Read CHAPTER IV - SWEDENBORG’S VISIONS OF OTHER WORLDS. of Myths and Marvels of Astronomy , free online book, by Richard A. Proctor, on ReadCentral.com.

If it were permitted to men to select a sign whereby they should know that a message came from the Supreme Being, probably the man of science would select for the sign the communication of some scientific fact beyond the knowledge of the day, but admitting of being readily put to the test. The evidence thus obtained in favour of a revelation would correspond in some sense to that depending on prophecies; but it would be more satisfactory to men having that particular mental bent which is called the scientific. Whether this turn of mind is inherent or the result of training, it certainly leads men of science to be more exacting in considering the value of evidence than any men, except perhaps lawyers. In the case of the student of science, St. Paul’s statement that ‘prophecies’ ‘shall fail’ has been fulfilled, whereas it may be doubted whether evidence from ‘knowledge’ would in like manner ‘vanish away.’ On the contrary, it would grow stronger and stronger, as knowledge from observation, from experiment, and from calculation continually increased. It can scarcely be said that this has happened with such quasi-scientific statements as have actually been associated with revelation. If we regard St. Paul’s reference to knowledge as relating to such statements as these, then nothing could be more complete than the fulfilment of his own prediction, ’Whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.’ The evidence from prophecies fails for the exact inquirer, who perceives the doubts which exist (among the most earnest believers) as to the exact meaning of the prophetic words, and even in some cases as to whether prophecies have been long since fulfilled or relate to events still to come. The evidence from ‘tongues’ has ceased, and those are dust who are said to have spoken in strange tongues. The knowledge which was once thought supernatural has utterly vanished away. But if, in the ages of faith, some of the results of modern scientific research had been revealed, as the laws of the solar system, the great principle of the conservation of energy, or the wave theory of light, or if some of the questions which still remain for men of science to solve had been answered in those times, the evidence for the student of science would have been irresistible. Of course he will be told that even then he would have hardened his heart; that the inquiry after truth tending naturally to depravity of mind, he would reject even evidence based on his beloved laws of probability; that his ’wicked and adulterous generation seeketh “in vain” after a sign,’ and that if he will not accept Moses and the prophets, neither would he believe though one rose from the dead. Still the desire of the student of science to base his faith on convincing evidence (in a matter as important to him as to those who abuse him) does seem to have something reasonable in it after all. The mental qualities which cause him to be less easily satisfied than others, came to him in the same way as his bodily qualities; and even if the result to which his mental training leads him is as unfortunate as some suppose, that training is not strictly speaking so heinously sinful that nothing short of the eternal reprobation meted out to him by earthly judges can satisfy divine justice. So that it may be thought not a wholly unpardonable sin to speak of a sign which, had it been accorded, would have satisfied even the most exacting student of science. Apart, too, from all question of faith, the mere scientific interest of divinely inspired communications respecting natural laws and processes would justify a student of science in regarding them as most desirable messages from a being of superior wisdom and benevolence. If prophecies and tongues, why not knowledge, as evidence of a divine mission?

Such thoughts are suggested by the claim of some religious teachers to the possession of knowledge other than that which they could have gained by natural means. The claim has usually been quite honest. The teacher of religion tests the reality of his mission in simple a priori confidence that he has such a mission, and that therefore some one or other of the tests he applies will afford the required evidence. To one, says St. Paul, is given the word of wisdom; to another, the word of knowledge; to another, faith; to another, the gift of healing; to another, the working of miracles; to another, prophecy; to another, the discerning of spirits; to another, divers kinds of tongues: and so forth. If a man like Mahomet, who believes in his mission to teach, finds that he cannot satisfactorily work miracles that mountains will not be removed at his bidding then some other evidence satisfies him of the reality of his mission. Swedenborg, than whom, perhaps, no more honest man ever lived, said and believed that to him had been granted the discerning of spirits. ‘It is to be observed,’ he said, ’that a man may be instructed by spirits and angels if his interiors be so open as to enable him to speak and be in company with them, for man in his essence is a spirit, and is with spirits as to his interiors; so that he whose interiors are opened by the Lord may converse with them, as man with man. This privilege I have enjoyed daily now for twelve years.’

It indicates the fulness of Swedenborg’s belief in this privilege that he did not hesitate to describe what the spirits taught him respecting matters which belong rather to science than to faith; though it must be admitted that probably he supposed there was small reason for believing that his statements could ever be tested by the results of scientific research. The objects to which his spiritual communications related were conveniently remote. I do not say this as desiring for one moment to suggest that he purposely selected those objects, and not others which might be more readily examined. He certainly believed in the reality of the communications he described. But possibly there is some law in things visionary, corresponding to the law of mental operation with regard to scientific theories; and as the mind theorises freely about a subject little understood, but cautiously where many facts have been ascertained, so probably exact knowledge of a subject prevents the operation of those illusions which are regarded as supernatural communications. It is in a dim light only that the active imagination pictures objects which do not really exist; in the clear light of day they can no longer be imagined. So it is with mental processes.

