Scientists and Mystics

By Celia Coates

Emanuel Swedenborg was a scientist before he became a mystic. He was a scholar, author, researcher, and inventor fascinated with finding a connection between the physical and spiritual worlds. Born in 1688, he entered the University of Upsala when he was eleven and studied astronomy, geology, botany, zoology, and the mechanical sciences. His intelligence so impressed King Charles XII of Sweden that he was given a position at the Board of Mines – an honor since mining was central in the nation’s economy. It was work that suited Swedenborg well because he was also able to continue his research and writing. His range of interests was great and varied: he created designs for a flying machine as well as doing significant studies of the human brain and nervous system.

In the middle of his life, between 1743 and 1747, Swedenborg struggled with a series of dreams, visions, and experiences until finally,
“… his spiritual senses were opened and he began to interact directly with the denizens of heaven, hell, and the world of spirits between.” *
Another Immanuel who was also an advanced seeker into the nature of reality – philosopher Immanuel Kant – learned of Swedenborg’s experiences and wrote a book about him, DREAMS OF A SPIRIT-SEER.

Here, in Kant’s words, are two stories about Swedenborg’s psychic abilities,
“The following occurrence appears to me to have above all the greatest proof and really confounds every recognizable doubt or excuse. It was in the year 1756, toward the end of September on a Saturday at 4 o’clock in the afternoon, when Herr von Swedenborg arrived at Gothenburg from England. Herr William Castel invited him to his house together with a party of fifteen other persons. That evening at six o’clock Herr von Swedenborg left and came back to the gathering looking pale and disturbed. He said that just then a dangerous fire was burning in Stockholm at the Suedermalm (Gothenburg is more than fifty miles from Stockholm) and that it was spreading rapidly. He was restless and went out frequently. He said that the house of one of his friends whom he named, was already in ashes and that his own house was in danger. At eight o’clock, after he had been out again, he said joyfully: ‘Thank God, the fire is extinguished the third door from my house’ – This news brought the entire city, and especially his own party, to a great commotion, and someone told the governor the news that same evening. Sunday morning Swedenborg was summoned repeatedly by the governor, who questioned him about the incident. Swedenborg described the fire precisely, how it began, how it ended, and how long it burned. … On Monday evening a messenger came to Gothenburg, who was despatched during the fire by the Kaufmannstadt in Stockholm. The letters he brought described the fire exactly like (Swedenborg’s) story. Tuesday Morning a royal courier came to the governor with an account of the fire, the loss, and the damage to housing that it had caused, not in the least differing from the narrative that Swedenborg had given at the time it happened. Moreover the fire had indeed been extinguished at 8 o’clock.
What can anyone bring forward against the creditworthiness of this story? The friend who wrote this to me sought out everything, not only in Stockholm, but about two months ago in Gothenburg, where he knew some of the prominent families well, and where he could get complete information, since most of the eyewitnesses are still alive there, 1756 being such a short time ago.” **

 Another story recounted by Kant was about a missing document,
Madame Harteville, the widow of the Dutch Envoy to Stockholm, was asked by the goldsmith Croon, some time after her husband’s death, to pay for a silver service he had ordered. The widow was convinced that her late husband had been too neat and orderly not to have paid the debt, but she could not find the receipt. In this distress, and because the sum was considerable, she summoned Herr von Swedenborg. After an apology for his inconvenience, she asked him, if, as everyone said, he had the extraordinary gift of speaking with departed souls, to have the kindness to inquire of her husband how it was with the silver service. Swedenborg was not at all reluctant to grant her request. Three days later the aforementioned lady had company at her house for coffee. Herr von Swedenborg came in and told her, in his cold-blooded manner, that he had spoken with her husband. The debt had been paid seven months before his death, and the receipt was in a cupboard to be found in an upper room of the house. The lady averred that the cupboard had been completely emptied, and that the receipt had not been found among the papers. Swedenborg said that her husband had described to him how when a drawer on the left side is pulled out, a plank would appear, which must be pulled out, whereupon a secret compartment would be disclosed, containing his secret bound Dutch correspondence, and the receipt as well. On hearing this the lady proceeded, accompanied by all her guests, to the upper room. The drawer was opened, and proceeding exactly as described the plank was found, which no one knew of before, and the aforementioned papers therein, to the greatest astonishment of everyone present.” **

 There are many stories about scientists who are drawn in one way or another into researching the paranormal. Swedenborg was just one of the earliest modern scientist-mystics. It’s a difficult line of discovery. The prejudice against exploring non-material reality – no matter how careful, balanced, and thorough the research – often results in doubt and scorn and debunking the findings. The critics are usually believed no matter how inadequate their credentials might be. Some critics even admit they haven’t read the research because whatever the results, “they just couldn’t be true.”

The Swedenborg Foundation says that his work was,
“…based on experiences and visions that may seem unbelievable to a modern audience – as they did to many of Swedenborg’s contemporaries – he writes with full awareness of how difficult his accounts may be to accept. In keeping with his early scholarly training, he presents his ideas in a logical order, drawing examples from everyday life as proof of the truth of his words, inviting readers to judge for themselves.”*

 That’s what each of us must do – pay attention to our own experiences and judge carefully what others have to teach us.

*     *     *     *     *

 * From the Swedenborg Foundation web page.

  ** Both of these quoted stories are from THE TRAVELER’S GUIDE TO THE ASTRAL PLANE, Steve Richards, Weiser books, 2015.

I highly recommend reading THE PRESENCE OF OTHER WORLDS: The Psychological/Spiritual Findings of Emanuel Swedenborg, by Wilson Van Dusen, Chrysalis Books, 1974 and 1991.

The image that accompanies this post is by Prettysleepy2 from

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  1. Nancy says:

    Very interesting, thanks for sharing

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