Swedenborg, Emanuel (1688–1772)
Swedish seer. He was trained as a scientist and became the
country’s leading expert in mining and metallurgy. He was also
a military engineer, learned astronomer, reputed physicist, zoologist,
anatomist, financier, political economist, and biblical
He was born January 29, 1688, at Stockholm, son of a professor
of theology at Upsala, afterward bishop of Scara. Swedenborg
graduated from Upsala University in 1710 and then
traveled in England, Holland, France, and Germany, studying
natural philosophy. He studied and was influenced by the work
of the most famous mathematicians and physicians—Sir Isaac
Newton, Flamsteed, Halley, and De Lahire. He made sketches
of inventions as varied as a flying machine, a submarine, a
rapid-fire gun, an air pump, and a fire engine. He wrote many
poems in Latin, and when after five years of study he returned
to Sweden, he was appointed assessor of the Royal College of
Originally known as Swedberg, nobility was bestowed upon
him by Queen Ulrica, and he changed his name to Swedenborg.
He sat in the House of Nobles, his political utterances
having great weight, but his tendencies were distinctly democratic.
He busied himself privately in scientific gropings for the
explanation of the universe. He published at least two works
dealing with cosmology remembered primarily as foreshadowing
many scientific facts and ventures of the future. His theories
Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed. Swedenborg, Emanuel
regarding light, cosmic atoms, geology, and physics were distinctly
ahead of their time.
In 1734 he published Prodomus Philosophie Ratiocinantrio de
Infinite, about the relation of the finite to the infinite and of the
soul to the body. In this work he sought to establish a definite
connection between the two as a means of overcoming the difficulty
of their relationship. The spiritual and the divine appeared
to him as the supreme study of man. He searched the
countries of Europe for the most eminent teachers and the best
books dealing with anatomy, for he considered that science the
locus of the germ of the knowledge of soul and spirit. Through
his anatomical studies he anticipated certain modern views
dealing with the functions of the brain.
At the height of his scientific career he resigned his office
to devote the rest of his life to spreading spiritual enlightenment,
for which he believed himself to have been specially selected
by God. He showed signs of psychic power as a child.
Even at an early age he could cease breathing for a considerable
period and freely enter an altered state of consciousness,
possibly trance. In his book Dreams of a Spirit Seer philosopher
Immanuel Kant narrates several paranormal experiences from
Swedenborg’s early life. He had gifts of clairvoyance. Kant also
investigated and reported as authentic the story that in Gothenburg
Swedenborg observed and reported a fire that was raging
in Stockholm, 300 miles away.
Swedenborg’s real illumination and intercourse with the
spiritual world in visions and dreams began in April 1744. He
claimed that in a waking state his consciousness wandered in
the spirit world and conversed with its inhabitants as freely as
with living men.
In later experiences he heard wonderful conversations and
sensed the eyes of his spirit were so opened that he could see
heavens and hells and converse with angels and spirits. He
claimed that God revealed himself to him and told him that he
had chosen him to unveil the spiritual sense of the whole Scriptures
to man. From that moment, according to Swedenborg, he
eschewed worldly knowledge and worked for spiritual ends
alone. Through the next three decades, he lived in Sweden,
Holland, and London.
After initially reviewing his knowledge of the Hebrew language,
Swedenborg began his great works on the interpretation
of the Scriptures, which were to dominate the rest of his
life. A man of few wants, his life was simplicity itself, his food
consisting for the most part of bread, milk, and coffee. He was
in the habit of lying in a trance for days, and day and night
seemed to have no distinction for him. He regularly conversed
with angels in broad daylight, he said. At other times, his wrestlings
with evil spirits so terrified his servants that they would
seek refuge in the most distant part of the house.
Swedenborg speaks of the nature of his visions and communications
with the angels and spirits in his book Heaven and
‘‘Angels speak from the spiritual world, according to inward
thought; from wisdom, their speech flows in a tranquil stream,
gently and uninterruptedly—they speak only in vowels, the
heavenly angels in A and O, the spiritual ones in E and I, for
the vowels give tone to the speech, and by the tone the emotion
is expressed; the interruptions, on the other hand, correspond
with creations of the mind; therefore we prefer, if the subject
is lofty, for instance of heaven or God, even in human speech,
the vowels U and O, etc. Man, however, is united with heaven
by means of the word, and forms thus the link between heaven
and earth, between the divine and the natural.
‘‘But when angels speak spiritually with me from heaven,
they speak just as intelligently as the man by my side. But if they
turn away from man, he hears nothing more whatever, even if
they speak close to his ear. It is also remarkable that several angels
can speak to a man; they send down a spirit inclined to
man, and he thus hears them united.’’