Probably there is no subject more suitable in this sense for the visionary than that of life in other worlds. It has always had an attraction for imaginative minds, simply because it is enwrapped in so profound a mystery; and there has been little to restrain the fancy, because so little is certainly known of the physical condition of other worlds. Recently, indeed, a somewhat sudden and severe check has been placed on the liveliness of imagination which had enabled men formerly to picture to themselves the inhabitants of other orbs in space. Spectroscopic analysis and exact telescopic scrutiny will not permit some speculations to be entertained which formerly met with favour. Yet even now there has been but a slight change of scene and time. If men can no longer imagine inhabitants of one planet because it is too hot, or of another because it is too cold, of one body because it is too deeply immersed in vaporous masses, or of another because it has neither atmosphere nor water, we have only to speculate about the unseen worlds which circle round those other suns, the stars; or, instead of changing the region of space where we imagine worlds, we can look backward to the time when planets now cold and dead were warm with life, or forward to the distant future when planets now glowing with fiery heat shall have cooled down to a habitable condition.

Swedenborg’s imaginative mind seems to have fully felt the charm of this interesting subject. It was, indeed, because of the charm which he found in it, that he was readily persuaded into the belief that knowledge had been supernaturally communicated to him respecting it. ’Because I had a desire,’ he says, ’to know if there are other earths, and to learn their nature and the character of their inhabitants, it was granted me by the Lord to converse and have intercourse with spirits and angels who had come from other earths, with some for a day, with some for a week, and with some for months. From them I have received information respecting the earths from and near which they are, the modes of life, customs and worship of their inhabitants, besides various other particulars of interest, all which, having come to my knowledge in this way, I can describe as things which I have seen and heard.’

It is interesting (psychologically) to notice how the reasoning which had convinced Swedenborg of the existence of other inhabited worlds is attributed by him to the spirits. ‘It is well known in the other life,’ he says, ’that there are many earths with men upon them; for there (that is, in the spiritual life) every one who, from a love of truth and consequent use, desires it, is allowed to converse with the spirits of other earths, so as to be assured that there is a plurality of worlds, and be informed that the human race is not confined to one earth only, but extends to numberless earths.... I have occasionally conversed on this subject with the spirits of our earth, and the result of our conversation was that a man of enlarged understanding may conclude from various considerations that there are many earths with human inhabitants upon them. For it is an inference of reason that masses so great as the planets are, some of which exceed this earth in magnitude, are not empty bodies, created only to be carried in their motion round the sun, and to shine with their scanty light for the benefit of one earth only; but that they must have a nobler use. He who believes, as every one ought to believe, that the Deity created the universe for no other end than the existence of the human race, and of heaven from it (for the human race is the seminary of heaven), must also believe that wherever there is an earth there are human inhabitants. That the planets which are visible to us, being within the boundary of our solar system, are earths, may appear from various considerations. They are bodies of earthy matter, because they reflect the sun’s light, and when seen through the telescope appear, not as stars shining with a flaming lustre, but as earths, variegated with obscure spots. Like our earth, they are carried round the sun by a progressive motion, through the path of the Zodiac, whence they have years and seasons of the year, which are spring, summer, autumn, and winter; and they rotate upon their axes, which makes days, and times of the day, as morning, midday, evening, and night. Some of them also have satellites, which perform their revolutions about their globes, as the moon does about ours. The planet Saturn, as being farthest from the sun, has besides an immense luminous ring, which supplies that earth with much, though reflected, light. How is it possible for anyone acquainted with these facts, and who thinks from reason, to assert that such bodies are uninhabited?’

Remembering that this reasoning was urged by the spirits, and that during twelve years Swedenborg’s interiors had been opened in such sort that he could converse with spirits from other worlds, it is surprising that he should have heard nothing about Uranus or Neptune, to say nothing of the zone of asteroids, or again, of planets as yet unknown which may exist outside the path of Neptune. He definitely commits himself, it will be observed, to the statement that Saturn is the planet farthest from the sun. And elsewhere, in stating where in these spiritual communications the ‘idea’ of each planet was conceived to be situated, he leaves no room whatever for Uranus and Neptune, and makes no mention of other bodies in the solar system than those known in his day. This cannot have been because the spirits from then unknown planets did not feel themselves called upon to communicate with the spirit of one who knew nothing of their home, for he received visitors from worlds in the starry heavens far beyond human ken. It would almost seem, though to the faithful Swedenborgian the thought will doubtless appear very wicked, that the system of Swedenborg gave no place to Uranus and Neptune, simply because he knew nothing about those planets. Otherwise, what a noble opportunity there would have been for establishing the truth of Swedenborgian doctrines by revealing to the world the existence of planets hitherto unknown. Before the reader pronounces this a task beneath the dignity of the spirits and angels who taught Swedenborg it will be well for him to examine the news which they actually imparted.

