Who Was Emanuel Swedenborg?
Emanuel Swedenborg (1688 – 1772) was a Swedish scientist, philosopher, theologian, revelator, and Christian mystic. He is best known for his book on the afterlife, Heaven and Hell (1758). Swedenborg had a prolific career as an inventor and scientist. In 1741, at the age of 53, he entered into a spiritual phase in which he began to experience dreams and visions, beginning on Easter weekend of April 6, 1744. This culminated in a “spiritual awakening,” in which he received revelation that he was appointed by the Lord to write a heavenly New Church Doctrine to reform Christianity. According to the New Church Doctrine the Lord had opened Swedenborg’s spiritual eyes, so that from then on he could freely visit heaven and hell, and talk with angels, demons and other spirits. Swedenborg’s spiritual experiences lasted for 29 years until his death at age 84. Along with his remarkable spiritual and scientific accomplishments, Swedenborg is considered to be one of the most intelligent human beings to ever live.
“The most remarkable step in the religious history of recent ages is that made by the genius of Swedenborg.”
— Ralph Waldo Emerson
“I admire Swedenborg as a great scientist and a great mystic at the same time. His life and work have always been of great interest to me.”
— Carl Jung, Psychologist
“For you Westerners, it is Swedenborg who is your Buddha, it is he who should be read and followed!”
— D. T. Suzuki, Zen Buddhist Scholar
“The correlations between what Swedenborg writes of some of his spiritual experiences and what those who have come back from close calls with death report is amazing.”
— Raymond Moody, author of Life After Life
“People who have had near-death experiences peek through the door of the after-life, but Swedenborg explored the whole house.”
— Kenneth Ring, NDE Researcher and co-founder of International Association for Near Death Studies, Inc. (IANDS)
“Let me explain why Swedenborg merits scrutiny. It is a fact that the greatest poets and prose writers have borrowed liberally from him. The list is long: first Blake, as his direct spiritual descendant; then Goethe, a fervent reader of Swedenborg (as was Kant followed by Edgar Allan Poe, Baudelaire, Balzac, Mickiewicz, Slowacki, Emerson, Dostoevsky….)”
— Czeslaw Milosz, 1980 Nobel Prize, Literature
“Swedenborg’s message has meant so much to me! It has given color and reality and unity to my thought of the life to come; it has exalted my ideas of love, truth, and usefulness; it has been my strongest incitement to overcome limitations.”
— Helen Keller
Swedenborg: A Genius Who Explored the Afterlife
White Crow Books
May 2, 2011
Born on January 29, 1688, Swedenborg was a Swedish scientist, mathematician, inventor, statesman, author, and mystic. He is credited with making significant discoveries in astronomy, anatomy, magnetism, mechanics, chemistry, and geology. He invented a one-person submarine and a glider, the latter after calculating the weight-to-size ratio required for a “machine to fly in the air.” He designed an improved ear-trumpet, an airtight stove, a machine gun, a mercurial air pump, various mining machineries, and contributed plans for Europe’s largest drydock in southern Sweden. Fluent in six languages and conversant in nine, including Hebrew, Arabic, Greek, and Latin, he was also an accomplished musician and horticulturist. From about 1720 to 1745, he served on the national board that oversaw Sweden’s mining industry and published studies on metallurgy. And, he was an active member of Sweden’s House of Nobles.
At the age of 55, Swedenborg had a series of clairvoyant visions, which, he said, gave him the ability to experience the spiritual dimensions. In one of his visions, he saw a temple with the words Nunc Licet over the door, which he interpreted to mean “Now it is permitted to enter with understanding into the mysteries of faith.” A year or so after these initial visions, Swedenborg abandoned all other pursuits and devoted his time to spiritual meditation and mediumistic trances during which he explored the spirit world. He claimed to have conversed with biblical prophets, apostles, Aristotle, Socrates, and Caesar, as well as with numerous deceased friends and acquaintances and spirits from other planets.
“I must employ my remaining time in writing on higher subjects, and not on worldly things, which are far below…,” he wrote in a personal diary. “May God be so gracious as to enlighten me respecting my duty.”
