Chapter Nine

Women of Alternative Christian and Non-Christian Western Spiritual Movements

© Copyright 1991, 2017 by Timothy Conway, PhD



In addition to the Catholic, Orthodox, mainstream Protestant, and Holiness, Pentecostal, neo-Pentecostal and Evangelical forms of Christianity, other, alternative Christian sects have arisen, claiming to go back to the original Christian teachings and practices.  Some of these have been devoted to spiritual healing, deep prayer and contemplation, revelation, prophecy, visionary phenomena, and so forth.  In past centuries, many of these kinds of groups were effectively suppressed by the institutional Church.  In the last several hundred years, however, a number of them have flourished, especially in the United States, which has been characterized by an extraordinary religious pluralism. Thus have arisen many thousands of sects and institutions—not only traditional Christian and “alternative Christian,” but also non-Christian groups including Spiritualist, Theosophist, Hermetic, New Age, New Paradigm, and Shamanic. Significantly, a great many of these groups, probably the majority, have been founded and/or strongly energized by women.

In this book-chapter, we examine a great number of these alternative Christian and non-Christian ways of spirituality, some of which foster a spirituality evidently far more profound than others. That is to say, while all groups have some kind of social “legitimacy,” some are much more spiritually “authentic,” as philosopher Ken Wilber would distinguish, much more conducive for advanced states of wholeness, virtue, inner freedom, and realization of God, Goddess, True Self, Spiritual Reality, call this what one may.

Clearly, one of the more profound traditions to emerge in the past half-millennium in the West is the Quaker tradition, formally known as the Religious Society of Friends. The Quaker society is one of the Third Way denominations of sectarian Christianity and is considered a “free church,” chiefly because it rejected the sacraments, creeds, and liturgies, and did not emphasize the doctrine of the Triune God—though many Friends are in fact devoted to the Persons of the Trinity (Father, Son, Holy Spirit).  In its early days in England in the 1650s, Quakerism—so-called because many of the members would tremble under the power of the Holy Spirit—was actually closely akin to the prophetic communities of the early Christian world. Quakers believed that God still speaks through those who have become inwardly quiet and receptive to that “still, small voice.”  In the Meeting for Worship, held for at least one hour once a week,

“Friends waited in silence for God to speak through a participant, whether a woman or man.  Members who had the gift for speaking in meeting were recognized as ministers, but the Society had no paid preachers.  Quaker ministers needed no formal training or ordination. They had only to demonstrate, through their ministry, that they spoke the word of God.  With no requirements save the spiritual, Quaker ministry has remained open to women throughout the Society’s history.” [1]

 

One is happy to find that women in the Quaker movement have from the beginning enjoyed full equality in all internal affairs and have been able to hold all offices.  Indeed, until the late 18th century, the Quaker women’s meetings were the only formal organizations in the U.S. run by women.  Thus, in this Religious Society of Friends, we finally (!) see an almost complete lack of discrimination against women in the history of western religions.

 

Margaret Askew Fell (1614-1702) was the patron and eventual wife of Quaker founder, George Fox (1624-91), and, with her 28 books and pamphlets, it was she, almost 200 years before anyone else in the more mainstream Christian world, who developed the classical texts of the theology of male-female equivalence in Christ and in the ministry, and defending women’s right to preach.  She had invited Fox into her home at Swarthmoor after hearing him speak up in church and challenge the English minister who declared that no woman could speak in church.  Margaret was the financial secretary and “spiritual mother” of the Quakers, and financially, generously supported many of the missionaries of the young movement.  An extraordinarily brave woman, Margaret stood up for the movement in the face of opposition, which resulted in her being jailed several times.  After the death of her husband, judge Thomas Fell, she married George Fox in 1669 and continued to host Friends meetings at her residence for many more years. 

 

Elizabeth Harris (n.d.) is esteemed as the “Mother of Quakerism in Maryland and Virginia,” coming to America around the year 1656 as probably the first American Quaker pioneer.  Mary Dyer (d. 1660) was one of the four Quaker martyrs killed at the hands of Puritan persecution in New England, which peaked in the years 1659-61.  Mary had bravely contested the unjust statute outlawing Quakers in the colonies by coming to the authorities and declaring herself to be a Quaker.  Other women before and after this to be severely harassed and persecuted in America included Mary Fisher, Ann Austin, and that frequent traveler, Elizabeth Hooton (1600-72), one of George Fox’s first converts and, in 1650, the first female Quaker preacher.  After being sent back to England by Puritan authorities, Quaker Mary Fisher, another of the 12 women of the original “Sixty” Quaker apostles, went to Turkey as a missionary, at one point walking through 600 miles of rough terrain, eventually being received as an ambassador by the Sultan, who supported her extensive preaching work there.  Rebecka Travers (1609-88), a Baptist, was converted to Quakerism hearing James Nayler speak; Fox also became a close friend of hers, staying at her home in London when he was preaching there (which became a strong London base for the Quakers).  Rebecka, who was also subjected to the jailings commonly given to these Friends, became a leading writer (along with Fell and Dorothy White) and minister on behalf of the movement; she wrote Testimonies about fellow saintly Quakers, including Susanna Whitrow (d. 1677), Alice Curwen (d. 1680), and Anne Whitehead (1686).  Barbara Blaugdone (1609-1704) had her schoolchildren taken away from her when she embraced Quakerism, and became another traveling missionary (including a journey to Ireland); she wrote an edifying autobiographical work on the need for equanimiously enduring the many trials for the sake of the Lord. Martha Simmonds (1624-1665/7) joined the movement in 1654, and walked through the London streets in sackcloth and ashes, preaching the true way—which predictably got her imprisoned on two different occasions.  She and others supported James Nayler as the true Quaker leader, and she was the prime mover in setting up his entry into Bristol as the second Christ—which brought national scandal.

 

In the second century of Quakerism, we find Elizabeth Haddon Estaugh‚ (c.1680-1762) leading for 50 years a Quaker community in Haddonfield, N.J.—one of the very few towns ever founded by a woman.  During the 18th century many Quaker women ministers felt called to visit England so as to receive inspiration and also communicate it in kind.  Margaret Bacon Hope, in her Mothers of Feminism: The Story of Quaker Women in America, has briefly profiled several dozen of these women, many of whom were married and got permission from their husbands to venture out on these risky adventures, which testifies not only to the wives’ bravery but also to the relatively enlightened and unattached attitudes of their Quaker husbands during that era.  Unfortunately for our sake, only very few words of wisdom and inspiration have come down from these intrepid and gifted women:  “since Friends regarded themselves as channels of the Holy Spirit, they never recorded in their journals what they spoke in meeting.  Rather, they used such [humble] circumlocutions as ‘we had a favored meeting.’“  In 1776, Rhode Island Quaker Jemima Wilkinson, following a near-death experience (or extreme illness), emerged claiming not only to have received a commission from God to preach, but to be the Second Coming of Christ who would reign for a 1,000 years.  She became noted for her sermons in the Philadelphia region; however, she was evidently quite attached to luxurious living, sapping her group’s resources, and her major settlement at Penn Yan in western New York fell apart after her death in 1819.  Former Philadelphia schoolteacher, Rebecca Jones (1739-1818) was a highly respected traveling minister, reformer and feminist.  Ann Parrish (1770-?), also of Philadelphia, in 1795 organized a group of 23 women friends into the Family Circle, later known as the Female Society of Philadelphia for the Relief and Employment of the Poor, the first charity organized by women and for women in the U.S.  She also established the Aimwell School for poor children, and the first day care center for children.  Friend Abby Kelley‚ in the late 1840s led many women in the abolition of slavery movement, which had gained impetus in the early 1800s through the efforts of Alice Jackson Lewis of Pennsylvania, Elizabeth Mary Chandler of Delaware, and Elizabeth Heydrick of England.

 

In England, Elizabeth Fry (1780-1845), “one of the most renowned women of her time,” was a Quaker minister, prison reformer, abolitionist, and mother of nine; “probably the first woman whose advice was sought by a committee of the House of Commons... [s]he also founded a girls’ orphanage, and the first institute for nurses’ training.”  Regarding prison reform, Margaret Bacon Hope notes that of those female pioneers in this area whose names have been recorded, about 30% of them were Quaker women, including among the leaders not only Elizabeth Fry, but also Abby Gibbons, Elizabeth Comstock, and Sarah Smith.  Britisher Hannah Kilham (1774-1832) was a linguist and missionary to Africa after she joined the Society of Friends upon the death of both her husband and daughter; she established numerous charity groups for the poor in England and for slave children and women in Africa.  Laura Haviland, “president of the underground,” helped American blacks to escape from the life of slavery; she and her husband founded the Raisin Institute in 1837, probably the second school in the U.S. (after Oberlin, another Quaker school) to accept both black and white pupils.  Hannah Whitall Smith (1832-1911) was an influential Quaker author and preacher living in America and then England.  Lucretia Coffin Mott (1793-1880), daughter of staunch Quakers, became a leading Quaker minister who, in addition to being a leader in the anti-slavery cause—founding the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society and working with the Underground Railroad—and a champion for the rights of native Americans, immigrants, and the poor, was the first American to publicly advocate equal rights for women.  Considered by some the greatest preacher of her time (in America and Europe), Lucretia helped to found Swarthmore College, and, with her friend Elizabeth Cady Stanton called the Seneca Falls Convention of 1848, which, with its signing of the Declaration of the Rights of Women, signalled the commencement of the women’s rights movement.  At her death in 1880, Lucretia Mott was called “the most venerated woman in America.”  Sarah Moore Grimk (1792-1873), yet another woman on the “roster of Quaker saints,” was an abolitionist and, later, a feminist, and one of the rare souls willing to sacrifice the wealth and high status into which she was born (her father was a high-ranking judge in South Carolina) because this aristocratic standing was based on slave labor, which she abhorred early on in life.  She began reading Quaker works in 1819, and finally left the plantation life altogether in 1821, moving to Philadelphia and two years later “braved ostracism by joining the Society of Friends.”  Her halting speech precluded her becoming a Quaker minister, and eventually she moved to N.Y. to continue more forcefully her abolitionist campaign.  For nine months in 1838, she and her younger sister, Angelina Grimké Weld (1805-79; a very eloquent, magnetic speaker), who had inspired her to take up the abolitionist cause, toured New England, campaigning against slavery, incurring much ridicule for daring to speak out as women—which led to their becoming women’s rights advocates as well. 

Quaker Emma Malone founded the Ohio-based “Evangelical Friends Church, Eastern Division,” which has an interdenominational Holiness/Quaker constituency; Emma in 1892 established the Cleveland Bible Institute (now named Malone College).  Margaretta Walton (1829-1904) was an eminent Qaker minister of Chester and Bucks counties in Pennsylvania, who left an extensive series of journals, describing her spiritual growth and other aspects of her life.  In 1887, Hannah Bailey (1839-1923) of Maine became head of the Department of Peace and Arbitration of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), working and writing and publishing tirelessly for the sake of peace; Emily Greene Balch (1867-1961) was “one of the founders of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom and a Nobel Prize laureate who was involved in attempts to negotiate an end to World War I.” 

 

A. Ruth Fry (1872-1962) was “a British Quaker who was active in international relief projects, the Women’s Peace Campaign, the War Resisters’ International”; Hannah Clothier Hull (1872-1958) and Dorothy Hutchinson (1905-84) were active in a number of Quaker pacifist organizations; and British Quaker Priscilla H. Peckover was a founder of the Wisbech Local Peace Association. Marion Bromley is another ardent pacifist Quaker woman who started in Ohio in 1948 the Peacemakers group which refuses payment of taxes for war efforts. [2]

 

Toward the turn of the 20th century appeared a most remarkable woman on the American scene—Jane Addams (1860-1935), who would be voted “America’s most useful citizen,” and become the first woman ever to be awarded a Nobel Prize (the Peace Prize, in 1931).  She was born at Cedarville, Illinois of Quaker parents, her mother dying when Jane was two.  In 1889, Jane and friend Ellen Starr, after having spent some time working for the poor in London’s slums and witnessing the effective work done at Toynbee Hall, returned to the U.S. and bought and refurbished the old Hull House mansion on Chicago’s poor West Side and began a day care center, followed by a kindergarten (taught by Jenny Dow); soon Hull House was a residence for 50 persons (mainly women) who were helping the needy in various ways, and within a few years of opening, 2,000 people a week were being served by Hull House’s activities.  Jane and friend Florence Kelly began a lifelong crusade for labor laws to protect children and adults; she started the Jane Club halfway house for poor young women and the Heroes Club for idle young children, also helping to get Chicago’s first public playground built a block away; she helped get more and better schools for Chicago; with Louise Bowen‚ Jane established the first juvenile court in the U.S.; she improved garbage collection, thus decreasing disease rates; she held social gatherings for immigrants and started a night school with classes in English and citizenship; she taught and sponsored cooking classes.  A library, gymnasium, art gallery, theatre, post office, coffehouse, and meeting halls were established in this huge old mansion which Jane and Ellen had refurbished.  Within 13 years Hull House had grown to include 13 buildings on an entire city block.  Jane used her own funds in the early days, later obtaining funding from private persons.  An adept public speaker on behalf of pacificism, women’s suffrage, and social justice issues, Jane “changed a nation’s way of looking at its poor and immigrant strangers”; she was elected the first president of the Women’s International Leage for Peace and Freedom (which she, Emily Green Balch, Carrie Chapman Catt, et al founded) and helped found the American Civil Liberties Union in 1920.  When honored at the Nobel Prize ceremony, she rose at the end of all the testimonial speeches and declared, “I do not know any such person as you have described here tonight”! [3]  

 

Today there are 115,000 Quakers/Friends in the U.S., and 200,000 in the U.K. and the rest of the world.  Several branches of Quakers flourish, chief of which in the U.S. are the Friends General Conference, based in Philadelphia, which has in its affiliated “unprogrammed” meetings nationwide women/men “ministers”—in the original Quaker sense of those recognized as having a gift of speaking God’s word and “recorded” in the books as such—but this branch of the Quakers does not hire pastors.  On the other hand, the Friends United Meeting, headquartered in Richmond, Indiana, and the Evangelical Friends International, centered in Aurora, Colorado, do hire pastors, male and female, for their “programmed” meetings, and many women (and men) are also “recorded” as especially gifted by God.  (Among the churches of the F.U.M., an estimated 25% of the pastors in the Western branch are women, while only about 5% or less are women in the other regions; in the various regions of the E.F.I., recorded women ministers represent about 12% of the total.)  There remain challenges for women Quakers in undoing the subtle forms of patriarchy which have encroached upon the various Friends’ denominations, but the future looks bright for women in this hallowed tradition.

 

Notable Quaker women of the modern period have included Esther Biddle Rhoads (1896-1979), a Philadelphia Quaker educator and social worker who was associated with the Tokyo Friends Girls School as teacher, principal and trustee (and with the Japanese royal family) from 1917-77.  Blanche W. Shaffer, a leading Quaker woman in the mid-1960s, was twice elected as the top international executive for the Friends.  Among other women who were “firsts” in Quaker leadership capacity, we have Asia Bennett (first executive secretary of the American Friends Service Committee), Kara Cole (held a comparable position in the Friends United Meeting), and Marty Walton (in 1985 was chosen to be general secretary of the Friends General Conference).  Elizabeth Watson‚ is a leading female Quaker Bible scholar and feminist.  We would note that the co-ed Earlham School of Religion in Richmond, Indiana, founded in 1847, has trained many young women as well as men to become pastors of the Friends United Meeting affiliate churches, either with their husbands or alone.  Swarthmore College, another co-ed school (f. in 1869), and Bryn Mawr College for women (f. in 1885) are two other leading Quaker academies which have empowered women through education.  The Female Association for the Relief of Sick and Infirm Poor (1829-1973) and the aforementioned Female Society of Philadelphia for the Relief and Employment of the Poor (1795-1978) were two historically important charity groups organized and run by Quaker women. [4]     

 

Having discussed the Quakers, we should mention that “proto-Quaker” of several centuries ago, Anne Hutchinson (1591-1643), prominent among the many strong-minded British women who came to America (she arrived with her husband in 1634) and formed a dissenting congregation not dependent on the authority of ordained male ministers.  The daughter of a clergyman, wife of a successful businessman, mother of fifteen children, and a hardworking nurse and midwife, Anne had been strongly influenced in England by the Puritan preacher John Cotton.  She began her religious career in the New World in a simple manner by organizing religious meetings in her home to discuss recent sermons by Cotton (who had also arrived here), but gradually she began to share her own theological views, which even more strongly emphasized faith (not works) and a radical intuition (not institutionalized beliefs) as the way to God.  Predictably, Anne was excommunicated by the Puritans in 1638 for these antinomian views—and also for claiming that God spoke to her in revelations—and banished from the Massachusetts Bay Colony.  She fled in exile to Rhode Island and then later moved to New Netherlands (New York); in these latter two regions she taught her radical spiritual way until her massacre in Long Island at the hands of Indians in 1643.  Anne Fremantle has called her “the first woman of any distinction in New England’s religious history.” [5]  (Note that the Quaker martyr Mary Dyer was one of Mrs. Hutchinson’s many followers.)

 

The Quakers are usually associated by scholars with a number of other “marginal” Christian groups which are designated by historians as “free churches,” descending more-or-less from the radical Anabaptists of continental Europe in the 16th century, characterized by adult baptism, separation of church and state, pacifism, withdrawal from the world and from “modern” ways (usually into rural areas and a “quaint” lifestyle), and a return to the ways of early Christianity, free from sacraments, priesthood, creeds and dogma.  The free churches—which include the German and Russian Mennonites, the Older Order Amish and New Amish, the Brethren and the Hutterites—were invited by Quaker William Penn (d. 1718) to escape from their persecution in Europe and immigrate to the New World where—at his “Holy Experiment” in Pennsylvania—they could practice in peace their distinct and quite devout brand of Christianity.  They came and flourished, though on a smaller scale than the Baptists and the mainstream churches of the “magisterial Reformation” in the rest of America and Europe.  Unlike the Quakers, no women figured as prominent leaders within the Mennonites, the Hutterites, the Brethren or the Amish.  Nevertheless, a few of these groups (which are each split into several bodies), despite their very conservative traditions, have begun to ordain women in the latter 20th century. 

 

The Mennonites arose under the inspiration of Menno Simons (1491-1561), a famous preacher from the Netherlands.  The Mennonite Theological Seminary of Amsterdam in 1911 began admitting women to its program, and by the 1930s, women were assuming increasingly important positions both as pastors and on various church governing boards.  In the U.S., the Mennonite Church (first established in Pennsylvania in 1683, largest and oldest of the German Mennonite bodies—most other Mennonite groups derive from it), currently has some 60-70 women among its 2,400 ministers in the U.S.; Rev. Emma Richards became the first woman to serve her church in this capacity in 1973.  The General Conference Mennonite Church, second largest among all Mennonite groups in the U.S., and the largest of the Russian Mennonite groups, was organized in 1860 as a schismatic grouping of a number of more liberal Mennonite groups.  Headquartered in Newton, Kansas, it was actually the first Mennonite group in America to admit women to the pulpit, and now there are about 65 women ministers, roughly 15% of the total number of ordained ministers.  The next largest Russian Mennonite group, the Mennonite Brethren Church of North America (based at Hillsboro, Kansas), does not ordain women. 

 

In 1957 the Church of the Brethren made women eligible for ordination at their Bethany Theological Seminary in Oak Park, Illinois.  (The Church of the Brethren was founded by Alexander Mack [d. 1735], and stems from the “Pietist” tradition of German theologian Philip Jacob Spener [d. 1705]; it relocated to Germantown, Pennsylvania in 1722-3 and is the largest of the Brethren groups, with some 160,000 members in the U.S.).  The small but growing Hutterites (a communally-oriented group founded by martyr Jacob Hutter, d. 1536, and forced to migrate from Switzerland to Moravia to Wallachia [Romania] to Russia to South Dakota), as well as the Amish (founded around 1693 by Jacob Amman, a Mennonite preacher from Switzerland), do not ordain women to their ministries.  In these churches, women are still believed to be inferior to men physically, intellectually, and emotionally, and are urged to obey and follow their husbands, although some sociologists have argued that women do exercise a real power and command no small amount of respect in the domain of their own household. [6]

 

Going back to the 17th century in England we find some prophetesses of “quasi-Christian” persuasion.  Lady Eleanor Douglas (1590-1652) began to experience the “spirit of prophecy” in 1625; her first husband burned her prophetic writings and died three years later, according to her prediction!  A second husband also burned further writings by her and later succumbed to a stroke.  “Her high birth, self-confidence, and persistence made her the most notorious of the prophets who abounded in seventeenth century England” (even Queen Henrietta Maria consulted her).  In London circa 1677, Anne Wentworth emerged as another prophetess who claimed to be having nightly visitations and revelations from the Lord, but who also experienced rejection by her husband (he evicted her from the house—nothing much is known about her after this). 

 

Mother Ann Lee (1736-84) led the Shakers (United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing) in the 1770’s in England and then in America.This was a group notable for its dynamic expression of spiritual energy, as well as celibacy and ascetic tendencies.  Mother Ann had been converted to the life of the Spirit in 1758 by Jane Wardley who firmly believed that Christ would come again as a woman.  Around 1770, after the death of her fourth infant, she too appeared to die but was reborn, shortly afterward becoming completely celibate—to the chagrin of her husband.  She organized the Shaker community, a celibate offshoot group from the Quakers, and they sought converts on the streets of England, enduring frequent jailings and persecutions.  Under the influence of a guiding vision, Mother Ann Lee and her followers came to the New World, setting up their first community at Watervliet, N.Y., and spreading quickly throughout the region, no doubt because women were considered entirely equal to men.  Mother Ann Lee was herself regarded by the Shakers as the female Christ—emanating from an androgynous God—who completes humanity’s redemption.  “Shaker women and men lived in spiritual community but in separate sections of the household, each led by their own leadership of men or women.”  One Shaker eldress of note is Anna White (1831-1910), who went against the wishes of her Quaker parents to join the Shaker community at Hancock, Massachusetts when she was eighteen.  She would not only become the Eldress of the North Family Shaker community from the year 1887 onward, and co-write the only history on the Shakers by an inside member, Anna also came to national attention for her work on international disarmament, pacifism, and women’s rights.  The Shaker community relied mainly on adopting orphans as a way of propagating its membership down through the generations, and when, in the latter part of the 19th century, orphans began to be cared for by other churches, the number of Shakers diminished.  The group has dwindled to only a handful of members at the present time. [7] 

 

On the much more bizarre side, we learn of Elspeth Buchan, a Scottish fanatic who in 1783 announced the Second Coming of Christ, and, with the exiled Presbyterian preacher Hugh White (who thought her to be a saint, the woman “clothed in the sun” referred to in Book of Revelation), started a religious commune of some fifty persons at a Dumfriesshire farm; marriage was outlawed and the children were collectively owned by the Buchanite Society. Elspeth was revered for her ability to confer the Holy Spirit by breathing on people, but began to enact some very strange policies in order to literally “elevate” her faithful to heaven—such as having them fast for forty days to become lighter (some died as a result), and having other members cut their hair, leaving only a small topknot by which the angels could pull them up!  As might be predicted, eventually her group disintegrated.

 

In 1792, Joanna Southcott (1750-1814) began to hear divine voices, supplying her with adventist prophecies, which would come to fill some 65 pamphlets of writings; in 1801 she self-published one of these, which attracted some millenarian followers, and this led to her itinerant “sealing of true believers”—by 1807 she had issued some 14,000 seals, faith-tokens symbolizing the urgent call for the establishment of Christ’s kingdom on earth.  In 1814 Ms. Southcott (who had decided while young to reject all her marriage proposals and remain single) announced that she was the “woman clothed with the sun” mentioned in the Book of Revelations (a much-vaunted position in those days!) and was going to give birth to the anticipated Messiah, Shiloh; though she was 64 years of age, she began to show interesting symptoms and seemed to many doctors to become pregant, but then she died later that year.  She was the most influential of the many prophets and visionaries of her era (and a forerunner to many of the Adventist groups in England and America in the 19th century).  Her Southcottian society still exists today. [8]

 

The large, widespread Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the LDS or “Mormon” Church), now numbering around 7 million people worldwide, was established in upper New York in 1830 by young “prophet” Joseph Smith (1805-44), based on his reading of the Bible, elements from Freemasonry, and revelations and writings given him by a strange “ascended master,” Moroni, from 1823 on. In light of clear evidence concerning UFO visitations, ufologist Jacques Vallee and others have argued that Moroni seems to have been some kind of artificial holographic-apparition projected by the alien intelligence, along with a repeating message, to convince this “country bumpkin” that he was being visited by an “angel.” The Church of the Latter-day Saints involved some very curious articles of faith, some of them perhaps indicating that the Mormon Church was indeed one of the alien-inspired “Custodial religions.” For instance, in its unsophisticated theology Smith asserted that God was once a a man-like being dwelling on another planet, and that even today God is three separate distinct entities, Father, Son, Holy Spirit, with Father and Son each having a glorified physical body, and that this trinity along with a Heavenly Mother (the Father’s wife) and lesser deities all dwell in a certain region of the material universe. The cosmos is said to be filled with invisible “spirit babies” yearning to be born into human bodies—ultimately to evolve, like others, into godlike beings. Blood-letting was for a long time used—at first literally, and then symbolically—as a means for atonement. Other Christian ministers were depicted as “hirelings of Satan.” And, until 1978, blacks were not allowed to be priests in the LDS Church. 

 

As far as women are concerned, until early 1990 they were compelled to take a vow of obedience to their husbands (inexplicably, even single women had to make this vow!), and if the husband strayed into sinfulness or evil, the wife’s eternal fate was in jeopardy.  Fortunately, in an updated version of Mormon rites, women now pledge only to obey God and to merely listen to the advice of their husbands. In the LDS, women have never been able to become priests—though occasionally women occupied the pulpit during Church meetings.  Moreover, women have had to endure the insult of male polygamy—a policy which Joseph Smith instituted during his ministry—which in some cases meant that a woman had to share her husband with a large number of other women.  On the positive side, in many cases the wives of a husband became very close friends, like sisters, and helped each other with household work and the raising of the children. Another positive element is that women were the sole teachers in the weekday Gospel instruction for children under 12 years of age, and in 1842, while the community was centered at Nauvoo, Illinois, LDS women banded together and received permission from Smith to start the Female Relief Society, now known as the Relief Society of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, oriented toward the development of women and benevolent service. 

