, will of the Lord's Divine mercy be told elsewhere; the doctrine of love and charity from the Word being meant by the "chariot of fire," and the doctrine of faith therefrom by the "horses of fire." The doctrine of faith is the same as the understanding of the Word as to its interiors, or as to its internal sense.

[3] That chariots and horses are seen in the heavens with spirits and angels, is evident from the fact of their being seen by the prophets, as by Zechariah (chapter 1:8-10; 6:3-7), and by others, and also by Elisha's servant, as thus described in the book of Kings:

Jehovah opened the eyes of Elisha's boy, and he saw; and behold the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha (2 Kings 6:17).

Moreover, where the abode of the intelligent and wise is, in the world of spirits, chariots and horses appear continually; for the reason as said that by chariots and horses are represented the things of wisdom and of intelligence. Resuscitated persons after death, who are entering into the other life, see represented to them a young man sitting upon a horse, and then alighting from the horse; and by this is signified that they are to be instructed in the knowledge of good and truth before they can come into heaven (see volume 1, n. 187-188).

[4] That chariots and horses signified these things, was well known in the Ancient Church, as also is evident from the book of Job, which is a book of that Church, where are these words:

God hath made her to forget wisdom, and hath not imparted to her intelligence; what time she lifteth up herself on high she scorneth the horse and his rider (Job 39:17-19).

From the Ancient Church the signification of the horse, as being the faculty of understanding, was extended to the wise round about, even into Greece. From this it came to pass that when they described the sun (by which was signified love, n. 2441, 2495), they placed in it the god of their wisdom and intelligence, and gave him a chariot and four horses of fire; and that when they described the god of the sea, because by the sea were signified knowledges in general (n. 28, 2120), they gave horses also to him; and that when they described the rise of knowledges from the understanding, they represented a flying horse which with his hoof broke open a fountain, where dwelt the virgins that were the sciences; and by the Trojan horse nothing else was signified than a contrivance of their understanding for destroying city walls.

Even at this day the intellect is often described, according to the custom received from those ancient people, under the figure of a flying horse, or Pegasus; and learning is described as a fountain; but scarcely anyone knows that a horse, in the mystic sense, signifies the understanding, and a fountain truth; still less that these significatives were handed down to the Gentiles from the Ancient Church. [AC 2762]

And he made him ride in the second chariot. That this signifies a significative that from Him comes all the doctrine of good and truth, is evident from the signification of a "chariot," as being the doctrine of good and truth (of which presently); hence his "making him ride in a chariot" is a significative that this doctrine comes therefrom. These words refer to what was previously said by Pharaoh: "Thou shalt be over my house, and upon thy mouth shall all my people kiss; only in the throne will I be greater than thou" (verse 40). That the doctrine of good and truth coming from Him is signified, is because by Joseph is represented the Lord as to the Divine spiritual (see n. 3971, 4669), thus as to the Divine truth from the Lord's Divine Human (n. 4723, 4727), from which Divine truth is the celestial of the spiritual. That everything of the doctrine of good and truth is from this source, is because the Lord is doctrine itself, for everything of doctrine proceeds from Him, and everything of doctrine treats of Him; for all doctrine treats of the good of love and of the truth of faith. These are from the Lord, and therefore the Lord is not only in them, but also is both. From this it is evident that the doctrine that treats of good and truth, treats of the Lord only; and that it proceeds from His Divine Human.

[2] From the Divine Itself nothing of doctrine can possibly proceed except through the Divine Human, that is, through the Word, which in the supreme sense is the Divine truth from the Lord's Divine Human. Not even the angels in the inmost heaven can apprehend that which proceeds immediately from the Divine Itself, because it is infinite, and therefore transcends all apprehension, even that of angels. But that which proceeds from the Lord's Divine Human they can apprehend, because it treats of God as a Divine Man, concerning whom some idea can be formed from the Human; and any idea whatever formed about the Human is accepted, provided it flows from the good of innocence, and is in the good of charity. This is what is meant by the Lord's words in John:

No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He hath set Him forth (John 1:18).

In the same:

Ye have neither heard the Father's voice at any time, nor seen His shape (John 5:37).

