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Swedenborg’s dream journal gives us a front-row seat for the physical and mental experiences he went through during the period of his spiritual awakening. Do his descriptions offer clues about how we can recognize an awakening in ourselves?
In this episode, host Curtis Childs and special guest co-host Dr. Jonathan S. Rose, series editor of the New Century Edition, explore eighteenth-century scientist and mystic Emanuel Swedenborg’s remarkably detailed documentation of his journey from scientist to mystic.
Journaling, Sweat, and Tears
Jonathan kicks off the discussion by pointing out that the source material here is just one person’s perspective, and not necessarily representative of what others might go through. That said, it’s some fascinating stuff.
Curtis began his research for this episode by visiting the Swedenborg Library to learn more about the source material, Swedenborg’s Journal of Dreams (also published as Swedenborg’s Dream Diary). The journal was a private diary, written in Swedish rather than Latin, documenting his dreams during the period of 1743–44.
Jonathan has been fascinated by Swedenborg’s awakening process for a while, and as he went through Swedenborg’s dream journal, he noted ten distinctive signs or symptoms that happened during this time period. The following list is ranked according to how often the symptom occurs.
Sign #10: Sweating. Swedenborg describes intense feelings of inner conflict while he slept, and during those times of conflict, his physical body responded by sweating.
Sign #9: Weeping. We start with Jonathan reading one of the dream entries, in which Swedenborg has a profound experience of being lost in the darkness. He weeps from a sense of God’s immense grace and his own unworthiness. Swedenborg had built up a great reputation as a scientist and thinker throughout Europe, but here we see his regret that everything he has done is out of selfishness.
The first two symptoms may not seem special. Everyone sweats and cries, right? But now we get into some of the more unusual experiences.
Sign #8: Hearing noises. Swedenborg starts to hear noises that are not from a physical source. In one entry, he describes being thrown out of bed by a loud, booming sound. For him, the spiritual world is not just audible, but overwhelming.
Sign #7: Seeing the dead. At the time this was written, Swedenborg had never had contact with any who had crossed over, so it was a new experience for him. Most of these encounters were with family members, and most happened during dreams, but they set the stage for his later waking experiences.
Sign #6: Double thoughts. Let’s let Swedenborg explain this one:
It was strange that I was able to have two thoughts at one and the same time and quite distinct from one another: the one for myself, which arrested all thoughts of others; and at the side of this, the thoughts of the temptation, and this occurred in such a manner that nothing was powerful enough to drive them away. They held me captive so that I did not know where to flee, for I carried them with me. (Swedenborg’s Dream Diary §69)
It’s difficult to know exactly what Swedenborg means by this, but it seems like he’s describing two types of thoughts: one set that are just like our everyday thoughts, and a second set that are very negative—representing temptations or personal trials—and that he can’t seem to control or get rid of. As Swedenborg looks back on it later, he seems to realize that the second set of thoughts represent the influence of the spiritual world.
Sign #5: Gladness. Swedenborg writes of a sense of infinite love surrounding him and reaching to his very core.
The Usual Tremors
Sign #4: Chills. Swedenborg describes shivering or trembling that accompanied spiritual temptation. In one instance, he described the trembling as lasting for ninety minutes, followed by a series of strange images that revealed that he was struggling with the temptation of shallow pleasures.
Sign #3: Prostrated. This is something that Swedenborg describes often—an overwhelming or involuntary urge to throw himself facedown on the floor and pray. In his accounts he tends to associate this with being in the presence of something very holy, sometimes accompanied by other signs like trembling.
Sign #2: Preternatural Sleep. Swedenborg describes having this unusual type of sleep for six months or more, though it’s not clear what exactly he means by “preternatural.” He does describe sleeping deeply and for long periods—ten to twelve hours a night or more—and it seems to be characterized by all of the symptoms that were described above.
Sign #1: Shuddering. This is the experience Swedenborg describes most frequently—so often, in fact, that in one entry he refers to “the common tremors”:
This was a Sunday. Before I fell asleep I was thinking very hard on what I am writing at the moment, and then it was said to me: “Shut up! Or I’ll beat you!” Then, I saw somebody sitting on ice, and I was scared, came into a vision as it were. I stopped my thoughts, and one of the common tremors came over me. This means that I should not persist in my work so long, especially not on Sundays, or perhaps in the evenings. (Swedenborg’s Dream Diary §242)
At this point, Swedenborg was still thinking about his daily life as a scientist—the writing he refers to in this entry is the draft of a book on anatomy. He doesn’t realize yet what’s to come, or how it will change his life.
In the wrap-up, Curtis and Jonathan put everything that we’ve learned into a song. You’re welcome.
- Do people who do not awake spiritually go to hell?
- When you are dying, do you see God as you pass over?
- Today I was called a liar, so I wished that person more peace and happiness than I could ever know. I wasn’t really feeling it. Is this something that is refined through repetition?
- Does Swedenborg speak at any length about the correspondence of teeth?
- Do you have to experience all 10 signs to be considered spiritually awake?
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In a lighthearted and interactive live webcast format, host Curtis Childs from the Swedenborg Foundation and featured guests explore topics from Swedenborg’s eighteenth-century writings about his spiritual experiences and afterlife explorations and discuss how they relate to modern-day life and death.
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When we wake up in heaven, Swedenborg tells us, angels roll a covering from off of our left eye so that we can see everything in a spiritual light. The offTheLeftEye YouTube channel uses an array of educational and entertaining video formats to look at life and death through an uplifting spiritual lens.
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