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Emanuel Swedenborg – Mystic or Misguided?

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Emanuel Swedenborg  (1688-1772) was a Swedish scientist who, after recovering from a psychological crisis, became a mystic claiming to speak on a regular basis with angelic, alien and demonic beings.

Although thought-provoking and laid out in an orderly manner, some of Swedenborg’s writings seem questionable.

Emanuel Swedenborg at age of 75, holding the manuscript of Apocalypsis Revelata (1766)

He writes, for instance, that spirits told him people lived in wooden buildings and tents on the planet Jupiter:

Their dwellings were also shown me. They are lowly dwellings constructed of wood; but within they are lined with bark or cork of a pale blue colour, and the walls and ceiling are spotted as with stars, to represent the heaven; for they are fond of picturing the visible heaven with its constellations in the interiors of their houses, the reason being that they believe the constellations to be the abodes of the angels. They have tents also, which are rounded off above and extended in length, spotted likewise within with stars on a blue ground. They retire into these in the day-time, to prevent their faces suffering from the heat of the sun. They bestow much care on the fashioning of these tents of theirs, and on keeping them clean. In them they also take their repasts.¹

Similarly, a spirit from the moon apparently told Swedenborg that the voices of that satellite’s inhabitants “made a loud thundering sound.”

With no atmosphere on the moon’s surface, necessary for sound waves and hence hearing, one wonders how this could be possible.

It’s easy to assume that Swedenborg’s accounts simply reflect the popular imagination of his day, suggesting that he was a quack, charlatan or, as some might put it today, mentally ill. But one could argue that some of the problems with his far-fetched claims arise from translation and interpretation, along with his human limitations inherent to living in the 17th and 18th centuries.

Swedenborgs Flying Machine (via Thomas Roche)

Swedenborg’s Flying Machine (via Thomas Roche)

Swedenborgians could argue, for instance, that the beings on the moon weren’t physical but composed of energy or spirit—likewise with regard to the apparent “sound” they made.

Whatever the truth may be, the psychiatrist Carl Jung notes that Swedenborg did have an accurate precognition of a great fire in Stockholm.

With regard to Christianity, Swedenborg’s work presents a novel and creative interpretation of that religion. He suggests that everything occurring in this life corresponds to a cosmic body, which he calls “The Universal Human.” And the different races of mankind apparently correspond to different regions of The Universal Human.

Likewise, Swedenborg says individual merits during Earthly life correspond to favorable afterlife regions in the cosmic body, such as the brain or the eye. But those who lead evil lives end up in undesirable, filth-ridden regions, such as the liver or intestines.

Swedenborg wrote copiously about demonic beings whose sole intent is to drain energy from the living, causing severe pain and distress.

With regard to the idea of the Trinity, Rev. Glenn “Mac” at GlennFrazier.com adds:

Since you mention Swedenborg, it might be worth pointing out that he explicitly spoke up against the idea of a trinity of persons. According to his theology (in, e.g., his book, True Christian Religion), Jehovah the Father and Jesus the Son were not only one God, but also the one and only one person of God. Likewise, the Holy Spirit is the activity of that person, and not a seperate person in its own right. This is somewhat similar to Michael Servetus’ ideas expressed a good deal earlier in his “Errors of the Trinity”. Swedenborg’s idea of a trinity of essentials, rather than of persons, should not be confused with modalism—the idea of there being one God that at various times takes on different functions or modes in sequence. To Swedenborg, the Father was literally God’s soul, the Son his body, and the Spirit his influence/activity, not by analogy, but actually. » See in context

Swedenborg was not only interested in the inner life. Like other historical innovators, he tried to devise technological contraptions that would, in due time, appear in some other form, such as a flying machine (pictured 2nd image above).

Swedenborg’s work has been compiled, edited and commented on by the Swedenborg Foundation.

A student of Swedenborg’s works, Judah, adds:

A final thought: while I enjoy pondering the existence of life on other planets, I find it more enjoyable – and meaningful – to explore the ideas in Swedenborg’s writings that have to do with wisely loving my fellow human beings and our creator – the Divine Human. » See in context

Related » Aliens, Angels, Demons, Vampires

On the Web:

  • Rock and roll song dealing with Swedenborg’s ideas:

¹ Earths in our Solar System which are called Planets and Earths in the Starry Heaven: Their Inhabitants, and the Spirits and Angels there from things Heard and Seen from the Latin of Emanuel Swedenborg, Swedenborg Society, London: 1962, par 59.

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10 thoughts on “Emanuel Swedenborg – Mystic or Misguided?

  1. Being one of those “Swedenborgians,” I am interested in the perspective that’s been presented here. In “Swedenborg’s Theological Latin” – a course offered at Bryn Athyn College – I had an opportunity to spend a class translating an excerpt of the book which in English is often called “Earths in the Universe.” There was quite a bit of ambiguity going from the original Latin to English, although if we’d read the section quoted above we’d probably have seen something similar.

    One thought has been that, since we understand that human beings continue to exist after the body’s death in a similar fashion to our lives here, the description of Jupiter-humans’ dwellings is of their current spiritual existence, which would resemble their natural, in-this-solar-system existence however long ago it was. In other words, perhaps Jupiter ceased to be inhabited some millions of years ago.

