Nature is a Temple where we live ironically In the midst of forests filled with dire confusions; Man, hearing confused words, passes symbolically Under the eyes of the birds watching his illusions.
Like distant echoes in some tenebrous unity, Perfumes and colours are mixed in strange profusions, Vast as the night they mix inextricably With seas unfounded and with the dawn’s delusions.
And there are the perfect perfumes of the Flesh, That are as green as the sins in the Serpent’s mesh, And others as corrupt as our own senses, Having the strange expansion of things infinite, Such as amber, musk, benzoin and sweet incenses, That seize the spirit and the senses exquisite.
translated by poet Arthur Symons 1857
In Nature’s temple living pillars rise, And words are murmured none have understood, And man must wander through a tangled wood Of symbols watching him with friendly eyes.
As long-drawn echoes heard far-off and dim Mingle to one deep sound and fade away; Vast as the night and brilliant as the day, Colour and sound and perfume speak to him.
Some perfumes are as fragrant as a child, Sweet as the sound of hautboys, meadow-green; Others, corrupted, rich, exultant, wild,
Have all the expansion of things infinite: As amber, incense, musk, and benzoin, Which sing the sense’s and the soul’s delight.
translated by F.P. Sturm, from Baudelaire: His Prose and Poetry, edited by Thomas Robert Smith (New York: Boni and Liveright, 1919)
La Nature est un temple où de vivants piliers Laissent parfois sortir de confuses paroles; L’homme y passe à travers des forêts de symboles Qui l’observent avec des regards familiers.
Comme de longs échos qui de loin se confondent Dans une ténébreuse et profonde unité, Vaste comme la nuit et comme la clarté, Les parfums, les couleurs et les sons se répondent.
II est des parfums frais comme des chairs d’enfants, Doux comme les hautbois, verts comme les prairies, — Et d’autres, corrompus, riches et triomphants,
Ayant l’expansion des choses infinies, Comme l’ambre, le musc, le benjoin et l’encens, Qui chantent les transports de l’esprit et des sens.
Introduction to the Key Elements of Emmanuel Swedenborg’s Thought
Emmanuel Swedenborg, a prominent 18th-century intellectual, had a profound impact on various fields of thought, including theology and philosophy. His ideas, particularly his exploration of the spiritual realm and the interconnectedness of all things, challenged traditional religious doctrines and sparked debates among intellectuals. His concept of a spiritual world parallel to the physical world influenced philosophers like Immanuel Kant and Arthur Schopenhauer, shaping their own philosophical theories. Swedenborg’s emphasis on personal experience and direct communication with the divine resonated with Enlightenment thinkers who sought to reconcile reason and faith. His ideas also inspired artists and writers to explore the realms of the unconscious and spirituality. His ideas laid the foundation for various spiritual movements and philosophies, such as theosophy and New Thought. His emphasis on the interconnectedness of all things and personal spiritual experience resonated with individuals seeking alternative perspectives outside traditional religious institutions. His belief in love and compassion as transformative forces in society continues to inspire individuals and organizations working towards social justice and equality today.
Emmanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772) was a Swedish scientist, philosopher, theologian, and mystic whose works have profoundly impacted various fields of knowledge. His ideas and writings encompass multiple topics, including philosophy, theology, spirituality, and exploring the afterlife. I’ll briefly explain Swedenborg’s key ideas and shed light on his significant contributions.
THE WORLD OF SPIRIT
One of the central aspects of Swedenborg’s thought is his exploration of the spiritual world. He claimed to have had numerous mystical experiences that allowed him to gain insight into the realms beyond the physical. According to Swedenborg, the spiritual world is intricately connected to the physical world, influencing and shaping one another. This concept of interconnectedness presents a unique perspective on the relationship between the seen and unseen aspects of reality.
Another critical element of Swedenborg’s thought is his understanding of the nature of God. He posited that God is Love itself and that divine love permeates all aspects of existence. According to Swedenborg, the purpose of human life is to align oneself with this divine love and to live in harmony with it. This perspective offers a distinct view on the nature of divinity and the role of humans in the grand cosmic scheme.
