Let Us Leap

David R. Lamson, Two Years’ Experience among the Shakers: Being a Description of the Manners and Customs of That People, the Nature and Policy of Their Government, Their Marvellous Intercourse with the Spiritual World, the Object and Uses of Confession, Their Inquisition, in Short, a Condensed View of Shakerism as It Is.  West Boylston, MA: The Author, 1848.

Here is another apostate, David Rich Lamson, reacting against his former brethren in a self-published apology for his involvement with the Shakers and for his separation from them.  The period of “Mother Ann’s Work” was clearly one of great psychic stress and intensity of experience, and darker and more complicated than is reflected in the modern sentimental depiction of Shaker drawings, songs and dance “gifts” that now show up as images on greeting cards and in the sound tracks for automobile commercials, or as the object of a vague admiration of Shaker simplicity, purity and joy.  Particularly interesting in this selection, I think, are its details about methods of social control, especially the group pressure on individuals to affirm pretenses, which, in some cases, apparently, caused those who pretended, to cross over into a belief in the veracity of the things pretended, and even to hallucinate—or to envision or to perceive, they would say—their substantiality.

A note on terminology: Shaker communities were divided into “families”—much larger than families on the outside.  Each community might have several families.  These were headed by elders and eldresses, and were divided into “families” of full-fledged Shakers, and a “Gathering Family,” composed of those not yet fully integrated into the Shaker way of life. —JB


Inspiration; or communion with the Spiritual World.

This is the most important, and to many will be the most interesting part of Shakerism.  Here the sublime and the ridiculous are brought into close juxtaposition, and mirthfulness is strongly moved upon.  Yet all is admirably calculated to bring the simple ones under the power and influence of their Lead.  They carry the matter of inspiration to a very great extent.  All the laws of their government were (as I have before stated) written out by the finger of God, and were delivered to a Holy angel, in answer to the prayers and supplications of Christ, and Mother Ann, to be read to mortal man for the observance of his people, or his Zion on earth.  In almost every meeting for worship, some of their prophets have a communication from the spiritual world.  They have regular prophets in every family, who are set apart, or anointed by the ministry.  I think there are four persons in each family, set apart for this purpose.  Two brothers, and two sisters.  I did not have the pleasure of witnessing the ceremony of anointing.  But received an account of it from one who had been anointed.  Which I will give in his own language.

“The ceremony was not very imposing, those who received this gift were called before the ministry, pronounced worthy, received on their knees, by imposing, those who received this gift were called before the ministry, pronounced worthy, and received on their knees, by imposition of hands, and other appropriate motions, the crowning, and clothing, appropriate to the official capacity in which they were to act.  They were informed that it was for them to have these gifts, (of seeing, hearing, prophesying, &c., in spiritual matters,) and, that they must go forth in them, in perfect obedience to, and union with their visible lead, this to be the test as to the quality of their gifts.”

The crowning, and clothing here spoken of, must not be taken literally.  For the crown, and the dress, could be seen only by those whose eyes were opened to spiritual things.  They were a gift from the Spiritual world.  They were to have these gifts: it is promised through the beloved ministry.  If they do not have them it will be their own fault.  They must labor for them; that is, whirl round with their eyes closed, bow, and writhe the body, and direct the mind with excessive energy to the attainment of these gifts.  And knowing that the elders, and beloved ministry will be disappointed if they do not obtain the gifts, it is not strange that many of them work themselves up into the belief that they are inspired; talk gibberish for an unknown tongue; see spirits, and many wonderful things.  It is not strange that some shrewd ones who have small conscientiousness, should play their part of the game in guile.  It is not strange even that some should magnetize themselves, or throw themselves into a trance, and honestly relate wonderful things.

