Forerunners to Modern
by Rev. Simeon
Arthur Conan Doyle, in his classic The
History of Spiritualism, made the following comments concerning the
Swedish seer, Emanuel Swedenborg:
"When the first rays of
the rising sun of spiritual knowledge fell upon the earth, they illuminated
the greatest human mind before they shed their light on lesser men. That
mountain peak of mentality was this great religious reformer and
clairvoyant medium, as little understood by his own followers as ever the
Christ has been.
"In order fully to
understand Swedenborg one would need to have a Swedenborg brain, and that
is not met with once in a century."
Emanuel Swedenborg was, truly,
one of Europe's great minds; and it is to this that we can attribute the
success of his mission as a teacher and philosopher of the Spirit. At that
time, Spirit needed a vehicle to help lay the groundwork for what was to
follow. Spirit needed a channel who would be respected amongst the world's
great minds. Spirit needed a vehicle through whom they could open the eyes
of men and women to the realities of spiritual communion and communication,
without creating a cultural or theological shock.
Emanuel Swedenborg was that
vehicle. He was an expert in mine engineering, metallurgy, astronomy,
physics, zoology, anatomy, and political economics. He was, also, a
military engineer under the reign of Charles XII. Above and beyond this
vista of intellectual accomplishments, Swedenborg was best known as an
astute Biblical theologian.
The son of a strict Lutheran
minister, Swedenborg grew up in an atmosphere full of religion and the
Bible. As we shall see, this affected his outlook on spiritual matters, as
well as the content of his later revelations. Yet, in many ways, he was so
nontraditional with respect to his theology that it frightened many of his
Briefly, Swedenborg's theology
encompasses the following concepts:
Bible is the Word of God; however, its true meaning differs greatly
from its obvious meaning. Furthermore, he and only he, via the help of
Angels, was in the position to shed light upon the true meaning and
message of the Scriptures.
believed that the world of matter is a laboratory for the soul, where
the material is used to "force-refine" the spiritual.
many ways, Swedenborg was quite universal in his concepts, for he
believed that all religious systems have their divine duty and purpose
and that this is not the sole virtue of Christianity.
believed that the mission of the Church is absolutely necessary
inasmuch as, left to his or her own devices, humanity simply cannot
work out its relationship to God.
saw the real power of Christ's life in the example it gave to others
and vehemently rejected the concept of Christian atonement and
The Seer and Medium
Swedenborg's psychic faculties
were quite evident as a child; but, as adolescence approached, they were
put aside and room was made for more practical pursuits. As time passed on,
however, the unfoldment of his inevitable mission as a forerunner to Modern
Spiritualism could not be camouflaged by more mundane activities. The
philosopher, Kant, investigated and found quite genuine Swedenborg's vision
of a raging fire in Stockholm while he, himself (Swedenborg), was in
Gothenburg, a city some 300 miles away. To this day, this clairvoyant
(seeing with the mind's eye) vision is considered to be Swedenborg's most
amazing psychic experience.
In April, 1744, Swedenborg had
his first real illumination and intercourse with the Spirit world. In the
preface to his Arcana Celestia, Swedenborg writes:
"Of the Lord's Divine
mercy it has been granted me now for several years, to be constantly and
uninterruptedly in company with spirits and angels, hearing them converse
with each other, and conversing with them. Hence, it has been permitted me
to hear and see stupendous things in the other life which has never before
come to the knowledge of any man, nor entered into his imagination. I have
been instructed concerning different kinds of spirits and the state of
souls after death; concerning Hell, or the lamentable state of the
unfaithful; concerning Heaven, or the most happy state of the faithful, and
particularly concerning the doctrines or faith which is throughout
However, in his Miscellaneous
Works, he writes:
"Spirits narrate things
wholly false, and lie. When spirits begin to speak to man, care should be
taken not to believe them, for most everything they say is made up by them,
and they lie; so if we permitted them to relate what Heaven is, and how things
are in Heaven, they would tell so many falsehoods, and with such strong
assertion that man would be astonished; wherefore it was not permitted me
when spirits were speaking to have any belief in what they stated. They
love to feign. Whatever may be the topic spoken of, they think they know
it, and if man listens and believes, they insist, and in various ways
deceive and seduce."
This massive contradiction
clearly indicates that as marvelous a medium as Swedenborg was, his visions
and revelations were still subject to earlier philosophical and theological
influences. His whole concept of Heaven and Hell was strongly influenced by
his Lutheran background. The fact that he, himself, was in constant
communication with the Spirit world and promulgated said spirit teachings,
while at the same time warning of the deception and falsehood of spirit
communicators, is clearly reflective of his general approach to spiritual
and theological matters: that he, alone, was the spokesman for those in
In effect, Swedenborg could be
called the first Spiritualist; for those who came before him did not claim
to be in contact with departed men and women. Up until Swedenborg's
revelations, spirits who communicated were generally considered to be of a
very high order of being. The idea of communicating with ordinary people
was decidedly new and quite threatening to the theological community at
large. Nevertheless, Swedenborg continued and, in effect, helped bridge the
age-old gap between life and death.
Throughout his adult life,
Swedenborg was in daily communication with the Spirit world and received
much instruction and revelation concerning life after death. We can
summarize the mediumistic teachings of Swedenborg as follows:
Spirit world is in a number of concentric spheres, each with its own
density and inhabitants.
in Spirit is similar to that on the Earth plane, with houses,
churches, schools, etc. The process of death is aided by Angels (good
spirits); everyone rests for a few days after death and then regains
process of death changes nothing of an internal nature.
is no such thing as eternal punishment. Those who find themselves in
Hell after death can work their way towards something higher.
is a form of spiritual union which is continued in the Spirit world.
It takes the union of a man and a woman to make a complete human unit.
who die old or diseased regain their youth and health in the Spirit
philosophy and traditional Spiritualism differ on many points, and although
the Church of the New Jerusalem (the religious movement based on
Swedenborg's revelations) generally condemns the practice of spiritism, we
cannot overlook the tremendous impact and contribution which this Swedish seer
made towards laying a pathway for the coming dispensation of spiritual
We can summarize Swedenborg's
contributions to the cause of Spiritualism as follows:
was the first to present a modern cosmological description of the
various planes of spirit.
his mediumship the world was given the first catechism of
of his social standing, integrity, and education, he was able to bring
these varied spirit teachings to a great number of Europe's savants as
well as to the general populace; therefore, he was a great channel for
the dispensation of spirit truth during a period when such teachings
were unheard of.
Spiritualism will be eternally
grateful for the work brought forth through Emanuel Swedenborg.
Article in Series: Forerunners to Modern Spiritualism: Andrew
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