Swedenborg’s thought also encompasses a comprehensive exploration of the afterlife. He claimed to have received visions and revelations about the spiritual realms, providing detailed descriptions of heaven, hell, and spiritual growth after death. His writings on the afterlife offer a unique perspective on the nature of the soul and the journey it undergoes beyond earthly existence.
Swedenborg’s concept of correspondences is a core element of his writings. Based on the idea that everything in creation reflects something of the divine, he believed there is a symbolic relationship between the physical and spiritual realms. Emmanuel Swedenborg’s theory of correspondences is a philosophical and theological concept that suggests a relationship between the spiritual and physical realms. According to Swedenborg, there is a correspondence or connection between the natural and spiritual worlds, where everything in the physical realm has a corresponding spiritual counterpart.
Swedenborg believed that the physical world reflects or manifests the spiritual world. He argued that the spiritual realm is the ultimate reality, and the physical world is a lower, more limited expression of that reality. In this theory, the spiritual realm is seen as the source of all existence, and the physical world represents or symbolises the spiritual truths and principles. Swedenborg’s idea of correspondences bears a strong resemblance to the much older alchemical concept of ‘as above so below’. Swedenborg was not an alchemist but many alchemists including Philip James de Loutherbourg were strongly influenced by Swedenborg.
According to Swedenborg, this correspondence between the spiritual and physical realms can be observed in various aspects of life. For example, he suggested that particular objects, events, and phenomena in the physical world have symbolic meanings and represent spiritual concepts. He believed that the natural world is filled with symbols and correspondences that can be interpreted to gain insights into the spiritual realm.
Swedenborg’s theory of correspondences has influenced various fields, including philosophy, theology, and art. It has been used to interpret religious texts, understand the symbolism in art and literature, and explore the relationship between existence’s physical and spiritual dimensions.
Furthermore, Swedenborg’s thought deeply analyses the human mind and consciousness. He believed the human mind consists of three distinct levels: the natural, the spiritual, and the celestial. Each level corresponds to a different aspect of the human experience and has its own characteristics and functions. Swedenborg’s understanding of the human mind provides valuable insights into the complexity of human consciousness and the potential for spiritual growth.
Some examples of Swedenborg’s doctrine of correspondences:
i. Light and Darkness: Swedenborg believed light and darkness corresponded spiritually. Light represents truth, wisdom, and spiritual enlightenment, while darkness symbolizes ignorance, falsehood, and spiritual blindness. This correspondence can be seen in various religious texts and metaphors, where light is often associated with divine presence and understanding.
ii. Water: Swedenborg says water corresponds to knowledge and truth. Just as water nourishes and sustains physical life, knowledge and truth nourish and sustain spiritual life. Water is often used symbolically in religious rituals, such as baptism, to represent purification and spiritual rebirth.
iii. Trees: Swedenborg saw trees corresponding to the human mind and its spiritual growth. Just as trees grow from a seed and develop branches, leaves, and fruits, the human mind grows and develops through acquiring knowledge, understanding, and virtues. Trees are often used symbolically in religious and mythological contexts to represent wisdom, strength, and spiritual connection.
iv. Bread and Wine: Swedenborg believed that bread and wine correspond to the spiritual nourishment of the soul. Bread represents the spiritual sustenance of truth and understanding, while wine symbolizes the spiritual sustenance of love and charity. These correspondences are particularly significant in Christian sacraments like the Eucharist, where bread and wine are seen as symbols of Christ’s body and blood, providing spiritual nourishment to believers.
These are just a few examples of how Swedenborg’s doctrine of correspondences can be applied to interpret symbolic meanings in various aspects of life.
LOVE AND SEX
Emmanuel Swedenborg’s concept of conjugal love, also known as marital or conjugial love, is a central theme in his theological and philosophical works. According to Swedenborg, conjugal love is a deep and spiritual love between a husband and wife in a committed and monogamous marriage.
Swedenborg believed that conjugal love reflects the divine love and unity between God and humanity. He saw marriage as a sacred institution that mirrors the relationship between the Lord and the church, with the husband representing the Lord’s love and the wife representing the church’s wisdom.
In Swedenborg’s view, conjugal love is not merely a physical or emotional attraction between partners, but a spiritual bond that encompasses both the physical and spiritual aspects of their being. He emphasized the importance of mutual love, respect, and understanding between spouses and the cultivation of spiritual virtues such as kindness, loyalty, and selflessness.
