Swedenborg and Survival

Philosophy, which on account of its self-conceit exposes itself to all sorts of empty questions, finds itself often in an awkward embarrassment in view of certain stories, parts of which it cannot doubt without suffering for it, nor believe without being laughed at. (KANT)

No choice is uninfluenced by the way in which the personality regards it destiny, and the body its death.  In the last analysis, it is our conception of death which decides our answers to all the questions that life puts to us.  That is why it requires its proper place and time – if need be with right of precedence.  Hence, too, the necessity of preparing for it. (HAMMARSKJÖLD)

These two quotations are an apposite starting point for Swedenborg’s views on survival and their relevance to our time. Some people will know of Kant’s parody of Swedenborg, Dreams of a Spirit Seer but his quotation here indicates that he was in a quandary when confronted with well attested accounts of Swedenborg’s telepathic capacities. He thought that the interaction of the soul and body was beyond our (sensory) knowing but argued for the existence of immortality on moral grounds. He elaborates that the philosopher (i.e. himself) is caught between the ‘affirmations of a reasonable and firmly convinced eye-witness and the inner resistance of insurmountable doubt’ – which is partly fear of being credulously duped and ridiculed. He relates three well-known stories, including the Marteville receipt and the Stockholm fire as examples of what he is talking about.

The so-called ‘inner resistance of insurmountable doubt’ is nothing other than the investment in a philosophical view that denies the possibility of phenomena that are not amenable to a materialistic explanation, as was becoming the fashion even in Swedenborg’s day.

What he calls the hypothesis of ‘physical influx’ or physicalism ‘arises from the appearance of the senses, and the fallacies thence derived’. The problem with this hypothesis for Swedenborg is that it is based on a threefold ignorance: ‘ignorance as to what the soul is, ignorance as to what is spiritual, and ignorance respecting the nature of influx – these three things must first be explained before the rational faculty can see the truth itself’. And he adds, knowingly: ‘For hypothetical truth is not truth itself but a conjecture of the truth’.

He sees a danger that ignorance of the existence of a spiritual world could make a person ‘so far infatuated as to become an atheistic materialist’’, remarking that his mission was precisely to enlighten people about the nature of spiritual worlds in a manner acceptable to the critical intellect. Those who know nothing of these worlds, he says, are liable to fall into blindness, ‘because the mind, depending solely on the sight of the eye, becomes in its reasonings like a bat, which flies by night in a wandering course’; into darkness because the sight of the eye is deprived of all spiritual light; and into stupidity, ‘because the man still thinks, but from natural things concerning spiritual, and not contrariwise’.

Here one is reminded of the three eyes of St Bonaventure (1217-1274): the eye of sense, the eye of reason and the eye of contemplation. Contemporary science and philosophy generally restricts itself to the first two eyes, denying the validity of the third or inner intuitive eye which in Swedenborg was so remarkably developed. Kant also confines himself to reason and sense. Yet a complete account of reality, and more especially consciousness, cannot afford to ignore the testimony of mystics and sages. In the early Church, Clement of Alexandria wrote of the roles of faith (pistis) and contemplative knowledge (gnosis) that ‘faith is a compendious knowledge of the essentials, but gnosis is a sure and firm demonstration of the things received through faith…carrying us on to unshaken conviction and scientific certainty’. He goes on to explain that the second kind of saving change, after that from heathenism to faith, is from faith to gnosis: ‘and this latter, as it passes on into love, begins at once to establish a mutual friendship between that which know and that which is known’. Here he refers to consciousness knowing its own nature, source and goal, which is not ultimately separate from itself. Or, as the Indians would put it, the self becomes aware of its identity with and within the larger Self.