 

Eliza Roxey Snow (1804-1887) became one of the most powerful women in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Her parents joined the new church after their move to Ohio in the 1820s.  She herself was baptized in 1835 and became a teacher for the children of Joseph Smith.  She often displayed the gift of speaking in tongues and gained a reputation as a prophetess, although several prominent prophecies did not come true.  In 1842, she proposed the idea for the Female Relief Society, and became its first secretary.  Three months later she became one of Smith’s many wives. Her writing, especially her poetry, would also be a significant contribution to her church.  After Smith’s martyrdom in 1844, Eliza became one of the wives of Smith’s successor, Brigham Young, though the relationship was evidently a platonic one (Eliza would be a staunch apologist for polygamy, upholding the idea that women can redeem their gender’s fallen statues through Eve by submitting in obedience to a few righteous men).  After the group moved westward to Salt Lake City, Utah, Eliza directed the women’s section of the Endowment House and ministered to the needs of sick women and children, and was often called on to pray and practice laying-on-of-hands healing for their benefit.  In 1867 Young appointed her as second president of the Relief Society, a work which occupied her the rest of her life, along with several other duties—the founding of The Woman’s Exponent journal, and helping direct the Deseret Hospital Association.  Aurelia Spencer Robers (1834-1922) worked with instilling values in boys through the Primary Association of the LDS church, and worked to improve the status and role of women in her church and in society.  Romania Pratt Penrose (1839-1932) became the first wife of Parley Pratt, Jr., the son of an outstanding first generation Mormon family, but she sold her possessions, left her children for a time, and went east to New York and then Philadelphia to study medicine—a lifelong desire—when Brigham Young urged women of the LDS to study medicine.  Upon her return to Salt Lake City, Romania was welcomed by the leadership and promptly began to serve her church in her new capacity. She divorced, remarried, and devoted herself in old age after her retirement from medical practice to other forms of church work.  Susa Ameila Young Gates (1856-1933), born and died in Salt Lake City, was the forty-first child of Brigham Young (who had more than fifty wives).  Susa became the first person in the new church to be baptized for the dead in 1877.  In 1862 she had married an alcoholic whom she would later divorce, and after her remarriage she began to write articles (and, later, books) for her church.  She started the Young Woman’s Journal in the 1880s, and became a well-known speaker and the editor of the Relief Society Magazine.  She became possibly the most powerful woman in the LDS movement after Eliza Snow, and was the only female given an office in the Church Office Building.  She also represented her church to the National Council of Women seven times. 

“Women from the very beginning of the Church had held a position of dignity, trust, and responsibility.  Their mental capacities were recognized, as was their right to develop their talents to the full. They had been given the religious vote almost with the founding of the Church in 1830.  Elsewhere, this was at a time when few men and no women enjoyed this privilege.  Now, these women had been given the unique recognition of having an organization of their own, a structure through which to advance themselves and give service. Today (1974) the Relief Society, founded in 1842 with a membership of eighteen women, is national and international in scope.  It operates in seventy countries of the world and has on its rolls the names of approximately 1.5 million women eighteen years of age and over, representing many nationalities.  Its membership includes non-Latter-day Saint women as well as Latter-day-Saint women, for the Society maintains an open-door membership policy.  Its programs and instructional materials are now translated into sixteen different languages.  Insofar as we are able to determine, the Relief Society is the oldest national women’s organization to continuously persist.” [9]

 

This statement comes to us from Belle S. Spafford (1895-1982), the most distinguished LDS woman of our own day.  She was general president of the Relief Society for 29 years in the mid- and latter-20th century, and president of the National Council of Women for a 3-year term.  Belle was also recipient of the Exemplary Womanhood Award from Brigham Young University in Utah—the leading Mormon educational facility.

 

The main rival to the Church of LDS is the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, headquartered in Independence, Missouri. Catherine Bishop Kelley (1853-1944) was a leader in the work to establish this body.  She and her husband had moved to Kirkland, which had been the former headquarters of the Mormons, and they procured the abandoned temple for their new church.  The couple later moved to Iowa.  In 1893 the churchwomen of the Reorganized Church organized the Daughters of Zion and made Catherine the first president.  She later helped establish Graceland College and set up the Patroness Society to enact charitable work.  In 1984, the president of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of LDS, Wallace B. Smith, experienced a “revelation” (as Mormon leaders are wont to receive), this one calling for women’s ordination.  The first women were ordained the following year, and, predictably, a number of schismatic patriarchal groups left over this development, revealing that unfortunate rigidity which has afflicted male minds in so many times and places.

 

In LDS history an interesting, though unnamed, woman made a brief appearance—the Kirkland seeress—who challenged Joseph Smith, claiming that he had transgressed when he adopted polygamy.  She stated that he would be replaced by David Whitmer or Martin Harris, two of his leading disciples. (In fact, he was assasinated not too long afterward.)  In more recent times, Pauline Hancock‚ also taught that Joseph Smith had become a wicked man in teaching polygamy.  She felt she was called to preach, citing as her precedent the quasi “ordination” of Emma Smith‚ by husband Joseph Smith.  In 1950 Pauline started her own church—the Bible and Book of Mormon Teaching—at Independence, Missouri.  Pauline taught trinitarian views not in accordance with Mormon “tritheist” theology, and later claimed that the Book of Mormon was not of divine origin.  Her church has since moved over to a more orthodox, evangelical Christian position.  In the 1960s, Sandra Tanner and her husband Jerald emerged as the most prominent defectors from and critics of the Mormon church of Salt Lake City, leveling serious charges against the LDS and its beliefs and practices; they have established the Utah Lighthouse Ministry in Salt Lake City.  On the other side of the argument, Robert and Rosemary Brown‚ are pro-LDS members who have written a number of polemic texts attempting to answer the attacks of the Tanners and others.

 

Showing much more sanity, to my mind, are the Unitarian-Universalists, who arose during the 16th-18th centuries in Europe and America.  The Unitarians rejected the notion of a triune God and the finality of Jesus’ authority or atonement, while the the Universalists eschewed the Calvinist doctrine of salvation for a predestined elite (these two groups, the oldest and most conservative traditions of the “liberal family” as Professor Melton has designated it, were finally combined organizationally in 1961).  Because of their beliefs, the Unitarian-Universalists have been considered a “marginal Christian” group; Unitarian-Universalists see themselves as emerging from, but not limited to, the Christian tradition.  Some notable women are to be found in these traditions.  Judith Sargent Murray (1751-1820) of Gloucester, Massachusetts, married John Murray, a Universalist itinerant preacher, after the death of her first husband, and it was on her father’s land that the first Universalist Church in America was built.  Judith later wrote a series of essays for a leading periodical under a male pseudonym which were collected and published in 1798 as The Gleaner, which included many passages on the equality of the sexes, and on religion.  The Universalists are especially noteworthy for us in that they were the first regularly constituted ecclesiastical organization to ordain a woman to the ministry in the U.S.:  Olympia Brown, in 1863.  Olympia was born in Michigan in 1835 and graduated in 1863 from the theological shcool of St. Lawrence Univ. (she had earlier been refused entry to the Univ. of Michigan because of her sex); after entering the ministry of the Universalists that same year, she served the church in Weymouth, Mass., later ministering at churches in Bridgeport, Connecticut, and a number of towns in Wisconsin.  Olympia was also one of the first women to retain her maiden name after marriage.  She outlived her husband by 33 years, spending the rest of her life managing his newspaper, and working for women’s suffrage and social reform until her death in 1926.  Phebe Ann Coffin Hanaford (1829-1921), reared a Quaker, became a Baptist after her marriage, and labored in the fields of evangelism, temperance, and abolition.  She became a Universalist and worked with Olympia Brown, and in 1868 herself became the first female in New England to be ordained into the ministry.  She pastored at churches in Hingham, Massachusetts and, in later years, at New Haven, Connecticut; she wrote hymns and poems for the Daughters of Temperance (she was their chaplain), and authored half a dozen books.  Phebe is also notable for becoming the first woman to chaplain for a state legislature (Connecticut).  Another notable woman of the Universalist faith was Mary Rice Ashton Livermore (1821-1905), who, after being raised in a stern, Calvinistic Baptist family, married Daniel Livermore, a Universalist minister.  His optimistic views and kindly nature brought her much happiness, and for 16 years she helped his work in six pastorates and in editing a monthly journal, also engaging in charity work.  During the Civil War, while living in Chicago, Mary came to national attention for her work with the Sanitary Commission, and she helped organize with friend Jane Hoge more than 3,000 local aid societies in northwestern states which facilitated her tireless raising of funds, surgical supplies, and food supplements for the Union Armies, whom she served personally with “countless acts of charity.”  After the war Mary took up the women’s suffrage issue, and also served as a president for the Massachusetts branch of the WCTU (for the period 1875-85), considered the movement’s foremost speaker by its leader, Frances Willard.  In 1895, Mrs. Livermore retired from the lecture circuit and, after her husband’s passing, she became a spiritualist, with evident success in contacting her departed husband and receiving from him messages about life on “the other side.”     

 

Dorothea Dix (1802-87), born in Maine, joined the Unitarians as a young woman in Boston after starting a small school; she began another school for beggars, called “The Hope.”  These two educational projects would keep her working very long, tiring hours, leading to a physical collapse in 1836.  She began to read the Bible on Sundays to women convicts—some of whom were insane.  Reflecting deeply on the plight of the latter, Dorothea spent an 18 month period visiting some 500 jails, almhouses and workhouses, coming back and pressuring the Massachusetts legislature to build two large state hospitals for the mentally afflicted.  Between 1843-7 she traveled 30,000 miles over the Eastern U.S. (from Canada to the Gulf, from the Atlantic to the Mississippi River—contracting malaria at one point), examining conditions and appealing to legislatures and to local folk to implement reforms for the mentally disordered.  New Jersey and Pennsylvania each built mental hospitals in 1845, Illinois and Mississippi followed in 1847, Tennessee and North Carolina in 1848, and so on.  Soon states were inviting Dorothea to come.  She did the same work in England, Scotland (where she was nicknamed “the American Invader”), France, Austria, Greece, Turkey, Russia, Germany, Norway, and Holland.  By the end of her life, Dorothea had help found over 123 asylums and hospitals for the mentally ill.  Her labors also extended to functioning as Superintendent of Nurses for the Union Army during the American civil war. 

 

Other prominent Unitarian women include Catherine Helen Spence (1825-1910), a famous advocate for women’s suffrage, supporter of orphans, and, in her later years, a Unitarian preacher; the aforementioned Antoinette Brown, a Congregational minister, the first woman ordained to a mainstream Protestant church, who switched over to become a long-time preacher for the Unitarians; and the long-lived Sophia Lyon Fahs (1877-1978), who enjoyed a “worldwide reputation” as an outstanding writer, teacher and leading religious educator of the Unitarian Church, editor of the progressive Beacon Series of resources for her church, children’s book author, and, as mentioned earlier, one of the first two women appointed to the faculty at Union Theological Seminary in 1927.  Inspired by the educational philosophy of John Dewey, Sophia was a quite progressive woman, emphasizing study of various religiouns, a realistic view of the Bible as unevenly inspired human literature, and the need for relying on one’s own experience as a basis for religious conviction.  In 1959, at the age of 82, she accepted ordination as a minister in the Unitarian Church.  Margaret Fuller also deserves passing mention here as an early Unitarian, a friend of Emerson, and a main figure involved in publishing The Dial among the Transcendentalists. [10]

 

Despite these and other active women, the Unitarian-Universalist Church, like many of the Protestant groups, for years saw only a small minority of women amongst its ministers, though this situation has been corrected by the leadership of the movement, which is very much in favor of the Equal Rights Amendment.  In 1959, when Sophia Fahs was ordained, she noted in her talk that of the 539 ministers listed in the latest Unitarian Year Book, there were but six women, of which only one was active; and there were only two women enrolled for the B.D. degree in all of their five theologically liberal seminaries; but, happily, as of early 1991, there were about 1,200 ministers in the Unitarian-Universalist Church, and fully 52% of these are women, a higher figure than is to be found in any Western church of the Christian lineage.

 

Christian Science, developed by Mary Baker Glover Eddy (1821-1910) in the late 1860s (her Church of Christ, Scientist, was chartered in 1879), has been a tremendously influential denomination of “third way” Christianity, not only with its outstanding newspaper, the Christian Science Monitor, the first issue of which appeared in 1879, and the brilliant writings of Mrs. Eddy, but especially through its fomenting of the spiritual healing movement and, through Mrs. Eddy’s disciple Emma Curtis Hopkins, the entire “New Thought” movement.  Christian Science is the first and most successful of the institutionally organized “metaphysical” religious groups of our era.  It is rooted in a sophisticated, highly intuitive understanding of the Scriptures, and is intended to “reinstate primitive Christianity and its lost element of healing.”  Thus it has also served as a forerunner to all the Pentecostal and Charismatic healing ministries burgeoning in this century, though it has the idea that healing comes by replacing the “mortal mind” in us with the Divine Mind, not so much simply relying on the healing powers of Jesus to descend to our mortal, material level of personality.  (In spite of this emphasis upon the “Divine Mind,” and a pristine life of spiritual consciousness and sparkling virtue, Christian Science has unfortunately in some circles been a little too “unilevel”-oriented, that is, more devoted to health, prosperity, and well-being as a body in this world, rather than devoted to realization of our transcendent spiritual identity in God, which was Mrs. Eddy’s oft-emphasized teaching.) 

 

A fervent yet sometimes troubled soul, Mrs. Eddy was raised in New Hampshire by devoted Congregationalist parents who were undoubtedly concerned over the fate of their sickly child.  She often wrote poetry to transcend thinking about her ills.  At the age of 22 she married and bore her first child, but husband George Glover passed away the next year.  Her fiancé and her mother would also both die in the next several years.  In the early 1860s, while her second husband was away much of the time on business, Mary drew inspiration from the “Christian Science” healing work of Phineas Quimby (1802-66) of Portland, Maine.  In 1866, two weeks after his passing, Mary experienced a divine healing after she had incurred serious afflictions from a bad fall.  In the next year, she served as an instrument for God’s healing of her niece, and began writing her first work, The Science of Man, which she began using as a textbook with her students, beginning in 1870. In 1875 Mary divorced her second husband and the next year she organized her students into the Christian Science Association; in 1877 she married Asa Gilbert Eddy and two years later formed the Church of Christ, Scientist.  In 1872 Mary had begun work on her eloquent, spiritually-challenging work, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures (published in 1875), which, in combination with the Bible, today comprise the only two “pastors” of her Christian Science Church. [11]  Mary successfully endured a lawsuit in the 1890s by a couple who thought that Mary had stolen Quimby’s teachings and presented them as her own; yet there remain significant differences in her approach and that of Quimby’s.  For one thing, he was very hostile toward Christianity and the Bible, which she most obviously was not.  Science writer Martin Gardner has accused Mary of plagiarizing from a number of sources. In any case, when she passed away at the age of 89 in 1910, her church was international in scope.

 

Since the early 1890’s, there have been no ordained ministers in Christian Science, only readers, and, happily, women have an equal status with males as readers.  Even more than Quakerism, “Christian Science and its competitors ... gave a religious role to women which American Protestantism had characteristically denied.” [12]  It was mainly women who spread the message of Christian Science in its early decades, and a number of these women started offshoot groups of their own, such as Augusta Stetson, Annie Bill (d. 1937), Margaret Laird, and, most significantly, Emma Curtis Hopkins, “the mother of New Thought.”  Stetson and Hopkins can be profiled here.

 

Augusta Emma Stetson (1842-1928) met Mary Baker Eddy in 1884, becoming a “Reverend” in 1890, and Mrs. Eddy’s most trusted representative in the whole New York area.  She founded New York City’s Christian Science Institute in 1891 and served as its president until her death 37 years later, turning it into an organization much larger than Eddy’s mother-church in Boston.  Directors in Boston feared a possible schism, and tried to undermine her work, revoking her practitioner’s license, and so on, but Augusta stayed quite loyal to Mrs. Eddy, whom she viewed as the incarnation of the Divine Mother.  Finally, after 1910, Augusta began to campaign vigorously, sharing her own views, and hundreds of students spread her influence across the country. [13]

 

Emma Curtis Hopkins (1853-1925) was born and raised in Connecticut, and given a sound education.  She married an English teacher in 1874 and in 1881 enjoyed a healing experience at a Christian Science meeting.  In December 1883 she moved to Boston so as to take the primary class of the Christian Science Association at its Massachusetts Metaphysical College under the tutorship of Mary Baker Eddy.  By the next year, Emma, who was recognized as a gifted student by Mrs. Eddy, had assumed editorial duties of the Christian Science Monitor, but she split from Eddy in late 1885, thence moving to Chicago.  Here, at the urging or her devoted students, she founded a college which soon was reorganized as the Christian Science Theological Seminary. Many Christian Science students and other students of divine healing methods flocked to her.  In the words of one biographer, these supporters “acclaimed her as the most effective teacher they ever heard.  In many instances, it was asserted, invalids attended her class to emerge completely well at the end.  She dwelt so continuously in matters of spirit, they held that her mere presence could heal or fill listeners with the reviving energy of new life.”  The seminary’s first class graduated in January 1889.  “On January 10 of that year, Emma Curtis Hopkins became the first woman in modern times to assume the role of a Christian bishop and ordain others—the majority of whom were also women—to the ministry.  During the next four years, 111 students completed the course of study and were ordained by Hopkins.” [14]  This ordaining of Christian Science ministers (a dozen years before the Holiness leader Alma Bridwell White) constituted an important development in the structure of Christian Science, for Mrs. Eddy had been the chief minister in what was otherwise an almost entirely lay movement.  Ms. Hopkins articulated a feminist theology emphasizing that we live in the period of the Holy Spirit, the Mother-Principle, wherein women may now rise to power.  And so they did under Ms. Hopkins’ guidance, spreading throughout the country (by 1887 there were already schools and branch associations in 17 cities, and now there would be many more).  These women founded the seminal churches of this rapidly growing American religious movement of health, wealth, and happiness which soon came to be known as “New Thought.”  Ms. Hopkins stood “at the headwaters” of the surging new movement, revered as the “teacher’s teacher.”  “Every major contemporary New Thought organization can be directly traced to Hopkins’ teaching work.”  After training her flock of ministers, she suddenly retired in 1895, closed her seminary, and relocated to N.Y. city, where she wrote her most famous book, High Mysticism, a true classic based not only on Christian Science but upon her readings of the world’s sacred traditions.  She continued to tutor students on a one-on-one basis into her old age.  Many of these pupils would organize important major New Thought groups, such as Helen Van Anderson (Church of the Higher Life), Ernest Holmes (Religious Science), Albert C. Grier (Church of the Truth), and a number of others who are mentioned below.  Hopkins had a number of women students who became important turn-of-the-century, “best-seller” writers on New Thought themes: Clare Stocker, Julia Anderson Root (Healing Power of Mind, 1884), Helen Bigelow Merriam (What Shall Make Us Whole, 1888), and Elizabeth Towne (The Nautilus, first issue published in 1898) and others. [15]   

 

(For much of this material on New Thought, as for a number of sections in this and the previous chapter, I am indebted to Professor J. Gordon Melton, who, along with his team of researchers, has amassed considerable encyclopedic information on the development of the myriad American religions and their male and female founders and leading personalities. [16]). 

 

Myrtle Caroline Page Fillmore (1848-1931), raised by strict Methodists, was spiritually healed of tuberculosis in 1886 after being inspired by a Christian Science lecturer.  She began to heal others in the Kansas City area with the same metaphysical principles and then she and her husband, Charles Fillmore (1854-1948), who had been skeptical at first, studied under and were ordained by Emma Curtis Hopkins. The two went on to found the Society of Silent Help in 1891 (soon known as Silent Unity), which in 1914 would become part of their Unity School of Christianity.  Unity has become very popular over the years for its teaching of “practical Christianity,” upholding belief in one God and in Christ, Son of God, manifest in Jesus—though divinity is not confined to Jesus, since we are all created in the divine image of God and are thus all potentially divine.  Unity magazine (to which Annie Rix Militz [see below] and Harriet Emilie Cady [1848-1941], both students of Hopkins, were major contributors), the Daily Word magazine, the Wee Wisdom magazine (for children) and the Silent Unity healing prayer ministry have been important expressions of this church, in which women comprise 53% of the ministers.  Connie Fillmore, great-grandaughter of Myrtle and Charles, currently heads the Unity School of Christianity, headquartered since 1949 at Unity Village, a 1,400-acre complex 20 miles outside of Kansas City.  Unity was a member of the International New Thought Alliance (INTA) group which formed in 1914 (first formed in 1906 as the National New Thought Alliance), but withdrew in 1923 to preserve a more Christian orientation.  Catherine Ponder (1927- ) is one of the most widely known ministers with the Association of Unity Churches, and her Unity Church Worldwide at Palm Desert, California, is one of the largest Unity Church congregations.  Why?  Undoubtedly because she is the leading proponent in the world of Unity for that always-popular idea of receiving prosperity from God (Catherine has written many books on the subject, most famous of which is Pray and Grow Rich, along with books on spiritual healing). [17]

 

We have already mentioned Emma Curtis Hopkins and her Christian Science Theological Seminary and later private teaching work as the chief impetus behind the New Thought movement.  Though New Thought tends to be known during the 20th century for its salient male figures, [18] a number of women have been quite influential in the movement, especially in its earliest days.

 

Several women, Malinda Elliott Cramer (1844-1906), Nona Lovell Brooks (1861-1945), and Brooks’ two sisters, Althea Brooks Small and Fannie Brooks James, are responsible for founding the very influential New Thought denomination known as Divine Science.  Malinda Cramer received a healing of her invalid condition in 1885, and became, along with a number of San Francisco women, a student of Emma Curtis Hopkins.  Soon emerging as a teacher herself, she incorporated Home College in 1888 and began to offer courses, soon coming to refer to her teachings as Divine Science.  Malinda also published Harmony, one of the most prominent early New Thought periodicals (a book was published containing her best articles).  On one of her teaching trips through the U.S., Cramer came to Denver in 1890, where she inspired Nona Brooks who, with her sister Althea Brooks Small‚ had been taking Christian Science classes the previous few years under Kate Bingham, a student of Emma Curtis Hopkins.  Nona had been healed of a persistent throat infection at one of Bingham’s sessions, and she and Althea found they could now heal others, something which incurred the disfavor of their Presbyterian Church, which terminated Nona’s Sunday school teaching.  (Nona Brooks, along with her two sisters, had been raised in the southeast U.S. by staunch Presbyterians.)  After studying for a time at a local Colorado school and then at Wellesley for a year, Nona joined her other sister, Fannie Brooks James, who was teaching metaphysical classes in Denver similar to Cramer’s.  Nona began working with Fannie full-time, and was soon joined by Althea as well.  In 1898, Nona was ordained a Divine Science minister by Cramer and the Denver Divine Science College was opened, followed the next year by the first Divine Science Church.  “The sisters went on to build a thriving organization based upon the affirmation of God as pure Spirit, equally present everywhere and at all times.”  Nona started in 1902 the periodical, Fulfillment, and in 1915 the Daily Studies in Divine Science, the oldest of the New Thought daily learning materials.  Cramer was killed in 1906 by the San Francisco earthquake, but the Denver work allowed the Divine Science church to flourish.  Nona succeeded Althea as president of the college upon the latter’s death during the First World War.  Nona formed the International Divine Science Federation and became a prominent member of the INTA; in the late 1920s she resigned her work and embarked on a ten year traveling program, opening two centers in Australia, before returning to head the Divine Science college for several years before her passing.  Nona and her colleagues’ had reworked Hopkins’ and Eddy’s ideas to yield a New Thought metaphysics which strongly emphasizes the omnipresence of God, the practice of meditation (not prayer) on this divine omnipresence (especially in the sense of the Inner Christ), and a faith that one can thereby have health, prosperity, and happiness manifest in this life.  Their Divine Science movement would significantly influence a number of the male New Thought leaders, such as Ernest Holmes (founder of Religious Science), Emmet Fox, W. John Murray, and Joseph Murphy. 

 

Annie Rix Militz (1856-1924), the first vice-president of Nona Brooks’ International Divine Science Federation, and, along with Harriette Emilie Cady, a major contributor to Unity magazine, herself founded many “Homes of Truth” New Thought healing groups with her sister Harriet Rix, beginning in the S.F. area in 1888, eventually spreading along the Pacific Coast, and reaching to Chicago, Boston, and so on.  Annie authored a number of books and articles, and helped form the International New Thought Alliance.  Ella Wheeler Wilcox (1850-1919) became one of the favorite poets and essayists of the New Thought movement, able to popularize its ideas on the power of the mind and the rootedness of the human individual in the Divine Spirit.  Julia Seton Sears (1862-1950) was a medical doctor, Theosophist (see below), prominent New Thought spokesperson, author of numerous books, and founder of the Church of the New Civilization, which had many centers in the eastern and western U.S.  Her movement, which has dwindled since her passing, emphasized healing, prosperity, and the philosophy of “God is all” (“evil” being “undeveloped good”). 

 

Florence Gloria Crawford founded the Comforter League of Light, after an empowerment by the Holy Spirit around 1913 in Portland.  She felt herself to be in regular contact with Jesus.  A celebrated speaker in New Thought gatherings, she started The Comforter magazine in 1914.  Florence moved to S.F. in 1921, and soon her healing groups appeared up and down the Pacific coast.  (Baird Spaulding, a popular writer, was a member.)  Rev. Carolyn Barbour and Kathryn Breese Whiting each founded other popular New Thought institutions during this century.  Dr. Joan Gibson started the Church of Inner Wisdom in San Jose, California, in 1968, which blends New Thought, Rosicrucianism (an ancient esoteric tradition), and psychic studies. 

