Swedenborg and the Visionary Tradition | Yoga | Emanuel Swedenborg

Swedenborg and the Visionary

Tradition
Stephen Larsen, Ph. D.
The two parts of the following essay were first presented to the annual meeting of the Society
for the Scientific Study of Religion, San Antonio, in 1980. Subsequently they were published
as a single piece in Studia Swedenborgiana 3, no. 4 (June 1980).
Herein the article has been divided into two parts. The first represents a positive statement
on Swedenborg's mental health, which the editors felt especially necessarv to include because
over the years various psychiatric writers have tried to psychoanalyze Swedenborg ex post facto
with a negative approach and diagnosis, that is, assuming that his visionary experiences were
the result of pathology. This kind of approach has undoubtably donc Swedenborg damage for
many general readers unacquainted either with his biography or the great internaI coherence of
his work.
The second essay, using transpersonal psychology as a refercnce, shows in precisely what
ways Swedenborg's unusual experiences should be perceived not as abnormal but as part of
what the author refers to as the "visionary tradition." Like the "perennial philosophy," to which
it has made a substantiaJ contribution, the tradition shows us spiritual truths about the human
condition that transcend time and culture. The thesis is that Swedenborg should be considered
a major Western contributor to this tradition.
Part 1
Swedenborg's Mental Health
:-\T ,-\BOllT THE AGE of fifty-five Emanuel Swedenborg began written. His visionary revelations caused considerable con­
to experience a series of visions in which he fclt as if his troversy in his own time as weil as after. As is often truc or
"'inner sight" were being opened; and he beheld a spiritual inspirational material, there was conflict with establishèd
dimension intimately but invisibly connected to this world. thought. Theologians who had no trouble preaching the t::\­
Ir was characteristic of Swedenborg to write of his inner istence of the transcendental reality portrayed in the scrip­
experiences in meticulous detail, wi th the same scholarly tures had more difficulty with a contemporary who claimed
care he had given to his numerous scientific treatises. Thus, to have entered the realm experientally.
he left one of the most complete psychological journals ever Subsequent opinion on Swedenborg's life and vv'Ork would
STEPHE'\i LARSEN received his B.A. and M.A. l'rom Columbia University and his Ph.D. from
the Union Graduare School. A teacher and practicing psychotherapist, he has been active in
helping to develop the emergent discipline of transpersonal psychology (psychology with a
spiritual side) in the United States and abroad. He is on the board of directors of the Swedenborg
Foundation in :\'ew York City. His published writings include The ,)'haman's Doorway (Harper
& Row, 1976) and the introduction to the volume on Swedenborg in the Paulist Press series
Classics of Western Spirituality, as weil as numerous articles and papers.
,':' .-\:\THOLOGY: SOCIAIJ ISSl"ES PSYC:HOLOGY
\l!\ from seeing him as the avatar of a planetary
Church" [see Glossary], to believing him mad and his visions
sUluble mainly for psychoanalysis.
Ir is the purpose of this essay to move into the space
bemeen these opposites. The scientifieally and psycho log­
iC..llly sophisticated modern reader requires an introduction
tG S\vedenborg that starts from a premise neither unilaterally
crirical nor credulous. Contemporary perspectives in the so­
cial sciences need to be taken into account. More specifically,
1 feel it is important to portray the human dimension of
Swcdenborg, and to look at his visions not as aberrations,
but as particularly unique and valuable instances of what is,
in faet, a universal human capacity. The recorded annals of
this eapacity are what 1 refer ta as "the visionary tradition."
1t is a tradition shown by anthropologists to have roots as far
baek as Paleolithic times. Shamanism in particular shows
\isionary activity to be the genesis of healing, psychology,
and an. There is a great deal of difference between the
\isions of the madman and those of the shaman.
In psychology, the emerging field called "the psychology
of consciousness" establishes the visionary capacity as avail­
able ta ail humanity, and the al/ure ta enter "inner space"
as powerful a human urge as exploration of the outer world.
In respect ta this qucst Swedenborg is indeed an exemplary
preceptor and guide, helping us ta establish both the scope
of the quest and its potential values as weil as dangerous
pitfalls. For a society that ranges as far as India and Tibet
for guides to inner space, perhaps a guide cultural/y "closer
to home" will seem a welcome relief. And as we shaH see,
many of the inner confticts Swedenborg experienced and
\vorked on in his visionary process-such as that between
science and religion-are also core confticts for Western so­
ciet\" in the current age. Fortunately, there are excellent
biographies that do provide sensitive and penetrating insights
inta the nature of the man without discrediting his creative
..lnd human stature.
1
Details of his life abound, from well­
documented and reliable sources, as Swedenborg both trav­
e]çd widely and mixed freely with people of ail social classes.
E\idemly he was a singularenough person to have srimulated
people to wrire about him, both during his life and afterward.
Immanuel Kant, for example, during Swedenborg's life­
rime, was impressed and disturbed enough by the rumors of
his spiritual visions ta have sent a disringuished and trust­
worthy emissary, the English merchant Joseph Green, who
reporred to Kant "a reasonable, poli te, and open-hearted
man. "" The majority of personal experiences of Swedenborg
agree \\ith this account, obliging the sensitive reader to ques­
[ion [he credibility of the various psychotic and neurotic
diagnoses generated for him a posteriori by an intelleetual
generation with different cultural assumptions. The prob­
lem. it seems, with some psychohistorical treatments of lives
long past is a failure to see the individual embedded in his
FIG" 194. Libavius's monument, from an akhemical text, 1606" The stag,,' ':--
/ransfomzation are shown as an akhemical proœss. The akhemùts knro:
tegration and disimegration were stages ofthe evo/ving .l'oui ra/her than par/If,...•,;:.
own rime (not Freud's), and a failure to free psychoanah::(
Interpretations from their own sociohistorical biases.
On the other hand, the modern scholar of Swedenbor,"
meets with the Swedenborgians, whose literature, being th..i:
of religious believers, may be suspected by the more "ub­
jective" scÎentist of another kind of bias. Yet belief has nc>:
deterred many Swedenborgian authors from meticulou,;,
scholarship and an ethical dedication ta "relling the Huth."
even about one's special spiritual patron. In this spirit ..lre
the Woofenden-Klemming-Wilkinson edition of the JO/l17hi,
of Dreams, and the new edition of the Journal with COI11­
mentary by Wilson Van Dusen (see BibliographyJ. \\hicr.
'fortunately) do not omit, as did ear/ier editions, nor translate
Inro Latin the sexual aspects of sorne of Swedenborg's dreams.
These are quite explicit, rather than cunningly disguised
\\i th "defense mechanisms," and healthy enough for a person
,"f Swedenborg's baehelor status. They add, in faet, a rieh
hLIman and emotional dimension (0 experiences that often
too theological and abstracto
While the present essay i5 psychological in orientation, let
':lC c1arify that its primary purpose i5 not to "psyehologizc"
the way of an analysis or exposition according to any one
'l houl of thought within psychology. Rather 1propose to cali
.,:ccnrion to patterns in Swedenborg's life and experiences
::,,lt resemble patterns found in the general social science
far beyond the limiting modeb of psychopath­
,i,.:!:\. 1 draw on material from history, anthropology, and
--:nthology as \\'el1 as psychology. The attempt is not to "ex­
;l \\'a,:," the mysterious and provocative data surrounding
unusual man, but to amplify, calI attention to, and com­

ln thc process wc may lay to rest the myth of his "mental
; 1 ne,>s" \vhich seems to me an crror in epistemology and
_:-'rcrprctation rathcr than any kind of valid diagnosis. The
'. tradition reveals a pattern of human psychological
c'\pcrÎcnce of a more than personal, or "transpersonal," na­
:jfe. S\\'edenborg's visions arose not from personal pathology
:hc psychoanalytic assumption) but from an experiental plunge
,:' to a transpersollal level of the human psyche. The phe­
;,umeno]ogy and stages of this level are bv now rather weIl
knO\\l1, having appeared similarly in many human psyches,
a bewildcring variery of personal, cultural, and hi5­
:"rical settings. -1 This is not to say that Swedenborg did not
j,in!:!: personal-historical and cultural assumptions to his ex­
:,criences. These are, in fact, abundantly evident as we fol­
j, 1\\ his journey within to the III minous core of his transper­
",[ul experience.
These three dimensions will be found as areas of special
:mportance in the lInderstanding of a visionary (or any in­
,1 i,Îdlla) who penetrates more deeply into the inner regions
·,r the self):
1. The personal formula includes (a) genetic heritage and (b)
Iearning histor\. This forms the total pattern of the "per­
sonality" (or al! those factors sorne psyehologists try to ex­
elude as "'indi\'îduèd differences'·).
) ÏÏte sorioCllltural formula consists of a collective sharing of
symbols: language, belîef systems, folklore. This composite
Îs introjected to greater or lesser extent by the participant.
5
.1. The trampe1:wnal /cvel contains patterns that are transculrural
as \Vell: death and rebirth. the hero jOllrney, the "feminine,"
the "masculine," God. or "the sacred." These patterns not
only are encountered by ail human beings but have prolif­
erated into the many human mythologies that nonetheless
ail have a similar basic or archetypal substrucrure.
6
LARSEN: THE VISIONARY TR\DITIO".: j:-;:'
The mystic, as he or she seeks God, or ultimate meaning.
penetrates toward the core-but never without personal and
cultural expectations. The vision itse1f is the core's reph.
never really predictable, because "other," but ultimateh- to
be formu)ated in the same vocabulary of symbols as the
question was asked. This includes a shaping by both personal
and socioeultural formulas. (E. g., Zen Buddhists practicing
Zazen get kensho, or salOli, not exactly the same as the Chris­
tian's unio mYJlim with Christ.) However, there are, ta be
sure, common elements enough in mystie experience ta make
the "perennial philosophy" a very viable concept.
There is much rieh and deep perennial philosophy in
Swedenborg, truths of a luminous and universal kind: bUt
\\Je shall find the other levc/s represented as weIl. Person:.d.
cultural, and mythic-transpersonal clements each play their
role.
The sharing of a vision by a community is an importanr
factor, as 1 have elsewhere described.
9
ivladmen are yisÎon­
aries with no one with whom to share their visions. It is as
if the transpersonal Ievcls of energy are too powerful for :1
single individual and must be diffused into a group. :\nd \\e
may well ask, even at the ineeption, when the visionary first
opens himself or herself to vision, with whom, how, and for
\\That is it to be shared when it cornes? 1 have come to fcel.
as a student of mythologieal and visionary dara. that the end
is somehow as important as the means. The visionaries in
traditional societies are healers, diviners, celebrants of ritual.
The "power" of their vision flows through them to their
people, Their dark brothers are the institutÎonalized modern
visionaries, out of synchronization with their communir\.
burst by a vision of power with nowhere ta go. Tranquilized
and maintained by a (not so) benevolent state, such people
are like empty pods stripped of Iife.
'[Jlt
u
:
m
i natt"'i
ore OAeltnl'?9
C ('eTHER"
FIG. 195. /1lternallevels of the vision quest
: ',\'\THOLOGY: SOCIAL ISSllES & PSYCHOLOGY
The only alternative for the shaman in modern society
\\ould seem to be the creative life: to write, paint, sing,
.;ümehow share the vision. This satisfies the mythic formula
.l"cl creates a "commllnity" of souls, united by a common
è\.perience. That Swedenborg has such a commllnity is ev­
This simple fact alone may enable us to discern that
he i5 flr doser to the shaman than the madman.
and the Issue of "lJ1entalIliness"
Psychology is large!y a "school" science in that there is as
ver no ul1l\'ersal consensus but rather a variety of approaches,
burh ta special areas and to problems. Behaviorism, for ex­
Jmple. might have little of use to say about a man who was
50 thorollghly steeped in inner experiences. '*' \Vhile Frelld­
iJns ha\'e found much of interest in Swedenborg, the material
seems to me far richer for a Jungian. One might look for the
JtTectional and hllman dimensions proposed by Erich Fromm
lO
;
Jnd .-\braham rvlaslow
11
would have had an intriguing pattern
of self-actualization to decipher. Julian Jaynes's "Bicameral
\lind" theory seems tailor-made to the "hallucinatory" as­
pect of Swedenborg's visions. 12 (He hears voices and sees
\isions. indeed, but Swedenborg did not assume they were
rhe cox Dei, nor simply obey them-he questioned, dia­
logued. even scolded those with faulty opinions.)