A number of incidents are recorded which indicate that Swedenborg possessed what would now be regarded as psychic powers:  some  involve clairvoyance, one is a case of precognition, and three others were explained by Swedenborg himself  by his ability to converse with spirits;  modern researchers, depending on their presuppositions, might submit alternative explanations.  The first clairvoyant incident took place in July 1759, when Swedenborg was one of fifteen guests at the house of Gothenberg merchant, William Castel.  At six in the evening Swedenborg suddenly became alarmed and explained that there was a fire burning in Stockholm, 300 miles away.  He described where it was burning, where and when it had started, but was relieved when he informed the company that its progress had been halted not far from his own house.  Swedenborg related the details to the governor on the following day, and only two days after the fire did messengers arrive with reports that corresponded in every detail with Swedenborg’s description.  The fame of this incident spread far enough to arouse the curiosity of Kant, who sent his own investigator to check up on the facts;  this is one of the incidents referred to above.

There was as similar occurrence in Gottenburg around 1770 at a dinner held in Swedenborg’s honour.  A manufacturer called Bollander was also present;  he owned extensive cloth-mills, and suddenly found himself being abruptly addressed by Swedenborg who told him, apparently without any explanation, that he had better go to his mills.  The manufacturer obeyed, and on arriving at his mills he discovered that a large piece of cloth had fallen down near the furnace and had started to burn.  Any delay would have resulted in the complete razing of his property.  On returning to the dinner he thanked Swedenborg and explained what had happened.  Swedenborg replied that he had seen the danger and that there was no time to be lost – hence the abrupt tone.  On another occasion he was attending a dinner (another public function) in Amsterdam just after the Russian Emperor Peter III had fallen from power and had been replaced by his wife Catherine.  Swedenborg suddenly became unaware of his surroundings, and his expression changed radically;  on recovering he was asked what had happened and at first refused to say anything;   but he was then prevailed upon and described the gruesome death of Peter III, urging his fellow guests to note the date and his account.  A few days later the newspapers featured the story, which corresponded to Swedenborg’s description. Modern equivalents to this kind of story can be found in accounts from Kyriakos Markides’ books on the Magus of Strovolos – the late Stellianos Atteshlis as well as in the life of the Bulgarian sage Peter Deunov. They suggest that highly developed people have a more sensitive consciousness field that is more aligned to the Divine and can therefore pick up incidents that are removed from the present in space and time.

The next incident could either be classified as a case of precognition or, as Swedenborg himself would probably have said, an example of correct information given to him by the world of spirits.  One evening in company he was put to the test:  he was asked to state which of the assembled company would die first.  After a few moments of silence he said that the first to die would be Olof Olofsohn – at 4.45 the next morning.  One of Olofsohn’s friends resolved to go to his house the next morning to see if the prediction was fulfilled.  On the way he met one of Olofsohn’s servants who informed him that his master had just died, and that the clock in the apartment had apparently stopped at the moment of death, at 4.45.

In 1770 an Elberfeld merchant wanted to test Swedenborg himself:  he related that he had an important discussion with a friend shortly before he had died, and asked Swedenborg to find out what the topic of conversation had been.  Some days later he returned and informed the merchant that the subject was the restitution of all things.  The merchant is said to have turned pale on hearing the correct reply and must have been even more surprised to learn that his friend was not yet in a state of bliss as he was still tormenting himself about this subject.  Swedenborg explained that a man takes his favourite inclinations and opinions with him and advised the merchant that they were better laid aside before death.  This story might equally be explained by Swedenborg reading the mind of the merchant, although the details about his friend’s condition, if true, could not have been obtained in this way. A comparable contemporary account comes from a Bulgarian friend who dreamt of a friend of her father’s after his death and was instructed to pass on to him the message ‘There is a transcendental world’. The father was deeply moved as he had had discussions 50 years previously with this same friend and they had agreed that whoever died first would try to find some way of sending a message to the other – and, in this case, they always used the term ‘transcendental world’.