Raised in the Lutheran Church, Swedenborg became interested in spiritual matters at an early age. In a letter to Dr. Barriel A. Beyer, written when he was 81, Swedenborg said that he had been engaged in thought upon God, salvation, and the spiritual diseases of men since his fourth year of life. “…several times I revealed things at which my father and mother wondered, saying that angels must be speaking through me. From my sixth to my twelfth year I used to delight in conversing with clergymen about faith, saying that the life of faith is love, and that love which imparts life is love the neighbor…”
Philosopher Immanuel Kant told the story of a fire in Stockholm which Swedenborg saw from 300 miles away in Gőteborg. While dining with others at the home of Mr. William Castel in Gőteborg, Swedenborg reported that a dangerous fire had just broken out in Stockholm and that it was spreading fast. He named a friend whose house had just burned and said that his own house was in danger. Two hours later, he said that the fire had been extinguished and extended to just two doors from his own house. All of the facts described by Swedenborg were later confirmed.
Another story attesting to Swedenborg’s clairvoyance involved Louis de Marteville, the Netherlands’ ambassador to Sweden. Several months after Marteville’s death in 1760, his widow could not locate a receipt verifying payment of some valuable silver for which payment was being demanded by a goldsmith. Having heard of Swedenborg’s clairvoyant abilities, the widow asked him if he could communicate with her deceased husband and determine the whereabouts of the receipt. Three days later, Swedenborg called upon Madame Marteville, who had company at her house, and told her that he had spoken with her husband and that the receipt was in a bureau in the room upstairs. Madame Marteville responded by saying she had already searched that bureau. Swedenborg then told her of a secret compartment in the bureau as described by her late husband. Accompanied by her guests, Madame Marteville went to the bureau, found the secret compartment, of which she had been unaware, and there, too, found the receipt.
Still another story involving Swedenborg’s clairvoyance, or clairaudience in this case, was reported by the Queen Dowager of Sweden, who decided to test Swedenborg by asking him what the last words of her deceased brother, the Prince Royal of Prussia, were to her. Some days later, Swedenborg returned, described the circumstances of the visit with her brother and then told her the exact words uttered by her brother.
In fact, Kant verified all three stories by speaking personally with witnesses to them. Some years later, in 1770, Swedenborg was reportedly being honored at a dinner given by the manufacturer Bolander of Gothenburg. During the dinner, Swedenborg turned to Mr. Bolander and told him that he should go to his cloth mills right away. Bolander did so and upon arriving there found that a large piece of cloth had fallen near the furnace and was just beginning to burn. He concluded that if he had arrived just minutes later that his property would have been in ashes.
During the last 27 years of his life, Swedenborg produced 30 books, all in Latin, reporting on his explorations of the spirit world, including his conversations with many souls on the other side of the veil. Early in his first great work, Arcana Caelestia, he addressed the issue of life after death by writing: “That I might know that man lives after death, it has been granted me to speak and converse with several persons with whom I had been acquainted during their life in the body, and this not merely for a day or a week, but for months, and in some instances for nearly a year, as I had been used to do here on earth. There were greatly surprised that they themselves, during their life in the body, had lived, and that many others still live, in such a state of unbelief concerning a future life, when nevertheless there intervenes but the space of a few days between the decease of the body and their entrance into another world – for death is a continuation of life.”
Of the Adam and Eve story, Swedenborg reported that everything in the story is symbolic, Adam representing the intellectual side of man and Eve the emotional. The great Flood, he said, was not a physical deluge, but a flood of monstrous evils that overwhelmed the people in ancient times. Noah and his family represented those who had not succumbed to the immoralities of the time. Many other stories in the Old Testament, at least before Abraham, were similarly allegorical, Swedenborg was informed during his trances.
Perhaps the most significant discovery by Swedenborg was the “world of spirits,” an intermediate region between the heaven and hell of Protestant theology, but unlike the purgatory of Catholicism, which was much like hell. The conditions of the spirit world that Swedenborg explored were very similar to earth, so similar that many newly arrived souls had to be told that they were no longer on the earth plane. It was in this world of spirits that newly arrived souls found themselves.
