THE WOMEN'S COMPANION TO 'CONJUGIAL LOVE'
Updated: Nov 7, 2022
"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
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
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
* "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
(1) The collaborators for this blog were recommended to use the Chadwick
translation of Conjugial Love hosted on the New Church Bible Study website
(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."