Into the Interior: Discovering Swedenborg

Into the Interior: Discovering Swedenborg

Gary Lachman
London: The Swedenborg Society, 2006. Paperback, $7.95, 138 pages.

I have tried to read the works of the eighteenth-century scientist and mystic Emanuel Swedenborg several times, without great success. Most of the help I located was either far too complex for introductory purposes, or uncritically adoring. Thus, I was delighted to discover Gary Lachman's new book on Swedenborg. As he has done with Rudolf Steiner and P.D. Ouspensky, Lachman has given us an accessible introduction to Swedenborg from the viewpoint of an outsider who is nonetheless sympathetic.

Lachman achieves his goal admirably well. He provides us with an engaging picture of Swedenborg as a person, and enough of an introduction to his spiritual work to send the reader looking for more. Illuminating footnotes and an annotated bibliography of Swedenborg's works provide the needed guide-rails for further exploration.

Swedenborg's scientific training and his phenomenological approach to the spiritual worlds—going into other states of consciousness and describing his experience through vivid pictures—will doubtless appeal to many in our own time. I was intrigued to discover his teachings regarding the body and sex, with a balance unusual for a "religious" teacher of his time. As Lachman says:

The soul had not created the body in order to torment it. . . . Swedenborg himself was a sensually aware man living in a sensual age. . . . Swedenborg was also a very practical man, with an eye for the use of something, and desire and the less carnal appetites has their uses too. A mind enlightened as to the proper means of gratifying the lower appetites could, with discipline and discrimination, harmonize the yearnings of the animus so that it no longer sounded a raucous call for immediate satisfaction, but instead lent its voice to a well-rounded experience of life.

In the spiritual worlds, there is no longer any hiding from ourselves or others. "There, you really are what you are. Appearance and being are identical." Heaven, hell, and all other spiritual states reflect "our 'true affections,' our real loves and affinities." If we are wise in this life, we will work to know what our true affections are, and to achieve at least a measure of the sincerity which will be thrust upon us in the inner worlds.

Lachman does not engage in any extended discussion of Swedenborg's theological views, and notes that he will not be addressing this aspect of his work. However, he acknowledges the importance of such work to Swedenborg: "Swedenborg himself saw his esoteric reading of Scripture as his true task—so important that it announced the revelation of the true meaning of Christianity. . . ." Having worshipped with Swedenborgians at the New York New Church in Manhattan, and at the stunningly beautiful Bryn Athyn Cathedral outside Philadelphia, I am perhaps more confident than Lachman of the continuing importance and vitality of Swedenborg's theological vision. Perhaps Lachman will eventually provide us with an equally accessible guide to this aspect of his subject. In the meanwhile, I will be eagerly recommending Into the Interior to all who are interested in the history of western esotericism.

The reviewer is a member of the Theosophical Society currently residing in Nashville, Tennessee. He is a freelance theologian, and the author of several books and articles on independent sacramental churches and esoteric Christianity.