 

Rev. Johnnie Coleman (1920?- ), the first black New Thought minister, was raised a Methodist, graduated from Union Academy in Columbus, Mississippi, and got a B.A. from Wiley College in Texas.  After this, she taught school for a time before moving to Chicago to work as a price analyst.  Diagnosed as having a terminal illness in 1953, she moved to Kansas City to enroll as a full-time student of the Unity School of Christianity founded by the Fillmores.  Within six months all signs of disease had vanished, but a problem still remained—the racial barriers:  she was not allowed to live on campus nor to eat at the school cafeteria.  She suffered all this, finally was given accomodations at the school her last year, and she was ordained in 1956.   She then returned to Chicago to start the Christ Unity Temple, the first predominantly black Unity congregation.  In the early 1970s, Rev. Coleman was elected as the first black president of the Association of Unity Churches.  In 1974, newly remarried (her first husband had died), she withdrew her church from Unity and the INTA—because of racist and sexist tendencies—and reorganized her work into the Christ Universal Temple and Johnnie Colemon Institute, which teach a path similar to that of Unity.  The ministers she ordained went out to form their own congregations, and, in time, the Universal Foundation for Better Living was incorporated as an umbrella for the work of Rev. Coleman and her colleagues.  By the late 1980s there were 23 member congregations.  By 1978 Coleman was speaking at three services each Sunday to an audience in excess of 1,000 people.  She began a television show in 1981, and in 1985 she opened on Chicago’s far south side a new, much larger Christ Universal Temple—which includes a 3,500-seat auditorium, the school, and the television facilities.  Author of several books, Rev. Colemon operates the largest church in the entire Chicago area.  She has served in a variety of altruistic positions in the city. Speaking of highly influential black ministers in this area, we can look back half a century to note a group with “marked similarities to New Thought,” as Professor Sydney Ahlstrom notes, the Peace Mission Movement, started by “Father Divine,” George Baker (c.1878?-1965), also involving strong Holiness and Adventist elements, and operating mainly out of the N.Y. and Philadelphia areas.  He was considered (by himself and his followers) to be the “Second Coming,” and his wife, known as Mother Penniah Divine, was his co-leader in this Mission, which stood for the Absolute Fatherhood and Motherhood of God, brotherhood of man, and openness to expressing the power of the Holy Spirit, sans ministers or rituals.  After Baker’s passing in 1965, his second wife, Edna Rose Ritchlings (a golden blonde who had married him in 1946 when she was 21), the second “Mother Divine,” took over leadership of the movement.  She resides at Woodmont, Connecticut.

 

Louise Hay left the beauty and fashion world in mid-life to train in Holmes’ Church of Religious Science (becoming a sought-after counselor) and later practice Transcendental Meditation.  She eventually wrote the best-selling book, Heal Your Body (and, subsequently, You Can Heal Your Life). At a certain point, Louise had the chance to prove her philosophy and the holistic health approach by curing herself of cancer.  Now she resides in the Los Angeles area, teaching New Thought/New Age principles to a wide audience. Terry Cole-Whittaker was a former Mrs. California who became the pastor of the La Jolla, Calif., Church of Religious Science in 1977, which began to grow by leaps and bounds under her guidance.  She started a television ministry in 1979 which also became very well-known.  In 1982, Terry left the Church to start a church of her own, though she disbanded this and the television show in 1985, due to criticism for her materialistic philosophy (a problem for much of New Thought in its less refined form) and mounting financial debt, even though she had a huge following in the New Thought world, drawing 4,000 people a week to her Sunday services.  In recent years Terry has been working with a new syndicated television show featuring entertainment and, as one reporter calls it, her “all-smiles theology.” [19]         

 

In this section on alternative Western spiritual movements, we can here mention two Christian offshoot groups which have been led by women, first of which is the Ecclesia Gnostica Mysterium, a branch of the Liberal Catholic Church (a theosophical derivative of the Old Catholic Church, formed in the 1870s by Catholics who could not accept the doctrine of papal infallibility).  The Ecclesia Gnostica Mysterium was founded in the 1970s in Pala Alto, California, by Rev. Rosa Miller, who was consecrated in 1981 a bishop by Stephan Hoeller, et al, of the Ecclesia Gnostica in Los Angeles.  She claims a primal apostolic succession through the lineage of Mary Magdalene who is said to have moved to England with Joseph Arimathea, then to the Continent, where she founded a secret sisterhood which has flourished down to this day, allegedly contacted in the 1960s by Rev. Miller.  In the 1980s, Rev. Miller has ordained the first male priests in the Mary Magdalene Order.  She sees her church as neither Christian nor Gnostic, only interested in promoting “gnosis” (direct intuitive knowledge) of God. [20]

 

Another offshoot of Christianity is “The Love Project,” founded by Arleen Lorrance and Diane K. Pike and headquartered in San Diego; this is an outgrowth of the Foundation of Religious Transition formed in 1969 by Episcopal Bishop James Pike (d. 1969) and his wife Diane after his rejection of the doctrine of the Trinity and inerrancy of the Bible and with his growing interest in parapsychology, social action, and clergy training. [21]

 

Spiritualism is a fabulously popular “religion” or activity for several million people in the West, mainly in Britain, the U.S., and Brazil, as it is for millions of people in other cultures.  Involving primarily the “channeling” phenomenon of communicating with figures of the spirit-worlds, Spiritualism is actually the world’s oldest religion, having been practiced by shamans from tens of thousands of years ago, and by the mediums—usually female—among the ancient Chinese, Japanese, Egyptians, Babylonians, Assyrians, Greeks, Celts, and other people.  Modern-day Spiritualism/Spiritisim in America and Europe chiefly descends from the visions of angels and spirits and conversations with these beings experienced and described by that amazing Swedish genius, the scientist and mystic, Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772), “the first psychic-medium of import in modern times,” as Melton writes.  (Incidentally, the Swedenborgian Church in the U.S., founded in 1817, and headquartered at Newton, Mass., began ordaining women in 1975 and currently has twelve females among its 48 ministers; a schismatic group, the General Church of the New Jerusalem, which established itself in 1890, has no women ministers.)  Spiritualism also inherits the emphasis on psychic phenomena promoted by Wesleyan and Puritan ministers to counter that rigid school of thought known as “Deism,” which holds that God is aloof from, and uninvolved in, His creation (John Wesley, for instance, was intrigued by the mediumship of Elizabeth Hobson).  Spiritualism in itself would be quite useful in contesting the emerging “scientistic” paradigm of many scientists who regarded the human being as a mere biophysical machine lacking any kind of “soul.”  In its least sophisticated, most “popular” form, Spiritualism has involved a human medium’s contacting of various discarnate human souls from the “astral plane” or “spirit world,” usually at séances, evidenced by locutions, apparitions (some photographable), rapping sounds, psychokinesis, levitation of objects, and so on, primarily for the purpose of proving the continuance of life after physical death.  Spiritualist groups of the 19th-20th centuries are also interested in receiving inspiration, guidance and healing from their discarnate friends, especially the “higher souls.” 

 

Frederica Hauffe, “the Seeress from Prevorst” (Germany) flourished in the 1820s.  From an early age she had seen apparitions, travelled in the spirit-worlds (what would later be called the “astral” or “subtle-plane” regions), gazed into the future by staring into mirrors and soap bubbles, read written works via some faculty she declared was seated at the pit of her stomach, and recognized minerals by the subtle “fluid” that emanated from them.  Frederica was also said to have talked with the spirits of the dead while in a “mesmeric” (hypnotic) trance, and to have obtained details of their earthly lives which were later verified.  Moreover, Frau Hauffe transmitted “spirit teachings” concerning the relationship between the soul and the body and the nature of various spiritual states.  These teachings were illustrated by intricate diagrams which she drew while in a state of trance, and part of her revelations were in a strange language which had its own alphabet.  A book written on Frederica in 1829 by Dr. Justinus Kerner of Weinsberg (who had studied her for three years) went through three editions, and generated a following of enthusiasts who studied and propagated the teachings.

 

The dawn of American Spiritualism begins most clearly one night in March, 1848, with a 7-year-old girl, Kate Fox, getting a “rational response” from some mysterious rapping noises coming from a wall while the rest of the family looked on in their farmhouse in Hydesville, N.Y.  Kate and her sister, Margaret Fox (10 years old), and later their much older sister, Leah Fox, worked out a code by which they claimed to communicate with their discarnate entity, whom they called “Mr. Splitfoot,” but who later revealed himself to have been one Charles Rosma, murdered on the site some years before (excavations would later confirm this).  In time, the Fox sisters were “channeling” other spirit-entities, some of whom transmitted higher spiritual wisdom.  Various other phenomena had begun to occur, such as strange lights, partial manifestations, moving objects, playing of guitars by unseen hands, and so forth.  (The undisputed star of anomalous physical phenomena during this time was Douglas Daniel Home (1833-86), who levitated, grew taller, played instruments at a distant, all ostensibly through the power of his spirit-helpers; impressively, he was never once found guilty of fraud in all his years of séance activity.)  The Fox sisters received widespread attention—along with threats from Christian lynch-mobs who thought them to be witches.  Subjected to psychologically stressful investigations—sometimes quite humiliating—which showed most of the activities to have not been the result of fraud, but genuine anomalies, the three Fox sisters in subsequent years each began to get involved with alcohol to greater or lesser degree and to squabble in sibling rivalries.  In 1888, first Margaret and then Kate, evidently to embarrass Leah, declared that their “spirit communication” over the last 40 years had been a complete ruse—and that they had learned to make the sounds by cracking their toes in order to annoy their mother!  Margaret then claimed a year later that this admission of fraud was not true, that she had done it for money, at the behest of certain anti-Spiritualists. (Pseudo-skeptics who have been debunking paranormal phenomena for one hundred years have emphasized Margaret Fox’s “confession” of committing fraud but never mention her subsequent reversal of the claim.)  Curiously, the three sisters all died within a short time of each other a few years later, Leah in 1890, Kate in 1892, and Margaret in 1893.

 

The early activities of the Fox sisters had given rise to a multitude of other mediums.  Though much of this Spiritualist activity turned out to be fraudulent, many of the mediums appear to have been quite sincere and they successfully passed the rigorous investigations of highly skeptical, eminent scientists of the era.  These mediums included a number of people who went into trances, had their voices used by the discarnate “spirit-entities” as “channels” to transmit messages to humans, and were associated with a wide variety of paranormal phenomena.  By 1853, one newspaper editor estimated that in New York alone, 40,000 Spiritualists were flourishing in 300 circles,though it is likely that only a small fraction of these were demonstrating truly “paranormal” phenomena and an even smaller number giving out any substantial wisdom on a spiritual level.  In any case, women were the major figures in the growth of the Spiritualist movement, both in the U.S. and in Europe.  (“Spiritism” had spread to England from the U.S. in 1852 with the visit of popular medium, Mrs. Hayden, to that country, and remember that a Spiritist movement had been operating in Germany in the wake of Frederica Hauffe’s activity.)  Some of the most famous and also most “reliable” mediums of the latter 19th century who brought Spiritualism/Spiritism widespread attention were Britisher Emma Hardinge Britten, Nettie Colburn Maynard (Georgetown, U.S.), Florence Cook (London), Gladys Osborne Leonard (London), Kate Wingfield (Cambridge, England), Mrs. Swaim (in Toronto), Emma Harding (a Boston-based British medium), and Alta Leonora Piper (Boston).  We can profile here several of these women as well as some others in the early 20th century onward...

 

A talented English singer and pianist, Emma Hardinge Britten (1823-99), converted to Spiritualism while visiting the Broadway Theater in the U.S. in the 1850s, and then she traveled all over the States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and her homeland for many years in the cause of Spiritualism as one of its key leaders.  A clairvoyant medium, she was also a brilliant speaker and tireless organizer; moreover, she founded and for five years was the editor of Two Worlds, a Spiritualist publication still extant.  Emma returned to the U.S. in 1870, married William Britten, and settled in Boston, where she eventually converted to Theosophy (q.v.) and published some books critical of Spiritualism’s fascination with lower-plane discarnate entities.  Nettie Colburn Maynard was an American trance-medium whose spirit-guides influenced a number of important decisions made by President Lincoln, especially on the slavery issue, from 1861-1863.  Agnes Nichol, later Mrs. Samuel Guppy, was an impressive physical-medium (levitations of her own body, materializations of fresh flowers, etc.), who convinced even the initially skeptical scientist, Alfred Wallace, of the validity of her gifts, after he began to study the young woman in earnest in 1866.  (An astonishing story from her later years relates that she was once teleported away from her house, leaving two friends stunned as she disappeared into a thin haze, to a seance being carried out by two friends three miles away; her heavy frame plopped right down onto the table in their midst with a loud thump!)  The life of Victoria Claflin Woodhull (1838-1927), first woman to run for the president of the U.S., was a most colorful one, involving  an impoverished childhood, a career as Spiritualist medium from the time of her childhood, marriage at age 15 (a divorce in 1864), the birth of two children, and, then the good fortune to become a beneficiary of Cornelius Vanderbilt, for whom she had transmitted messages from his recently deceased wife.  With the help of his money, Victoria and her sister established a successful stock brokerage firm and a weekly newspaper.  The latter item gave her a forum to begin espousing her radical views on women’s rights, tax and dress reform, free love, the legalization of prostitution, and general societal reform.  In the Spring of 1872 Victoria organized the first and only convention of the Equal Rights Party, and the assembly nominated her as candidate for president of the U.S. However, her critics would not take her candidacy seriously, and chose instead to focus on her sex life.  In 1877 she moved to England, where she married in 1883, and lived out her life writing a number of books on politics, sexuality, religion, and women’s rights.

 

Florence Cook (1856-1904), “an extremely attractive girl with considerable appeal,” began holding séances at age 16 in London.  She was the first medium to exhibit (and on numerous occasions) a photographable, materialized image of a deceased spirit in good light—the image of her spirit-guide, “Katie King.”  Some investigators—such as Sir William Crookes—thought Florence’s mediumistic gifts to be completely genuine, whereas her biographer Trevor Hall regarded her as a dramatic fraud, and saw Crookes as her love-smitten accomplice (though this theory itself is based only on hearsay, and is highly suspect, given Crookes’ scientific reputation).  At least once she was exposed in a hoax, and in later life, she became a prostitute.

 

Bostonian Alta Leonora Piper (1857-1950), after receiving communications from her deceased grandmother, experienced a trance state and “a flood of light in which many strange faces appeared” while she was undergoing a healing session from the blind medium J.R. Cocke sometime around 1880. Leonora began to show a range of paranormal phenomena at numerous sittings, supposedly receiving her powers and information from various members of “the mighty dead”—two figures in particular, one claiming to have been a French doctor, Phinuit, and another claiming to be the spirit of George Pellew.  Leonora, married to a well-off Boston physician, allowed herself to be the first mental medium to undergo serious scientific investigation, yielding the first substantial body of evidence to clearly indicate the reality of extrasensory powers at the very least, if not actual contact with the deceased. She was extensively studied and “approved” as authentic by hard-nosed, critical psychic investigators such as Richard Hodgson and Mrs. Sidgwick of the SPR (Society for Psychical Research; f. 1882) in Cambridge, England, and psychologists William James, G. Stanley Hall, and investigator James Hyslop of the ASPR (American Soc. for Psychical Research), among others.  Hodgson, a stubborn debunker and disbeliever, after fifteen years of studying her finally declared that, as a result of the evidence coming through her, he believed “beyond the possibility of a doubt” that persons survive into another realm beyond the great change of physical death. Mrs. Piper lived until 1950, but her most important work was completed by 1911.


Mrs. Piper and Britishers Mrs. Verrall, her daughter Helen Verall, Mrs. Alice Fleming (“Mrs. Holland”), Mrs. Coombe-Tennant (“Mrs. Willett”; 1874-1956), Dame Edith Lyttelton, and American Mrs. Stuart Wilson were gifted channels for automatic writing in the early decades of this century, and their “cross correspondences [communication of separate parts of a single message through different automatists] offer the best evidence for survival [of human consciousness after death] yet to date.”  Mrs. Coombe-Tennant was an “energetic, practical, and highly intelligent person” who became a Justice of the Peace in 1920, and later was the first woman appointed by the British Government as a delegate to the League of Nations; because of her prominence, she had to keep her gifts as a medium secret, and worked under the name of “Mrs. Willett.”  After her own death in 1956, between the years 1957-60, she is said to have been the one communicating some forty messages through the well-known Irish automatist, Geraldine Cummins.  Cummins between 1924 and 1931 had become famous for her automatic writing/channeling of messages from the deceased F.W.H. Myers, co-founder of the SPR.  In 1965, Cummins published Swan on a Black Sea, one of the most respected channeled volumes, in which she reproduced much of the Willett material.  Shortly before her death in 1969 she confessed that it was these transmissions from Mrs. Willett which convinced her once and for all that her automatic writing was indeed valid. 

 

Back around the turn of the century, in Chicago, Cora L.V. Richmond, an outstanding medium and author, was one of the three main leaders (along with two former Unitarian clergymen, Harrison Barrett and James Peebles) of the oldest and largest of the Spiritualist churches, the National Spiritualist Association of Churches (NSAC; founded in 1893, now headquartered in Casadega, Florida).  The NSAC ordains ministers—the majority of whom are women—and is presbyterial in polity (i.e., overseen by local elders, not regional bishops).  The NSAC posited a “Declaration of Principles” in 1899, outlining the beliefs and values that serve as a prototype for the many other Spiritualist groups which arose, this Declaration having been drawn up primarily to resolve differences regarding the issues of reincarnation and Christianity (Spiritualism rejects the idea of the former, and does not identify itself with the latter, though individual Spiritualists may believe in reincarnation and/or be Christians.)  Gladys Osborne Leonard (1882-1968), born in Lytham, England, experienced visions from an early age, and was moved to hold séances after a vivid apparition of her deceased mother in 1906.  Soon she was going into trance states and channeling “Feda,” a departed Hindu ancestress of hers, who gave many details of persons, places, and events remote in time and space.  Gladys began to work professionally as a medium in West London from 1914 onward, until her own passing over fifty years later.  She, too, was studied and judged authentic by such investigators as Dr. William Brown of Oxford University, and Mrs. Sidgwick of the SPR. 

 

On the topic of women in early Spiritualist circles, we should also mention here a frequently very impressive, yet sometimes also “unconsciously fraudulent” figure, the famous Italian peasant-woman, Eusapia Palladino (1854-1918), who was giving regular séances in the Naples area by her late teens, and who later toured Europe and America, showing all manner of paranormal phenomena (levitations, materializations, etc.).  (Regarding her occasional fraudulent acts, Eusapia claimed that the thoughts of skeptical persons present would impel her while she was in an impressionable trance state to commit the very hoaxes they were imagining and projecting onto her.)  In the same category of “uneven performer” of various phenomena we may Include “Margery” (Mrs. Mina Crandon; 1888-1941) of Boston, and “Eva C.” (Martha Beraud), a French materialization medium demonstrating her gifts in the first two decades of this century. 

 

On the side of much greater consistency, we find Kathleen Goligher of Ireland and her three sisters; the British direct-voice medium, Mrs. Blanche Cooper, who flourished in the 1920s; and a young London nurse with a natural talent for physical mediumistic phenomena—Stella Cranshaw, who allowed herself to be the subject of many studies in the 1920s.  Mrs. Carl Wickland began to serve as a trance-voice channel in 1894 for disembodied spirits making contact through the clients of her physician-husband (he published his Thirty Years Among the Dead in 1924 describing the hundreds of channeled dialogues).  A direct-voice medium, Etta Wriedt of Detroit, Michigan, without ever going into trance, channeled the voices of deceased spirits through a kind of trumpet device—often in foreign languages which Mrs. Wriedt did not know—to her listeners at many sessions.  Ethel Le Rossignol, a British artist who did a good number of automatic drawings and paintings in the late 19th century, presenting them in visions which she saw while in trance.

 

Noteworthy, too, is the dramatic case of Mrs. Pearl Curran (1883-1937), who in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1913 began to use a ouija board (a divination device created in 1892) and be a channel for a departed female soul named “Patience Worth,” who, among other mental feats, dictated historical novels from different places and times, such as the Holy Land at the time of Christ, showing detailed knowledge of events and dialects.  Patience Worth later supposedly took birth as the daughter of a poor mill worker, who agreed to let Mrs. Curran and husband adopt the child—they named her Patience Worth Curran, impressed by the fact that the child’s eye and hair color matched Patience’s description of herself on the subtle level.

 

World-famous medium Eileen Garrett (1893-1970) had a natural psychic sensitivity from the time she was a little girl.  She was raised in Ireland and England by Catholic parents who both committed suicide while Eileen was still in her youth.  After World War I she came into contact with Spiritualists in London who helped her to further develop her gifts of prophecy and mediumship.  Garrett was the one who, on October 7, 1930, received a transmission of a message from Captain H.C. Irwin, who had just died in the crash of the British R101 dirigible two days earlier.  The channeled message contained so much accurate, detailed, technical information that it was regarded as virtually proving the postmortem existence of Irwin. Jon Klimo reports, “Garrett was invited to the United States in 1931 by the American Society for Psychical Research to begin an exceptionally rich period of channeling demonstrations that would occupy her until her death in France in 1970.  Garrett was not only one of the major channels of the twentieth century [and most investigated]—there were no incidents of fraud or charges of deception of any kind in her career—she was also one of the leaders in research into the psychic realm.  She pioneered the publishing of her own work and others through a variety of publishing houses.  In 1951, she became the founding director of the Parapsychological Foundation, which remains one of the most respected organizations investigating the paranormal.”

 

Brief mention here can be made of Rosemary Brown (1916-2001), who allegedly channeled in rapid manner written scores of classical music pieces from deceased composers such as Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Chopin, Lizst, Debussy, and Rachmaninoff, each in the distinctive style of the composer. Yet psychologists and musicologists were unimpressed with the “sub-standard” quality of the compositions and determined that they had come from her own sub-conscious mind, for, as it was later admitted, Rosemary had grown up in a musical family with a piano in the house, contrary to her initial assertion that she’d had no musical training. In any case, one analyst, John Sloboda, concluded that Brown’s music offers “the most convincing case of unconscious composition on a large scale.” Automatic writing is actually a fairly widespread phenomenon. Grace Rosher is just one contemporary automatic writer who simply lets a pen rest against her closed hand, and various spirits use the pen to write out messages evidencing their postmortem survival.

 

A number of Spiritualist women in the 1920s to 1940s appeared on the scene serving as mediums for entities who were giving a more edifying spiritual message.  Dr. Josephine De Croix Trust (“Mother Trust”; 1886-1957) founded the Superet Light Doctrine Church in L.A. in 1925, a Spiritualist movement for people of all religions.  Psychic as a child, at age 12 she was healed of tuberculosis by a vision of Jesus.  She gained a reputation later around N.Y. City as a miracle healer and “aura scientist.”  She saw the Holy Ghost as the Mother God, which she considered a “new dispensation” heretofore unacceptable to males (we may remember that the Spirit of God was, for the ancient Hebrews, denoted by the female noun, Ruach).  Grace Cooke (“Minestra”; d. 1979) and husband Ivan Cooke (d. 1981), organized the Church of the White Eagle Lodge, which was first based in England in 1934, and then, as the work spread to the U.S. in the 1950s, became based in Montgomery, Texas.  They produced many “channeled” books, based on the kindly and enlightening teachings of one who identified himself as “White Eagle” (a deceased American Indian who also claims to have been John the Evangelist), teachings which uphold the doctrines of karma, reincarnation, and God as both Mother and Father, and which emphasize the practice of healing and vegetarianism.  Rev. Charlotte Bright founded the Temple of Universal Law in 1936 in Chicago, which featured her channeled messages from a being known as “Master Nicodemus.”  (Since she retired, her son channels this entity).  Julia Forrest, a former Christian Science practitioner, became a Spiritualist and, with Dr. Carl Pieres, organized the “Spiritual Science Mother Church” headquartered in N.Y.  This group is strictly Christian, affirming the Trinity and Jesus as Lord.  Alice Tindall, a student of Forrest, founded the National Spirit Science Center in Washington, D.C. in 1941, and in 1968 she took over as editor of the Psychic Observer journal. [22]

 

Spiritualism—and its broader, scientifically-oriented offspring, parapsychology, developed by J.B. Rhine at Duke University in the 1930s—is still a widespread movement in England (500 churches) and America (200 churches), not to mention over much of the rest of the world in the form of mediumistic, divinational, shamanistic, and oracular activities.  (As a case in point, the Swedenborgian Church has its largest following among blacks in South Africa.)  Women, as has been posited earlier, greatly outnumber men in possessing the talent for contacting spirit-world entities. 

 

As we see in these pages, Spiritualism and related psychic or esoteric “New Age” groups of the twentieth century may take either quasi-Christian (“third way” Christian) or else non-Christian forms here in the West.  They have sometimes been connected with New Thought, but in recent times, due to misgivings over the entire phenomenon of “channeling” by most New Thought leaders, this kind of work has been strongly rejected by the International New Thought Alliance (INTA). 

 

Here I must editorialize and say that it is somewhat hard to assess the degree of “sanctity” or wholesomeness/holiness of many of the women of Spiritualism, psychic-esoteric groups, New Thought and New Age organizations who are mentioned in this chapter.  When they come to the attention of those beyond their local social circle, it is usually because they are 1) demonstrating some unusual psychic power(s)—which of course is no guarantee of sanctity, or else 2) they have founded a new church or institution—which can simply be a matter of “leadership chutzpah,” and in this day can involve a certain financial incentive (the same would apply for certain founders of Christian sects, Eastern meditation groups, etc.).  Added to this is the factor that the vast majority of people (the audience or students of these leaders), habituated to their “mundane” circumstances and unable to appreciate the Divine miracle of being alive (formless Spirit manifesting as form), are fascinated by “paranormal, extra-ordinary phenomena,” “secret laws of divine empowerment for health and prosperity,” charismatic-psychic teachers, and the mysterious “presence” of channeled astral-psychic-subtle “entities.”  These last two elements, the charismatic teacher and the mysterious “entity-from-beyond,” are sure-fire ways to attract into a kind of numinous “I-Thou” relationship any followers who have not realized the glory of their own innermost (and all-pervading) Divinity.  It is therefore quite easy for group-leaders or would-be leaders to entice followers with mere charisma (often simply a kind of personal-power coming from clever “oneupsmanship” strategies) or by invoking “entities” or “masters”—real or not—from the collective unconscious.

