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Swedenborg: A Genius Who Explored the Afterlife

Posted on 02 May 2011, 19:26

When Stanford University researchers attempted to calculate the IQ of history’s greatest minds by applying the Terman Standard Intelligence Test to a massive database of historical material, only three people scored above 200 – Emanuel Swedenborg, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, and John Stuart Mill.  Below them were such luminaries as Pascal, Galileo, Descartes, Kant, Kovalevskaya, Darwin, and Mozart.
If a survey were done today asking respondents to identify those luminaries of the past, it is likely that Swedenborg’s name would be one of the least recognizable, at least in the United States.  So who was this great genius?  And why isn’t he better remembered today?


Born on January 29, 1688, Swedenborg was a Swedish scientist, mathematician, inventor, statesman, author, and mystic.  He is credited with making significant discoveries in astronomy, anatomy, magnetism, mechanics, chemistry, and geology. He invented a one-person submarine and a glider, the latter after calculating the weight-to-size ratio required for a “machine to fly in the air.” He designed an improved ear-trumpet, an airtight stove, a machine gun, a mercurial air pump, various mining machineries, and contributed plans for Europe’s largest drydock in southern Sweden.  Fluent in six languages and conversant in nine, including Hebrew, Arabic, Greek, and Latin, he was also an accomplished musician and horticulturist. From about 1720 to 1745, he served on the national board that oversaw Sweden’s mining industry and published studies on metallurgy. And, he was an active member of Sweden’s House of Nobles. 

At the age of 55, Swedenborg had a series of clairvoyant visions, which, he said, gave him the ability to experience the spiritual dimensions. In one of his visions, he saw a temple with the words Nunc Licet over the door, which he interpreted to mean “Now it is permitted to enter with understanding into the mysteries of faith.” A year or so after these initial visions, Swedenborg abandoned all other pursuits and devoted his time to spiritual meditation and mediumistic trances during which he explored the spirit world.  He claimed to have conversed with biblical prophets, apostles, Aristotle, Socrates, and Caesar, as well as with numerous deceased friends and acquaintances and spirits from other planets.

“I must employ my remaining time in writing on higher subjects, and not on worldly things, which are far below…,” he wrote in a personal diary.  “May God be so gracious as to enlighten me respecting my duty.”
Raised in the Lutheran Church, Swedenborg became interested in spiritual matters at an early age.  In a letter to Dr. Barriel A. Beyer, written when he was 81, Swedenborg said that he had been engaged in thought upon God, salvation, and the spiritual diseases of men since his fourth year of life. “…several times I revealed things at which my father and mother wondered, saying that angels must be speaking through me.  From my sixth to my twelfth year I used to delight in conversing with clergymen about faith, saying that the life of faith is love, and that love which imparts life is love the neighbor…”

Philosopher Immanuel Kant told the story of a fire in Stockholm which Swedenborg saw from 300 miles away in Gőteborg.  While dining with others at the home of Mr. William Castel in Gőteborg, Swedenborg reported that a dangerous fire had just broken out in Stockholm and that it was spreading fast.  He named a friend whose house had just burned and said that his own house was in danger.  Two hours later, he said that the fire had been extinguished and extended to just two doors from his own house.  All of the facts described by Swedenborg were later confirmed.

Another story attesting to Swedenborg’s clairvoyance involved Louis de Marteville, the Netherlands’ ambassador to Sweden. Several months after Marteville’s death in 1760, his widow could not locate a receipt verifying payment of some valuable silver for which payment was being demanded by a goldsmith.  Having heard of Swedenborg’s clairvoyant abilities, the widow asked him if he could communicate with her deceased husband and determine the whereabouts of the receipt. Three days later, Swedenborg called upon Madame Marteville, who had company at her house, and told her that he had spoken with her husband and that the receipt was in a bureau in the room upstairs.  Madame Marteville responded by saying she had already searched that bureau. Swedenborg then told her of a secret compartment in the bureau as described by her late husband.  Accompanied by her guests, Madame Marteville went to the bureau, found the secret compartment, of which she had been unaware, and there, too, found the receipt.

Still another story involving Swedenborg’s clairvoyance, or clairaudience in this case, was reported by the Queen Dowager of Sweden, who decided to test Swedenborg by asking him what the last words of her deceased brother, the Prince Royal of Prussia, were to her. Some days later, Swedenborg returned, described the circumstances of the visit with her brother and then told her the exact words uttered by her brother.