“When the soul thus separates himself, he is received by good spirits, who likewise do him all kind offices whilst he is in consort with them,” he wrote. “If, however, his life in the world was such that he cannot remain associated with the good, he seeks to be disunited from them also, and this separation is repeated again and again, until he associates himself with those whose state entirely agrees with that of his former life in the world, among whom he finds, as it were, his own life. They then, wonderful to relate, live together a life of similar quality to that which had constituted their ruling delight when in the body…”
Swedenborg, whose belief in the divinity of Christ remained steadfast, dismissed the atonement doctrine, saying there was no substitution of the innocent for the guilty. Man’s works, not his faith, governed his initial place in the spirit world. “The churchman today believes that anyone can be received into heaven and be eternally happy simply through [the Lord’s] mercy, no matter what his life has been like,” he wrote. “He thinks it is a simply a matter of admission. But he is wrong. No one is brought to heaven and admitted without spiritual life…”
Although modern Spiritualism did not begin to unfold until 1848, Swedenborg is sometimes referred to as the first Spiritualist. However, unlike many Spiritualists, Swedenborg did not think it wise for the average person to commune with spirits because of the risks involved in being negatively influenced by low-level spirits.
“The only light that has ever been cast on the other life is in Swedenborg’s philosophy,” wrote Elizabeth Barrett Browning.
Apparently, Swedenborg continued his work after his earthly death at age 84. William Stainton Moses, one of the best known mediums of the 19th Century, was informed by spirit communicators that Swedenborg and Benjamin Franklin, working together on the other side, figured out how to communicate with the earth realm by the taps, raps, and table tiltings that kicked off the Spiritualism epidemic in 1848. Swedenborg is said to have appeared to Andrew Jackson Davis, known as the “Poughkeepsie Seer,” and contributed to his enlightenment, and to have communicated with French researcher Allan Kardec. He further collaborated with Francis Bacon in communicating much about the afterlife through the mediumship of Dr. George T. Dexter during the early 1850s.
Swedenborg’s writings are said to have influenced Goethe, Balzac, Coleridge, Carlyle, Lincoln, Tennyson, Emerson, Henry James, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Thoreau, both Brownings, Elizabeth Stuart Phelps, George Macdonald, and Helen Keller to name just some…
Quotes By & About Swedenborg
“[Swedenborg] asserted that from his mid-fifties through the rest of his life, he lived and functioned in both the material and spiritual world at once. He could maintain an awareness of another world with all his senses, carrying on conversations with its inhabitants, beholding its nature and structure, while nevertheless pursuing a wide range of activities in this world, from publishing to gardening, from socializing to being active in politics.”
Swedenborg Minute Videos
The Swedenborg Minute is a series of one-minute videos designed to introduce new people to the core concepts found in the work of Emanuel Swedenborg. Click here to watch all the videos. The next three videos are taken from this series.
Emanuel Swedenborg’s Books
Download free ebooks, audio books, and pdfs of Swedenborg’s books here and here:
• Free online copies of Swedenborg’s books
• The Swedenborg Digital Library
• The Heavenly Doctrines (Swedenborg’s writings and search engine)
• Tenets of Swedenborgianism
• What Emanuel Swedenborg Believed & Taught
Our Revival from the Dead and Entry into Eternal Life
An excerpt from Heaven and Hell by Emanuel Swedenborg, sections #445–52
When someone’s body can no longer perform its functions in the natural world in response to the thoughts and affections of its spirit (which it derives from the spiritual world), then we say that the individual has died. This happens when the lungs’ breathing and the heart’s systolic motion have ceased. The person, though, has not died at all. We are only separated from the physical nature that was useful to us in the world. The essential person is actually still alive. I say that the essential person is still alive because we are not people because of our bodies but because of our spirits. After all, it is the spirit within us that thinks, and thought and affection together make us the people we are.
We can see, then, that when we die we simply move from one world into another. This is why in the inner meaning of the Word, “death” means resurrection and a continuation of life.