 

But in venturing these critical remarks, and mentioning that there have been serious abuses of power and trust in this area by females as well as males, I must also remark that among the women mentioned in this section are many tremendously kind, caring, self-sacrificing, humble, courageous, virtuous, intelligent, “saintly” persons who have been called to a vocation within a very different kind of spiritual group than represented by the mainstream traditions.  Some of these women seem to be genuinely living and teaching that highest, most complete kind of spirituality discussed in our introduction, namely, nondual, panentheistic spirituality, which blends a realization of the transcendent, formless Divinity with the immanent, form-ful Divinity—though they may be articulating this spiritual way in a manner different than heard within the classic wisdom traditions of East and West.

 

With these comments in mind, let us continue our coverage of salient women in the Spiritualist traditions and other alternative Western “New Age” movements, also aware that there may be many women who are of great sanctity who simply have not founded their own official groups, but are simply letting someone else play the “leadership” roles...

 

In 1936 young Amy Merritt Kees (1914-2012) began to have contact with the spirit world and in 1958 was healed completely of the crippling condition she had had since her teens.  She started the Church of Tzaddi in Boulder, Colorado in 1962 with her daughter Dorothe, who is also a channel.  This church is based on Unity, the Bible, Yogānanda’s Self Realization Fellowship, and Hermeticism—the ancient teaching of the Mediterranean “mystery schools.”

 

Beth Hand (1903-77) was a Spiritualist minister of three churches who became an early student of the Hindu master, Yogānanda; she founded the International Church of Ageless Wisdom in Nyalusing, Pennsylvania.  Like several other churches, Rev. Hand’s group was compelled by “orthodox” Spiritualists to withdraw from NSAC because of her strong Christian orientation and beliefs in reincarnation.  Her Church’s teachings are eclectic, utilizing Hindu, Buddhist, and Spiritualist ideas, though Christianity is the main emphasis.

 

The Teaching of the Inner Christ was started by Rev. Ann Meyer Makeever in 1965 in Lemon Grove, California; she claims to channel Jesus and Bābāji (of the Yogānanda lineage) and the “I Am” Self.  Amanda Flowers (1863-1940) opened her Church of Truth in Grand Rapids, Michigan, pastoring it for 35 years until she retired shortly before her death; she affiliated with the National Spiritualist Assoc. of Churches (NSAC) for a time, but eventually departed to start her own, less rigid, Spiritualist alliance, the Independent Spiritualist Assoc. of the U.S.A., headquartered in Cicero, Illinois, emphasizing theosophical views (see below).  It would come to embrace many Spiritualist churches.  Rev. Janet Stine Lewis-Wolford (d. 1957) founded the Church of Revelation at Long Beach, California, in 1930, moving the headquarters to Hanford, Calif., in 1945.  Leona Richards in the 1940s established the Holy Grail Foundation Spiritualist group in Fresno, Calif., now based in Santa Cruz, Calif.  Rev. Marnie Koski (“Soraya”), based on her channeled messages from Jesus, founded the Universal Religion of America, now headquartered at Merritt, Florida.  Rev. Helene Gerling and husband founded in 1942 a group now known as the Universal Harmony Foundation based in Seminole, Florida.  Louise Morse, a purported channel for the Holy Spirit, started the Morse Fellowship in 1959 at Maryland, now relocated to Texas.  Revs. Russell and Dorothy Graff Flexer founded the Church of Metaphysical Christianity in 1958, centered at Sarasota, Florida.  Deon Frey is a deeply spiritual and well-known medium of the Chicago area, Nada-Yolanda flourishes as a medium in Miami, and Peggy Townsend does healing work with the aid of her “spirit helpers” out of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.  Ruth Montgomery, supposedly a former skeptic with regard to these things, and a columnist for the Hearst newspapers, later became influenced by the writings of the renowned “sleeping prophet,” Edgar Cayce (1877-1945), and herself became famous in the 1950s as a channel for various “Guides,” eventually including Spiritualist Arthur Ford after the latter’s passing in 1971; these spirit-plane souls, led by Montgomery’s chief control, “Lily,” have authored through her eight hugely popular books about Spiritualism, such as Born to Heal, A World Beyond, Here and Hereafter, Strangers Among Us.      

 

Over in England, Ena Twigg (1914-84) was perhaps the most famous European Spiritualist minister of this century.  The second of four children born to fairly psychic parents, little Ena would spend her lunchbreaks alone in the small chapel of the Catholic school she attended in Gillingham, Kent, watching the “misty people”—discarnate souls—coming in to pray.  At 17, she married the boy across the street, and spent many months with him in Malta and then Palestine (where he was stationed), enjoying a deepening spirituality.  Experiencing a near-fatal illness in her early 20s due to complications from an appendicitis surgery, she was healed over a six-month period by three spirit guides, an old man, a young man, and a woman.  After this Ena was directed by them to go to a certain address—which happened to be a chapter of a spiritualist group, where Ena soon became the featured medium.  Later in life she would lecture throughout Europe and the U.S., appear regularly on the BBC, and become the only woman ever permitted to lecture at Southwark Cathedral.  Four other famous British mediums of this century, including some recent ones, are Estelle Roberts, Carolyn Del La Hey, Helen Greaves‚ and Doris Stokes (d. 1987; Stokes was an uneven performer, yet her six Spiritualist books have sold well over a million copies).

 

Liebie Pugh (1888-1966), a British visionary, formed the Universal Link based on her and Richard Grave’s and others’ visionary and clairaudient experiences (in 1961) of revelations of an apocalyptic New Age.  Ms. Pugh was in contact with a high-level presence whom she simply called “Limitless Love.”  Monica Parish, with the influential Anthony Brooke, headed the Universal Foundation, a similar British-based group which, along with the Universal Link, Professor Melton considers the seminal influences for the emergence of the “New Age” movement of the 1960s-80s (now flourishing not only in the U.K and the U.S., but also on the European continent—e.g., France, Germany, Switzerland—and in S. Africa, and Australia).  Merta Mary Parkinson (d. 1983) started one of these New Age groups in Kansas City, the Sisters of the Amber and the Dena Foundation.  Another strong influence on the emergence of the New Age consciousness of the 1960s onward has been the Findhorn spiritual community on the north coast of Scotland.  Eileen Caddy (1917-2006) and her second husband Peter settled their trailer-home in 1962 at the Findhorn trailer-park-farm on the desolate corner of an abandoned Royal Air Force base; soon they were joined by their friend Dorothy Maclean and her teacher, Sheena Govan, as well as Lena Lamont, David Spangler and his friend Myrtle Glines, Anne Edwards (“Naomi”), and R. Crombie Ogilvie (“Roc”)—all of whom showed the ability to channel nonhuman intelligences ranging from the plant-kingdom-ruling devas to higher-level angels and even the transcendental God (with whom Eileen and Dorothy were allegedly in contact). A remarkable experiment of communication with these nonhuman intelligences yielded amazing agricultural results, and soon dozens of other individuals had come to join the project.  The founders no longer live at the community they helped found; Eileen, a deeply sensitive mystic who lives and teaches the way of inner stillness and complete reliance on that “still, small voice” of divine inner spiritual guidance, has emerged as probably the most eloquent spokesperson for the spiritual way discovered at Findhorn.

 

Anita Afton (“Illiana”; 1922- ) at first channeled an entity known as “Jamal,” but since her own consciousness was “uplifted,” she has been channeling only the “I Am That Am.”  A former Unitarian and S.R.F. member, she founded the New Age Teachings group in Brookfield, Mass., in 1967; her newsletter is distributed to every continent, thus creating an international New Age network.  Gabriele Wittek (b. 1933), a German prophetess, since 1975 has served as the instrument for two spirit entities identifying themselves as Jesus Christ and as the Cherub of Divine Wisdom, Brother Emmanuel; Ms. Wittek even claims to be channeling “God the Father.”  The Christ-cell groups of her Universal Life-The Inner Religion movement formed first in Munich, and now spread the messages (channeled through her and others) throughout the world.  Like other Christian spiritualists, her Spirit of Christ Church is not founded upon dogmas, creeds, rituals, or priests, but emphasizes a Christian mystical path to God.     

 

A hugely popular and deeply enlightening Spiritualist and quasi-New Thought movement of recent times, with over half a million students, is “A Course in Miracles,” the official organization of which is Miracle Experiences, Inc. (headed by Saul Steinberg).  This movement started with Dr. Helen Cohn Schucman (d. 1981), a married Jewish psychologist living in N.Y. who, in 1965, began to receive channeled material dictated by an inner voice claiming to be Jesus Christ.  These dictations—emphasizing a radical program of cognitive re-training and love-motivation instead of fear—occurred over a seven-year period, and were written out by Dr. Schucman in longhand, and then typed up by her colleague, Bill Thetford.  Judith Skutch (b. 1931), a leading figure in N.Y.’s metaphysical-psychic network, read the material in 1975 and thereupon established with her husband the Foundation for Inner Peace (now based in California); Skutch’s colleague Saul Steinberg published it the following year as the 3-volume, 1200 page A Course in Miracles (without mentioning Helen’s role in it—Helen herself was ambivalent about the work and even considered it “an embarrassment,” given her background in the social sciences and her work at Columbia University—though it now turns out that Helen was strongly influenced in her earlier years by the New Thought and esoteric literature in her father’s metaphysical bookstore).  By 1977, study-groups for “A Course in Miracles” had sprung up across the nation, facilitated tremendously by key leaders in the New Thought (INTA) movement who used their networking ability and meeting spaces to host the study-group meetings.  There are now over 1,000 unofficial “study groups” nationwide studying and discussing the Course in Miracles.  (However, the INTA has since rejected it as a legitimate New Thought group because it is obviously part of the “channeling” phenomenon, which INTA has long tried to avoid.)  Marianne Williamson (b.1952), a former aspiring actress and nightclub singer, raised in Texas by leftist Jewish parents, has emerged as by far the most popular contemporary teacher of the Course in Miracles, though she herself is not a channel for any alleged entity, but humbly calls herself “a student of the Course.”  A “star to the stars” of Hollywood and New York, Marianne offends self-righteous conservatives with such things as having a daughter out of wedlock and making revelations about her troubled past (e.g., involvements with men and the “wild life”), and also releasing one of the most stirring and inspirational progressive books ever written, The Healing of America, on spirituality and politics based on the wisdom of the Founding Fathers of the USA (revised edition for 2000: Healing the Soul of America: Reclaiming Our Voices as Spiritual Citizens). On the other hand, she also offends the “cool and hip” of New York and Los Angeles by openly talking of God and the need for prayer.  (This author would say that the only thing offensive about Marianne in her early years was her frantic, abrasive voice; fortunately, her teachings could be be read quietly in book form, such as with her initial bestseller work, A Return to Love).  She is quite adept at explicating the Course’s teachings on the perfect love of God, the power of the Holy Spirit, and the illusoriness of the egocentric world. Though her critics think she is merely hungry for fame (a criticism which could equally be leveled at many other “wannabees” in the self-help/religion fields), Williamson has an intense desire to spread the Course’s teachings on loving service.  To put this into practice, she has, among other things, founded the bicoastal Centers for Living, which help in various ways the needy and those with life-threatening illnesses.     

 

In speaking of these many women involved in the modern Spiritualist and New Age movement(s), and anticipating the number of women channels and mediums we shall learn about in the remainder of this section, it is highly interesting to see that they are almost always instruments for entities purported to be “male” in gender.  For instance, to mention some of the recent, most popular female mediums and their entities (some much more enlightening than others), we see that... Jane Roberts (1929-84) since late 1963 channeled “Seth”—“the most widely published spirit entity in the twentieth century.”  She initially encountered Seth via a powerful energy experience and then with a ouija board, before going into light trances and then full-body trances to let through his kindly, wise presence.  (Seth is now claimed by Jane Loomis of Connecticut and Tom Massarri of L.A. to be transmitting through them.)  On occasion, Roberts also channeled the group entity, “Seth Two,” along with Paul Cezanne and William James.  Chelsea Quinn Yarbro (“Jessica Lansing”) in 1970 was a 33-year-old S.F. Bay Area woman fiddling with the ouija board along with her husband when she made contact with “Michael,” a “recombined entity” made up of more than a thousand “old soul” fragments, who dictated several books through her, and, significantly, has since transmitted messages through more than half a dozen other people in the San Francisco area—most of them women (e.g., Jenifer Todd, Kay Heatherly, Kay Brockway, Emily Baumbach).  J.Z. Knight (née Judith Darlene Hampton) of Yelm, Washington, from 1978 onward has channeled the humorous yet often pontifical and apocalypse-oriented “Ramtha, the Enlightened One,” whom she first encountered a year earlier while playing with pyramid energies.  She at first thought Ramtha to be the devil until she was guided by a Spiritualist to see him as a spiritual entity.  With celebrity boosters like Shirley MacLaine behind her, Knight became one of the most popular channels, and has grown quite wealthy in the process (like such male channels as Jach Pursel and Kevin Ryerson).  However, many former devotees of Knight and “Ramtha” are now claiming that the energy of Ramtha “has either shifted, departed, or been replaced by a less benign entity.”  Pat Rodegast‚ of Connecticut has channeled the much more gentle and enlightening “Emmanuel” since the mid-1970s.  Sanaya Roman of Oakland channels another one of the more enlightening entities, “Orin,” since he first made contact with her via the ouija board in 1977 (her husband channels “DaBen”; they often work together); Shawn Randall of Studio City, California, has channeled “Torah” since the early 1980s; Kathryn Ridall, now in L.A., channels “Diya” (Roman, Randall, and Ridall are also notable for their programs which teach other people how to channel); Penny Torres has since the mid-1980s channeled “Mafu,” which some critics charge is a rather bad imitation of “Ramtha” (as noted in Chapter One, Penny, formerly married to a southern California policeman, in early 1990 converted to Hinduism, becoming a sannyasinī, or renunciate nun, taking the name Swāmi Paramānanda Saraswatī); popular psychic Betty Bethards of Petaluma, California, channels “Uvalla”; Jann Weiss channels “Anoah”; Jill Cook and Verna Yater channel “White Eagle” (like the aforementioned Grace Cooke before them); Lea Schultz channels “Samuel”; Alice Anne Parker of Hawaii channels “Menos”; Johanna Simmerman channels “Jonah”; Carly Ayres of the S.F. East Bay Area channels “Benedict”; Meredith Lady Young (“Agartha”) of New Hampshire channels the group-being “Mentor”; and Esther Hicks of Texas channels “Abraham.”  Jamie Sams channels “Leah,” Teri Griswold channels “Janith,” Nancy Shipley Rubin channels “Aurorra,” Susan Keller and Lyn Diana channel “Amaritha,” and Verna Yater also channels “Indira”—some of the very few “female” entities teaching humanity.  Barbara Rollinson-Huss of Broomfield, Colorado and Joan Ocean of Laguna Beach, California, are among the dozens of channels who claim to be in communication with dolphins.  We will see elsewhere in these pages that a number of women—and men—claim to be channeling extra-terrestrial “space brothers,” a phenomenon only rarely including “space sisters.” [23]

 

A Jungian might be inclined to see the predominance of male entities among these female channels as representing a cathected animus complex speaking from these women’s psyche.  Then again, a Spiritualist might say that there is a certain “balance of polarity-energies” achieved by having a male entity speak through a female.  Perhaps, in the language of Tibetan Buddhism, these are male ḍāka energies finally speaking through Western women, just as the female ḍākinī energies have spoken through males in Tibet.  My own question is—what psychic factors or dynamics are involved in maintaining gender in the spirit world, which supposedly need not even involve bodies or fixed mind-forms?  That is to say, on what basis do we declare that a bodiless spirit is “male” or “female”?  Are the entities—if they in fact be “separate” beings beyond the personal unconscious of the channels—themselves still identified with a sexual gender, and if so, why?

 

In any case, with these women and with the many other female channels and mediums who have been functioning over the last 130 years, we are strongly reminded of the many women who have come to the fore as mediums and visionaries in the other traditions we have covered—Christianity, Islam, “religious” Taoism, Korean and Japanese shamanism, and the Japanese “new religions.”  As I have pointed out earlier, this phenomenon of female visionary or spiritualist ability certainly deserves to be more fully investigated as constituting a definite skill evidently more prevalent in women than in men, one which most likely dates back to the earliest human times, wherein it was mainly women, not men, who served as the priestesses in rapport with the Goddess and the spirits of the departed who rested in Her.

 

The various channeling phenomena may also suggest that the entities from the interdimensional spirit worlds—some of whom may be none other than the alien “Custodians” mentioned in the Introduction whom researchers like Jacques Vallee regard as a spiritual monitor/control system associated with earth for millennia—somehow are feeling a strong need to tell us something, given the frequency with which they are making contact with humans over the last one hundred years!  (And is this motivated by their own “neediness” or by a sense of apocalyptic urgency for the sake of endangered humanity and mother earth?)  Either that, or there are a host of people in our midst with a deep, unresolved need to have an audience for their own subconscious outpourings.  (In other words, these entities may be dissociated aspects of the channels’ own psyches.)  In Charles Tart’s terms, more “state-specific science” is obviously needed in hopes of clarifying these issues. [24]

 

The Theosophical movement, like Christian Science, New Thought, and Spiritualism, is a forerunner of much in the “New Age” movement of today. Like Christian Science, New Thought, and Spiritualism, Theosophy has also featured some quite formidable women, as we shall shortly learn.  With its early emphasis on making contact with and channeling messages from high-level discarnate Adepts or Masters (virtually all male), and its bringing into the mainstream elements of the “ancient wisdom” traditions—especially Hinduism and Buddhism, Theosophy was crucially important in upgrading many circles of the early Spiritualist movement beyond a mere contacting of departed relatives and “lower astral-plane entities.”  Channeling, and the kind of “New Age” metaphysical spiritualism and psychism of Pugh, Afton, Wittek, the Course in Miracles, et al, have been directly or indirectly very strongly influenced by Theosophy.

 

As an interesting aside, it seems to me that the Adepts spoken of in Theosophy (Morya, Kuthumi, Djwal Khul, Jesus, Serapis, Hilarion, et al)—who, according to at least one author, mediate between humanity and the theosophical divine hierarchy of the Solar Logos (God), his agent, Sanat Kumara (Lord of the World), and their trinity of Buddhas/Kumaras—serve, in the Protestant-influenced Western world, as a kind of “replacement” for the heavenly saints of the European Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions who were dismissed by the Protestant leaders as being fairly irrelevant in one’s spiritual life.  Judging from the popularity in esoteric circles of such Adepts, and, on lower psychic levels, the recent New Age fascination with entities (Seth, Lazaris, Michael, Ramtha, Mafu, various “space brothers,” et al), there is a real need in the collective psyche to make contact with, receive inspiration from, and be guided by wise Helpers and Teachers from other planes (or, to speak in subjective terms, to contact and be guided by archetypal elements of their own deep psyche—see discussion of this “objective-subjective” issue in the endnotes, and the difficulty of distinguishing the two domains).      

 

Also noteworthy is this fact that almost all of these discarnate masters, like the recently channeled entities, are viewed as male, whereas in the traditional Catholic world a number of female saints are available—such as St. Catherine of Siena, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Rita of Cascia, St. Thérèse of Lisieux, and many more, not the least of whom is Mother Mary, “foremost of the saints” and widely venerated as “Mother of God.” [25]

 

The Theosophical Society was founded in the U.S. in 1875 by a clairvoyant of great charisma and influence, Helena Petrovna Blavatsky (1831-91), in connection with the esteemed American war veteran and investigative reporter, Col. H.S. Olcott, plus William Q. Judge and others.  Blavatsky’s Theosophy rejected much of Spiritualism as merely being contact with entities or even “shells” emanating from the lower astral plane (which is not very spiritually refined).  Theosophy also emphasized the notion of reincarnation to account for obvious human differences in aptitude and degree of spirituality, seeing reincarnation as part of humanity’s grand process of evolution (the idea of reincarnation, remember, is rejected by most Spiritualists and New Thought leaders).    

 

Born to an aristocratic Russian family, Madame Blavatsky was an early student of the occult and showed a talent for mediumship; she traveled to the region of northern India in 1851, and lived for some time in a Nepalese monastery, where she either met or had psychic contact with certain discarnate mahātmas (e.g., Master Kuthumi, Master Morya, et al.) of the Indo-Tibetan region.  Based on the largely Buddhist and Hindu teachings of these masters, Blavatsky’s Theosophy also brought together elements from Jesus’ and Paul’s teachings, Hermetic esotericism/occultism and parapsychology, thus becoming one of the West’s first integrative spiritual movements, recognizing the value of the contributions by various religions.  (The American Transcendentalists, led by Emerson and Thoreau, and, several centuries before, the Mughal royalty of India—such as Emperor Akbar and Prince Dārā Shikōh—were strongly ecumenical.)  In 1877, Madame Blavatsky issued her abstruse Isis Unveiled, which became the Theosophical Society’s main text.  In 1879 she and Olcott sailed to India, establishing international headquarters for the Theosophical Society at Adyar, on the south side of Madras (William Q. Judge would start a schismatic theosophical movement in America).  In India, Blavatsky’s and Olcott’s T.S. picked up even more Hindu and Buddhist elements, along with insights from Egyptian and Mediterranean hermeticism. Predictably, their Theosophy movement greatly appealed to the Indians, who joined in great numbers, much preferring this movement to the Christianity proffered by the missionaries.  In 1888, three years before her death, Blavatsky’s The Secret Doctrine was published, which has had a major impact on theosophical and occult circles down to this day.  She spent her last few years in London, her house on Road Avenue, St. John’s Wood a magnet for daily visitors who came to hear her wisdom and receive initation through her intercession. [26]

 

Several important women of the early Theosophical movement have been discussed in an article by Diana Burfield [27]:  Dr. Anna Kingsford (1846-88), doctor, author, and vegetarian, headed the London Lodge of the T.S. in 1883, and then split from the movement to found the Hermetic Society the next year.  Isabelle de Steiger (1836-1927) was prominent in the early years of the T.S. but left to form an offshoot movement along with a number of others who experienced differences with H.P. Blavatsky.  Isabel Cooper-Oakley (1854-1914) remained a devoted disciple of H.P.B. and helped to empower the T.S. in various ways in its first decades.

 

An especially important woman of the early Theosophy movement was Katherine Tingley (1847-1929), who earlier in life founded several notable charitable institutions before succeeding William Quan Judge as head of the esoteric work of the (American) Theosophical Society—which had become an autonomous group independent of the India-based international T.S. in 1895. In 1898 Katherine founded the Universal Brotherhood Organization to emphasize community service and in 1900 moved the headquarters of this Universal Brotherhood and Theosophical Society from N.Y. to Point Loma, California. Here she founded a school for children, a college, and, in 1919, the highly regarded Theosophical University (all strongly promoting interracial and intercultural understanding).  Ms. Tingley sponsored the arts, new forms of agriculture, and was quite active as a staunch pacifist, presiding over several conferences on world peace.  In 1971 Grace F. Knoche became the fifth president of the Theosophical Society (as it is again known), now headquartered in Pasadena, California, with connections worldwide. [28]

 

Meanwhile, the international Theosophical Society continuing in the line of Blavatsky and Olcott, based at Adyar, India, was infused with new life and wisdom by its second President (after Olcott, d. 1907)—another powerful woman:  Annie Besant (1847-1933), the English theosophist and human rights activist, whom I have mentioned in the section on women of India. Besant had met HPB while the latter was in London in her last years, and Ms. Besant succeeded her as head of the Esoteric Section upon the latter’s passing in 1891.  Through her books and lectures and administrative abilities Ms. Besant helped the T.S. steadily grow in numbers and influence after accusations of fraudulent practices had rocked the T.S. in the 1880s.  (It was alleged that many messages from “the masters” were forged by HPB herself. The Society for Psychical Research investigated and declared the letters to be fraudulent, but in 1986 they finally rescinded their view and stated that their earlier report, by Mr. Hodgson, was prejudiced and inaccurate.)  Under Besant’s reign there would also be some disturbances, with concomitant schisms in the movement, in connection with her colleague C.W. Leadbeater and with her protégé Jiddu Krishnamurti, whom she promoted (and developed) as the “World Teacher.”  But over the last half-century the T.S. has maintained an important—if less conspicuous—role worldwide for its uplifting teachings, ecumenical attitude, and valuable support of cross-cultural spiritual studies and research.

 

The current president of the International Theosophy Society is also a woman, Radha Burnier; and a number of presidents of the Wheaton, Illinois-based Theosophical Society in America (which, unlike Tingley’s American T.S., maintains close connections with the international T.S.) have been women:  Joy Mills, Ann Wylie, Dora van Gelder Kunz, and now Dorothy Abbenhouse.  Ms. Abbenhouse in the mid-1980s succeeded Dora Kunz, the latter having served as president since 1975.  Ms. Kunz has considerable clairvoyant and healing abilities, a ministry with which she is still involved since her retirement from presidency of the T.S.  With spiritual healer Dolores Krieger she has developed Therapeutic Touch, an important application of spiritual healing techniques for health professionals.  Joy Mills is currently Director of the Krotona Institute in Ojai, California, an institute founded for the study of Theosophy (Krotona’s president is Radha Burnier). [29]     

 

Numerous offshoot theosophical-type groups have arisen over the years, especially those stemming from the work of Alice Bailey’s “Arcane School” and Guy Ballard’s “I Am Activity” (see below). Alice La Trobe Bateman Bailey (1880-1949) as a teenage church schoolteacher in England claimed to have a remarkable encounter with Master Kuthumi and eventually wound up working for the T.S. in Pacific Grove, California, where she met and married Foster Bailey.  She relates that in 1919, Master Djwhal Khul, another Adept, invited her to become his instrument for a series of messages, which led to the publishing of 19 dictated books over the years. Early on, Alice and Foster left their positions with the T.S., and they organized the Arcane School in 1923 (headquartered in N.Y.).  The teachings of the Baileys’ Arcane School are quite similar to those of Theosophy, articulating a divine hierarchy, seven rays, the evolution of humans to higher levels, and an imminent “new age” for humanity which will be ushered in by the reappearance of the Christ/Maitreya World Teacher.  Since Foster’s death in 1977, daughter Mary Bailey has led the Arcane School. [30] 

 

Florence Garrique (1888-1985) ran the largest of several splinter groups groups emerging out of the Alice Bailey work:  the Meditation Groups, Inc.  Based in Greenwich, Connecticut, with a large center, Meditation Mount, in Ojai, Calif., it strongly emphasizes meditation practice and psychosynthesis. This and other offshoots of the Alice Bailey work emphasize full-moon meditations and festivals, and service work in the community. 