According to Swedenborg, true conjugal love is characterized by a deep and lasting friendship between partners, a shared commitment to each other’s spiritual growth, and a desire to support and uplift one another. He believed this love extends beyond the earthly realm and continues in the afterlife, where married couples can experience even more profound levels of spiritual union.
Swedenborg’s concept of conjugal love has significantly influenced discussions of marriage and relationships, particularly within the context of spirituality and the search for deeper meaning and fulfillment in intimate partnerships.
SWEDENBORG’S DREAM BOOK
The private Drömbok (Dream Book or Dream Diary) covers July 1743 to October 1744, when Swedenborg transitioned from scientist and mining engineer to “revelator” and seer.
It begins as a factual travel diary, describing how he left Sweden to travel to Germany and the Netherlands His purpose in travelling to the Netherlands was to finish and deliver to his printer in Amsterdam the manuscript of his book Regnum Animale which explained the soul from an anatomical perspective.. Swedenborg describes a vision of Christ he received in Delft. He went to London in late May and joined the Fetter Lane Moravian Church congregation.
Swedenborg documented 150 dreams, which involved both spiritualy and scienceSome of his dream imagery include a anthropomorphic dogs, Kings, an executioner with his collection of heads, dragons, a talking ox, and an abstract rectangular world, together with numerous ladies and erotic dreams.
In vivid dream no. 171, Swedenborg is in bed with a woman. She touches his penis and he gets the biggest erection ever. He penetrates her, thinking a child must arrive, and writes that he got off. Swedenborg argues in paragraph 172 that this dream depicts the ultimate love of the holy and that semen ejaculation denotes wisdom. Worldly reason thinks this unclean, but it’s pure. Swedenborg would argue in later publications, especially Conjugial Love, that sensual love is divine, even if humans corrupt it for selfish, evil purposes.
In another dream, he cannot control his desire for a woman and visits brothels with his friend. He lies with an ugly woman who pleases him in a fantastic dream but her vagina has teeth when he touches it. The vagina dentata (vagina with teeth) reappears in no. 261 when he sees a furious coal fire representing the ‘fire of love’. Then he wants to penetrate a woman, but her teeth hinder him. We know that many folktales from around the world feature the vagina dentata. Of this tradition, Camille Paglia notes that “The toothed vagina is no sexist hallucination: every penis is made less in every vagina, just as all mankind, male and female, is devoured by Mother Nature”.
Swedenborg, who was likely unaware of the folklore story and unfamiliar with modern psychology, dreamed of the toothed vagina spontaneously.
Unsurprisingly, the Victorian translators of the Journal of Dreams were horrified by its erotic content and either omitted it or hid it from the uneducated and likely prurient reader. Even today, Swedenborg commentators downplay those paragraphs in the Journal and elsewhere. For us today, these passages depict Swedenborg’s awareness of his sexual interests, as the stern scientist and seer gets ‘humanized’ by them. Given Swedenborg’s later emphasis on sexual love between men and women, an analysis of his visions’ sensuality at a pivotal period in his life seems appropriate.
Swedenborg’s concept of correspondences has significantly influenced later artists and writers, particularly those interested in exploring the symbolic and spiritual dimensions of their work.
Swedenborg’s concept of correspondences heavily influenced the Symbolist movement in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Symbolist poets and artists sought to convey deeper spiritual and symbolic meanings through their work, using symbols and metaphors to represent abstract ideas and emotions. They believed the physical world could be a gateway to the spiritual realm, and Swedenborg’s ideas provided a framework for exploring these connections.
The first major movement that owes much to Swedenborg is Romanticism: Swedenborg’s concept of correspondences resonated with the Romantic movement, which emphasized the importance of imagination, intuition, and the spiritual aspects of human experience. Whether they understood him well or only passingly many of the romantics red Sweden Borg and incorporated his ideas into their work. Charles Baudelaire for example wrote his great poem Correspondences which was strongly influenced by SwedenBorg (although Gary Lachman believes that Baudelaire’s influence was less directly from reading SwedenBorg than from Balzac and other writers) Romantic poets and artists often used nature as a symbol of the divine and sought to capture the transcendent and mystical qualities of the world. Swedenborg’s ideas about the symbolic significance of natural elements and their correspondence to spiritual truths aligned with the Romantic sensibility.
The Surrealist movement, which emerged in the early 20th century, was also influenced by Swedenborg’s concept of correspondences in its exploration of the subconscious and the dreamlike realm. Surrealist artists sought to tap into the hidden depths of the mind and create works that revealed the underlying connections between the physical and spiritual realms. They often used symbolic imagery and juxtapositions to evoke a sense of mystery and the irrational, drawing inspiration from Swedenborg’s ideas about the symbolic nature of reality. Carl Jung was likewise an avid reader of Swedenborg and was influenced by all of these ideas in his own development of the concept of the unconscious.
Many writers and poets have drawn inspiration from Swedenborg’s concept of correspondences in their works. For example, William Blake, who would certainly have met people who knew SwedenBorg, incorporated Swedenborgian ideas into his visionary and mystical poetry, exploring the connections between the physical and spiritual worlds. Other writers, such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, were influenced by Swedenborg’s ideas about the interconnectedness of all things and the presence of divine wisdom in nature. Aldous Huxley, Balzac, Hoffmann, Rimbaud, Verlaine and the French Symbolists were all directly or indirectly from these ideas.
Overall, Swedenborg’s concept of correspondences has provided a rich source of inspiration for artists and writers seeking to delve into the symbolic, spiritual, and metaphysical dimensions of their creative endeavours.
While Swedenborg did not explicitly address feminist issues, his theological and philosophical ideas have been interpreted and applied in ways that have influenced feminist thought. Many early feminists and activists for women’s emancipation were followers of Swedenborg or read him avidly. Indeed, Swedenborg’s ideas have intersected with feminism in several ways.
Swedenborg’s concept of spiritual equality and the idea that both men and women have a spiritual nature and potential has resonated with feminist thinkers. His belief in the importance of mutual love and respect in marriage and his emphasis on the spiritual growth and development of both partners can be seen as aligning with feminist ideals of equality and partnership in relationships.
Additionally, Swedenborg’s approach to interpreting religious texts, including the Bible, was been used by Christian feminists to challenge traditional patriarchal interpretations. His concept of correspondences and symbolic meanings has allowed for alternative readings of biblical stories and characters, highlighting the agency and significance of women in religious narratives.
Swedenborg’s emphasis on an individual’s spiritual and inner qualities, rather than external appearances or societal roles, has resonated with feminist ideas of empowerment and self-determination. His belief in cultivating virtues and spiritual qualities, such as love, wisdom, and compassion, can be seen as aligning with feminist values of personal growth and empowerment.
Also, Swedenborg’s mystical experiences and exploration of the spiritual realm have inspired feminist thinkers to explore alternative ways of knowing and experiencing the divine. His emphasis on intuition, imagination, and the inner spiritual journey has resonated with feminist spirituality and the exploration of women’s unique spiritual experiences. His ideas underpin much of the feminist undercurrents of Theosophy and new age feminism.
Swedenborg’s ideas have been interpreted and applied in various ways by different feminist thinkers. While some have found resonance and inspiration in his concepts, others have critiqued aspects of his theology and its potential limitations in addressing feminist concerns. Overall, Swedenborg’s influence on feminism is a complex and multifaceted subject.
Emmanuel Swedenborg’s influence on music and music composition is not as well-documented or widely recognized as in other fields. However, there have been some connections and interpretations of his ideas concerning music. Messiaen, Scriabin and Debussy were known to be interested in Swedenborg.
Swedenborg’s theory of correspondences, which suggests a connection between the spiritual and physical realms, can applied to music, Since music can convey symbolic meanings and represent spiritual concepts through its structure, harmonies, and melodies. This approach sees music as a language that can express and communicate spiritual truths.
Swedenborg’s mystical experiences and exploration of the spiritual realm can resonate with composers interested in expressing spiritual and transcendent themes in their music. Drawing inspiration from Swedenborg’s writings and ideas, it’s possible to create compositions that evoke a sense of the divine, the mystical, or the otherworldly.