The deepest communication of our spirit is with our breathing and our heartbeat; thought connects with our breathing, and affection, an attribute of love, with our heart. Consequently, when these two motions in the body cease, there is an immediate separation. It is these two motions, the respiratory motion of the lungs and the systolic motion of the heart, that are essential ties. Once they are severed, the spirit is left to itself; and the body, being now without the life of its spirit, cools and decays.
The reason the deepest communication of our spirit is with our breathing and our heart is that all our vital processes depend on these, not only in a general way, but in every specific.
After this separation, our spirit stays in the body briefly, but not after the complete stoppage of the heart, which varies depending on the cause of death. In some cases the motion of the heart continues for quite a while, and in others it does not. The moment it does stop, we are awakened, but this is done by the Lord alone. “Being awakened” means having our spirit led out of our body and into the spiritual world, which is commonly called “resurrection.”
The reason our spirit is not separated from our body until the motion of the heart has stopped is that the heart answers to affection, an attribute of love, which is our essential life, since all of us derive our vital warmth from love. Consequently, as long as this union lasts there is a responsiveness, and therefore the life of the spirit is [still] in the body.
I have not only been told how the awakening happens, I have been shown by firsthand experience. The actual experience happened to me so that I could have a full knowledge of how it occurs. I was brought into a state in which my physical senses were inoperative—very much, then, like the state of people who are dying. However, my deeper life and thought remained intact so that I could perceive and retain what was happening to me and what does happen to people who are being awakened from death. I noticed that my physical breathing was almost suspended, with a deeper breathing, a breathing of the spirit, continuing along with a very slight and silent physical one.
At first then a connection was established between my heartbeat and the heavenly kingdom, because that kingdom corresponds to the human heart. I also saw angels from that kingdom, some at a distance, but two sitting close to my head. The effect was to take away all my own affection but to leave me in possession of thought and perception. I remained in this state for several hours.
Then the spirits who were around me gradually drew away, thinking that I was dead. I sensed a sweet odor like that of an embalmed body, for when heavenly angels are present anything having to do with a corpse smells sweet. When spirits sense this, they cannot come near. This is also how evil spirits are kept away from our spirit when we are being admitted into eternal life.
The angels who were sitting beside my head were silent, simply sharing their thoughts with mine (when these are accepted [by the deceased], the angels know that the person’s spirit is ready to be led out of the body). They accomplished this sharing of thoughts by looking into my face. This is actually how thoughts are shared in heaven.
Since I had been left in possession of thought and perception so that I could learn and remember how awakening happens, I noticed that at first the angels were checking to see whether my thoughts were like those of dying individuals, who are normally thinking about eternal life. They wanted to keep my mind in these thoughts. I was later told that as the body is breathing its last, our spirit is kept in its final thought until eventually it comes back to the thoughts that flowed from our basic or ruling affection in the world.
Especially, I was enabled to perceive and even to feel that there was a pull, a kind of drawing out of the deeper levels of my mind and therefore of my spirit from my body; and I was told that this was being done by the Lord and is what brings about our resurrection.
When heavenly angels are with people who have been awakened they do not leave them, because they love everyone. But some spirits are simply unable to be in the company of heavenly angels very long, and want them to leave. When this happens, angels from the Lord’s spiritual kingdom arrive, through whom we are granted the use of light, since before this we could not see anything but could only think.
I was also shown how this is done. It seemed as though the angels rolled back a covering from my left eye toward the center of my nose so that my eye was opened and able to see. To the spirit, it seems as though this were actually happening, but it is only apparently so. As this covering seemed to be rolled back, I could see a kind of clear but dim light like the light we see through our eyelids when we are first waking up. It seemed to me as though this clear, dim light had a heavenly color to it, but I was later told that this varies. After that, it felt as though something were being rolled gently off my face, and once this was done I had access to spiritual thought. This rolling something off the face is an appearance, for it represents the fact that we are moving from natural thinking to spiritual thinking. Angels take the greatest care to shield the awakening person from any concept that does not taste of love. Then they tell the individual that he or she is a spirit.
