In March 1968 Sweden's Radio-TV introduced Mrs. Ruth Dahlen to the Scandinavian public as the "mystic of Vallingby." She related her experiences with such simplicity that they aroused the serious interest of several prominent men, who contacted her personally in an endeavor to probe more deeply into the underlying causes of the events mentioned.
In January 1970 Mrs. Dahlen was again invited to tell her story to the Swedish television audience, after which Ulf Hultberg interviewed the religious historian and psychologist, Carl-Martin Edsman; nuclear physicist Tor Ragnar Cerholm; and Peter Nilson, astronomer. By special request, the program was repeated this spring.
The experiences related by Mrs. Dahlen are not new in the history of mysticism, for there have always been and always will be those who catch momentary glimpses of an inner world behind the physical. However, the quality of attitude both of Mrs. Dahlen and of the professors lends strength to the conviction that a fresh spiritual approach is finding expression in the thought consciousness of man. We share with our readers the major portion of the TV program as presented over "Sverige's Radio-TV," 1971. -- Ed.
Mrs. Ruth Dahlen -- In January 1946 I was living in Dalsland and I was out skiing. . . . On this particular day it started to snow and I stopped by a fir tree and watched the snowflakes drifting down and my attention was on one snowflake which landed on a pine needle. I saw how beautifully it was shaped. But suddenly something happened to the pine needle: it dissolved -- in light -- in fire -- a fire not like our other fires, intense light, brighter than the sun but not dazzling. I was able to look right at it, as if I had a magnifying glass that magnified millions of times. I could see how the pine needle functioned. I could see the atoms dancing and I said aloud to myself: "Fantastic, if, as they say, energy and matter are the same thing, then it must look exactly like this! It's quite obvious."
But at the same time I was terrified. I thought: "Is something out of kilter? Is something the matter with my brain?" Then I heard a voice -- well, not a human voice, but something that spoke to me without words: "Don't be afraid! Keep your eyes open and observe carefully what you will see." I became quite calm then, happy and expectant. I stood watching the pine needle that was vibrating with a dizzying speed. Soon other pine needles were lit up until at last the whole tree was aflame. I tried to observe, as I had been told to do, what was happening. I seemed to be able to distinguish the functioning of what we call the laws of nature. I could see different kinds of rays. They could perhaps be arranged in octaves, one octave possibly being what we call the laws of nature. I could for instance observe one ray in particular: Yes, that one is gravity, that's obvious. It makes suns and planets stay in their courses, it holds us to the earth; I saw it clearly. And that ray was perhaps electricity, or magnetism. I saw the whole cosmos functioning.
The fir tree, the blazing fir tree, lit up the whole forest; the entire landscape all the way to the far mountain ridges was dissolved in the same vibrant light. And I also was a figure of light. I looked at my hand -- there too were these vibrating light rays. I stood watching the little pine needle. "The little pine needle" is actually an unreal expression. There was distance -- I was beyond space and time. When I say "little" pine needle, the word little has a universal meaning. It was so alive, this pine needle. I stood looking at it and I could clearly discern a different motion, unlike the other movements that function as nature-laws. This was a spiral motion inside the pine needle and held together all the rays in the shape of a pine needle. The fir tree, too, was held together in exactly the form of a tree by this spiral motion which moved with a vertiginous speed. This spiral motion had a celerity that must have been infinite. I saw that. I called that motion the fifth dimension. I experienced the three dimensions of space, time as a fourth, and then there was this fifth which was the unity, the harmony of cosmos.
I looked at myself. I had also become a figure of light and functioned in the same way as the pine needle, but the spiral motion seemed to vibrate out of phase with the dimension of unity I had observed. Then I saw how I in some way changed vibration, as if someone were trying to tune in to the wave length of harmony of the unity. And when this had succeeded I heard myself say out loud: "This must be what it is to become at one with the All!" I was surprised to hear myself saying these words. It was an idea that had never before occurred to me, but now I saw clearly what it implied: that although I was a unique self, I was one with everything around me, with trees, with my dog, with the faraway ridges, with space.
