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Forerunners to Modern Spiritualism:

Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772)
by Rev. Simeon Stefanidakis

 

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 peers.

Briefly, Swedenborg's theology encompasses the following concepts:

  • The 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.

  • Swedenborg believed that the world of matter is a laboratory for the soul, where the material is used to "force-refine" the spiritual.

  • In 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.

  • Swedenborg 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.

  • He saw the real power of Christ's life in the example it gave to others and vehemently rejected the concept of Christian atonement and original sin.

Swedenborg: 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 Heaven."

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 Spirit.

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:

  • The Spirit world is in a number of concentric spheres, each with its own density and inhabitants.

  • Life 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 full consciousness.

  • The process of death changes nothing of an internal nature.

  • There is no such thing as eternal punishment. Those who find themselves in Hell after death can work their way towards something higher.

  • Marriage 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.

  • Those who die old or diseased regain their youth and health in the Spirit world.

Although Swedenborgian 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 truth.

We can summarize Swedenborg's contributions to the cause of Spiritualism as follows:

  • He was the first to present a modern cosmological description of the various planes of spirit.

  • Through his mediumship the world was given the first catechism of Spiritualism.

  • Because 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.

Next Article in Series: Forerunners to Modern Spiritualism: Andrew Jackson Davis.

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