After the spiritual angels have given us the use of light, they do everything for us as newly arrived spirits that we could ever wish in that state. They tell us—at least to the extent that we can grasp it—about the realities of the other life. However, if our nature is such that we do not want to be taught, then once we are awakened we want to get out of the company of angels. Still, the angels do not leave us, but we do leave them. Angels really do love everyone. They want nothing more than to help people, to teach them, to lead them into heaven. This is their highest joy.
When spirits leave the company of angels, they are welcomed by the good spirits who are accompanying them and who also do all they can for them. However, if they had led the kind of life in the world that makes it impossible for them to be in the company of good people, then they want to get away from these as well. This happens as long and as many times as necessary, until they find the company of people their earthly life has fitted them for. Here they find their life; and remarkable as it may sound, they then lead the same kind of life they had led in the world.
This first stage of our life after death does not last more than a few days, though. In the following pages I will be describing how we are then brought from one state into another until finally we arrive either in heaven or in hell. This too is something I have been allowed to learn from a great deal of experience.
I have talked with some people on the third day after their death, when the events described in §§449 and 450 have been completed. I talked with three whom I had known in the world and told them that their funeral services were now being planned so that their bodies could be buried. When they heard me say it was so that they could be buried, they were struck with a kind of bewilderment. They said that they were alive, and that people were burying what had been useful to them in the world. Later on, they were utterly amazed at the fact that while they had been living in their bodies they had not believed in this kind of life after death, and particularly that this was the case for almost everyone in the church.
Some people during their earthly lives have not believed in any life of the soul after the life of the body. When they discover that they are alive, they are profoundly embarrassed. However, people who have convinced themselves of this join up with others of like mind and move away from people who had lived in faith. Most of them link up with some hellish community because such people reject the Divine and have no use for the truths of the church. In fact, to the extent that we convince ourselves in our opposition to the ideal of the eternal life of the soul, we also convince ourselves in opposition to the realities of heaven and the church.
Want To Know The Other Side Of The NDE Judgment Experience – Swedenborg Has Examples
By Brian Foster
Swedenborg was originally a scientist in the 18th century. He made a name for himself by publishing several scientific books on Metallurgy, plus a book on iron and one about copper and brass. He also wrote a book on Anatomy. The first volume addresses the heart and blood; the second, the brain, nervous system, and the soul. In 1745, he had a revelation, which caused him to become a medium and visit the spirit world. His mission was to write the truth about the world where we go, once our physical bodies are removed.
Two years after his revelation, in 1747, he asked to be released from his duties at the Mining Board of Sweden, so he could work full-time revealing the spirit world to humanity. The first volume he wrote, Secrets of Heaven, was published in London in 1749; the eighth and final volume was published in 1756.
His initial sales of the books were disappointing, but starting in 1759, a series of events occurred, which piqued the interest of society and pushed his name and books to the forefront. At a dinner party in Goteborg, Sweden, he suddenly became agitated and began describing a fire in Stockholm — more than 250 miles away — that was threatening his home. Two hours later, he reported that the fire had been extinguished three doors down from his house. Two days later all of the details were confirmed. Here was proof that this learned man hadn’t suddenly gone mad or had become a religious fanatic, prone to making up the word of God.
Then a second incident happened in 1760. A widow of the recently deceased French ambassador to Sweden was given an invoice for an expensive silver set her late husband bought. She knew it had been paid for, but she couldn’t find the receipt. She asked Swedenborg for help. Subsequently, she dreamed that her husband came to her and told her the exact location of the paid receipt.
The third incident was even more dramatic and most probably caused many people to write each other, telling about what transpired and started a general swell of interest in his books. In 1761, Queen Louis Ulrika of Sweden, asked Swedenborg to relay a question to her deceased brother, Prince Augustus Wilhelm of Prussia. Three weeks later, he returned to court and whispered in her ear the answer. People heard her say that only her brother would have known what Swedenborg just told her. The combination of these miraculous events promoted Swedenborg to the European world stage and prompted many learned and powerful people to read his books.