And in Matthew:

No one knoweth the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son willeth to reveal Him (Matt. 11:27).

 [3] "Chariots" are very frequently mentioned in the Word, but hardly anyone knows that they signify doctrinal things of good and truth, and also the memory-knowledges belonging to doctrinal things. The reason is that when a "chariot" is mentioned nothing spiritual enters the idea, but only the natural historical, and it is the same with the horses in front of the chariot; and yet by "horses" in the Word are signified things of the understanding (see n. 2760-2762, 3217), and therefore by a "chariot" are signified doctrinal things and the memory-knowledges belonging thereto.

[4] That "chariots" denote the doctrinal things of the church, and also memory-knowledges, has been evident to me from the chariots so often seen in the other life. There is also a place to the right near the lower earth where chariots and horses appear, with stalls set in order, and where are seen walking and conversing men who in the world have been learned, and have regarded the life as the end of learning. Such things appear to them from the angels in the higher heavens; for when these are discoursing about things of the understanding, of doctrine, and of knowledge, such objects appear to the spirits there.

[5] That such things are signified by "chariots" and "horses" is very obvious from the fact that Elijah appeared to be carried into heaven by a chariot of fire and horses of fire, and that he and also Elisha were called "the chariot of Israel and the horsemen thereof," as we read in the second book of Kings:
Behold a chariot of fire and horses of fire came between them; and Elijah went up in a whirlwind into heaven. And Elisha saw it, and he cried, My father, my father, the chariot of Israel and the horsemen thereof (2 Kings 2:11, 12); and regarding Elisha in the same book:

When Elisha was fallen sick of his sickness whereof he died, and Joash the king of Israel came down unto him, and wept before his faces, and said, My father, my father, the chariot of Israel and the horsemen thereof (2 Kings 13:14); the reason why they were so called is that by both Elijah and Elisha was represented the Lord as to the Word (see preface to chapter 18 of Genesis, and n. 2762, 5247e). The Word itself is chiefly the doctrine of good and truth, for from it is everything of doctrine. It was for the same reason that to the boy whose eyes Jehovah opened, the mountain appeared "full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha" (2 Kings 6:17).

[6] That a "chariot" signifies what is doctrinal, and a "horse" what is intellectual, is evident also from other passages in the Word, as in Ezekiel:
Ye shall be sated upon My table with horse and chariot, with mighty man and every man of war. So will I set My glory among the nations (Ezek. 39:20; Rev. 19:18);where the coming of the Lord is treated of. That by "horse and chariot" here are not signified horse and chariot, is plain to everyone; for they were not to be sated upon the Lord's table with these, but with such things as are signified by "horse and chariot," which are the things of the understanding and of the doctrine of good and truth.

[7] Similar things are signified by "horses" and "chariots," in the following passages. In David:

The chariots of God are two myriads, thousands of peaceful ones; the Lord is in them; Sinai is in the sanctuary (Ps. 68:17).


Jehovah covereth Himself with light as with a garment, He stretcheth out the heavens like a curtain, He layeth the beams of His chambers in the waters, He maketh the clouds His chariots, He walketh upon the wings of the wind (Ps. 104:2-3).

In Isaiah:

The prophecy of the wilderness of the sea. Thus hath the Lord said unto me, Set a watchman to watch, he will declare; so he saw a chariot, a pair of horsemen, a chariot of an ass, a chariot of a camel, and he hearkened a hearkening, a great hearkening; for a lion cried upon the watchtower, Lord, I stand continually in the daytime, and upon my ward I am set all the nights; then in very deed lo a chariot of a man, a pair of horsemen; and he said, Babylon is fallen, is fallen (Isa. 21:1, 6-9).

[8] In the same:

Then will they bring all your brethren in all nations an offering to Jehovah, upon horses, and upon chariot, and upon litters, and upon mules, and upon couriers, to the mountain of My holiness, Jerusalem (Isa. 66:20).


Behold Jehovah will come in fire, and His chariots shall be like the whirlwind (Isa. 66:15).

In Habakkuk:

Was Jehovah enraged with the rivers? Was Thine anger against the rivers? Was Thy wrath against the sea, that Thou didst ride upon Thy horses? Thy chariots are salvation (Hab. 3:8).