 

Other theosophical-type groups would flourish: Hariette Augusta Curtiss (1856-1932), a proficient musician, actress, and gifted clairvoyant, in 1907 in Philadelphia founded with her husband, Homer, a Christian theosophical-occult sect, at first known as the Order of 15, later the Order of Christian Mystics.  Hariette, known as Rahmea within the group, served as teacher while Homer functioned as secretary.  Their publishing house in Washington, D.C. printed their numerous metaphysical books, primarily written by her, between 1909 and 1948, chief of which were The Voice of Isis and The Message of Aquarius. The Curtisses later founded the Church of Wisdom Religion, a more open group, to complement their esoteric order (later incorporated as the Universal Religious Foundation).  The Agni Society was founded by a Russian couple, Nicholas and Helena Roerich in N.Y. in the mid 1920s. Helena claimed to be a channel for Master Morya, and would eventually publish 13 books of messages received from him.  Elizabeth Delvine King (1858-1932) founded the Aum Temple of Universal Truth (now defunct) in L.A. in 1925.  She authored seven books, based on the “infilling” of the Holy Spirit.  Her group is “theosophical,” but taught an esoteric Christianity based on messages from the Great White Brotherhood, of which Jesus is alleged to be the head, according to her revelations.  Healing, meditation, and devotion were emphasized in this group.     

 

Ivah Bergh Whitten founded the “Amica Temple of Radiance” in the 1930s, dedicated to teaching about the Trinity, the Masters, and “color awareness” of the different spiritual “rays” with which one may be aligned.  In 1935, Eleanore Mary Thedick (1883-1973) of Oakland, California, started the Christ Ministry Foundation, teaching esoteric Christianity, karma, reincarnation, and so on.  This movement is now headed by Geneva and Wayne Seiverston

 

Flower A. Newhouse (1909-94), a clairvoyant from her earliest years, and longtime eminent teacher in the southern California psychic community, is hailed as “one of American’s outstanding Christian mystics.”  Flower founded the Christward Ministry and Questhaven Academy in Escondido; in her view, Christ is head of a hierarchy of angels (not masters), and humans are all destined to evolve into Christhood.  Flower also teaches that one’s guardian angel is one’s “spiritual mother” who trains one in life. Hope Troxell (1906- ) founded the Church of Cosmic Origin in 1963 at Independence, Calif., after receiving three major healings from the angelic host; she published several books of material, purportedly received from ascended masters.  Muriel Tepper (“Isis”) sees herself as the outer symbol of the Mother principle, and started Lighted Way in 1966, a new age school for discipleship training, under the guidance of Mother Isis and Indo-Tibetan ascended Master Djwal Khul.  Dr. Elizabeth Louise Huffer organized the Joy Foundation in 1977 in Santa Barbara, and claims to be a channel for the ascended masters and angels.  Lady Elizabeth Carey was the alleged channel for Azrael of the Great White Brotherhood through the 1960s, and founded the White Lodge Shrine (defunct) at Del Mar, Calif., which has since been absorbed by Elizabeth Clare-Prophet’s group (see below).

Sister Thedra (Dorothy Martin) founded the Association of Sananda and Sanat Kumara (two ascended masters) at Mt. Shasta, Calif., in 1965, after a healing in 1954 by Sananda.  Her group is also affiliated with various UFO religious groups, such as the monastery of the Brotherhood of the Seven Rays at Lake Titicaca in South America, a group oriented to the Masters and to the “space brothers” (i.e., the UFOnaut alien visitors), where Sister Thedra spent time before she returned to the States in 1961; since then her channelings have resulted in a number of books. 

On this topic of UFO religious groups, we can mention that a number of other women have been associated with the founding of such groups—Violet Gilbert, Marianne Francis, Jackie Altisi, Alice Wells, and Doris C. Le Vesque and a few other women who can be briefly profiled here:  Ruth Norman and her Unarius Foundation is undoubtedly the most conspicuous of the channels for the “space brothers.”  In 1954 her husband Ernest Norman first claimed to be in contact with ETs such as “Nor El,” from the spiritual plane associated with planet Mars.  Norman was soon joined in these channeling endeavors by Ruth, who, upon Norman’s passing in 1971, began to channel him as well.  They consider themselves “archangels” in this work of bringing higher truths to aid humanity.  Ruth’s 13-volume channeled work, Tesla Speaks, is, in the words of Jon Klimo, “a virtual Who’s Who of nonphysical human spirits, including many noted scientists,” ranging from Plato and Heraclitus to Karen Horney, Einstein, and Oppenheimer.  Gloria Lee (1926-62), the “first martyr” of the contactee movement, had worked as an actress in childhood, then as a stewardess when, in 1953, a year after George Adamski’s profession of his experience of contact with the aliens, began to feel that she was making contact, via automatic writing, with a Venusian named “J.W.”  This entity helped her spread the truth about the reality of UFOs. Her Cosmon Research Foundation (1959) and Why Are We Here book made Gloria a well-known leader in the contactee community.  She expired after a long period of fasting in a hotel room in Washington D.C., the purpose of which was to attract government officials to the cause.  After her death, she was alleged to be channeling messages through Yolanda (Pauline Sharpe) in Florida and Verity in New Zealand.  Sri Donato is another colorful, wacky UFO channel with a conspicuous public advertising campaign: a self-described “prophet, visionary mystic and healer in constant twelve dimensional vision” channelling Lord Osiris from his spaceship.  She “specializes” in “helping women who have had their fetuses stolen” by aliens during abductions.  Sri Donato has a number of assisting “lamas” who prepare those who wish to have audience with her at their Morningland center in Long Beach, California (f. 1973). 

 

Note that all these religious UFO groups—often considered rather flaky and something of an embarrassment to others involved in the channeling work—should be distinguished from the secular, investigative UFO research-groups, such as CUFOS, MUFON, etc.

 

Speaking of UFOs, recently a woman named Shaari‚ has emerged on the American New-Age scene as a “vehicle” for a “walk-in” alien named “Abraham”; according to associates, Shaari’s personality has completely changed, she shows extraordinary energy, insight, and generosity, and she seems quite unfamiliar with usual human perspectives and activities.  Francie Pascal Steiger (ex-wife of popular psychic researcher Brad Steiger) founded the “International Star People Movement”—“star people” being those souls in human bodies (“walk-ins” or “birth-ins”) from the subtle planes connected with other planets and stars—and she works with “space brothers,” angelic guides, Hermetic philosophy, the cakras (subtle-body energy centers), and so forth out of the L.A. area.  Other women channeling ETs include Aleutia Francesca (of Oregon, who has channeled “Orlon” and “Sut-ko” since the late 1950s), Carla Rueckert (channeler of many “space brothers” over the years, especially the group being, “Ra”), Tuella (of Durango, Colorado, channeler of “the Ashtar Command” and her space brothers), Joan Howard (of Toronto, Ontario, channeler of “Zio,” et al). [31]     

 

The “I Am” movement is a peculiarly American expression of some theosophical elements, involving considerable U.S. patriotism; its “ascended masters” are primarily western figures like Jesus, Saint Germain (formerly a famous 17th century occultist), and, secondarily, the Indo-Tibetan masters of the Great White Brotherhood (“white” refers to “pure,” not “Caucasian”).  Guy Ballard (1878-1939)—who claims to have met Saint Germain, et al, during a trip to Mt. Shasta in 1929 and subsequent trips to the Tetons—and his wife, Edna Ballard (1886-1971), and son, Donald, were “designated by Saint Germain” as the only “Messengers” of these masters for our times.  The Ballards organized out of the Chicago area their Saint Germain Foundation and the I Am Religious Activity, which they considered a Christian religion adhering to 1) Jesus’ teachings and ethical principles (including celibacy and vegetarianism), and 2) the truth of his Ascension, a phenomenon believed possible for everyone.  The main work is invoking the “I Am,” the Primal Light/Energy activity of God, to bring purification, inspiration, well-being, and God-realization.  The Ballards channeled over 3,000 messages (purportedly) from Saint Germain, Jesus, the Great Ones from Venus, and others, including—in a kind of psychic “nepotism”—their departed relatives, who were considered to have very high spiritual status.  After a period of great popularity in the 1930s, this movement, which claimed over one million students in 1939, got into serious legal trouble in the 1940s over convictions (later reversed) of mail fraud and hoax.  Today the I Am Religious Activity still flourishes in a quiet way, having been sustained through the years by the leadership of Edna Ballard. [32]

 

Ann Ree Colton (1889-1984) was clairvoyant from childhood, and claimed to have begun making contact with the Masters or Great Immortals and the Lord Venus.  She became well-known as a prophetess, beginning a public ministry in 1932 and forming a kind of “I Am” church in 1936, which closed in 1945.  Later, with Jonathan Murro, they established the Ann Ree Colton Foundation of Niscience, which has an esoteric Christian orientation. Geraldine Innocente in 1944 began to have alleged contact with Master Morya and then Lord Maha Chohan, and in the early 1950s she was joined by two “I Am” group leaders, Mildred Boos and Frances Ekey, to form the Bridge to Freedom Activity, now known as The New Age Church of the Christ, at Kings Park, N.Y., which works to connect human consciousness with the Consciousness of the Great White Brotherhood, headed by Sanat Kumara, Lord Gautama, and Lord Maitreya.  Mary Myers organized the Path of Light in Charlotte, North Carolina, in 1972, which conveys the Teachings of the Angelic Host; she has received communications from entities identified as Christ in Jesus, Sanat Kumara and his female complement, Lady Master Venus Kumara, Gautama Buddha, Lao-tzu, et al.  Her book My Truth is said to be the dictated “Bible” for the New Age.  “The Open Way” formed by Lovie Webb Gasteiner, in Celina, Texas, is affiliated with Myers’ work.  Evangeline Van Polen, Grace Taylor, Dr. Ruth Scholes, Helen Parrish, and Kathleen Schoenstadt‚ are other women claiming to be “I Am” channels for the Ascended Masters and Great White Brotherhood. Ms. Schoenstadt, for example, is said to channel “St. Germain,” “Sananda,” “Lord Michael,” “Tsen Tsing,” “Chief White Eagle,” Goddesses “Kali” and “Ariana,” and the “I AM Presence of Christ.”

 

In recent decades, it is another woman who has emerged as the most visible, influential, and also controversial spokesperson for the “Great White Brotherhood” and “I Am” movement—Elizabeth Clare Prophet (b. 1939). After growing up in New Jersey, in 1961 she married Mark Prophet, who had started the Summit Lighthouse organization in Washington, D.C. in 1958, under the supposed direction of Master Morya, teaching a path of purification and evolution into Christ consciousness.  (Headquarters later shifted to Colorado Springs, then to Malibu, Calif.).  Ms. Clare Prophet, a charismatic woman of dramatic tendencies and considerable psychic ability, also is said to have received the mantle of “Messenger” (the one through whom ascended masters speak) from St. Germain.  After Mark Prophet’s passing in 1973, she has presided over the movement, which is now known as the Church Universal and Triumphant, and since 1986 headquartered at the Royal Teton Ranch near Yellowstone in Montana.  A great devotion to the Divine Mother, in the forms of the Virgin Mary and Kuan-yin, is to be found in C.U.T., along with a devotion to God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; C.U.T. celebrates the seven sacraments of the Catholic Church, utilizes Buddhist and Hindu mantras and belief in karma and reincarnation, and so on.  Recently, with Elizabeth’s recurrent predictions of nuclear war, her church has been preparing to go into underground bombshelters, a move which has further fueled the controversies surrounding her work. [33]     

 

Numerous groups have arisen over the last several hundred years which are best designated by the compound term “hermeticism/white magic/occultism/esotericism,” and which claim to inherit their ideas and practices—indirectly if not directly—from the ancient “pagan” mystic traditions of Egypt, Palestine, Greece, Rome, and Celtic lands.  Historically the most important of these groups are the “speculative Freemasons,” a very large, widespread, esoteric, androcratic, quasi-Christian movement (“pseudo-Christian!” charges the Vatican and many Protestant groups).  Speculative Freemasonry’s ideal, represented in lavish symbolism, is mystical death and rebirth into union with God, the “Supreme Architect” of the universe. Freemasonry also emphasizes “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity,” charity, and a “New World Order” free from the influence of the Roman Catholic Church and its regimes.  Freemasonry’s history is most complex, but we do well to take some pages to explicate it, since so many of its ideas prefigure and influence the rise of the “New Age” movement so prevalent in our own day.      

 

Freemasons claim that their ideas date back to the Holy Land (e.g., Hiram Abiff, and the stonemasons who built Solomon’s temple), to the legendary Egyptian sage, Hermes Trismegistus (and his “Emerald Tablet” of wisdom), and to the Mediterranean mystery schools.  William Bramley has persuasively elucidated the eye-opening idea that originally these “Brotherhood” mystery schools were set up by alien “Custodians,” who have a vested interest in shaping the destiny and religions of human civilization.  The hermetic, occult tradition to which Freemasonry claims to be heir was existent in early medieval times with the ideas and practices of various secret “Brotherhood” organizations:  1) the three main Christian secret societies, all active in the crusades, all semi-monastic, highly ritualistic, and ruled over by a “Grand Master”—the Knights Templar (founded in 1118, later becoming extremely wealthy and influential throughout Europe before their persecution starting in 1307, after which most of them apparently fled to Scotland, where they continued to exert an influence), the Knights Hospitaler (founded in 1048, later known as the Knights of Malta and now functioning in Rome as the world’s smallest nation), and the Teutonic Knights (f. 1198, later dominant in Prussia, supported by the Hapsburgs); 2) the mystical, theosophical Jewish school of Kabbalah (the main text of which is the Book of Zohar by Moses de Leon, 1250-1305); and 3) the Shi’ite Muslim Ismaili and Assassin sects based in Cairo and Persia.  Various leading members of these groups would become fabulously wealthy in their role as the world’s first “banking elite.” Significantly for our purposes, these secret Brotherhoods were, as the term suggests, “male-only” clubs—with one possible exception:  a late 12th-century account in England which has not yet been sufficiently clarified speaks of a woman being received into a Knights Templar group as a “Sister,” implying some sort of feminine wing to the Order. [34]

 

Speculative Freemasonry was definitely influenced by all these groups, especially the Knights Templar, who evidently continued to flourish up in Scotland—still very Celtic and “pagan”—several centuries after King Philippe IV of France and his “puppet pope,” Clement V, had begun persecuting them in 1307.  Freemasonry also can be said to descend from a network of powerful Scottish families influential there and in France during the 15th and 16th centuries (e.g., the Setons, Sinclairs, Stuarts, Hamiltons, Hays,Montgomerys, et al; they created the Scots Guard, a neo-Templar elite corps), and from the so-called “Illuminati,” a mysterious Bavarian Brotherhood movement flourishing in select circles in Germany from the 14th century onward. Speculative Freemasonry most directly developed from the early medieval guilds of “operative” masons who used the “sacred sciences” of geometry and architecture to build the Gothic cathedrals, monasteries, and castles of Europe.  Many Freemasons today like to claim that these operative, guild masons were in an unbroken line of inheritance from ancient pagan mystery schools, and that they utilized occult symbolism and successive initiations into increasingly higher levels of secret knowledge.  In the early years of the 17th century, the associations of operative masons began to accept outsiders of high social position and/or learning, and within a few decades, helped by the climate of rampant esotericism, speculative Freemasonry was flourishing.  In the words of Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh, Freemasonry was “to act as a kind of adhesive, a binding agent which served to hold together, in a way that the Catholic Church no longer could, the diverse elements and components of a fragmenting world, a fragmenting world-view.” 

 

(Note that the Royal Society, established in 1661 as an outgrowth of the “Invisible College,” the first major group of true scientists to emerge in the West, comprised of the leading intellects and aristocracy of England and Scotland, was founded by Freemasons and was a conduit for many Masonic ideas.)  In 1717, four Freemasonry lodges in London with pro-Hanoverian political allegiance established the Mother Grand Lodge of the World, and the “operative” guild aspect of Freemasonry was finally dropped.  This Grand Lodge and its many branch-lodges which soon affiliated with it were, like the older, Scottish stream of Freemasonry, primarily secret metaphysical (“speculative”) societies, but were hostile to the pro-Stuart (Jacobite) political position of the older Masonry.  The Grand Lodge organizational form of pro-Hanoverian Freemasonry, though it was “less complete” than Jacobite Masonry, “less privy to ancient secrets,” rapidly became the mainstream form of Masonry, spreading not only to Scotland but also to France and Germany, which would become the major centers of Freemasonry in the 18th century.  It also moved into Ireland, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Denmark, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Russia, Sweden, India, and many other lands, including the Americas.  In each country Freemasonry—where it was not proscribed by the Roman Catholic Church—became hugely popular with those men not completely enchanted with their own form of Catholic or Protestant religion.  Prof. Ahlstrom comments that these secret societies seem “to satisfy social needs and a yearning for rites and ceremonies that Protestantism [has] lacked.”  Baigent and Leigh declare that Grand Lodge Masonry, first in England and then elsewhere, softened class-distinctions, allowed more upward mobility for members of the middle class and for certain Jews who became members, promoted charitable works, and was a kind of prototype for the later trade unions.  Baigent and Leigh also point out how a German- and American-influenced, post-Jacobite Masonry, with a resurrected Knights Templar “Strict Observance” form and the higher, secret degrees of antiquity (pre-dating the formation of the Grand Lodge in 1717), spread throughout Europe, becoming especially strong in France and Ireland, as well as in Germany and the Americas.

 

Freemasonry thus flourishes to this day in several main bodies as ritualistic, white magical, secret societies, stratified into hierarchical levels of initiation and strict obedience under penalty of various oaths to one’s superior—leading up to the “Grand Master” of a lodge (usually some wealthy aristocrat), and even higher to mysterious, unknown figures.  Arthur E. Waite, a member of and learned commentator on Freemasonry, in 1920 was already lamenting how the noble spiritual ideals of the past had faded in many Masonic Lodges in the 20th century, under the increasing secular-humanistic influences in Euro-American society at large.  In any case, the Masons are widespread, with at least two or three million members in the U.S. alone, belonging to fifty independent Grand Lodges in each state.  Some 8,421 Masonic lodges flourish in all parts of the world under the jurisdiction of the United Mother Grand Lodge in London, which was born in 1813 as a merger between the two main forms of Freemasonry after the collapse of the Stuart cause in mid-18th century.  The different national and infranational Masonic lodges are all based on the rites of the Blue Lodge of English Freemasonry and its Three Craft Degrees (of “entered apprentice,” “fellow of the craft,” and “Master Mason”).  This is the “outer circle” of Freemasonry.  Many lodges, depending on their status, involve their more elite members in the subsequent practice of the York (“American”) Rite, the Royal Arch Degree, the Rose Croix degree, and the more truly “esoteric” Scottish Rite of 33 degrees (note that in the 1960s, in the U.S. alone, there were some 6,000 33rd-degree Scottish Rite Masons, the honorary 33rd degree bestowed on them by one of two “Supreme Councils”).  All these lodges (except most of the French lodges, which declare allegiance to France’s Grand Orient Lodge) are in union with the Mother Grand Lodge of the World in London.

 

As a “secret society,” the Freemasons have been fairly successful in maintaining their low profile and keeping their highest degrees secret; yet they should definitely be more widely known by students of history, politics, and religion:  for instance, it is a little-known fact by outsiders that most of the founding fathers of the United States (Franklin, Washington, Hamilton, Hancock, Knox, Madison, Henry, et al) were Freemasons (almost the entire army was, too).  Indeed, the founding of the U.S. is considered by Freemasons to be their greatest achievement.  The Great Seal of the U.S., found on the back of the dollar bill, was designed by a Mason, and comes straight from the hermetic tradition, with much numerology and mystic sayings and symbolism, though the mythical phoenix bird (symbol of death and resurrection) originally on the seal has been replaced by the eagle.  Much of American politics (and the politics of countries such as England, Germany, France, Italy, Austria, Spain, Mexico, and the Philippines) on the national level has been engineered and/or dominated by Freemasons, though this fact is almost never reported in the media.  About one-third of all U.S. presidents have been Freemasons (including Monroe, Jackson, Polk, Buchanan, Andrew Johnson, McKinley, Taft, Teddy and Franklin Roosevelt, Truman, Ford, and probably George Bush).  In 1924, Freemasons comprised over 60% of the Senate.  While this figure has waned, Freemasons are still a powerful force in the Senate—at last count, the 97th Congress (1981-3) had more than a quarter of its seats held by Freemasons.  There are strong allegations that the Freemasons created or at least sponsored the rise of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR)—whose core 700 members or so comprise the elite of the political-military-industrial-educational complex which virtually “owns” the U.S. policy-making machine.  Curiously, most books on “religions of America” (such as Melton’s huge Encyclopedia of American Religions) virtually ignore or gloss over the Freemasons.  What are the reasons behind this strange ommission of one of America’s largest religious bodies?  Works by Stephen Knight, William Bramley,and Paul Fisher discuss the Machiavellian political and financial intrigues down through the ages on the part of some Freemasons and members of related “Illuminati” groups, and provide many reasons why these secret societies would prefer not to be the object of attention.  And these authors indicate how the elite within these groups wield sufficient power with the various information-media to insure that no one finds out too much about them.

 

Notable for feminists is the fact that the leadership of this extremely powerful, international, occult-political-financial Freemasonry movement—despite its stated ideals of “equality” and “liberty”—has been completely male.  It is the quintessential “ol’ boys’ club.”  Still, a few women have made their appearances in this Masonic world, albeit more on the fringes, and especially in France.  In Waite’s Encyclopedia of Freemasonry one learns of a flamboyant, ultimately pathetic figure, the Sicilian Count Cagliostro, who took the French Masonic world by storm in the late 18th century, promoting his Egyptian Rite, attempting to elevate himself to leadership of the Masonic world (for a brief time, he was fairly successful).  In 1785, he declared that women might be admitted to the Mysteries of the Masonic Science of the Pyramids; and he thereupon initiated Madame de Lamballe with some other aristocratic ladies.  His wife, Madame Cagliostro, was Grand Mistress of the Adoptive Grades of Egyptian Masonry.  The Honorable Elizabeth St. Leger (later the Hon. Mrs. Aldworth, d. 1773), daughter of Viscount Doneraile, is recorded as having been initiated into the first degree of Craft Masonry when it was discovered that she had inadvertently witnessed a Masonic meeting in her father’s home from an adjacent room where she had been napping.  She became a “patroness of the Craft.”  Two other women, a Mrs. Beaton of Norwich (1717-1802) and Madame de Xaintrailles of France, are notable for having become initiates into Masonry in its early days through rather devious means of penetrating the all-male fraternities.

 

In 1879 several French Masonic chapters revolted from the central authority of France (which had been condemned by the Mother Lodge for its secular orientation) and reincorporated as the La Grande Loge Symbolique de France.  One of its lodges in 1881 resolved that one Mlle. Maria Desraimes (1828-94), a courageous writer on humanitarian subjects and the rights of women, be admitted into Freemasonry.  Initiated Jan. 14, 1882—a move which incurred the wrath of many Masons in other circles—in 1893 Maria was approached by Dr. Georges Martin of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite in France, to open a lodge of 16 women in his new La Maçonnerie Mixte, the first Masonic order explicitly open to women.  In April, 1893, after daily attacks by certain Masons, the symbolical Scottish Grand Lodge of France (“The Human Right”) was officially inaugurated, with Maria at the head. Maria Georges Martin (d. 1915) took over leadership with Desraimes’ death in 1894, and in 1901 she appears to have become Grand Mistress of the Order and President of the Supreme Council of this group.  The aforementioned Annie Besant (of the Theosophical Society) was influential in the founding of Dharma Lodge No. 101 of La Maçonnerie Mixte at Varanasi, soon followed by other Lodges at Bombay, Adyar, and East Rangoon.  This movement came to England as Joint Freemasonry in 1902, and later became known as Universal Co-Masonry.  Ms. Besant became second only to Maria Georges Martin in the leadership of Co-Masonry. Waite reports that, by the end of 1912, some 12,000 members (male and female) belonged to one hundred lodges of Co-Masonry in the U.S., England, India, Africa, Holland, South America, and Oceania.  (I have not seen any figures since then on the number of women involved in Co-Masonry).

 

In 1908, a small denomination arose under the instigation of an Anglican priest, Dr. W.F. Cobb, to challenge Besant as a leader, evidently because her involvement with Theosophy was considered a conflict of interest by Masons.  This new group was headed by Mrs. Marion Halsey and was called the Honourable Fraternity of Antient Masonry.  Though initially open to males and females, it rapidly developed into an Order for ladies only, and was re-named the Order of Women Freemasons.  A contemporary British male Mason patronizingly observes: 

“In the early 1920s [Mrs. Halsey] petitioned the United Grand Lodge of England for a full examination with a view to recognition [as an official Masonic lodge]. Our Board of General Purposes very properly [!] found itself unable to make any such recommendation!  But the Order of Women Freemasons has progressed very well on its own and has (1990) over 343 Craft lodges (many overseas) on its register [Craft lodges grant the first three degrees].  It works, also, in most of the [other] degrees and Orders with which we are familiar but, in some respects, follows Irish or Scottish practice.  It publishes an excellent official magazine entitled The Gavel and it is fair to add that some quite outstanding charitable work is carried out by its lodges.”  

This same author speaks of a few other unofficial Masonic groups which admit women:

“In 1913 several members withdrew from the Honourable Fraternity of Antient Masonry [the Order of Women Freemasons] and formed their own Grand Lodge under the name of the Honourable Fraternity of Antient Freemasons.  This, too, has advanced (as an Order for women only) and has over thirty Craft lodges—mostly in London or the northwest of England, with the Mark, Royal Arch, and Rose Croix degrees worked on a small scale.  ... In 1925 English Co-Masonry suffered another breakaway, the Order of Ancient, Free and Accepted Masonry was established as a result and this continues to permit the initiation of men and women.  It has, however, granted autonomy to its few constituent Craft lodges and this has resulted in some of them deciding to restrict admission to women. This Order is governed by a Supreme Council controlling the thirth-three Scottish Rite degrees.  Among the unrecognized bodies in Britain it is unique in that it is a member of an International Masonic Union under the name of Catena.  This Union includes Orders for men and women (other than Co-Masons proper) in Austria, the Netherlands, Germany and Sweden. It is, perhaps [!], worth adding that there are women’s masonic Orders in Belgium, Finland, France, and Germany, and that a measure of inter-visitation with the British ladies’ Orders is not unknown.”