But all these gifts of visions, and revelation, must be in obedience to, and union with their visible lead.  That is, they must go forth in these gifts, whenever the elders intimate to them to do so.  And they must have such gifts, and revelations as the elders can approve and sanction.  If the elders approve and sanction the gift, it is a real gift, a true revelation.  If it is not in accordance with the faith, and the mind of the elders, it is a delusion, and is false.  For this is to be the test of the genuineness of the gift.  It must be obtained by them, in obedience to, and union with their visible Lead.

It should be observed, the fact that some are anointed to be prophets, does not preclude others from having gifts.  The elders encourage others to labor for them.  And many do labor for them successfully. [. . .]


The Mountain Meetings.

Every society in this denomination has a place for meeting in the open air, usually at some little distance from their village.  Where they assemble twice in the year, and sometimes oftener.  These meetings are very curious, and at them this people manifest many of their excentricities, and have many wonderful revelations.

About the year 1841, or—42, a very important revelation was received at the “head of influence,” (New-Lebanon) requiring every society in God’s Zion upon earth, (the Shakers,) to prepare a place upon some mountain, or hill, in its vicinity, for a Holy place of worship.  The place was pointed out to their prophets by inspiration.  I will describe the one belonging to the society where we were, as this is the only one I have seen.  Doubtless all the others are very similar to this, and were fashioned after one description.  They were the conception of one mind, doubtless: Philemon Stewart, the great prophet at the head of influence, was that mind.

The place pointed out for our society was about a mile and a half from our village upon the top of a mountain, and is named Mount Sinai.  It is in sight of the mountain Chosen for their meeting ground, by the society at New Lebanon, called Mt. Lebanon.  But they are too far distant from each other for any verbal communication to pass from one to the other; there being a great gulf, or valley between them.  The mountain was named Mount Sinai, after Divine revelation had designated the spot.  The brethren went to work and removed the trees and their roots, the stones and other rubbish, smoothed and prepared the ground.  It is now covered with a greensward, and surrounded with a plain strip-fence, painted white.  It is in the form of a square, and contains I should judge about 3-8ths of an acre.  Near the centre is a little spot, enclosed with a fence of a single strip, about fifteen inches high, in form a hexagon.  It is called “the Fountain.”  At the north end of the fountain is erected a marble slab 3 1-2 or 4 feet high.  On the north, or outer side of this stone is engraved the following:

Inscriptions on the Monument.

By the command of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Erected upon this Mt. Sinai, May 4th, 1843.”

On the south, or side inward to the Fountain, is engraved as follows:

For the healing of the nations, who shall here seek my favor.

“And I command all people who shall come to this fountain, not to step within this enclosure, nor place their hands upon this Stone, while they are polluted with sin.  I am God the Almighty in whose hands are judgment and mercy.  And I will cause my judgments to fall upon the wilful violator of my commands in my own time according to wisdom and truth, whether in this world, or in eternity.  For I have created all souls, and unto me they are accountable.

There is also, a building erected at the north side of the ground with two apartments, or sitting rooms, one for the sisters, and the other for the brethren.  But the fountain claims our particular notice.  It is a fountain not of literal waters, but of the water of life, and is exceedingly productive of spiritual gifts.  It serves also, as a centre, around which they march, and dance, and sing, and play.

The Heavenly Dress for the Occasion.

