Talking back to the spirits: the voices and visions of Emanuel Swedenborg

Simon R. Jones, Charles Fernyhough

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10 Citations (Scopus)


The voices and visions experienced by Emanuel Swedenborg remain a topic of much debate. The present article offers a reconsideration of these experiences in relation to changes in psychiatric practice. First, the phenomenology of Swedenborg's experiences is reviewed through an examination of his writings. The varying conceptualizations of these experiences by Swedenborg and his contemporaries, and by psychiatrists of later generations, are examined. We show how attempts by 19th- and 20th-century psychiatrists to explain Swedenborg's condition as the result of either schizophrenia or epilepsy are unable to account for his experiences. We then demonstrate that the re-emergence of the 19th-century concept of 'hallucinations in the sane' offers an alternative way to understand Swedenborg's experiences outside typical discourses of mental illness. Finally we argue that Swedenborg's experiences should be understood as exemplifying phenomena which we term 'hallucinations without mental disorder', and investigate how conceiving of Swedenborg in this way can inform future research into the experience and clinical significance of hallucinations.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-31
Number of pages31
JournalHistory of the Human Sciences
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2008
Externally publishedYes


  • Emanuel Swedenborg
  • Epilepsy
  • Hallucinations
  • History
  • Schizophrenia


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