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February/March 2011

Dear All,

I hope you are well. Welcome to the Swedenborg Society February/March e-newsletter. Read on to find Swedenborg-related news, reviews and upcoming events. These include a forthcoming lecture on the divided brain by Iain McGilchrist; an article on our new improved terms of membership; news of a Swedish Opera about Swedenborg; a book review of The Western Esoteric Traditions by Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke; a short review of the Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead exhibition at the British Museum; and an article on Swedenborg and life on other planets.


Best wishes,

Nora Foster
Publicist & Assistant Curator
The Swedenborg Society

News since December

As ever, we have been very busy indeed! The launch of Heaven and Hell at Swedenborg's birthday meeting on 29 January was a wonderful event. Ken Ryder introduced the book with wit, warmth and intelligence, reading straight from the text and sharing his personal observations of possible resonances with Virgil's Aeneid. David Lister followed the launch with a lecture on the brain, Smile or Die, which was thoroughly entertaining and insightfully researched. Luckily everyone seemed to leave smiling rather than dying. Since then we have been confirming forthcoming events and sending out the new Heaven and Hell to Swedenborgian institutions around the world. Orders from customers have been rolling in; we experienced record book sales through the website, just before and after Christmas. Unfortunately, since then, our website broke down. We are in the process of building up a new website, but for now it is lacking both an online bookshop and the library archive section. Please accept our sincerest apologies for this disruption. Luckily we have recently registered with so you can still buy many of our books via its website. We are now preparing for the Manchester launch of Heaven and Hell, taking place at the Swedenborg Open Learning Centre on 2 April. Jacob Cartwright and Nick Jordan will also be present to screen their documentary about Swedenborg, premiered in Swedenborg Hall in April 2010. Further details to follow... Watch this space! 


Swedenborg Society Membership 2011

We have recently upgraded the terms of membership to the Swedenborg Society, in line with other learned Societies and Registered Charities. Our bicentenary celebration year has transformed the profile of the Society; the lectures, exhibitions and performances were enthusiastically attended, the mailing list expanded ten-fold and many of the events attracted the attention of the mainstream media. This has all encouraged book sales and the new Heaven and Hell, and other new publications, have introduced Swedenborg to a huge number of new readers. In short, the Society has opened up Swedenborg's ideas to a whole new audience and readership. We are a not-for-profit organization, so as we enter a new era we rely more than ever on the support of our membership.

We would therefore like to attract new members to the Society, and also reward our existing members for their continued involvement. For only £20.00, or £15.00 a year for concessions, annual members now receive a 20% discount on all books in the Swedenborg Society Bookshop and reduced entry to all events, as well as priority booking for all free events. On top of this, members receive the annual report and a regular paper newsletter (PL Johnson's Things Heard and Seen) through the post; and this e-newsletter via email. We hope to foster a greater sense of involvement amongst our membership, and continue the energetic work of this historic institution.

We have lots planned for 2011, including the Manchester launch of Heaven and Hell, a lecture on the divided brain by acclaimed author Iain McGilchrist, a performance by Iain Sinclair and Brian Catling, another film season and film festival, more 'celebrity' lectures, the Bloomsbury Festival and Madeleine Waller's Artist Residency Exhibition. We will also be publishing the library edition of the Journal, Robsahm's Memoirs translated by Anders Hallengren, Mathematics, Cosmology and Matter by David Dunér and a series of other possible publications.The support from our members will be greatly appreciated.

See more details on Swedenborg Society membership, and download the membership form here.

Swedenborg Opera: Secrets

On February 12, Hemligheter (Secrets) premiered at the Malmö Opera in Sweden. It is the third operatic work by the composer Jonas Forssell. In 1999 Forssell wrote an opera based on Magnus Florin's Trädgården (The Garden), a novel about the renowned eighteenth-century botanist Carl Linnaeus. Forssell has again joined forces with Florin, turning his creative genius to a study of Swedenborg, who happened to be a contemporary and a relative of Linnéus. This is the first ever opera based on Swedenborg's life. Its libretto, written by Florin presents Swedenborg in the World of Spirits, the place between life and death described in Heaven and Hell and other works. Swedenborg meets the spirits of both the living and the dead - including the Swedish king Karl XII and the French king Louis XV, but also his sister who died tragically young. Forssell hoped to explore the emotional complexities, implicit in Swedenborg's travels between life and death. The work also examines questions on the nature of existence, posed at the heart of Swedenborg's work. The part of Swedenborg was written especially for the Swedish bass baritone Bengt Krantz; all other parts, including a chorus of spirits, are sung by female voices. In this way the vocal structure of the opera reflects the identities portrayed in this liminal space; Forssell explains:  'Swedenborg speaks to the spirits, and for that I want a male voice and a tapestry, a large rustling drapery of female voices that ripple, like when you run your fingers through water.' The opera sounds very interesting indeed and we highly recommend that you attend!

