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  Heaven and Hell: A 2011 Abridged Edition
Emanuel Swedenborg with Simon Parke

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Reader’s note

This is an abridged version of Swedenborg’s original, which is about twice the length. When deciding what to omit, avoidance of repetition was usually the determining factor. Even in this edition he revisits his main themes frequently. The original numbering of the paragraphs has been maintained, however, to enable readers clearly to see which passages have been omitted.

Swedenborg wrote this work in Latin, so it is now two languages away from his native Swedish, (though he could speak English well.) The only editing has been to abbreviate some of his sentences which can creak under the weight of multiple sub-clauses. Thus on occasion, what was originally one sentence might now be three, though the literary style remains that of Swedenborg.

I have also brought some variety to the vocabulary, to free Swedenborg and his ideas from the constraints of the Latin text, and return them to the vivid colors of his visionary experience. The language has also been made inclusive, which I’m sure would have been the author’s 21st century wish.

But the overall purpose of this new edition is not in doubt: it is to make Swedenborg entirely clear, entirely fresh and yet entirely himself. 

Simon Parke. London 2010

Heaven and Hell

These themes are visited often in Heaven and Hell, which was published in 1758. It was the result of a series of ‘out-of-body’ experiences given to Swedenborg in which he saw the world beyond and spoke with spirits there. One of the most startling features of the next world is that it has a remarkable likeness to this one – only on a spiritual and not physical level. With Swedenborg playing the role of tourist guide, we discover that in the next life, space and time do not exist as we know them, but spirits there eat, sleep, talk, read books, work and celebrate just as humans do here; but they do so clothed in a spiritual rather than a natural body.

Swedenborg’s vivid descriptions of the people he meets and places he sees, both wonderful and terrible, can’t help but stimulate our thoughts about both this life and the next. And there is a gripping description of the moments after death, when the human spirit leaves the body and enters the world of the spirits, before the journey to heaven or hell.

About the author

Swedenborg’s early life, inventor, public servant

‘Voltaire said that the most extraordinary man in recorded history was Charles XII. I would disagree: the most extraordinary man - if we admit such superlatives - was that mysterious subject of Charles XII, Emanuel Swedenborg’. —Jorge Luis Borges

Emanuel Swedenborg was born in Stockholm, Sweden on the 9th February, 1688. His father was Jesper Swedberg, an army chaplain who was later to become a chaplain to the royal family and then a bishop in the Lutheran Swedish Church. His mother was Sara Behm, who’s family wealth came from mining interests. She was to die when Emanuel was 8 years old, after which his father married again.  From the age of eleven Emanuel was educated at Uppsala university, where he studied medicine, astronomy, mathematics, natural sciences, Latin and Greek.

We know little about Swedenborg’s childhood. But there’s the suggestion that Jesper’s second wife took a particular shine to him, and Emanauel writes revealingly in a letter to a friend in 1769:

‘From my fourth year to my tenth year, I was constantly engaged in thought about God, salvation and the spiritual experiences of man. And several times I revealed things at which my father and mother wondered, saying that angels must be speaking through me. From my 6th to my 12th year, I used to delight in conversing with clergymen about faith, saying that the life of faith is love, and that the love which imparts life is the love of neighbour; and that God gives faith to everyone, but that only those who practice love receive it.’

As a young man, he immersed himself in more worldly affairs. He was fascinated by mechanical invention. In drawing up plans for both a submarine and a glider aircraft, he anticipated future discoveries in the manner of Leonardo da Vinci; and throughout his life, he was a man hungry for all sorts of knowledge, always using travel as an opportunity to learn. So in 1711, he writes from London: ‘I also turn my lodgings to some use, and change them often. At first, I was with a watchmaker, afterwards at a cabinet maker’s and now I’m at a mathematical instrument maker’s. From them, I steal their trades, which some day will be of use to me.’ He also learned to make brass instruments and grind glass for lenses.

In 1716 he was appointed Assessor of the Royal College of Mines, an important post since the mining industry, both copper and iron, was crucial to the Swedish economy. He held this post for thirty-one years. In 1719 the family was ennobled and took the name ‘Swedenborg’. Emanuel now became a regular contributor in the Riksdag, the Swedish parliament and in the House of Nobles, where he remained active in economic and foreign affairs until shortly before his death.