“In the spiritual world, all union takes place by means of attentiveness. When anyone there is thinking about someone else because of a desire to talk with her or him, that other person is immediately present. They see each other face to face. The same thing happens when someone is thinking about someone else because of a loving affection, but in this case the result is a union, while in the former case it is only presence. This phenomenon is unique to the spiritual world. The reason is that everyone there is spiritual. It is different in the physical world, where all of us are material. In this physical world, the same thing is happening in the feelings and thoughts of our spirits, but since there is space in this world, while in the spiritual world there only seems to be space, the things that happen in the thoughts of our spirits come out in actions there.” — Divine Providence 29
“Angels can recognize the nature of our unique essence on the basis of nothing more than a brief conversation with us. From hearing the tone of our voice angels sense what we love; and from hearing what we say, angels sense our level of understanding.” — True Christianity 778
“Because individual thoughts contain so much, just a single word produced by thought reveals to angels what a spirit or a person is like. This too was confirmed by experience. When the mere word truth was spoken (which was done by a large number of spirits one after another), I could instantly hear whether the word was hard, rough, soft, childlike, treasured, innocent, full, empty, unsound, insincere, closed, or open, and to what extent. In short, the actual quality of the underlying thought was audible. And this was only at a general level. What about at the level of detail that angels perceive?” — Secrets of Heaven 6623
“When we are being faced with our deeds after death, angels who have been given the task of examining look searchingly into the face and continue their examination through the whole body, beginning with the fingers first of one hand and then of the other and continuing through the whole. When I wondered why this was so, it was explained to me. The reason is that just as the details of our thought and intention are inscribed on our brains because that is where their beginnings are, so they are inscribed on the whole body as well, since all the elements of our thought and intention move out into the body from their beginnings and take definition there in their outmost forms…” — Heaven and Hell 463
“Truth is the form of good, that is to say, when good is formed so as to be perceived intellectually.” — Secrets of Heaven 3409
“We may gather how great angels’ wisdom is from the fact that in heaven there is a communication that involves everyone. The intelligence and wisdom of one individual is shared with another: heaven is where everyone shares everything of value. This is because the very nature of heavenly love is to want what is one’s own to belong to another; so no one in heaven regards his or her good as authentically good unless it is someone else’s as well. This is also the basis of heaven’s happiness. Angels are led into it by the Lord, whose divine love has this same quality. I have also been granted knowledge, by experience, of this kind of communication in the heavens. Once some simple people were taken up into heaven, and after they had arrived, they arrived also at an angelic wisdom. They understood things they could not grasp before and said things they could not express in their former state.” — Heaven and Hell 268
Documentary: Splendors Of The Spirit – Swedenborg’s Quest For Insight
Emmy Award-winning producer Penny Price portrays the fascinating life and thought of the Swedish Enlightenment scientist and spiritual visionary Emanuel Swedenborg, whom Zen scholar D.T. Suzuki revered as the “great king of the mystical realm.” Interweaving breathtaking nature photography, expert interviews, computer animation, and rare, archival stills with dramatic re-enactment featuring acclaimed actor Lillian Gish and contemporary documentary footage, this program conveys the essential and ever-relevant insights brought back by Swedenborg from his unprecedented explorations of the spiritual worlds. Swedenborg documented the death experience as the soul departs its expired material form, awakens into the afterlife realm, and is stripped of every accretion of personality to gravitate to the level of the upper or nether regions that corresponds perfectly to its innermost nature.
WHY YOU SHOULD KNOW EMANUEL SWEDENBORG
By Gary Lachman
April 19, 2012
The 18th century Swedish scientist, traveller, statesman, and religious philosopher Emanuel Swedenborg is one of the most fascinating and least understood figures in western history. If people know of Swedenborg at all, it is usually because of his connection with the poet William Blake, who was a follower of Swedenborg but later took argument with him. Or they may know of Swedenborg because of his remarkable psychic powers. Not only did Swedenborg accurately predict the time and day of his death — March 29, 1772 — he also somehow knew of a fire that had broken out in Stockholm when he was at a dinner party in another town, some three hundred miles away. Swedenborg amazed the dinner guests as he spoke of the spread and eventual halt of the blaze, and when the news of it reached them a few days later, they discovered that he was correct. Yet Blake was only one of the many thinkers, artists, and writers influenced by Swedenborg. A full list would include, among others: Ralph Waldo Emerson, Charles Baudelaire, August Strindberg, Honoré Balzac, Arnold Schoenberg and Jorge Luis Borges. And his psychic abilities extended far beyond clairvoyance, into interplanetary travel and visits to heaven and hell, where he conversed with angels and devils and other strange beings.
