Swedenborg and The Dream
Guest Address for Sunday August 26, 2001, Cambridge Swedenborg Chapel.
Copyright 2001 Carl Schroeder, all rights reserved.
Scripture Lesson: Genesis 28:10-16, Matthew 27:15-21
"As a scientist he concerned himself with many subjects, anticipating in his speculative and inventive work later developmenst such as nebular theory, crystallography, and flying machines. He became increasingly concerned to show by scientific means the spiritual structure of the universe. However, a series of mystical experiences (1743-5) prompted him to devote the rest of his life to expounding his spiritual beliefs. His doctrines, which blended Christianity with elements of both pantheism and theosophy, were taken up by a group of followers, who founded the New Jerusalem Church in 1787."
Good morning. My name is Carl. I'm not the minister of this church, but it is my privelege today to come from the congregation and deliver my guest talk on Swedenborg and The Dream.
Oxford English Reference Dictionary, copyright 1996, entry for Emanuel Swedenborg, 1688-1772, Swedish scientist, philosopher, and mystic.
"I have been called to a holy office by the Lord Himself, who most mercifully appeared before me, His servant, in the year 1743, when He opened my sight into the spiritual world and enabled me to converse with spirits and angels, in which state I have continued up to this day. From that time I began to print and publish the various mysteries that were revealed to me, concerning heaven and hell, the state of a person after death, the true worship of God, and the spiritual sense of the Word, besides other most important matters conducive to salvation and wisdom."
Now the word dream is a wonderfully emotive word that can mean many things. Indeed, Swedenborg himself spent many dream-like years decoding the symbols of the Bible for the benefit of a modern, open-minded, psychologically oriented society like the one in which we now live, where we are post Jung (who loved Swedenborg), certainly post Freud, and possibly even post New Age (or at least post the reaction to its channelers and UFOs). Swedenborg showed in the Bible that the use of dream meant different things in different places. At times, to dream is to fantasize and lead astray in the most despicable of ways, as in the book of Jude, brother of James, who refers to "these filthy dreamers who defile the flesh, despise dominion, and speak evil of dignities". We still use the word dreamer this way to hurt the feelings and credibility of someone who is too pie in the sky and air castle building for our comfort. But that's a pretty harsh use for a word that can also mean the direct messages of God, messages of hope, healing, and much-needed guidance, as in the book of Matthew when "the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost." Or consider the wife of Pontius Pilate, whose dream moved her to bravely plead for Jesus's release but to no avail, a dream which goes unrecorded in its details - but what a dream that must have been.
To dream in the Old Testament is to receive revelations as well as to preach, and Joseph, the Pharoah, and Nebuchadnezzar are among those who received by their dreams important prophesies for the guiding of future generations. Other dream-like experiences in the Bible were called visions, and these could take bizarre archetypal or futuristic forms, such as the spaceship wheel of many eyes that was seen by Ezekial. Today when we think of dreams, we often think of Martin Luther King and his famous I have a dream speech, in which he intones a vision for world peace. And surely if ever Swedenborg had a single dream in that world-vision sense, it was, as the Oxford English Dictionary states, "to show by scientific means the spiritual structure of the universe". That is a tall order, and because the OED used the word "however" to introduce Swedenborg's devotion to the mystical experience, I gather there are those who think he failed -- but the rest of us know by how very much he did succeed .
Incidentally, where the OED challenges us to know that Swedenborg blended Christianity with pantheism and theosophy, I believe that is fair to say. Pantheism refers to a world view tolerant of many spirits, and Swedenborg did see many many spirits, however well organized under one Lord. If the term "the Lord" troubles you, I don't believe that Swedenborg would have anything against your substitution of another phrase that better works for you, such as Great Spirit, Intelligent Universe, or Loving All. Swedenborg was fond of saying that he'd often meet in the spirit world many non-Christians who, while ignorant of Jesus and the Bible, displayed a greater Christianity than most Christian leaders of the day. Such spirits would have less catching up to do in heaven's studies than those whose prides were scientifically or theologically overburdened.
The word theosophy predates the 19th century theosophical society which took over that term. Theosophy comes from 1650, so it was of Swedenborg's era, and it means the teaching about God and the world from one's own mystical insight. This Swedenborg certainly did, since he had many dreams and visions, the qualities of which I enjoy to analyze and categorize for our modern angelic benefit. I say it that way because we are the citizens of the global society which is increasingly developing its own angelhood, much as Swedenborg foresaw, and despite how poorly we may see ourselves in our moments of despair. Angels are and always have been of ourselves, in the future as well as in our core; angelic superbeing is our evolutionary destiny. In both the old and new testaments it says that God has said "And it shall come to pass in the last days, that I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams."
Swedenborg was and is a mapmaker's mapmaker. I say this because I consider myself to be a mapmaker, and Swedenborg has surpassed and inspired me. Swedenborg mapped with a great sensitivity the complementary dualities of life, such as love and wisdom, intent and discernment, and masculine and feminine. He mapped heaven into three major realms, distinguished by how directly you perceive and allow into your life the Lord: by direct communication (celestial), by indirect study (spiritual), or by the unstudied feel for what is good to do (natural). Swedenborg mapped the language of reality onto the resonant symbols he called the correspondances, he spoke of spirits coming to him from distinct directions (angels most often from up, forward, and to the right), and he mapped the cosmos onto the glorified human body, a kind of alchemical cosmic Christ which he called the Grand Man. (About the Grand Man, the people of this earth are associated with the skin, for we are both beautiful creators of beauty and easily deluded by surface beauty, unlike most other inhabitants of this universe, other planets, who do not need to be told what is truth and what is illusion, for by being associated to the more inner organs of the cosmic Christ they do simply know)
As a mapmaker, I have kept a dream journal for many years, and I have in my dreams catalogued a great many wonderous phenomena. I am another who is interested in theosophy, in the teaching about God and the world through mystical insight. But while I struggle with the meaning and variety of my night dreams, I had thought that Swedenborg's proficiency with divine communication meant that he'd had it much easier all along. Not so. Although Swedenborg does state that in 1743, in the 55th year of his life, the Lord did open up his spiritual sight, it turns out that this meant only that he could henceforth see and talk clearly with the spirits around him. We alll have spirits around us all the time. Swedenborg still didn't know what it all meant, who to trust naturally, or how and when to talk about it with anyone else in the world. He was often alienated, overwhelmed, and disturbed by what he saw, both in dreams and in his waking spirit-seeing life.
Swedenborg kept a dream journal that documents his odyssey of self-discovery and self-purification, much as any of us would struggle to lay bare the daily processes of our subconscious and unconscious minds. This dream journal began after, not before, the Lord opened his eyes, while he was still trying to make sense of it. There is sex, violence, fear, and glory woven throughout this journal, and it is certainly not the mainstay of his doctrines. He probably never would have allowed it to be published, and it has been sensitively presented finally only after many years of laying in the hands of his enemies who sought to discredit him for being psychologically honest in his own personal pages.
Swedenborg has a later collection of personal writings which is called the Spiritual Diaries, and these are better organized and doctrinally defensible, containing as they do many building blocks for his major works on Biblical interpretation. Still, even these diaries are full of shamanic initiations such as would scare the daylights out of most Christians fundamentalists. Certainly this is just the sort of thing to attract the likes of me, and anyone else who admits to sensing so much more than can be sensibly explained. To the credit of Swedenborg's strong mind, he does manage to describe the strangest of occurences in the most rational of terms, including lucid dreams, dream sharing with spirits, instilling dreams in others, dream attacks from shapeshifting enemies, angelic visitations, tours throughout the heavens, out of body dreams (though not as many as you might think), contacts with nonhuman species, and so much more. He is a veritable compendium of psychic phenomena, and a usual mode of operation seems to have been Swedenborg waking up from a dream to talk it over with spirit friends, while observing a few spirit scoundrels slink away, and still others slip back into more dreams of their own. Above all, Swedenborg remains ever humble and amazed and deferring to the Lord. Six years after the opening of his spiritual eyes, six long years after the desperate beginning of the infamous dream journal, Swedenborg was still writing on April 6, 1749 in the Spiritual Diaries; "I dreamt during the night, and upon waking spoke with spirits who said they had been watching over me, and that they had initiated the dream, and had expressly induced everything that I remembered and related. From this it is still more evident to me that dreams are from the world of spirits."
Lest this dream discussion seem too esoteric, let us remind ourselves that dreams are a natural function of living, and one of the great constants of being. Just how constant continues to be revealed. Only in last century were Rapid Eye Movements identified with dreaming, and if subjects were allowed to sleep but not dream, ( this was accomplished by waking them up every time their eyes started to moved behind sleeping eyelids), then the person would start to dream involuntarily when they are awake - ie. they became hallucinatory and psychotic. Some scientists have used this phenomenon to say that dreams are mere mental purgings. You can't live with them and you can't live without them, now we know, case is closed. Myself I am suspicious of anyone who wants to pin down the function of my dreams to just one level, because I have experienced that dreaming is a mode for living that can take you as high as you want to go. But I do agree that REM deprivation psychosis is showing that at the first level of functioning, dreams are just the necessary dumping of unused daily cognitive patterns, a cleansing of the activation levels in the neural networks, and this accounts for the type of dreams which are mundane and embarassing impulsive rehashes of our daily adventures. Without such neural cleansings we will wake up with our brains still potentiated for the things already seen, and that is why any new stimuli would trigger the out of phase perceptions that are confusion and hallucinations.
Now, if you have never gotten beyond this level 1 type of dream dumping in your catalog of dreams, (call them the brain farts if you will), then I can understand why you'd wonder what all the fuss of dreaming is about. But I can assure you that such dreams are just the beginning, for it is usually not until morning that I have reached through the mental baggage to pluck the fruit of precognitive dreams, in which the mind is working ahead of itself to prepare you for the future, or the lucid dreams, in which the senses are so agonizingly sharp that you will enjoy yourself more than you can awake, or the healing dreams, in which you are assisted to review with a new depth the greatest things about yourself, or the problem solving dreams, in which you can stage the 3d simulations for solutions to your life by morning, or the cocreative dreams, in which a song will come to sing you or a picture will come to paint you or a story will come to write you and so exquisitely that your life is changed, or the spirit friendship dreams, in which you can identify and greet the beings who are definitely not just inside your head, or the out of body dreams, in which you can leave your own brain just to see more clearly the real universe, or the holy dreams, when you are flooded with more joy and love and light than can be described because you have been in the company of angels. This last sort of dream is the kind of course for which Swedenborg was famed, but many were the mucky dreams through which he had to wade to get there. Nightmares, regrettable temptations, neurotic repetitions, disturbing paralyses of watching ourself as from a helpless distance, dreams that make no sense but leave one edgy upon awakening... Swedenborg was as human as you or I, and he had them all. The Swedenborg difference might be only that he didn't stop in his dream pursuits, whereas you and I maybe got discouraged, stumbled, and fell not to rearise.
Scientists have verified that animals dream as well as people. Some of us who have watched a sleeping dog or cat twitch and whimper as if running from or chasing prey might have already suspected as much, but you know how the scientists must prove what they think is arrogant of us to assume, while we think it arrogant of them to not. Scientists have used real-time brain measuring devices to see that a rat's brain lights up in the same areas whether they are running the maze awake, or twitching as if running while in REM asleep. So here is another constant of the dreaming, that both people and animals do dream. But Swedenborg discovered that spirits dream as well!
On Aug 27, 1747, Swedenborg wrote "This night I also observed that there were spirits who represented dreams, and that this was their life whilst man is asleep; and that when many persons are dreamed of, each of those spirits took the role of one person. I manifestly discovered this when I awoke, for I then spoke for quite some time with those who acted the part of this or that person" And later, after describing the different personalities of the spirits who had played roles in his dreams, he says pointedly "Indeed, spirits are only affections." On Feb 6, 1748 he wrote, "I wakened during a dream, and there appeared to me a spirit who continued the dream. I could thence observe the state of spirits in dreams, which is scarcely different from that of man." Three days later he wrote, "There were two who had been known to me during the life of the body, one of whom had died about six months ago, the other about two months. They were as though in a dream, because in their phantasies they were altogether ignorant that they were in the other life, supposing that they were still living in the body."
To Swedenborg we are all on the inside spirits, only when in body we are spirits clothed, so perhaps it is not so surprising that spirits might not only cause dreams but also themselves dream and in some sense *be* dreams. These concepts have profound philosophical implications, since most psychologists say our dream characters are sides of ourselves, and the useful meanings we can get for our lives from our dreams do suggest this to be the case. Yet if these sides of ourselves were also posited to be other spirits in the universe, are we suggesting that Swedenborg was only doing a kind of self-deluded externalization and play-acting with the parts of his own psyche? Or perhaps we are witnessing the interconnectedness of life, that I have an image of you in me, and you play my image of a me outside of me. I can keep you only in my dream and never get beyond my own concerns, or I can wake up beyond the dream to talk with you and find out more who you really are. In this way we can make other people to be as imagined or as real as we allow them to be, or indeed as much as we love them to be. For love does want to give and have only what is real. And I think this is the lesson to be learned, because in his major work Arcana Celestia, in which Swedenborg weaves personal spiritual experience within a profound in-depth analysis of the Biblical Genesis, Swedenborg deconstructs majorly the simple phrase "Thou God seest me." From this springboard, he says that the man who thinks that it is the eye of the body which sees is deluded, for it is the spiritual eye which sees through the physical eye. This can be known because in a dream we can still see, and not with our physical eye, but from the spirit that we are, and in the world of spirits.
Good, so we are all spirits, and I see from my spiritual eyes, and you see from yours. That is what is real and we are then here done, yes? No. There is more. For, like the most profound monk plumbing the depths of mind itself with mind, Swedenborg went further deeper than just there. The spiritual eye is mental he says, and spirits only think it is their eye which is seeing, but in fact there is a deeper eye, the rational eye, which is seeing through the mental eye of the spirit. The spirit is yet another body, and a more interior being is truly seeing through the spirit eyes.
This is in fact exactly corresponding to the interior dimensions of heaven that Swedenborg has already identified. The spiritual being is deeper than the natural, and the angelic being is deeper than the spiritual. The angelic realm is the one to which we are destined to return, for there we will be the angels, and we are the angels when we receive our knowledge of heaven directly from our connection with the Lord. The spiritual world knows the Lord through its uses of memory and understanding in studies that are less than direct, and the outermost realm which is called natural knows the Lord only through intuitive good behavior, remaining unconscious of the Lord because it does not wish to study or know directly at all.
Then are we angels, each of us inside, is that our ultimate identity? Is the angelic eye, the rational eye, the one that we truly own to see through the spirit and in turn through the earthly body? No, says Swedenborg, we must go deeper still. There is one deeper eye, and there is only one. The only one who sees anything at all is the Lord, and it is the Lord who is seeing through us all. The angels know this and are humbled by it appropriately.
Said another way, the observer and the observed will always be connected, because neither is the innermost observer, both are being observed through. Consciousness and what it is conscious of will always be united, because both are together the lenses who do not see. The Lord sees through each of us. We own no eyes at all. The Lord is dreaming us all, that the Lord may talk to us and we may listen, to know the whole but only secondhand. We are together players for the Lord.
(notes for future expansion: describe Most Ancient (Inmost) Church, how they knew (know) dreams, and types of dreams and who gives them, angels paradisal, etc. See Genesis, 1966, and toward end of Spiritual Diaries, 3877)