Swedish scientist Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772) was a deeply devout Christian whose spiritual awakening changed the trajectory of his career to a mystical theology that expanded his faith far beyond what he could have imagined.
Swedenborg’s dream journal is a front-row seat to the initial period of his spiritual awakening. While his work continued as usual during his waking life, what he experienced at night while lying in bed was a very different story.
There were 10 common signs of spiritual awakening that Swedenborg documented in his unpublished, personal dream diary. In this post we’ve ranked these signs according to how often he mentioned specific spiritual awakening signs and symptoms, from rarest to most common.
Can his descriptions of what he experienced offer clues to help us recognize an awakening in ourselves?
Dark Night of the Soul: Vivid Dreams and Spirituality
Can you have a spiritual awakening while dreaming? And can a spiritual awakening make you tired?
Yes! Sleep and spirituality go hand in hand, and this is often where transformation begins. Swedenborg was no exception, and he described intense feelings of inner conflict during his dreams and excessive sweating. He remembered these dreams with stunning clarity, and had the sense that his experiencing night sweats was a response to the stress within.
This last [temptation] was more severe than the former….but over against this I received a yet stronger evidence of the Spirit, for at times I broke into a perspiration; what then came up [in my mind] was no longer anything that could condemn me, for I had the strong confidence that it was forgiven me, but that I should excuse myself and set myself free.Emanuel Swedenborg’s Dream Diary §71
Spiritual awakening and crying go together; emotional vulnerability is a common sign of an awakening, and this is a good thing! Vulnerability opens our hearts and minds to real love.
For Swedenborg, the crying was because of his overwhelming joy and gratitude. He described weeping from a sense of God’s immense grace and his own unworthiness:
Every now and then I burst into tears, not of sorrow but of utmost joy that our Lord has been willing to show such great grace to so unworthy a sinner.Emanuel Swedenborg’s Dream Diary §71
Swedenborg was a well known scientist and thinker throughout Europe, undeniably brilliant and accomplished. Humility did not come easily to him. We can see his regret over things he realized he had done for his own gain, instead of for the benefit of others; the signs of his spiritual captivity.
A spiritual awakening is by its nature humbling, and that can be brutal. But the love that rushes in when we are ready and open to accept it makes the struggle worthwhile. Swedenborg faced the parts of himself he was ashamed of, but he experienced profound love, grace, and acceptance throughout this process.
His experience is a reminder that humility and gratitude help us to recognize blessings and experience greater joy in our lives.
Involuntary Thoughts and Unexpected Visitors
Eventually, Swedenborg’s spiritual life would go beyond clairvoyance: he claimed to be conscious of both the physical world and the spiritual simultaneously. No doubt that sort of spiritual connection takes some getting used to.
Early in his awakening, he started to hear supernatural noises, with no physical source. In one entry, he describes being thrown out of bed by a loud, booming sound.
Though conversations with spirits would one day become commonplace for him, the early visits he documented in his dream diary were quite a departure from his daily life.
Most of these encounters were with deceased family members, and most happened during what were apparently lucid dreams, but they set the stage for his later waking experiences.
Let’s let Swedenborg explain this one:
It was strange that I was able to have two thoughts at one and the same time and quite distinct from one another: the one for myself, which arrested all thoughts of others; and at the side of this, the thoughts of the temptation, and this occurred in such a manner that nothing was powerful enough to drive them away. They held me captive so that I did not know where to flee, for I carried them with me.Emanuel Swedenborg’s Dream Diary §69
It’s difficult to know exactly what Swedenborg means by this, but it seems like he’s describing two types of thoughts. One set that was just like our everyday thoughts, and a second, very negative set—representing temptations or personal trials—that he can’t seem to control or get rid of.
As time went on, Swedenborg received strength from the Lord to help him combat the severe thoughts and temptations, and they became less agonizing to him. Eventually, he came to realize that the second set of thoughts represent the influence of spirits in the spiritual world.
Like the overwhelming love and gratitude that caused him to weep, he had profoundly loving experiences and described tranquil sleep as well. He wrote of a state of some wakefulness, in which he felt a sense of infinite love surrounding him and reaching to his very core.
The joy Swedenborg experienced is a common sign of a spiritual awakening, helping us realize that we are loved more than we could ever imagine.
“The Usual Tremors“
Swedenborg describes shivering or trembling that accompanied spiritual temptation. Sometimes he experienced spiritual chills while sleeping, and other times while he was awake.
In one instance, he wrote that the trembling lasted for ninety minutes, and was then followed by a series of strange images: an old acquaintance, snakes that turn into dogs and then back into snakes; things that he would later come to understand have symbolic meanings. In time, Swedenborg understood that these images revealed he was struggling with the temptation of hedonistic, shallow pleasures.
This is something Swedenborg describes often—an overwhelming or involuntary urge to throw himself face down on the floor and pray. In his accounts he tends to associate this with being in the presence of something very holy, sometimes accompanied by other signs like trembling.
Although I was awake I could not govern myself, but there came as it were an overwhelming impulse to throw myself on my face and to fold my hands and to pray, as before, about my unworthiness, and to ask for grace with the deepest humility and reverence, that I as the greatest of sinners may receive forgiveness of sins.Emanuel Swedenborg’s Dream Diary §90
The second sign once again involves spiritual awakening and sleep. For a period of at least six months, Swedenborg consistently described an unusual type of sleep that he called “preternatural.” Perhaps this was what is today called a hypnagogic state—between waking and sleeping.
During this time, he slept deeply and for long periods—ten to twelve hours a night or more. His sleep was characterized by all of the symptoms described above.
Exhaustion and fatigue are common in a spiritual awakening. Remember to listen to your body, and find ways to support yourself physically, mentally, and emotionally. Seek rest when you need it, and be patient with yourself during this process.
We’ve arrived at number one! This is the experience Swedenborg describes most frequently—so often, in fact, that in one entry he refers to “the common tremors”:
Before I fell asleep I was thinking very hard on what I am writing at the moment, and then it was said to me: “Shut up! Or I’ll beat you!”
Then, I saw somebody sitting on ice, and I was scared, came into a vision as it were. I stopped my thoughts, and one of the common tremors came over me. This means that I should not persist in my work so long, especially not on Sundays, or perhaps in the evenings.Emanuel Swedenborg’s Dream Diary §242
Swedenborg was still thinking about his daily life in the present moment as a scientist—the writing he refers to in this entry is the draft of a book on anatomy. He doesn’t realize yet what’s to come, or how his spiritual awakening and devotion to the Word of God will change his life.
To learn more about spiritual awakenings, see our episode on the subject here.
Note: These descriptions are not medical advice! If you experience any of these spiritual awakening symptoms—night sweats, changes in body temperature, hot flashes, weight loss, exhaustion, etc.—it can be part of a spiritual awakening and it could also have a physical cause. Talking to your doctor can help you be up to the challenge of a spiritual awakening, mentally and physically. Caring for your physical health will only help improve your spiritual health as well.