Queen Louisa Ulrica of Sweden had heard of Swedenborg’s ostensible powers, and had serious doubts about his sanity.  But she was reassured by Count Scheffer, who arranged for Swedenborg to come to court.  The queen questioned him about his abilities and asked him to take a commission to her dead brother.  Some time later Swedenborg was once again brought to court and had a private audience with the queen;  no one ever found out what Swedenborg had told her, but she was so shocked that she had to retire – later she explained that she had been told something which no person living knew.  An intrepid reporter made further attempts to find out what had been said, but he was dismissed with sovereign contempt – ‘je ne suis pas facilement dupée’.

If the last two incidents can be explained by thought-reading, the same is not true of the following account, also referred to by Kant.  In 1761 the Countess de Marteville came to Swedenborg to explain that her husband, who had been ambassador to the Netherlands, had given her a valuable silver service before his death.  The silversmith was now demanding an exorbitant payment, even though she was sure that her husband had paid for it already;  but the receipt was nowhere to be found.  The countess asked Swedenborg to contact her husband to ask about the receipt.  Three days later he told her that he had spoken to her husband, who had informed him that the vital document was in a bureau upstairs.  The woman replied that the bureau had already been searched, but Swedenborg insisted that she should remove a certain drawer and pull off its false back.  The papers were duly found in the secret place, whose existence was only known to the dead count.  The story is related by eleven different sources and vouched for by Swedenborg himself when he was later questioned about it.  The only alternative hypothesis to a ‘conversation’ with the dead man in this instance is some form of so-called post-cognition, whereby Swedenborg had picked up the information from a sort of ‘event bank’, but this theory is extremely unspecific and is little more than a sophisticated and desperate question-begging device – as Burt pointed out. The modern term for this theory is the ‘super-ESP’ hypothesis, which is a last ditch attempt to discredit the survival hypothesis. In his defence, Swedenborg observes:

Many will say that no one can possibly speak with spirits and angels so long as he lives in the body;  and many will say that it is all a phantasy, others that I relate such things in order to gain credence, and others will make other objections;  but by all this I am not deterred, for I have seen, I have heard, I have felt.

Elsewhere,  he refers to things which ‘have been proved to me by the daily experience of many years’;  and when talking of the fact that a man is essentially unchanged after death he asserts that this ‘has been proved to me by manifold experience’.  In other words Swedenborg retains the empirical approach – indeed the radical empiricism of William James – and analyses these uncommon experiences in the same way as he would go about the examination of a crystal or a part of the anatomy.  He never dramatises his writings, but relates the facts about the nature of the soul, its relation to the body and its persistence after the death of the body in a straightforward and down-to-earth manner.

Swedenborg gives a succinct definition of the soul and its relation to the body:

As regards the soul of which it is said that it will live after death, it is nothing but the man himself who lives within the body, that is, the interior man who in this world acts through the body, and gives life to the body.  This man, when freed from the body, is called a spirit.

The terms spirit, soul and internal man are used synonymously most of the time, although above spirit is used to denote the man freed from the body;  occasionally soul is used to mean the spirit of a man while still in the body, a distinction which Swedenborg seems to have derived from Augustine (the use of the preposition in when referring to the relation of the soul to the body is significant and illustrates Swedenborg’s idea of instrumentality).  The other term, ‘internal man’, is peculiar to Swedenborg, who uses it in contrast with the external man who is manifest through his physical body.  The use of these terms will become clearer in reference to the after-death state.  One further synonym emerges, that of mind:  ‘The mind of man is his spirit and the spirit is the man because by mind are understood all the things of man’s will and understanding.  These two faculties of will and understanding are said to act in harness:  the understanding contains all that a man thinks of, while the will is all the things that affect a man (emotionally), thus the will operates through ‘affections’ and the understanding through thoughts.  Swedenborg considers the explanation of the understanding self-evident, but admits that the function of the will is harder to grasp.  He compares the understanding to the sound of the voice, and the will to its tone:  the meaning of the sentence is given in its structure, while the more subtle emotional message can be grasped in its tone.  In practice these two operations are separated;  only in a reproduced synthesiser would the tone carry no significance.  As the affection is related to the will, so it is related to love;  not in the ordinary sense, but rather in terms of preoccupations and habits, which Swedenborg terms the ruling loves – the lines along which a man’s thoughts usually run in opinions, tastes and inclinations. The qualities of the essential inner man are manifest in his thoughts and emotional tendencies.