The day for meeting upon this mountain, is with the Shakers, a glorious day, a day of rejoicing, and a feast of fat things.  All are elated with the idea of going on to the mountain; both old, and young, seem equally elated, all go who are able to walk, and some who are not able to walk, ride, though it is a steep and difficult way for horses and carriages.  On this day, the brethren, and sisters wear their usual Sunday clothes, and in addition a most splendid Spiritual dress.  This dress cannot be seen by the natural eye, but is described by the Seers, who can see Spiritual things.  The dress consisted of a little coat, or tunic, with buttons of gold, and enriched in the most beautiful manner, with gold trimmings; and all the other parts of a full dress to match it.  This is the idea I got of the dress from a description of it by one of the sisters.  It was received before I went among the people, yet I had the honor of wearing it when attending the mountain meetings.  On the evening before, or early on the morning of the day of the meeting, each family in the society assembles itself in its meeting-room to receive these garments.  It is said there is a suit for every one who is worthy, to attend the meeting.  Not only one society, of every society throughout the denomination.  Every society has its chest of this spiritual clothing.  That for our society, was given at Enfield, Ct., and brought home by our ministry.  Some of the inspired ones at Enfield, saw the angels bring this box, or chest, into the room, where it was to be received, set it down, and retire.  Here the “gifted ones” received, and delivered to the ministry, who brought it away.  In doing this, the ministry go through the same motions, and exercises, that they would if a literal chest were in hand.  The chest and clothing is kept by the ministry at their shops, where the elders regularly repair before the mountain meeting, and receive a sufficient quantity for their families; return home, assemble their families, and deal it out in the following form.  Being assembled in the meeting-room, the elders standing near one end of the hall, and the eldresses near the other end, two brethren at a time approach, and kneel down before the elders, and while remaining in this position, the elders continue to motion with their hands as though tossing something towards them.  And it is said, two little angels standing by receive the dresses, and clothe the subjects.  And so we are clothed for the morrow.  No provision is made to lay off this spiritual dress when we retire, though we take off the literal one.  After the meeting is over, the next day we again assemble and return these dresses to the elders in the same form as we received them, viz., by kneeling before the elders, who extend their hands to receive, while the two little angels take off the clothes, and return them into the elder’s hands who carry them back to the ministry.  It is said that in one instance, one of the Seers, in folding, and laying this clothing into the chest, counted the garments, and one suit was missing.  The fact was, one of the sisters failed to return hers with the rest, being engaged at the time about some domestic affairs.  Now does not this prove the thing to be a reality?  All this formality is gone through with in seriousness and solemnity.

Imagine yourself a Seer, beholding this army of Shakers, glittering in the full splendor of this glorious uniform, winding up the mountain.  Is not it a most brilliant sight to behold?  None but the eye of the prophet and prophetess can see the uniform.  (I understand they have not used this uniform since I left them.  What the ministry have done with it I know not, it was left in their keeping.)  These mountain meetings are kept as secret from the world as possible, for they feel embarrassed, and annoyed by the presence of spectators.  But since we have presumed to place our eyes upon them in their heavenly uniform, we will follow them in their perambulations up the mountain, though we see nothing upon them but their usual Sunday dress.  The fashion of dress worn by dandies about sixty years ago.  A broad-brimed drab hat; a strait drab coat; drab vest, very deep, or long waisted, ornamented behind with flaps, or frills, and without a collar; butternut-colored pantaloons; their hair, and beards, all combed and trimmed precisely alike, according to the divine order.  This is the dress of the brethren.  Though there is some variety now; some of the brethren wear loose frocks.  The handsome frocks are made of unfulled cloth, the warp of which is cotton, colored blue, the filling worsted, colored red, making the cloth a changeable color.  The handsome pantaloons, for summer are of cotton cloth, with a small blue stripe.  The sisters are in the rear of the army, with their long sugar-scoopshaped, palm-leaf bonnets, with silk, or cambric capes to them of various colors; their strait, clean, and nice caps, strait dresses of various colors; some with small blue stripe, some of the changeable cotton and worsted, with every one with a long checked apron, or pinner.

Thus uniformed, and marshalled into regular order, we behold them winding up the mountain.  When about a third part of the way up, we come to the forest, and enter a grove of thrifty walnut trees, called “Walnut Grove.”  Here they halt in a circle, the elders and eldresses at the upper end of the grove, the sisters on their right, and brethren on their left; the lower end of each wing coming round in front so as to form a circle, or rather an ellipsis.  The meeting which I have particularly in mind was the first mountain meeting held after I went among the people.  It was in May, 1843.  We are now in Walnut-Grove.  The church family for some reason unknown to me did not meeting with us on this day.  Yet it was thought necessary that their principal prophetesses should join us, and take the conduct of the meeting.  These were Joseph Wicker, the Second elder, Joseph Patten, and Simon Maybee, the two Deacons, and Martha Vanvalin, and Judith Collins, two anointed Seers or prophetesses.  Br. Grove, and sister Dana, of the ministry, were also present.  But Grove being a diffident man, the management of the meeting fell upon Joseph Wicker.  There was also present at this meeting a gentleman from the City of N. Y. Eliezer Parmley; who came as a friend of Robert White, and with Robert.  [. . .]

