205. The idolatries of nations in ancient times originated in a knowledge of correspondences, since all things visible on earth correspond; thus not only trees, but all kind of beasts and birds, also fishes, and all other things. The ancients, who had a knowledge of correspondences, made for themselves images corresponding to heavenly things, and took delight in them because they signified such things as belong to heaven and the church; consequently they placed these images not only in their temples but also in their houses, not for worship but to call to mind the heavenly things they signified. So in Egypt and elsewhere there were images of calves, oxen, and serpents, also of boys, old men, and virgins; because calves and oxen signified the affections and powers of the natural man; serpents the prudence and the cunning of the sensual man; boys innocence and charity; old men wisdom, and virgins affections for truth; and so on. When the knowledge of correspondences had perished, their posterity, because these images and figures had been placed by the ancients in and near their temples, began to worship these as holy, and finally as deities. For the same reason the ancients worshiped in gardens and groves, according to the different kinds of trees in them; also on mountains and hills; for gardens and groves signified wisdom and intelligence, and each tree signified something pertaining thereto; thus the olive signified the good of love; the vine truth from that good; the cedar rational good and truth; a mountain the highest heaven; and a hill the heaven below it. That the knowledge of correspondences remained with many of the people of the East even till the advent of the Lord can be seen also in the coming of the wise men of the East to the Lord when He was born:
Therefore a star went before them, and they brought with them gifts, gold, frankincense, and myrrh (Matt. 2:1, 2, 9-11);
for "the star" that went before signified knowledge from heaven; "gold" signified celestial good; "frankincense" spiritual good; and "myrrh" natural good; from which three all worship proceeds. Nevertheless, with the Israelitish and Jewish nation there was no knowledge whatever of correspondences, although every thing pertaining to their worship, and all the statutes and judgments given them by Moses, and all things in the Word, were pure correspondences. This was because in heart the Jews were idolaters, and therefore such that they were not even willing to know that anything in their worship signified what is heavenly and spiritual; for they believed that all things of their worship were holy in themselves; and therefore if things heavenly and spiritual had been disclosed to them they would not only have rejected them but also have profaned them. For this reason heaven was so closed to them that they scarcely knew that there was any eternal life. The truth of this is plainly evident from the fact that they did not acknowledge the Lord, although the whole Sacred Scripture prophesied of Him and foretold His coming. They rejected Him solely for the reason that He taught them of a heavenly instead of an earthly kingdom; for they wanted a Messiah who would exalt them above all the nations in the whole world, and not a Messiah who would have regard to their eternal salvation.