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shaker magic?

Subject: shaker magic?
Date: Sat, 16 Mar 1996 10:36:32 -0600 (CST)

In a recent post, Nagasiva wondered about the relationship of Shaker
practices to magical and shamanic rites.  I was glad to see that 
someone mentioned this.  I am blessed to be a friend of the Shaker
Community at Sabbathday Lake, Maine (near Grey, New Gloucester, and 
Poland Spring).  A number of my most powerful spiritual experiences
have occurred in the context of Shaker meeting.  The Shakers would
probably be shocked at the suggestion that they were doing anything
occult or esoteric - I've certainly never discussed it with them.
(If anyone out there gets in touch with them, do me the favor of NOT
saying "John Plummer mentioned you on the Christian Magic list" -
I can hear Brother Arnold now!)
    Nonetheless, a number of their practices bear close resemblance to
esotericism.  the worship is highly effective ritual.  The presence of
the dead and of spirits, and the possibility of communication with
such, is firmly believed in.  A variety of spirit gifts are believed
in and experienced.  Lots of information about esoteric topics can
be found in Shaker theologians - Alonzo Hollister on the astral body,
Paulina Bates on God as Mother, Daughter, feminine Spirit, etc, etc.
    I must stress that all this is encompassed by the Christ Life, the
pure service of God in Love.  The late Brother Ted Johnson used to 
say that Shakerism was a way of life in imitation of Christ, not a 
doctrine.  Shakers of course do have doctrines - although they believe
 in a growing revelation - but these arise from the life, not vice
versa.  I've spent lots of time in monasteries and religious 
communities of all sorts, but I can honestly say that I have never
seen the Christ Life lived as beautifully as it is at Sabbathday
Lake (or Chosen Land, as the Shakers call it) - the only living
Shaker community.
     While I'm at it, I should address a couple of misunderstandings.
Shaker belief about Mother Ann has varied, but contemporary Shakers
certainly do not believe that she is the reincarnation of Jesus or
anything of that sort!  As Mother said, "the second coming of Christ
is in His Church."  Mother was the herald of this coming, and its
first clear instance, but the coming is in all believers.  (This is
not that different from Bernard of Clairvaux's teaching about the
"middle coming" of Christ to believers between the first and last
     Shakerism is not dying out.  The leadership of the Society from
the 1950s to 1980s opted for dying out, but the Maine community
resisted this decision.  As they wished, the other communities died
out.  (The last to go was Canterbury, NH in 1992)  Now the 
leadership of the Society (legal and spiritual) has passed to
Sabbathday Lake.  They have young members, and their door is open
to all serious inquirers.  I don't have their address on me (I'm at
school) but I'm almost positive it is 707 Shaker Road, New Gloucester,
ME - cant recall the zipcode.
     If you are interested, the best first thing to read is THE
stories about Mother.  I cannot recommend this too highly - it can
be obtained from the Shaker Community.  They also carry lots of 
other books, art, wool from their sheep, sometimes candy, etc.
Probably the best history (though not without problems) is that
by Stephen Stein - can't recall the title.  Avoid Robley Whitson's
volume in the Classics of Western Spirituality series - it can be
helpful but is also seriously misleading in some ways.  Finally,
I've got a long article on Shaker theology forthcoming in THE 
SHAKER QUARTERLY. I'd be happy to provide it to an interested
party for the cost of xeroxing.  (Given the QUARTERLY's erratic
publication schedule, God alone knows when the article will see
     I hope this wasn't too off topic, but I wanted to encourage
you all to see Shakerism as a very real resource for esoteric
Christianity.  I sign this in the Shaker way -
With gospel love,
PS - A great new recording of Shaker music has been done by Joel
Cohen.  The Sabbathday Lake community sings with the Boston
Camerata andthe Schola Cantorum of Boston.  All the recording
was done in the 200 year old meeting house.  This CD hit the top
of the Billboard classical crossover chart recently, so you should
be able to find it anywhere.  It is title "Simple Gifts: Shaker
Chants and Spirituals".  J

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