 

In the U.S., several Masonic social organizations open to women have arisen and are currently flourishing:  the International Order of the Eastern Star was founded in 1850, and admits Master Masons and their wives, daughters or sisters.  It is the largest of such groups.  The Order of Amaranth (f. 1860), and the wholly-Christian Order of the White Shrine of Jerusalem (f. 1894) are smaller groups each offering a degree beyond that of the Eastern Star.  The Supreme Conclave True Kindred and the Order of the Golden Chain are similar groups “admitting Master Masons and their ladies.”

 

Our British chronicler mentions in passing a few compensatory groups for other women whose males are involved in various forms of Masonry: “The ladies have Orders, serious and humorous, related to many of those in which their menfolk meet.  The Royal Arch Widows, the Social Order of the Beauceant, the Daughters of the Nile ... offer both social and ritual activity to the neglected wives while affording opportunities of supporting the relevant charities.” 

 

The Order of Job’s Daughters and the Order of the Rainbow are quasi-Masonic groups for girls.  It should be emphasized that none of these Masonic groups for women or girls are considered “proper Masonic bodies” by the male elites of the Grand Lodge or the other, “higher” forms of Freemasonry. [35]

 

After Freemasonry, one of the most important hermetic/occult, semi-public, secret societies is the Order of the Rosy Cross, or Rosicrucians.  This movement originated in Germany—it is said that a Rosicrucian lodge opened in Worms in 1100.  Rosicrucians also claim their work received a huge impetus from the activity of the legendary early 15th century German mystic, Christian Rosenkreuz, and his seven disciples.  The Rosicrucians, like the Masons, have been very involved in opposing the Catholic Church and working to foment revolutions in various countries, so as to fulfill their centuries-old dream of a “New World Order.”  It appears that during certain periods of history, such as in England during the late 17th century, Rosicrucianism and Freemasonry became indistinguishable for several decades.

 

The Ancient Mystical Order Rosae Crucis (AMORC), headquartered in San Jose, California, founded by H. Spencer Lewis in 1915, is perhaps the most prominent of several Rosicrucian groups to emerge in a more public way over the last century (R. Swinburne Clymer and the German Max Heindel are revivers of the other major semi-public Rosicrucian groups in the 20th century).  Jeanne Guesdon (1884-1955) is noteworthy as having been selected to be the Grand Master of the AMORC for France, her mother’s home in Villeneuve-Saint-Georges after World War II functioning as the AMORC center when Jeanne was empowered by Dr. Lewis to head up a branch of this esoteric movement in that country.  Earlier in life Jeanne had worked various secretarial and other jobs in London and Cuba, while devoting her private time to the study of mysticism.  Remaining single her entire life so as to devote all her energy to establishing in various countries the Rosicrucians and another esoteric group, the Synarchical Martinist Order, she became esteemed as a gifted adept in the esoteric sciences.  She died “prematurely” of complications from a minor surgical procedure in her 71st year.  Gladys Plummer de Witow (“Mother Serena”) currently heads the Societas Rosicruciana in America (SRIA), founded for non-Masons by S.C. Gould (d. 1909) and G.W. Plummer (d. 1944) as an offshoot of the Societas Rosicruciana in Civitatibus Foederatis, a Masonic Rosicrucian organization founded in England in 1865 by Robert Wentworth Little.  The SRIA adopted Masonic materials for general use, ran a magazine and several churches and colleges, and, notably, was open to “fraters and sorores.”  Following Plummer’s death, the SRIA was headed by Stanislaus Witowski (de Witow), who married Plummer’s widow; she, in turn, has survived him to carry on the movement. [36]     

 

An heir to Freemasonry and Rosicrucianism is one of the most important occult-esoteric white magic movements of modern times:  the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn (OGD) and its Isis-Urania Temple of the Golden Dawn. This was an even more secret group (membership-by-invitation-only), founded in 1888 by S.L. MacGregor Mathers, A.F.A. Woodford, K.R.H. Mackenzie, and W.W. Westcott (the last three were all member’s of Wentworth’s Societas Rosicruciana for Masons).  The OGD was chiefly based on the highly influential occult writings of Eliphas Levi (Alphonse-Louis Constant, flourished in the early 1800s), and the work of psychic Fred Hockley.  Mathers had been a founding member of the Hermetic lodge of the Theosophy Society with Anna Kingsford, from whom he got his ideas of male-female equality for his Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn).  The OGD was said by Mathers, et al, to have been authorized and psychically mentored by a high-ranking German female initiate of a certain Rosicrucian group, Anna Sprengel, one of the few women about whom one hears anything in that occult tradition, yet research by Ellic Howe concludes that Fraulein Sprengel never existed.  Mathers came to control the OGD and developed its systematic worldview, called Western white magick, based on hermetic principles, work on astral planes, and processes of invocation (bringing down) and evocation (calling up) of angels, gods, goddesses and magical forces through arcane rituals, will-power and active imagination.  Though the leading historians of the OGD—all male—tend to mention only male leaders connected with the OGD, occultist Mary Greer has recently told the tales of four women of the OGD who “stand out as the true heart and soul of the Order”— Moina Bergson Mathers, Annie Horniman, Maud Gonne, and Florence Farr—declaring “it is time for these four women to be acknowledged as honored foremothers of our Western magical tradition. 

 

Moina Mathers (née Mina Bergson; 1865-1928), born in Geneva to an itinerant Jewish professor of music and his wife, studied art at the Slade School in England, and became the first initiate in MacGregor Mathers’ new occult order at age 22, as the priestess of Isis.  The next year Moina agreed to a spiritual marriage with him that would never be physically consummated. Moina “became the main clairvoyant, diviner and channel for the visionary material used in the Inner Order rituals [of the OGD] for evoking and influencing the gods.  It was also Moina, using her artistic abilities and training, who designed ritual chambers creating grand and elaborate temple furnishings based on Egyptian motifs (apparently it was Moina who invented the art-form known as collage, usually said to have been discovered by Picasso).  Unlike the other three women profiled here, Moina, we are told, “upheld the Victorian mandate of genteel purity and devotion to her husband.  [Moreover, she stood by him even when, in later years, he fell into depression and alcoholism.]  On the other hand, she abandoned her family’s religious beliefs and chose to live a life of near-impoverishment dedicated to the goddesses and gods of the pagan world.”  In the early 1890s the Mathers moved to Paris where they opened a chapter of the OGD.  Moina led this Paris branch for several years after MacGregor’s death in 1918 (her views on the occult undoubtedly influenced her older brother, Henri Bergson, who had received his higher education in Paris and, along with winning the Nobel Prize, served as a president of England’s Society for Psychical Research). Moina finally returned to England to help carry on the work of the OGD, which had been undermined by controversy, and she was vilified by some members for apparently selling OGD initiations-via-the-mail to Americans—she seems to have wanted to insure that the OGD work would be continued on a wider basis. 

 

Annie Horniman (d. 1937), Moina’s closest friend at Slade Art School, provided the primary financial support for the OGD and its leading members, Mathers, George Bernard Shaw, and William Butler Yeats in their various endeavors.  A gifted astrologer and visionary, and also eventually lauded as the foundress of the modern movement in drama, Annie was the first person initiated into the new Inner or “Second Order” of the OGD, though she was later expelled by Mathers for her insubordination, “arrogance, and self-conceit.”  After a major schism rent the OGD in 1900, she and Yeats and Florence Farr formed the Stella Matutina Temple.  The well-known, lovely actress, Florence Farr (d. 1917), was initiated into the OGD in 1890, when she was almost thirty, and became Shaw’s lover, though she disappointed him by becoming less involved in theater work with him and more devoted to her studies of white magic.  Her thespian expertise infused the various Golden Dawn rituals.  Florence was another of those gifted female clairvoyants, adept in the potentially dangerous active-imagination practice known as “scrying in the spirit-vision.”  She wrote several books on Egyptian rituals and Renaissance alchemy, and taught classes in Tarot and Enochian magic.  With the departure of the Mathers for Paris, and the retiring of Westcott, Florence became head of the London branch of the OGD in 1894.  In 1899, she stood up against the initiation of young Aleister Crowley into the Second Order of the OGD because of his eccentricities and “moral depravities.”  (Crowley, a British homosexual member of the OGD, became its most notorious figure; he would later join Karl Keller’s German sex-magick group, the Ordo Templi Orientis [OTO] as head of its British affiliate.  From Crowley came a great number of books which have influenced occultists down to this day, including many female occultists and witches.)  Mathers initiated Crowley in Paris anyway, and Florence resigned.  She also had the integrity to tell fellow members of the OGD about Mather’s alarming disclosure made to her at this time that the original letters from Fraulein Sprengel authorizing the OGD were forgeries, though it meant casting away some of her own prestige.  Florence was determined to not be “a party to fraud.”  As previously mentioned, she helped Yeats and Horniman found the short-lived Stella Matutina Temple, and later jointed the Theosophical Society, subsequently leaving everything behind in 1912 to go to Sri Lanka and become head of the College for Girls started by spiritual teacher Ramanathan.  She contracted terminal breast cancer, enduring it with courage and humor. 

 

Six-foot-tall, strikingly beautiful Maud Gonne (1865-1951), daughter of a British colonel stationed at Dublin, became involved in anti-British European politics early in her early 20s (and also involved with a married French politician by whom she bore two children); she was brought into the OGD by Yeats (who was hopelessly in love with her and wrote some of his finest verses for her, never knowing of her illicit relationship), receiving her entry initiation in 1891.  Maud dedicated herself primarily to a political vision of a free Ireland, mobilizing the masses with her “inflammatory speeches” (several times she would be jailed for her protest activities), and also frequently ministering to Irish political prisoners, who named her the “woman of the Sidhe [faeries]” for her psychic gift of prophecy.  When, after a few years, Maud found out that many elements of the OGD were based on Freemasonry, which she considered a British political institution, she quit, though she maintained connections with its leaders, especially regarding the Castle of Heroes project which she and Yeats designed as a retreat and teaching center channeling the “mystic forces of the land of Eire,” an alternative to orthodox Christian institutions dominant in that land.  Influenced by the Irish pagan ideals of good friend Ella Young (who later taught Celtic mythology at the University of California), Maud founded the Daughters of Erin, a pro-Irish educational and activist group, and was a leader of the Women’s Prisoners Defense League, protesting the inhumanities of prisons; Maud also organized one of the first schoolchildren’s free-lunch programs and fought for the legal rights of the urban and rural poor—all of these activities carried out despite the fact that she suffered a lifelong, severe heart condition.

 

A few other women came to prominence in the occult world of white magic in the early decades of this century:  Dion Fortune (née Violet Mary Firth; 1891-1945), psychic from childhood, was raised by Christian Science parents. She had the misfortune of suffering a nervous breakdown in her 20s, purportedly due to being traumatized in a hypnotic manner by a power-hungry female bully who was a teacher at the private school in which Dion taught. Later, Dion went deeper into the occult mysteries, receiving initiation into the OGD from Moina Mathers.  Dion began to write a number of influential books on white magic and hermetic wisdom for the general public, revealing myriad arcane secrets for the first time, for which she was criticized by certain members of the OGD.  Apparently Mrs. Mathers grew jealous of her apprentice. Dion claimed to be psychically attacked by Mrs. Mathers.  Eventually Dion left the OGD to start her own Society of the Inner Light in London, and she continued to write or channel many highly influential books.  Her 18 works includes such treatises as The Mystical Qabalah, The Cosmic Doctrine, and Psychic Self-Defense.

 

Aleta Baker (1880-1943) organized in the late 1920s and 1930s another important theosophical/white magic group stemming from the Order of the Golden Dawn, known as the Order of the Portal, headquartered in Boston.  This was the most ostensibly Christian of the various OGD splinter-groups.  Of central importance in Baker’s numerous books was the idea that God is androgynous or bisexual, and that women are fully equal to men. Corinne S. Heline (1882-1975) was a student of Max Heindel (d. 1919), founder of the Rosicrucian Fellowship; she organized the New Age Bible and Philosophy Center in the 1930s in southern California; her New Age Press published a large number of her 28 books on esoteric Christianity, white magic, psychic arts, and related topics. [37]     

 

 

Witchcraft, or Craft of Wicca (“the wise ones”), purports to be, according to Margaret Murray, the Goddess religion of our ancient ancestors, carried down in unbroken fashion through the ages by witches (wiccans) who practiced their magick and carefully avoided the horrendous persecutions of certain madmen within the institutional Catholic and Protestant Christian churches.  More realistically, the vast majority of these witchcraft “traditions” have been shown by Prof. Melton [38] to stem from the activity of a self-proclaimed British witch, Gerald B. Gardner (1884-1964) who founded a new, syncretistic religion, Wicca, in the 1940s, based on the ideas of Murray, the OGD, Crowley, Freemasonry, Rosicrucianism, hermitic-occultism, and folk practices of southeast Asia.  He also included the element of performing the rituals “skyclad,” that is, naked (not all Gardnerian-influenced Wiccan groups involve nudity during their rituals).  There may indeed have been a few extant lineages of authentic Celtic/Druidic Wiccan practices, but these would be strictly oral and cannot be documented as having existed uninterruptedly before this century.  In any case, Sybil Leek, a Gardnerian witch, came to America from England in the 1960s and became famous as a professional occultist and healer.  Raymond and Rosemary Buckland brought Gardnerian Wicca to the U.S. in the mid-1960s, forming a coven on Long Island and allowing the press to publicize their ways.  With the work of these and other people, a slow but burgeoning growth of the Wicca/Pagan movement occurred in the U.S. in the 1970s and has now become quite widespread, featuring many women leaders, most of whom promote worship of a bisexual God/dess or both a Father-God and Mother-Goddess. Christian Baptist-raised Yvonne Frost (1931- ) claims to have been initiated, along with her husband, Gavin Frost (1930-2016), into a Celtic tradition of Wicca in the mid-1960s.  In 1968 they formed their Church and School of Wicca, the oldest incorporated Wicca church in the U.S.  They have initiated hundreds (out of thousands of applicants) into the Wiccan way.  Yvonne serves as a bishop of her church, and has co-authored with Gavin the Witch’s Bible (1972), which, unlike most Pagan and certainly Neo-Pagan groups, does not much refer to the Goddess, but centers on a male deity figure.  Laurie Cabot (1933- ) claims to have been taught Druid/Celtic witchcraft at age 16 by three priestesses of the tradition. She went on to study art along with Wicca and hermetic-occultism.  Laurie began teaching “Witchcraft as a Science” in the 1960s and then publicly in the 1970s at adult education programs at Wellesley.  She founded the Temple of Isis in Salem, Mass., and the grove of the Council of Isis Community.  She was feted by Gov. Michael Dukakis for her work with special-needs children in 1977.  So as to counter antagonism to Wicca, Laurie also founded the Witches’ League for Public Awareness.  Lady Sheba (Jessie Wicker Bell) and her American Order of the Brotherhood of Wicca combine her Celtic heritage and Amerindian magic; a number of covens can be found across the country, looking to her as Witch Queen.  Lady Sabrina in 1978, while living in California, established her Celtic Wiccan group, Our Lady of Enchantment, Church of the Old Religion (she later relocated her work back east, settling at Nashua, New Hampshire).  Lady Sabrina directs the OLE’s Seminary of Wicca, which offers workshops and home-study programs, and has a library of over 6,000 occult volumes.  Mary Nesnick founded Algard Wicca in N.Y. in 1972 (now defunct); Gwen Thompson began her (also defunct) New England Coven of Welsh Traditionalist Witches in New Haven.  Ellen Cannon Reed has created the Witches Tarot (and its accompanying guide-book), one of the favorite Tarot arcane card decks for practicing Witches.  Margot Adler (1946- ), the granddaughter of psychologist Alfred Adler, entered the Craft in 1972 and co-ran the Manhattan Pagan Way through much of the mid-1970s.  She was a priestess of Largalon, a Gardnerian coven, from 1976-81, and continues to be a prominent lecturer and workshop leader in the Pagan Way.  Margot has written the definitive study of Paganism and Neo-Paganism, Drawing Down the Moon. Cindy Ravensong (1953- ) is archpriestess of the Aquarian Tabernacle Church, a Pagan/Wiccan mystery school founded in 1988 in the mountains near Seattle. 

 

Several British Wiccan priestesses have written important instruction books on witchcraft: Doreen Valiente, Dolores Ashcroft-Nowicki, Justine Glass, and Ly Warren-Larke.  Stewart and Janet Farrar are British witches who have authored a number of important books in this field, including one of the definitive books on the cross-cultural manifestation of the Goddess. Back in the late 1960s, Donna Cole (Schultz) (1937- ), a Chicago witch trained and initiated in England, “composed a set of rituals,” according to Professor Melton, similar to Gardner’s, but much more worshipful and celebrative and less focused upon magic.  These rituals circulated through the witchcraft community in the United States and became the basis of a set of Pagan Way temples” (which she co-founded).  These temples are now defunct; Donna currently heads The Temple of the Sacred Stones, an eclectic witchcraft coven in the Chicago area.

 

Out of Cole’s work came Neo-Paganism, which prefers the way of Goddess-worshipping, nature-loving, pan- and poly-theistic Gaia-consciousness over the highly esoteric and ritualistic “witch’s magic,” though in many of its circles Neo-Paganism still holds a rather magical worldview, concerned with magick rituals and developing will-power over various energies and forces, and working (scrying) on astral-psychic levels (a few groups have a higher, panentheistic orientation).  Neo-Paganism, also called “the Old Religion,” basically sees Christianity as having masculinized God, separated humanity from Divinity, and robbed the land of its sacredness.  Thus, Neo-Paganism tries to return the feminine element to the concept of God, and see the Divine in all.  Neo-Pagan groups, which tend to be strongly feminist, often identify with one or another of the pre-Christian traditions, such as the Greek, Druidic, Norse, or Egyptian traditions.  (A Greek-influenced pantheon of Wiccan deities would be Diana, Selene, Hecate, Kerumnos and Pan.)  It is curious to learn that a number of Neo-Pagans have even begun to affiliate themselves with Hinduism and its female and male deities, the oldest extant “pagan” religion.  With the increasing attention given to recent archaelogical discoveries of the ancient Neolithic cultures (as outlined in the introduction to this book), the feminist Neo-Pagans have some evidence for an “original human religion” with which to identify themselves.  Yet some spokespersons, such as Starhawk, do not feel it necessary to invoke historic support, for the current Neo-Pagan movement of the Goddess and her male God is sufficiently strong in its own right.  We would mention that this Neo-Pagan movement is, true to its egalitarian ideals, decentralized, though a number of umbrella groups have arisen so as to help Neo-Pagans and Wiccans defend themselves against attacks from local bigots and to help educate society at large about their beliefs and practices. 

 

Zsuzsanna (“Z”) Emese Budapest (1940- ), often described as the “mother of the Goddess movement,” grew up among witches and artists in Hungary (she claims her genetic line of witches goes back to 1270).  She and her family fled the country during the 1956 revolution.  After attending the University of Chicago and living a fairly conventional married life for a time, she divorced and wound up in southern California, founding in 1971 the first feminist, Neo-Pagan, Diana Wicca circle, the Susan B. Anthony Coven No. 1, devoted to a female-centered eco-religion celebrating Mother Earth and urging complete identification with the Goddess.  This coven still flourishes today under the guidance of Ruth Barrett (renamed the Circle of Aradia).  Meanwhile, Budapest has gone on to form the Women’s Spirituality Forum in Oakland, California in the early 1980s, dedicated to training priestesses and bringing Goddess consciousness into the mainstream via lectures, retreats, and annual spiral dances on Halloween (she also has a Bay Area cable television program, 13th Heaven).  Her chief work, The Feminist Book of Lights and Shadows (1976; reprinted as The Holy Book of Women’s Mysteries) is a basic text of Dianic Wicca.  Starhawk (1951- ; née Miriam Simos), a student of Z. Budapest and Wiccan priestess, has authored some of the classic works for Neo-Pagans today, such as The Spiral Dance and Dreaming the Dark, and she remains a leading spokeswoman for the field, as well as being a dedicated protestor on behalf of various environmental and human-rights causes (at last count, she had been arrested 14 times for involvement in peaceful demonstrations).  An early monotheistic-Goddess-Wiccan group was started up in 1971 in Dallas, begun by High Priestess Morgan McFarland and Mark Roberts.  Ann Forfreedom created the Temple of the Goddess Within in the 1970s in Sacramento, relocated to the Oakland area in 1984; it also promulgates Dianic Goddess-worship and wiccecraeftSelena Fox (1949- ), one of America’s best-known Wiccan priestesses, in 1974 organized, with partner Jim Alan, the Church of Circle Wicca (one of the few legally-recognized Wiccan Churches) and the Circle Sanctuary on a 200-acre nature preserve near Mt. Horeb in southwest Wisconsin.  Selena, a highly educated clinical psychologist and student of many disciplines, emphasizes a kind of feminist, shamanistic religion of the Mother Goddess.  Her School for Priestesses, which conducts week-long ministerial training programs, is the first contemporary ecumenical ministerial program of its kind for women involved in Goddess-centered spirituality.  She is a popular spokesperson for the broader Neo-Pagan community and has had to defend herself many times against attacks from bigots.  Alison Harlow (1934- ) began to study in 1970 with Victor Anderson, a pioneer of Neo-Paganism in the San Francisco Bay Area and a co-founder of the Faerie Tradition.  Alison assisted Gwydion Pendderwen in the founding of the Nemeton Fellowship and helped to publish the Nemeton Journal, and the two of them, along with Aidan Kelly, co-founded the Covenant of the Goddess (COG), a major networking group for Neo-Pagans.  Alison is one of the leading developers of Pagan music.  Judith Harrow (1945- ) is a priestess and a national leader in the Gardnerian Wicca; she started the Inwood Study Group in N.Y. which affiliated with Covenant of the Goddess.  She has been an office-holder for COG and written many articles.  Diana Paxson (1943- ), a student of Kabbalah and the writings of Dion Fortune, formed around 1980 the Dark Moon Circle, A Women’s Mystery group, and in 1982 organized a clergy training program, ordaining as a priestess herself.  A major initiator of projects, Diana started the Equinox co-ed coven (1986), Hrafnir (1988; oriented to Norse shamanism and study of runes), and reorganized her Center for Non-Traditional Religions into the Fellowship of the Spiral Path in 1986.  This includes around two dozen groups (circles and classes as well as the Clergy Collegium, an association for Neo-Pagan leaders).  In 1987 she was elected first officer of the Covenant of the Goddess (COG).  Diana has also written a dozen novels and several dozen short stories containing Neo-Pagan themes.  Morning Glory Zell (1948- ; née  Diana Moore) and her husband Otto Zell are northern California-based, longtime Neo-Pagan leaders.  A former Methodist and then Pentecostalist in a youth, Morning Glory discovered Sybil Leek’s Diary of a Witch and explored a kind of Celtic Shamanism.  She is a priestess in the Church of All Worlds, founded by Otto, her second husband, and co-editor of their Green Egg journal.  Deirdre Pulgram Arthen (1956- ), with a M.A. degree from Wellesley, co-founded with her husband, Andras Corban Arthen in the early 1980s the Earthspirit Community in New England.  Valerie Voigt (1953- ), a former born-again Christian from the midwest, and then an initiate into many Wicca traditions (Faery, Gardnerian, etc.) is a major networker and public educator on the California coast for Neo-Paganism.She leads South Bay Circles, a multi-traditional Neo-Pagan movement of covens, affiliated with COG.  In 1982 Valerie started the Centre of Divine Ishtar.Lesley Rebecca Phillips (1945- ) co-founded in 1987 and became co-chair of the Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans (CUUPS), a Goddess-oriented fellowship within the mainstream church of the same name.  A lawyer, Lesley had entered Harvard Divinity School and become a Unitarian Universalist minister so as to better help marginalized persons (women, racial minorities, et al).  By 1990 her CUUPS group already had over 25 chapters and several thousand members.  Roger and Jennifer Woolger, authors of the popular The Goddess Within, offer seminars and festivals to the various archetypal Greek goddesses (Artemis, Athena, Aphrodite, Demeter, Persephone, Hestia and Hera) in addition to their past-life regression work.  Barbara Mor, Monica Sjöö [1938-2005], and Prudence Jones are other spokeswomen in the U.S. and Europe for this “old age” Wiccan/Pagan tradition of the Goddess emerging again as Neo-Paganism, with its attractive emphasis on a non-hierarchical, non-dogmatic, experiential, and ritualistic approach. [39]

 

The reader must remember that Witchcraft and Neo-Paganism have nothing to do with Satanism (“black magic”), which is a reactionary movement against Christianity.  Even within Satanism, there is a further distinction to be made between the “religious Satanists,” who are relatively harmless, and the pathological, violent “sickies.”  Readers should also distinguish between all these groups and the various Vodou (“Voodoo”) groups that syncretize elements from African or Carribean or Latin American folk-religion (often including local shamanic-sorcery traditions), Catholicism, and magic.  Vodou members, unlike what most people think, consider themselves to be good Christians. 

 

High Priestess Madame Arboo is noteworthy here as leader of an Afro-American (Christian) Vodoun group, centered on Damballah (the chief Vodou deity), God of wisdom, personified as a serpent.  Serving as his messenger, Madame Arboo has promoted her movement out of the Harlem area since the 1960s, now found elsewhere on the East Coast, utilizing healing, ecstatic dance, trances, messages from spirits, and psychological counseling.  Karen McCarthy Brown, a professor of religion at Drew University, and an expert on Haitian Vodou, has recently profiled Alourdes Margaux, also known as Mama Lola, one of a group of healers and spiritual leaders in New York (she lives in Brooklyn) to the several hundred thousand Haitians who have fled their island.  Alourdes, a generous, humorous, sensual woman, and single mother, communicates with, propitiates, and serves as a channel for the members of the Vodou pantheon, who speak through her and advise those visitors seeking cures for various ills.  Luisah Teish (née Catherine Allen), born and raised a Roman Catholic in New Orleans in the 1950s, now living in the San Francisco area, is another practitioner and spokewoman for Vodou.  In the early 1980s she began to teach as a formally initiated priestess of love-goddess Oshun in the Lucumi branch of the neo-Yoruba school; Luisah has authored a book for women on the practices of this tradition, and is an actress, dancer, feminist, and teacher of Vodou workshops worldwide.  Mary Oneida Toups founded the Religious Order of Witchcraft in 1972 in New Orleans, involving Vodou, Wicca, and magick elements.