In fact, Kant verified all three stories by speaking personally with witnesses to them.  Some years later, in 1770, Swedenborg was reportedly being honored at a dinner given by the manufacturer Bolander of Gothenburg.  During the dinner, Swedenborg turned to Mr. Bolander and told him that he should go to his cloth mills right away.  Bolander did so and upon arriving there found that a large piece of cloth had fallen near the furnace and was just beginning to burn.  He concluded that if he had arrived just minutes later that his property would have been in ashes.

During the last 27 years of his life, Swedenborg produced 30 books, all in Latin, reporting on his explorations of the spirit world, including his conversations with many souls on the other side of the veil.  Early in his first great work, Arcana Caelestia, he addressed the issue of life after death by writing: “That I might know that man lives after death, it has been granted me to speak and converse with several persons with whom I had been acquainted during their life in the body, and this not merely for a day or a week, but for months, and in some instances for nearly a year, as I had been used to do here on earth.  There were greatly surprised that they themselves, during their life in the body, had lived, and that many others still live, in such a state of unbelief concerning a future life, when nevertheless there intervenes but the space of a few days between the decease of the body and their entrance into another world – for death is a continuation of life.”

Of the Adam and Eve story, Swedenborg reported that everything in the story is symbolic, Adam representing the intellectual side of man and Eve the emotional. The great Flood, he said, was not a physical deluge, but a flood of monstrous evils that overwhelmed the people in ancient times. Noah and his family represented those who had not succumbed to the immoralities of the time. Many other stories in the Old Testament, at least before Abraham, were similarly allegorical, Swedenborg was informed during his trances.

Perhaps the most significant discovery by Swedenborg was the “world of spirits,” an intermediate region between the heaven and hell of Protestant theology, but unlike the purgatory of Catholicism, which was much like hell.  The conditions of the spirit world that Swedenborg explored were very similar to earth, so similar that many newly arrived souls had to be told that they were no longer on the earth plane.  It was in this world of spirits that newly arrived souls found themselves.

“When the soul thus separates himself, he is received by good spirits, who likewise do him all kind offices whilst he is in consort with them,” he wrote. “If, however, his life in the world was such that he cannot remain associated with the good, he seeks to be disunited from them also, and this separation is repeated again and again, until he associates himself with those whose state entirely agrees with that of his former life in the world, among whom he finds, as it were, his own life.  They then, wonderful to relate, live together a life of similar quality to that which had constituted their ruling delight when in the body…”

Swedenborg, whose belief in the divinity of Christ remained steadfast, dismissed the atonement doctrine, saying there was no substitution of the innocent for the guilty. Man’s works, not his faith, governed his initial place in the spirit world. “The churchman today believes that anyone can be received into heaven and be eternally happy simply through [the Lord’s] mercy, no matter what his life has been like,” he wrote. “He thinks it is a simply a matter of admission.  But he is wrong.  No one is brought to heaven and admitted without spiritual life…”

Although modern Spiritualism did not begin to unfold until 1848, Swedenborg is sometimes referred to as the first Spiritualist.  However, unlike many Spiritualists, Swedenborg did not think it wise for the average person to commune with spirits because of the risks involved in being negatively influenced by low-level spirits.

“The only light that has ever been cast on the other life is in Swedenborg’s philosophy,” wrote Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

Apparently, Swedenborg continued his work after his earthly death at age 84.  William Stainton Moses, one of the best known mediums of the 19th Century, was informed by spirit communicators that Swedenborg and Benjamin Franklin, working together on the other side, figured out how to communicate with the earth realm by the taps, raps, and table tiltings that kicked off the Spiritualism epidemic in 1848.  Swedenborg is said to have appeared to Andrew Jackson Davis, known as the “Poughkeepsie Seer,” and contributed to his enlightenment, and to have communicated with French researcher Allan Kardec.  He further collaborated with Francis Bacon in communicating much about the afterlife through the mediumship of Dr. George T. Dexter during the early 1850s. 

Swedenborg’s writings are said to have influenced Goethe, Balzac, Coleridge, Carlyle, Lincoln, Tennyson, Emerson, Henry James, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Thoreau, both Brownings, Elizabeth Stuart Phelps, George Macdonald, and Helen Keller to name just some.

And so why isn’t Swedenborg better remembered today?  Perhaps Swedenborg was just too advanced and the world still hasn’t caught up with him.  When communicating through Dr. Dexter in 1852, Swedenborg was asked why there was so much mystery connected with life and the afterlife, to which he responded: “What would be the benefit conferred on man by opening to his comprehension all the mysteries of spirit life and all the beauties of the spheres – revealing the truths belonging to his material and spiritual nature, if we were not able to teach him how that life on earth should be directed; how to govern his passions, how to progress, how to live that his death may be productive of life everlasting in happiness?”