In Zechariah:

I lifted up mine eyes and saw, and behold four chariots coming out from between two mountains; and the mountains were mountains of brass. In the first chariot were red horses; in the second chariot, black horses; in the third chariot, white horses; and in the fourth chariot, grizzled horses (Zech. 6:1-3).

[9] Also in Jeremiah:

There shall enter in by the gates of this city kings and princes sitting upon the throne of David, riding in the chariot and on horses, they and their princes, the man of Judah, and the inhabitants of Jerusalem; and this city shall be inhabited forever (Jer. 17:25; 22:4).

The "city that shall be inhabited forever" is not Jerusalem, but the Lord's church signified by "Jerusalem" (n. 402, 2117, 3654); the "kings who shall enter in by the gates of that city" are not kings, but the truths of the church (n. 1672, 1728, 2015, 2069, 3009, 3670, 4575, 4581, 4966, 5044, 5068); thus "princes" are not princes, but the primary things of truth (n. 1482, 2089, 5044); "they who sit upon the throne of David" are Divine truths that proceed from the Lord (n. 5313); "they who ride in chariot and on horses" are the derivative things of understanding and of doctrine. "Chariots" are frequently mentioned also in the histories of the Word; and because these histories are all representative, and the expressions signify things such as are in the Lord's kingdom and in the church, "chariots" therein also have a similar signification.

[10] As most of the expressions in the Word have also an opposite sense, so have "chariots," and in this sense they signify doctrinal things of evil and falsity, and also the memory-knowledges that confirm them, as in these passages:

Woe unto them that go down into Egypt for help, and depend upon horse, and trust upon chariot, because they are many, and upon horse men because they are very strong; but they look not unto the holy one of Israel (Isa. 31:1).

By the hand of thy servants hast thou blasphemed the Lord, and hast said, By the multitude of my chariot am I come to the height of the mountains, the sides of Lebanon; where I will cut off the loftiness of its cedars, the choice of its fir trees (Isa. 37:24);

a prophetic reply to the haughty words of Rabshakeh, the king of Assyria's general. In Jeremiah:

Behold waters coming up from the north that shall become an overflowing stream and shall overflow the land and the fullness thereof, the city and them that dwell therein, and all the inhabitant of the land shall howl at the voice of the stamping of the hoofs of his strong horses, at the tumult of his chariot, at the rumbling of his wheels (Jer. 47:2-3).

[11] In Ezekiel:

By reason of the abundance of his horses their dust shall cover thee; thy walls shall shake by reason of the voice of the horseman and of the wheel and of the chariot, when he shall come into thy gates, beside the entrances of a city wherein is made a breach; by the hoofs of his horses shall he tread down all thy streets (Ezek. 26:10-11).

In Haggai:

I will overthrow the throne of kingdoms, and I will destroy the strength of the kingdoms of the nations; I will also overthrow the chariot and those that ride in it, and the horses and their riders shall come down (Hag. 2:22).

In Zechariah:

I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim, and the horse from Jerusalem, I will cut off the battle bow; and He shall speak peace unto the nations (Zech. 9:10).
In Jeremiah:

Egypt riseth up like a stream, and his waters toss themselves like the streams; for he said, I will go up, I will cover the earth, I will destroy the city and the inhabitants therein. Go up, ye horses; rage, ye chariots (Jer. 46:8-9).

[12] By the "horses and chariots" with which the Egyptians pursued the sons of Israel, and with which Pharaoh entered the sea Suph, where the wheels of the chariots were taken off, and by other things said of the horses and chariots, which make the larger part of that description (Exod. 14:6-7, 9, 17, 23, 25-26; 15:4, 19), are signified the things of understanding, of doctrine, and of false knowledge, together with the reasonings founded on them, that pervert and extinguish the truths of the church. The destruction and death of such things is there described. [AC 5321]

Author: EMANUEL SWEDENBORG  (1688-1772)

Picture credits: A plate engraved for the Macklin Bible after a specially-commissioned painting by Philippe Jacques De Loutherbourg. Photograph from the Bowyer Bible, Bolton, England. Bowyer Bible 16.2247. The Ascent of Elijah. Photo by Harry Kossuth Author Phillip Medhurst

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