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Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772)

 

Swedish philosopher, theologian, chemist, anatomist, and mystic, fluent in eleven languages. Swedenborg devoted the first half of his life to scientific investigations. Thereafter he turned his full attention to theology, metaphysics and started to explore mystical experience. Among Swedenborg's most popular books are Heaven and Hell and Earths in Universe. His spiritual writing influenced Emerson, Goethe, Henry James Sr., Dostoevsky, and William Blake. During his career, Swedenborg published over 50 works. His books have been translated into some thirty languages.

"There are two worlds, a spiritual world where angels and spirits are, and a natural world where men are." (in The True Christian Religion, Swedenborg Society, 1890)

Emanuel Swedenborg was born in Stockholm, the second son of Jesper Svedberg (1653-1735), a Lutheran bishop and hymn writer, and Sara Behm. Both families had acquired wealth in the mining business. Swedenborg's mother died in 1696 and his father married again. He was feared by the royal court because of his sermons against abuse of power, and loved by people who believed he had powers as an exorciser. From the age of eleven to twenty-one Swedenborg studied mechanics, geography, astronomy, and mathematics at the University of Uppsala.

Upon graduation he travelled to Holland, Germany and England. Because the English authorities believed that plague had broken in Sweden, his ship was obliged to wait offshore for six weeks. Swedenborg went ashore anyway, was caught and very nearly hanged. He lived in England from 1710 to 1713, and formed a lasting love for its culture. "But as the English are not very talkative, he fell into the habit of conversing with devils and Angels," said the Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges (The Book of Imaginary Beings, 1969). In 1716 King Charles XII of Sweden named him special assessor to the Royal College of Mines. He worked in several scientific fields from mathematics and physics to geology, and twice attempted to marry.

Swedenborg's career also included extensive service in the upper house of the Swedish national legislature. In 1716-1718 he edited the scientific magazine Daedalus Hyperboreus, which published texts in Swedish. Most of his own books Swedenborg published in Latin. Opera Philosophica et Mineralia (1734) was about metals; in Regnum Animale (1744-45) Swedenborg examined the mysteries of soul; De Cultu et Amore Dei (1745, Worship and the Love of God) dealt with the birth of the world; and Arcana Coelestia (1749-1756) was a commentary on Genesis.

As an inventor Swedenborg produced a dry dock of new design, a machine for working salt springs, and a system for moving large boats overland. In biology he supplied the first accurate understanding of the importance of the cerebral cortex. But the conflict between Swedenborg's scientific and mediumistic sides deepened and he started to record his dreams, anticipating Jungian psychoanalysis in his self-analysis. Like Leonardo da Vinci, he made plans for a flying machine, but there was nobody to build the airplane. Swedenborg launched his idea in the fourth issue of The Northern Inventor (1717): "But if we follow the living nature, examining the proportions that the wings of a bird holds to its body, a similar mechanism might be invented, which should give us hope to be able to follow the bird in the air."

A turning point in his life was, when he began to have visionary experiences in 1743-45 Swedenborg then devoted himself to prophesy and spiritual investigations. On the morning of October 1743 he noted in Amsterdam that "such dizziness or deliquium (a swooning away) overcame me that I felt close to death." In a dream a roaring wind picked him up and threw him on his face. A hand clutched his own clasped hand and he saw Christ. Vicious dogs turned up frequently, and his dead father appeared to him, praising his son's theological work. In 1744 on Easter Monday Christ asked the astonished visionary, whether he had a health certificate. Swedenborg described in De Telluribus his trip around the Solar System, which is seen as having a spiritual significance. The book also contains some scientific speculation about the planets. Swedenborg became convinced that he had been designated by God as a spiritual emissary to explore higher planes and to report his findings to humankind. He entered ecstatic trances, visiting heaven and hell. However, contemporaries found him sane and sensible.

In modern analysis Swedenborg's trances have been explained by his repressed or transcended sexuality. Dr Wilson Van Dusen has claimed that Swedenborg's descriptions of angelic and hellish spirits match the hallucinatory experiences of schizophrenics. He spent sixteen years treating the hallucinations of his patients as realities, and published his findings in The Presence of Other Worlds (1974). According to Van Dusen, "All Swedenborg's observations on the effect of evil spirits entering man's consciousness conform to my finding." Of the inhabitants of Venus Swedenborg said: "They are of two kinds; some are gentle and benevolent, others wild, cruel and of gigantic stature." Of the Moon he revealed that the inhabitants are "small, like children of six or seven years old; at the same time they have the strength of men like ourselves." 