Perhaps more productive for this inquiry than any of the
Jtorementioned are the special areas of the psychology of
L'onsciousness, and transpersonal psychology; two still em­
bryonic promising disciplines. These schools are revi­
ulizing William James's hundred-year-old dictum that psy­
chologv must include the study of "altered states of
consciousness": "No account of the universe in its totality
can be final," he says, "that leaves these other forms of
consciousness quite disregarded.
13
.-\ srudy of altered states of consciousness leads us to dif­
ferent descriptions of reality. One of the se recurring descrip­
tions portrays the world in its essence, as "sacred." The
phenomenology of this description is basically what consti­
:ures transpersonal psychology. lncluded within its purview
Jre the "technologies of the sacred"-spiritual disciplines
as yoga, meditation, philosophy, but also the srudy of
e-:'5utic states, visionary narratives, mythology, ritual, arche­
elements in dreams, healing, and ESP.
Swedenborg anticipated this field in his own srudy; Emer­
50n \\[ote of him in Representative Men that he began in his
o\\n life "wbat phenomenology and introspection would later
Watson tried hard to exclude inner from "the
",::::,( e of human behavior," it rec urs , paradoxically, in behavior modi­
ln the use of fantas\' techniques in desensitizatÎon process. John
\\ \\:15 the founder of the American schoo] of experimental psy­
(Jlled behm:iorism, originally inspired by the ideas of Ivan Pavlov.
twentieth century.
do." We will also see yogic practices, shamanistic visionary
e!ements, dream incu bation and interpretation, and sorne
rather well-documentcd ESP. 14
But first we must consider, and hopefully lay to rest, the
issue of psychopathology or Swedenborg's "mental illness."
In the early days of psychoanalysis ir was perhaps permis­
sible to apply the dazzling new theory to ail dimensions of
culture. As is the case with such imaginative juxtapositions
of system with data, rich harvests of insight were collected.
Psychoanalysis itself experienced a kind of polymorphous
perversiry, feeling (sorne would say groping) its way into the
as-yet-virgin territory of literature and literary criticism, art,
anthropology, history, and religion. Psychohistory became
acceptable to scholars of psychoanalysis (but to few histori­
ans), and when weil done, to the gcncral public; Erik Er­
ikson's evocative study of Luther is a case in point. 15
Serious scholars of their respective disciplines, hO\vever.
especially social scientists, began to resent the epistemolog­
ical intrusion (sorne called it violation). Often ignoring the
standard ground mies and methodology of an established
discipline, psychoanalysts were as likely as not to leap right
in and begin interpreting the life of sorne historical figure.
The neo-Freudians tempered this naïve tendency in the area
of culture and personality,16 making anthropology's point
that even such seemingly universal (to Freud) structures as
the Oedipus complex are subject to the laws of cultural rel­
ativity. Adler and Jung each Ieft the Psychoanalytic Associ­
ation, taking off into whole psychological areas that Freud
ignored or explained as mere!y derivative from "the sexual
libido." Each founded a discipline to study the neglected
areas of "the power urge" and "the religious impulse" in
man.
These observations should certainly make it less defen­
sible to adjudge someone "mentally ill" based on the as­
sumptions of a particular "school" or psychological system.
The "issue of normality" is, in fact, an extremely complex
one, as any textbook of abnormal psychology will show. The
two most frequently cited "models" for normality are (1) the
sociocultural model (How weil does the individual integrate
within his or her local social group?) and (2) the personal
adjustment mode! (How successfully does the individual
function with relative freedom from anxiety and psychogenic
discomforts?) (A third, tbe medical model, uses tbe term
illness for ail psychological dysfunction, a labeling man y psy­
chologists find unacceprable, as it seems ta render ail psy­
chology into psycbiatry, i.e., medicine.)
The question of Swedenborg's sanity, tben, must be con­
sidered witbin the sociocultural c1imate of bis times and must
include evaluations of his personal happiness, productivity,
and freedom from anxiety. Swedenborg was never adjudged
insane, nor institutionalized. It was only later that psychia­
trists would ex post facto judge bim insane. Karl Jaspers di­
agnosed him as schizophrenie (in a study eomparing Swed­
enborg to Strindberg, Van Gogh, and Holderlin).IÎ Lagerborg,
a Finnish seholar, believed the diagnosis ta be paranoia,
marked by regression.
1H
Von Winterstein postulated an in­
œrted Oedipal attachment ta his father \vith repressed ho­
mosexuality.19 Emil Kleen's diagnosis was "paranoia tardiva
e.\pansiva re/igiosa," presumably a rare subspecies of para­
noia.
20
The paranoid is "dclusional" because he believes
unusual or grandiose things ta be true: Swedenborg's "ap­
pointment by the Lord" ta reveal the inner sense of the
scriptures has been construed in this way. The "special mis­
sion" syndrome is in faet known ta many clinical eonsulting
rooms.
However it must be pointed out that belief in "the Lord"
and a literai heaven filled with winged angels above, and
Satan's pit yawning beneath was the commonplace belief
system of the day. Swedenborg differed from the cultural
norm only in that he claimed ta visit and experience visitants
from those worlds. Of his "hallucinations" or extrasensory
experiences, Swedenborg was clearly able to distinguish his
\isions from waking consciousness. He sought solitude when
the visionary world became dominant. Only on a few note­
\\orthy occasions, su ch as his clairvoyant seeing of the Stock­
holrn fire hundreds of miles away, did visions disrupt his
oedinary social composure. His social persona is described in
different places as "polite," "gallant," "kind," "open-hearted."
Swedenborg went through a heroic struggle to reconcile
his \'Ïsions with this ingrained Christian bclief system. At his
rime, in Sweden, witches were still burned. The biblical
injunction, "You shall not permit a sorceress ta live,"21 was
a death knell ta the still proliferating visionary tradition in
Europe. Shamans, druids, and wicra (wise women) had been
the official "technicians of the sacred" only a few centuries
before. Then came massive politically enforced as weil as
spontaneous conversions to the new Middle Eastern religion.
But it seems hard ta shut the experiental doors ta that in­
\'isible realm once they are open for a people. Even within
the c1ose-mesh net of official Christian dogma, visionaries
surfaced, delivered thcir message, and were either burned
or eanonized, depending upon its reeeption.
22
Aeeording ta William James, Protestantism especiaUy dis­
owned the visionary tradition:
It is odd that Protestantism, espccially evangelical Protes­
tantism, should have abandoned everything methodical in
this line .... Protestant mysrical experience appears to have
been almost exclusively sporadic. Ir has been left to our mind­
curers to introduce methodical meditation into OUf religious
life."'
1have personally spent considerable time with those strange
wounded modern visionaries called "paranoid schizophren­
ies." At best they are filled with a burning intensity of pur-
LARSEN: THE VISIOi'\ARY TRA.DITION 1" ' ~
pose and belief. At worst, and far more often, they are boring
and exasperating. They harangue one with their monomyth
ta exhaustion. They ignore the satisfying give-and-take of
human communication; often, in faet, belaboring the mythic
and ignoring the human. There is a "blaming" aspect. in
which the world and its deficieneies are responsible for theif
O\vn shorteomings. There is an emphasis on athers' ni! an':
a literally projected "devil."
We sec none of this in portraits of Swedenborg. If he e\en
spoke of his visions it usually was at another's request. In
ordinary social discourse he was a reasonable and lICbant
man. He could diseuss politics, economics, his tra,-e!s \\irh­
out intruding his visionary insights. Lacking a culture \\irh
which ta share thcse, he wrote-for whoever \\'ould read.
There was no coercion, no bombast. For over fifteen : e a r ~
he published his visionary writings anonymously. He blamed
no one for his "predicament." His image of the deyil i5. in
fact, psychological-the principle of exclusive self-IO\e in
eaeh of us. His devil (or Jungian "shadow") not only is not
projeeted but is considerably more sophisticated and k,-s P;H­
anoid than that of his contemporaries:
Ali the heJls arc this kind of community. So at heart. C\Cf\
individual in them nurses hatred against his fellow citizen.
and as a result of this hatred. breaks out into cruelr\ insofJr
as he is strong enough. It is these bursts of cruelt\ and the
resulting torments that are meant by hellish fire. for these
are the results of cravings. (HH 573)
Swedenborg's hcU resembles the psychologically sophis­
ticated desire-hells of the Buddhists far more than the lit­
eralistie punishment-and-torment hells of his Christian con­
temporaries.
We do no t, in faet, have a word for what might be ealleJ
"positive paranoia." We know weil the phenomenolos:;. or
the negative breakthrough where the sick soul blames the
world for his or her misfortunes. These have been abundanth
described in psychopathology. William James says in l'antlù_,
of Re!igiolls Experience:
In delusional insanity, paranoia as they sometimes cali it. we
may have a diabo/irol mysticism, a sort of religious m\sticism.
turned upside down. The same sense of ineffable importance
in the smallest events, the same texts and words coming with
new meanings, the same voices and visions and leading and
missions, the same controlling by cxtrancolls powers; onl\
the emotion is pessimistic: instead of consolations we ha\c
desolations; the meanings are dreadful; and the powers are
enemies of life.
24
But what of the breakthrough in the opposite direction.
in whieh the mystie (Jakob Bahme) says:
1 knew and saw in myself ail three worlds, the external and
visible world being of a procreation or extern[al] birth from
,,:'(nIOLOGY: SOCIAL ISSl'ES & PSYCHOLOGY
:",th the internai and spiritual worlds; and 1 saw and knew
:'-:c: Il hale working essence ... and how the fruirful bearing
'.111mb of eternirv broughr forth.
2
"
Or this from Swedenborg:
.. la: awake but as in a vision ... yet in the spirit there
Il as an inward and sensible gladness shed over the whole
seemed as if it \Vere shown in a consummate manner
ir ail issued and ended. [l\ly spirit] Hev,T up ... and hid
\t,<.:If in an infinitude, as a center. (JD 87)
These certainly would be instances of "positive paranoia,"
.co which the universe becomes intensely meaningful, in a
f:.enc\olent and not a baleful way, And the images of met­
-,phors for the universe are positive versions of depression's
emptiness and meaninglessness. There are profound insights
:nro "the workings of things" that are part of the perenll;al
.:iil!".I'ophy.
James uses the emerging world view of the visionary as a
JÎ.1gnostic of the authenticity of the vision.
lt is e\ident thar from the point of view of their psychological
mechanism, the classic mysticÎsm and these lower mysticisms
spring from the same mentallevel, from that great subliminal
or transmarginal region of which science is bcginning to admit
the existence. but of whÎch so Iittle is really known. That
rc:gion con tains every kind of matter: "seraph and snake"
Jbide here side by side. To come l'rom thence is no inl'allible
credential. What comes must be sifted and tested, and run
the gauntlet of confrontation with the total context of ex­
perience, just like what comes from the outer world of sense. 26
The criterion of bringing the vision into relationship with
the \\()fld of common sense seems to me at the highest level
of responsible relationship to the inner wor/d. What Hegel
ca lied "dialectical process" and what Jung ca lied "the tran­
scendent function" both involve this give-and-take, a dia­
!"gut', which 1 have elsewhere described as the fifth and
highest stage of relationship with the mythic imagination.

This procedure has seemed to me the essence of sanity,
Sotes
while insanity lies at stage 1, "i\1 ythic Identity," total ab­
sorption in the psychic \\'orld of images and desires. Ir is not
the presf1lce of unconscious matcrials that determines in san­
ity, but how the ego relates to them.
Swedenborg did not confuse himself with the contents he
experienced at the transpersonal levels. He described these
as other, They range through hierarchies of spiritual beings
to the Lord himself, the transpersonal Core of the t:nin:rse.
In his Jpiritual Diar)' [see BibliographyJ especially. Swed­
enborg describes his dialogues with the inhabitants of the
world of spirits,
Wilson Van Dusen, a contemporary c1inical psychologist,
has reported dialogues he entered with spiritual entitÎcs he
felt were inhabiting his patients. Sorne he called "lower or­
der," \vhich were not open to real dialogue, but repetitive,
of low intelligence and ma/icious (oot unlike "poltergeists"2H).