I may as well premise, however, that it does not seem to me worth while to enter here at any length into Swedenborg’s descriptions of the inhabitants of other worlds, because what he has to say on this subject is entirely imaginative. There is a real interest for us in his ideas respecting the condition of the planets, because those ideas were based (though unconsciously) upon the science of his day, in which he was no mean proficient. And even where his mysticism went beyond what his scientific attainments suggested, a psychological interest attaches to the workings of his imagination. It is as curious a problem to trace his ideas to their origin as it sometimes is to account for the various phases of a fantastic dream, such a dream, for instance, as that which Armadale, the doctor, and Midwinter, in ‘Armadale,’ endeavour to connect with preceding events. But Swedenborg’s visions of the behaviour and appearance of the inhabitants of other earths have little interest, because it is hopeless to attempt to account for even their leading features. For instance, what can we make of such a passage as the following, relating to the spirits who came from Mercury? ’Some of them are desirous to appear, not like the spirits of other earths as men, but as crystalline globes. Their desire to appear so, although they do not, arises from the circumstance that the knowledges of things immaterial are in the other life represented by crystals.’

Yet some even of these more fanciful visions significantly indicate the nature of Swedenborg’s philosophy. One can recognise his disciples and his opponents among the inhabitants of various favoured and unhappy worlds, and one perceives how the wiser and more dignified of his spiritual visitors are made to advocate his own views, and to deride those of his adversaries. Some of the teachings thus circuitously advanced are excellent.

For instance, Swedenborg’s description of the inhabitants of Mercury and their love of abstract knowledge contains an instructive lesson. ’The spirits of Mercury imagine,’ he says, ’that they know so much, that it is almost impossible to know more. But it has been told them by the spirits of our earth, that they do not know many things, but few, and that the things which they know not are comparatively infinite, and in relation to those they do know are as the waters of the largest ocean to those of the smallest fountain; and further, that the first advance to wisdom is to know, acknowledge, and perceive that what we do know, compared with what we do not know, is so little as hardly to amount to anything.’ So far we may suppose that Swedenborg presents his own ideas, seeing that he is describing what has been told the Mercurial spirits by the spirits of our earth, of whom (during these spiritual conversations) he was one. But he proceeds to describe how angels were allowed to converse with the Mercurial spirits in order to convince them of their error. ‘I saw another angel,’ says he, after describing one such conversation, ’conversing with them; he appeared at some altitude to the right; he was from our earth, and he enumerated very many things of which they were ignorant.... As they had been proud on account of their knowledges, on hearing this they began to humble themselves. Their humiliation was represented by the sinking of the company which they formed, for that company then appeared as a volume or roll, ... as if hollowed in the middle and raised at the sides.... They were told what that signified, that is, what they thought in their humiliation, and that those who appeared elevated at the sides were not as yet in any humiliation. Then I saw that the volume was separated, and that those who were not in humiliation were remanded back towards their earth, the rest remaining.’

Little being known to Swedenborg, as indeed little is known to the astronomers of our own time, about Mercury, we find little in the visions relating to that planet which possesses any scientific interest. He asked the inhabitants who were brought to him in visions about the sun of the system, and they replied that it looks larger from Mercury than as seen from other worlds. This of course was no news to Swedenborg. They explained further, that the inhabitants enjoy a moderate temperature, without extremes of heat or cold. ’It was given to me,’ proceeds Swedenborg, ’to tell them that it was so provided by the Lord, that they might not be exposed to excessive heat from their greater proximity to the sun, since heat does not arise from the sun’s nearness, but from the height and density of the atmosphere, as appears from the cold on high mountains even in hot climates; also that heat is varied according to the direct or oblique incidence of the sun’s rays, as is plain from the seasons of winter and summer in every region.’ It is curious to find thus advanced, in a sort of lecture addressed to visionary Mercurials, a theory which crops up repeatedly in the present day, because the difficulty which suggests it is dealt with so unsatisfactorily for the most part in our text-books of science. Continually we hear of some new paradoxist who propounds as a novel doctrine the teaching that the atmosphere, and not the sun, is the cause of heat. The mistake was excusable in Swedenborg’s time. In fact it so chanced that, apart from the obvious fact on which the mistake is usually based the continued presence, namely, of snow on the summits of high mountains even in the torrid zone it had been shown shortly before by Newton, that the light fleecy clouds seen sometimes even in the hottest weather above the wool-pack or cumulus clouds are composed of minute crystals of ice. Seeing that these tiny crystals can exist under the direct rays of the sun in hot summer weather, many find it difficult to understand how those rays can of themselves have any heating power. Yet in reality the reasoning addressed by Swedenborg to his Mercurial friends was entirely erroneous. If he could have adventured as far forth into time as he did into space, and could have attended in the spirit the lectures of one John Tyndall, a spirit of our earth, he would have had this matter rightly explained to him. In reality the sun’s heat is as effective directly at the summit of the highest mountain as at the sea-level. A thermometer exposed to the sun in the former position indicates indeed a slightly higher temperature than one similarly exposed to the sun (when at the same altitude) at the sea-level. But the air does not get warmed to the same degree, simply because, owing to its rarity and relative dryness, it fails to retain any portion of the heat which passes through it.