In 1747 Swedenborg was nominated for president of the Royal College of Mines. Communication with spirits led to his resignation from his government job. Later on he wrote to the landgrave of Hessen-Darmstadt: "Because the Lord had prepared me for this from childhood, he revealed himself in person to me, his servant, and ordered me to perform this work. This happened in the year 1743, and afterward he showed me the face of my spirit and thus led me into the world of the spirits and allowed me to see heaven and its wonders, and at the same time to see hell as well, and also to speak with angels and spirits, and this has gone on continually for twenty-seven years." On a half-pension he became ascetic and added theological writings to his already lengthy list of scientific and philosophical works. His talents also included clairvoyance. On the evening of July 19, 1759, he was visiting Göteborg. At a party, he suddenly 'knew' that a fire raged in Stockholm, almost three hundred miles away, and threatened his own house. Next day his account of the disaster was fully confirmed.

"When, for instance, the vision arose in Swedenborg's mind of a fire in Stockholm, there was a real fire raging there at the same time, without there being any demonstrable or even thinkable connection between the two. I certainly would not like to undertake to prove the archetypal connection in this case. I would only point to the fact that in Swedenborg's biography there are certain things which throw a remarkable light on his psychic state. We must assume that there was a lowering of the threshold of consciousness which gave him access to "absolute knowledge." The fire in Stockholm was, in a sense, burning in him too." (Carl Jung in Synchronicity, 1960)

In 1762 Swedenborg went into a trance and described the assassination of the Russian Tsar Peter III. His publications from this visionary period include Worship and the Love of God, Arcana Caelestia, an exposition of the spirit teachings he received, and Heaven and Hell (1758), description of the afterlife. In Earths in the Universe Swedenborg claimed that the moon is peopled by a race which speaks through its stomachs – the sound is like belching. Contemporaries took Swedenborg's psychic powers seriously: he impressed Queen Louisa Ulrica, sister of Frederick the Great, by delivering a private message from her dead brother, Augustus William. He believed he had the ability to slow down his breathing. "I became so completely accustomed to this type of respiration," he once said, "that I sometimes passed an entire hour without taking a breath. I had breathed in only enough air so that I could think." Occasionally he conversed with such prominent figures as Abraham, Solomon, and the apostles.

His later years Swedenborg spent mostly in England, remaining a bachelor. His writings, which influenced William Blake (1757-1827), paved the way for the Romantic movement. Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) criticized Swedenborg in Dreams of a Spirit-Seer, Illustrated by Dreams of Metaphysics (1766), and wanted to place him in a madhouse. His last work, Vera Christiana Religio (1771) was a summary of his religious views. Swedenborg died in a lodging house on March 29, 1772 – precisely at the time he had predicted – in London, and was bried in the Swedish Church in Prince's Square. Swedenborg's cranium had an adventurous afterlife: it was stolen by a phrenologist, John Didrik Holm, and later it was passed in the possession of William Blake's friend, Charles Augustus Tulk, a member of the parliament. Rosicrucian claimed that Swedenborg had discovered the elixir of youth and still lived in some hidden place of the world.

Swedenborg's remains were moved to Uppsala in 1908. His followers founded the New Jerusalem Church in England in 1778 and in the United States in 1792. James Glen formed in 1784 a Swedenborgian reading circle in Philadelphia. The Swedenborg Society was established in 1810. During the 19th century Swedenborgians enjoyed a considerable vogue, but in the 20th century the interest has decreased.

Swedenborg believed that God created humankind to exist simultaneously in the physical world and in the spiritual world, which belongs to the inner domain. It has its own memory, which is what survives after death. Swedenborg's hell has no Satan; heaven is populated by the spirits of the dead that carry on lives and habits much the same as they did on earth. Jesus' crucifixion did not atone for the sins of humankind; we make our own heaven and hell.

After one of his consultations with angels, Swedenborg declared that the end of the world was to arrive 1757. He never doubted his insights and afterwards, rejecting traditional doctrines of the Trinity and Atonement, Swedenborg insisted that the Judgment had really occurred in 1757, along with Christ's second coming as a triumph over rebellious spirits. He believed that there is a correspondence between natural and spiritual levels; each person lives in both realms at once. Eternal life is an inner condition beginning with earthly life; gradual redemption occurs through personal regulation of spiritual states. Practical love is a necessity in every relationship.