Joseph Wicker seems to feel that he must entertain the meeting.  He comes forth from the rest, and is within the ring; bowing, and twisting his body in various directions, his eyes and lips in rapid motion, muttering to himself.  This is to signify, that he is under the influence of inspiration.  Or, as they term it, he is “under operations.”  Directly he breaks out in an extemporaneous song.  Now, Joseph is naturally a very good looking man, a man of more than ordinary abilities, and has a better education than any other one in the society to which he belongs.  And he is supposed by them to be the chief among their prophets.  After he has concluded his song, sister Dana makes some remarks; and asserts that she knows positively, that the song which has just been sung, was never sung before.  That she knows it came directly from heaven.”  She being of the ministry, her words are received as infallibly correct.  But this testimony was designed specially for the benefit of those who were not fully converted.  And many declare, “The Lord is here.”  “Yea, I feel that the Lord is here.”  And a general excitement seems to pervade the meeting.  Various are the operations with which those are seized who are easily wrought upon.  Twisting, jerking, bowing, trembling &c.  One sister now appears within the ring turning round as rapidly as the roughness of the ground will allow her to, and, as she turns she moves gradually towards the lower end of the ring; she has a revelation for Leezer [Eliezer Parmley].  See, as she ceases turning, she is taken with a mighty bowing; bringing her face oftentimes nearly to the ground; and motioning with her right hand in a very strange and mysterious manner; as she comes near to Mr. Parmley, she does not look up, but bending herself very low, keeping her eyes upon the ground, she begins to talk to him in a very solemn manner.  Mr. Parmley seems to be aware that the address is meant for him.  And to be approached, and addressed, in such a curious manner, by an entire stranger, a female, in a public assembly, who are all looking on with wonderful interest.  Every thing is so strange, mysterious, and unaccountable, that the man is confounded, and covers his face with his hands in confusion.  But the prophetess having delivered her message, whirls back again to her place.  Joseph Wicker, continues under operations, and now approaches one of the brethren, Franklin Wright.  Franklin, is a most excellent brother, and devotes himself unreservedly to build up the cause, and is often under operations.  In the world he would be thought a simpleton, but here he is a man of considerable consequence.  Joseph walks up to Franklin, holding his hand as though it contained a tumbler, or foot-glass.  Franklin, understanding the play, held out his imaginary glass, and Joseph poured the contents of his glass into Franklin’s telling him to drink it; will do you goo; it will throw you down; but you will get over it again.  So Franklin put his glass to his lips, and emptied it.  He immediately began to stagger about like a drunken man; and finally fell down.  But he got over it again, as the prophet told him he would.  In a few minutes he was on his feet again.

After about a half an hour spent in this way, we take up our march to the mountain top.  When we come within a short distance of the meeting-ground, we are required to halt, and in concert make seven low bows.  After which we are permitted to march on to the ground.  This is consecrated ground, and no world’s man, no one who has not confessed his sins before God’s witnesses, the elders, is allowed within this enclosure.  So Mr. Parmley, attended by his friend Robert White, and Nathan Holland, one of the office Deacons, remained outside with other spectators.  But he was not forgotten by those within.  The prophet Joseph approached him under operations, and delivered to him an inspired message.  But his conduct was so strange; his address was so abrupt, his motions so singular, that Mr. Parmley was again obliged to cover his eyes with his hand in his embarrassment.