    A final thought: while I enjoy pondering the existence of life on other planets, I find it more enjoyable – and meaningful – to explore the ideas in Swedenborg’s writings that have to do with wisely loving my fellow human beings and our creator – the Divine Human.

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  2. Judah… excellent comment and I’m glad to see that you’re thinking about SB, his text, problems with translation, etc.

    I really enjoyed SB for quite some time. I still think about his notion that there’s a correspondence between the different peoples of this world and different spiritual realms. I don’t know if it’s true but it’s an interesting thesis.

    My feeling is that most seers like him have limits. Whether these limits are from God and appropriate for a certain historical period (or not) is another question.

    Some supposed seers just might be insane and/or deceived by demonic forces (not a popular notion in our ‘religiously’ scientific worldview but one which I still consider…).

    And yet others may be partially right and partially deceived. It’s such a complicated area of study. But an interesting one!

    I’ll try to integrate some of your comments when I get around to revising this entry.

    Thanks.

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  3. Dear Earthpages,

    For my money only Swedenborg offers a systematic theology that
    can adequately respond to the New Physics, and even provide new insights for unifying ALL knowledge.

    The next big shake-up in science will revolve around the idea that LOVE IS ULTIMATE SUBSTANCE and can lead us to an exact science (with explanatory and predictive powers).

    TheGodGuy

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  4. TheGodGuy

    Thanks for your comments. I thought you might see the ping from the link and add your perspective.

    Yes it would be nice to have a more predictive inner/outer science, if that’s the kind of thing you’re talking about. But until it’s explanatory and predictive in a way that everyone can easily understand and see, it will probably remain on the margins of respectability.

    I guess one stumbling block is the fact that since God’s ways are so much bigger than our ways, esoteric science may never be able to tighten things up like, say, building a bridge or doing a moon shot, which we can be very precise about.

    On the other hand, this may happen some day. But my guess is it will take several centuries…

    My favorite Biblical quote to this effect is Isaiah 55:8-9.

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  5. Dear Earthpages,

    If one can understand what love really is, then the rest is easy. It may take awhile before these ideas are “tightened up” mathematically, but I intend to show how Swedenborg provided insights for unifying relativity theory with quantum physics and why natural laws are so bio-friendly. He solved these issues from the principle of love – that reality is relationship.

    One has to look at LOVE as more than a romantic notion. It is life. It is ultimate reality and creative formative SUBSTANCE.

    I share tidbits concerning these ideas in my blog. However, my next book, “Proving God” will offer detailed explanation.

    Spiritually yours,
    TheGodGuy

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  6. TheGodGuy,

    Thanks again for your comments. Whenever I start reading and thinking about subatomic physics I begin to feel that most of these theorists are caught up in their own symbolic game (i.e. mathematical signs). So no matter how many complicated lines and circles they draw, they will probably always fall short.

    I can’t remember off the top of my head who first said it, but there’s perhaps a distinction to be made between the map and the thing being mapped.

    For me high-end physics is just a map. We can use it to try to lead others out of even more woefully inadequate maps. But it’s not the thing in itself. It may be part of it. But not all.

    Your comment also makes me wonder whether a perfect alignment of human free will with God’s will (which, I think implies LOVE as agape) would be bio-friendly.

    Would people stop eating animals?

    Interesting stuff… when I find time I’ll certainly drop by your blog and take a closer look.

    Like

  7. Dear Earthpages,

    I do hope you drop by (and leave a comment – good or bad).

    The problem with Swedenborg is that he gives people “too much” information – spanning both science and theology. Swedenborgian scholars, for over 250 years, have not been able to exhaust his material.

    In Ripley’s “Believe It Or Not,” Swedenborg is given credit for giving humankind more USEFUL information than any other individual in history. Yet, he is not seen by the post-modern world as a major player in the history of human thought.

    Obviously, I have a lot of work to do!

    Spiritually yours,
    TheGodGuy

    P.S. In my next book “Proving God” I spend a whole chapter on evil, both natural and spiritual. The question of eating animals has to include the issue of animals eating other animals as well. And also, the issue of whether evolution is wasteful – allowing the extinction of untold species over millions of years. Where does one find agape in such a scheme? I believe Swedenborg offers rational answers to these issues.

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  8. There is so much more to Swedenborg than his “Earths in the Universe”, and its unfortunate reviews focus on that. Swedenborg himself stated that he could not see if the planets themselves were inhabited, but saw that in the spiritual world certain classes of spirits were associated with each planet. In certain cases what he saw in the spiritual world were actually future events – such as the Jews returning to the land of Israel in masse.

    The revelations given to Swedenborg were like writings written in gold for me. The Trinity is problematic for Christianity – the visions resolve that by stating that Jesus Christ is Jehovah in human form. God is One. He talks about the variety of psychological states in the human mind, and how to grow into a spiritual being. He solves the problem of the Bible – he shows how – and why – certain books are Divinely Inspired. Instead of blind faith, he proposes a faith that is rational, based on true, and one focused on service to humanity. He is the hidden source of information for Carl Jung, William James, and the New Thought movement.

    He is still relatively unknown, as the revelations were critical of the false teachings of the Catholic and Protestant Churches. And that is not acceptable to most, as few will question the religion they were brought up in, as from an early age they were taught to follow a blind faith. Swedenborg’s writings help expose that falsity and bring the truth to light.

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  9. Pingback: websites for emanuel swedenborg | THE SPIRIT OF TRUTH

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