The physical sciences, the search for the soul
Swedenborg had another life, however, for alongside mining and public affairs, he showed a genius for the physical sciences, where his range was wide and his insights, many. He speculated, for instance, about the nature of matter and the universe, anticipating the cosmology later formulated by others: that the planets in the solar system originated in the solar mass.

He was also intrigued by the human body, and studied its anatomy and physiology in an attempt to discover the seat of the soul. He believed at one point that it might be carried by the blood. Fifty years before the discovery of oxygen by Joseph Priestley, Swedenborg came close to understanding how the lungs purify the blood.

He was also ahead of his time in discoveries about both the nervous system and the brain. He studied the formation and function of the nervous system, noting the hierarchical substructures of organs, bundles and single nerve fibres.  He saw also how the human body was constructed of smaller units, and each of these units, of yet smaller entities. Concerning the brain, various observations convinced Swedenborg of the primacy of the cerebral cortex; and also that different regions of the cortex were specialised for particular human functions. This is the beginning of the theory of cerebral localisation and shows Swedenborg’s intuitive grasp of a subject which others have since gone on to develop. 

He didn’t find the soul in the brain or the blood, however, which led him to psychological investigation. He saw that the human mind was able to possess sense data; was able also to organise these senses into thoughts and ideas, and then to reflect these thoughts and ideas in three different levels of awareness: sensation, thought and reason and judgment. Each level was more advanced than the previous one. This idea of stages of psychological development reappears today in the theories of Piaget, Erikson and many others.
A strange visitation

But there is yet another story to be told of Swedenborg’s life.  For in the mid-1740s, his personal direction changed significantly after a strange visitation. In April 1745, Swedenborg was dining in a private room at a tavern in London. When the meal was over, a darkness filled his eyes and the room appeared to alter. Suddenly he saw a figure sitting at a corner of the room, who said: ‘Do not eat too much!’. Swedenborg hurried home scared. Later that night, the same man appeared again in his dreams. The man told Swedenborg that he was the Lord, that he had appointed Swedenborg to reveal the spiritual meaning of the bible, and that he would guide Swedenborg in what to write. That same night, we are told, the spiritual world was opened to Swedenborg.

Around this time, he also experienced six months of very lucid dreams, both pleasurable and disturbing. He recorded these dreams, including many that were erotic, with an honesty that shocked many of his contemporaries. Some psychiologists believe that in these dreams, Swedenborg was experiencing the integration of his thinking and feeling centres. In his pursuit of knowledge in adult life, Swedenborg had concentrated on head-centred analysis of external data, and discarded much of the affective side he knew as a child. Was this aspect of his personality now being restored to him?
As we have heard, he had shown signs of psychic power as a child; signs that had caused his parents to wonder. And even at an early age, Swedenborg could stop breathing for a considerable length of time and freely enter an altered state of consciousness.

In his book Dreams of a Spirit Seer the philosopher Immanuel Kant tells of several paranormal experiences attributed to Swedenborg’s early life. One which he investigated and believed authentic was the fire story. One night in Gothenburg, Swedenborg reported and accurately described to those around him, a fire that was raging at that very moment in Stockholm, over 300 miles away. When news of the fire reached Gothenburg two days later, Swedenborg’s report was shown to have been accurate in very particular ways.

From scientist to mystic

In the light of the tavern visitation, Swedenborg now turned his focus from the outside world to the inner world. It was a transition, from scientist to mystic, which has fascinated many down the years including William Blake, Goethe, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Balzac, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Carl Jung.

Some claim Swedenborg lost his mind at this time, and suffered some form of breakdown. This idea does not sit easily, however, with his continued work in the Swedish House of the Nobility, in the Riksdag or with the Royal Academy of Sciences. His contributions there speak only of sanity. The other consideration relevant to this is that his visions, which are revealed in Heaven and Hell, show the same internal coherence that his studies of astronomy and anatomy had done. If these are hallucinations, they are hallucinations rooted in the of the natural order. Here is a scientist doing theology, for whom equilibium and symmetry are quite as important as good and evil.
Spiritual writing, a new theology

His foundational spiritual work was Arcana Caelestia or Heavenly Secrets. It was published in London in eight Latin volumes between 1749 and 1756. At a time when the Genesis creation story was taken literally (i.e., God made the world in six days and created Adam and Eve as the first humans), Swedenborg reinterpreted the story using the idea of ‘correspondences’. This is the notion that everything in the material world has a spiritual counterpart. We will see Swedenborg using this frequently in Heaven and Hell, as it frees him to understand ancient stories as symbolic rather than literal events.
For Swedenborg, the creation story speaks of the development of the human soul. Humans pass from the darkness and void of the beginning, which signifies the state of ignorance, into the light of spiritual being, a human in the image of God. Swedenborg calls this process ‘regeneration’ or ‘rebirth’.