Next blog May 16-17

A new abridged edition of the Swedenborg classic book Heaven & Hell edited by Simon Parke, is published by White Crow Books.

“Heaven & Hell” a 2011 abridged_edition

Michael Tymn is the author of The Afterlife Revealed: What Happens After We Die, Resurrecting Leonora Piper: How Science Discovered the Afterlife and Dead Men Talking: Afterlife Communication from World War I.



Testing a dead mans IQ is like testing a dead mans eyesight. Another problem with this IQ thing is that J.S. Mill is ranked up there but Mill is quoted in saying how staggered he was by the genius of Thomas Carlyle who isn’t on anyone’s genius list.

I am always fascinated with the character of Emanuel Swedenborg. He was so clever that after designing a flying machine he stuck it away in a draw somewhere and never mentioned it again. The plan for the flying machine was discovered years after his death and was tested and shown to work!

Now that’s modesty!

Moses, Sun 18 Nov, 18:53

Working out the iq of a dead man is a muddled as testing the eyesight of a dead man.

moesy pittounikos, Thu 8 Feb, 13:59


As the first paragraph indicates, the Stanford researchers somehow determined the IQ of famous names from history by looking at their works.  I have no idea how that was done.  I believe it was during the late 1980s.

I visited with the late Don Rose in Bryn Athyn many years ago.

Michael Tymn, Fri 16 Oct, 21:40

When was the Terman Intelligence Test applied to Emanual Swedenborg?  The resulting IQ was205.  When and where, and by whom, was the test administered?

Thank you very much!

Erik E. Sandstorm
Curator, Swedenborgiana
Bryn Athyn Pa.

Erik E. Sandstrom, Thu 15 Oct, 18:36

Swedenborg and Franklin signed the Prolegomena in the Spirits’ Book ( dictated by Higher Spirits and codified by Allan Kardec ) in 1957.
The 5 basic Books compiled by Allan Kardec were written (dictated trough responsible mediums) Heaven and Hell, The Mediums Book, Genesis, The Spirits’ Book and The Gospel According to Spiritism. The Spiritual Helpers united Philosophy, Religion and Science ( Spiritism is a Science which deals with the nature, origin and destiny of Spirits, as well as their relationship with the corporeal world.) We are Spirits re-incarnated to progress, no matter how long its take… according free will of each one of us). Love & Peace, Elsa Rossi

Elsa Rossi, Sat 30 Jul, 14:08

Erlendur Haraldsson and JohanGerding has written an article about Swedenborgs vision of the fire in Stockholm:

Haraldsson, E., & Gerding, J. L. F. (2010). Fire in Copenhagen and Stockholm Indridason’s and Swedenborg’s “Remote Viewing” Experiences. Journal of Scientific Exploration, 24(3), 425-436

Nemo85, Mon 18 Jul, 02:38

To quote:
‘In 1661. in the house of Mr. Mompesson, raps were heard that “.. would exactly answer in drumming anything that was beaten or called for”’

It seems to me that raps, knocks, and poltergeist phenomena were known even in the ancient world.

For example, Pliny wrote about a “ghost-finding” expedition to a haunted house. 

Thus ghostly knocks, raps, and noises could have been well-established technologies for many years, but Franklin and Swedenborg could have been the ones to systematically apply these noises and disturbances to methodical communication.

Rick, Fri 3 Jun, 06:33


Thanks for that information. Although I have read Robert Dale Owen’s book, I do not recall that.  However, it seems clear that whatever took place in 1661 did not continue over the next 177 or so years, or if it did nobody understood what was going on.  Perhaps Swedenborg and Franklin figured out a better method or perfected whatever it was that took place in 1661

Michael Tymn, Wed 4 May, 14:38

fascinating… so glad you continue to remind us of the great minds/spirits that have come before us… sad to confront how much we forget.

Alex Tsakiris, Tue 3 May, 19:55

...Swedenborg and Benjamin Franklin, working together on the other side, figured out how to communicate with the earth realm by the taps, raps, and table tiltings that ...

Swedenborg was born in 1688

In 1661. in the house of Mr. Mompesson, raps were heard that “.. would exactly answer in drumming anything that was beaten or called for” (p.217)

“Footfalls on the boundary of another world”
Robert Dale Owen

Given the dates it is not credible that Swedenborg originated communication by raps.

jack, Tue 3 May, 07:54

Another great post Mike and a timely reminder of this great man.

Wendy Zammit, Tue 3 May, 03:48

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