Meeting at the Holy Mountain

These meetings on the mountain are designed to be very free and lively, and, also very impressive.  It is a time for the special outpouring of Spiritual gifts.  I shall be able to describe only a few of these as specimens.  They have but little of the regular marching, and dancing, at these meetings.  Some preaching, exhortation, singing, dancing, marching, whirling, shaking, prophesying, talking in unknown languages, &c.  But the principal part of the time is taken up in such gifts, as I will describe.

Some leading member says, the brethren, and sisters, are required to go to the fountain and bathe.  They will find sponges in the fountain; and towels, by the side of the fountain.  (The fountain has already been described.)  So all approach the fountain as opportunity offers, the brethren at one side, and sisters at the other.  And go through with all the motions which would be made if actually bathing in water.  They even turn to and scrub one another.  But there is not literally either towel, sponge, or water.  This ceremony over, some one of the Seers has another gift.

There is in the fountain some pocket-handkerchiefs, for the brethren, and sisters.  Every one approaches, and makes the motion to take up a handkerchief.  I suppose spiritual water will not wet spiritual handkerchiefs.  Joseph says, “we know not what the word will be for us to do next.  The Spirit will tell us what to do.”  And after waiting a few minutes, he says, “the word is to leap! let us leap.”  Then every one, both old and young, male and female, jumps up as high as he is able, two or three times.  After a little season, he says, “The word is, to go and sow.  There is by the fountain a measure of seed, to be sown, and a vessel of water, with which to water the ground.  The vessel of water to be placed and carried upon the left shoulder, while we sow the seed.”  So we pass through the motion of shouldering our water, take up our measure of seed, and form ourselves into a column at the north side of the meeting ground, facing the South; and in concert begin to swing our hands, as in the act of sowing.  We all move forward and sow as we march across the meeting ground, and beyond till we come to a fence, when we wheel about, take the water from our shoulder, and water the ground as we march back.

In the middle of the day, of the meeting held in the spring of the year, which comes in May, we hold a grand feast.  I do not know the origin, or object of this feast; but will endeavor to describe it.

Two rows of benches are arranged for seats, a few feet apart, upon which the brethren, and sisters, seat themselves, facing inward, and imagine a table before them.  The brethren sit at one table, and the sisters at another.  The seats are literal, but the table, and furniture, are all imaginary, or spiritual.

Those persons who have been anointed to be prophets, and prophetesses, (this anointing has already been described) are sent forth to gather food for the table.  So they go out a little distance from the table, the anointed brethren in one direction, and the anointed sisters in another.  The brethren shake the trees, and gather the fruit, in baskets, and bring it in upon their shoulders.  The trees, and the fruit, and the baskets, are all imaginary; but all the motions are made as if every thing were literal.  You may see them stand pulling, and shaking, as though they had hold of a small tree, shaking off the fruit; and now stooping to gather up the fruit, and placing it in the basket, and then tugging at the basket to place it upon the shoulder, and staggering off with it towards the tables, and then distributing it on the tables.  Thus they gather apples, pears, lemons, oranges, mellons, &c.  All in the month of May, and in this northern climate.  But all is spiritual.

The sisters also, in their department, prepare and bring on various dishes.  Turkey, chicken, pudding, pies, green corn, and beans, &c. &c.  And they lean over to place the various dishes upon the table.  And now see them eat.  They seem to use knives and forks, chew and swallow, pass the food from one to the other.  And the inspired ones pretended that they could positively see, and taste the different articles of fruit, and food, as really as if they were literal food.  They had wine also; and some mimicked the drunken man.  There was not the best of order about this feast, notwithstanding, it was directed by inspiration.  And the anointed ones waited upon the table.  For the dinner, the desert, and the wine, were all partaken of at the same time.  After we had partaken of this feast of fat things, we rose up, to retire; but Joseph calls out to us to pay our tithes.  The inspired were now seated at the table and we waited on them.  That is, the laity waited on the priesthood, and this paid their tithes.