For further reading: Emanuel Swedenborg. Hänen elämänsä ja oppinsa by M. Matter (1900); The Sources of Swedenborg's Early Philosophy of Nature by Alfred H. Stroh (1911); Swedenborg by Martin Lamm (1915); Swedenborg by Emil A.G. Kleen (1917); Balzac und Swedenborg by Pauline Bernheim (1914); Swedenborg's Search for the Soul by Harold Gardiner (1936); Emanuel Swedenborg by Signe Toksvig (1948); The Swedenborg Epic by Cyril Odhner Sigstedt (1952); The Swedenborg Epic by Cyriel O. Sigstedt (1952); Swedenborgs skapelsedrama De Cultu et Amore Dei by Inge Jonsson (1961); Swdenborgs korrespodeslärä by Inge Johnsson (1961); The Heyday of Spiritualism by Slater Brown (1970); Strindberg and Van Gogh. An Attempt at a Pathographic Analysis With reference to Parallel Cases of Swedenborg and Hölderlin by Karl Jaspers (1972); The Presence of Other Worlds by Wilson van Dusen (1975); Swedenborg by Inge Johnsson and Olle Hjern (1976); The Swedenborgian Background of William James' Philosophy by Armi Värilä (1977); Swedenborg in Deutschland by Ernst Benz (1984); Emanuel Swedenborg: The Universal Human and Soul-Body Interaction, ed by George F. Dole et al ( 1984); Blake and Swedenborg, ed. by Harvey Bellin (1985); Swedenborgs drömbok by Lars Bergquist (1988); Swedenborg Researcher's Manual by William Ross Woofenden (1988); Harper's Encyclopedia of Mystical & Paranormal Experience by Rosemary Ellen Guiley (1991); Swedenborg verborgene Wirkung auf Kant by Gottlieb Florschütz (1992); Sexualitet och äktenskap i Emanuel Swedenborgs religionsfilosofi by Sverker Sieversen (1993); Angels in Action: What Swedenborg Saw and Heard by Robert H. Kirven (1994); Swedenborg and Esoteric Islam by Henry Corbin (1995); Testimony to the Invisible: Essays on Swedenborg, ed. by Jorge Luis Borges (1995); I Swedenborgs labyrint by Jan Häll (1995); Testimony to the Invisible, ed. by James E. Lawrence (1995); The Dream of an Absolute Language: Emanuel Swedenborg and French Literary Culture by Lynn R. Wilkinson (1996); Biblioteket i lusthuset by Lars Bergquist (1996); Swedenborg - Buddha of the North by D.T. Suzuki (1996); The Dream of Absolute Language by Lynn R. Wilkinson (1996); A Scientist Explores Spirit: A Biography of Emanuel Swedenborg With Key Concepts of His Theology by George F. Dole (1997); The Swedenborg Rite and the Great Masonic Leaders of the Eighteenth Century by Samuel Beswick (1997); Gallery of Mirrors: Reflections of Swedenborgian Thought by Anders Hallengren, Inge Jonsson (1998); Swedenborgs hemlighet by Lars Bergquist (1999); Emanuel Swedenborg: Visionary Savant in the Age of Reason by Ernst Benz (2002); Swedenborg: an Introduction to his life and Ideas by Gary Lachman (2009); Emanuel Swedenborg, Secret Agent on Earth and in Heaven: Jacobites, Jews, and Freemasons in Early Modern Sweden by Marsha Keith Schuchard (2012); Swedenborg’s Hidden Influence on Kant by Gottleib Florshütz (2014). Suom.: Swedenborgilta on suomennettu mm. teokset Taivas, sen ihmeet ja helvetti sekä Uusi Jerusalem, ja sen taivaallinen oppi. Vuonna 2000 ilmestyi Clavis hieroglyphica Jyrki Siukosen suomentamana. Teoksessa on myös laaja johdanto Swedenborgin ajatteluun. Syksyllä 2001 ilmestyi Pertti Niemen Johdatus Emanuel Swedenborgin filosofiaan (julk. TAB-kirjat). See also: W.B.Yeats; Ralp Waldo Emerson, in his lecture of 1845, chose Swedenborg as the prototype of the mystic - Henry James was attracted to Swedenborgian ideas. His father, theologian Henry James, Sr., was Swedenborgian and William James, son of Henry James, showed in his philosophical works understanding of Swedenborg. Note: Jorge Luis Borges was interested in Swedenborg's thoughts and wrote a sonnet about him starting with the words:
Emanuel Swedenborg
Taller than the rest, that distant
Man would walk among men, faintly
Calling out to angels, speaking
Their secret names. What earthly eyes
Cannot see he saw: the burning
Geometries, the crystalline
Labyrinth of God, the sordid
Whirling of infernal delights.
(...)

