Wilson van Dusen
(Swedenborg Foundation)Emanuel Swedenborg's Philosophy and Minerology --- an important text from the 18th Century --- is an interesting mix of science and metaphysics. He was an engineer from Sweden who, at age fifty-six, began to turn away from wheels and gears, began to have visions of the divine. His new world was peopled by angels with whom he conversed fairly regularly (pink and blue angels, according to William Blake). From them, he built a commentary on Christianity which was characterized by a direct search for god as "the perfect man." If god is man, then man is god. All questions were to be resolved by the scriptures, with Swedenborg as the interpreter.
Swedenborg's change came about in 1743 - 1744, and his visions came to him through dreams. He, being a scientific type, carefully recorded them. We have 286 of his dreams, reproduced in full here, with commentary by psychologist Wilson Van Dusen. Van Dusen points out that, if nothing else, this is probably the only full recounting of one man's dreams from so many years ago. (In those pre-Freudian times, dreams were not viewed with the same regard as now).
What is particularly fascinating about Journal of Dreams is not so much Swedenborg's night visions, for most people's dreams are so personal as to be almost meaningless. Rather, it is the editor's excellent understanding of the dream process. In fact, Van Dusen's Introduction is one of the best primers extant on how dreams occur, what they mean for the individual, and how one should look at them. Because he is so eloquent --- as eloquent we think, as Emanuel Swedenborg, and a hell of a lot less daffy --- one can see a system of dream-vision which makes sense to the average reader.
Once you get used to the peculiar language of dreams they become a personal guidance system with a superior overview of the nature of one's own life. As a clinical psychologist, understanding my own dreams is a prerequisite for working on a client's dreams... Dreams are valuable guidance system. Should I be in error with Swedenborg's dreams, I would expect my own personal guidance system to tell me so. I need my own dreams to monitor my understanding of his. This might surprise you. But when you are working on something, especially when it is close to your life concerns, your dreams will tell you how well you are doing.
As some of the rest of us have discovered over the years, dreams are a feedback system, and a very sensible one. The key is learning one's own code. Dreams are a part of the brain communicating with another part of the brain, an interior movie house, free but without popcorn. At night, we are allowed to watch the fireworks, all created by us. Words are not the medium of dream communication --- rather, it's pictures, with a rich system of personal symbols:
Dreams are mostly composed of dramatic pictorial representations... its natural mode of thought is this dramatic language of correspondences --- dramatic because it is inclined to make statements by showing actual incidents involving us. It speaks in terms of dramatic events which correspond to elements in the inner life and the experience of the person.
He refers to the source of dreams as "the dream maker" (Nabokov referred to it as "the Dream Machine.") Dreams, Van Dusen says, are a function of free will. The Dream Maker presents curious incidents that we can "try to figure out or not," as we wish. The Dream Maker is "in a position to know all the memories, experiences, hopes and fears of the dreamer." Thus he (or she, or it) is a cool and unbiased commentator on our days and lives --- something necessary for our personal balance and adjustment. (In experiments, it has been found that if people were woken constantly to prevent dreams, the subjects turned a bit psychotic.)
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The whole of Swedenborg's dream book, with the comments by the editor, is rich and, at the same time, rather curious. Van Dusen makes some astute guesses about the philosopher's mental state. For instance, on dreams #7 and #8, Swedenborg says he is in a trance for most of the day, in "wakeful ecstasies." Van Dusen thinks the writer may have stumbled across pranayana, "breath control" as used "by the yogas."
To my mind this is the single most important, unusual thing that Swedenborg did; it led to an immense flowering of inner experience.
Buddhists (most especially Suzuki) have long seen Swedenborg as an inspired Buddhist naïf, one who came to Eastern religion with no training and no readings of the literature of the Buddhists. Like them, Swedenborg abandoned the notion of sin; he saw us as making our own decisions about divinity, but without of the guilt and schizophrenia of Christianity.
He saw the divine in all of us: you and I and the rest of humanity are angels. We don't die --- for we were never born. We just wake up, grow wings, and assume our natural state. Our divinity is present within us at this very moment, and we can activate it at our will.
As Stewart Brand famously said, we are as the gods, and we might as well get used to it. When we discover our divinity --- needs, desires, and wants become unimportant. The only need we will manifest will be the need to be kind, generous, gentle, and humane --- to avoid hurting others. For we soon learn that to harm others is but to harm ourselves.--- A. W. Allworthy