Swedenborg, Emmanuel

Swedenborg, Emmanuel (1688–1772)

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

Emanuel Swedenborg was a Swedish engineer, philosopher, and mystic. He was a military engineer who turned the fortunes of a campaign for Charles XII of Sweden. He was an authority on astronomy and physics, and on the tides and latitudes. He was also a zoologist and anatomist. Swedenborg was a Spiritualist before there was such a term.

Regarded as one of the greatest and most learned men of his country, Swedenborg was born in Stockholm on January 29, 1688. He was the second son of Jesper Swedberg, a Lutheran pastor who was later appointed Bishop of Skara. Emanuel assumed the name Swedenborg when he was elevated to nobility by Queen Ulrica in 1719. He was educated at Uppsala University, and after graduating in 1710, he traveled throughout Europe for five years, pursuing scientific and mechanical knowledge.

In 1716, Swedenborg started the publication of a scientific periodical called Dædalus hyperboreus. Charles XII of Sweden was interested in the publication, and appointed Swedenborg as Assessor Extraordinary to the Royal College of Mines, a position Swedenborg held for thirty years. He finally resigned to devote the rest of his life to spreading the spiritual enlightenment for which he believed himself to have been especially chosen. Although he accepted the Bible as the work of God, he said that its true meaning was quite different from its seeming meaning, and that only he, Emanuel Swedenborg—with the help of the angels—could give its true meaning.

In 1734, Swedenborg published an important work, Opera Philosophica et Mineralia, about the formation of the planets. In the same year, he published Prodomus Philosophic Ratiocinantrio de Infinte, on the relationship between the finite and the infinite and between the soul and the body. He followed these with other major works on anatomy, geology, and mineralogy. Swedenborg believed he was in direct communication with heavenly spirits and in his books recorded conversations he had with them. He was an established clairvoyant. At one time—through astral projection or, as it was then known, “traveling clairvoyance"—he was able to describe a fire that was taking place in Stockholm, more than 250 miles away from where he was. This was attested to by the philosopher Immanuel Kant, who was present when Swedenborg described the fire and who followed up on it to check the facts. Swedenborg had shown similar psychic ability as a child.

Swedenborg had his first vision in 1744, at the age of fifty-six. He saw “a kind of vapor steaming from the pores of my body. It was a most visible watery vapor and fell downwards to the ground upon the carpet.” To a modern-day Spiritualist, this was an apt description of ectoplasm. His later descriptions of the world beyond death included details of a number of spheres, “representing various shades of luminosity and happiness,” according to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Swedenborg said that in these spheres, the scenery and conditions of this present plane were closely reproduced; there were houses and temples, halls for assemblies, and palaces for rulers. Possibly because his views were tinged by his theological background, he spoke of angels and devils, though he did say that both such were the spirits of those who had previously lived on earth and were either highly developed souls or undeveloped souls. He gave many views of the afterlife, all in great detail. Many of his ideas have been absorbed into Spiritualist beliefs.

At the death of his friend Polhern, Swedenborg reported, “He died on Monday and spoke with me on Thursday. I was invited to the funeral. He saw the hearse and saw them let down the coffin into the grave. He conversed with me as it was going on, asking why they had buried him when he was still alive.” Doyle suggests that every Spiritualist should honor Swedenborg and that his bust should be in every Spiritualist temple.

The Swedenborg Church, also known as The Church of the New Jerusalem, was founded after his death in 1772. Many of his ideas influenced the later Spiritualist movement. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle suggested that it may have been the spirit of Swedenborg that influenced Andrew Jackson Davis.


Buckland, Raymond: Buckland’s Book of Spirit Communications. St. Paul: Llewellyn, 2004
Doyle, Sir Arthur Conan: The History of Spiritualism. New York: Doran, 1926
Ennemoser, Joseph (tr. William Howitt): The History of Magic. London: Henry G. Bohn, 1854
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