The Opera will be performed on 4, 6, 13, 19, 25 March 2011. Booking via the Malmo Opera Website. The opera has already been broadcast on Swedish television and radio, and the first part can be watched here. Read an interview with the composer Forssell, in the Swedish Music Information Centre newsletter

Swedenborg and Life on Other Planets

Last month, NASA
announced that its Kepler telescope had discovered an extraordinary new planetary system. It is extraordinary because it bears a striking resemblance to our own solar system, raising the question: could there be life on these 'other planets'? In The Worlds In Space (or Earths in the Universe) Swedenborg claimed that he had visited other planets, and talked with their spirits who are also essentially human beings and like us inhabit heaven and hell. His descriptions of other planets were indeed born from mystical experiences, like those described in Heaven and Hell; but Swedenborg's belief in life on other planets was also justified by his philosophical logic: 'Anyone who believes, as each one of us should, that the Deity's sole purpose in creating the universe was to bring into existence the human race, and from this to people heaven - the human race being the seed-bed of heaven - must inevitably believe that, where there is a world, there must be human beings.'

One can also consider Swedenborg's conversations with spirits from other worlds, in a wider cultural context. Immanuel Kant and other notable philosophers and cosmologists of Swedenborg's time agreed that life on other planets was only rational. Seventeenth- and eighteenth- century writers similarly described 'other worlds' to portray alternative spiritual, political and moral realities. The literary style of Swedenborg's prose certainly has echoes of Francis Bacon and other authors in the 'utopian' tradition. Swedenborg describes the kind and simple inhabitants of Jupiter, contrasted with the inquisitive and high-thinking Mercurians. The inhabitants of these worlds instinctively think spiritually, rather than materialistically and they consider human beings from Earth crude, and gasp at their duplicitous nature. However evil 'wild' and 'fierce' beings inhabit parts of Venus, obsessed by plunder, and Swedenborg compares these to  the people in the time of David. Nevertheless, if these beings reach despair at their condition, they may still be saved by the Lord; each planet, like Earth, is a structural part of Swedenborg's 'Grand Man'.

We recommend Life on Other Planets, a joint publication of the Swedenborg Society and the Swedenborg Foundation, featuring a translation of Swedenborg's text by John Chadwick and
an introduction by Dr Raymond Moody. Buy it here.

Journey Through the Afterlife: The Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead

The British Museum is full of treasures, and its latest feature exhibition does not disappoint. In Journey Through the Afterlife, the Museum invites you to walk through the imagination and ritual of an Ancient people. The Book of the Dead was a highly personalised guide for the mortal, meant to prepare him for his travels after death. With an average life expectancy of 35 years, death was always close for the Ancient Egyptian. The art critic Jonathan Jones argues that this exhibition is therefore 'a hymn to the sun'; it is the Egyptians' celebration of life in full knowledge of its brevity: 'they loved life and they wanted it to go on forever.' Real-life details enrich the life of the dead, written in beautiful text, painted on papyri and sculpted on stone and in bronze. Arguably, it is the text which distinguishes this exhibition, rather than the art of its draftsmanship. Swedenborg would argue that the Ancients held the secrets to existence in the symbolism of their writings. In the Coronis, he applauds this 'Most Ancient Church'; Hieroglyphics are 'nothing else than correspondences of natural and spiritual things, which the Egyptians studied more than any other people in Asia of their time.' The Ancient Egyptians believed that the heart, rather than the mind, contains our essential humanity. It is the nature of their heart, which can speak after death, which decides whether the human is devoured or saved. The virtuous are rewarded with a vision of the god Ra or union with Osiris, whilst the sinful are denied their afterlife by being eaten.

 Exhibition ends on March 6. Visit the British Museum's website for more details.