It is interesting to notice how Swedenborg’s scientific conceptions of the result of the (relatively) airless condition of our moon suggested peculiar fancies respecting the lunar inhabitants. Interesting, I mean, psychologically: for it is curious to see scientific and fanciful conceptions thus unconsciously intermingled. Of the conscious intermingling of such conceptions instances are common enough. The effects of the moon’s airless condition have been often made the subject of fanciful speculations. The reader will remember how Scheherazade, in ‘The Poet at the Breakfast Table,’ runs on about the moon. ’Her delight was unbounded, and her curiosity insatiable. If there were any living creatures there, what odd things they must be. They couldn’t have any lungs nor any hearts. What a pity! Did they ever die? How could they expire if they didn’t breathe? Burn up? No air to burn in. Tumble into some of those horrid pits, perhaps, and break all to bits. She wondered how the young people there liked it, or whether there were any young people there. Perhaps nobody was young and nobody was old, but they were like mummies all of them what an idea! two mummies making love to each other! So she went on in a rattling, giddy kind of way, for she was excited by the strange scene in which she found herself, and quite astonished the young astronomer with her vivacity.’ But Swedenborg’s firm belief that the fancies engendered in his mind were scientific realities is very different from the conscious play of fancy in the passage just quoted. It must be remembered that Swedenborg regarded his visions with as much confidence as though they were revelations made by means of scientific instruments; nay, with even more confidence, for he knew that scientific observations may be misunderstood, whereas he was fully persuaded that his visions were miraculously provided for his enlightenment, and that therefore he would not be allowed to misunderstand aught that was thus revealed to him.

‘It is well known to spirits and angels,’ he says, ’that there are inhabitants in the moon, and in the moons or satellites which revolve about Jupiter and Saturn. Even those who have not seen and conversed with spirits who are from them entertain no doubt of their being inhabited, for they, too, are earths, and where there is an earth there is man; man being the end for which every earth exists, and without an end nothing was made by the Great Creator. Every one who thinks from reason in any degree enlightened, must see that the human race is the final cause of creation.’

The moon being inhabited then by human beings, but being very insufficiently supplied with air, it necessarily follows that these human beings must be provided in some way with the means of existing in that rare and tenuous atmosphere. Tremendous powers of inspiration and expiration would be required to make that air support the life of the human body. Although Swedenborg could have had no knowledge of the exact way in which breathing supports life (for Priestley was his junior by nearly half a century), yet he must clearly have perceived that the quantity of air inspired has much to do with the vitalising power of the indraught. No ordinary human lungs could draw in an adequate supply of air from such an atmosphere as the moon’s; but by some great increase of breathing power it might be possible to live there: at least, in Swedenborg’s time there was no reason for supposing otherwise. Reason, then, having convinced him that the lunar inhabitants must possess extraordinary breathing apparatus, and presumably most powerful voices, imagination presented them to him accordingly. ’Some spirits appeared overhead,’ he says, ’and thence were heard voices like thunder; for their voices sounded precisely like thunder from the clouds after lightning. I supposed it was a great multitude of spirits who had the art of giving voices with such a sound. The more simple spirits who were with me derided them, which greatly surprised me. But the cause of their derision was soon discovered, which was, that the spirits who thundered were not many, but few, and were as little as children, and that on former occasions they (the thunderers) had terrified them by such sounds, and yet were unable to do them the least harm. That I might know their character, some of them descended from on high, where they thundered; and, what surprised me, one carried another on his back, and the two thus approached me. Their faces appeared not unhandsome, but longer than those of other spirits. In stature they were like children of seven years old, but the frame was more robust, so that they were like men. It was told me by the angels that they were from the moon. He who was carried by the other came to me, applying himself to my left side under the elbow, and thence spoke. He said, that when they utter their voices they thunder in this way,’ and it seems likely enough that if there are any living speaking beings in the moon, their voice, could they visit the earth, would be found to differ very markedly from the ordinary human voice. ’In the spiritual world their thunderous voices have their use. For by their thundering the spirits from the moon terrify spirits who are inclined to injure them, so that the lunar spirits go in safety where they will. To convince me the sound they make was of this kind, he (the spirit who was carried by the other) retired, but not out of sight, and thundered in like manner. They showed, moreover, that the voice was thundered by being uttered from the abdomen like an éructation. It was perceived that this arose from the circumstance that the inhabitants of the moon do not, like the inhabitants of other earths, speak from the lungs, but from the abdomen, and thus from air collected there, the reason of which is that the atmosphere with which the moon is surrounded is not like that of other earths.’