From his ongoing conversations with the angelic beings, he
wrote a number of books. These may be divided into expository
books, notably The Apocalypse Revealed, The Apocalypse Explained,
and Arcana Celestia; books of spiritual philosophy, such as Intercourse
between the Soul and the Body, Divine Providence and Divine
Love and Wisdom; books dealing with the hierarchy of supernatural
spheres, such as Heaven and Hell and The Last Judgment;
and books outlining the teachings of the new church, such as
The New Jerusalem, The True Christian Religion, and Canons of the
New Church.
Of these works, his Divine Love and Wisdom most succinctly
presents his entire religious system. God he regarded as the divine
man. Spiritually God consists of infinite love, and corporeally
of infinite wisdom. From the divine love, all things draw
nourishment. The sun, as we know it, is merely a microcosm of
a spiritual sun emanating from the creator. This spiritual sun
is the source of nature; but whereas the first is alive, the second
is inanimate. There is no connection between the two worlds of
nature and spirit unless in similarity of construction. The
causes of all things exist in the spiritual sphere and their effects
in the natural sphere, and the purpose of all creation is that
man may become the image of his creator, and of the cosmos
as a whole.
Swedenborg believed that man possesses two vessels or receptacles
for the containment of God—the will for divine love,
and the understanding for divine wisdom. Before the Fall, the
flow of these virtues into the human spirit was perfect, but
through the intervention of the forces of evil, and the sins of
man himself, it was interrupted. Seeking to restore the connection
between himself and man, God came into the world as
Man, for if he had ventured on Earth in his unveiled splendor,
he would have destroyed the hells through which it was necessary
for him to proceed to redeem man, and this he did not
wish to do, merely to conquer them.
The unity of God is an essential of Swedenborgian theology,
and Swedenborg thoroughly believed that God did not return
to his own place without leaving behind him a visible representative
of himself in the word of Scripture, which is an eternal
tripartite incarnation—natural, spiritual, and celestial. Of this
Swedenborg was the apostle. Nothing seemed hidden from
him; he claimed to be aware of the appearance and conditions
of other worlds, good and evil, heaven and hell, and of the
planets. ‘‘The life of religion,’’ he stated, ‘‘is to accomplish
good. . . . The kingdom of heaven is a kingdom of uses.’’
Central to understanding his system is the doctrine of correspondences.
There are two realms of created existence, the
spiritual, which is real and substantial, and the physical, a mere
reflection of the spiritual, according to this doctrine. Everything
visible, Swedenborg argued, is the shadow of an appropriate
spiritual reality. Between the two realms is an exact correspondence.
The work of explaining the correspondences, said Swedenborg,
begins with the Scriptures; hence the prodigious amount
of time he devoted to his voluminous Scripture commentaries.
Swedenborg died in London on March 29, 1772, at Prince’s
Square, in the parish of St. George’s in East London, on the
very day he had earlier predicted in a letter to Methodist leader
John Wesley, who had sought an audience with him. In April
1908 his bones were removed, at the request of the Swedish
government, for reburial in Stockholm.
Swedenborg wrote at a time when heretical ideas were taken
seriously by state and church officials. To avoid any sanctions
for his increasingly divergent ideas he initially published his
works without his name. It was not until 1760, with the publication
of the Treatise on Four Doctrines, that his authorship was acknowledged
on the title page. Also, he wrote in Latin and argued
that he was writing for the intelligentsia and church
leadership and had no intention that his new approach would
have a following until judged by his colleagues. Nevertheless,
in his later years he found it convenient to reside outside his
native land.
In England Swedenborg’s ideas found some popular support,
and beginning in the 1770s his major works were translatSwedenborg,
Emanuel Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed.
ed. The Church of the New Jerusalem was founded there in
1774, moving to the United States in 1792 soon after the Revolution.
Sigstedt, C. O. The Swedenborg Epic The Life and Works of
Emanuel Swedenborg. New York Bookman Associates, 1952. Reprint,
London Swedenborg Society, 1981.
Swedenborg, Emanuel. Arcana Coelestia. 12 vols. New York
Swedenborg Foundation, 1905–1910.
———. Heaven and Hell. New York Swedenborg Foundation,
———. The New Jerusalem and Its Heavenly Doctrine. London
Swedenborg Society, 1938.
———. On the Divine Love and on the Divine Wisdom. London
Swedenborg Society, 1963.
———. The True Christian Religion. London Swedenborg
Society, 1950.
Woofenden, William Ross. Swedenborg Researcher’s Manual.
Bryn Athyn, Pa. Swedenborg Scientific Association, 1988.