Then I was somehow transported away from the earth, until I had no memory of any earthly existence. I was in eternity -- in a beauty, a harmony totally beyond comprehension. All around me was life -- there were trees, there were flowers -- but they were living beings that you could consort with, laugh together with. Colors too were living entities. The one I especially liked was the blue being. Just when everything was most wonderful I caught sight of a dark spot far away, that somehow cast dark shadows over the bright worlds on its journey. I tried to ward off the dark spot; it seemed to arouse a memory -- was that the earth where I lived thousands, millions of years ago? I didn't want to go back, but it was beckoning, appealing to me, and spoke to me somehow: "You and I are not through with each other. You have a piece left of your journey on this earth." At last, I was seized with love for this earth, for this patient old earth, and I had to accept my return to it, and once I had accepted it, it was no longer hard, I wanted to come back, wanted to live on earth. I wasn't through with earth.
It was as if something was foretold to me about my new path, as if a hand drew up an outline of my new road; not clear but rather like those pictures children have where part of the outline is drawn in and the child completes the picture. About like that.
Then I was slowly brought back through the solar systems, I was standing there in the woods on my skis and was at home on earth. And the "voice" that had spoken to me told me to come back next day to the same place at the same time. This I did, and for four or five days the experience was repeated but not as clearly. It sort of faded out the last time. But it remained in my memory. All that spring, which really was the most difficult period of my life up to that point, became like the morning of creation. It was as if the experience remained within and around me like a protective sheath, making me invulnerable to all earthly troubles. At the same time it was like being given a mandate, but I didn't know what it would entail. I felt so small. . . .
I simply saw that I was one with the All, the whole vibrant light infilling cosmos, binding me to all else. There were no vacant spaces in cosmos, but I was -- well, I can borrow some words of Harry Martinsson which hadn't been published then, "A little bubble in God's spirit's glass." But later, when I read them, I took them as a wonderful expression of this very thing: to be one with All. Imagine that each separate I is such a little bubble in a large glass; imagine the walls between the separate I and the great All are dark, unclean, but if something washes the walls clean, then the little glass becomes one with the big glass. And this I think is what happened when I saw the vision of creation.
The Interviewer (Ulf Hultberg) -- In Uppsala I asked a religious psychologist: "What is mysticism really?"
Professor Carl-Martin Edsman -- Well, that would depend on how you use the word. In ordinary Swedish usage mysticism means something obscure, even spurious. To the mystic himself it is of course something quite the contrary, the great clarity wedged into the real.
Interviewer -- Do you think the mystic belongs to this age, or is he only a remnant from a more primitive philosophy?
Prof. Edsman -- I believe very definitely it belongs to our time as well. You may think of people like Simone Weil, who stems from a highly intellectual urban environment, and Teilhard de Chardin, to name only a couple of outstanding figures, and also of the role played by mysticism in contemporary literature. I have here a folder of random extracts from newspaper reviews where the authors have been inspired by mysticism, or where it has played a considerable part in their works. During my correspondence with Ruth Dahlen, I made a particular point of noting such things; as, for instance, the real compassion and anguish at the sufferings and struggles of the 'third world' and of people of non-Christian milieus who follow other religions. She has expressed a universalist view, which is characteristic of mysticism.
Interviewer -- What about the reality experienced by the mystics? Is it entirely subjective and illusory or, to put it simply, a fantasy? Or is the mystic right in claiming to have experienced the only true reality? If so, does this accord with the scientific view?
Prof. Edsman -- We conceive of a natural and a supernatural, an empirical and a spiritual reality, and that these are in direct conflict with each other. According to materialism, there is no spiritual reality. According to the opposite standpoint, the spiritual is the only reality, while the material is an illusion. There is also a complementary view which holds these to be different aspects of the same reality: the scientific way of looking at things, and the way of faith. But these need not be mutually exclusive. We could apply the complementarity-idea of Nils Bohr, the physicist, to mysticism. We also have another form of complement, when we say that nature and supernature are a totality which together comprise all reality. . . . I should like to finish up by referring to what one of the greatest students of mysticism, the Belgian Marechal, said in his standard work on mysticism, that the scientists' attempts to explain the extra-ordinary do not hold water, whereas the mystics' own view, metaphysical vision, may be the correct one.
