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The Spirit World


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Forerunners: Descriptions by Swedenborg and Davis

Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772)

Early Spiritualist views on the spirit world derived in large part from the visions and writings of Emanuel Swedenborg. A few of the Spiritualists in the late 1800s claimed that Swedenborg communicated to them, either directly, or through a medium.

Emanuel Swedenborg was a highly educated scientist and was well respected as both a scientist and a scholar throughout Europe. Among other accomplishments he sketched a flying machine, a submarine, and a rapid-fire gun, wrote a book of poetry in Latin, and published books on algebra. His first mystical experience happened when he was in his fifties, and he devoted the rest of life to his excursions and communications with those in the spirit world, and writing about his experiences and beliefs.

Swedenborg was convinced he was given a conducted tour of "heaven and hell" and claimed he was in constant communication with the dead. Brown (1972) says that Swedenborg knew he had been in the spiritual world and it was his duty to reveal to those on earth the future existence that awaits them, and to reveal the spiritual laws that prevail in both this world and the next. His descriptions of the spirit world are based both on actual observation and experience and on his conversations with angels and the spirits of those he knew in the body. According to Tuttle (1900), Swedenborg heard voices internally, but very clearly and distinctly.

Swedenborg was the first to explain that the death of the physical body does not result in an immediate change since the spirit world is governed by the same natural laws as those on earth. He claimed to have been taken through the experience of dying several times to know what the transition from one state of existence to another is like (Haddow, 1991).

Swedenborg's outline of the spiritual world has been largely incorporated into Spiritualist belief. Life on earth is a preparatory experience, and your personality and memories go with you when the physical body dies. There is no hell in the spiritual world, and heaven is divided into at least seven spheres for soul development in love and wisdom (Brown, 1972). These are mental states rather than physical ones (Hyslop, 1918).

When the physical body dies, you are met by spirits who introduce you to your new sphere. Peebles (1903) relates that Swedenborg felt that we seek out those with whom we have an affinity. We live in communities, sometimes with many hundred thousands (Brown, 1972) and sometimes with only from fifty to five hundred (Leonard, 1927). Swedenborg described our habitations as contiguous, arranged in the form of a city with streets and squares, similar to on earth. There are magnificent places, inside and out, with gardens even more beautiful than any seen on earth. Each person has an occupation, such as taking care of children, teaching, or taking care of the dying on earth. Sometimes your spouse may be the same as on earth, sometimes not. If you have an inordinate love of self and do not want to give up worldly pleasures, then you may be attracted to the first sphere, which could be compared to hell. There is only desolate landscape on this level, with no light. According to Brown (1972), Swedenborg felt that if this choice is made, there is no redemption and you are there for good. This is one aspect of Swedenborg's description that Spiritualists do not accept, although there are many similarities with his general description of the spirit world.

Swedenborg was quoted in the Angels All Around Us calendar (1997) as follows:

I am well aware that many will say that no-one can possibly speak with spirits and angels so long as he is living in the body; many say it is all fancy, others that I recount such things to win credence, while others will make other kinds of objection. But I am deterred by none of these: for I have seen, I have heard, I have felt (June 1).

Since angels are men, and live together in society like men on earth, therefore they have garments, houses, and other things familiar to those which exist on earth, but, of course, infinitely more beautiful and perfect (July 1).

Andrew Jackson Davis (1826-1910)

Andrew Jackson Davis is known as the Father of Modern American Spiritualism. He was an illiterate cobbler's apprentice who educated himself. His first mystical experience happened at age 17, as a result of being hypnotized several times. He was a medical clairvoyant, similar to Edgar Cayce, and later in life obtained a medical degree. He healed by the laying on of hands, and felt that disease originates in the soul, not in the body. He wrote many books, some of which were received clairvoyantly, and gave many lectures; he could speak in any field. Davis foretold the 8th and 9th planets in the solar system, the airplane, and a car using an engine and fuel for power.

Davis' Harmonial Philosophy, written in 1847, was linked to the Spiritualist movement, which began in 1848, and his writings became the basis of Spiritualist philosophy. He received material clairvoyantly from both Galen and Swedenborg, and believed that man, spiritually, is part of infinite spirit, and thus subscribed to the immortality of the human mind.

According to Braude (1989), Davis saw the spirit world clairvoyantly and described a "series of six celestial spheres of increasing harmony, beauty and wisdom through which the soul advances after death" (p. 40). He said there were actually seven spheres, but the first one is natural, and that of our physical earth and therefore not celestial or spiritual. The second sphere, or Spiritual Sphere, resembles our physical world, but is more perfect in beauty and harmony; it is divided into three societies of love, will, and wisdom. The other spheres become more advanced and evolved, until the seventh sphere of an infinite vortex of love and wisdom is attained. Davis terms the spiritual spheres Summerland (1867) and says that each of the spheres has several subdivisions, and it takes an eternity to ascend to all of them. In fact, no one who has lived on earth has ascended beyond the second one.

The second sphere is divided into three orders or societies. The first of these is love, and is where infants and uncultivated spirits in various stages of development become perfected and educated in the truth and beauty of nature (Leonard, 1927). Will is the second society, and this is for those who become highly instructed in the principles and truths of divine mind. The third order is made up of the most enlightened spirits, who are highly illuminated with wisdom. There is perfect unity among these three societies, and mutual dependence on each other. Davis (1867) felt that if we leave this world in good spiritual circumstances, we can ascend to a better brotherhood and be engaged in higher duties.

Many of Davis' beliefs formed the basis of how the early Spiritualists viewed the spirit world. He said that age was not a factor there, that we continue to mature and develop after death, and babies are taken care of and educated. We can travel as though we have a body, and we choose our own place to go. Communication is projected thought, and is universal for all spirits. If there is a harmonious connection, one can transmit thoughts to one on earth. Food is not required for bodily sustenance, and there is a perfect mate for everyone in the spirit world. Davis (1867) said there is no accounting of time, that an "event is one beat in the universal anthem of eternal harmony" (p. 168).

Davis' descriptions of the various spheres are much more detailed than the views of the early Spiritualists. However, the basic philosophy and many of the aspects of the spirit world are quite similar.


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