Swedenborg was born in Stockholm in 1688 into a religious family but early on showed a more scientific turn of mind. He began his career as an engineer, and some of his accomplishments include designing the locks on the Trollhättan Canal and devising Sweden’s first saltworks. Swedenborg reported on scientific developments across Europe and helped to start the first Swedish scientific journal, filling its pages with articles on metallurgy and mechanics. He also just missed winning the contest to solve the problem of ascertaining longitude at sea, losing out to the British clockmaker John Harrison. But Swedenborg’s true interest was more philosophical, and for much of his adult life he focussed his mind on cosmology, physics, anatomy, the brain, and those perennial mysteries, life and death. While Swedish Assessor of Mines, Swedenborg synthesized the cutting edge science of his time, making discoveries in galaxy formation, brain physiology, anatomy, and modern concepts such as pulsars, neurons, and split-brain theory. The Swedish Nobel Prize winning scientist Svante Arrhenius argued that among many other insights Swedenborg knew that our galaxy was only one of thousands, and that these “island universes” themselves are part of a vast chain forming enormous stellar systems, something confirmed in recent times via the Hubble Space Telescope.
Swedenborg’s scientific and engineering achievements make him a kind of “Swedish Da Vinci,” but his remarkably prolific life didn’t end there. Having sought the “seat of the soul” in the brain’s mysterious pineal gland — a humble organ whose precise function still eludes us — Swedenborg plunged into a study of the occult sciences. Through the Kabbala, meditation, and a system of erotic exercises, Swedenborg trained himself to enter extended periods of altered consciousness. One result of this is his fascinating Dream Diary, whose analysis of dream symbolism predates Freud and Jung by more than a century. Another was his intimacy with the hypnagogic state, a “half-dream” realm we enter in between sleeping and waking. It was while hovering in this twilit consciousness that Swedenborg had an experience that changed his life.
On April 6, 1744, while living in London, Swedenborg was visited by Christ. He had reached a dead end in his scientific work, and Christ told him to abandon it and take on an even greater task: that of discovering the true meaning of scripture. Swedenborg developed a method of reading the Bible symbolically that would have an impact on western consciousness far beyond theology. He developed the notion of “correspondences,” the idea that the things of the physical world have a direct link with the spiritual one. Through Baudelaire, Swedenborg’s “correspondences” would lead to Symbolism, arguably the most important cultural movement of the 19th century.
Swedenborg’s accounts of heaven, hell and what he called the “spirit world” spell out in homely detail the parallels between life on earth and in these other places. Swedenborg showed how our actions here and now reflect our relation to the Divine. Yet these higher worlds are no abstraction, and readers of Swedenborg’s Heaven and Hell and Conjugial Love, one of his last books, encounter a very robust reality. Some of Swedenborg’s reports on the social conditions of heaven — where, among other things, angels engage in continuous and mutually satisfying lovemaking — make it seem infinitely more vital than life here and now. And his hell is more graphic than the latest HD horror film.
Swedenborg was no woolly mystic. If his head was in the celestial clouds, his feet were planted firmly on the ground. Swedenborg’s visions weren’t aimed at sidestepping our mundane duties, but at showing their link to a wider reality. His teaching boils down to the sobering maxim to, “Do the good that you know,” whether that’s washing the dishes or taking out the trash. Bernard Shaw, a reader of Swedenborg, knew that hell is a place of idleness, while heaven is the home of the “masters of reality.” In Swedenborg, today’s readers may meet someone who mastered reality in more worlds than one.