The feast was now ended, and the people rose up to play again.  Indeed, the whole of it seemed to be regarded by many of them as mere play.  It was as I have heard little children say, “we didn’t eat real food, we only played eat.”  Indeed a Shaker meeting, what they call a real free and lively meeting, is the consummation of all silly actions and speeches.  The inspired ones particularly, seem to vie with each other for the mastery in silliness.  To see so many people of all ages, from eighty years, down to little children zealously, and with a considerable degree of seriousness practicing all this nonsense; and calling it inspiration! is an outrage upon common sense.  Before sitting down to the feast described above, all kneel down in solemn devotion around their imaginary table; and also again before retiring from the table.  After the feast, the exercises are resumed, and are very much the same as before.  I will describe a few more of their gifts, and transcribe a few of their songs.  These together with what I have described, will show the character of their meetings on the mountain.

They believe that the spirits of the departed, honor their meetings with their presence.  The inspired ones can see them, and hold converse with them.  They estimated that 40,000 were present at their mountain meeting at this time, hovering around and looking on with pleasure and approbation.  All such spirits are in the Shaker faith, dressed in the Shaker garb, and subject to a government of which theirs in a pattern.  The common members there have to get permission of their lead to visit their brethren on the earth, or to enjoy any other privilege.  Some one of the sisters often cries out in “a gift” that “Mother Ann is here, O, Mother Ann is here! and desires her love to the brethren and sisters.”  Sometimes when Mother Ann cannot come, herself, she sends her love by some other spirits.  Sometimes it is given out in “bright balls.”  The inspired one receives these balls of Mother’s love, and tosses them out to the brethren, and sisters, who hold out their hands and catch them.  It is curious to see the whole assembly hold out theirs to catch these imaginary balls.  The faithful ones believe them to be real, though not tangible to their natural senses.  Though the inspired ones say they can see them and feel them with their hands.  They are about as big as one’s fist, white, and bright like clean paper.  They are often written upon with some communication to the recipient.  Sometimes St. Paul is present, Peter, and others of the apostles.  Generals Washington, and Lafayette, were seen on the Lebanon mountain, mounted on their white chargers, with sword in hand guarding the holy mountain. [. . .]

68-69:  At one meeting, the entertainments seemed rather to drag, when the elder turned to one of the inspired sisters and says, “Come Sally aint there native spirits here? can’t we have a native song?”  Sally looked very grave and made no reply.  Directly there was a gift of spiritual wine, of which they all partook.  The eldress carried some to sally, (there were two sisters, Sally and Mary Smith, I may have mistaken the one for the other, though I think it was Sally) and says, “Come Sally, drink a good deal of this, so that you may have a good gift of a song.”  Sally seemed to drink heartily, and directly began to show the effects of the wine; and sang us a most lively and theatrical song in the Indian tongue, (said to be) dancing at the same time with much vigor and spirit, imitating the Indian dance.  Indeed this was an excellent performance, and was highly amusing and entertaining even to those who believed she did it all by her own natural powers.  The faithful ones really believed she was actually possessed by a native, that is, an Indian spirit, which spirit was the author of this original and extemporaneous song, the tune and the dancing.  The fact is, Sally was herself a smart girl, a good singer, and a good dancer.  She was capable of originating this whole performance.  I cannot give the song which she sung at this time; probably it was never written out and perhaps never sung afterwards.  But I will here give one which if I am not mistaken was sung in a similar manner, on a similar occasion, by the same author.  And if as well performed, doubtless was equal to the one of which I have spoken.  Here it is.

     Te he, te how, te hoot, te te hoot,
     Me be Mother’s pretty pappose,
     Me ting, me dant, te I diddle um,
     Because me here to whities come,
     He did diddy, ti diddle O;
     Round, around, and round me go,
     Me leap, me jump, e up and down,
     On good whity, shiny ground.

When reading this song it appears very silly, but being well performed it was quite theatrical; it was as good as any part of the meeting. [. . .]