As for women in the traditional “primal societies”—such societies much smaller than our own, but numbering into the hundreds—women in many of these groups have had and still have quite important roles as healers, visionaries, shamanesses, and so on, but only a few women’s names have come to me:  Doña Béatrice (née Kimpa Via; 1684-1706), the “Congolese Joan of Arc,” was a Bakongo black of high nobility born north of Natamba; she was one of the many natives to be baptized into the Christian faith, which had come rather forcibly to the area in the late 15th century by Portuguese colonialists, but which now was witnessing much turmoil due to political factionalism.  In her twentieth year, Doña Béatrice came back from a life-threatening illness with the message that Saint Anthony of Padua had saved her so that she might help rebuild and unify the country, returning the people to the Golden Age of the Congo.  She went on to oppose slave-trading, superstition, and fetishism, and established the Anthony Sect, with Saint Anthony as its heavenly head and herself as its spiritual and earthly leader.  Venerated by the mass of people and by many nobles who converted to this new sect, Doña Béatrice was famed as a miracle-worker, healer, and prophetess, and lived very simply with her entourage of “adepts” in a poor hut.  Together they rebuilt the capital city of San Salvador (originally Mbanza Kongo), reinstating there the exiled Congolese king, though it was Doña Béatrice, the pure-hearted “goddess,” who was the real leader of the people.  Naturally, the Catholic authorities feared her spiritual and political power, and in 1706 she was arrested and burnt at the stake as a heretic while in a state of pregnancy—it was alleged that she was still a virgin and that this was an “immaculate conception.”  In our century, Alice Lenshina, a simple tribeswoman of northern Rhodesia (now Zambia) belonging to the Church of Scotland Lubwa Mission, underwent in 1953 a 3-day “death” experience during which time she received visions, encountered angels, and met Jesus.  Later that year Alice founded the Lumpa Church, which staunchly opposed witchcraft and the sins of hatred, stealing, swearing, lying, adultery, and other evils.  After a time, she began to baptize people and demanded they give up their witchcraft paraphernalia.  Her fame spread, and pilgrims began to come from far away, learning from her various spiritual songs.  Alice, who held court rather in the traditional style of a chief, began to authorize some members to teach.  The more established, mainstream Christian groups led by white missionaries began to vilify Alice’s burgeoning movement, which at one point had some 75,000 members.  Some of the members, despite Alice’s urgings to refrain from violence, defied the government on certain issues, and used guerilla action against the African National Congress. Alice was jailed twice and has not been heard of in recent years, and her movement has been prohibited by the government.  Two other foundresses of African independent Christian churches utilizing some native elements have been Mother Christina Mokutudu Nku (Ma Nku; 1894-?), who started the St. John’s Apostolic Faith Mission of South Africa, and Mother Christiana Emmanuel Abiodun (1908-?) foundress of the Sacred Cherubim and Seraphim Society of Nigeria.

 

In another part of the world, Balu Asong Gau, a Melanesian (Borneo) Kenyah Dyak shamaness (a bali dayong, “one who enters a trance state to seek the spirits”) had been favored by the nature spirits from her childhood, and later in life they continued to speak to her and guide her in the leading of her people, despite the fact that she had become devoted to Jesus in her middle years. (If she is still living at present, she would be in her eighties.)  Two notable 20th century “women of color” who, when young, founded and led new religious movements in “primal societies” are Angganitha, a prophetess of the Biak area in Irian Jaya flourishing around 1940, and Mama Chi, who inspired the Guaymi people in Panama back in the 1960s.      

 

Over in the Hawaiian islands, Nana Veary (b. 1908, d. c.1995) was one of the few pure Hawaiians left. An associate of Ernest Holmes and Brugh Joy, she served as a healer in the Kahuna tradition for over 70 years and before her passing was designated a “Living Treasure” by the Hawaii State Legislature. She always taught that the primary metaphysics is Love, and would repeat the Two Great Commandments of the Bible: Love God with all your soul, heart, mind and strength, and Love your neighbor as yourself.

Sybil Leek has written of her remarkable healing and infusion of “electric force” from another Hawaiian Kahuna medicine woman named Moana. Mama Chia‚ is a contemporary Kahuna shamaness recently profiled by her student, best-selling author Dan Millman, as a very down-to-earth, good-humored, sagely woman. [40]

 

Native American religion, the original “Western” spiritual tradition, is becoming more and more popular for Caucasians and Indians themselves with each new year.  The Native American traditions, featuring elements of shamanism, medicine power, nature mysticism (communion with the Great Spirit immanent in nature), and magic, are very “pagan”—in the true sense of being very connected with the land/Mother Earth.  They have been of no small influence on many of the Neo-Pagan circles in this country (and curiously, even upon some Neo-Pagan circles in Europe). 

 

Archeologists are uncertain just when human settlers began to occupy the North American continent—one school conservatively holding out for a date of about 12,000 years ago, while some recent findings by various anthropologists indicate that perhaps “the first Indians” were living here 40,000 years ago or more.  Many Native American leaders claim that their way of life here goes way back to 100,000 years or more ago.  In any case, these human settlers appear to have arrived from Northeast Asia across the Bering Strait landmass.  A more “fringe” view is that they were re-located to the Americas from elsewhere by UFO aliens (a residue of this myth is found in the Jewish-Christian bible in the Tower of Babel story; and many Native Americans themselves speak of the “star people” as being involved in their ancient history).  Genetic analysis reveals there may have been as few as ten women among them, which could support either of these migration views.  The more mainstream view holds that, having traversed the Bering Strait landmass, over subsequent millennia the progeny of those first “Americans” moved out to the south and southeast to settle various parts of the Americas (such as the site in New Mexico uncovered by MacNeish).  Bits of evidence suggest that contact was made by Chinese Buddhist priests/sailors in the 5th century C.E., and occultists and psychics maintain that influences at some point in the very distant past had been made by “Lemurian” (proto-Polynesian) culture. [41]      

 

The Native Americans developed a rich pagan/shamanic spirituality, highly sensitive to natural processes, and to the spirits of one’s ancestors, the spirits of animals (one’s helpers or “allies”), and the spirits of plants, mountains, rivers, winds, and other nature-beings, and deeply grateful to the Great Mysterious or “Great Spirit” (who is known as Maneto to the Algonquin, Manitou to the Winnebagos, Swenjo to the Senecas, Ge-Ji-Munido to the Chippewas, Wakantanka to the Lakota/Sioux, Ywahoo to the Cherokee/Tsalagi, and so on).  By the year 1500 CE, anywhere from one to thirty million Indians flourished in North America, with some 250 languages (classified under six main language groups).  Along with this linguistic diversity came a rich diversity in religious practice (Prof. Ahlstrom: “It is almost futile to speak of ‘Indian religion’ in general”)—though there are enough similar elements among most of the tribes that they are still subsumed by some scholars today under the single category of “Amerindian shamanism” or “Native American religions.”  (Along with this linguistic, cultural, and religious diversity came, in many cases, fierce competition and warfare between certain tribes—a fact ignored by many Anglos and Indians themselves who have tended to romanticize Native American history.)

The women of the Indian tribes have always been strong, forceful presences, not weak or submissive.  Indian women, unlike women in European and certain Asian cultures, were never viewed by males as “mindless,” “helpless,” or “oppressed.”  According to the Seneca Indian woman, Twylah Hurd Nitsch, Indian women are never to be called “squaws,” which she says is a demeaning word which denotes the male genitals, mistakenly applied to Indian women by the early white men.  On the other hand, Paula Gunn Allen, a Laguna Pueblo Indian and scholar, declares that the word squaw is not originally a derogatory term among the Indians:  “Like the Anglo-Saxon ‘forbidden’ word, cunt, which is mostly used as an insult to women, squaw means ‘queen’ or ‘lady.’ ... The fact that it has been taken to mean something less is only another example of patriarchal dominance.” [42]

 

Many of the Indian societies, like the Navajo/Diné (presently the largest Indian nation) and the nations of the Iroquois/Haudenosaunee (e.g., the Mohawks) were traditionally matristic, before adopting some of the patriarchal customs with the impact of Caucasian society.  The women of these societies were quite “liberated” by our standards—usually owning the children, property, jewelry, livestock, and so forth, and having the husband come live with the wife’s family and do many of the so-called “lowly chores.”  If women do not emerge for us in reading the annals of United States’ history concerning the interactions between the white men and the male Indian chiefs, it is evidently because the white men, except in a very few cases, refused to talk to Indian women in the negotiations.  Scholars have finally unearthed evidence showing clearly that there were “scores” of sunksquaws or “queen”-like tribal leaders among the sachem (chiefs) of various tribes in the 17th and 18th centuries:  for instance, the unnamed queen of the Appamatuck; Magnus, one of the six sachems of the Narragansett of the Rhode Island area; Awashonks, a sachem of the Sakonnet; Mamanuchqua, one of five sachems of the Esopus tribe; and Weetanoo‚ of the Pocasset, to mention just a few. 

 

In many tribes, any Indian woman who is so inspired has been free to make a vision quest, like her brothers, and, after severe austerities, receive the spiritual power (mana) granted by the Great Mysterious, the Earth Mother, the benevolent, guiding grandmothers and grandfathers, and/or her animal allies, though she may not necessarily thereafter take up a leading role in the religious ceremonies—especially if she is still of menstrual age for, as Kay Parker states, “in general, the religious roles of women have been secondary to those of men.” [43]  Carolyn Niethammer, in her Daughters of the Earth: The Lives and Legends of American Indian Women (1977) [44], has told of Indian women with earned leadership roles in different western tribes, such as the matriarchs and “keepers of the fire” heading every clan in a Hopi village, the women chiefs among the western Apache, and the Sinkaietk women elders.  Niethammer discusses the shamanesses and prophetesses among the Copper Eskimo and among the southeast Salish of the Washington-Idaho region, all of whom include as part of their functions control of the weather and control over the fish.  Among the southeast Salish, some 20%-30% of the young women who go on “guardian quests” receive spiritual power, and are thereafter regarded as the equals of the 90% of men who receive spiritual power on their vision quests (why the disparity of “success rates” between men and women is not explained).  Niethammer speaks of girls’ and women’s vision quests among the Nez Percé Indians, and the dream-fasts among the Menominee, Potwatomi, et al; also, the “Crazy Owl Society” for women’s religious rites among the Kutenai Indians, wherein women are trained to gain supernatural powers; she also tells of the women’s religious societies among the Pueblo Indian women; the initiation of both girls and boys among the Hopi into the kachina cult and ritual dances; the Zuñi women who join some of the 12 secret orders/societies in that culture; the women who become priestesses for the Kotikili order which is otherwise all male; the Lummi women on the northwest coast who have special spirit guardians and who perform spiritual dances at their festivities; and the Yurok medicine doctors of northern California, who are all female (unusual, since women are banned from most other religious or supernatural activities in that culture).  Thomas Mails describes many women’s societies among the Native Americans of the Plains:  the Mandan (originally from the south, later settling in North Dakota) had a number of women’s societies—some were war groups (such as the Enemy Women, who celebrated victory over enemy warriors yet also mourned their passing), while other groups were religious societies, most important of which was the White Buffalo Cow women’s clan, whose rites were presided over by experienced Grandmothers, and enacted chiefly by their younger apprentices.  The Arapaho had a Women’s Buffalo Society, to which all women belonged.  The Kiowa Apache had an Old Women’s society of seven wise old women, and, additionally, a more secret, religious Bear Society for women, about which we know very little.  The Cheyenne women formed a number of sacred guilds, such as the painting and cornhusk groups; the most important was the quilling society, employing secret, sacred meanings behind their choice of colors and patterns in making the moccasins and garments.  The Sioux were all quite male-dominated in their societies, yet women could participate in the Ghost and Storm societies and a few others if they were favored with dreams or visions.  A few holy women with psychic powers participated in the otherwise male-dominated Elk society of the Sioux.

 

The mythologies of Native American Indian traditions name various females of a divine nature, many of whom helped establish shamanic/religious traditions, such as White Buffalo Calf Woman, who, according to Lakota visionary, Black Elk, three centuries ago brought the sacred medicine pipe to his people.  We find among the most notable Amerindian goddesses the Eskimo “Divine Mother of the Sea Creatures” (Taknakapsaluk), the Navajo Goddess, “Changing Woman” (Estsnatlehithe), the Shawnee Supreme Goddess, “Our Grandmother,” who creates the universe, the Hopi “Spiderwoman,” the Iroquois “Sky Daughter” (Ataentsic), the Laguna/Keres “Yellow Woman, Mother of Us All” (K’o’tc’inYina’ko) and “Thought Woman” (the feminine matrix for manifestation, the first being, Ts’its’tsi’nako), the Cherokee/Tsalagi “Star Maiden,” who brought her father’s people to earth from the Pleiades, and “Water Woman” (Ama Agheya), who brings wisdom, the pan-Pueblo female spirit of Pure Water, “Salt Woman” (Tsi’ty’icots’a), and the Creator-Mother Yajé Woman of the Desana people of South America.  Sadly, scholar Paula Gunn Allen has pointed out that some of these Goddess-figures in the twentieth century have been encroached upon by male versions or male deity figures as a result of Christianizing influences. [45]  Hopefully this trend will be quickly reversed as many Amerindian women are now arising to tell the creation-stories of their ancient traditions (see below).

 

As more evidence of the prominence of the feminine element in Native American tradition, Prof. Mircea Eliade has documented how many shamans cross-culturally, including the Indian shamans of the Americas, have highly influential relationships with “celestial wives” (we have already learned of these female helping spirits or dākinīs so prominent in the lives of some of the greatest Tibetan Buddhist masters).  Joan Halifax has garnered from several scholarly sources accounts of the androgynous shamans—for instance, among the Siberian peoples, the young men who are instructed by their spirit ally (ke’let) to become female, “a soft man being,” and the basir (“unable to procreate”) shamans among the Ngadja Dyak people; both these types of shaman dress in female garb and adopt female roles.  (There are also a few accounts of women shamans, such as the Kutenai shaman, “Manlike Woman,” and the Toradja woman, Liomkee, who “become male.”) [46]

 

Unfortunately for the Caucasian historian, since Indian cultures have utilized oral tradition in passing on their legends and histories, it is difficult to find evidence of important historical Indian women until the period of significant interactions with white anthropologists.  And of the women known for their holiness or religious influence, only a relative few have come to light for us up until recent times, part of the reason being that, as Kay Parker observes, “[Indian] religion is viewed as a private matter to be shared only by one’s people.”  Of the women to emerge for us “outsiders,” Jigonsanhsanh is said to have been a Seneca woman at Gadondagon, the first person to become a disciple of Peacemaker, the legendary teacher who came to the Iroquois a long time ago.  We discover the names of two shamanesses/prophetesses from many decades ago among the Copper Eskimo, Mittik‚ and Higilak, about whom, unfortunately, nothing more is known.  Nanye-hi (“Nancy”) Ward (c.1738-c.1824), a Cherokee/Tsalagi, was the last to hold the ghigau, or “Beloved Woman” office (the ghigau was a female warrior-ruler, either the senior clan-mother or the woman acknowledged as the wisest female of her time). Nanye-hi became almost legendary among her tribe for her queenly manner, resolute personality, friendliness, beauty, power and wisdom (even after her forced resignation in 1817—due to pressure from the whites—she was given a lifetime voice in all tribal councils).  Sky-Lifter was a six-foot-tall Mohawk medicine woman who flourished in the early 1800s.  Sacajawea, the Shoshone woman who helped Lewis and Clark significantly during their 1804-6 expedition in the northwest, is not usually known as also having lived to the age of 100 and being highly respected by her people for her wisdom.  Sarah Winnemucca / Thocmetony (“Shell Flower”) (c. 1844-91) was “the most famous Indian woman on the Pacific Coast,” a Paviotso Paiute woman who struggled to make peace with the whites and insure justice for her people—who regarded her as “Mother.”  Rosie Plummer, a Paviotso shaman (puhgem) of Western Nevada, “received her power” in her fifties from the rattlesnake spirits which had guided her father and uncle, who used the power, like Rosie, to heal.  Maxidiwiac/Buffalo Bird Woman (1839-1929), a descendant of chiefs on both sides of her family, was raised as a traditional medicine woman among the Hidatsa Indians of central North Dakota.  She also learned the songs and stories which preserved the wisdom for the sacred art of farming, and was loved by her people for being a pious and industrious supporter of the old ways of life in the midst of many hardships and challenging influences on Hidatsa culture (migrations, disease, Christianization).  Her son, Edward Goodbird, who had gone on the traditional vision quest as a youth, later became a Christian missionary to the Hidatsa people, but she remained committed to her traditions.  Maria Solares (1842-1923) was raised in Santa Ynez, California, by parents who descended from chiefs of the Chumash Indians of southern California.  The daughter of the mayor at the Mission Santa Ynez, her people were impoverished and at the bottom of society (below the Anglos and Mexicans).  Maria became well known in the Indian, Mexican, and white communities as an Indian herbal doctor and midwife, and became godmother to a number of Indian and Mexican children (married three times, she raised at least three children of her own).  Maria collaborated with an anthropologist from the Smithsonian to record and preserve Chumash culture and religion.

 

One of the most moving tales in the annals of Amer-Indian lore is that of Teresita, the “Saint of Cabora” (1873-1906), a Yaqui Indian healer whose life on earth, though relatively brief, was filled with drama. The blonde, green-eyed, “illegitimate” daughter of a 14 year-old Yaqui Indian girl and Don Toms Urrea, a wealthy rancher and Freemason, Teresita was raised by an abusive aunt after her mother disappeared in Teresita’s fifth year. Later she came into the care of her father when the man was informed that the girl was his own child. One day this intelligent child, a gifted guitarist and star equestrienne, burst in upon her father and some Masons and began to debate politics with them. Don Toms decided to take a risk and give her an education. Her more important education came from Huila, a woman serving as head of the ranch staff, and also a midwife and healer for local Indians. Huila took Teresita on her midwivery rounds and also brought her to a wise old Yaqui medicine man who taught the child much more about herbs. Around this time, fellow children were alleging that Teresita could change her body weight in paranormal ways and that she could occasionally fly. In 1889, 16 year-old Teresita was assaulted by a ranch hand; she was discovered in a seizure, rigid as if with lockjaw. She lapsed into a coma for 12 days and seems to have died on the 13th day. Cold, and without pulse or breath, her body was washed, dressed, and put into a coffin to be buried the next day. That night, as Huila prayed over her young apprentice, the girl suddenly sat up, and predicted that Huila would soon be buried in the same coffin, a prediction that came true three days later. After this strange near-death experience (NDE), Teresita seemed to be in a trance condition for many days. She would not eat and sat still for long hours. Her body began to exude the scent of roses, a phenomenon associated with many saints. She told her family that she had met God and a radiant Woman, who both took Teresita to see many things in the planes of light “on the other side.” And she claimed that they gave her the gift of healing. One of her early cures occurred when she took some dirt and her own spittle and applied it to the serious head-wound of a ranch-hand kicked by a mule. Predictably, word soon spread about her healing power, and many Indians from different tribes began to come to her—not only Yaquis but also Pimas, Mayos, Tehuecos, Tarahumaras, and even fierce Apaches and Tomochitecos. Mexicans of European ancestry and even some Yankee Americans came to see Teresita. Reporters also came, and Teresita and her healing work were profiled in numerous major newspapers, such as the New York Times and Los Angeles Times. At the height of her fame, some 5,000 to 10,000 people, primarily Indians, were camped on the Urrea ranch, seeking a miracle cure from Teresita. When one of Tomochiteco warriors was cured by Teresita, the Tomochitecos built a statue of her and put it on their Catholic altar alongside the statues of Jesus and Mary. This was seen by a Catholic priest making the rounds among the Indian Catholic converts and he flew into a rage, telegraphing the president of Mexico to inform him of such an “improper” thing. Government spies, meanwhile, had also contacted the president, since Teresita was also known for preaching liberation and land-reclamation for the Indian tribes.

In the violence that followed, the Tomochitecos were massacred and Teresita was captured. Fearing the outbreak of a war with the Indians, who had been heavily persecuted and killed by the thousands by President Diaz’ ruthless dictatorship, Diaz did not execute Teresita, but deported her to the U.S., calling her “the most dangerous girl in Mexico.” Teresita lived with her father, first in Nogales, then in El Paso. Here she set up a tent in the downtown area to minister to the many sick folks who came to her. She also edited and wrote columns for Lauro Aguirre’s El Independiente newspaper. (Ten years later he would launch the Mexican revolution.) Pilgrims came across the open borders to see her here in El Paso, as they had come in droves when she lived in Nogales. Her father eventually bought a ranch in the Clifton-Morenci area of Arizona, where she continued her ministry. He disowned her when Teresita went off with Lupe, a male admirer who for some reason then turned on her and tried to kill her. Teresita, alone and without worldly resources (she had never charged any money for her healing work), came to San Francisco to stay with some devotees. She then got entangled with a medical consortium that tricked her into working for them as a virtual slave, without any pay. This unsavory group of men took her around the country to perform extensive healings. Teresita eventually got out of this business and married a good man with whom she had two daughters. They returned to Clifton in the early 1900s, where her father, Don Toms, had recently passed away. Her healing powers were evidently somewhat diminished by this point, having been used up on the grueling tour during her period of “white slavery.” Yet she again established a little clinic to help the afflicted, where she used not only her spiritual healing power but also forms of Western medicine. When a terrible flood occurred in 1904, Teresita stood for long hours in the cold waters helping the flood-victims. Enduring such extended periods of hypothermia, she fell ill with consumption and died sometime in early 1906, in fulfillment of her earlier prophecy that she would die at age 33. Many pilgrims were with Teresita in the last months, including, on the last day of her earthly sojourn, her own mother, who had learned of the illness and made the journey to see her long-lost child. It was immediately after seeing her mother and expressing her forgiveness and love for the woman that Teresita said, “I am going to sleep now,” and expired. (See “St. Teresita of Cabora,” by Luis Alberto Urrea, her great-nephew, who is working on an upcoming book about his great-aunt; Light of Consciousness journal, Spring/Summer, 1995, pp. 53-7.)

 

Other early Native American women known to us include:  Neomia, an important Cheyenne medicine woman in the first part of the 20th century; Jennie Lone Wolf, an Oglala Lakota medicine woman from the Pine Ridge reservation (who also practiced Roman Catholicism); Sanapia (Mary Poafybitty Neido; 1895-1979), who became a Comanche Eagle Doctor, or medicine woman, after her vision quest at age 17; and Amanda Tallbear Bates (d. 1980s), an Arapaho, who was the Keeper of the Sacred Pipe from the early 1960s onward after it was given to her by her mother, Suzy Tallbear; she thus became an integral part of the Arapaho leadership circle (along with the male chiefs) and the Arapaho Sun Dance.