Interviewer -- Professor Ragnar Gerholm is one who has taken mysticism seriously and considers that there is a growing interest in it along with the field of natural science. What does reality actually mean to you?
Professor Tor Ragnar Gerholm -- I'm glad you asked that question, because it is the crux of the problem. What is meant by reality is not so self-evident as might be imagined. And this is where you find the great opposition between the mystics and the deniers. The mystics point to experiences that are supersensual, outside of the sense organs, that cannot be seen or heard, felt or tasted or smelled with the ordinary senses. Theirs is of another kind, a sort of inward, supersensual experience, whereas those who reject mysticism say that all that really exists is what is visible, that which can be cognized with our sense organs.
It is rather risky to believe that science is in possession of all reality, or in principle is capable of mastering the entire human sphere. There will always be those who have experiences which cannot be confined within the narrow description of reality that we physicists and other scientists have. So many misunderstandings arise from the insistence that there be only one reality at all cost, and that this has to be the same for everybody. It is actually more plausible to suppose that there are different kinds of realities.
Interviewer -- Are Ruth's experiences typical of a mystic's?
Prof. Gerholm -- Yes, I was struck right from the start by the genuineness, you might say by the passion for truth, that marks everything she says. I am completely convinced that she has had these experiences she talks about, that she has had them just as concretely, as tangibly as anything we ordinary people, so to speak, can get through our senses. I might mention that I myself have never had any such visions -- unfortunately, I would say, because I really would like to have them if it were possible. But I'm speaking entirely from outside, as it were. At the time and later I read a great many mystical writings, and I seem to recognize in them an enormous amount of what I have found in talks with her and in her letters. I believe that Mrs. Ruth Dahlen's experiences are genuinely mystical, in the same class as the great mystics.
Interviewer -- How do you regard her vision of creation as against the birth of the universe?
Prof. Gerholm -- Today we have a number of contradictory theories about the birth of the world and the universe within scientific cosmology, and it is very possible that some of these will come to be unanimously accepted as most probable. The truths of science change as new facts come to light, and this will go on as long as there is science. But Ruth's experience will remain. No scientific discoveries will in any way affect the content of her vision of creation. She will never abandon her mission before any scientific discoveries and say that she was mistaken. She may say that we have not yet arrived at it, or she may possibly say, which is more likely, that we are not talking about the same thing.
Interviewer -- Can a mystic then be taken seriously?
Prof. Gerholm -- Of course we should take mystics seriously. Of interest here is where do these mystical happenings lead, and how do they affect historical happenings as well as human relationships in society. In our day mysticism has been pushed into a somewhat obscure place; we are rather strongly inclined toward science and technology and material values, increased production and that sort of thing. But it hasn't always been so in Western history. We have undergone periods when mystical experiences were regarded as extremely significant, and were an historically active force. And nobody can say with certainty that this will not happen again. A lot of people believe that we are heading now toward such a state of things.
Interviewer -- Would you comment on some of the phenomena Ruth saw in her vision?
Prof. Gerholm -- First of all that feeling of being one with the All, when you feel yourself belonging to the whole universe and that the universe belongs to yourself -- to mention the most characteristic part of the entire experience. Then there is the feeling of participating in a reality beyond the senses, i.e. a reality beyond ordinary time and place, which is timeless, eternally unchanging, and does not partake of normal everyday earthly events. Another characteristic is that of the light phenomenon. Mystics almost without exception speak of light, and Ruth does too -- as an experience of light. This light seems to be a symbol for what it really indicates. This brings us to the fourth characteristic, perhaps the most interesting, that the mystical experience cannot be described in ordinary words, in fact cannot be described in words at all -- it is essentially wordless. You can talk about it, you can use metaphors that give some inkling of what has been undergone, but basically this is a purely private, wordless experience. Yes, well, that wordlessness may seem a bit mysterious, so I'd better try to explain what I mean when I speak about a scientific fact.