A higher order appeared less frequently, but in noninterfer­
ing ways, it shO\ved itself open to dialogue and provided
meaningful inner guidance for the patient. (Jung and Freud
had, in fact, disagreed over the higher order, but not the
lower; Jung posrulating an "anagogic" or guiding attribute
to the unconscious, which personified itself in positive inner
figures.) Van Dusen credits Swedenhorg \vith opening his
understanding to the implications of the two orders. Exclu­
sive self-interest and lack of an ethical viewpoint opens the
psyche to possession by the lower order, which Swedenborg
describes as "insanity." Self/ess motives, compassion, and
religious impulse open the psyche to the higher order, and
what he describes as "the good" and "the truc. "2" The sane
man stands in between two hierarchies of spiritual forces,
not just the simple instrument of, but willing host to, which­
ever he \\'ill choose.
How tiresome and anachronistic to view ail breakthroughs
in consCÎousness as pathological. As we will see in part 2 of
this essay. in the traditions of shamanism and yoga these
ontological breakthroughs are among the highcst and most
sought-after human experiences.
Of the more recent biographies, panicularlv See Sigsredt. pp. 303, 304. 341, or Toksvig, IHHH and 19ï6).
good are Signe Toksvig, Emanuel Sm'eden­ p. 185. 4. Joseph Campbcll. rh Hem fi';itll a 'l'!lIJlIsanri
SrirnrÎst andlJfystir (:\ew Haven, Conn.: 3. Swedenborg is onc of thc mosr thoroughl\' F(l('fs (]\;ew York: \Ieridian. 19ïO); also sec
'lJk l'ni\'ersitv Press, 1948); and CvTiel cross-refcrenced authors in the world. Gen­ William .lames. JÏic l'f/rÎrlic'\ of Fx­
Odhner Sigstedt, The Sœ'edenbolli }<;pir: The erations of Swedenborgian scholars have ptriel/{c: A Stud]' ill HUIIWIl X{lllIrt, BeiN/.( t/ie
Lit, and !l'urks of Emanuel Smwjenbor;!, translated, edited, and interprctcd his \'0­ Gifford Lftlllres Ort ,Vatllml Rtli[!,iol1 Defit'em/
York: Bookman, 1952). For a less favorable luminous work. Sec, C.g., Rel'. John Faulk­ a! }<,'dil1bulJ</i ;1/ 19l)J-/9t)! ("-'cil' York: \lod­
presentation. see Inge Jonsson, EI!/{lf/uel ner Ports, comp., cd.. rrans., The Sœ'edmbor{!; ern Library. 1902, 1(29),
S:;:,t'dmborg, trans, (from Swedish) Catherine Concon/anf(: A Complete Work of RrferelllC to 5, Hornev', social concept of "introjection";
Djurklou (.'Jew York: Twavne, 19ï1). th Thmiogimlll'ritingî of Fl!1a/lud Swedeuborg: Karen Horney, The N{:uror;t' Pn:wl1a/itl' otOur
Joseph Green was a man Kant often en­ Based on the Oligintll Latil! Writingî of the Au· li'me York: W. W. ;\!orron, 193ï).
:rusred with eriticizing hi, own manuscripts, Ihor, 6 vols. (London: Swedenborg Society. 6. C. G. Jung, Thr Arrhetypes (lnd thr Co!lemà
l vol, 9-1 of The Co//n/nl Works of
( G. lill/g, trans. R. F. C. Hull, Bollingen
-.;.:ric:s XX (Princeton. :-\ . .1.: Princeton C:nÎ-
Press. 19,'i9).
LJ,kl'S "o\'erbelief'; see \Iarghanica Laski,
'fil,'.\ : J Srlltlr of Somt Sfmlar {lml Relig,Îrills
[,.,:;,r/rl/(e.' C\ew York: Greenwood Press,
l--th"'i 1,
\:,k,u' Hux\e,'. l'Iœ l'l'l'fllllia! Philosophy (:\e\\
l J:ld London: Harper Brothers, 1(45).
"c:e '-,t<:phen Larsen, Tite ShalJian's J)oorm'ay:
'/:. '1i1tZ th J/r/liir III/{l[;ina/ùm to COllfemporary
':', il/IU/II'S.' ('\ew York: Harper & Ro\\',
: -nh'. p.Hticularlv "The Enaetment of Vi­
. "," chJp. 2,
:>ch Fromm. /'f\'r//Oana/l'sù alldRe/ig,/on (':-\ew
CL'. C::--.. Conn.: Yale L:niversÎrv Press, 19,'iO).
-\. ,.lhJ!ll \la510w. TIlt Fat1htr RmdJe.î of HII­
",\dliln ,,:-\c\\' York: Viking Press, 1(71).
::- J.l'nc:s. the right hemispherc (controlling
kir side of the body) is the souree of
·:.A:luted \'oiees rcad as divine procla­
See Julian James. TIlf Origill of rOll ,
',1:", /11 lit" BrmhloîCII ofrhe Ri(ullll'ra/Jlil/(l
(Boston: I1oughton \liffiin, 1(76).
IJ. James, Faridits. p. 379.
14. Swedenborg', ESP v. as weil documenred in
inter\'Îews wirh witnesses. See discussions of
his psychic abilities in Toks\'ig, Sigstedt, and
Jonsson.
15. Erik Humburger Erikson, YounxJlan Lutlter:
A Sadr in Psv{hoallu/l'.I'1s and Hisror)' (New
York: W. W. ':-\orton. 1(58),
16. Sec Horney. and Erikson.
17. Karl Jaspers. Strindberg and \'O/t Go[!,1t (Berlin:
Springer, 1926).
18. R. Lagerborg, Fins/'· J/rlssl.'riji (1923), p. 281
as cited in Toksvig. p. 162. n. 13. Lagcrborg
also cites E. Hitschman. a German scholar,
1O cO,nfirm the diagnosis of paranoïa.
19. Von Winterscein discussed in Toksvig, p.
163, n. 14.
20. Emil A. G. Kken, Swwlellborrz: (Stoekholm:
1917, 1920).
21. Exodus 22: 18. Sec al50 Deuterononw 18: 10:
"Anvone who practices divination, a sooth­
saver, or an augur or a sorcerer. or a charmer,
or a medium, or a wizard. or à necromancer.
LARSE:\: THE VISIO':-\ARY TRADITIO':-\ 191
For whosoever does these things Is an abom­
ination to the Lord, and because of chese
abominable practices the Lord yoUf God 15
driving them Ollt before you:' (This covcr,
the whole visiona,,· tradition rathcr weiLl
22. Sec \Iargaret '\Iurray, The God ()f Iht llïrdll'­
(Garden City, i\:.Y.: Doubkday, 1(60).
23. James, l'aritrits, p. 397.
24, Ibid., p. 417.
2,'i. Ibid, p. 402n; James quotes Jakob Bbhmc.
26. Ibid., pp. 417-18.
27. Larsen. Sh{/man's Doom'av, pp. 33-4,'i.
28. "Poltergeists," or !loisy ghosts, are usualh'
agreed (() be maliciolls. misehiew)us, repet­
itive, childlike. See Sacheverell Sitwdl. Po!­
rflJ(eÎsts: Ail Inr1'!JdUl!Îoll {lnd j''-X{lI/iÎnfll;ol/ ('\c\\
'y'ork: University Books. 1%9).
29. \Vilson Van Dusen, Tilt' Prrstl/tl' of Spinrs ;'1
Ji1adness (01ew York: Swedenborg FOllIHL1­
tion. 1(72); or see the chapter tH' the SJIllC
name (chap. 6) in Van Dusen, The Pr!'."'/"·'
of Othr lI'ot!rk TIlt' Psvrholof(im/iSpilir"a;
Findings of FllIalluel S'{J2'ft/t'IIÔOllf, (':-\c" York:
Harper & Row. 19ï4).
Part 2
The Visionary Tradition
The seer is pure vision. Though pure, he looks out through the
vesture of the mind.
1" THlS PART we shaH explore analogies between Sweden­
borg's experiences and those of other classes of visionaries,
parricularly yogis and shamans. While Swedenborgian schol­
ars have emphasized the unbidden nature of Swedenborg's
re\'e\ation, especially that it occurred at the Lord's instiga­
tion, not Swedenborg's own, it must be pointed out that
there were aspects of Swedenborg's life that made him the
ideal recipient for such a revelation: his already formidably
disciplined mind, his periods of solitude, his penchant for
\\riting.
In addition, as we shaH see, Swedenborg practiced sorne
of the c1assical psychophysical techniques of the inward ex­
plorer, incIuding special breathing, concentration, and vis­
ualization. These reveal a far-from-passive attitude toward
his experiences, rather, a collaborative, active involvement.
Swedenborg should not be seen sim ply as a "mourhpieee"
for divine revelation, notwithstanding his own assertion that
something like This was so. The biographical data show him
more the participant, even a highly trained spiritual athlete
\\'ho realized how much his own "condition" affected the
yisionary process. As Patanjali says so weil, "The association
of seer with things seen is the cause of the realizing of the
nature of things and also of the realizing of the nature
of the seer."z
The Yogic Comparison
Swedenborg had begun in early childhood to experiment
wirh respiration. He noticed that thought synchronizes with
breathing; in fact, thoughts "flow in," as does the air in
breathing. Thus he discovered at an early age the "stream
of consciousness" as it later came to be known in \Vestern
literature. The naïve view of consciousness is that we "think
our own thoughts," but a few moments of attentive intros­
pection reveals that they "flow by themselves" like a stream.
Directed thinking is only a portion of mental life, in which
the stream is redirected ta our own intentional channe\s. But
abandon the effort of control for a moment, and the flow
resumes its spontaneous quality, carrying unpredictable flot­
-Patanjali, Yoga Sutras
l
sam and jetsam of expenence, memory, intuition, ne\er
ceasll1g.
ta paraphrase the cIassical definition of yoga from the
Sutras of Patanjali, it is the intentional stopping of the in­
voluntary movements of the mind-substance. The "mind
substance" (citta'Vtjtti) is the su btle "su bstance" of the stream
of consciousness, also called "psycho mental Aux." The goal
of this practice, which may take many years, or a Iifetime.
is "cosmic eonsciousness" (samiïdhi). H\Vhen the perturba­
tions of the psychic nature have ail been stilled, then the
consciousness, like a pure crystal, takes the COIOf of ",hat it
rests on, whether that be the perceiver, perceiving or the
thing perceived."
Swedenborg, without any instruction, nOf referencc to the
whole metaphysieal structure of yoga, had begun the quesr
fOf cosmie consciollsness, using one of the fundamental YO?:iL
techniques, priï1liïyiïma. He writes:
... for instance, when in ehildhood 1 wished to hold n1\
breath purposely, when they prayed in the morning and e\e­
ning [presumably his parents]; a150, when 1 wished the tîmes
of the respiration ta agree with those of the heaft, and so
observed that then the understanding almost began to \anish
as it were; then afterwards, when 1 wrote in imagination, that
1 had observed that 1 held ml' respiration as if it were weiL
(SD 3320; see also 3464)
Young Emanuel, a prodigy of the inner quest, quieth
practiced yogic priïTfayiïmiï while his parents were at
He also visualized what would be his life's work: "writin;;::
in imagination," an aet that would secm to require eidcti(
(lifelike, vivid) imagery and would train his inner perception.
Patanjali's c1assic Yoga Sutras dcvotes three chapters te>
priï1liï:yiïma, a practice that begins with s)owing, and COI1­
c1udes \vith suspension, of the breath.
Eliade notes:
By making his respiration rhythmical and progressively sluwer.
the yogin can "penetrate"-that is he can experience, in
perfect lucidity--certain states of conscÎousness that are in­
accessible in a waking state.... The yogin, without re­
nouncing his lucidity, penetrates the states of eonseiousness
chat aceompany sleep.4
Eliade draw5 a relationship between Brahmanic Sacrifice
.md the sacrifice of breath in prafJayama. It i5 an act of re­
ligious opening and devotion, which appears in shamanism,
Chinese Taoism, and Sufism. One may weIl wonder where
Young Emanual learned this technique; however, later on
he credits spiritual instructors, mentioning in S'piritual Dim'y
:nat he was taught some breathing techniques by spirits from
:ne Indics who "induced a like respiration upon me that 1
might know this from experience" (SD 402).
