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Swedenborg, Emanuel

Category: Philosopher

Emanuel Swedenborg, 75, holding
the manuscript of Apocalypsis

Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772) was a Swedish scientist, philosopher, Christian mystic and theologian.

Swedenborg had a prolific career as an inventor and scientist. After studying at Uppsala university, he spent four years studying physics, mechanics, and philosophy in London.  He also read and wrote poetry.  In 1715, Swedenborg returned to Sweden, where for the next two decades he devoted himself to natural science and engineering projects. In the 1730s,  however, Swedenborg started to become more and more interested in spiritual matters and by the age of 56 had changed course completely, this is described below.

Like Lewis Carroll, Swedenborg was plagued by a stutter, which affected his career as it prevented him from speaking publicly.  He was looked upon as a kind and warm-hearted man and remained a bachelor throughout his life.  When in the company of others, he was jovial, and conversed about whatever subject was discussed.

Spiritual influences

Uppsala university

Swedenborg was born into a deeply religious family.  Swedenborg's wealthy father Jesper studied theology, becoming professor of theology at Uppsala University and Bishop of Skara.  Jesper took an interest in the beliefs of the dissenting Lutheran Pietist movement, who, like the Quakers, emphasised the virtues of communion with God rather than relying on sheer faith.  These beliefs were considered heretical at the time by the established church, however, they were to have a major impact on his son Emanuel's spirituality. Jesper furthermore believed that angels and spirits were ‘present’ in everyday life.


In the 1730s, Swedenborg became increasingly interested in spiritual matters and was determined to find a theory which would explain how matter relates to spirit.

Swedenborg's desire to understand the order and purpose of creation first led him to investigate the anatomical structure of matter and then the process of creation itself. During the 1730s Swedenborg studied the works of philosophers of the time, as well as returning to earlier thinkers - Plato, Aristotle, Plotinus, Augustine, Descartes and others.

During 1744, at the age of 56, whilst travelling in the Netherlands,  he began having strange dreams. Swedenborg carried a travel journal with him on most of his travels, and did so on this journey. The whereabouts of the diary were long unknown, but it was discovered in the Royal Library in the 1850s and published in 1859 as Drömboken, or Journal of Dreams.  It provides a first-hand account of the events of the crisis.

He experienced many different dreams and visions, some greatly pleasurable, others highly disturbing. This process continued for six months. It was the start of the spiritual path – the initiatory phase when souls are put through a process of testing and made ready for some major spiritual task in their life. 


In the last entry of the journal from October 26-27 1744, Swedenborg appears to be clear as to which path to follow. He felt he should write a new book about the worship of God. He soon began working on De cultu et amore Dei, or The Worship and Love of God. It was not completed, although it was published in June 1745.

In April 1745, Swedenborg was dining in a private room at a tavern in London. By the end of the meal, the room shifted character. Suddenly he saw a person sitting at a corner of the room, telling Swedenborg: "Do not eat too much!" Swedenborg, scared, hurried home. Later that night, the same man appeared in his dreams. The man told Swedenborg that He was the Lord, that He had appointed Swedenborg to reveal the spiritual meaning of the Bible, and that He would guide Swedenborg in what to write. The same night, the spiritual world was opened to Swedenborg.

In June 1747, Swedenborg resigned his post as assessor of the board of mines. He took up afresh his study of Hebrew and began to work on the spiritual interpretation of the Bible with the goal of interpreting the spiritual meaning of every verse. From sometime between 1746 and 1747, and for the next ten years, he devoted his energy to this task.

Swedenborg's transition from scientist to philosopher has fascinated many people ever since it occurred, including such people as Immanuel Kant, William Blake, Goethe, Arthur Conan Doyle, Balzac, Jorge Luis Borges, August Strindberg, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Carl Jung.