Let us say I pick up a heavy object, like this thing, and I let it go and it falls down on the table here. This is a fact. Why is it a fact? It is because I can talk to you or to others about it. I am convinced that you understand what I mean, and that you yourself could pick up a heavy object and let it fall and so undergo the same thing yourself. Therefore we understand what is meant -- it can be described in words or mathematical symbols or formulas or by other means. These are the kinds of facts science deals with.
But if I were to say, as Ruth does, that I have gone through something that can't be put into words, but that resembles this or that and then give different kinds of images -- which is about what the mystics do -- I can't of course regard it as a fact, or presuppose that the person I'm talking to understands what I mean. Yet I maintain that many people at many different times and in many different cultural environments have had such experiences. Therefore I would put it this way: it is a fact that there do exist things which are not factual. Even if I really mean only that there must be boundaries to the scientific description of reality. And such things must exist; we must accept that there are things beyond these boundaries.
Interviewer -- The wave's spiral motion?
Prof. Gerholm -- It could be letters, it could be certain signs and figures, and there too the spiral motion often comes up as an important symbol. And the interesting thing is that it also plays an important part in the scientific description of the world. And in this regard it suggests perhaps that there is here a point of contact between the mystics' experiences and those of scientists. In other words, back of the purely scientific works of the great researchers there exists a conviction gained by mystical means that this description of the world is a true one.
Interviewer -- At the observatory at Kvistaberg outside Stockholm Peter Nilson has his work. The telescope there is one of the largest of its kind in the world. Peter, you have heard Ruth Dahlen tell how in her vision she saw the functioning of cosmos. How did you react as an astronomer to this kind of experience?
Peter Nilson -- We natural scientists have always had a tendency to deny anything we don't understand. It is unquestionably true that we at present don't perceive at all how cosmos actually functions. Our entire human culture here on earth and all our human science are not necessarily particularly advanced or remarkable in a cosmic context. So I don't think that from that vantage point we have any right to be skeptical of mysticism. And I think they are such very singular experiences that we must take them into account. If we were to try to find anything that resembles the mystical experience, we could name intuition, which is something a great many scientists and artists and others have known as something quite real, with sudden glimpses of certainty. As a fantastic hypothesis one might speculate on possible lines of communication in the universe between the places of habitation, among inhabited worlds that we may suppose to exist here and there, but that lie at such enormous cosmic distances that any communication, as we understand it, using the means known to us here on earth is out of the question. Perhaps there exists something else; perhaps cosmos is so constructed that there are lines of communication which are completely unknown and incomprehensible to us. And who knows, possibly there is something of this unknown that is going on out there that mystics succeed in catching a glimpse of now and then.
Interviewer -- Mystics sometimes say that they experience cosmos as a living unity. How do you feel about that, Peter?
Peter Nilson -- Well, we humans are formations of the same matter as the earth we walk on and that the stars are made of, and you could interpret this to mean that there may be a tendency to life and consciousness even in the very simplest forms of matter. We may remind ourselves that we humans have a very limited knowledge of what should be termed life. We know only one planet in the universe; we have no inkling of what opportunities for life are offered by cosmic events other than this. There may exist possibilities of a very advanced scale, which reminds me of what Fred Hoyle wrote a few years ago about a cloud of interstellar dust that had developed a superhuman intelligence.
Interviewer -- Take the constellation of our neighbor Andromeda -- this galaxy is calculated to consist of between two and three hundred billion suns, essentially similar to our own sun. We may suppose that here and there in this star-system there are planets on which there may be life in one form or another; in fact, it is highly probable that there exist quite advanced forms of life, perhaps far more evolved than we on earth can imagine.
(From Sunrise magazine, August 1971; copyright © 1971 Theosophical University Press)
World Spiritual Traditions Menu