Did Swedenborg have a sixth sense? The question was raised often. Closely examined, many of the reported cases of extrasensory perception or clairvoyance could be viewed as instances of telepathy or mind-reading. If we study his early works carefully we find intimations of the idea of thought-transference as the lengthened shadow of sympathy or the extended range of empathy. He observed his own strange gift early and sought for an explanation: after all he was the man who wanted to know! In his 1717 paper On Tremulation he observed how easily we might enter the thought of others since life consists of vibrations. Our minds can resonate together, in harmony, just as one string can vibrate in the resonance with another if tuned to the same note, for this reason rapport can occur between people over long distances. His friend and colleague Christopher Polhem agreed and developed the idea of his thoughts on the nature and habitat of spirits, Tankar om andarnas varelse.
But there is something else we ought to consider. Emanuel Swedenborg was lucky to be a male, a bishop’s son, and a metropolitan nobleman. Gifted countryside women with similar alleged supernatural skills were still charged and put on trial for witchery. Cases of second sight – such as seeing events in a distant place – were brought before the courts. In the solemn churches, sovereign clergy spouted fire-and-brimstone caveats. Swedenborg’s own relative and academy colleague Carolus Linnaeus – who fought against superstition and believed in divine retribution as expressed in his work Nemesis Divina – was keenly aware of the fate of his great-grandfather’s mother, who had been burned at the stake. Carolus and Emanuel lived in an age where fabulous animals and ogres were still realities and the earth was largely unknown. When Swedish prisoners of war in Siberia discovered a mammoth tusk, it was taken to be either the biblical monster Behemoth, mentioned in the Book of Enoch, or the horn of a unicorn. At their old-fashioned university at Uppsala, founded in 1477 with the Pope’s consent, the fantastic world view of Professor Olof Rudbeck‘s Atlantica still lingered. This merged Old Testament history with Swedish antiquity and argued that the Scandinavian peninsula was connected with Eden and Atlantis. This was still part of the intellectual background of the period.
– An extract from ‘An Angle of Vision’, The Grand Theme and Other Essays by Anders Hallengren (Swedenborg Society, 2013) Text copyright of the Swedenborg Society.
THE GRAND THEME will be launched at the Swedenborg Society on Thursday 27 June 2013, 7 – 8.30 pm. Everyone welcome. The author will be present to talk about and sign copies of his new book, which will be available for purchase at a special launch price. Refreshments will also be served throughout the evening. Further information.