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Blind Boy Apollo
and the All-White Astronauts

New Age "Asiatic" thought ... is establishing itself as the
hegemonic ideology of global capitalism. (Zizek)

Wednesday, October 26

was emanuel swedenborg smoking crack?

Despite my sensational headline, the controversy is really over whether Swedenborg was schizophrenic or perhaps had temporal lobe epilepsy. The alternative view -- that he was actually talking to angels, demons and the dearly departed -- seems delusional in itself. But hey, maybe that's just me.

The following is from the British Journal of Psychiatry (1994: 165: 690­691), as reproduced on the Swedenborg Digital Library:

Henry Maudsley (1869) wrote a controversial pathography of Swedenborg, proposing that his religious mystical experiences were psychotic in origin. This provoked violent criticism of himself and an angry response from Swedenborg's disciples. When a new edition of his Pathology of Mind appeared in 1895, all reference to Swedenborg's psychosis, present in the previous edition of 1879, had been omitted; Maudsley had presumably submitted to the pressures of Swedenborg's followers.

. . .

Swedenborg never proselytized his beliefs, although his writings about his unique experiences in the spirit world were, after his death, responsible for the foundation of the Church of the New Jerusalem, which was established in London in 1780. His teachings have appealed to a distinguished group of followers, such as Blake, Balzac, Baudelaire, Emerson, Strindberg and Yeats.

There is much more debate at that site on the question of Swedenborg's madness. If you're interested, go to Swedenborg and His Revelation: An Anthology, then page down to "Part II. The Insanity Question (from a special issue of The New Philosophy 1998;101: (whole number))."

Despite much pushback among that crowd, I'm going with my gut DSM-IV diagnosis: Mad as a Hatter, with Barking-at-the-Moon Psychotic Episodes.

But Swedenborg was not atypical of his era -- or of ours, come to think of it. In Holy Madness: Romantics, Patriots, and Revolutionaries, 1776-1871, author Adam Zamoyski writes (pp. 52-53):

One thing that could not be banned, or even stemmed, was the ovine rush to find a new belief-system. People sought either a purer or a more essential form of Christianity, or some cosmic system of absolute truth from which all religions purportedly descended. They followed a variety of teachers such as the mysterious Martines de Pasquallys, who started up the fellowship of the 'Elect Cohens' and wrote a treatise on 'reintegration.' He preached a perverted form of Christian dogma, with frequent recourse to the symbolism of numbers, and asserted, amongst other things, that the Earth is triangular in shape. Another whose teachings drew in seekers after truth was the mystic philosopher Emanuel Swedenborg. Swedenborgian societies sprang up in many countries in the 1780s, including one in Moscow whose members called themselves 'children of the New Jerusalem ', and one in Berlin some of whose members claimed to witness people rising from the dead in large numbers. Some flocked to rosicrucianism or theosophy. or to one of the many other sects that sprang up, almost in proportion as the Catholic monastic orders were dissolved in the name of Enlightenment.

Those seeking the elixir of life, the secret of the alchemists, the kabbalistic key or some such panacea were drawn into alchemy, hermeticism, necromancy, cosmosophy, chiromancy and a whole gamut of sorcery. There was much juggling with magic numbers, deciphering of the Bible with the use of equations, substituting of values and numbers for musical notes or colours, developing theories from the alleged 'moral planes' in the structure of the Pyramids and like nonsense. Occultism rubbed shoulders with pseudo-science, dressed up in the fashion of the day -- be it Gothic, Hellenic or Oriental. This was a rich hunting-ground for charlatans such as the Sicilian Giuseppe Balsamo, alias Count Cagliostro, who ranged across Europe making and losing fortunes, bedding the most desirable and befuddling the most respected, flogging love-philtres and elixirs of eternal youth. Barely more reputable was the Austrian doctor Friedrich Anton Mesmer, whose theory of 'animal magnetism' and claims of healing powers thralled fashionable Paris. People as self-regarding as Lafayette sat for hours in bubbling vats filled with dubious chemicals, holding hands in a dimmed interior with plenty of mirrors and soft music, while Mesmer drifted about dressed as a children's-party magician, waving a wand over his victims.

We'll have much more to say about Mesmer, who is looking increasingly core to our slowly unfolding story. Stay tuned...

on one occasion when the interior heaven was opened to me and i was talking to the angels there i was allowed to observe the following activities...

emanuel swedenborg
arcana coelestia

heaven & hell