84:  The elder said, these things would appear silly to the natural mind.  And, if the sisters did these things of themselves, it would be silly!  And so the subject seems to be viewed.  Actions which when performed by human beings in their own powers, are contemptibly silly, if performed by an angel, or a Holy Spirit, are commendable and dignified.  An angel may take possession of a human body, and perform all manner of antics; roll in the mud, bark like a dog, crow like a rooster, &c., and this would not be silly because performed by the Spirit saint, or angel.  I confess I cannot feel the force of such logic.  The very that these things, or “gifts” are silly, is evidence to me that they are human and not Divine.

The other remark [I made that was] objected to by the elder was, “I said our Savior, always knew perfectly well what he was about to do, or say.”  This was supposed to militate against the “gifts,” as the brethren, and sisters, when under operations of the Spirit, do not pretend always to know what they do and say; but yielding themselves up to the influence of the Spirit, lose their own consciousness, and the Spirit possessing them, only manifests itself.  This I doubt not, is in many cases a real delusion. [. . .]

87-88: As these [dancing] exercises continue [during the worship service], the zeal increases, the whole company frequently clap their hands in concert.  Some begin to turn round with great rapidity, some leap, and shout, throw up their hands, and perform all manner of gesticulations, talk in unknown tongues, sing in unknown tongues.  Sometimes, as to-day, for instance, two or three times, all join in one concert of yelling, screaming, shouting, shaking, with all their might, thumping their feet upon the floor, with great rapidity, altogether presenting a scene, and making a noise which cannot be described.  Should a stranger come in at this moment, he must think it a perfect bedlam; and would probably be frightened out of his wits.  When the din is not so great that one cannot be heard, there is preaching, prophesying, speaking in unknown tongues, and singing songs by special inspiration.  All this time, the young sisters continue their turning so swiftly, that the air gathering under their garments, raises them so as to expose their red petticoats, and other under clothes, and even the fastening of their hose, and sometimes when their clothes happen to brush against a sister near them, it exposes their persons still more.  But they must not be checked in their gifts, for it is by the inspiration of God, that all these things are done.  They often fall prostrate upon the floor, and all animation seems lost for a season.  There is frequently with them a crouching, and bowing, as though affected with a shock of electricity.  When one ceases turning, she frequently embraces with her arms, another sister, and continues crouching, and bowing, for some time, and seems to have a special gift for that sister.  One who has had the gift of turning in a high degree, assured us they did this because they were too dizzy to stand up alone.  Others who have been gifted, have assured me, that this is the reason why they fall down.  They cannot stand for dizziness.  And that all their skill in turning is acquired by practice.

The Whirling Gift

All their meetings are not carried to the same excess as the one which I have described above.  And never have I known them to have a meeting which made any comparison with this, when any spectators are present from the world, as these are sometimes allowed to attend our meetings at home in the gathering family.  None are permitted to attend our meetings at the meeting-house, since 1837, when this revival commenced.  Some who have been here since that time, assure me, that the meeting I witnessed to-day, would not begin to compare with the meetings they had in the commencement of the revival.  In the commencement of the revival, many went into the turning who were unaccustomed to turning; consequently they would frequently fall down; become sick and vomit.  Some would go out, others run to the spit-box; some of the younger portion even bedaubed the floor.

90-92:  They sometimes have what they call a warring gift.  It is when some one, or more of the brethren, or sisters, do not cordially respond to all their silly gifts, or do not render a ready and willing obedience to the elders, or give evidence of a waning faith, or by some obnoxious to the leading influence.  In such case, perhaps, as once when I was present at an exhibition of this gift, some of the inspired sisters, Elizabeth Dixon, commenced crying woe! woe! woe! and was soon joined by several others, woe! woe! to them that should leave the way of God, or oppose it.  And they accompanied these imprecations with a general concert of groaning, shouting, shaking, stamping, and altogether creating such a tumult as was indeed a caution to the unfaithful.  And what made this peculiarly terrible, was, that in pretension, and appearance, it was by a supernatural influence.  They would have us to understand that this was brought about by the disgust and indignation of the angelic spirits who were invisibly present in the meeting.  Invisible to all except the “Seers.”  Though one could hardly avoid the conclusion from the appearance, that the authors of this tumult were Bedlamites.