In his intercourse with spirits from Jupiter, Swedenborg heard of animals larger than those that live on the earth. It has been a favourite idea of many believers in other worlds than ours, that though in each world the same races of animals exist, they would be differently proportioned; and there has been much speculation as to the probable size of men and other animals in worlds much larger or much smaller than the earth. When as yet ideas about other worlds were crude, the idea prevailed that giants exist in the larger orbs, and pygmies in the smaller. Whether this idea had its origin in conceptions as to the eternal fitness of things or not, does not clearly appear. It seems certainly at first view natural enough to suppose that the larger beings would want more room and so inhabit the larger dwelling-places. It was a pleasing thought that, if we could visit Jupiter or Saturn, we should find the human inhabitants there

In bigness to surpass earth’s giant sons;

but that if we could visit our moon or Mercury, or whatever smaller worlds there are, we should find men

Now less than smallest dwarfs, in narrow room
Throng numberless, like that pygmaean race
Beyond the Indian mount; or fairy elves,
Whose midnight revels, by a forest side
Or fountain, some belated peasant sees,
Or dreams he sees.

Later the theory was started that the size of beings in various worlds depends on the amount of light received from the central sun. Thus Wolfius asserted that the inhabitants of Jupiter are nearly fourteen feet high, which he proved by comparing the quantity of sunlight which reaches the Jovians with that which we Terrenes receive. Recently, however, it has been noted that the larger the planet, the smaller in all probability must be the inhabitants, if any. For if there are two planets of the same density but unequal size, gravity must be greater at the surface of the larger planet, and where gravity is great large animals are cumbered by their weight. It is easy to see this by comparing the muscular strength of two men similarly proportioned, but unequal in height. Suppose one man five feet in height, the other six; then the cross section of any given muscle will be less for the former than for the latter in the proportion of twenty-five (five times five) to thirty-six (six times six). Roughly, the muscular strength of the bigger man will be half as great again as that of the smaller. But the weights of the men will be proportioned as 125 (five times five times five) to 216 (six times six times six), so that the weight of the bigger man exceeds that of the smaller nearly as seven exceeds four, or by three-fourths. The taller man exceeds the smaller, then, much more in weight than he does in strength; he is accordingly less active in proportion to his size. Within certain limits, of course, size increases a man’s effective as well as his real strength. For instance, our tall man in the preceding illustration cannot lift his own weight as readily as the small man can lift his; but he can lift a weight of three hundred pounds as easily as the small man can lift a weight of two hundred pounds. When we get beyond certain limits of height, however, we get absolute weakness as the result of the increase of weight. Swift’s Brobdingnags, for instance, would have been unable to stand upright; for they were six times as tall as men, and therefore each Brobdingnag would have weighed 216 times as much as a man, but would have possessed only thirty-six times the muscular power. Their weight would have been greater, then, in a sixfold greater degree than their strength, and, so far as their mere weight was concerned, their condition would have resembled that of an ordinary man under a load five times exceeding his own weight. As no man could walk or stand upright under such a load, so the Brobdingnags would have been powerless to move, despite, or rather because of, their enormous stature. Applying the general considerations here enunciated to the question of the probable size of creatures like ourselves in other planets, we see that men in Jupiter should be much smaller, men in Mercury much larger, than men on the earth. So also with other animals.

But Swedenborg’s spirit visitors from these planets taught differently. ‘The horses of our earth,’ he says, ’when seen by the spirits of Jupiter, appeared to me smaller than usual, though rather robust; which arose from the idea those spirits had respecting them. They informed me that among them there are animals similar, though much larger; but that they are wild, and in the woods, and that when they come in sight they cause terror though they are harmless; they added that their terror of them is natural or innate.’ On the other hand the inhabitants of Mercury, who might be thirteen feet high yet as active as our men, appeared slenderer than Terrene men. ‘I was desirous to know,’ says Swedenborg, ’what kind of face and person the people in Mercury have, compared with those of the people on our earth. There therefore stood before me a female exactly resembling the women on that earth. Her face was beautiful, but it was smaller than that of a woman of our earth; she was more slender, but of equal height; she wore a linen head-dress, not artfully yet gracefully disposed. A man also was presented. He, too, was more slender than the men of our earth; he wore a garment of deep blue, closely fitted to his body without folds or flowing skirts. Such, I learn, were the personal form and costume of the humans of that earth. Afterwards there was shown me a species of the oxen and cows, which did not indeed differ much from those on our earth, except that they were smaller, and made some approach to the stag and hind species.’ We have seen, too, that the lunar spirits were no larger than children seven years old.