Some assert that Swedenborg lost his mind, suffering some sort of mental illness or nervous breakdown. While this idea was not uncommon during Swedenborg's own time, it is mitigated by his activity in the Riksdag (the Swedish parliament), and the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. In fact, close analysis of the historical facts of his life, would appear to establish his sanity. Additionally, the system of thought in his theological writings is remarkably coherent.

Swedenborg proposed many scientific ideas, both before his crisis and after. He believed that higher knowledge is not something that can be acquired, but that it is based on intuition. After his crisis in 1745, he instead considered himself receiving scientific knowledge in a spontaneous manner from angels.  From 1745, when he considered himself to have entered a spiritual state, he tended to phrase his "experiences" in empirical terms, claiming to report accurately things he had experienced on his spiritual journeys.

Psychic accounts

 There are three well known incidents of psychic ability reported in literature about Swedenborg.

  •  The first was from July 29, 1759, when during a dinner in Gothenburg, he excitedly told the party at six o' clock that there was a fire in Stockholm (405 km away), that it consumed his neighbour's home and was threatening his own. Two hours later, he exclaimed with relief that the fire stopped three doors from his home. Two days later, reports confirmed every statement to the precise hour that Swedenborg first expressed the information.
  •  The second was in 1758 when Swedenborg visited Queen Louisa Ulrika of Sweden, who asked him to tell her something about her deceased brother Augustus William. The next day, Swedenborg whispered something in her ear that turned the Queen pale and she explained that this was something only she and her brother could know about.
  •  The third was a woman who had lost an important document, and came to Swedenborg asking if a recently deceased person could tell him where it was, which he (in some sources) was said to have done the following night.

 The latter two incidents are disputed by some, but the first is verifiable as it has witnesses.



 From the age of 56 and for the remaining 28 years of his life, Swedenborg wrote 18 published and several unpublished theological works. His better known works are shown in the references.

Swedenborg's approach to demonstrating the veracity of his theological teachings was to find and use voluminous quotations from the Old Testament and New Testament to demonstrate agreement between the Bible and his theological teachings. The vast and consistent use of Biblical quotations in Swedenborg's theological writings led a Swedish Royal Council in 1771, examining the heresy charges of 1770 against two Swedish supporters of his theological writings, to declare "there is much that is true and useful in Swedenborg's writings”.

One of his ideas that is considered most crucial for the understanding of his theology is his notion of correspondences. He first presented the theory of correspondences in 1744, before his crisis, in the first volume of Regnum Animale dealing with the human soul.

The basis of the correspondence theory is that there is a relationship between the natural ("physical"), the spiritual, and the divine worlds. The foundations of this theory can be traced to Neoplatonism and the philosopher Plotinus in particular. With the aid of this scenario, Swedenborg now interpreted the Bible in a different light, claiming that even the most apparently trivial sentences could hold a profound spiritual meaning.


Swedenborg's theological writings have elicited a range of responses. One of the most prominent Swedish authors of Swedenborg's day, Johan Henrik Kellgren, called Swedenborg "nothing but a fool".

But towards the end of Swedenborg's life, small reading groups formed in England and Sweden to study his books. 

How did he obtain his wisdom?  He clearly had help from his genes [inherited genes], but he also wrote extensively and practised hypnagogia - Relaxation