Selected works:

  • Principia Rerum Naturalium, 1734
    - The Principia, or the First Principles of Natural Things (tr. 1846)
  • Opera Philosophica et Mineralia, 1734 (3 vols.)
    - Swedenborg’s Treatise on Copper (tr. Arthur Hodson Searle, 1938)
  • Prodromus Philosophiz Ratiocinantis de Infinito, et Causa Finali Creationis; deque Mechanismo Operationis Animae et Corporis, 1734
    - Outlines of a Philosophical Argument on the Infinite, and the Final Cause of Creation; and on the Intercourse Between the Soul and the Body (translated by James John Garth Wilkinson) / The Philosophy of the Infinite; or, Outlines of a Philosophical Argument on the Infinite, and the Final Cause of Creation; and on the Intercourse Between the Soul and the Body (tr. James John Garth Wilkinson, 1848)
  • Oeconomia Regni Animalis, 1740-41
    - The Economy of the Animal Kingdom (tr. A. Clissold, 1843)
  • Regnum animale anatomice, physice et philosophice perlustratum, 1744-45 (3 vols.)
    - The Animal Kingdom, Considered Anatomically, Physically, and Philosophically (tr. James John Garth Wilkinson, 1843) / The Generative Organs, Considered Anatomically, Physically, and Philosophically (tr. James John Garth Wilkinson, 1852) / The Five Senses: Being the First Draft of a Treatise Intended as Part of the Animal kingdom Series, and Parts of which Were Elaborated by the Author and Published as the Animal kingdom Part III (tr. Enoch S. Price, Swedenborg Scientific Association, 1914)
  • De cultu et amore Dei, 1745 (2 vols.)
    - On the Worship and Love of God (tr. 1816)
  • Diarium Spirituale, 1747-63
    - The Spiritual Diary of Emanuel Swedenborg (tr. J.H. Smithson, 1846)
  • Arcana Caelestia, 1749-56 (12 vols.)
    - Arcana coelestia, or, Holy Mysteries Contained in the Sacred Scriptures or Word of the Lord Manifested and Laid Open, Beginning with the Book of Genesis (tr. 1794) / Arcana coelestia = The Heavenly Arcana Contained in the Holy Scripture or Word of the Lord Unfolded, Beginning with the Book of Genesis (tr. John Clowes, revised and edited by John Faulkner Potts, 1949) / Heavenly Secrets (Arcana caelestia), which are Contained in the Holy Scripture or Word of the Lord Disclosed (tr. 1967) / The Universal Human and Soul-Body Interaction (ed. and tr. George F. Dole, 1984) / A Disclosure of Secrets of Heaven Contained in Sacred Scripture or the Word of the Lord: Here First Those in Genesis, Together with Amazing Things Seen in the World of Spirits & in the Heaven of Angels (tr. Lisa Hyatt Cooper, 2007)
  • De Ultimo Judicio, 1758
    - The Last Judgment, and the Babylon Destroyed: So That All the Predictions in the Apocalypse Are at This Day Fulfilled (tr. 1840) / The Last Judgment in Retrospect: from De ultimo judicio et de Babylonia destructa (translated and edited by George F. Dole, Swedenborg Foundation, 1996)
  • De Telluribus In Mundo Nostro Solari, 1758
    - Converning the Earths in Our Solar System, Which are Called Planets, and Concerning the Earths in the Starry Heaven; Together with and Account of their Inhabitants (tr. 1787) / The Earths in the Universe, and Their Inhabitants (tr. 1858) / Life on Other Planets (translated by John Chadwick, Swedenborg Foundation, 2006)
  • De Coelo Et Ejus Mirabilibus, Et De Inferno, Ex Auditis Et Visis, 1758
    - Heaven and Its Wonders and Hell: from Things Heard and Seen (tr. 1876) / Heaven and Hell: Also, the World of Spirits or Intermediate State from Things Heard and Seen (tr. 1890) / The World of Spirits and Man’s State After Death (translated by John C. Ager) / Heaven and Hell (translated by George F. Dole, 1976)
  • De Nova Hierosolyma et ejus Doctrina Coelesti, 1758
    - The Heavenly Doctrine of the New Jerusalem: as Revealed from Heaven (translated by the Rev. John Clowes, 1794) / Of the New Jerusalem and Its Heavenly Doctrine as Revealed from Heaven (fourth edition, 1811)
  • Doctrina Novae Hierosolymae de Scriptura Sacra, 1763
    - The Doctrine of the New Jerusalem Concerning the Sacred Scripture (tr. 1795) / The Doctrine of Life for the New Jerusalem, from the Commandments of the Decalogue (5th London edition, 1821)