Swedenborg expands on the nature of soul and body, and their respective functions in a very similar way to Plotinus:

Whoever duly considers the subject can know that the body does not think, because it is material, but that the soul, which is spiritual, does.  The soul of man, upon the immortality of which many have written, is his spirit …..this is also what thinks in the body, for it is spiritual …..all rational life that appears in the body belongs to the soul, and nothing of it to the body;  for the body, as said above, is material, and the material, which is the property of the body added to and, as it were, almost adjoined to the spirit, in order that the spirit of man may be able to life in the natural world, all things of which are material and in themselves devoid of life;  And because the material does not live but only the spiritual, it can be established that whatever lives in man is his spirit, and that the body merely serves it, just as what is instrumental serves a moving living force.  An instrument is said indeed to act, to move, or to strike;  but to believe that these are acts of the instrument, and not of him who acts, or strikes by means of an instrument, is a fallacy.

This formulation turns on its head most of the twentieth century ways of thinking, and may require some mental acrobatics to appreciate:  it is not the body which feels, but the spirit which feels through the body, a view which follows the line of Plato and which anticipates those of Schiller, James, and Bergson;  the matter of the dead body has no sensation unless the spirit is operating within it, in the same way as a severed limb automatically loses sensation.  More will be said below of the senses after death.

From the above conception that the soul is the man within the body, it follows that death is the separation of the soul from the body:

Separation or death occurs when, from some sickness or accident, the body comes into such a condition that it is unable to act in unison with its spirit …..then man is said to die.  This takes place when the respiration of the lungs and the beatings of the heart cease.  But yet the man does not die;  he is merely separated from the corporeal part that was of use to him in the world, for the man himself lives.  It is said that the man himself lives, since man is not a man because of his body but because of his spirit, for it is the spirit in man that thinks, and thought with affection makes man.

This is a very clear exposition. In brief, for some reason or other the spirit and body are no longer able to act in conjunction, so that a separation takes place;  because it is the spirit which lives in man, it continues to exist while the body decays.

Swedenborg explains that as soon as the heartbeat ceases the man is ‘resuscitated’, which means that the spirit is drawn out of the body.  In order better to report the details, Swedenborg himself claims to have undergone the experience.  He was brought into a state of bodily insensibility with his interior life and though unimpaired so that he could retain the memory of the experience.  He describes that he first perceived celestial angels (he explains elsewhere that all angels have been men, and that heaven is divided into three broad categories, the highest of which is celestial, then spiritual, then natural – the highest angels come first);  these celestial angels represent the highest and most spiritual forms of thought, corresponding to the Fundamental Clear Light of the Bardo Thodol – will be remembered that those who can accept the light attain liberation.  If the spirit is not of celestial quality, he will feel uncomfortable in the presence of celestial angels and will long to escape from them.  Next come angels from the spiritual kingdom, corresponding to the secondary clear light;  they will likewise withdraw if the spirit feels uneasy, and are then replaced by angels from the natural kingdom –  ‘But if he lived such a life in the world as would prevent him enjoying the company of the good, he longs to get away from them, and this experience will be repeated until he comes into association with such as are in entire harmony with his life in the world;  and with such he finds his own life, and what is surprising, he leads a life like that which he led in the world.’  Thus a spiritual gravitation takes place, whereby the novitiate spirit finds the milieu which corresponds to his inner disposition.  In a reincarnation framework, this would correspond to the choice of a new life, as in Plato’s Republic, but reincarnation is specifically rejected by Swedenborg.

