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BOOK REVIEW: "Swedenborg" by Gary Lachman

Tarcher / Penguin
Gary Lachman published "Swedenborg" in 2009.
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BOOK REVIEW: Swedenborg: An Introduction to His Life and Ideas by Gary Lachman (Tarcher / Penguin) 2009

As noted in our reviews of some of Gary Lachman’s other esoteric-minded books, notably Politics andt he Occult, Jung the Mystic, Madame Blavatsky and Rudolf Steiner, reading his highly accessible writings on mystics, philosophers and those with a decidedly occult bent, I suppose it was only a matter of time until I made my way to his 2009 overview of influential Swedish scientist and mystic Emanuel Swedenborg.

Before reading Lachman’s biography on Swedenborg, I was rather unfamiliar with who he was and what his contributions were to science and alternative spirituality, impacting today’s New Age movement and more.

A never-married polymath and influential man of his time whom Lachman notes is thought of as the “Scandinavian da Vinci” who was a genius, who in the mid-18th century was coming up with futuristic “proposed machines” from a “flying carriage” to a machine that sounds like a submarine, going under the sea “in any desired direction, and could inflict much injury on enemy ships.”

Swedenborg also reportedly had psychic powers and would leave this earthly plane and explore the dwellings of those who have since passed on, even telling a Swedish monarch things told to him by a dead person that he could have never known. And yet he was more matter-of-fact about his ability to converse with the dead.

And he had remarkable, detailed and vivid dreams, keeping a dream journal all the while, an experience which one Swedenborg expert noted resulted in a change in his personality. He went from a personality based in rational thought to one who was far more reflective on the inner life, outer space and the meaning of God and the Bible.

Swedenborg was a prolific writer and took on many religious and esoteric topics, from The Worlds in Space, published in 1758 and has the author noting that life exists outside our own planet while also noting that “in successive ages we have moved further and further away from the spiritual to the corporeal side of things.” It is considered among his most controversial books.

That same year, Swedenborg published Heaven and Hell, thought of as his most famous work, having been translated into 30 languages in the nearly 260 years since it was first released.

Lachman writes:

My own encounters with precognitive dreams, synchronicities, telepathy and other paranormal phenomena suggest that we need only pay close attention to our experience to detect the presence of some of these (and keeping a dream journal, as Swedenborg did, is a good way to do this). Most of us experience some form of the paranormal without even recognizing it, which suggests that rather than a special ‘gift’ possessed by only the few, these powers are part of human nature – submerged, yes, but still present and on occasion active. It is more likely that their rarity is really only a result of our ignorance about them. It is also true that life in the modern world offers little use for them. Living in a culture that denies their existence and stigmatizes those who recognize them as frauds or superstitious fools, it is not surprising that we have come to be oblivious to them, or to ignore their presence when felt.

Continuing, Lachman adds: “Predictably, it is the philosophers, the men of intellect, who deny the reality of the paranormal, while the unlearned often accept it as a fact of life.

Having read a number of Lachman's books, I found Swedenborg one of the more challenging titles in his bibliography. I came away not really knowing what to think about this interesting man who was clearly ahead of his time and whose ideas and vision still resonate today.

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