Bccause therc was little or no literature on yoga in Swed­
;;'::1borg's day, \vhat are wc to makc of this? Yogins also men­
::on "listening to the hcart" and attaining samddhi, through
precise technique of heart and breath synchronization. S
Bur voga is not the only source of contemplative techniques
:,.,ing breathing. Compare the following from Eastern Chris­
:i.m mysticism-thc eighteenth-century monks of Mt. Athos:
WH\' THE BREATH l\llXr BE HELD DURING PRAYER
Sinœ your mind or the aet of yom mind 1S l'rom ehildhood
Jccustomed to disperse and scatter itself among the sensible
rhings of the outerworld, therefore, when you say this prayer,
not constantly, al' ter the manner of nature, but hold
yom breath a little until the inner ward has once spoken the
prl\er. ... Through this momentary holding of the breath
che hard and tough heart becomes thin, and the humidity of
the heart being properly compressed and warmed, becomes
tender. sensitive, humble, and more disposed to compunc­
tian and to shedding tears freely ....6
r:" 196. }ôgasufla with chakras. The inter!ocking spirals ofkUfldalifii yoga, ida and
IUflar afld solar eTlergies (respectively, left afld right), coil aroufld the CeTI­
susumna (see a/so the discussiofl ofspirals Î1! the last sectioft of this essay, afld
,;pt'àa/(v the figure of the caduœus).
THE 193
The Hcsychasts, a Greco-Byzantine monastic sect, had
practiced "quietness" (Gk.; hës)'chia) through prayer and
breathing, since at least the thirteenth century. St. John
Climacus writes, "Let the remembrance of Jesus be present
with each breath and then you will know the value of the
hê.sychia. "7 Though Catholicism had retained a few traditions
like this, and the Roman Catholic Exercitia of St. Ignatius.
it was unusual for a solitary little Swedish boy to begin prac­
ticing sophisticated contemplative exercises.
Swedenborg also discovered "subtle breathing," a tech­
nique utilized in Chinese tai chi as weil as in the Hindu
prd1JdydmCls. One "visualizes breathing" at the same time as
physically brcathing. The "breath" may be sent around the
body, or imagincd "filling the belly," for exampIe. Swed­
enborg observed that subtle breathing pervaded his body.
and in fact worked on the organs of his body: "There were
also shown to me other varieties of respirations; for instance.
abdominal respirations pertaining to the region of the genitals
and loins; then also that there is a respiration of the left side,
and not at the same time of the right side" (SD 3325).
Certain yogic prdfJdyâmas are directed through subtle chan­
nels, alternately to the left and righr side of the body (idâ
and pi1Jga!ii) to "purify" Them. Yogis also heal organs by
directing the breath through them to "soften" them.
8
But other correspondences between Swedenborg's spon­
taneous inner practices and the systematic techniques of yoga
are worth noting. llîhtaflga, eight-limbed yoga, a "complete"
form of yoga, consists of: (1) yama (restraints), (2) lliyama
(disciplines), (3) dsaf!a (postures), (4) pra1Jaydma of
respiration), (5) pmtydhdm (withdrawal of senses), (6)
dhdr{]f!d (concentration), (7) dhydlla (yogic absorption), (8i
samddhi (union, ecstasy). 9
Swedenborg practiced: (1) sexual restraint, (despite his
natural endowment with a healthy sexuality), '*' dietary re­
strictions, often doing withollt food, or subsisting on coffee
and milk; (2) disciplines-the yoga texts mention especially
"cleanliness, serenity, asceticism ( tapas)." After his key \'1­
sion in which he felt the Lord had told him, "Eat not 50
much," Swedenborg practiced asceticism and restraint in diet
and other personal habits. Wc read that Swedenborg often
spent twelve to thirteen hours in bed; though he probably
practiced only (3) the âsatla called savds{]f!{], "sleep of the
dead." This is likely to produce deep trances and out-of-the­
body experiences. Swedenborg says, "Ir has happened to
me, that 1 sometimes forgot that 1 was in the body ..." (SD
2542). Swedenborg used (4) respiration to control thought
(prdl!dyâma meditation), "Thus the thoughts have their play
in every act of respiration; therefore when evil thoughts en­
frequently mentions that his "love of the sex, " or continuai
imerest in women, is one of his major life themes. He didn't seern ta feel
anything was "wrong" with this, but suggested it could be sublimated (0
a spiritual level of love.
144 .\:\'THOLOGY: SOCIAL ISSUES & PSYCHOLOGY
tered. the only thing to do was to draw to oneself the breath,
50 the evil thought vanished" (JO 111). As to (5) withdrawal
of senses (pratyahtÏra) , Swedenborg might isolate himself in
his rooms for several days, leaving word not to be disturbed.
He would become absorbed in (6) mystical contemplation:
"1 \\as thus during many years, from the period of childhood,
introduced into such respirations, especially by means of
3bsorbing speculations, in which the breathing seems to be­
come quiescent, as otherwise the intense study of truth is
scarcely possible" (SO 3464).
What was the nature of these "speculations" that led him
within?
(Îl Absorption (dhyana): He wrote to his friend Dr. Beyer,
"From my fourth to my renth year 1was constantly engaged
in thought upon God, salvation and the spiritual sufferings
of men; and several times 1 revealed things at which my
Ùther and mother \vondered, saying that angels must be
5peaking through me."w
Yoga texts mention that the yogi must make the Lord
(Ï/-.ara) the motive of ail one's actions. Swedenborg says,
'''Thy \\'ill be done; 1 am thine, and not mine'; and as 1 have
gi\'en myself from myself to our Lord; so let him do with
me according to his good pleasure." [As he notes his own
reaction to rhis inner declaration: 1"In the body there was a
certain dissatisfaction; but in the spirit, gladness there­
3C'" UO 117). He al50 notes that "in ecstasy or trance the
m3n holds his breath; at this time the thoughts are, in a
manner of speaking, away" (JO 112). (8) As for union: while
Swedenborg did not even have the concept samadhi in his
cultural experience, he wrote,
['\h spirit] Hew up ... and hid itself in an infinitude as a
center. There was love Îtself. And it scems as though it
extended around therefrom, and then down again; thus, by
an incomprehensible circle, from the center which was love,
around and 50 thither again. (JO 87)
In the terms of yoga philosophy, he circles the Atman­
Brahman, sentient core of the self, and of the universe, The
100'e (bhakti) that he feels also matches the descriptions of
.'elmar/hi as sexual in a spiritual sense: "This love, in a mortal
body. whereof 1 then was full, was like the joy that a chaste
m3n has at the very time when he is in actual love and in
the \ery act with his mate; such extreme pIeasantness was
suffused over the whole of my body" (JO 88).
\Yhile such a description might jar conventional Protestant
sensibilities. in which religion and sexuality are strictly seg­
regated. Swedenborg is closer in spirit here to the yogic or
ramric mystics and to ecstatics of the Western tradition, such
as Sr. Theresa.
11
\Yhoeyer has seen the outside of a I-Iindu temple, like the
one at Khajuraho, knows the erotic may c!oak the spiritual,
35 3 \ibrant metaphor: "The frieze of maithlltlas of men and
women in erotie embrace ... in their ecstasy typify the lIl­
timate union of the souI with the divine." 12
Swedenborg is the inverse of Freud. While Freud insisc;;
spirituality is a sublimation of sexuality, Swedenborg re3d,
his sexual feelings as spiritual events. Afrer a dream in whicr.
he has explicit sex with a mysterious woman, he says. "ThIs
denotes the uttermost love for the holy; for ail love has if'
origin therefrom; is a series: in the body it consists in ir;;
actuality in the projection of the seed; when the whole ... i5
there, and is pure i t then means the love for wisdom" !J D
172).
Swedenborg later had the wholesomeness to envision nUf­
riage in the spiritual world and in heaven-a concept tha:
scandalized the puritanical clergy of his day and caused John
Wesley to denounce him and his "Mahometan Hea\-en ... •
The Shamanistic Dimension
Mueh as the previous discussion may help us to understand
the preparation of Swedenborg as a visionary, such prep­
rations are merely necessary but not sufficient conditions to
explain his crisis and psychospiritual transformation. In facr.
though Swedenborg had already practiced techniques of in­
troversion since childhood, these alone certainly did not oc­
casion his spiritual breakthrough. (They may, however. have
aided the strong intuitive and introspective c!arity he brought
to his sciemific treatises.)
But something qualitatively different began to happen w
him in his middle fifties. As we have it from his Journal 0'­
Dreams, mainly from the year 1744, this was an event of
psychic upheaval that threw the formidably disciplined mind
of the scientist into personal chaos. * SeveraI times he men­
tions "fragmentation of his thoughts" as occurring, for ex­
ample:
Ouring the wholc night, for abOlit Il hours, 1 was neither
asleep nor awake, in a strange trance: knew ail that l dreamed:
my thoughts were held bound up, which made me sometimes
sweat. The stace of this sleep l cannot at ail describe; but
through it my double thoughts were in a manner severed or
split asunder. (JO 174)
Ir is perhaps the hasty interpretation of passages like this
that has led to the diagnosis of schizophrenia or psychosis . .;­
But the mistake is in making "symproms" of a supposedh
permanent nature of them, rather th an seeing them as te­
leological stages in a time-honored and archetypal human
Swedenborg kepr a journal during rhis trou bled period l'
a uibure ta his willingness to understand the unsought psyehic upheanl.
Journal keeping itself is a type of "dream incubation," like that of the
Asclepius cult of (he classical world.
tIt would seem that one phenomenologically able to notice his own "split
(hough(s" alreadv possesses a perspective that can lead to reinrcgration,
experience: the hero journey, the dark night of the soul,
dearh and rebirth.
"Psychotic" images did indeed appear to Swedenborg at
this time; nightmares of monsters, animais, huge machines,
:agÎ!la dentata; visions of storms fraught with thunder and
\\Ind, images of Jesus crucified, androgynous figures. He
experienced frequent "tremors" and seizures. He deseribed
being "thrown about" his rooms, often landing flat on his
fJcc. He had evident mood swings, from despair to ccstasy
Jnd back again.
Li\'ing in Amsterdam by himself, when in these states,
Swedenborg kept to his rooms; in public he appeared normal.
Occasionally someone would hear him in his rooms talking
:0 his "spirits" or crying aloud. Here we may ask, as does
Lili Tomlin, Why is it that when we talk to God ifs called
pmer, but when he talks to us it's called schizophrcnia?14
The response from the "other" is always beyond expectation
Jnd eomes w us from within, sometimcs accompanied by
;,rofound personality disorganization.
But v;e find remarkable analogies to this stage in the world
the preliteratc traditional soeieties. Among the primitive
Jnd ancient reindecr hunters of Siberia, for example, the
'-oui in a erisis of this sort is seen as being in the initial stages
of the genesis of a "greater shaman"-an individual who is
undergoing a spiritual transformation into a healer, and a
spiritual leader for the community. "Lesser shamans" are
initiated by the human community, for reasons hereditary or
"ocial. "Greater shamans," however, are ehosen by the spirits·
in a spontaneous vocation, Swedenborg clearly belongs to
tl:c "greater" class of visionary. Oespite the preparation at­
uined in his praetices, he experienced his crisis and sub­
.;equent revelation as unsought.
Siberians cali the early time of personaliry disorganization
"the first indwelling of the spirits." The human medium is
:::>eing "opened from within" to transpersonal powers. He is
cJlled amurakh, "temporarily mad." At this point, according
:0 Eliade, senior shamans are ca lied in to guide the ensuing
psychic dismemberment and reconstitution. Their role is
really less that of initiators than a type of psychic midwife,
,)fticiating at a supernaturally ordained rcbirth process. lei
Swedenborg, of course, had no "senior shamans" to help
him through the transformation; so he asked for guidance
t'rom within. But he insisced that it be from no lesser spirit
thJn the Lord himself. Swedenborg was a Christian before
J shaman and insistcd that his visions be consistent with his
deepest belief. He wished to go beyond intermediaries to
:he luminous core of meaning itself. ,. This intensity of inner
purpose served him as a valuable sea-anchor in the storms
:hJt followed. We take ship with him now for a while in
turbulent waters-but alert for the beacons that offer guid­
$\lonQ[heism seems ro me te polarize the personalitv in a rather strong
'.\ .n, Ieading co a firm standpoint on good and evil, and ethics in general.