One passage of Swedenborg’s description of Jupiter is curious. ’Although on that earth,’ he says, ‘spirits speak with men’ (i.e. with Jovian men) ’man in his turn does not speak with spirits, except to say, when instructed, that he will do so no more,’ which we should regard as a bull if it were not news from the Jovian spirit world. ’Nor is man allowed to tell anyone that a spirit has spoken to him; if he does so, he is punished. Those spirits of Jupiter when they were with me, at first supposed they were with a man of their own earth; but when in my turn I spoke with them, and thought of publishing what passed between us and so relating it to others, then, because they were not allowed to chastise me, they discovered they were with a stranger.’

It has been a favourite idea with those who delight in the argument from design, that the moons of the remoter planets have been provided for the express purpose of making up for the small amount of sunlight which reaches those planets. Jupiter receives only about one twenty-seventh part of the light which we receive from the sun; but then, has he not four moons to make his nights glorious? Saturn is yet farther away from the sun, and receives only the ninetieth part of the light we get from the sun; but then he has eight moons and his rings, and the nocturnal glory of his skies must go far to compensate the Saturnians for the small quantity of sunlight they receive. The Saturnian spirits who visited Swedenborg were manifestly indoctrinated with these ideas. For they informed him that the nocturnal light of Saturn is so great that some Saturnians worship it, calling it the Lord. These wicked spirits are separated from the rest, and are not tolerated by them. ’The nocturnal light,’ say the spirits, ’comes from the immense ring which at a distance encircles that earth, and from the moons which are called the satellites of Saturn.’ And again, being questioned further ’concerning the great ring which appears from our earth to rise above the horizon of that planet, and to vary its situations, they said that it does not appear to them as a ring, but only as a snow-white substance in heaven in various directions.’ Unfortunately for our faith in the veracity of these spirits, it is certain that the moons of Saturn cannot give nearly so much light as ours, while the rings are much more effective as darkeners than as illuminators. One can readily calculate the apparent size of each of the moons as seen from Saturn, and thence show that the eight discs of the moons together are larger than our moon’s disc in about the proportion of forty-five to eight. So that if they were all shining as brightly as our full moon and all full at the same time, their combined light would exceed hers in that degree. But they are not illuminated as our moon is. They are illuminated by the same remote sun which illuminates Saturn, while our moon is illuminated by a sun giving her as much light as we ourselves receive. Our moon then is illuminated ninety times more brightly than the moons of Saturn, and as her disc is less than all theirs together, not as one to ninety, but as sixteen to ninety, it follows that all the Saturnian moons, if full at the same time, would reflect to Saturn one-sixteenth part of the light which we receive from the full moon. As regards the rings of Saturn, nothing can be more certain than that they tend much more to deprive Saturn of light then to make up by reflection for the small amount of light which Saturn receives directly from the sun. The part of the ring which lies between the planet and the sun casts a black shadow upon Saturn, this shadow sometimes covering an extent of surface many times exceeding the entire surface of our earth. The shadow thus thrown upon the planet creeps slowly, first one way, then another, northwards and southwards over the illuminated hemisphere of the planet (as pictured in the 13th plate of my treatise on Saturn), requiring for its passage from the arctic to the antarctic regions and back again to the arctic regions of the planet, a period nearly equal to that of a generation of terrestrial men. Nearly thirty of our years the process lasts, during half of which time the northern hemisphere suffers, and during the other half the southern. The shadow band, which be it remembered stretches right athwart the planet from the extreme eastern to the extreme western side of the illuminated hemisphere, is so broad during the greater part of the time that in some regions (those corresponding to our temperate zones) the shadow takes two years in passing, during which time the sun cannot be seen at all, unless for a few moments through some chinks in the rings, which are known to be not solid bodies, but made up of closely crowded small moons. And the slow passage of this fearful shadow, which advances at the average rate of some twenty miles a day, but yet hangs for years over the regions athwart which it sweeps, occurs in the very season when the sun’s small direct supply of heat would require to be most freely compensated by nocturnal light in the winter season, namely, of the planet. Moreover, not only during the time of the shadow’s passage, but during the entire winter half of the Saturnian year, the ring reflects no light during the night time, the sun being on the other or summer side of the ring’s plane. The only nocturnal effect which would be observable would be the obliteration of the stars covered by the ring system. It is strange that, this being so, the spirits from Saturn should have made no mention of the circumstance; and even more strange that these spirits and others should have asserted that the moons and rings of Saturn compensate for the small amount of light directly received from the sun. Most certainly a Swedenborg of our own time would find the spirits from Saturn more veracious and more communicative about these matters, though even what he would hear from the spirits would doubtless appear to sceptics of the twenty-first century to be no more than he could have inferred from the known facts of the science of his day.