Swedenborg describes sensations of bewilderment in the novitiate in similar terms to the Bardo Thodol:

I may state that much experience has shown me that when a man comes into the other life he is not aware that he is in that life, but supposes that he is still in the world, and even that he is still in the body.  So much is this the case that when he is told that he is a spirit, wonder and amazement possess him, both because he finds himself exactly like a man, in his senses, desires and thoughts, and because during life in this world he had not believed in the existence of the spirit, or, as is the case with some, that the spirit could be what he now finds itself to be.

Similar accounts might be given from contemporary accounts of near-death experiences. Swedenborg points out that no sight or hearing is possible in the absence of the appropriate organ, hence that the spirit as well as the body has to be in a form, a human form, which enjoys senses when separated from the body.  The fact that the body is a duplicate of the physical body accounts for the confusion of the novitiate, who can only associate body with matter;  thus when he sees that he is in a body he concludes that he must still be in a material body.

The senses, then, are manifest through another body which is substantial in the sense that it has form, but not in the sense that the form is material.  This body cannot be seen with the eyes of the bodybut only with the eyes of the spirit, to which it seems like a man in the world.  His senses are supposed to be far more exquisite ‘for the things of the body, being comparatively gross, had rendered the sensations obtuse, and this all the more because the man had immersed them in earthly and worldly things’.  The thoughts are much clearer and more distinct – ‘there are more things contained in a single idea of their thought than in a thousand of the ideas that they had possessed in this world.’ Again this compares interestingly with descriptions of very clear mental processes in contemporary NDEs. The speech is said to be interior, thus communication is wordless – i.e. telepathic –  and thoughts pass from one to the other without the medium of spoken language;  nor can the thoughts be concealed, as their expression is immediate and spontaneous – an embarrassing prospect of those who, like Voltaire, reckon that our tongues are for concealing our thoughts.  In conclusion, Swedenborg points out that ‘life consists in the exercise of sensation, for without it there is no life, and such as the faculty of sensation is, such is the life’ – a conception of life in terms of continued experience similar to the assumptions made by H.H. Price in his essay on Survival and the Idea of Another World.  After death man is in a spiritual body which has more refined senses than its physical counterpart.

Reactions to the burial of the physical body are mixed.  Swedenborg explains that the scene can only be perceived by the spirit through his eyes (material) not through their own, and even then only because he is in the unique position of being in both the natural and spiritual worlds at once.  Yet one does read elsewhere of people witnessing their funeral not apparently through the eyes of a witness. One friend of his said at his funeral that they should throw his body away, because he himself was alive.  The engineer Polhem, however, is reported by Swedenborg to have experienced a good deal of confusion or cognitive dissonance owing to his previous views:

Polhem died on Monday. He spoke with me on Thursday;  and when I was invited to his funeral he saw his coffin, and those who were there, and the whole procession, and also when his body was laid in the grave;  and in the meantime he spoke with me, asking why he was buried when he was still alive:  and he heard, also, when the priest said that he would be resuscitated at the last judgment, and yet he had been resuscitated for some time;  and he marvelled that such a belief should exist, as that men should be resuscitated at the last judgment, when he was still alive;  and that the body should rise again, when yet he himself was sensible of being in a body.

Polhem’s witnessing of his own funeral should have enabled him to appreciate his true state.  Swedenborg tells of acquaintances with whom he had conversed after their death, and who have

wondered exceedingly that during the bodily life no one knows or believes that he is to live when the bodily life is over …..they have  desired me to tell their friends that they are alive, and to write and tell them what their condition is, even as I have related to themselves many things about that of their friends here.  But I replied that were I to tell their friends such things, or to write to them about them, they would not believe, but would call them delusions, would scoff at them, and would ask for signs and miracles before they would believe;  and I should merely expose myself to their derision.

