Emanuel Swedenborg is both a unique and fascinating historical figure. Though he was at the top of many of his fields of study in 18th century Europe, and his spiritual works have had a profound impact on literature, the arts, and alternative spirituality, he remains relatively unknown in the world today.
Born into a wealthy and influential family on January 29, 1688, in Stockholm, Sweden, Swedenborg exhibited a noticeable spiritual sensitivity from an early age. It was his advanced intellect though, that made him stand out among his peers. He was enrolled at the University of Uppsala at age 11, and would continue on a path of academic esteem for much of his life. As an adult, he came to be a renowned natural scientist and inventor who took part in the most pressing scientific debates of his time.
It wasn’t until the 1730s, relatively late in his life, that his spiritual sensitivity started influencing his academic and scholarly life. During this period, his scientific work took on a much more philosophical turn as he engaged in the question of the interaction of the soul with the natural body. Even though he never found it, he was determined to establish a scientific theory of how matter relates to the spirit. This search continued until 1743 when his area of study took on a sudden and drastic change.
In the two-year period of 1743 to 1744, Swedenborg began to experience a series of intense and cataclysmic spiritual events, including vivid dreams, out-of-body experiences, and various visions. He came to believe that he was chosen by God to experience and articulate the reality of the spiritual world. In the years to come, he claimed to be in daily contact with angels and spirits, exploring the inner realms of the self and the cosmos. This included revelatory experiences and visions of the afterlife, human spiritual history, life on other planets, the nature of God and angels, as well as a correspondential interpretation of scripture, which he now believed to be a symbolic story of the human spiritual/inner self and its growth towards union with the Divine.
During this mystical period of his life, which lasted until his death in 1772, Swedenborg wrote and published prolifically, while remaining an active and well-regarded member of public society. Though relatively unknown today, his works have influenced the likes of Helen Keller, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Andrew Carnegie, William Blake, and many more.