Only a few of Swedenborg’s theological books could be published in conservative Sweden, which was not yet ready for him. But through his writings over the following twenty years, he assumed the mantle of ‘prophet’ for an enlightened Christianity. At the heart of his theology is the belief that God is revealed to humans as the Lord Jesus Christ, the ‘Divine Human’; to this extent, his theology is Christ-centred. He also believes that God, who is love, condemns no one to hell. As we discover, heaven and hell are self-chosen ways of being,  with Swedenborg at pains to emphasise that God’s mercy cannot contradict human choices. Meanwhile, Swedenborg’s disilluionment with the church is glimpsed in his insistence that salvation is found not in rigid adherence to creeds, but in acknowledging God and living a loving life towards your neightbour.

Swedenborg passed away on March 29, 1772.

Sample chapter



Swedenborg was the son of a bishop, but for reasons not hard to understand, both he and his father had a difficult relationship with the established church. The 18th century generally was a time of revolt against faith. ‘In the higher circles of society, everyone laughs if one talks of religion,’ said Montesquieu on visiting England, where the church had sunk to new lows of worldliness. It was in this setting that John Wesley, a contemporary of Swedenborg, appeared as such a bright light.
In Sweden, the Church was equally sick. As one commentator said, ‘Its priesthood had become a mere corporation for reading so many prayers for so much money.’ It was at the time when the church was at its least convincing that Swedenborg’s revelations arrived.

He was not an orthodox reformer however, for Swedenborg explicitly rejected two key doctrines of the Lutheran church at that time. He rejected their understanding of the Trinity as a Trinity of Persons, which he claimed was not taught in the early Church. Swedenborg believed God exists in one Person, the Lord Jesus Christ, and claimed that ‘Mohammedans, Jews and Gentiles of all cults’ were put off Christianity by this strange doctrine of three Gods.

He was also at odds with the church concerning the doctrine of salvation through faith alone. Swedenborg believed both faith and charity were essential for heaven to exist in someone.
‘There is not a single genuine truth at this time remaining in the church,’ he declared bleakly. ‘The light of the truth derived from the bible is well-nigh extinguished, so that in this day there is scarcely any faith because there is not any charity.’

Heaven and hell

The mystery revealed in the following pages relates to heaven and hell and also to the life of the soul after death. Church people today know scarcely anything about heaven and hell or about their life after death, despite the fact that all these things are clearly described in scripture. Many of those born within the church refuse to believe in them, saying in their hearts, ‘Who has come from that world and told us?’

Therefore, lest such a spirit of denial - especially evident amongst the worldly wise - should also infect and corrupt the simple in heart and faith, it has been granted to me to associate with angels and to talk with them as man with man. It has also been granted to me to see inside the heavens and the hells, and this has been going on for thirteen years. So what I describe now is what I have seen and heard, and I do so in the hope that ignorance may be enlightened and unbelief dissipated. Such direct revelation is granted at this time because this is what is meant by the Coming of the Lord.

Chapter 1

The Lord is the God of heaven

2. First of all it must be known who the God of heaven is, since upon that all the other things depend. Throughout the heavens, no one other than the Lord alone is acknowledged as the God of heaven. There it is said, as he himself taught, ‘That he is one with the Father that the Father is in him, and he is in the Father, that he who sees him sees the Father and that everything that is holy flows from him.’ (John 10:30, 38; 14:9-11; 16:13-15).

I have often talked with angels on this subject, and they have invariably declared that in heaven they are quite unable to divide the God into three, because they know and perceive that the divine is one and this one is the Lord. They also said that church people who come from this world with the idea of three divine beings cannot be admitted into heaven, since their thought keeps wandering from one divine being to another! And in heaven, no one is allowed to think three and say one, because in heaven every one speaks from their thought, since speech there is the immediate product of the thought.
But let it be known that in the next life, all those who have not separated what is true from what is good or separated faith from love, when it has been explained, have no trouble accepting the heavenly idea of the Lord being the God of the universe. But for those who have separated faith from life - who have not lived according to the precepts of true faith - it is different.