Sadly this is probably true, even today. If one is to believe a message purporting to come from Bertrand Russell through Rosemary Brown, he would not have believed his own message while still in the body.  Swedenborg is extremely pessimistic about the possibility of convincing those still in the body of the continued existence of their friends.  He gives three main arguments for scepticism about the immediate resuscitation of consciousness:  that the spirit can have no existence apart from the body;  that men will sleep until the day of judgement;  and that the nature of the soul is to be unextended in space.  The first two arguments are forms of materialism, in that neither can conceive of an existence apart from the physical body – the first a rationalist and the second a religious version.  The third derives from the Cartesian assumption that while the body is substantial and extended in space, the soul or mind is unextended, and can therefore have no form.  We shall look at each of these in turn.

Swedenborg comments that when the sensuous and corporeal man thinks about the separation of the spirit from the body, it strikes him as an impossible thing, because he places life in the body, and confirms himself in this idea from the fact that brute animals also live, but do not live after death.

But, Swedenborg argues, he has forgotten his rational faculty, which distinguishes him from animals and which Swedenborg calls the ‘in-most’;  as we have seen, Aristotle and others made the same distinction.  The corporeal man also contended that the spirit cannot exist because it is invisible, to which Swedenborg replied that it was invisible only to the corporeal eyes, not to those of the spirit.  Men who can only think in bodily categories, he concludes, find the existence of a separate spirit impossible to conceive.

We have already indicated the problems inherent in resuscitation at the last judgement with respect of Polhem’s funeral.  Swedenborg describes this theory of bodily resurrection as ‘so universal that almost everyone holds it as a matter of doctrine’.  But this opinion has prevailed ‘because the natural man supposes that it is the body alone which lives;   and that therefore unless he believed that the body would receive life again, he would deny the resurrection altogether’.  In some cases, Swedenborg asserts, the last judgment has been awaited so long that it is believed that the soul will never rise again.  He goes on to give his own view, which we have outlined above, of immediate resuscitation.  And on one occasion he records having asked some spirits whether ‘they wished to be clothed again in their earthly body, as they had thought before.  On hearing this they fled far away at the very idea of such a conjunction, being filled with amazement that they had so thought from blind faith without understanding’.

The learned, it is remarked, have the idea that the spirit is abstract thought, and are unwilling to grant that it may have any extension.  The thinking subject has extension in space (form), but the thought has none;  and if the spirit has no extension, it can have no substance, and cannot be in any place.  Swedenborg comments on this state of affairs (or rather confusion):

But an abuse arises from the fact that philosophers abide in terms, and dispute concerning them without coming to an agreement, from which all idea of the thing itself perishes, and the comprehension of the man is rendered so limited that he ceases at length to know anything but terms.  Accordingly, when such persons would master a subject by their terms they do nothing but heap them up, obscuring the whole matter, so that they can understanding nothing of it.

A practical example of this is recorded:  Swedenborg is conversing with one who in the world believed that the spirit has no extension, and asked him how he now thought of himself, seeing that he was a soul with all his senses and supposed himself to be exactly as if in the body.  He replied that spirit was thought, whereupon Swedenborg pointed out that no senses could exist without the appropriate organs, and that the brain is required for the transmission of thought in the body;  therefore the body in which he now found himself must be of some organic substance, even though not material, for without it there would be no sensation, and without sensation, no life (ie consciousness), ‘whereupon he confessed his error, and wondered that he had been so foolish’.

The common thread running through the above three varieties of scepticism is the paradoxical situation which arises when the man still finds himself conscious and in a body after death.  Much of this phenomenon has been recorded by William Baldwin and others in their work on spirit attachment. According to the materialists, they should have ceased to exist;  but they are still conscious and alive in a sense, hence their first reaction, as we have seen, is to believe that they are not dead at all, but still alive in the physical body;  only gradually, by conversing with other spirits, do they rid themselves of this illusion.  The philosophers are less surprised to find themselves alive than to find themselves in a body, as they had equated the substantial with the material, thus concluding that anything which was not material would not be substantial or have extension.  Their experience slowly convinces them of the real nature of their survival, so that in the end all their a priori categories are dropped, and they experience themselves as they are.  The empirical approach also has to be applied to an unfamiliar set of circumstances.