Swedenborg’s emphasis on the inner spiritual journey and cultivating virtues and spiritual qualities can inspire composers who seek to express personal and introspective experiences through their music. They may draw on Swedenborg’s ideas to explore themes of personal growth, transformation, and the search for meaning and enlightenment.
His concepts of correspondences, spirituality, and the interconnectedness of all things lend themselves to musical composition and performance to express deeper spiritual and symbolic dimensions.
There is a link between Emanuel Swedenborg and occultism. However, it is important to note that Swedenborg did not identify as an occultist. “occultism” refers to the study and practice of hidden or esoteric knowledge, often associated with mystical, spiritual, or supernatural phenomena. While Swedenborg’s work primarily falls within theology and philosophy, his ideas and experiences have been interpreted and incorporated into occult and esoteric traditions. Here are a few key points regarding the link between Swedenborg and occultism:
1. Spiritualism and Mediumship: Swedenborg’s experiences of communicating with spirits and his exploration of the spiritual realm have influenced the development of spiritualism, a movement that gained popularity in the 19th century. Spiritualism involves the belief in communication with the spirits of the deceased, often through mediums. Swedenborg’s experiences interacting with spirits and his writings on the afterlife have been cited as precursors to spiritualist practices.
2. Esoteric Interpretations: Swedenborg’s concept of correspondences, which suggests a symbolic connection between the physical and spiritual realms, has been interpreted and applied in various esoteric and occult traditions. His ideas have been used to interpret religious texts, explore symbolic meanings in art and literature, and delve into reality’s hidden or mystical aspects.
3. Influence on Occultists: Swedenborg’s writings and ideas have influenced several prominent occultists and esoteric thinkers. For example, Helena Blavatsky, the founder of Theosophy, drew inspiration from Swedenborg’s concepts of correspondences and the spiritual realms in her own teachings. Aleister Crowley, a prominent occultist of the 20th century, also referenced Swedenborg’s works in his writings.
4. Occult Societies and Orders: Swedenborg’s ideas have been incorporated into various occult societies and orders. For instance, the Swedenborgian Rite was a Masonic rite incorporating Swedenborgian teachings and symbolism. Some occult groups and esoteric organizations have also drawn on Swedenborg’s concepts and writings as part of their spiritual and philosophical frameworks.
It is important to note that the interpretation and application of Swedenborg’s ideas within occultism can vary significantly. Not all occultists or esoteric practitioners incorporate his teachings into their work. The link between Swedenborg and occultism primarily lies in his ideas’ influence on esoteric traditions and the incorporation of his concepts into occult practices and philosophies.
Emmanuel Swedenborg’s concept of angels and angel communication is central to his theological and mystical writings. According to Swedenborg, angels are spiritual beings who reside in the spiritual realm and serve as intermediaries between God and humanity. Here are some key elements of Swedenborg’s understanding of angels and angel communication:
1. Nature of Angels: Swedenborg described angels as individuals who were once human beings but have transitioned into the spiritual realm after death. He believed that angels possess a higher level of spiritual consciousness and wisdom than humans and are engaged in continuous spiritual growth and development.
2. Angelic Hierarchy: Swedenborg proposed a hierarchical structure of angels, with different orders or societies of angels having specific roles and functions. He described three main heavens, each with multiple sub-levels, and suggested that angels in higher heavens possess greater spiritual insight and wisdom.
3. Angelic Communication: Swedenborg claimed to have had direct and frequent communication with angels, both through visions and spiritual experiences. He asserted that angels communicate with humans through spiritual means, such as dreams, visions, and inner perceptions. According to Swedenborg, angelic communication is a form of spiritual enlightenment and guidance, providing insights into divine truths and the nature of the spiritual realm.
4. Purpose of Angelic Communication: Swedenborg believed that angelic communication serves several purposes. It can comfort and reassure individuals, offer guidance and insights into spiritual matters, and help humans in their spiritual growth and development. Angelic communication is seen as a means for humans to gain knowledge and understanding of divine truths and to align their lives with spiritual principles.
5. Importance of Love and Goodness: Swedenborg emphasized that angels are motivated by love and goodness. He believed that angelic communication is grounded in a genuine desire to assist and uplift humanity, promoting love, compassion, and spiritual growth.
