Saturday, February 21, 2009

Emanuel Swedenborg - Part III: Vision or Hallucination?

A funny thing happened to our friend Enanuel, and when funny things happen it's often a message from the universe telling us to stop and take note, wake up from our sleep of normality and have a second look, and maybe even a third. It's easy to ignore the message, chalk it up to "hallucination", or "imagination run amuck", or "religious escapism", or, worse yet, "psychotic delusion". That is, in fact, what most of his closest friends and colleagues did. The amazing thing is that Emanuel ignored them and happily went his way, responding with a smile and a wink, then proceeding back to his home to have more interesting conversations with angels and spirits. For 26 years. Without haste, without rest.

So what can we make of this? First off, I'd like to say I'm not interested in trivializing the pain and tragedy of the very real incapacitating mental illnesses that so many around us endure. Having said that, I don't think Emanuel suffered an illness - he not only was not incapacitated, he continued writing prolifically to a ripe old age. He was thought of as a charming and intelligent conversationalist, a kind and considerate neighbor, and a delightful dinner companion. This poses a conundrum for the contemporary psychiatric point of view, from which view his talking with angels can only be considered abnormal and the result of some kind of brain malfunction. However, there are other points of view to be considered. From the traditional shamanistic perspective the visitation of angels makes perfect sense - the differance between an animal spirit guide and an angel may be no more than a differance in cultural filter (an aside is relevent here - studies of near death experiences in different cultures suggest that, at least in the first stages of death, we organize and understand what's happening through these same familiar cultural filters - Christians see angels, Buddhists see spirits of Bodhisattvas, Hindus see Krishna or Shanti, etc.). In many traditional cultures spirits are taken for granted, and one who perceives spirit is said to be...inspired. Of course, science has proven - proven I say! - thaat this spirit belief is nothing but fantasy, brainwashing, and/or abnormal brain function.

So here we are with two ways of looking at Emanuel's late life transformation. On the one hand, our contemporary scientific mechanistic view - he was hallucinating. On the other hand, the traditional shamanistic spirit/magic view - he had a vision. Hallucination or vision? Turns out, it depends on how you look at it, just like...oh my god...quantum physics!!!! When looking at light, if you're looking for a particle you see a photon particle, if you're looking for a wave you see waves and frequencies. What light is depends on how you look at it. Or, maybe more importantly, on what your assumptions are. And as we all know (I hope), it's always a good thing to examine our assumptions.

So Emanuel Swedenborg can be said, among other things, to be an object lesson in examining our assumptions through the magical catalyst I like to call woo-woo. I think I said it before but I'll say it again - I like woo-woo.