What is the Swedenborgian view of such therapies as hypnosis and neuro-linguistic programming? Is the human subconscious off-limits due to the possibility of possession by evil forces, or can it be used to bring us closer to God through meditative states similar to hypnosis?
In general, Swedenborgians have been supportive of using the subconscious to get closer to God. There is some indication of Swedenborgians supporting hypnosis to that end.
When Franz Mesmer (1734–1815) developed the concept of "animal magnetism" (generally called "hypnosis" now) there were Swedenborgians involved in the movement, seeing it as evidence of what Swedenborg wrote about.
The movements of "healing with the mind," "positive thinking" and the like also involved many Swedenborgians who saw them as focusing the mind on the higher levels. One Swedenborgian, Horatio Dresser (1866–1954) discounted movements that said everything could be healed in our minds—because Swedenborg was about us taking action into the real world, that exists beyond thoughts.
Today we have many Swedenborgians in mental health fields. Stephen Larsen, a Swedenborgian psychologist, is very much in the school of "transpersonal" psychology or exploration of consciousness. He wants to help us access the higher spiritual mind.
Wilson Van Dusen (1923–2005) was a Swedenborgian psychologist who worked with mental patients who had hallucinations. He felt that some experienced what Swedenborg called spirits—good and bad. He felt we were all vulnerable to spirits, but they reflect our own inner heaven and hell, and we can learn to focus on our own inner heavens to prevent influence from evil forces.
I am both a practicing social worker and a Swedenborgian minister. I am very interested in the intersection of Swedenborg and mental health. I know of no official Swedenborgian view on hypnosis NLP, or the subconscious. However, I know of Swedenborgian therapists who utilize such techniques in therapy. I would say that most do believe that evil spirit can be harassing, but that a way to prevent that is to find ways to connect with the Divine, including through techniques such as those you suggest.
Swedenborg did caution against "Ouija boards" or mediumship to try and contact spirits, as they can attract evil spirits and we need to keep our connection with the Divine. I'd say modern Swedenborgians have a range of views on that, but would agree that our focus should be on connecting with the Divine—and that is the best protection from any harassment of evil spirits.
Heaven and hell are states within ourselves, and many Swedenborgians want to help us connect with our inner heaven. Intention is important. If one uses a Ouija board for the purpose of drawing evil spirits, that could make us vulnerable. But things like meditation, hypnosis, and NLP, if used as a desire to understand ourselves better and to connect with the Divine more deeply are gifts to help connect with God's Divine inflow into all of us.
Rev. Dr. Wilma Wake
Minister of on-lineSwedenborgian Ministry