LARSEt\: THE TRADITIO.'\ 145
. , ,
.'
cj /;>
';..
FIG. 197. Initiation on a mO/lntaintop, after an alchemical text, 1600s. Hennes tlK
mystagogue is fi guide ta the king's son (also cal/ed spirit and soul).
ance, and using sorne ancient but still serviceable maps.
In \vhat St. John of the Cross called "the dark night of the
soul" or \\,'hat wc may cali "the death experience," there is
a terrible loss of direction and meaning. Swedenborg dreamed,
"1 saw hideous specters, without life horribly shrouded and
moving in their shrouds; together with a beast that attacked
me, but not the child" 00 15).
The soul is deprived of its inner source of life, and the
fragmentary part-selves we normally identify with are seen
as empty specters, The ego is a dying beast that "attaeks"­
but not the "child" (the symbolic pocential for rebirth).
Swedenborg felt hopeless about his ability to save himself.
Ir seemed 1 layon a mountain with a gulf under it: there
were knolls upon it; 1 lay there and tried ta help myself up.
holding bv a knoll, without foothold; a gulf was below. It
signifies, that 1 myself wish ta help myse\f From the ab;ss of
hell, whieh is not possible to be done. (JD 16)
The S\vedish word harg, "rocky hill" or "knoll," also means
"sacred ground" or "place of sacrifice."16 Swedenborg here
is hanging, like Christ on the cross; Prometheus, helper of
men, on his rock; or his own mythic "countryman" Odin.
the ancient Norse god of wisdom, questing for the runes of
power:
1 kno'W' 1 hung
Ort the '(!2'indswept tree,
through nine davs and nights.
l 'œ'as strud,' 'œ,ith a spear
and givet1 to Odin
myself gioet1 to myself. 17
Swedenborg, too, was questing for the "runes of po\\'er."
his hermeneutic calling, to find the meaning within the sa­
cred scriptures.
Facing his own death and helplessness, the shaman. the
!YI)-\:--';THOLOGY: SOCIAL ISSL'ES & PSYCHOLOGY
human hero, has no recourse but to submit to the sacrifice,
"himself to himself' and place his trust in the transpersonal
power behind the process. li!
_\t this point it seems annihilation is imminent. The Si­
berian shamans have a particularly grisly description of the
dismemberment process. A Samoyed shaman reports the fol­
Imùng visionary initiation experience. He enters a hole in a
mountain and finds a naked man with a huge caldron. The
naked man sees him and seizes him with tongs:
The novice had time to think "1 am dead!" The man eut off
his head, chopped his body into bits, and put everything into
the caldron. There he boiled his body for three years. There
were also three anvils, and the naked man forged the can­
didate's head on the third .... Then he threw the head into
one of three pots that stood there. '"
Later the "naked man" initiates him and teaches him a
healing divination using the temperature of the warer in the
ritual pot.
Compare the following dream from Swedenborg in the
midst of his initiation: "Hideous dreams: how the execu­
tioner roasted the head he had struck off: and laid one roast
head after the other in an empty oven that never got full. Ir
was said that it was his meat. He was a great big woman;
smiled, had a little girl with him" 00 136).
The "empty oyen that never got full" resembles the inex­
haustible caldron of Norse and Celtic mythology. It is the
\essel of transformation. The "head," or guiding principle,
is what needs to be renewed. The "naked man" or the "ex­
ecutioner" is the negative aspect of the positive spiritual
principle that is, in fact, behind the initiatory ordeal. We
find a mystery here: death is the precondition of new life,
dismemberment the key to regeneration. The executioner
"smiles" and is revealed as an androgyne, a man who changes
into a woman with a little girl. The monster of the dismem­
berment process con tains a feminine clement and thus thc
to rebirth. *
Swedenborg here is in the depths of his psychic journey:
"1 seemed to myself in the lower parts to be enveloped in
lamellated strata that in various ways were twined about me"
(JO 143).
He is in need of a guide, and because of his openness,
and the rightness of his quest, one cornes: "There was a very
good natured dog, dark brown, that followed me; when any
:eptile or vermin came, he rose up; when there was water,
he went there in order to know the depth" (0144).
The dog is the well-known and appreciated guide to the
underworld traveler. His nose and instinct help him to find
androgyne is a frequent motif for rebirtb, or wholeness, as in the
alchemical tradition, Shamans often wear women's clothing and enact
androgynous roles, as in the Siouxan Wimkes, or the Chukchee "soft
men.
FIG. 198, The king revived by the wolf, or dog, af/er an alchemital text. Th.,'
animal tlien becomes a substÙu!e for the king, assisting in his rebirth out Qt rhi
alchemical fire.
the paths through the "sightless realms." He Îs an instincti\e
guardian. Here he helps by guarding Swedenborg and testing
the depth of the water. Eliade writes, 'The Shaman en·
counters the funerary dog in the course of his descent to the
underworId, as it is encountered by the deceased or by heroes
undergoing an initiatory ordeal. "20
The animal may menace or keep out the unauthorized
underworld visitor; but when he appears as here in the guise
of "the helping animal" (a mythologem that shows up uni­
versally in the wonder tale), his presence affirms the appro­
priateness of the hero's quest and his acceptability to his o\\n
hidden instinctive life. Swedenborg mentions dogs no fewer
than ten times in the crlsis period of the Journal of Dream,,-,
One of the dogs startles him by licking his neck; shamans
may be awakened from trance by dogs licking them (compare
the alehemical drawing here).
Alchemical images, studied by Jung as a metaphor for the
process of psychic transformation, show up frequently in
Swedenborg, enough to merit a whole separate study.21 The
"king," who is the subject of the transformative process.
appears six times (personified as actual kings with whom
Swedenborg had associated or knew of); water, fire, and
darkness appcar and disappear. At one point he dreams ot
"sorne who endeavored as it werc to make gold; but the\'
saw that they must c1imb up; but this they could not do.
and without it, it was impracticable ta make gold" 00 1H-1.
Swedenborg here, like Jung, recognized that personal uan­
scendence and transformation is the real goal of the alchem­
ical process. He equated gold with God's grace.
"What is good ought to be effected, and ... the gold lies
therein" (JO 114). Jung hypothesizes that the quest for inner
transformation never Idt the European imagination, but be­
cause of persecution by the church, it had to go underground
Jisguised in the chemical operations of the alchemists. Swed­
çnborg fits very weil into this tradition. A burning spiritual
quest was hidden within his "science."
Symbols of Transformation
The alchemists also depict the transformativc process as an
1\\ Jkening of the androgynous, bisexual nature of the ini­
:iJte. He must encounter the feminine within. We are not
.;urprised then to find that Swedenborg's other inner guide
:' feminine. The women that appear in his dreams and vi­
,iüns seldom are identified. They resemble the "unidentified
woman" Carl Jung describes as the "anima." For the male
\:sÎonary she represents his own soul and the principle of
:he creatÎye unconscious that Ieads him to his "gnosis." She
,(curs in various disguises in Journal of Dreams, no fewer
:run (\\enty-two times, an important guide for his spiritual
The index of Journal of Dreams notes her: dressed in
j!JCk. wÎth teeth (vagina dentata), hidden, fighting, con­
spying, married, unmarried, with fine property, fat
l:1d red. with a magical book, pregnant. Jung observes that
:r.e anima is a nixie, noting that her abode is the ''living
\\Jter" of the unconscious psyche: "She changes into ail sorts
of shapes like a witch, and in general displays an unbearable
independence that does not seem at ail proper in a psychic
content. "22
Eliade notes her important raie in the shaman journey:
.\ Luge number of mvths and legends show the cssential mie
by a fairv, a nymph, or a semidivine woman in the
J,hentures of heroes; it is she who tcaches them, helps them
in their difficulties (which are often initiatory ordeals), and
5'10\\5 them how to gain possession of the symbol of im-
FiG. 199. The Crowned Hermaphrodite, after
Oll akhemical text, 1550
FiG. ZOO. (right) The anima as a fairy or nixie,
{rom .1ndrew Longs The Yellow Fairy Book. 1894
LARSEN: THE VISIO).;.\RY TR:\DITIO)';
mortality or long life (the miraculous herb. the magical ap­
pIes. the fountain ofyouth).... Ir is always a feminine being
who helps the hero to conquer immortaliry or to emerge
victorious from his initiatory ordeals.
2
,1
Wilson Van Dusen in his insightful study of Swedenborg.
The Preset/Ct: of Other WorMs, points out that before his crisis.
Swedenborg's relation to his feeling dimension was atrophied
(compared to his intellectual hypertrophy). To become more
whok he had to meet with a feeling, feminine, earthly
dimension. Van Dusen notes that the "Disting Fair" of
which Swedenborg dreamed (JD 281) '\vas a festival dedi­
cated to female deities. "24 The fair is rather surprisingly he Id
upstairs in the pari or ofhis father's house "at Uppsala," which
could be interpreted as representing the patriarchal Judeo­
Christian tradition. Here a feminine pagan rite is cekbrated
in the midst of his paternal zone.
He is being introduced to the world of female deities: the
unconscious, Faust's "realm of the Mothers." Van Dusen
writes:
It seems that it only gradually dawned on Swedenborg that
his quest for God demanded that he change internalty. The
early Swedenborg could only see God as a rather remote.
cold intellectual theology. To uuly see God the whole În­
wardness of Swedenborg had to be opened and intensified.
He had to be instructed in the inner su btle, rich language of
feeling-image-symbolism. The whole feeling side of him had
to be awakened and take a position superior to intellect.!S
At one point in Swedenborg's dream life his anima re­
veakd herself to him overtly in her creative aspect:
There came ta hand a little !errer. for which l paid nine
stivers. When l opened it there lay within it a great book
FIG. 201. The anima as mystical guide, after atl
alchemical text. 16lï. Maria PtrJphetilsa points to the
mystical uniofl of the "above" with 'œ'hat is "belOfJ2;";
the IWo streams ofwater can also be intapreted as the
uniotl of spiritual and lIatural t17lth.
!C,'-\:\THOLOGY: SOCIAL ISSUES & PSYCHOLOGY
containing c1ear blank paper. ... There sat a woman on the
left hand; then she removed to the right and turned over the
lea\'es, and then drawings or designs came forth. (JO 195)
Here she is depicted as his creative muse, who moves him
from "Ieft" (the unconscious, intuitive side, whose vocab­
ulary is images) to the "right" (the verbal, linear, more con­
scious side). Swedenborg will eventually be able ta dialogue
\\'ith his previously "unconscious" inner images consciously.
His anima is playful and sensuous as weIl as creative. Swed­
enborg describes her as with a broad bust and "on both sides
down to the lower parts quire bare; the skin, shining as if it
\\ere polished; and on the thumb a miniature painting" (JO
195). But let us follO\v for a while the development of his
relationship to the inner woman as his dreams depict il.
ln the early stages, before the transformative process is
complete, Swedenborg had dreams of vagina dentata: "Lay
\\'ith one that was by no means pretty, but still 1 liked her.
She \\'as made like others; 1 touched her there, but found
chat at the entrance it was set with teeth. Ir seemed that it
\\as :\rchenholtz [a politician] in the guise of a woman" (JO
120).
He didn't know what ta make of this. "What it means 1
do not know; either that 1 am ta have no commerce with
women; or that in politics lies that which bites; or something
cise" (JO 120). But his dream would seem in our devclop­
mental Interpretation ta point to a premature attempt at mys­
tfrill!l1 ronjunctionis (sacred union) with the inner feminine,
before he is ready to penetrate such a mystery. In fact, the
mysterious woman had appeared to him earlier as a queen,
disapPQinted because jewels she had received were not "the
besc": "She asked me to come in again; but 1excused myself
on the ground of being so shabbily dressed, and having no
wig" (JO 23).