It is important to note that Swedenborg’s claims of direct communication with angels and his detailed descriptions of the spiritual realm are considered highly subjective and have been met with skepticism by many. However, his writings on angels and angelic communication have significantly impacted spiritual and mystical traditions, and his ideas continue to be explored and interpreted by individuals interested in the intersection of spirituality and the supernatural.
Emmanuel Swedenborg’s concept of demons and demonic communication is integral to his theological and mystical writings. According to Swedenborg, demons are spiritual beings who have chosen to turn away from God and embrace evil and selfishness. Here are some key elements of Swedenborg’s understanding of demons and demonic communication:
1. Nature of Demons: Swedenborg described demons as once human beings who have become spiritually corrupted due to their choices and actions. He believed that demons are driven by self-centeredness, hatred, and a desire to harm others. Unlike angels, who seek to promote love and goodness, demons are motivated by negative and destructive impulses.
2. Influence of Demons: Swedenborg suggested that demons can influence human thoughts and actions. He believed demons seek to tempt and deceive individuals, leading them away from spiritual truths and promoting evil and selfishness. However, Swedenborg also emphasized that humans can resist demonic influence through their choices and by aligning themselves with divine principles.
3. Demonic Communication: Swedenborg claimed to have encountered demons and experienced their attempts to communicate with him. He described demonic communication as deceptive and manipulative, aimed at leading individuals astray and promoting negative behaviors and beliefs. Swedenborg believed demonic communication often involves false and distorted ideas, designed to confuse and mislead.
4. Overcoming Demonic Influence: Swedenborg emphasized the importance of spiritual growth and cultivating love and goodness to resist demonic influence. He believed that by aligning oneself with divine principles and seeking spiritual enlightenment, individuals can overcome the temptations and deceptions of demons.
It is important to note that Swedenborg’s claims of direct encounters with demons and his detailed descriptions of their nature and influence are highly subjective and have been met with skepticism by many. His writings on demons and demonic communication are primarily understood within the context of his theological and mystical framework. While his ideas have influenced some spiritual and mystical traditions, they are not widely accepted or recognized outside Swedenborgian circles.
Emmanuel Swedenborg’s connection to the Kabbalah and Kabbalist studies is a subject of debate and interpretation. While Swedenborg did not explicitly mention the Kabbalah in his writings, some scholars have identified potential connections and influences between Swedenborgian thought and Kabbalistic concepts. Here are a few points to consider:
1. Correspondences and Symbolism: Both Swedenborgian thought and Kabbalah emphasize the idea of correspondences, which suggests a symbolic connection between the physical and spiritual realms. Swedenborg’s concept of correspondences, as outlined in his work “Arcana Caelestia,” shares similarities with the Kabbalistic notion of the Tree of Life and its symbolic associations.
2. Divine Names and Attributes: Swedenborg’s writings often discuss the divine names and attributes, exploring the various aspects of God’s nature. This focus on the divine names and attributes resembles the Kabbalistic practice of analyzing and meditating on the divine names and their mystical significance.
3. Mystical Experiences and Spiritual Realms: Swedenborg and Kabbalistic teachings delve into the mystical and spiritual realms. Swedenborg’s accounts of his spiritual experiences and interactions with angels and spirits share similarities with the Kabbalistic emphasis on mystical encounters and ascents through the different realms of existence.
4. Influences from Jewish Mysticism: Some scholars suggest that Swedenborg may have been indirectly influenced by Jewish mystical traditions, including the Kabbalah, through his exposure to Jewish thinkers and texts during his time in Amsterdam. However, the extent and directness of this influence remain a matter of interpretation.
It is important to note that the connections between Swedenborgian thought and the Kabbalah are not universally accepted or well-documented. While some scholars argue for potential influences, others maintain that similarities are coincidental or stem from shared mystical and esoteric traditions more broadly. The exact nature of Swedenborg’s connection to the Kabbalah and Kabbalist studies remains a subject of ongoing discussion and exploration within academic and theological circles.
