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.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.We'll have much more to say about Mesmer, who is looking increasingly core to our slowly unfolding story. Stay tuned...
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New Age "Asiatic" thought ... is establishing itself as the
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Wednesday, October 26