by Larry Fyffe
Emanuel Swedenborg mixes together orthodox Christian dogma with various Gnostic mystical beliefs to come up with a new religion based on Jesus appearing as the physical correspondence of the far-away spiritual Godhead.
Gnostics focus on the continued acquiring of knowledge. According to Swedenborg, the Holy Bible is not to be taken literally, but read as a revelation expressed in symbolic terms that reveals Jesus be a man of goodly action. And so will be His followers who kindle the divine spark that lies within themselves. Getting in touch with the Godhead through divine action, rather than through faith alone, is the key to salvation.
Organized religions, especially Puritanism, be damned, says Swedenborg – Jesus makes a physical appearance on Earth to show that every human has the potential to merge with the spiritual Godhead; however, authorities of established churches stand in the way.
Many of Bob Dylan’s song lyrics are based on actual events in American history that are later reformulated into romantic legends – like the legend of Robin Hood in British history. John Chapman be an American missionary of the Swedenborg ‘Church’ – he takes divine action by planting apple seeds across the American Frontier, thereby spreading God’s Word of Goodness by planting the seeds of the symbolic tree from the Garden of Eden – the nourishing, regenerative fruit becomes a symbol of good work undertaken on earth as opposed to the discovery of ‘evil’ knowledge as represented in orthodox Judeo-Christian dogma.
Farmer John Chapman gets elevated in the chronicles of American history to the status of a saint; he becomes “Johnny Appleseed” – a legend known to most, but apparently not to all, Americans:
But in love, crazy love, you get straight A's In history, you don't do too well You don't know how to read You could confuse Geronimo With Johnny Appleseed
(Bob Dylan: Straight A’s In Love)
Geronimo, a native American ‘Indian’, takes revenge on European settlers for murdering his family.
Below, the somewhat Romantic Transcendentalist lyrics of a Swedenborgian hymn that Johnny Appleseed sings in a Walt Disney caroon movie:
Oh, the Lord is good to me And so I thank the Lord For givin' me the things I need The sun, and the rain, and an apple seed Yes, He's been good to me
(Dennis Day: The Lord Is Good To Me ~ Gannon/Kent)
The aforementioned fruit – often depicted in common speech as an apple – is what mankind ought to have avoided, according to the Holy Bible:
And the Lord God commanded the man, saying "Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat But the tree of the knowledge of good and evil Thou shalt not eat of it For in the day that thou eatest thereof Thou shalt surely die"
(Genesis 2: 16,17)
Bob Dylan, with stinging irony, inverts the theme of Johnny Appleseed’s song:
Cold-blooded killer, stalkin' the town Cop cars blinking, something bad going down Buildings are crumblin' in the neighbourhood They got nothin' to worry about 'cause it's all good It's all good Yeah, it's all good
((Bob Dylan: It’s All Good)
Nevertheless, Johnny Appleseed gets his due. Dylan, like Swedenborg, is skeptical about established religions as is poet William Blake – suppressed by many religious authorities are human feelings, including biological urges, that are inherent in every individual; the result is that his/her natural state becomes unbalanced:
And it grew both night and day Till it bore an apple bright And my foe beheld it shine And he knew that it was mine And he into my garden stole When the night had veiled the pole In the morning, glad I see My foe outstretched beneath the tree
(William Blake: A Poison Tree)
The ‘black dog’ of depression begins to howl:
I got my black dog barkin' Black dog barkin' Yes, it is now Yes it is Outside my yard Yes, I could tell you what he means If I just didn't have to try so hard
(Bob Dylan: Obviously Five Believers)
Pete Seeger, a mentor to Bob Dylan, spreads knowledge and inspiration in a column of ‘Sing Out!’ magazine that’s published for people interested in folksongs.
At first, folksinger Pete names the column “Johnny Appleseed, Jr.”; then he changes it to “Appleseeds”.
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