Do you know what Johnny Appleseed (John Chapman) and Helen Keller had in common? They along with numerous Transcendentalists, poets, writers and common folk, were devoted readers of the Swedish seer Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772). Spiritualism, the Theosophical Society, New Thought and the New Age movement all owe a debt these writings. The Irish were also part of this religious saga.
Swedenborgianism as a philosophy was much larger than the Church of the New Jerusalem denomination which arrived in 1784. There are three Swedenborgian denominations in America; The Swedenborgian Church of North America (1817): www.swedenborg.org; The New Church (General Church of the New Jerusalem) (1890): www.newchurch.org and The Lord’s New Church which is Nova Hierosolyma (1937): www.thelordsnewchurch.com They had a common history through 1890, with their historical strength in Massachusetts, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
Swedenborg’s dreams and out-of-body experiences included communication from angels and the dead. Defining his methods is complex. When he would return to his body, his revelatory process would happen when he studied his Bible. Thus, he was not a channel by the standard definition. The word seer more accurately applies. He did not teach that enlightenment or altered states of consciousness were a goal of a spiritual experience. To him people were to be thoughtful participants in life.
An excellent anthology of Swedenborg’s core thinking can be found in George F. Dole’s A Thoughtful Soul: Reflections from Swedenborg(1995). The standard history is Marguerite Beck Block’s classic 1932 work, The New Church in the New World (1984).
Many records of genealogical value are on microfilm at the Family History Library. Large collections of society records, directories and periodicals can be found at The Swedenborg Library: http://www.brynathyn.edu/academics/swedenborg-library and the Swedenborgian House of Studies: www.shs.psr.edu/library/index.asp It is a fascinating piece of American religious history with records to back it up!