  • Sapientia Angelica De Divino Amore Et De Divina Sapientia , 1763
    - The Wisdom of Angels Concerning Divine Love and Divine Wisdom (tr. 1794) / Angelic Wisdom Concerning the Divine Love and the Divine Wisdom (tr. James John Garth Wilkinson, 1843) / Angelic Wisdom About Divine Love and About Divine Wisdom (tr. George F. Dole, 2002)
  • Sapientia Angelica de Divina Providentia, 1764
    - The Wisdom of Angels Concerning the Divine Providence (tr. 1796) / Divine Providence. Angelic Wisdom Concerning the Divine Providence (tr. 1833) / Angelic Wisdom Concerning the Divine Providence (tr. 1868) / Angelic Wisdom about Divine Providence (tr. George F. Dole, 2002)
  • De Commercio Animae et Corporis, 1765
    - A Treatise on the Nature of Influx: or, Of the Intercourse Between the Soul of and Body (tr. 1788) / On the Intercourse Between the Soul and the Body (tr. 1844)
  • Delitiae Sapientiae De Amore Conjugiali, 1768
    - The Delights of Wisdom Concerning Conjugial Love: After which Follow, the Pleasures of Insanity Concerning Scortatory Love (tr. 1796) / Conjugial Love and Its Chaste Delights; also, Adulterous Love and Its Sinful Pleasures (tr. 1871) / Marital Love, Its Wise Delights; After which Follows Scortatory love, Its Insane Pleasures (tr. William Frederic Wunsch, 1938) / Love in Marriage: Translation of Emanuel Swedenborg’s The Sensible Joy in Married Love, and the Foolish Pleasures of Illicit Love (tr. David F. Gladish, 1992) / Conjugial Love: Delights of Wisdom Relating to Conjugial Love Followed by Pleasures of Insanity Relating to Licentious Love (General Church of New Jerusalem, 1995)
  • Apocalypsis Revelata, 1769
    - The Apocalypse Revealed (tr. John Whitehead, 1975) / The Apocalypse Revealed (tr. and ed. Alice Spiers Sechrist, 1981)
  • Vera Christiana Religio, 1771
    - True Christian Religion (tr. John C. Ager, 1906) / The True Christian Religion (tr. Wm. C. Dick, 1975) / True Christianity (tr. Jonathan S. Rose, 2008)
  • Miscellaneous Observations Connected with the Physical Sciences, 1847
  • Drömboken, 1859
    - Swedenborg’s Journal of Dreams, 1743-1744 (edited from the original Swedish by G. E. Klemming; translated into English, 1860, by J. J. G. Wilkinson; edited by William Ross Woofenden)
  • Apocalypsis Explicata Secundum Sensum Spiritualem, 1861
    - Swedenborg on the Athanasian Creed and Subjects Connected with It. Being a Translation of the "De Fide Athanasiana", Appended in Separate Sections to Parts of His Posthumous Work Entitled "Apocalypsis Explicata Secundum Spiritualem Sensum" (tr. 1867) / Apocalypse Explained (translated by John C. Ager) / The Spiritual Life and the Word of God (tr. 1898)
  • Diarium Spirituale, 1883-1902
    - The Spiritual Diary of Emanuel Swedenborg (tr. George Bush and John H. Smithson, Swedenborg Foundation, 1971)
  • Doctrina Novae Hierosolymae de charitate, 1885
    - Charity, or, The Practice of Neighborliness (tr. William F. Wunch, 1931 )
  • Prodromus philosophiae ratiocinantis de infinito, et causa finali creationis, 1886
  • Opera quaedam aut inedita aut obsoleta de rebus naturalibus I-III, 1907-1911 (ed. Alfred H. Stroh)
  • Suggestions for a Flying Machine, 1910 (translated by Hugo Lj. Odhner and Carl Th. Odhner)
  • Emanuelis Swedenborgii Itineraria. Editio tertia emendata, 1911
  • Drömboken; journalanteckningar 1743-1744, 1952
  • The Letters and Memorials of Emanuel Swedenborg, 1948 & 1955 (2 vols.)
  • Drömboken, Journalantekninhgar 1743-1744, 1964 (ed. Per Erik Wahlund)
  • The Essential Swedenborg, 1970 (ed. Sig Synnestvedt)
  • Emanuelis Swedenborgii Diarium, ubi memorantur, 1983-1997
  • Festivus Applausus in Caroli XII in Pomeraniam Suam Adventum, 1985 (ed. Hans Helander)
  • Camena Borea, 1988 (ed. and tr. Hans Helander)
  • Scientific and Philosophical Treatises, 1992 (ed. Alfred Henry Stroh)
  • Ludus Heliconius and other Latin Poems, 1995 (ed. Hans Helander)

 


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