There are limited direct connections between Swedenborgian thought and Islamic thought. Emmanuel Swedenborg’s writings primarily draw from Christian theology and mystical traditions, and he does not explicitly reference Islamic teachings or engage with Islamic thought in his works. However, there are a few potential points of connection to consider:
1. Mystical Experiences: Swedenborgian thought and Islamic mysticism, known as Sufism, emphasize the importance of mystical experiences and direct encounters with the divine. While the specific nature and practices of these mystical experiences differ between the two traditions, there is a shared focus on spiritual enlightenment and the pursuit of a deeper connection with the divine.
2. Spiritual Realms and Afterlife: Swedenborg’s descriptions of the spiritual realms and his exploration of the afterlife bear some resemblance to Islamic conceptions of the hereafter. Both traditions discuss the existence of multiple realms or levels beyond the physical world and the potential for spiritual growth and development in the afterlife.
3. Universalism and Interfaith Dialogue: Swedenborgian thought has been associated with a more inclusive and universalistic approach to spirituality and religious understanding. This emphasis on finding common ground and promoting interfaith dialogue aligns with certain Islamic teachings emphasising the unity of all religions and the potential for shared spiritual truths.
It is important to note that these potential connections are general and do not imply a direct influence or engagement between Swedenborgian thought and Islamic thought. The specific teachings and practices of Islam and Swedenborgianism differ significantly, and any similarities should be understood within the broader context of mystical and spiritual traditions.
There are limited direct connections between Emmanuel Swedenborg and Sufism, the mystical branch of Islam. Swedenborg’s writings primarily draw from Christian theology and mystical traditions, and he does not explicitly reference Sufi teachings or engage with Sufi thought in his works. However, there are a few potential points of connection to consider:
1. Mystical Experiences: Swedenborgian thought and Sufism emphasize the importance of mystical experiences and direct encounters with the divine. While the specific nature and practices of these mystical experiences differ between the two traditions, there is a shared focus on spiritual enlightenment and the pursuit of a deeper connection with the divine.
2. Spiritual Realms and Afterlife: Swedenborg’s descriptions of the spiritual realms and his exploration of the afterlife bear some resemblance to Sufi conceptions of the hereafter. Both traditions discuss the existence of multiple realms or levels beyond the physical world and the potential for spiritual growth and development in the afterlife.
3. Universalism and Interfaith Dialogue: Swedenborgian thought has been associated with a more inclusive and universalistic approach to spirituality and religious understanding. This emphasis on finding common ground and promoting interfaith dialogue aligns with certain Sufi teachings emphasising the unity of all religions and the potential for shared spiritual truths.
It is important to note that these potential connections are general and do not imply a direct influence or engagement between Swedenborgian thought and Sufism. The specific teachings and practices of Sufism and Swedenborgianism differ significantly, and any similarities should be understood within the broader context of mystical and spiritual traditions.
Philippe-Jacques de Loutherbourg (1740-1812) was a French-born British painter, draughtsman, and stage designer. He was known for his dramatic landscapes, seascapes, and historical paintings, and was one of the leading artists of his time in Britain.
Born in Strasbourg, France, Loutherbourg studied art in Paris before moving to London in 1763. He quickly established himself as a prominent artist in British society, becoming a member of the Royal Academy in 1768 and serving as its president from 1781 until his death. At the same time he worked as a stage designer for David Garrick at the Drury Lane theatre and was the first person to create visual special effects on the stage in London. He made the first fully formed mechanical theatre, the Eidophusikon, a proto-cinema apparatus.
Loutherbourg’s paintings are characterized by their dramatic use of light and shadow and their sense of movement and energy. He was probably the first painter to achieve a realistic sublime paintings that were utterly realistic in their imagery but offered an overwhelming feeling of sublime transcendence. The paintings he did late in life were quite mystical and involved imagery and concepts drawn from SwedenBorg and his own occult practises.
Loutherbourg was a serious and dedicated occultist and alchemist. He invented special effects and pigments in his alchemical lab as well as more spiritual alchemical workings. He had a magic circle and engaged in ritual magic. His wife Lucy joined him in his magical endeavours but at the same time also tried to monitor and control his public image as a magician.
