Swedenborg’s 335th!

Rev. Jeremy Simons

Swedenborg turns 335 this Sunday, and I expect an interesting and enjoyable Swedenborg’s Birthday Banquet on Friday.

Among the stories that we often hear each year at this time are various brief anecdotes about things that Swedenborg did or that happened to him involving the spiritual world. Wilson Van Dusen called them “minor miracles” that for some people have lent some credence to Swedenborg’s claim to be able to see into the next life and converse with people there.

The best known one, for example, is the story of how, at a dinner party in Gothenburg, Sweden, Swedenborg started telling people that there was a major fire burning in Stockholm, 300 miles away. Days later messengers came from Stockholm, confirming the details that Swedenborg relayed.

Another involves the Dutch ambassador’s wife, who was searching for a lost receipt for a valuable silver service. Swedenborg asked her husband, who was in the spiritual world, where it was and he told him. She found it just where he said it was.

A third is about the queen of Sweden, who asked Swedenborg if he could tell her something her brother told her just before he died. Swedenborg found the brother and told the queen what he said, which so shocked her that she grew faint and had to retire for the day.

There are others as well, which can be found in books such as Wilson Van Dusen’s “The Presence of Other Worlds,” Cyriel Sigstedt’s “The Swedenborg Epic” and other biographies of Swedenborg.

Something that amazed me when I visited Sweden on a Swedenborg Foundation trip several years ago was that some of these anecdotes are somewhat known in Sweden, and that we could visit some of the sites where they took place – places that have hardly changed since the 1760s. So we were able to go into the house where Swedenborg saw the Stockholm fire, with the room still set up as it was for that dinner party. The place where the Dutch ambassador’s wife lived was there in Stockholm, apparently just as it was, with a plaque telling the story. Almost all of the significant sites relating to Swedenborg were almost as they were in his day. Sweden is a beautiful country.

These stories have been turned into brief plays, and this week, for example, the fifth graders are learning them and acting them out in front of their classmates. Children especially seem to enjoy these anecdotes. Whether people find them convincing or not, they are interesting testimonies about Swedenborg’s life and work.