Why not come see us?
20 Bloomsbury Way, London, WC1A 2TH
9:30 am - 5:00 pm Monday - Friday.
Events 2011

7 March: The Swedenborg Society Presents ... The Letters of Rosa Luxemburg Book Launch with Verso Books

2 April: Manchester Launch of Heaven and Hell

7 April: The Master and his Emissary, a lecture by Iain McGilchrist

Our programme of events is constantly evolving. Please keep checking our website Members who join the Society in 2011 receive a 20% discount on entry to paid-for events and advanced booking for free events.

A Lecture by Iain McGilchrist  

The Master and his Emissary: 
the Divided Brain and the Making of the Western W0rld

mcgilchristApril 7 2011

6.30 pm

Swedenborg Hall

£5.00/£3.00 concessions

On 7th April 2011, the Swedenborg Society will be proud to present a lecture by Iain McGilchrist, a doctor, psychiatrist and writer. His recent book, on the brain and our divided nature, has been described as 'remarkable': 'clear, penetrating, lively, thorough and fascinating'; AC Grayling enthuses that it is 'beautifully written, erudite, fascinating and adventurous.' In The Master and his Emissary, McGilchrist explains how differing world views of the right and left brain (the 'Master' and 'emissary' in the title, respectively) have, according to the author, shaped Western culture since the time of Plato; he argues that an Enlightenment cultural prejudice against the right brain has implications for the way the modern world is changing.

Swedenborg was noted as a scientist until his religious crisis during the mid-1740s. Swedenborg wrote two books about the workings of the brain, The Brain and The Cerebrum, which were unpublished in his lifetime and only published and then translated into English in the latter part of the 19th century. Swedenborg's study of anatomy divided the faculties of the brain into the ‘will' and the ‘understanding'; just as the heart and lungs are at once independent and necessarily conjoined, the will and understanding ‘are distinct from one another, but so created to be as one, and when they are one they are called the mind'. In his exhaustive exploration of the anatomical structures of the brain, Swedenborg's remarkable visions of 250 years ago also foresaw, with amazing accuracy, the parts of the brain responsible for the emotions.
RSVP now.

Book Review

The Western Esoteric Traditions: An Historical Introduction

ng clarkeBy Nicholas
Goodrick- Clarke

(Oxford University Press, USA)


Professor Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke is Director of the Exeter Centre for the Study of Esotericism at Exeter University. He is also a scholar of German and may be known to readers of Swedenborg as the translator of Visionary Savant in the Age of Reason, Ernst Benz's seminal biography. In this work, Goodrick-Clarke provides an invaluable insight into the history of Western esotercisim - and Swedenborg's place within its multiple and interwoven traditions. Each chapter examines a different tradition, from the Ancient Hellenistic Period, through to the Neoplatonism and Gnosticism emerging during the early Christian era, through to Jabob Boehme and theosophy, to Swedenborg and more recently the analytic psychology of Gustav Jung. The author's approach is broad and consciously contextual. His chapter on Swedenborg is concise and would provide a brilliant introduction for a newcomer to Swedenborg's ideas. Goodrick-Clarke explains how Swedenborg's esotericism was distinguished from the wider tradition by its roots in Enlightenment science, rationalism and Protestant pietism. Historically, these were often secularizing influences but in Swedenborg's case, they helped to define and also justify his mystical theology.

Available in the Swedenborg Society Bookshop now. Email or phone (020) 7405 7986 to order a copy; or buy it online from the Society's online outlet at


New Publication

Emanuel Swedenborg's
Heaven and Hell

A New Translation by KC Ryder

Cover I

Cover II

Cover III

£19.95 (choice of 3 cover designs)


Special Offer

* If you are a member of the Swedenborg Society, you are entitled to 20% discount on the new Heaven and Hell. Please email if you would like to take advantage of this special offer. *

Buy Swedenborg Society Books on


You might also be interested in catching the current exhibition at Beaconsfield Gallery, London. Mark Dean is an acclaimed contemporary video artist; he is also an ordained priest of the Church of England. The Beginning of the End explores possible correspondences between aesthetics and spirituality. He explains, 'I am interested in the relation of contemporary art and religion, but do not recognise any shared language with which to discuss this - at least, not at the level that either discipline requires. I might be wrong, of course. In any case, my work is driven by this question.' Visit the Beaconsfield Gallery website here. Exhibition ends on Sunday.

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