Swedenborg and the Myth of Extraterrestrials

The most extensive effort to scientifically prove mind-reading (telepathy) took place during the 20th century right here in the United States. J.B. Rhine (1895-1980) a psychologist at Duke University conducted a series of experiments throughout the '20s and '30s in an effort at establishing what he called ESP (extrasensory perception) in some individuals. In his book "New Frontiers of the Mind," Rhine traces the historical lineage of mind reading to Franz Mesmer (1734-1815), an Austrian mentalist as well as to various hypnotists and mystics of the past who held that the mind could be sent out into space and bring back knowledge of things and events as well as be in contact with disembodied intelligences.

The historic taproot of hypnotism, mind-reading, out-of-body travels, and contact with disembodied intelligences stretches back to Babylonia. Scripture describes individuals who engage in such practices as magicians, witches, diviners, necromancers and mediums.

In his classic work, “Earth’s Earliest Ages,” G.H. Pember examines the Scriptural terms used to describe these practices and the individuals who engage in them. In each case Pember uses the Hebrew word:

1. Chartummim: “The sacred scribes” (Gen. xli.8) These are the magicians of Egypt in the time of Moses and Joseph and of Babylon in the days of Daniel. Though they practiced many other kinds of magic, their primary art was concerned with automatic writing wherein the hand is moved by a demon without any mental volition on the part of the human medium.

2. Chakhamin: “Wise men” (Exodus vii. 11) This word is joined to chartummim to indicate that the demon working through Egyptian magicians has turned their rods into serpents.

3. Qosem: A diviner (medium) who discovers the hidden things of past, present or future by direct spirit-communication.

4. Meonen: A mesmerist (hypnotist) who casts another into a magnetic sleep.

5. Menachesh: This word is connected with nachash, a serpent, and means a hisser, whisperer, or mutterer of spells (enchantments).

6. Mekhashsheph: A word applied to those who ‘pray’ to and/or call upon false gods (demons) and use incantations or magical formula.

7. Chobher chebher: One who by incantations and spells brings demons into association with himself in order to obtain aid or information from them. Pember notes: It is a common practice to open modern seances by chanting or singing hymns to invoke the presence of spirits.

8. Sheol obh: A consulter of demons. An individual (i.e., shaman, Hindu godman) who can communicate directly with demons without the aid of spells to draw them to himself. An obh is a soothsaying demon. This word, said Pember, refers to a person into whom an unclean spirit has entered such as with Elihu (Job xxxii. 18, 19). The demon actually dwells within (possesses) the person who divines by it, Lev. xx. 27.

With the rise of Christianity these practices, though not eradicated, were at least forced underground. It was during the Renaissance that they resurfaced.

Christendom's most famous 'qosem' was Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772). Swedenborg claimed to not only receive secret revelations from spirits but to have visited other planets during mystical out-of-body experiences. Swedenborg wrote:

"I have been enabled to talk with spirits and angels, not only those in the vicinity of our earth, but also those near other worlds."(Of Global Wizardry, Dr. Peter Jones, p. 18)

These other populated worlds included Mars, Venus, Mercury and Jupiter.

Jones writes that the mystical experiences of Swedenborg and other spiritists of that time have given rise to the idea that a,

"spiritually gifted elite can garner information directly from beings in the spiritual realm, or perhaps another planet, is now a widely accepted component of religious thought." (p. 18)

Swedenborg's influence has a long reach, extending from Kant to Madame Blavatsky and Hitler to the English Society for Psychical Research (founded 1882) and on into our own time with psychologist J.B. Rhine and evolutionary scientists such as SETI researcher Paul Davies, Carl Sagan, Francis Crick, co-discoverer of the DNA molecule and Richard Dawkins as well as a vast array of science fiction writers from Arthur C. Clarke to Ray Bradbury, H.G. Wells and screen writer Steven Spielberg.

Over time, Swedenborg's 'space travels' gave birth to what James A. Herrick dubs "The Myth of the Extraterrestrial," in his book, "Scientific Mythologies." Herrick writes that as far back as the seventeenth century,

"Science fiction imagined the intelligent extraterrestrial visitor...And science-fiction writers of later centuries have consistently added to alien lore, ensuring public acceptance of extraterrestrials despite any solid evidence of their existence. The twentieth century witnessed a veritable population explosion in the alien domain.." (p. 43)

Spirit contact, once limited to occult works and spiritist practices, today surfaces in everything from personal accounts of New Age Shaman, spiritual biographies, literature of angelic visitations, video and online games, Star Trek and now evolutionary scientists who embrace the notion of extraterrestrials, proposing them as the genetic-creators of human life:

“…life on earth may have begun when aliens from another planet sent a rocket ship containing spores to seed the earth.” (Francis Crick, Life Itself: Its Origin and Nature (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1981)

@Linda Kimball