Eighteenth-century occultism encompasses various beliefs and practices considered “occult” or hidden during that time. The last third of the 18th century in particular was a busy period for occultists as many grimoires were published or republished at this time
Alchemy was a philosophical and spiritual practice aimed at transforming base metals into gold and discovering the elixir of life. Alchemists believed that matter was composed of the four elements (earth, air, fire, and water) and that these elements could be transformed into one another. Alchemy was often associated with Hermeticism, a philosophical and religious tradition based on the teachings of the ancient Greek philosopher Hermes Trismegistus. Hermeticism emphasized the unity of all things, the interconnectedness of the macrocosm and the microcosm, and the idea that the divine is present in all things. It also emphasized the importance of studying nature, mathematics, and astronomy. Rosicrucianism was a philosophical and spiritual movement that emerged in the early 17th century. It emphasized the importance of spiritual growth, the pursuit of knowledge, and as such influenced European intellectuals like Swedenborg though he was never a Rosicrucian.
LUCY DE LOUTHERBOURG
Lucy was a young widow who married Loutherbourg a few years after he moved to London. The couple appear to not have had any children but formed a strong collaborative relationship. Lucy was deeply involved in all Loutherbourg’s endeavours. She seems to have been a well known figure in London. Loutherbourg was well known for including women as equal partners in his magical practises and for pushing freemasonry to accept women on equal standing with men.
Count Cagliostro was a friend and associate of Loutherbourg until they fell out dramatically. , Alessandro di Cagliostro, was an 18th-century occultist and self-proclaimed magician. His ideas and teachings blended various esoteric and mystical traditions of his time, and were influenced by Swedenborg although it is unclear if they ever met in London. While Cagliostro’s ideas were diverse and evolved, here are some key elements that are often associated with his teachings:
Alchemy and Hermeticism: Cagliostro was influenced by alchemical and Hermetic traditions, which emphasized the transformation of the self and pursuing spiritual enlightenment. He believed in a universal life force or energy that could be harnessed for personal growth and healing.
Fremasonry: Cagliostro was involved in Freemasonry and claimed to have attained high degrees within various sects of the organization. He incorporated Masonic symbolism and rituals into his teachings and offered initiations and memberships into his secret society, the Egyptian Masonic Rite.
Cagliostro was known for his self-styled ‘Egyptian Cure’ – a medicinal ritual supposed to offer a full human rejuvenation. He claimed to have been in Egypt where he discovered secret knowledge and initiations from ancient Egyptian sources. He incorporated Egyptian symbolism and rituals into his teachings, presenting himself as a custodian of ancient wisdom and claiming access to hidden knowledge. He also developed an Egyptian Rite for his version of Freemasonry.
Cagliostro promoted various healing practices, including herbal remedies, magnetism, and energy healing. He claimed to be able to heal through manipulating life force energy and advocated for a holistic approach to health and well-being. He taught faith healing to Loutherbourg and Lucy, who opened their own faith healing clinic in London. The clinic was free to the poor, which attracted large crowds until the authorities shut them down.
Cagliostro emphasized the pursuit of spiritual enlightenment and personal transformation. He taught that individuals could attain higher levels of consciousness and spiritual awareness through the practice of his teachings, rituals, and initiations.
It is important to note that Cagliostro’s ideas and practices were controversial and often met with skepticism and criticism during his lifetime. His claims of possessing supernatural powers and secret knowledge led to accusations of fraud and charlatanism. While many were drawn to his teachings and practices, others dismissed him as a fraud or a showman. He was eventually arrested in Italy by the Inquisition and incarcerated until his death; his papers were presumably destroyed.
I am happy to announce that starting this autumn 2023 I will be Artist and Researcher in Residence at the Swedenborg Centre, the locus of the Swedenborg Society in London.
I am researching the 18thC painter, stage designer and VFX artist Phlip James de Loutherbourg. Loutherbourg is the ‘missing link’ between art and cinema. A stage designer who developed the first ‘mechanical’ theatre show aimed at delivering a sublime ‘proto-cinematic’ experience, Loutherbourg was also a serious alchemist and occultist.
The Swedenborg Residency will involve my researching this little-known but tremendously influential artist, and creating a version of his remarkable ‘Eidophusikon’ mechanical theatre. I will also be curating and writing a graphic novel ‘Reanimating the Mystagogue’ on the life and work of Loutherbourg, his occult practice, his friendships and his life in 18thC London.
The research will be the foundation of an eventual biography of Loutherbourg.