But Swedenborg was not content merely to receive visits from the inhabitants of other planets in the solar system. He was visited also by the spirits of earths in the starry heaven; nay, he was enabled to visit those earths himself. For man, even while living in the world, ’is a spirit as to his interiors, the body which he carries about in the world only serving him for performing functions in this natural or terrestrial sphere, which is the lowest.’ And to certain men it is granted not only to converse as a spirit with angels and spirits, but to traverse in a spiritual way the vast distances which separate world from world and system from system, all the while remaining in the body. Swedenborg was one of these. ‘The interiors of my spirit,’ he says, ’are opened by the Lord, so that while I am in the body I can at the same time be with angels in heaven, and not only converse with them, but behold the wonderful things which are there and describe them, that henceforth it may no more be said, “Who ever came from heaven to assure us it exists and tell us what is there?” He who is unacquainted with the arcana of heaven cannot believe that man can see earths so remote, and give any account of them from sensible experience. But let him know that spaces and distances, and consequently progressions, existing in the natural world, in their origin and first causes are changes of the state of the interiors; that with angels and spirits progressions appear according to changes of state; and that by changes of state they may be apparently translated from one place to another, and from one earth to another, even to earths at the boundaries of the universe; so likewise may man as to his spirit, his body still remaining in its place. This has been the case with me.’

Before describing his visits to earths in the starry heavens, Swedenborg is careful to indicate the probability that such earths exist. ’It is well known to the learned world,’ he says, ’that every star is a sun in its place, remaining fixed like the sun of our earth.’ The proper motions of the stars had, alas! not been discovered in Swedenborg’s day, nor does he seem to have been aware what a wild chase he was really entering upon in his spiritual progressions. Conceive the pursuit of Sirius or Vega as either sun rushed through space with a velocity of thirty or forty miles in every second of time! To resume, however, the account which Swedenborg gives of the ideas of the learned world of his day. ’It is the distance which makes a star appear in a small form; consequently’ (the logical necessity is not manifest, however) ’each star, like the sun of our system, has around it planets which are earths; and the reason these are not visible to us is because of their immense distance and their having no light but from their own star, which light cannot be reflected so far as to reach us.’ ’To what other end,’ proceeds this most convincing reasoning, ’can be so immense a heaven with such a multitude of stars? For man is the end for which the universe was created. It has been ascertained by calculation that supposing there were in the universe a million earths, and on every earth three hundred millions of men and two hundred generations within six thousand years, and that to every man or spirit was allotted a space of three cubic ells, the collective number of men or spirits could not occupy a space equal to a thousandth part of this earth, thus not more than that occupied by one of the satellites of Jupiter or Saturn; a space on the universe almost undiscernible, for a satellite is hardly visible to the naked eye. What would this be for the Creator of the universe, to whom the whole universe filled with earths could not be enough’ (for what?), ‘seeing that he is infinite.’ However, it is not on this reasoning alone that Swedenborg relies. He tells us, honestly beyond all doubt, that he knows the truth of what he relates. ’The information I am about to give,’ he says, ’respecting the earths in the starry heaven is from experimental testimony; from which it will likewise appear how I was translated thither as to my spirit, the body remaining in its place.’

His progress in his first star-hunt was to the right, and continued for about two hours. He found the boundary of our solar system marked first by a white but thick cloud, next by a fiery smoke ascending from a great chasm. Here some guards appeared, who stopped some of the company, because these had not, like Swedenborg and the rest, received permission to pass. They not only stopped those unfortunates, but tortured them, conduct for which terrestrial analogues might possibly be discovered.

Having reached another system, he asked the spirits of one of the earths there how large their sun was and how it appeared. They said it was less than the sun of our earth, and has a flaming appearance. Our sun, in fact, is larger than other suns in space, for from that earth starry heavens are seen, and a star larger than the rest appears, which, say those spirits, ‘was declared from heaven’ to be the sun of Swedenborg’s earthly home.

What Swedenborg saw upon that earth has no special interest. The men there, though haughty, are loved by their respective wives because they, the men, are good. But their goodness does not appear very manifest from anything in the narrative. The only man seen by Swedenborg took from his wife ’the garment which she wore, and threw it over his own shoulders; loosening the lower part, which flowed down to his feet like a robe (much as a man of our earth might be expected to loosen the tie-back of the period, if he borrowed it in like manner) he thus walked about clad.’

He next visited an earth circling round a star, which he learned was one of the smaller sort, not far from the equator. Its greater distance was plain from the circumstance that Swedenborg was two days in reaching it. In this earth he very nearly fell into a quarrel with the spirits. For hearing that they possess remarkable keenness of vision, he ’compared them with eagles which fly aloft, and enjoy a clear and extensive view of objects beneath.’ At this they were indignant, supposing, poor spirits, ’that he compared them to eagles as to their rapacity, and consequently thought them wicked.’ He hastened to explain, however, that he ’did not liken them to eagles as to their rapacity, but as to sharpsightedness.’

