Over three hundred years ago Emanuel Swedenborg had a desire to know about the inhabitants of other planets. Recently astronomy has discovered many other earths beyond our solar system. And so a widespread notion has now grown that intelligent extraterrestrial life probably does exist elsewhere in the vast universe.
Swedenborg said some spirits he met in the spiritual world had been born on other planets. These experiences took place in, what today, we would call an altered state of consciousness. He wrote that the extraterrestrial spirits are human people a bit like us.
We read that these spirits had come from the Moon and other planets in the solar system. He repeatedly refers to the physical facts of these planets, and infers that these spirits are from them. Yet since his time, science has discovered there is no life on the Moon and Mars. It finds no hard surface on Saturn, Jupiter, Uranus and Neptune. And so in disbelieving any reality behind this aspect of his inner experience, people may also wonder about the credibility of a spiritual world that he describes.
Imagination about extraterrestrial spirits
Some say that his psychic accounts are works of imagination and they scornfully dismiss all his findings about the spiritual world. Scientifically-minded people are right to want a rational understanding of any phenomenon. Swedenborg’s mission was to offer reasonable understanding of many deeper matters. However, when it comes to something like psychics and the gift of clairvoyance or the spirit world, the general scientific community steers clear of such matters. This despite the strong evidence for extra sensory perception.
In the case of Swedenborg’s extraordinary abilities, one example relates to the Stockholm fire of July 19th 1759. Swedenborg was able to describe this fire raging in that city when he was actually 300 miles away in Gottenburg. While he was with 15 other guests at dinner he even commented, with relief, that the fire had stopped short of his own house in Stockholm, which proved to be true.
Dishonest communication by extraterrestrial spirits
Other readers of Swedenborg wonder whether he was being purposely misled by those he met as to where they had come from. The criticism is not that he talked with spirits but that he naively believed them. I do think this unlikely. After all he was well aware of the deceit of those in a lower spiritual state. With the aid of the higher order spirits, he saw through misleading information and down right lies he was sometimes told.
Difficulty communicating planetary location
Another possibility that comes to mind is that the spirits were unable to communicate exactly the location of the planets they came from.
According to Swedenborg, neither the sun nor any planet in the physical plane of reality, is visible to any spirit conscious in the spiritual world. Swedenborg wrote that their understanding was limited by their mental picture of the solar system. This picture may have been vague. We don’t know if they retained any astronomical knowledge after death even if they had had any when physically alive. Swedenborg says that the art of printing is unique to our world which suggests published science may not have been part of their extraterrestrial life.
Not being aware of the findings of modern space exploration, Swedenborg would not have thought to look more closely into where the spirits thought they came from.
Looking for new natural facts
I believe we make a mistake in going to spiritual writings to learn factual information about what is on the natural plane of life. Swedenborg said countless times that we should think of things spiritually. He implied in his spiritual diary that he had only been given consent to mention details concerning planets because they gratify and attract the curious so they might be led to recognise deeper matters.
The whole point of mentioning the extraterrestrials was not to further knowledge about specific planetary life. Instead it was to support the general point that the universe was designed as a seedbed for the huge variety of heavenly life.
Van Dusen and extraterrestrial life
The clinical psychologist Wilson Van Dusen points to another deeper lesson in reading about extraterrestrial spirits. He said spirits from each planet symbolises a type of person that we each could become and the potential spiritual error that goes with it.
Swedenborg writes that spirits from Mercury preoccupy their minds with gaining and retaining knowledge about abstract matters. They turn away from the material and earthly, to what is real for them – abstract ideas. So they like to wander far in search of these. There is a richness in knowledge rather than wisdom in how best to put ideas into use. Consequently, they are poor at making sound judgment. Having so much knowledge they tend towards being proud about what they know, suspecting they know it all and are superior to others. When proud and not orientated to applying their knowledge, they are inclined to be emotionally not involved with others.
The general meaning of moon spirits seems to be a life of a great show of religious faith.
Swedenborg has written about the moon – unlike other named planets – extensively in various of his books. He says it signifies faith which gives some limited light to the mind when the illuminating warmth of love is absent.
There are some of us who do not think about putting our religious faith into practice. We are too busy loudly pronouncing our beliefs. Others can simply see through such nonsense. No wonder then that the moon spirits ‘thundered like a multitude’ and simple spirits laughed at this.
Swedenborg said the moon spirits had long faces but bodies like dwarfs. In other words they have a sombre impressive aspect yet they don’t amount to much.
No one can establish Swedenborg’s authority for others. Rather his credibility is something that develops over time for the individual. This may or may not develop as the reader ponders and reflects on the rationality of what Swedenborg writes.
Copyright 2018 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of Heart, Head & Hands Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems