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  • Roslyn Taylor

THE WOMEN'S COMPANION TO 'CONJUGIAL LOVE'

Updated: Nov 7

"We know it from experience." Swedenborg tells about hearing some women in heaven

responding this way to a group of men talking theoretically about what women love. In

2018, 46 women from around the world collaborated together to write from their hearts

and from their experience what they knew about women’s responses to the book

Conjugial Love, published in 1768 by Emanuel Swedenborg

(https://newchristianbiblestudy.org/exposition/translation/emanuel-swedenborg/)

Beginning with a prayer for all of them to be open to the love and guidance of the Divine

as they shared their heartfelt wisdom and experience, they set out to pen a companion

volume to the book. It took two years, going through the book chapter by chapter(1), to

bring together the collective wisdom of women within the global Swedenborgian/New

Church faith community.

In this blog, you will be able to read a summary and highlights of the contributions of the

writers to "The Women’s Companion to Conjugial Love." If you want to contribute your

thoughts and experiences to the work, contact us through this website

(https://www.deborahstree.org/contact-us) to be added as a collaborator, or simply

share in the comment section of our blog posts.

Summary of Responses:

The writers were initially invited to record any comments which they wished to share

about the book as a whole. Seven women responded with their overall experience of having read the book in the past, or of having learned about the content of the book in their faith community. A recurring theme was that it was liberating to see the book as not really about, as one woman put it, "that social arrangement we call 'marriage'," but is really about morals(2), or the marriage of love and wisdom within each person, or relationship with the Divine and

our loved ones, or has a broader metaphysical meaning. Many women mentioned the

negative emotions and experiences they have had with the book: anger, fear, guilt,

oppression, limiting, feeling judged. They attributed those negative experiences of the

book, and the damage it has done, to the way it has been presented and taught and

misused in their faith communities. Another recurring comment was about the mismatch

between Swedenborg’s view of women and marriage from his eighteenth-century

perspective, and the reality of our current worldviews.

The affiliation of the writers to the various branches within the global

Swedenborgian/New Church community was not specified. In reading their heartfelt

responses to the book as a whole, I suspected the seven women who responded were

mostly affiliated with a more conservative branch, probably the General Church of the

New Jerusalem. One of the writers actually identified herself as someone who had

grown up in the General Church. The book Conjugial Love was not particularly focused

on in the initial years after the General Church formed in 1890, but began to be a

prominent text and topic within the organization in the 1920s. An example of how a

women from that branch worked through her painful responses to the book can be

found in an article titled "Marriage Love: Hurts and Confusions," published in the Caritas

newsletter (https://www.deborahstree.org/_files/ugd/6feacf_44975cb316634cfbbadf47d279a46583.pdf).


Direct Quotes from Contributors:

"My point is this: reading this companion will, for some, challenge years of faith and a

certain view of reality. For others, it will be astonishingly freeing, and it may feel like a

tight corset you didn’t realize you were wearing, but has now been unlaced and

removed. My prayers and gratitude go out to all of us. My admiration to those who have the

courage to engage this work even though you find it challenging; and my compassion to

those who have been crushed and oppressed, who are finally realizing they are free."

* "For many years I was unable to read the book and tensed up when anyone quoted it or

read from it, because of my painfully angry response to the many ways I had

experienced the book being used to limit who I was as a woman and wife. Finally I was

blessed to be able to read it carefully over a two year period with a group of women

whose purpose was to feel, express and process any and all emotional and cognitive

responses to the book. I came to treasure it as a book that details the Divine marriage

of deep love and exquisite wisdom in all the ways that union manifests itself."

* "I see this text as deeply enlightening in a way that helps us CLARIFY our current

wisdom on gender in society, binary gender world views, and to examine certain historic

norms around both gender perception and heterosexual marital expectations."

* "The book also says: we love our husbands’ wisdom***since a husband’s deepest/

greatest wisdom is that he loves his wife!*** This is logical, secure, good, solid. 

That keeps us from loving someone who doesn’t love us — otherwise known as 'co -

dependency,' obsession, or addiction.” * "One comment I would make here is that this book has been misused over the years. It

is not a book to be used to demand teens behave themselves sexually, and that they

are going to hell if they don’t, but a book for each of us to read to ask ourselves how we

relate to the Divine and how we live with our loved ones. I fear much damage has been

done with the former." *

"To be honest [Conjugial Love] is something I wrote off when I first started reading

passages. It seems to reflect more of his challenges than his strengths as a theologian.

Taking it in a broad metaphysical and archetypal way - I can see a larger spark of Light

in it. Other than that it seems to showcase more of what needs to be deconstructed in

Swedenborgian theology."

* "The perception of the role of female or woman, however, has changed drastically over

350 years. First of all, Swedenborg did not use the word to mean all people with XX

chromosomes. He did not know about chromosomes. He used the word female to refer

to humans who bore children, had limited education, worked mainly in the home, and

who were not even regarded as being fit to vote.  The word female when used by Swedenborg in 1700 did not encompass the humans today who serve as prime ministers, physicians, lawyers, and even pastors. I believe that this is the principle that I have kept in mind when I read this volume and volume 2, as well as his Spiritual Diary."

*

Word Cloud of the Responses: Each week, we will be using Word Clouds to help visualize specific numbers from Conjugial Love and also the women's responses to it. This Word Cloud (below) was generated from the responses of this week's seven collaborators.


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Today’s Blog By: Rev. Roslyn Taylor


Notes:

(1) The collaborators for this blog were recommended to use the Chadwick

translation of Conjugial Love hosted on the New Church Bible Study website

(https://newchristianbiblestudy.org/)

(2) The Swedenborg Epic: The Life and Works of Emanuel Swedenborg by Cyriel

Sigstedt, refers in the chapter on the Heresy Trial at Gothenburg, to Documents

concerning the Life and Character of Emanuel Swedenborg, collected, translated

and annotated by Rudolph Leonard Tafel, London, Vol. II, 1877, p 306 in which

Swedenborg is quoted as insisting that "Conjugial Love was not a theological

work but mostly a book on morals."


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