We shall now look briefly at Swedenborg’s account of the development of man in the spiritual world;  readers who wish to examine this in detail are referred to the original texts.   The man arrives with everything except his earthly body:  his disposition and memory are not changed in any respect.  Swedenborg distinguishes two kinds of memory, the internal and the external:  on the internal memory is inscribed everything that a man has thought, willed, spoken, done or even heard.  Hence nothing whatsoever is lost and the man can be judged by the recreation of all his acts, thoughts, and intentions concerning any hidden crime or misdemeanour – this constitutes the life review:

Deceits and thefts …..were also enumerated in detail, many of which had been known to scarcely any in the world except themselves.  These deeds they confessed, because they were plainly set forth, with every thought, intention, pleasure and fear which occupied their minds at the time.

The record is read as if in a book;  and this book has been compiled by the man himself, so that his character has been built up  by the thoughts of his mind and by the acts of his will.

The person, then, corresponds essentially to the ‘ruling love’ or primary disposition, in terms of which he thinks and acts, and which is responsible for his initial gravitation to a certain milieu or society.  At first there may be some discrepancy between the ‘internal’ and the ‘external’, between what is thought and willed on the one hand, and what is spoken and done on the other.  As the former internal man is the more essential, it gradually comes to predominate, thus eliminating the initial division;  there is no longer any external restraint to be taken into account, so that man is able to act in accordance with his own nature.  Corresponding to this, the face is transformed into an image of the ruling love, of which it is the outer form:

All in the other life are brought into such a state as to speak as they think, and to manifest in their looks and gestures the inclinations of their will.  And because of this the faces of all become forms and images of their affections.

When this is complete the man gravitates to his ‘natural’ abode in heaven or hell, a process which rounds off the gravitation expressed in the experience of dying described above.

Swedenborg makes two more important points:  first that no one comes to heaven as a result of immediate mercy.  In other words there is no justification by faith alone or last-minute repentance;  mere knowledge without action is not manifested through the will, as is therefore not part of the essential man.  In addition, because the man’s ruling love is his life, destruction of an evil ruling love would involve annihilation of the man himself.  The man whose bodily life has been the opposite of heaven cannot miraculously be transformed into the opposite of his nature.  For a man to gain access (or rather gravitate) to heaven, his thoughts and affections must correspond to the heavenly.

Second, Swedenborg reassuringly maintains that it is not so difficult to lead a heavenly life as is believed.  He warns against the hermit whose sorrowful life will continue to be sorrowful after death ‘since life continues the same after death’.  On the contrary, man is exhorted to live in the world and engage in duties and employments there.  He must live an internal and an external life at the same time, but must not content himself with practising virtues because of the restraints of the law, but rather because it accords with divine laws;  thus he acts not out of fear but from love, with the result that there is no division between his internal and his external.

In terms of subject matter we have come a long way from the Board of Mines, but for Swedenborg this exploration was an extension of the empirical approach and of reason into the realms of the spiritual.  He writes of experiences which few have had, some of which are only now becoming more familiar in the light of parallel experiences in our own century.  He predicted the day and time of his own death in March 1772, and paid his landlady exactly up to the end of the month.

It is clear from the foregoing analysis that Swedenborg gives priority to the first-person perspective and to his own experience, treating the third-person view based on the evidence of the senses as a superficial fallacy. He asserts the existence of the soul and of the continuity of the self and consciousness through death. He also seems to envisage the long-term persistence of the personality – as witnessed in his accounts of conversations with Luther – which other schools doubt as the self becomes more identified with the Universal Self and therefore loses some of its limiting boundaries. And yet identity does imply a degree of separation from any Ground of Being. My personal conviction is that we cannot become less than we are at death as growth always implies that we can become more, and can manifest potentials hidden from us in the body and obscured by the time-bound personality. Indeed Swedenborg himself says as much when he insists that all angels were once human beings.


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