Swedenborg felt unprepared for such an encounter. In­
deed in this stage of the process the ego is a pauper while
the anima possesses the full riches and royalty of the creative
psyche. The vagina dentata is the perilous entrance to the
other \vorld, which is often described as "c1ashing rocks,"
such as the Symplegades, or a dangerous gate. Here the
threat is expressly to the procreative capacity.
Later Swedenborg would succeed in the hieros gamos (sa­
marriage, or visionary union) with the mysterious woman,
''l'!! merceille" as he said; and with the feeling that she would
conceive. With the remarkable consistency of the visionary
\\orld. \'Ile are not then surprised to find her appearing, five
momhs larer in September, quite pregnant; dressed in "very
\\'hire c1othes" offering him wine ta drink (JI) 239).
Hadng not encountered this çUrious mystery of "spiritual
pregnancy" before, 1was struck by the following comparative
example when 1 came across it in the LSO visions of a
professional therapist undergoing a personal rebirth experi­
ence.
26
S. had a series of visions in which he, like Swed­
enborg, was Iearning to accept his own feminine dimension.
At the end of an unsatisfactory first LSO experience filled
with painful transformation symbols (he had a total of four
guided sessions), he heard guttural voices saying somethin2:
in Outch like, "Die mutter's sche-ui, " which he translated :1"
"your mother's heavy." He did not at the time understand
what this meant.
Our subject's second session, however, culminated in J
loveIv
.
vision of a feminine bodv:
.
... the moon ... rising from behind great billow\' clouds.
It is indescribably lovely and thrilling.... [Then] the moon
and a great cloud are seen as mother's buttocks and l am
staring at them from between and within them. Floating from
darkness into strong pale white light, l exclaim our loud.
".\lother, l' m almost there!"
The spiritual rebirth motif here presented itself with
breathtaking unexpectedness, And S. was looking from the
viewpoint of the spiritual "child." His third session was filled
with earthly images, which he gradually had to learn to ac­
cept. But in his fourth there was finally a wonderful culmi­
nating scene in which he became a woman, and in the t h r o e ~
of giving birth. He writes:
Celestial trumpets and choirs of angels proclaimed this \\"on­
derful birth; lightning ftashed and cornets arched through the
giane sunrises and sunbursts pulsed through the
universe.... l reached dov.'n and pulled my baby up to n1\
face and glory of glories ... it \\"as me! But a transformed.
almost spotless, perfected me,
Thus the mysterious process of transformation by \\'hich
a man may "give birth to himself." And something like thi..;
must have been happening to Swedenborg. As he wrote in
the next-to-Iast paragraph in the Joumal of DreamJ: "It seemed
that a rocket burst over me spreading a number of sparkles
of lovely fire. Love for what is high, perhaps."
After his rebirth Swedenborg was to be let far more deeph
into that fire and that light: "1 have been c1evated inta the
Iight, which sparkled like the light radiating from diamonds:
and while 1was kept in it 1seemed ta myselfto be withdrawn
from corporeal ideas, and ta be let into spiritual ideas" (:\C
4413).
We don't have to stretch our metaphor much ta see in the
visionary "light" the "enlighrenment" of the philosophical
systems, with their "awakenings" to, and "dawnings" of.
knowledge. \Vith the light cornes power and mystical sight.
prized by visionaries from shamans to Zen Buddhists, to
Christian mystics. Eliade writes of the Eskimo angakoq that
it is
... a mysterious Iight which the shaman suddenly feels in
his body, inside his head \"ithin the brain, an inexplicable
se:Hchlight, a luminous fire, which enables him ta see in dark,
borh literally and metaphorically speaking, for he can now,
e \ en with closed eyes, see through darkness and perceive
chings and coming events which are hidden from others: Thus
look into the future and the secrets of others.
We think of the antmjrotih (inner light) of the U panishads,
described as the essence of the indwelling iltman; aiso of the
"white light" of the Bardo Thodol, the Tibetan Book of the
De:1d,
R:1ymond Moody, writing of near-death experiences in his
th/ok Lijè lVter Lijè, quotes some luminous visions by those
"m the vestibule." A woman who had been in a coma for a
'.\ eek \Hites:
1 felt as though 1 were lifted right up, just as though 1 didn 't
:13\e a physical body at ail. A brilliant white Iight appeared
co me, The light ,vas sa bright that 1 could not sec through
it. but going into its presence was 50 calming and 50 \von­
derful. In the presence of the Iight the thoughts or words
(Jme inta my mind: "Do you want ta die?"ZR
The following more lighthearted example is from a man
.it death's door:
1 looked up and saw a beautiful polished doar, with no knob,
:\round the edges of the doar 1 could see a really brilliant
white light. with rays just streaming like everybody was so
happv in there and reeling around. Ir seemed like it was
J\\full\' busy in there. 1 looked up and said, "Lord here 1
Jm, If you wanr me, take me." Boy, he shot me back 50 fast
ir felt like 1 almost lost my breath.
29
But this light appears not only in ecstasy or at death;
S\\edenborg saw it often as he was thinking or meditating.
Signe Toksvig, in her excellent biography, mentions that
S\\edenborg believed light to attend men of science, and
rhat "... after a long course of reasoning [they] make a
disco\'ery' of thc truth; straightway there is a certain cheering
lis:ht. and joyful confirmatory brightness, that plays around
:he sphere of their mind. "30
This practice of attuning to confirmatory Iight ca lied pho­
n,m has also been cultivated by many other kinds of intuitives
Jnd mystics as weil.
:\ few years later Swedenborg wrote:
,\ f1ame appeared (0 me sa often and, indeed, in differcnr
sizes with a diversity of color and splendor, that during some
months when l was writing a certain work, hard!'y a day passed
in which a flame did not appear, as vividly as the flame of a
household hearth. Ir was then a sign of approvaL and this
\\'as priar to the time when spirits began ta spcak with me
\Î\"a voce. (WE 6905)
Swedenborg's feminine personification and inner light, then,
5el\e as most important symbols of transformation. They are
LARSEN: THE VISIONARY TR-\DlTIO:"\ lYY
his guides through the labyrinth within to a uniquely open
state to the spiritual dimension.
Swedenborg as Visionary Pathfinder
The eoncluding section of this study evaluates the releyance
of Emanuel Swedenborg to the visionary quest of our modern
world. In an age that has embraced a remarkable impon cargo
of spiritual practices, from yoga to Sun Myung Moon's to­
talistic communities, from Gurdjieff to Nichiren Shoshu
Buddhism, from Subhud to Jonestown, it seems important
for us ail to understand the religious urge in human life. The
same quest that can vitalize the psyche and bestow a trans­
lucent meaning upon and within it, can also le ad to fanaticism
and blind destructive action. Ir is foolish to avoid or disbe­
lieve the two-edged, ambivalent nature of spiritual power.
Because of this, it seems to me ctucial to have an interface
of psychology and religion. And in psychology's scientific
study of the visionary individual, who is at the core of ail
religious process, biography must play a most important role.
Partisans of one religious doetrine or another may harangue
each other to exhaustion without proving whether there is
one God or th ree, nor even considering whether the issue is
worth debating. But in the details of an individual's life. and
in his or her relationships to the immediate physicaL social.
and historical factors surrounding, we have a story any human
of sensibiliry can understand. This story, or "Iife myth" of
an individual, should function as a context for understanding
his or her revelation. We can understand mysteries, doc­
trines, and dogmas better in the context of human life. For
instance, the ethical principles included in most religious
systems are enlivened by example in the life of the visionary­
founder. Contrarily, we feel uncomforrable when someone
"preaches one thing and practices another."
From my own modest look into both the life and theo­
logical works of Emanuel Swedenborg, 1 feel he has excellent
credentials as a New Age visionary. Ethically, he seems ta
me impeccable. A man with his insight and clairvoyant pow­
ers could have negotiated for power (and loved) like Ras­
putin, could have organized people around him like Gurdjieff
at Fontainb\eau.
31
But Swedenborg lived modestly and mostly
alone. People enjoyed his kindly ways and sense of humor:
he paid promptly and weil those who lodged and sen'ed him.
He was affectionate with ehildren, a devoted gardener. skill­
fuI with living things. He did not, likc Aleister Crowley. the
magician-mountaineer, leave a wake of human debris behind
him, the wreckage of the lives 50 often attracted to and left
behind by spiritual charismatics."'z There are those among
us who must ask, unable to help ourselves, What worth haYe
ail the magical discoveries, high transpersonal principles and
doctrines, if a person does not live them?
The New Age visionary should embody the salient themes
':'HI ,\:'\THOLOGY: SOCIAL ISSL'ES & PSYCHOLOGY
of human growth for the current time. He or she should
partake of both mythic and sociocultural symbols of the age.
On the mythic lev el , Swedenborg's astrological birth sign
1sun sign) Aquarius also corresponds with the New Age as­
rrological mythologies, which speak of an "Aquarian age."
Edward Whitmont, a J ungian scholar, reads the sign Aquarius
35 the symbol of "dialoguc" of the human dimension (the
çgO) "ith the realm of the spirit (the unconscious)Y Aquarius
is a1so more classically "the water bearer," the human truth­
seeker who, after completing his or her own spiritual quest,
then pOUfS out the healing message of subsequent discovery
ta the human race for thcir sustenance. (For S\vedenborg
a150. water represents "truth.") Both of these mythologems
correspond weil to Swedenborg's life-myth: his dialogue with
the spirit, which wc have followed nowa bit, and his pouring
out of his "truth" to the wodd (his writings).
ln this last section 1 briefly (but 1 hope provocatively)
im'estigate a few of Swedenborg's visionary findings, also
called his "theological doctrines." These will be discussed
in a nontheological way, however. We shaH be concerned
with practical and empirical refcrents for the transpersonal
doctrines, inquiring, wherever possible, \Vhere are the roots
of this idea in Swedenborg's life? and, Does it find echo in
the perennial philosophy, thus meriting "transpersonal st a­
tus"? :\lay we not also begin to think of a "perennial psy­
chology," in which concepts and structures from the many
psychological systems are included on the basis of their use­
fulness and applicabîlity ta a broad range of human experi­
ence. rather than eJaborate theoretical justifications of one
system over another? Is the human psyche not large enough
to contain sorne of Freud's "dcfense mechanisms" and Jung's
"archetypes" as weH, Piaget's early developmental stages and
their later culmination in "self actualization"? When
such concepts are understood as heuristic devices, not literaI
"things" in the psyche, they enrich remarkably our under­
standing of human behavior. 34 While they are hard to test
empirically, perhaps their inclusion in everyday vocabularies
and use in practical psychology is an empirical test of a dif­
ferent sort.
Swedenborg's thought is full of concepts of this kind. While
he describes them as spIritual principles, we can often find
their commonsense psychology. Consider, for example, his
concept of Hruling love": men or women develop an inner
moti\'ational and affectional system based on what they are
drawn to most. Their continuing choices and involvement
cause the "ruling love" to become dominant in the hierarchy
of [heir motives; ir becomes autonomous and "rules" them.
Other motives, or "reinforcements," become secondary while
this becomes primary. Eventually, for Swedenborg, this "de­
sire-body" not only affects one's physical life, but survives
the transition through death and determines membership in
heaven or hel!. "Like is drawn to like" and the spirit realms
are communÎties of those alike in "ruling love."
Man is able to know, think and understand many things: but
when he is left ta himself he rejects these things which are
not in agreement with his love; and he also rejects them after
the Iife of the body, when he is in his spirit; for that onh
remains in the spirit of a man which has entered into his
love. (NJHO ] 13)
That which anyone docs from love remains inscribed on his
heart; for love is the fire of life, and thus is the life of ne[\­
one. Hence such as the love such is the life; and such a"
the Iife is-thus su ch as the love is-such is the whole man
as ta the soul and as ta the body. (AC 10740)
Ir seems to me there are profound implications for practiul
psychology in rhis concept. One man's "reinforcement" lS
clearly not another' s. And, as any good beha"iorist knO\\'.
the secrets of behavior-change lie in the manipulation
those reinforcement5 that work for the particular indi\'idual.