  • The Heavenly doctrines website - a searchable library of Swedenborg's "revelatory phase" theological writings.
  • Principia - in these books, he outlines his philosophical method, which incorporates experience, geometry (the means whereby the inner order of the world can be known), and the power of reason; and he presented his cosmology, which included the first presentation of the Nebular hypothesis
    • (Principia, Volume I) Latin: Tomus I. Principia rerum naturlium sive novorum tentaminum phaenomena mundi elementaris philosophice explicandi
    • (Principia, Volume II) Latin: Tomus II. Regnum subterraneum sive minerale de ferro
    • (Principia, Volume III) Latin: Tomus III. Regnum subterraneum sive minerale de cupro et orichalco
  •  On the Infinite - In 1735,  he published the small manuscript de Infinito ("On the Infinite"), where he attempted to explain how the finite is related to the infinite, and how the soul is connected to the body.  Latin: Prodromus Philosophiz Ratiocinantis de Infinito, et Causa Finali Creationis; deque Mechanismo Operationis Animae et Corporis.
  • Regnum animale, 3 volumes 1744-1745, (The Animal Kingdom)
  • De Cultu et Amore Dei, 2 volumes 1745, (The Worship and Love of God)
  • Arcana Cœlestia ("Heavenly Secrets")1749-1756, Arcana Cœlestia, quae in Scriptura Sacra seu Verbo Domini sunt, detecta., 8 volumes,  is the culmination of 10 years of study and  is Swedenborg’s interpretation of the Bible with the spiritual meaning of every verse.  He believed the Bible described a human's transformation from a materialistic to a spiritual being. He begins this work by outlining how the creation myth is not an account of the creation of Earth, but an account of man's rebirth in six steps. Everything related to mankind could also be related to Jesus Christ, and how Christ freed himself from materialistic boundaries. Swedenborg examined this idea by an explanation of Genesis and Exodus.  It was to become his magnum opus, and the basis of his further theological works. The work was anonymous and Swedenborg was not identified as the author until the late 1750s. It attracted little attention, as few people could penetrate its meaning
  • De Caelo et Ejus Mirabilibus et de inferno. Ex Auditis et Visis. - 1758, (Heaven and Hell)
  • The Last Judgment in Retrospect: From De Ultimo Judicio Et De Babylonia Destructa is one of his lesser known works and stresses God's love and mercy and rejects the fearful prophecies of fiery destruction and eternal damnation.
    De Equo Albo de quo in Apocalypsi Cap.XIX. 1758, (The White Horse)
  • De Telluribus in Mundo Nostro Solari, quæ vocantur planetæ: et de telluribus in coelo astrifero: deque illarum incolis; tum de spiritibus & angelis ibi; ex auditis & visis.  - 1758, (Earths in the Universe)
  • De Nova Hierosolyma et Ejus Doctrina Coelesti  - 1758, (The New Jerusalem and Its Heavenly Doctrine)
  • Doctrina Novæ Hierosolymæ de Domino - 1763, (Doctrine of the Lord)
  • Doctrina Novæ Hierosolymæ de Scrip­tura Sacra - 1763, (Doctrine of the Sacred Scripture)
  • Doctrina Vitæ pro Nova Hierosolyma ex præceptis Deca­logi. 1763, (Doctrine of Life)
  • Doctrina Novæ Hierosolymæ de Fide - 1763, (Doctrine of Faith)
  • Continuatio De Ultimo Judicio: et de mundo spirituali - 1763, (Continuation of The Last Judgement)
  • Sapientia Angelica de Divino Amore et de Divina Sapientia. Sapientia Angelica de Divina Providentia. 1763, (Divine Love and Wisdom)
  • Sapientia Angelica de Divina Providentia. 1764, (Divine Providence):
  • Apocalypsis Revelata, in quae detegunter Arcana quae ibi preedicta sunt. 1766, (Apocalypse Revealed):
  •  Deliciae Sapientiae de Amore Conjugiali; post quas sequumtur voluptates insaniae de amore scortatorio. 1768, (Conjugial Love, or Marital Love)
  • Summaria Expositio Doctrinæ Novæ Ec­cle­siæ, quæ per Novam Hierosolymam in Apocalypsi intelligitur. 1769, (Brief Exposition)
  • De Commercio Animæ & Corporis. 1769, (Intercourse of the Soul and the Body)
  • Vera Christiana Religio (The True Christian Religion), was published in Amsterdam in 1771 and was one of the most appreciated of his works. Designed to explain his teachings to Lutheran Christians
  • 1859, Drömboken, Journalanteckningar, 1743-1744
  • 1983-1997, (Spiritual Diary) Latin: Diarum, Ubi Memorantur Experiantiae Spirituales.


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