3. Those within the church who deny the Lord and acknowledge the Father only, and stick rigidly to this belief, are not in contact with heaven; and as they are unable to receive any refreshment from heaven, where the Lord alone is worshiped, they gradually lose the ability to think what is true about any subject whatever. In the end, they become like dumb people, or talk stupidly and ramble about aimlessly with their arms dangling and swinging, as if weak in the joints.

4. Infants, who form a third part of heaven, are all initiated into the acknowledgment and belief that the Lord is their Father, and afterwards that he is the Lord of all, and thus the God of heaven and earth. We’ll talk more of children in heaven later.

6. There were certain spirits who, while living in the world, claimed to believe in the Father. But concerning the Lord they had the same idea as that of any other person, and therefore did not believe him to be the God of heaven. For this reason, they were permitted to wander about and inquire wherever they wished, to find out if there were any other heaven apart from the Lord’s heaven. They searched for several days, but found nothing. These people were the sort who understand the happiness of heaven to be found in status and power; and as they were unable to get what they desired, and were told that heaven does not consist in such things, they became indignant, and wished for a heaven where they could lord it over others and be of high status as they were in the world.

Chapter 2

The essence of the Lord makes heaven

7. The angels taken collectively are called heaven, for they constitute heaven; and yet that which makes heaven is the essence that flows out from the Lord and flows into the angels and is received by them. And as the essence that goes out from the Lord is the good of love and the truth of faith, the angels are angels and heaven according to the measure in which they receive this good and truth from the Lord.

8. Every one in the heavens knows, believes and understands that they can neither will nor do anything good from themselves; and neither do they imagine or believe that any truth comes from themselves, but only from the divine, who is the Lord. They are also aware that that any good from themselves is not good and any truth from themselves is not truth; because these things contain no life apart from the divine.

The angels of the innermost heaven clearly perceive and feel the divine refreshment; and the more of it they receive, the more they seem to themselves to be in heaven. This is because they increase both in love and faith and in the light of intelligence and wisdom, and therefore know the heavenly joy which springs from that. And since all these flow from the essence of the Lord, and since in these things the angels have their heaven, it is clear that it is the essence of the Lord, and not anything which the angels possess, which makes heaven. In what follows, I will explain just how the essence flows out from the Lord and fills heaven.

9. Angels in their wisdom are able to go still further. They say not only that every thing good and true is from the Lord, but that every aspect of life is also from the Lord. They confirm it by saying this: nothing can spring from itself, but only from something prior to itself. Therefore, all things spring from a first cause, which they call the true essence of the life of all things. And from the same cause, all things continue to exist, for continuous existence is a ceaseless outpouring; and whatever is not continually held by intermediates which are connected to the first cause, instantly disperses and loses its substance.

There is but one fountain of life and our life is a river which flows from it; and if this river does not unceasingly flow from its fountain, then it immediately empties. Since this is the belief of the angels, they refuse all thanks for the good they do, and are displeased and simply withdraw if any one attributes good to them. They wonder how any one can believe that they are wise from themselves or do anything good from themselves.

10. Spirits, however, who in their worldly life imagine that the good they do and the truth they believe is from them selves, or is appropriated to them as their own, are different. This is the belief of all who imagine themselves virtuous in their good actions and claim righteousness for themselves. These people are not received into heaven; indeed, angels avoid them. They look upon them as stupid and as thieves; as stupid because they continually have themselves in view and not God; and as thieves because they steal from the Lord what is his.

11. The Lord teaches that those who know heaven and the church, know the Lord and the Lord knows them. As he says, ‘Live in me and I will live in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, but only as part of the vine, so neither can you, unless you live in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who live in me, and I in them, they bear much fruit. But apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15. 4, 5)

12. From all this it can now be seen that the Lord lives in the angels of heaven through what is his own. In this way, the Lord is the entire substance of heaven. 

Publisher: White Crow Books
Published February 2011
240 pages
Size: 216 x 140 mm
ISBN 978-1-907661-55-6
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