Swedenborg places an important emphasis on the po\\cr and
autonomy of motivational structures. Selfish 100es becomç
dead ends because they further competition with other bcin2:'
rather than cooperation. Also selfish loves usually OUf
part-selves, not the integrative self. If one tries ta attJin
complete happiness through eating or sex or personal power
or even orderliness, the result is a lopsided catastrophe. l'ct
we do not have to look far to find fellow humans caught Uf'
totally in such futile enterprises, and eventually unable t,
abandon them, even when the destructive consequences Jft
ail too apparent.
Swedenborg was especially outspoken on the issue of "IO\c
of power" or domination:
Ail who give themselves up to these loves have regard for
themselves alone in and for whose existence ail others hJ\e
their bcing. Such have no pit y, no fear of God, no love of
the neighbor and consequently are unmcrciful, inhuman Jnd
cruel. They have an infernal covetous lust of plunder and
robbery.... If men were not restrained by fear of Pllnish­
ment infticted by law ... the whole human race would be
destroyed. (TCR 498)
Freud would probably have agreed with this last. But be­
sides Iegal penalties there is another more psychologicJlh
subtle coping mechanism for such destructive one-sidcd pJS­
sions in human life. Through a graduaI awakening of thc
spirit, the person learns to value the reality of other people,
At the same time a realization dawns of the incredible sub­
jectivity of the self and of exclusively se!fish needs.
one's "ruling love" to unse!fish ends, a process SwedenbofO:
caIls "regeneration" [see Glossary] sets in. Regeneration l'
a process paralle! to Jung's "individuation," or other de\el
opmental schemes of the mature psyche. These modcl;;.
buttressed now by the univcrsally accepted facts of children',
cognitive developmenr, show a "childhood of the spirit" (,U1.­
cinuing for the individual even in mature years. Jung was
che modern genius who played Piaget's games of imagination
\\ith adults as weil as children, eliciting (hcir transformation
symbols in mandalas, dreams, and life-myths. The psyche
must, it seems, forever undo its egocentricity, which places
che ego (Swedenborg's "proprium" [see Glossary]) at the
center of the univcrse. Piaget has brilliantly described naïve
egoccntricity in childhood and its graduaI replacement by
che moral stages necessary for life in the social environment.
The adult must gradually come to accept ail those other
ccnters-of-the-universe too.
Cognitive psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg puts the "uni­
\ersal ethieal prineiple stage" at the top of Piaget's fully
üperationalladder.
3s
The human psyche may grow beyond
the zone of Iegal penalties into a full moral consciousness­
\\hich automatieally considers others as no less important
rhJn oneself. Swedenborg calls this, somewhat archaieally,
"Io\e for the neighbor." Alfred Adler, too, sorne centuries
bter. wouId see "love for the neighbor" as the antidote to
che power principle."('
Ir seems to me that the highest form (his ethic may take
Îs in a spontaneous feeling response, whieh need not even
mencally debate the ethieal issues eoncerned. The other is
spiritual/y felt to be equal to oncself. We think of yoga's tat
:':am asi (thou art that) or the Hindu greeting ttamasté(l greet
the God within you), Christ's "Goldcn Rule" or Buber's "J­
thou." Orthodox religion seems to have missed the point­
:hJt these ethies are descriptions of spontaneous feeling states,
than ru\cs to be legislated. Being "forced" to "love
one' s neighbor," one may never learn to do it spontaneously.
Lower developmental stages never succeed in "Iegislating"
higher ones. Christ's exhortation is probably rather a cali to
:rJnsformation through growth; the only way to reach the
:1cxt stage. This growth then is a primary task of the regen­
eratlon process.
Regeneration, says Swedenborg, is accomplished from
within, through the mysterious process of influx [see Glos­
5.lf\ J. This is a concept as much cosmological as psycholog­
:\.;11. It resembles Gurdjieff and Ouspensky's "ray of crea­
tion" that extends from a hypothesized source of life in the
ulù\-erse (God) through several orders, or "degrees," of cre­
Jtlon. :,7
In both systems, human Iife as weil as organic life on the
planet are intermediate stages in a process of energy trans­
formation: from the spiritual Sun tu the natural sun, to or-
2:Jnic life on earth. (For GurdjietT the last stage is the moon,
c\oking the mythologies that portray the mool1 as the last
.ibode of souls.)
S\\edenborg says:
There 1s a continuai influx from the spiritual wodd into the
nJtural. He who does not know that there is a spiritual world
lnd that it is distinet From the natural world ... can know
THE VISIOl\:ARY 2111
FI(;. 202. 7'he soul's descent fJtld regeneration, i!!ustrating the "ray ofcreation,"/rom
af! akhemical text, 1617
nothing of this influx .... Ir is the spiritual principle which
derives its origin From the sun wherein the Lord is, and
proceeds ta the ultimates of nature, that produces the forms
of the vegetables and animais, and exhibits the wonders that
are in both; and it c10thes them with material substances
From the earth that these forms may be fixed and enduring.
(DLW 340)
The humal1 being, while partaking in organic life, also
rises above the rest of creation in being a conscious or mema!
reeipient of direct spiritual influx (Gurdjieffs "three-brained
beings"). The influx through man's higher faeulries is COI1­
sidered by Swedenborg to come from the Lord. The !ower
comes through the domain of nature and is like the "libid­
inous" desire of Freud's id, and the natural egocentricity \\e
have discussed as each human child's birthright. Swedenborg
sees "the natural" and "the spiritual" as actual inrert\\-ined
spirals of energy; curiollsly anticipatory of the double helix
of D:\A.
[lndividualsJ ... are actually born animaIs, but become peo­
ple.
The natural mind is curved into spirals From right to Idt.
while the spiritual mind 1s cUlï!ed into spi rais From Ieft ta
right. so that the two minds are turned against each other.
in reverse. This is a clue that evil dwells in the natural mind,
""\THOLOGY: SOCIAL ISSLTES & PSYCHOLOGY
..
",
'>-,
",
/.
FIG. 203. (left) Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) schematicized in the double-helix mode!
pmposed by James D. IIiItson and F. H. C. Crick in 1953
FIG, 204. (below) Swedenborg's vision of left and right spirals, suggesting the move­
ment of the DNA double helix (also reflected in figures on th!, facing page)
FIG. 205. (below right) Yt>atss interfocking cones of li(e vettors, described in A
Vision. ln Divine Love and Wisdom S'lI2,edenborg dest'ribes lift and right spiral
movements of his vision.
FIG, 206. (right) An akhemical image of infltlXfmm spiritual to natllral, 1617. Seen
as interfodting COlles, here they at'hieve peifett eqllilibrium in the Uni'Oersal Human.
and \\orks From that base against the spiritual mind. Further,
spiraling From right ta left is downward and therefore toward
hell, while spiraling From left to right moves upward, and
therefore toward heaven.
The following experience has enabled me to see the truth
of this. Evil spirits cannot mm their bodies from left to right,
only from right to left, while good spirits have great difficulty
turning their bodies From right to Ieft. but easily turn them
From Idt ta right. The turning follows the flow of the more
inw3rd elements of the mind. (DLW 270)
\\'e think of the gnostic dualisms of spirit and matter,
of Enkidu and Gilgamesh, Esau and Jacob, Evnissven and
:'\i5syen (from The Mabinogion )--the motif of the dack 'brother.
The alternative to the fratricide that 50 naturally befel! these
two is the redemption motif. As Gilgamesh tried to save
Enkidu, as Jesus redeemed John the Baptist, there must be
:1 piercing of the cloud of unknowing that causes spirit and
matter to regard each other as the enemy. At the end of
Parsival, in Wolfram von Eschenbach's admittedly psycho­
logical and deep rendering, Parsival embraces Fierfies, the
dark brother. The opposites are united.
\Yhile Swedenborg was raised in a society far more abso­
lutisr than our own in its understanding of good and evil,
:1nd to sorne extent he shared in its naïveté, he also went far
in his concept of regeneration to show the process of human
spiritual growth to be a the faculties of
\\"ill (feeling) and understanding (cognition), between natural
:1nd spiritual, between human beings and God: "For man
thinks and wills as if from himself, and this 'as if from him­
self is the reciprocal of conjunction; for therc can be no
conjunction without a reciprocal" (SBI, Influx 14).
i
t
t
,





l'
William Butler Yeats was to see the human psyche as t\\O
interlocking cones or spirals. 3H Between these spirals play the
pairs of opposites of will and mask, creative mind and bod\'
fate. Yeats's rendering is doser to the less dualistic Celtic
tradition, which has always tended to portray life as a dialogue
of a spiritual dimension with human nature.'9 The yogic
kundalini serpent, like the natural spiral, lies coiled around
her phallus at the base of the spine (and the nadis, ida and
pingald, coil around the sufumna). 40 The caduceus of healing.
inherited from classical time, also shows the "serpents" in­
tertwined around a staff. The iconic message to the human
sufferer is clear: holistic health includes both serpents, both
spirals.
Carl Jung, like Swedenborg, was a Protestant pastor's son.
Both men were raised in a home with a powerful parriarch
who knew what good and evil were ail about. Both were also
to come to their own unique ethical stance on this issue. bUe
through the attainment of the universal ethical principles.
not through a Iegalistic imitation of the family patriarch. Jung
would later write his Answer to Job,4J and develop the tech­
nique of "embracing the dark brother" in the dialogue witl-:
the shadow. He conceived of this as the starting work of the
individuation process (the mastef\vork being the dialogue
with the anima). (We have already followed sorne of these
stages in Swedenborg's own life.) Jung's concept of indi\id­
uation bespeaks the same slow process of moral transfor­
mation as Swedenborg's concept of regeneration, and 1113\
have been influenced by it.42
Both men agree that man is a "receptacle" for transpersonal
forces (Jung' S orchelJ'Pes, Swedenborg' s spirit 'lfl'orld). Junz:
writes:
F" TheSealofSolomon, orSrfYantra (offndian mntra), andtheyin-yang
.1 rhe Far East. Like the helix and the spiral, both are images of the relationship
.,. rhe jpiritual and the natural in the universe.
0:'3. (abo\'e left) A caduceus, symbol of the healing atts. The caduceus represents
Idf fJ/frgy iTileft aTid right spirals coiled 3 0 times around the central staff (c.f
f/{ia/iTli-yoga image eadier in this essay).
labo\'e right) The Cup of King Gudea of Lagash, ca. 2025 B.G., depic­
.:';< iJl!frY<J2'iTied serpents formiTig a double he/ix
FIc. 210. Opposing left and right spirals on the threshold stone at New Grange,
lreland. Sach patterns appear commonly at Neolithic tomb or shn'ne entrances, sug­
gesting that the symbolic connections ofn'ght-Ieft, lifo-death, divine-human, or spiritual­
Tlatural may be very ancient and widespread.
LARSE).;: THE VISIO).;ARY TR.-\0I110)'; 2113
The religions should therefore constantly recall ta us the
origin and original character of spirit, lest man should forget
what he is drawing into himself and with what he is filling
his consciousness. He himself did not create the spirit, rather
the spirit makes him creative, always spurring him on, gi\'ing
him lucky ideas, staying power, "enthusiasm" and "inspi­
ration." So much, indeed does it permeate his whole being
that he is in the gravest danger of thinking that he
created the spirit and that he "has" it. In reality, howe\er.
the primordial phenomenon of the spirit takes possession of
him, and while appearing ta be the willing object of human
intentions it binds his freedom ... becomes an obsessi\e
idée force. Spirit threatens the naïve minded man with infta­
. 41
tlon.....
And for Swedenborg, knowledge of man is that of
merely vessels or recipients, and that tao of a rude, yea. of
the rudest kind, inta which are poured from the Lord those
things which they were designed ta contain.... (SD 1935)
Every man as ta his spirit, although he does not know it. is
in society with spirits while he lives in the body. Through
them a good man is in an angelic society and an evil man in
an infernal society. (HH 438)
While these ideas may seem archaic to the modern skeptic.
skirting ail too close to primitive "animism," they are in faet
ideas so widespread as to merit inclusion in the perennial
psychology. Among the teeming nontechnological societies
of the world, divination, exorcism, possessed oracles. and
spirit healers are still rather commonplace. It is only among
the "scientifically socialized" that such things are viewed as
unusual. Swedenborgianism is, in fact, highly successful in
Africa, where the people have no problem at ail with the
concept of "the spirit world."
