So, just when did Alcoholics Anonymous co-founder Bill Wilson become fascinated with the biblically forbidden practice of spiritualism? Was it through Dr. Bob Smith, the other A.A. co-founder, and his wife, Anne Smith?
The official A.A. biography of Bill Wilson almost seems to suggest as much: “It is not clear when he first became interested in extrasensory phenomena; the field was something that Dr. Bob and Anne Smith were also deeply involved with. Whether or not Bill initially became interested through them, there are references to seances and other psychic events in the letters Bill wrote to Lois [his wife] during that first Akron summer with the Smiths, in 1935.”
But Wilson’s interest seems to have started earlier. Wilson’s wife, Lois, came from a Swedenborgian family. Her own grandfather had been a Swedenborgian minister. Early in their relationship “Bill learned that [Lois’ family] were all Swedenborgians, and the mystic aspect of the faith so fascinated them they vowed to explore it more deeply one day.”
The Swedenborgian religion is founded on the prolific writings of Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772), a brilliant man who made contributions in fields such as metallurgy, zoology, physics, and many others.
One of Swededenborg’s greatest accomplishments, however, may well have occurred long after his death. Exposure to Swedenborgianism seems to have greatly influenced Bill Wilson’s inclination to spiritualism.
As noted, Swedenborg was a prolific writer, and his writings spread after his death, first to England and then to America. Swedenborg believed that the true meaning of the Bible had been revealed to him by the Lord. It was his destiny, he believed, to explain this new revelation through his writing.
Some of Swedenborg’s admirers were Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, author of ‘Sherlock Holmes,’ Johnny ‘Appleseed’ Chapman, Helen Keller, and Carl Jung. When Bill Wilson met Lois Burnham, his future wife, he was exposed to the Swedenborgian belief system.
As noted, Swedenborgians do not believe the Salvation is exclusively through Jesus Christ. They love the Bible, even while denying that Jesus is Savior. This influence significantly affected Bill Wilson, and much of the revisionist history that links Wilson with the Bible in A.A. history completely ignores this.
According to Swdenborgian scholar Robert D. Merrill, “In her autobiography, ‘Lois Remembers,‘ she recounts fond memories of her New Church home life, including her delight in Sunday dinner discussions with the visiting minister and other friends from the church. She tells of the strength and guidance she received from Swedenborg’s teachings… In January of 1918 Bill and Lois were married in the Swedenborgian church in Brooklyn, New York.”
Swedenborg has been called the ‘Father of modern spiritualism.’ While that may sound oxymoronic, there is much truth in this.
Swedenborg believed he spoke with Martin Luther, Aristotle, the apostles, various spirits, and many, many entities. As anyone who has investigated knows, Bill Wilson spent decades in similar contact with deceptive spirits. READ
Throughout A.A.’s history are indications of the devil’s handiwork. These are small things, perhaps, but indicative nevertheless. It was still astounding to discover that Emanuel Swedenborg had written about ‘twelve steps’ more than one hundred and fifty years before the creation of Alcoholics Anonymous.
Swedenborg writes, “[Angels] picture wisdom as a magnificently and finely decorated palace. One climbs to enter this palace by twelve steps. One can only arrive at the first step by means of the Lord’s power through joining with Him…As a person climbs these steps, he perceives that no one is wise from himself but from the Lord…the twelve steps into the palace of wisdom signify love in union with faith and faith in union with love.”
Did Wilson copy this term from Emanuel Swedenborg? I do not believe so. I believe that Wilson, having opened himself up to communication with spirits, received his twelve steps from the same place as had Swedenborg.
Professor Leon James notes, “Swedenborg reports conversations with historically known figures such as Moses, David, Mary, Aristotle, Luther, Newton…”
Swedenborg did not believe people end up in hell because they reject Jesus Christ. Sadly, Swedenborg and Wilson probably see things in a whole new light now.
1. Pass It On, pg.275
2. Bill W., by Robert Thomsen, pg.85
3. DOCTRINAL RELATIONSHIPS AMONG ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS, THE OXFORD GROUP, AND THE NEW CHURCH, Robert D. Merrill
4. Emanuel Swedenborg, Divine Providence, Paragraph 36
5. http: //www.soc.hawaii.edu/leonj/leonpsy/instructor/np98.html