Swedish Mystic: Emanuel Swedenborg
Born in 1688, Swedenborg was the Leonardo da Vinci of his era. In his early years he studied science. He was the leading mathematician in Sweden, spoke nine languages, was an engraver, a politician, an astronomer, and a businessman, built watches and microscopes as a hobby, wrote books on metallurgy, color theory, commerce, economics, physics, chemistry, mining, and anatomy, and invented prototypes for the airplane and the submarine.
Throughout all of this he also meditated regularly, and when he reached middle age, developed the ability to enter deep trances during which he left his body and visited what appeared to him to be heaven and conversed with “angels” and “spirits.”
That Swedenborg was experiencing something profound during these journeys, there can be no doubt. He became so famous for this ability that the queen of Sweden asked him to find out why her deceased brother had neglected to respond to a letter she had sent him before his death. Swedenborg promised to consult the deceased and the next day returned with a message which the queen confessed contained information only she and her dead brother knew.
Swedenborg performed this service several times for various individuals who sought his help, and on another occasion told a widow where to find a secret compartment in her deceased husband’s desk in which she found some desperately needed documents. So well known was this latter incident that it inspired the German philosopher Immanuel Kant to write an entire book on Swedenborg entitled Dreams of a Spirit-Seer.
But the most amazing thing about Swedenborg’s accounts of the afterlife realm is how closely they mirror the descriptions offered by modern-day NDEers. For example, Swedenborg talks about passing through a dark tunnel, being met by welcoming spirits, landscapes more beautiful than any on earth and one where time and space no longer exist, a dazzling light that emitted a feeling of love, appearing before beings of light, and being enveloped by an all-encompassing peace and serenity.
He also says that he was allowed to observe firsthand the arrival of the newly deceased in heaven, and watch as they were subjected to the life review, a process he called “the opening of the Book of Lives.”
He acknowledged that during the process a person witnessed “everything they had ever been or done,” but added a unique twist According to Swedenborg, the information that arose during the opening of the Book of Lives was recorded in the nervous system of the person’s spiritual body. Thus, in order to evoke the life review an “angel” had to examine the individual’s entire body “beginning with the fingers of each hand, and proceeding through the whole.”
Swedenborg describes these telepathic bursts of knowledge as a picture language so dense with information that each image contains a thousand ideas. A communicated series of these portrayals can also be quite lengthy and “last up to several hours, in such a sequential arrangement that one can only marvel.”
But even here Swedenborg added a fascinating twist. In addition to using portrayals, angels also employ a speech that contains concepts that are beyond human understanding. In fact, the main reason they use portrayals is because it is the only way they can make even a pale version of their thoughts and ideas comprehensible to human beings.
Swedenborg’s experiences even corroborate some of the less commonly reported elements of the NDE. He noted that in the spirit world one no longer needs to eat food, but added that information takes its place as a source of nourishment.
He said that when spirits and angels talked, their thoughts were constantly coalescing into three dimensional symbolic images, especially animals. For example, he said that when angels talked about love and affection “beautiful animals are presented, such as lambs – When however the angels are talking about evil affections, this is portrayed by hideous, fierce, and useless animals, like tigers, bears, wolves, scorpions, snakes, and mice.”
Although it is not a feature reported by modern NDEers, Swedenborg said that he was astonished to find that in heaven there are also spirits from other planets, an astounding assertion for a man who was born over three hundred years ago!
Swedenborg said that although human beings appear to be separate from one another, we are all connected in a cosmic unity. Moreover, each of us is a heaven in miniature, and every person, indeed the entire physical universe, is a microcosm of the greater divine reality.
As we have seen, he also believed that underlying visible reality was a wave-substance.
In fact, several Swedenborg scholars have commented on the many parallels between some of Swedenborg’s concepts and Bohm and Pribram’s theory. One such scholar is Dr. George F. Dole, a professor of theology at the Swedenborg School of Religion in Newton, Massachusetts.
Dole, who holds degrees from Yale, Oxford, and Harvard, notes that one of the most basic tenets of Swedenborg’s thinking is that our universe is constantly created and sustained by two wavelike flows, one from heaven and one coming from our own soul or spirit.
“If we put these images together, the resemblance to the hologram is striking,” says Dole.
“We are constituted by the intersection of two flows – one direct, from the divine, and one indirect, from the divine via our environment. We can view ourselves as interference patterns, because the inflow is a wave phenomenon, and we are where the waves meet.”
It is, he said, the archetypal source from where all earthly forms originate, and to which all forms return, a concept not too dissimilar from Bohm’s idea of the implicate and explicate orders. In addition, he too believed that the afterlife realm and physical reality are different in degree but not in kind, and that the material world is just a frozen version of the thought-built reality of heaven.
The matter that comprises both heaven and earth “flows in by stages” from the Divine, said Swedenborg, and “at each new stage it becomes more genera] and therefore coarser and hazier, and it becomes slower, and therefore more viscous and colder.”
He earnestly replied:
“Everything that I have written is as true as you now behold me. I might have said much more had it been permitted to me. After death you will see all, and then we shall have much to say to each other on the subject.”
Excerpt from The Holographic Universe
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