But while we may feel we "understand" the spiritual in
these cultural contexts, perhaps we grow less comfortable
with the "spiritualists" closer to home (even, in our phobia.
like Harry Houdini), becoming obsessed with proving them
frauds. This has often been the response to Swedenborg.
but this kind of apotropaic behavior toward a human
as traditional as spirit-seeing seems to me made more of fear
than wisdom. The concept of the spirit world is itself nu­
minous, and as such, threatens the so newly won safet\' of
our secular world view. Busy denying its existence, we forget
to study its phenomenology.
ln search of a modern visionary who had experiences sim­
ilar to Swedenborg, 1 identified Robert Monroe, a modern
businessman who began spontaneously to have out-of-body
experiences. As 1 reviewed Monroe's experiences 1 found
there were many parallels ta Swedenborg, as \vell as dis­
crepancies. Remember, though, the formula for \'ision in­
cludes personal and cultural, as weil as transpersonal. ele­
ments. Considering the cultural and personal differences
2114 .-\:'\THOLOGY: SOCIAL ISSUES & PSYCHOLOGY
FrG. 211. Mirror of Virginal Nature, /rom an akhemical texl, 1617. The Worid Sou!
is in seniœ to the Divine and dim('!s the action of the natural world.
between Monroe and Swedenborg, the similarities are strik­
Ingo Both men describe a "spiritual world" separate from but
connected to this one. Both describe a "Iower" and a "higher"
order of spiritual forces. The lower are obsessive and dan­
gerous while the higher lcave one in freedom but offer guid­
Both agree that spirits often will try to fool you, shape­
shift and appear in disguise. Thought is equivalent to
mO\'ement in the spirit dimension.
.\lonroe says, "The automatic navigational system.
works by what and of whom you think. Let one small stray
thought emerge dominantly for just one microsecond, and
your cause is deviated....44
Swedenborg observed that those who think alike are drawn
together and that affections are like a binding force. Monroe
experienced the same "vibrations" as Swedenborg did (and
as do shamans) when "entering or leaving the body." While
he attentively described his experiences and the beings he
met, Monroe's view of the spirit world was far more seculJr
and less theological than Swedenborg's. In this way it ml\
approximate modern sensibilities more closely. Of the nlo.
however, Swedenborg's account is phenomenally more de­
tailed and much more specific abolit the operation of prin­
ci pies and laws of the psyche and spirit world.
Perhaps the most important question for any modern fol­
lower of Swedenborg is this: Does one do as he said, or do
as he did? The former Ieads to Swedenborgianism, the latter
to a type of shamanism (Christian monotheist shamanism.
albeit). The orthodox Swedenborgian would wholeheartedh
rejecr the latter option. Swedenborg's elecrion Is divine. The
Lord himself opened Swedenborg's psyche, and his alone.
for the revelation of the New Jerusalem. One does not \01­
untarily emulate his life; to do so wouId be presumpruou.;
indeed, not to mention inviting spirit possession and nud­
ness. Swedenborg himself, in no uncertain terms,
LARSEN: TIIE VISIO'-.'.-\RY TR-\DITIO'-.'
1ged his readers against dabbling in spiritualism. Yet it might has no audience, who performs no communal ritual. who
bè observed that in the remper of our rimes, the latter quest no service of healing nor work of art, is often drin:n
holds more meaning. The psychologically and culturally so­ mad by the power of the vision.
phisticated pilgrim of today is not seeking a new doctrine or Swedenborg mal' prove an examplary guide for the modern
dogma 50 much as cxperience. Experience is the key concept inward seeker first in the modesty of his approach to the
of the entire "human potentials movement," and the lure visionary state. Like a "greater shaman" the vision sought
rhat beguiles many contemporary Christians from their proper him; he used no chemical aids. He was an early participant
intellectual worship to experience of the fiery tongues of the in what Jean Houston has called the "psychenaut" program­
Pentecostal movemenr, or to involvement in totally other the inner space cquivalem of the astronaut's push into outer
traditions. In the midst of perhaps the most extroverted 50- space. He combined the mythologems of science and reli­
cict\· in human history--contemporary America-the inward gion, following science religiously and explaining religion
Ljuest in its various forms has in the last decade peopled the scientifically. He leaped bravely into the chasm between
i.1nd with lamas, yogis. sannyasins, mysterious Zens, and \Vestern religion's "God outside" (or totaliter aliter, totalh
r,:orean messiahs. The inward quest is at least a major na­ other) and Eastern religion's "God within" (the A/mali. or
éîonal pastime and shows no signs of diminishing. Jung's "self"). Ali of these factors make Swedenborg's \\fit­
Such a movement of collective consciousness cannot fail ings worth reading for the modern phenomenologists of inner
to have its unconrrollable, dangerous side, and this follows space. In him we may see a coincidence of much that is
t'rom lack of established cultural guidelines for the journey. ancient in human psychology with mllch that is modern,
:\ lanv street-corner shamans of today have peeked into the \Vest with East, Ncoplatonism along with yoga, shamanism.
"paces Swedenborg saw. and that they are indeed vast and and Buddhism. His is an especially bright star in that succes­
tèrrif\-ing is witnessed by the casualties. Ir is dangerous to sion of luminous beings we cal! visionarics, always trying to
too far, to know too much too soon. The visionary who let a littlc more light into our dark, forgetful world.
_\'otes
F.dl details for the shortencd form of some ref­
can be found in notes to part 1 of "Swed­
and thc Visionarv Tradition."
1. Paranjali, YOJ(a Sutras, inrcrpretation !w
Charles Johnson (London: John 1\1. Watkin"
1964), bk. 2, p. 39. n. 19,
Ibid., bk. 2, p. 40, n. 23.
Ibid.. bk. 1. p. 24, n. 41.
-+. \lircea Eliadc, YOKa: !tl/molta/ify anrl Free­
dom. trans. Willard R. Trask, Bollingen Se­
ries LVI (Princeton, '-.'.J.: Princeton Uni­
\'crsitv Prcss, 1969), p. 56.
Ibid., index: respiration, hearr.
From the Kncheiridiot/ of Nicodcmus the lIa­
giorite, quoted in ibid., p, 64.
- Hesychasts: Ft/rydopedia Brifat/t/lm, ]5th ed.,
1Chicago: niversiry of Chicago Press, 1979),
\01. S, p. 19.
'. Eliadc, }'oj!(J, p. 61,
3
Ibid.. p, 49.
Swedenborg: ]errer to Bcyer, 14 î\'ovember
1769,
See chapter on sexual aspecrs of ecstasy in
\larghanita Laski, Erstml': A Studv of Sottie
)/'tI//ar at/d Re!iJ(;ous F.xperimœs (N. Y.:
Greenwood Press, 1968).
Benjamin Rowland, The Pdùatl History of:1r1,
r
d. ed. (Baltimore, Md,: Pen,guin Books,
1970) p. 289.
Sec Toksvig, Sigsredt, and Jon550n; see also
Ormond Odhner. "Swcdenborg and Wes­
ley," Nt:"a!' Chunh Lifl' (February 1958).
14. Paraphrased from Lili Tottllin Li'i.c'f.
15. Mircca Eliadc. Shaman;sm: .lrthaic Techt/ique,
of Entas" rrans. \Villard R. Trask, Bollingen
Series LXXVI (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton
University Press, 1970).
16. Peter Andreas -'lunch. N01:çe Jfwhology: Leg­
end, of God, tit/d Hl'roes (New York: Amcri­
can-Scandinavian Follndation, 1963.)
17. Il. R. Ellis Dayidson, Gods (lt/d Jfyths of
NOT1hern Kurope (;\liddlesex, Eng., and Bal­
timore, .\ld.: Penguin Books, 1964).
18. See Sranislav Grof, Rea/ms of the !fuman (Tt/­
consc1ous (,'\Iew York: E. P. Dlltton, 1976).
19. Eliade, Shtimat/iïm. p. 41.
20. Ibid., pp, 466-67.
21. Sec C. G. Jung, Psych%gy and Akhemy, vol.
12 of The Collected Wont, of C. G. JUt/J(, Trans.
R. F. C. Hull. Bollingen Series XX (Prince­
ton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1(53);
and Jung, AkhemÎ((1/ Studies, voL 13 of ibid.
(1968).
22. Jung, Archetypes at/d Co/lc{IÎ'1N Uliconsrious. p.
25.
23. Eliade, ShaJJlat/ism, p. 78.
24. Van Dusen, Presenre, p. 50.
25. Ibid., pp. 52-53.
26. Research based on professional volunrcer
sessions conducted at !\1arvland Psychiatrie
Research Center, particularly by Stanislav
Grof (see his Rea/ms of fll/tl1all l 'n({J!iso'ou.' '.
Full account of S. '5 journey in Stephen Lar·
scn, at/d COt/sc1ousncss: At/ F.nquir)' illtl)
the Phet/omet/%[!:)' of. 'r/l'thologiwl Expfriellœ lIt/d
COt/tftl1pOrtl!y COllSc10llSlIe.U (Ann ArboT, \1ich.:
Lnivcrsity Microfilms, 1(75) ehap. S. 3a. p.
449. Ali quores from Larsen's personal file"
27. Eliade, Sha!flat/ism, p. 8K
28. Ravmond -'Ioodv, I.ife A/ter Lift <'-.'ew York:
Banram Books, 1976), p. 75.
29. Ibid., p. 76.
30. From Journal of Dreams, as quored in Tok-­
vig, p. 127.
31. Sec René Fulop-Millcr, Ra,iputill: The lhl.
Devil, trans. (from German) F. S. Flint and
D. F. Tait (Gardcn Citv, '-.'.Y.: Garden Cit\
Publishing, 1927, 1(28); and J. G. Bennett.
Gurdjieff ,Yfaking a LV!"'a:' lVodd ('-.'C\\ York:
Harper & Row, 1973).
32. Symonds and Grant, The COt/fessions of.lIeistfr
Cro'IJI!/ey (New York: Hill and \Yang. 19691.
33. Edward C. Whitmont, lecture presenred nt
C. G. Jung Foundation for Analvrieal PS\'­
chology, New York City. 1966: see also
\:Vhitmont, The Symbolic QlIest ('-.'en York: G,
P. Putnam's for Jung Foundation, 19691.
34. As in J. Piaget, Thf JJOrtl/ Judgment ofthe Chi/d
('-.'ew York: Free Prcss, 1(48); or .-\. \Iaslow.
The Fallher Rf{jrhes of Humm/ Saturf ('-.'cw
York: Viking Press, 1971).
35. L. Kohlberg. "The De\'elopmem of Chi!­
2'11) .\'\THOLOGY: SOCIAL ISSUES & PSYCHOLOGY
dren's Orientations Toward a Î\lloral Order,"
lïfrl Hum. 6 (Base!, Switzerland, 1964).
~ ' " ' .. \lfred .\dler, Superiority and Social Infere.,.t
. [\'anston, Ill.: Northwestern University
Press, 1964 and 1(70).
See P. D. Ouspensky. In Srarrh of the Jh·
mm/ous: Fragments of an UnknOfi2'n Tealhin{',
,'\ew York: Harcourt Brace and Wor1d, 1949).
~ , \\. B. Yeats, A Vision C\'ew York: Collier
Books/!\Iacmillan, 1965).
39. See W. B. Yeats, Assays and /ntroduttion (New
York: Macmillan, 1(61), specifically parts on
the Cel tic imagination.
40. Arthur Avalon, The Serpent Po'(C'er (\1adras.
India: Gancsh, 1(64); see pans on kundalini
yoga,
41. C. G. Jung, A.nswertoJob(1952), inPsydlO/og)'
at/d Religiot/: lVest and };ast, in The Collected
lVorks of C. G. Jung, [fans. R. F. C. Hull,
Bollingen Series XX, vol. Il (Princeton, N.J.:
Princeton li niversity
42. C. G.}ung, Sl'mbo/s of Transformatioll, in ibid.,
vol. 5 (1956); or Jung, Anhetypes alld Co/leI1ù:e
UlIrollsrious. index: shadow.
43. Jung, Archetypes (llId Collective l:l1rollsl"ious, p.
213.
44. Robert Monroe, Jou!71evs Out ofthe Rod)' (l\ew
York: Doublcday/Anchor. 1(73).

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful