Blavatsky on Swedenborg

Emanuel Swedenborg and H.P. Blavatsky

There is currently a revival of interest amongst many spiritually interested people in the mystic revelations and teachings of Emanuel Swedenborg.

Some may be interested to know what H.P. Blavatsky, founder of the modern Theosophical Movement just over a century after Swedenborg’s death, had to say about him. This is the reason we have compiled together these various quotations but also in the hopes that they may inspire people to stop and think before trusting and accepting Swedenborg’s claimed discoveries with too much credulity.

Madame Blavatsky described him as “the greatest among the modern seers” but was not sparing with her criticism of him in the areas where she felt criticism was due.

That criticism comes down to three main points: (1) He was never able to rise above his ingrained Christian theology and thus everything he saw was coloured by, and interpreted in the light of, Christianity and the Bible. (2) Due to no real fault of his own he was uninitiated and untrained in real spiritual clairvoyance and seership and was thus self-taught and often unable to distinguish between genuine spiritual insight and vivid imagination. (3) Unbeknownst to him, his clairvoyance was largely limited to the astral plane, which is only one level above the physical and which to a large extent is merely the psychic atmosphere of our Earth.

The same applies, almost to the very letter, to certain popular seers of more recent times such as Edgar Cayce.

Lest the reader conclude that Blavatsky was merely “knocking down” Swedenborg in order to elevate herself or to imply superiority over him, it should be noted that she never made any claims for herself about her personal spiritual status or abilities. In fact, she avoided talking about herself as much as possible and always pointed away from herself and towards the Ancient Wisdom – or rather, Ageless Wisdom – which she came to re-present to the world in the form of the Eastern Esoteric Philosophy.

She let the nature and content of her writings do the talking and now, in the 21st century, those teachings are being increasingly validated and exonerated at every turn.

We also include a quotation from a letter written by the Master M. (HPB’s mysterious Indian Guru) which refers to Swedenborg, along with some insights from William Quan Judge, co-founder with HPB of the Theosophical Movement and her spiritually closest friend and associate.

The term “occult” and “occultism” used in some of these excerpts is no cause for alarm. The word “occult” is simply a synonym for “esoteric” and as a word does not mean anything dark or evil. This was well understood by everyone, including in HPB’s time, until at some point in the 20th century the Christian Church, feeling threatened by the increasing popularity of esotericism, decided to turn “occult” into a bad word, equating it with evil and black magic. But this is not what the word actually means and is not how the word is used in the teachings of Theosophy.

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Swedenborg, Emmanuel. The great Swedish seer and mystic. He was born on the 29th January, 1688, and was the son of Dr. Jasper Swedberg, bishop of Skara, in West Gothland; and died in London, in Great Bath Street, Clerkenwell, on March 29th, 1772. Of all mystics, Swedenborg has certainly influenced “Theosophy” the most, yet he left a far more profound impress on official science. For while as an astronomer, mathematician, physiologist, naturalist, and philosopher he had no rival, in psychology and metaphysics he was certainly behind his time. When forty-six years of age, he became a “Theosophist,” and a “seer”; but, although his life had been at all times blameless and respectable, he was never a true philanthropist or an ascetic. His clairvoyant powers, however, were very remarkable; but they did not go beyond this plane of matter; all that he says of subjective worlds and spiritual beings is evidently far more the outcome of his exuberant fancy, than of his spiritual insight. He left behind him numerous works, which are sadly misinterpreted by his followers.” [Theosophical Glossary p. 316]

Clairvoyance. A faculty of seeing with the inner eye or spiritual sight. As now used, it is a loose and flippant term, embracing under its meaning both a happy guess due to natural shrewdness or intuition, and also that faculty which was so remarkably exercised by Jacob Boehme and Swedenborg. Yet even these two great seers, since they could never rise superior to the general spirit of the Jewish Bible and Sectarian teachings, have sadly confused what they saw, and fallen far short of true clairvoyance.” [The Key to Theosophy p. 326]

“Whenever the visions of Swedenborg, the greatest among the modern seers, run astray from philosophy and scientific truth, it is when they most run parallel with theology.” [Isis Unveiled Vol. 2 p. 73]

“It is a belief (founded on knowledge) among the kabalists, that no more than the Hermetic rolls are the genuine sacred books of the seventy-two elders – books which contained the “Ancient Word” – lost, but that they have all been preserved from the remotest times among secret communities. Emanuel Swedenborg says as much, and his words are based, he says, on the information he had from certain spirits, who assured him that “they performed their worship according to this Ancient Word.” “Seek for it in China,” adds the great seer, “peradventure you may find it in Great Tartary!” Other students of occult sciences have had more than the word of “certain spirits” to rely upon in this special case – they have seen the books.” [Isis Unveiled Vol. 2 p. 470]

“Swedenborg, following the mystical doctrines of the Hermetic philosophers, devoted a number of volumes to the elucidation of the “internal sense” of Genesis. Swedenborg was undoubtedly a “natural-born magician,” a seer; he was not an adept. Thus, however closely he may have followed the apparent method of interpretation used by the alchemists and mystic writers, he partially failed; the more so, that the model chosen by him in this method was one who, albeit a great alchemist, was no more of an adept than the Swedish seer himself, in the fullest sense of the word. Eugenius Philalethes had never attained “the highest pyrotechny,” to use the diction of the mystic philosophers. But, although both have missed the whole truth in its details, Swedenborg has virtually given the same interpretation of the first chapter of Genesis as the Hermetic philosophers. The seer, as well as the initiates, notwithstanding their veiled phraseology, clearly show that the first chapters of Genesis relate to the regeneration, or a new birth of man, not to the creation of our universe and its crown work – MAN. The fact that the terms of the alchemists, such as salt, sulphur, and mercury are transformed by Swedenborg into ens, cause, and effect, does not affect the underlying idea of solving the problems of the Mosaic books by the only possible method – that used by the Hermetists – that of correspondences.

“His doctrine of correspondence, or Hermetic symbolism, is that of Pythagoras and of the kabalists – “as above, so below.” It is also that of the Buddhist philosophers, who, in their still more abstract metaphysics, inverting the usual mode of definition given by our erudite scholars, call the invisible types the only reality, and everything else the effects of the causes, or visible prototypes – illusions.” [Isis Unveiled Vol. 1 p. 306]

“No wonder that the Northern seer, Swedenborg, advises people to search for the LOST WORD among the hierophants of Tartary, China, and Thibet; for it is there, and only there now, although we find it inscribed on the monuments of the oldest Egyptian dynasties.” [Isis Unveiled Vol. 1 p. 580]

“Swedenborgians believe and arcane science teaches that the abandonment of the living body by the soul frequently occurs, and that we encounter every day, in every condition of life, such living corpses. Various causes, among them overpowering fright, grief, despair, a violent attack of sickness, or excessive sensuality may bring this about. The vacant carcass may be entered and inhabited by the astral form of an adept sorcerer, or an elementary (an earth-bound disembodied human soul), or, very rarely, an elemental. Of course, an adept of white magic has the same power, but unless some very exceptional and great object is to be accomplished, he will never consent to pollute himself by occupying the body of an impure person. In insanity, the patient’s astral being is either semi-paralyzed, bewildered, and subject to the influence of every passing spirit of any sort, or it has departed forever, and the body is taken possession of by some vampirish entity near its own disintegration, and clinging desperately to earth, whose sensual pleasures it may enjoy for a brief season longer by this expedient.” [Isis Unveiled Vol. 2 p. 589]

“The truths inspired to Kepler, Leibnitz, Gassendi, Swedenborg, etc., were ever alloyed with their own speculations in one or another predetermined direction – hence distorted.” [The Secret Doctrine Vol. 1 p. 622]

“That Swedenborg, who could not possibly have known anything of the esoteric ideas of Buddhism, came independently near the Occult teaching in his general conceptions, is shown by his essay on the Vortical Theory. In Clissold’s translation of it, quoted by Prof. Winchell, we find the following resume: – “The first Cause is the Infinite or Unlimited. This gives existence to the First Finite or Limited.” (The Logos in His manifestation and the Universe.) “That which produces a limit is analogous to motion. The limit produced is a point, the Essence of which is Motion; but being without parts, this Essence is not actual Motion, but only a connatus to it.” (In our Doctrine it is not a “connatus,” but a change from eternal vibration in the unmanifested, to Vortical Motion in the phenomenal or manifested World) … “From this first proceed Extension, Space, Figure, and Succession, or Time. As in Geometry a point generates a line, a line a surface, and a surface a solid, so here the connatus of a point tends towards lines, surfaces and solids. In other words, the Universe is contained in ovo in the first natural point … the Motion toward which the connatus tends, is circular, since the circle is the most perfect of all figures … The most perfect figure of a Motion … must be the perpetually circular, that is to say, it must proceed from the centre to the periphery and from the periphery to the centre.” (Quoted from Principia Rerum Naturalia.) This is Occultism pure and simple.” [The Secret Doctrine Vol. 1, p. 118]

“Swedenborg … saw, in “the first Earth of the astral world,” inhabitants dressed as are the peasants in Europe; and on the Fourth Earth women clad as are the shepherdesses in a bal masque. Even the famous astronomer Huygens laboured under the mistaken idea that other worlds and planets have the same identical beings as those who live on our Earth, possessing the same figures, senses, brain-power, arts, sciences, dwellings and even to the same fabric for their wearing apparel!” [The Secret Doctrine Vol. 2 p. 33]

“And indeed we find in the romances as in all the so-called scientific fictions and spiritistic revelations from moon, stars, and planets, merely fresh combinations or modifications of the men and things, the passions and forms of life with which we are familiar, when even on the other planets of our own system nature and life are entirely different from ours. Swedenborg was pre-eminent in inculcating such an erroneous belief.” [The Secret Doctrine Vol. 2 p. 700]

“Many are the romances and tales, some purely fanciful, others bristling with scientific knowledge, which have attempted to imagine and describe life on other globes. But one and all, they give but some distorted copy of the drama of life around us. It is either, with Voltaire, the men of our own race under a microscope, or, with de Bergerac, a graceful play of fancy and satire; but we always find that at bottom the new world is but the one we ourselves live in. So strong is this tendency that even great natural, though non-initiated seers, when untrained, fall a victim to it; witness Swedenborg, who goes so far as to dress the inhabitants of Mercury, whom he meets with in the spirit-world, in clothes such as are worn in Europe.” [The Secret Doctrine Vol. 2 p. 701]

“The Key of Wisdom that unlocks the massive gates leading to the arcana of the innermost sanctuaries can be found hidden in her bosom only: and that bosom is in the countries pointed to by the great seer of the past century Emanuel Swedenborg. There lies the heart of nature, that shrine whence issued the early races of primeval Humanity, and which is the cradle of physical man.” [The Secret Doctrine Vol. 2 p. 797]

From the Master M.: “There is one general law of vision (physical and mental or spiritual) but there is a qualifying special law proving that all vision must be determined by the quality or grade of man’s spirit and soul, and also by the ability to translate divers qualities of waves of astral light into consciousness. There is but one general law of life, but innumerable laws qualify and determine the myriads of forms perceived and of sounds heard. There are those who are willingly and others who are unwillingly – blind. Mediums belong to the former, sensitives to the latter. Unless regularly initiated and trained – concerning the spiritual insight of things and the supposed revelations made unto man in all ages from Socrates down to Swedenborg and “Fern” – no self-tutored seer or clairaudient ever saw or heard quite correctly.”

From William Q. Judge:

Q. “Did Swedenborg’s visions extend to the Devachanic loka, or were they entirely confined to the astral plane defined as Kama-Loka?”

A. “Without doubt his visions often touched the Devachanic state of other egos, and also too he went into a Devachanic state almost completely for himself while living. But it is not a proper use of “loka” to apply it to Devachan, as here the latter describes a more metaphysical state, while Kama-Loka is still quite physical. Swedenborg had visions in Kama-Loka, as can be easily seen in his books; but he also saw facts of earth-life. His heavens were the different Devachanic states – of himself and others – into which he went. Many mediums, seers, and clairvoyants have done the same and are doing it every day. In some cases Swedenborg partook of the Devachanic thoughts of highly developed Egos, but as Devachan is as much a delusion as are Kama-Loka and Earth-life, his visions are not of the highest value.” [Forum Answers p. 54]

“The soul assumes in the astral or ethereal realms of being that shape or form which most resembles its real character: it may seem to be what we would call infant or adult irrespective of the age of the body it had just quitted, or it might take the form of a beast or maybe a deformed, misshapen human body if its real life could be but fitly thus represented. This was well known to Swedenborg and many other seers, who saw souls wandering in such shapes which the very law of their being compelled them to assume. And it does not require physical death to bring this about, for in life many a person presents to the clairvoyant the actual picture of the inner character, no matter how horrible that may be.” [Forum Answers p. 102-103]

“In this country and in Europe, the doctrines which have filtered out to the world, through theosophical literature, seem to us new. They are in fact quite novel to us, so they color our conception of what Theosophy is, representing themselves to us to be Theosophy. And, as we have nothing in our past, in our literature, or in our ideas like them, it is quite natural that an ignorant missionary, learned in Christian rhetoric, should imagine, when a reputable Englishman declares the Mahatmas to have been evolved from Blavatsky’s brain, that therefore there are no Mahatmas, because his first knowledge of them came from her. Even the learned Swedenborg, who saw many things clearly, did not speak of these great Beings. He only said “that, if the Freemasons desired to find the lost word, they must search for it in the deserts of Tibet.” However, he did not explain himself; and our only conclusion must be, that in some way he found out that in Tibet exist persons who are so far advanced in knowledge that they are acquainted with that much sought-for lost word.” [Theosophy as a Cult in India, article]

“The astral – which are the real – organs do the seeing and the hearing, and as all material objects are constantly in motion among their own atoms the astral sight and hearing are not impeded, but work at a distance as great as the extension of the astral light or matter around and about the earth. Thus it was that the great seer Swedenborg saw houses burning in the city of Stockholm when he was at another city many miles off, and by the same means any clairvoyant of the day sees and hears at a distance.” [The Ocean of Theosophy p. 44]

“Turning even to the great Emanuel Swedenborg, I found a seer of wonderful power, but whose constitution made him see in the Astral world a series of pictures which were solely an extension of his own inherited beliefs. And although he had had a few visions of actual everyday affairs occurring at a distance, they were so few as only to be remarkable.” [True Progress, article]

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RELATED ARTICLES: Death and the Afterlife (a simplified and abbreviated version of When We Die), The Men from Other Planets, The Psychic is not the Spiritual, The Masters and Madame Blavatsky, Who was William Quan Judge?, The Ignorance and Conceit of Modern Science, My Truth, Your Truth, or THE Truth?, Theosophy – An Explanation and Overview and 12 Things Theosophy Teaches.

~ Blavatsky Theosophy Group UK ~

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