If those “warred” against in this manner, withdraw from the society, why, the saying was, they could not bear “the testimony,” “the testimony was too hot for them.”  If terrified into obedience, and made an humble confession to the elders, that was the end of the matter.  Perhaps I ought to say of the brethren, that they seldom joined in this gift.  This curious warfare was generally carried on by the sisters.

These gifts were not always confined to their general religious meetings.  The following case occurred in elder William'’, or the east family, shortly before I left.  Ellen Wier, a young sister, about 16 years of age, became a subject of these warring gifts.  She was indentured to elder William, by her parents, and consequently subject to him.  She was naturally a sprightly, intelligent, active girl.  In the gift of turning, there was no sister who could turn more handsomely, and rapidly than she.  And she had been subject to some “beautiful visions,” her visions were sometimes referred to by the Shakers as wonderful.

But at this age she had become dissatisfied with her condition, and longed for her liberty.  And consequently did not render that reverence and humiliating obedience to her superiors which she had formerly.  In consequence of this, she was subjected to various penances and humiliations, such as being compelled not only to kneel, but also to prostrate herself before sister Nancy, or the second eldress, putting her face to the floor.  But without effect.  She continued rebellious; and hence, the warring gifts.  One Sabbath, while in her room, the inspired ones made a bold attack upon her.  After making a terrible tumult, and bearing a hot testimony against “the world, flesh, and the devil,” they addressed her as follows: pretending to be under a spiritual influence, and assuming the language of the Almighty in the great sentence of the last judgment, they said to her with a terrible manner, “Depart ye cursed into everlasting fire.”  “You are not worthy to be with the people of God, and we don’t want you here.  Depart, the quicker the better.”  The leaders in this affray, were Sarah Smith, who had the care of Ellen, Mary Ann Wollison, and Elizabeth Dixon.  They were joined by others.  The poor girl suffered a great deal from such treatment.  But since we left, I hear she has obtained her freedom.

The principal prophets, and prophetesses, not unfrequently leave them, and deny the reality of all their visions, and revelations.  They tell us plainly, that they make these pretensions to please the elders.  The elders having once sanctioned their revelations, still maintain that they were really inspired; but having become corrupted through the lust of the flesh, are now blinded, and deny the truth.  But we should say, that, while they are connected with the Shakers they are interested witnesses.  It being important to their union and good standing to seem to be inspired.  Besides, in the excitement of a Shaker meeting, they may think themselves inspired when they are not.  They may, therefore, be deceivers, or deceived themselves.  And, therefore their testimony cannot be depended upon.  But in the latter case, when they have withdrawn from that people, they have no motive to deceive at all.  And in their sober second consideration of the matter they are not likely to be deceived themselves.  Therefore their testimony is good.  And they were never inspired by any spirit but that of the natural body.  It was their own deceived imagination, or their own invention.  It is not improbable that animal magnetism has in many cases something to do with it.

But as long as the brethren and sisters, can be made to believe these things, they have their effect.  And they do believe; a majority of the members of the Shaker community, I have no doubt, most seriously and devoutly believe that all which professes to be revelation, and is sanctioned by the elders, is really such.  And every time they see any of these manifestations of whirling, jerking, shaking, twisting, winking, &c., it begets in them a degree of awe and religious fear.  And something of this takes place at almost every meeting.  And they meet to worship about five times a week.  By this means, they are brought into the most perfect submission to their Lead; the elders and ministry.  It is the worst kind of slavery.  The mind is enslaved by means of this superstition.

[ Ephemera Home] [ Redeeming the Dead ]