Swedenborg’s account of a third earth in the star-depths contains a very pretty idea for temples and churches. The temples in that earth ’are constructed,’ he says, of trees, not cut down, but growing in the place where they were first planted. On that earth, it seems, there are trees of an extraordinary size and height; these they set in rows when young, and arrange in such an order that they may serve when they grow up to form porticoes and colonnades. In the meanwhile, by cutting and pruning, they fit and prepare the tender shoots to entwine one with another, and join together so as to form the groundwork and floor of the temple to be constructed, and to rise at the sides as walls, and above to bend into arches to form the roof. In this manner they construct the temple with admirable art, elevating it high above the ground. They prepare also an ascent into it, by continuous branches of the trees, extended from the trunk and firmly connected together. Moreover, they adorn the temple without and within in various ways, by disposing the foliage into particular forms; thus they build entire groves. But it was not permitted me to see the nature of these temples, only I was informed that the light of their sun is let in by apertures amongst the branches, and is everywhere transmitted through crystals; whereby the light falling on the walls is refracted in colours like those of the rainbow, particularly blue and orange, of which they are fondest. Such is their architecture, which they prefer to the most magnificent palaces of our earth.’

Other earths in the starry heavens were visited by Swedenborg, but the above will serve sufficiently to illustrate the nature of his observations. One statement, by the way, was made to him which must have seemed unlikely ever to be contravened, but which has been shown in our time to be altogether erroneous. In the fourth star-world he visited, he was told that that earth, which travels round its sun in 200 days of fifteen hours each, is one of the least in the universe, being scarcely 500 German miles, say 2000 English miles, in circumference. This would make its diameter about 640 English miles. But there is not one of the whole family of planetoids which has a diameter so great as this, and many of these earths must be less than fifty miles in diameter. Now Swedenborg remarks that he had his information from the angels, ’who made a comparison in all these particulars with things of a like nature on our earth, according to what they saw in me or in my memory. Their conclusions were formed by angelic ideas, whereby are instantly known the measure of space and time in a just proportion with respect to space and time elsewhere. Angelic ideas, which are spiritual, in such calculations infinitely excel human ideas, which are natural.’ He must therefore have met, unfortunately, with untruthful angels.

The real source of Swedenborg’s inspirations will be tolerably obvious to all, at least, who are not Swedenborgians. But our account of his visions would not be complete in a psychological sense without a brief reference to the personal allusions which the spirits and angels made during their visits or his wanderings. His distinguished rival, Christian Wolf, was encountered as a spirit by spirits from Mercury, who ’perceived that what he said did not rise above the sensual things of the natural man, because in speaking he thought of honour, and was desirous, as in the world (for in the other world every one is like his former self), to connect various things into series, and from these again continually to deduce others, and so form several chains of such, which they did not see or acknowledge to be true, and which, therefore, they declared to be chains which neither cohered in themselves nor with the conclusions, calling them the obscurity of authority;’ so they ceased to question him further, and presently left him. Similarly, a spirit who in this world had been a ‘prelate and a preacher,’ and ’very pathetic, so that he could deeply move his hearers,’ got no hearing among the spirits of a certain earth in the starry heavens; for they said they could tell ’from the tone of the voice whether a discourse came from the heart or not;’ and as his discourse came not from the heart, ‘he was unable to teach them, whereupon he was silent.’ Convenient thus to have spirits and angels to confirm our impressions of other men, living or dead.

Apart from the psychological interest attaching to Swedenborg’s strange vision, one cannot but be strongly impressed by the idea pervading them, that to beings suitably constituted all that takes place in other worlds might be known. Modern science recognises a truth here; for in that mysterious ether which occupies all space, messages are at all times travelling by which the history of every orb is constantly recorded. No world, however remote or insignificant; no period, however distant but has its history thus continually proclaimed in ever widening waves. Nay, by these waves also (to beings who could read their teachings aright) the future is constantly indicated. For, as the waves which permeate the ether could only be situated as they actually are, at any moment, through past processes, each one of which is consequently indicated by those ethereal waves, so also there can be but one series of events in the future, as the sequel of the relations actually indicated by the ethereal undulations. These, therefore, speak as definitely and distinctly of the future as of the past. Could we but rid us of the gross habiliments of flesh, and by some new senses be enabled to feel each order of ethereal undulations, even of those only which reach our earth, all knowledge of the past and future would be within our power. The consciousness of this underlies the fancies of Swedenborg, just as it underlies the thought of him who sang

There’s not an orb which thou behold’st
But in his motion like an angel sings,
Still quiring to the young-eyed cherubim.
But while this muddy vesture of decay
Doth grossly close us in, we cannot hear it.