 

Women from some tribes have also had important roles (though not of leadership) in the Peyote Cult, the most formidable of the pan-Indian religious movements (which first arose with Wovoka’s Ghost Dance movement in 1889-90; in 1955 this Peyote Cult officially became the Native American Church and is concentrated on the northern and southern Plains; note that many Indians see this Native American Church as being too Christianized, and not truly representative of the original Indian spiritual “practices”). Xéhachiwinga / Mountain Wolf Woman (1884-1960), born to the Thunder Clan of the Winnebago in Wisconsin, was healed, named and empowered by an old medicine woman of the Wolf Clan in her earliest years.  In addition to being given a Christian upbringing, Mountain Wolf Woman received training in the ways of medicine power from an old Winnebago she called “grandfather” and began to serve as a healer.  In the 1930s and 1940s she worked as a midwife in the hospitals and as a “health officer” at Black River Falls mission. Mountain Wolf Woman’s life was spent in caring for others.  She eventually joined the Peyote religion around the time she was to give birth to her third child while living in Nebraska; many of her family members became local leaders in the Peyote movement, and she and her husband held weekly peyote meetings after they moved back to Wisconsin.  She felt that the Peyote religion was from God and was even more effective than the traditional Winnebago forms of religion.  She later told her autobiography to Nancy Lurie in 1958, elucidating for Caucasians and preserving for Native Americans the depths of the pan-Indian Peyote religion as well as the traditional Winnebago ways of medicine power.  Mary Crow Dog, born on the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota, has also told her story to a journalist of how she went through a hard, rebellious life in her youth, and eventually joined the American Indian Movement, some time later marrying the movement’s chief medicine man, Leonard Crow Dog, a highly esteemed peyote priest and Sun Dancer, reviver of the sacred Ghost Dance in 1974 at Rosebud, which had been outlawed for eighty years.  Mary has demonstrated for Indian rights on numerous occasions, emphasizing the underlying spiritual cause which is at stake for Indians. [47]

 

Until 1979, with the passing of the American Indian Religious Freedom Act, it was actually illegal for Indians to practice their own religion in this “Land of the Free”!  Now, in the burgeoning renaissance of the “old” Native American Indian spirituality happening in North America in recent decades, actively supported by many Caucasians as well as Indians (young and old), a fair number of women have emerged as healers, spokeswomen, teachers, guides, visionaries.  Some of these women are more “pure-blooded” than others; again, some women are more aligned with a single tradition of lore, whereas other women have been more eclectic in drawing on various native and non-native traditions for their wisdom (some of these latter women utilize a rather motley hodgepodge of spiritualist, theosophical, hermetic and other systems of thought and practice; they seem to be capitalizing on the popularity of women “New Age” teachers who have arisen in such large numbers in America and Europe in the last two decades).  My own impression is that only a few of these women are as highly regarded in Native American circles as are the male chiefs and medicine men—amongst native and non-native women, however, they enjoy a great prestige.  In any case, almost all these women are recognized by leading Native Americans as being authentic teachers of Indian principles, values, and practices.  We will here briefly profile or mention a number of these contemporary “daughters of the Great Spirit,” proceeding more or less by the region of their tribal ancestry, beginning with the northeast region: 

 

Twylah Hurd Nitsch (also known as “Two Wolves” and as “Yehwehnode,” “She Whose Voice Rides on the Wind”) is a descendant, through her maternal grandparents (who, she says, “are constantly with me”) of the Seneca Wolf Clan leader, Chief Red Jacket (a great orator, yet something of an egotist—remember that not all the prominent Indian chiefs were saints!); Twylah’s own grandfather, Moses Shongo, was the last medicine man of the Senecas. Twylah has some Oneida-Scottish blood from her father’s side, and is married to a Lutheran man.  She is considered “keeper of the Tradition of the Wolf Clan,” one of the eight Seneca clans (each of which have a specialized knowledge or skill).  Having initiated some 350 people into this Wolf Clan teaching lodge, this smiling eldress has also openly taught for many years about Seneca wisdom (such as at the Human Dimensions Institute in Buffalo, N.Y.), and led vision quests (she has developed for students an intensive 24-hour “Clarity Quest”).  Author of several books on Seneca traditions, in 1970 she founded (along with her mother, Maude Hurd, and three other Seneca women) the Seneca Indian Historical Society.  Jamie Sams, elsewhere mentioned in these pages as a channel for the entity “Leah” (said to be a Venusian from our future) is one of the members of the Seneca Wolf Clan teaching lodge, actually of Iroquois and Choctaw descent; trained in Seneca, Mayan, Aztec, and Choctaw medicine, Jamie has taught in England, France, Egypt, Kenya, Mexico, Peru, and Guatemala, as well as in the U.S.  Lorraine Canoe (“Kanaratitake,” or “Carrying Leaf”) comes from a matriarchal lineage of the Wolf Clan of the Mohawk people and lives on the St. Regis Indian Reservation in Hogansburg, New York; Lorraine is a staunch advocate of the message given by the Six Nations of the Iroquois/Haudenosaunee to the U.N. in 1977 and published the next year as the book Basic Call to Consciousness, a scathing indictment of the tremendously destructive effect of Western technology on living beings, and a “wake-up” call to restore harmony with nature and align with the Mind of the Great Creator.  Dewasenta has been an Onondaga Clan Mother for over thirty years; she is the sister of “Tadodaho” Leon Shenandoah, the presiding moderator of the fifty co-equal peace chiefs who comprise the Grand Council of the Six Nations Iroquois (Haudenosaunee) Confederacy in upper N.Y. (which are comprised of the Mohawk, Seneca, Oneida, Cayuga, Tuscarora, and Onondaga nations.  Most interestingly, this Iroquois Grand Council is based on the “Great Law” which was brought into being as an oral tradition circa 1000-1400 CE by Hiawatha and Dekanawida, and, unknown to most Anglo historians, significantly influenced the “founding fathers” (Franklin, Madison, et al) who set up the United States organizational structure and wrote the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution.  According to this Great Law, the right to nominate the hoyawnahs or chiefs (literally, “the good minds”) was an hereditary one, held only by the clan mothers of certain clans from each tribe.  The women also had the power to remove the chiefs from office if they proved not to have “in mind the welfare of the people,” as the law says.  If the women removed a chief, they also nominated the replacement.  Audrey Shenandoah is another present-day Clan Mother of the Haudenosaunee Onondaga tribe in N.Y. who recently addressed the large Global Forum on Environment and Development for Survival in Moscow.  Gail Tremblay, of Onondaga, Micmac, and French Canadian ancestry, is an esteemed poetess, singer, and artist on the emerging Amerindian scene, now a faculty member of Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington.  Harriett Starleaf Gumbs is a “young Elder,” a tribal spokeswoman, teacher and historian of the Shinnecok people of the northeast U.S.  The mother of Eunice Baumann-Nelson‚ was a noted medicine woman and prophetess of the Penobscot tribe living on Indian Island in Old Town, Maine, who, like many of the Native American people of the northeast, had adopted the Catholicism of the French colonialists.  Eunice herself is now a grandmother, a social scientist, librarian, distinguished educator, and mystic (she had a major breakthrough experience of nonseparatness back in 1951) who has taught in various major universities in the U.S. and has since the early 1980s been researching and teaching the ways of the Native Americans of the northeast U.S. at places like the Bangor Theological Seminary.

 

Oh Shinnah Fast Wolf (1934- ), of Tineh/Apache and Mohawk-Scottish ancestry, also with a strong Theosophical and Catholic upbringing, proclaims herself as a “warrior woman” of the “Eclectic Tribe” who underwent various Tineh/Apache trainings as a girl.  Later in life she studied music and theater, became a folksinger, survived three near-death experiences from her “recovering-Catholic suicide attempts,” and gradually cured herself of Hodgkin’s disease.  Along the way (in her 33rd year) she experienced a powerful “communion-with-the-Source” out-of-the-body trance state for 18 hours after fasting 28 days without any food and only three sips of water out on a mesa under the care of a Tineh medicine man; still later, after receiving teachings from many Indian and other sources, Oh Shinnah had to buck prejudices from some Indian people themselves for her light-colored skin and for revealing some native American ceremonies to non-native people (she believes such things should be given freely to those who are sincere and dedicated).  Though she does not like to use the terms “healer” or “medicine woman” for herself, has trained many people (especially nurses) in the healing use of crystals, and is a colleague of Dolores Krieger, founder of Touch for Health; together, she and Dr. Krieger have organized The Center for Grandfather Coyote, which mobilizes funds to care for Ntive elders, “our national treasure.”  “Adopted” as spiritual daughter by several prominent native elders, Oh Shinnah has had a colorful life:  at age 27 she was also initiated, via unusual psychic circumstances and a fire-jumping initiation rite, into The Sisters of the Violet Flame, an ancient sisterhood supposedly thousands of years old, “the feminine counterpart to the original Essenes” (though this claim may be true, it seems highly suspicious and would be most difficult to authenticate).  Oh Shinnah has since been made head of this small sisterhood.  Additionally, after a strange “confirmation” experience in the rainforest of Palenque, Mexico, she was initiated by the local medicine man into the use of a powerful meditation technique supposedly derived from the “Emerald Tablets” of ancient Egyptian seer Hermes Trismegistus!  Oh Shinnah has been a longtime workshop-leader and outspoken guardian for a revolution to spread spiritual values and save Mother Earth and her creatures from imminent destruction.

 

AmyLee, known as the “Shieldmaker,” and “She Who Catches Rainbows,” is a fairly young wisdom keeper, deeply humble and forgiving, the last woman in a long lineage of Iroquois healers, now living in Tippecanoe, Ohio. As a girl she would assist her grandmother by lining up the people to be healed, and then doing things like pick up the cancerous growths (and bury them in a sacred place, because they are good “teachers” of humility!) which had been “zapped” off peoples’ bodies by the electric healing energy coming out of her grandma’s hands.  Foundress of the American Indian Rights Assoc. at Kent State University, currently Amylee travels around the country teaching different forms of Iroquois “medicine,” including the powerful shield-making process, and she also teaches some American Indian values courses which she has developed, especially on the topics of sacred sexuality, conscious conception, and so forth.  No Eyes (1892?-1984), an Ojibwa/Chippewa visionary woman, has been written about by her student, Mary Summer Rain, in a number of popular books published in recent years.  Marilyn Johnson (“Turtle”), a contemporary Ojibwa/Chippewa clairvoyant healer living in Ontario, Canada, uses soul travel, spirit allies, and dreamwork, along with her Western training in clinical counseling, to bring profound changes for her clients. 

 

Wilma Mankiller (1946- ), whose interesting name goes back to that of a Cherokee / Tsalagi warrior, was one of eleven children born to a full-blooded Cherokee father and a Dutch-Irish mother in Tahlequah, northeast Oklahoma, where the family lived in poverty.  The Cherokee/Tsalgi people originally flourished in the southern Allegheny Mountains, but in a period over the year 1838-9, 18,000 Cherokee, like a number of other Native American people (such as the Navajo, et al), were forced to leave their homes and most of their belongings to walk westward on the “Trail of Tears” to Oklahoma, where, having lost about 4,000 people en route, and in complete disarray, they began a whole new life; they were not granted self-determination as a people until 1975, by which point their tribe was in serious economic difficulty.  Wilma married and had two children, and then experienced a serious auto accident in 1979 in which her face was crushed, her legs shattered, and her ribs broken; but she emerged from this, and a terrible bout of myasthenia gravis as well, to become the the first woman elected as principal chief of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, which, with its population of 120,000, is now the second largest Native American nation next to the Navajo.  In June, 1991, Wilma was re-elected chief for a second four-year term.  She has earned great respect for her strong, quiet leadership, her powers of empathy and understanding, and her many accomplishments for her people, including economic development (today the Cherokee Nation generates 50% of its own income, whereas in 1975 it received all its income from the federal government), health care, nutrition programs, waterlines, rural health clinics, and a huge vocational training center.  Divorced and remarried, she lives in the Cherokee Nation’s capital at Tahlequah, and is working hard to rebuild the self-esteem of her people, which, as in the case of virtually all the Native American tribes, has been so seriously degraded by two centuries of exploitation.

 

Dhyani Ywahoo hails from the Etowah band of Cherokee/Tsalgi people, and has become a prominent woman spiritual leader, now living in the northeast United States.  Following in the footsteps of her grandmother, Nellie Ywahoo, who also taught the ancient Elo wisdom, Dhyani is revealing openly the sacred traditions of her tribe (especially after she received an encouraging phone call in 1976 from her grandmother, who had passed away a few years earlier!).  A radiant, youthful looking woman who is now herself a grandmother, Dhyani represents the 27th generation of her family to teach about the use of crystals and their activating tones, also emphasizing a life of love and service to others and care for and gratitude to Mother Earth.  Interestingly, Dhyani’s Sunray Meditation Society in the Green Mountains near Bristol, Vermont, has been acknowledged as a Tibetan Buddhist Dharma Center (of the Nyingma School) by several leading Tibetan lamas, Dudjom Rinpoche of the Nyingmas and Drikung Kyabgon Chetsang Rinpoche of the Kagyüs, in fulfillment of ancient Native American prophecies that strong bonds would be made with a spiritual people of the East dressed in red robes.  Irene F. Hughes is a famous psychic from Chicago who is one-quarter Cherokee, having learned of herbs and healing from her grandmother. 

 

Among women hailing from other tribes originally of the southeast U.S. (most of whose members were also forced to re-locate to Oklahoma) we find some contemporary poetesses whose work is imbued with metaphysical elements and the classic Native American theme of interconnectedness of life forms—Joy Harjo (Creek); Linda Hogan (Chickasaw); and Opal Lee Popkes (Choctaw). Out west, Kachinas Kutena, healer, teacher, and herbalist, is an Apache medicine woman as well as a registered nurse.  J. Ivaloo Volborth, the daughter of a Commanche mother and an Apache father, is a young poetess writing of personal transformation.  Pansy Richards is a medicine woman for the Lakota/Sioux; and Barbara Means Adams, from the Oglala Sioux tribe, is currently living in Seattle and preserving the creation tales and myths of her people.  Choqosh Ah-Ho-Oh has been chosen by Hopi elders to elucidate Hopi prophecies to Caucasians.  Wendy Rose blends Hopi and Miwok ancestry with a strong Catholic influence; she is a talented poetess and illustrator, as well as an academic and author.  A number of other 20th century women are serving as writers, poetesses, elders, and/or keepers of Native American culture and tradition, who hail mainly from the Plains and Southwest: Helen Sekaquaptewa (Hopi); Leslie Marmon Silko (Laguna), Kay Bennett (Navajo); Miriam Cherry (Shoshone and Blackfoot), Mourning Dove (Okanogan), and Leila Fisher (Hoh).

 

In the Northwest, Tela Donahue Lake is last of the female kay-geys, or Yurok “doctors” (most of whom were female) a direct descendant of eminent Yurok ceremonial leaders, Edward and Alice Spott of Northern California.  Tela utilizes spirit allies, “soul-travel” to heal at a distance, dreamwork, “laying on of hands” and channeling of the hegwo-lon, or life force, as well as herbs, counseling, aligning clients with cosmic laws, and so on.  The late Ellie Parrish was the “Dreamer” and a healer of the Kashia Pomo tribe of northern California (the “Dreamer” is responsible for the continued existence of the people as a psychic/tribal entity).  Mabel McCabe, with the help of her spirit-teacher, is currently a “Dreamer” for the Pomo and a traditional basketmaker (the Pomo baskets hold spirit power; she weaves a basket for a person at the direction of her spirit guide). Florence Jones is the spiritual leader of the Wintu people near Mt. Shasta. 

 

Brooke Medicine Eagle, one of the most respected of the intertribal, métis (mixed-blood) Indians, is a descendant of Chief Joseph, the famous Nez Percé leader.  Brooke was raised in poverty on a ranch in a Crow reservation, though she did not receive much of the traditional lore from her family, apprenticing later under an aged, blind, Northern Cheyenne medicine woman of Montana, Stands Near the Fire (Josie Limpie), also known as “The Woman Who Knows Everything” and “The Keeper of the Sacred Buffalo Hat.”  Brooke Medicine Eagle, who has degrees in psychology, is, in Halifax’s words, “a poet and chanter of sacred songs, a dancer of traditional forms, and a healer.”  She has recently opened Sky Lodge, a center for shamanic spirituality and healing in Montana.

 

Wabun (Marlise James, a former journalist of Welsh ancestry) is the medicine partner of Sun Bear, who is founder of the Bear Tribe (based near Spokane, Washington), the “first interracial tribe and medicine society”; Wabun directs the Bear Tribe’s Medicine Wheel ceremonies and writes.  The late Evelyn Eaton (Mahad’yuni, “Way Shower”) was a Métis pipe carrier and medicine woman, considered “tribal grandmother” to Sun Bear and Wabun; she was raised in Europe by Canadian parents, and studied many systems of spiritual thought (Eastern religions, Christianity, etc.) before receiving her pipe from an Arapaho medicine man and many years of training from a Paiute medicine man living in Owens Valley, California.  Author of several books, Evelyn also for a time channeled “White Eagle” (who had earlier spoken through Grace Cooke and a Connecticut woman named Cara).  Leslie Gray, a Native American “core shaman” of apparently no single Indian ancestry, employs cross-cultural shamanic principles in her work with people.  Sandra Ingerman, a faculty member of the Foundation for Shamanic Studies, founded by Michael Harner, from whom she learned a generic “core shamanism” which many Caucasians are studying, is a psychotherapist successfully utilizing shamanic “soul retrieval” work with her clients in the Santa Fe area. [48]

 

South of the U.S. border, we come upon doña Pachita and doña Rosita (the latter incorporating strong Catholic devotional elements) who have served as effective healers/psychic surgeons of the Mexico City area (the former also was a rather astute, informal psychotherapist!).  María Sabina (1894-1985) was a revered holy woman and healer “of rare moral and spiritual power,” who was introduced to the world by anthropologist Gordon Wasson in 1955, made world famous in his profile of her in 1957, and, in the late 1970s (when Joan Halifax met her) was still living quite austerely in a run-down little hut above the Mazatec village of Huautla de Jiménez next to Tocoxho (Mountain of Adoration) in Mexico. Deeply devoted to Jesus and Mary, she cured countless souls through her sacred use of hallucinogenic psilocybin mushrooms.  The late Don José Matsuwa (1880-1990), the illustrious 110 year-old shaman of the Huichol people (an ancient tribe which has, until recently, been spared all influence from Mexican or European influences), is survived by his wife, 96-year-old doña Josefa Medrano, and a daughter, doña Andrea, both of whom, along with “adopted grandson,” Brant Secunda, are teachers of Huichol shamanism.  Their place of residence is the small village of El Colorin in the state of Nayarit.  According to Steven McFadden, who met the couple shortly before Don José’s passing,     

 

“Doña Josefa and don José are both singing shamans, healers, and master ceremonial leaders, respected throughout the Huichol territory of the Sierra Madre Mountains of [north]western Mexico... Doña Josefa [who “eloped” with don José at age 14] waited until she was in her early twenties and was the mother of three children before she began to walk the shaman’s path, with don José’s encouragement.  In the Huichol way, women who seek to become shamans undergo the same training as men. She learned by making pilgrimages to many sacred sites: the caves, mountaintops, and springs near their village.  She also learned from a teacher.  Even though don José ... has attained the most notoriety for his healing and his magical capacity to lead powerful all-night ceremonies, doña Josefa is the real chief of the village....  [She] is like a rock—steady, resolute, deep.  At age 96, as she joins in ceremony, her gnarled fingers work incessantly, embroidering beautifully with bright colors while she sits, listening and praying.” [49]

 

In the highly popular yet controversial writings of Carlos Castaneda on Yaqui Indian (Mexican) “shamanism”—an inaccurate term, since no extended community is overtly involved—a few women appear in the role of formidable, mysterious “sorceresses” (another inaccurate term) who challenge and/or enlighten Carlos with their spiritual power, as part of his overall apprenticeship under Don Juan Matus.  These include “the Toltec woman,” Doña Soledad and her “girls” (Lidia, La Gorda, Josefina, and Rosa), la Catalina, and other strange characters.  Florinda Donner, an anthropologist and colleague of Castaneda’s, has written a work similar to this genre (with much secrecy and overall lack of scholarly details, disappointing in that the authors are claiming to be “anthropologists”) about her apprencticeship to a “famous woman healer” of northeast Venequela, whom she calls “Doña Mercedes Peralta” to protect the woman’s privacy.  Donner also mentions meeting an aged, wise, and powerful “sorceress” namded Florinda Matus, who is probably related to Don Juan Matus.  Kay Cordell Whitaker has recently written of her apprenticeship to two Amazon Indian shamans—Domano Hetaka and his wife, Chea, which began under rather paranormal circumstances in 1974, and which taught her the shamanic art by which North American urban folk can become “guardians of the Earth” in their own cement jungle without having to venture into the jungle of the floral kind. [50] 

 

On the more scholarly side, a number of women anthropologists are to be found who have made important contributions to the study of shamanism and/or Native American traditions:  Joan Halifax, a student of don José Matsuwa, María Sabina and other shamans, and of Zen Buddhism, also the former wife of Stan Grof, founder of the Ojai Foundation in 1979; Donna Linstead, of the Cree Tribe, a professor of Native American Indian studies; Felicitas Goodman, an insightful researcher of shamanic trance postures; Ruth Beebe Hill, author of the acclaimed Hanta Yo historical novel on Lakotan/Sioux culture; Barbara Myerhoff; Franc Johnson Newcomb; Ruth Benedict; Joan Townsend; Elsie Clews Parsons; Sheila Moon; Paula Gunn Allen; Kay Parker; et al.  These anthropologists of past and present have studied with Native American shamans and come to represent and teach shamanic perspectives, though they have not declared themselves to be bonafide “shamanesses.”  The controversial Lynn Andrews (1945- ), on the other hand, allegedly a student of the Cree elders, Agnes Whistling Elk and Ruby Plenty Chiefs, and an initiate into the “ancient Sisterhood of the Shields,” has come to figure as the most popular in the emergence of a brand of New Age teachers now flourishing in the U.S., who do fancy themselves as shamanesses, though their connection with authentic shamanic lineages of the Americas is questionable (Lynn has not only been sued by her former ghostwriter, she has been the target for considerable flak over her dubious credentials and her “exploitation” of Native American spirituality). 

On the topic of what constitutes genuine shamanism, Mircea Eliade, Joan Halifax, Roger Walsh, and Starhawk have some very insightful things to say. [51] 

 

Certain Indian women have been celebrated artists—their art being a profound, nonverbal expression of Indian spiritual themes.  Datsollee (1835-1925), at Carson City, Nevada, was known throughout the art world as by far the greatest designer and weaver of baskets among the Washo people, who specialized in this art form, also encouraging and training their tribe-members to undergo mystical experiences and vision quests so as to empower their art.  Tonita Peña (1895-1949) advanced the status of Hopi art with her paintings, murals, and teaching work.  Marie Poveka has created a new kind of sacred black-on-black pottery at the San Ildefonso Pueblo in New Mexico.  Susan Seddon Boulet deserves mention here as a gifted Caucasian artist whose visionary, edifying paintings—with their shamanic, psychedelic themes—are increasingly being used to adorn the covers of women’s spirituality books, in addition to being available as gift cards, posters, and so forth.  (Her 1991 and 1992 calendars devoted to the Goddess deserve mention for anyone reading this book.) [52]

 

What has become increasingly clear in the latter half of our 20th century is that many Native American Indians tribes—after earlier periods of diminishing population-numbers and a largely unsuccessful experiment in becoming “Christianized”—are again increasing in numbers, and also feeling more empowered to resume their original spirituality (and some of them have benefitted from their exposure to certain elements within Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, and elements within other Native American tribes, via the pan-Indian movement and ecumenical gatherings).  Though some Indian spiritual lineages have died out completely or are in the process of extinction, other lineages are continuing strong or growing even stronger and more active.  And because in many Indian tribes women have been regarded as fairly equal to their brothers, we will undoubtedly be seeing many more Indian women emerging in the future as respected healers, spiritual singers/chanters, teachers/leaders, carrying on the way of the grandmothers and grandfathers.

 

As we near closing this section on alternative western spiritual movements, there are a few more names of women to be mentioned, women who do not readily fit any of the other major or minor traditions already covered, though often heirs to these movements. These and other women are playing important roles as spokeswomen for enlightening New Age or New Paradigm insights, values, and practices. They are especially prolific in California, which, incidentally, dominates the nation in hosting the largest number of “cults.”  Such women include Shakti Gawain, now living on Kauai in the Hawaiian islands, who is extremely popular especially for her many New Age books and teachings on creative visualization and well-being. Chris Griscom is a radiant, gifted healer of the emotional body, founder of the Light Institute in Santa Fe, N.M., and author of several books.  Shirley MacLaine (1934- ), the award-winning actress, dancer, and singer, and former political activist, has been a student of Griscom, J.Z. Knight, and others, and through her half-dozen books and her television miniseries, Out On A Limb, has popularized channels, reincarnation, OOBEs (out-of-the-body experiences), crystals, cakras, and so forth, for much of the American public.  She has, through the gigantic revenues from her Higher Life seminars, opened the first of her New Age centers, Ariel Village, in Crestone, Colorado.  Sondra Ray has authored a large number of influential New Age books, and is the developer of the Rebirthing process (with Leonard Orr), and is a disciple of the late Herakhan Bābā of India.  Jean Houston‚ left a promising career in the theatre to become a now famous transpersonal psychologist, philosopher, consciousness-expansion guide, and human-potential expert.  In 1985 she founded and endowed The Possible Society, a charitable organization with numerous chapters nationwide; with her husband, Robert Masters, Jean has directed the Foundation for Mind Research in Pomona, New York.  Rev. Rosalyn Bruyere is a healer and former spiritualist who heads the Healing Light Center in Glendale, CA, and is now recognized as a “medicine woman” by a few shamanic traditions.  Rev. Lisa Wills‚ of the Church of the Healing Way in North Hollywood, CA, is a longtime channel, astrologer, and healer. 

 

Patricia Sun is a “philosopher of wholeness” and psychological healer with a “shamanic” orientation.  Jill Purce, married to noted British biologist Rupert Sheldrake, has for many years practiced spiritual healing, utilizing her remarkable capacity for intoning the rich, multi-timbral mantra-sounds taught to her by a Tibetan Buddhist chant-master.  The late Dorie D’Angelo (d. mid-1980s) of the Carmel, California area, was for decades quite popular as a healer, psychic and author of many books, including Living with Angels (her husband, whom she resurrected, carries on the work).  Elisabeth Kubler-Ross is the Swiss-born psychiatrist based in Chicago who has helped so many hundreds of thousands of people in our culture stop denying death and learn to humanize and accept it and thereby move toward real self-knowledge.  Helen Wambach, in her Life Before Life and other works, presents 750 case reports strongly suggesting the existence of past lives. Gina Cerminara has authored many books on reincarnation and karma, and, more recently, a work applying General Semantics to an analysis of cross-cultural religions.  London-born Dorothy Eady (1904-81) married an Egyptian man and finally settled in Egypt in 1956, becoming not only an internationally-known expert on hieroglyphics, but also the locally revered keeper of the Temple of Isis at Abydos; she believed herself to be a reincarnated priestess (she had felt this was her true home since she was four years old back in England). Marilyn Ferguson edits the New Sense Bulletin (formerly, Brain-Mind Bulletin) and authored the influential Aquarian Conspiracy, both of which outline many “New Age” and “New Science” developments.  Dorothy Fadiman is a peace-activist, filmmaker, and educator in northern California.  Angeles Arrien for decades has taught transpersonal psychology (and for a time served as president of the ATP), cultural anthropology, Tarot and authentic Basque shamanism (her father was chief elder of the tradition) at the California Institute of Integral Studies in S.F.  Helen Palmer is a gifted psychic-visionary and teacher of the Sūfī enneagram “diagnostic” system who directs the Center for the Investigation and Training of Intuition in Berkeley.  Suzanne Wishner, Taryn KrivéJenna DeAngeles, Toni Attell, and Judy Hevenly‚ are psychic counselors in Los Angeles, while Penney Peirce, Victoria Carruthers, Starchild Corey Bennett, Bethany Dalton, and Rosemarie Danelle function as psychics in San Francisco—two cities which seem to have a huge market for such talents and a preponderance of “sensitives” to satisfy their needs.  (Note: the United Sensitives of America has for nine years been an organization which screens and sponsors psychics.)          

 

Marion Milner (1900-98), the well-known British psychoanalyst, paints and writes, and has revealed in her books sublime insights concerning the no-self state, the optimal functioning of attention, and so forth.  Kathleen Raine, now in her 80s, is an acclaimed British poetess, author, and interpreter of William Blake; her nature mysticism is an ardent appeal to see the world as spirit, not mere matter.  Elisabeth Haich, a popular yoga instructor in Europe, has authored books on self-healing, Tarot, and the spiritualizing of sexuality.  Frances Vaughan is a Marin-County transpersonal psychotherapist, author, and guide for developing intuition (she also promotes the Course in Miracles work).  Christina Grof leads workshops in Holotropic Breathwork (which she founded with husband Stanislav Grof, one of the leading transpersonal psychologists) and is founder of the Spiritual Emergency Network.  June Singer directs the Transpersonal Center in Menlo Park, California, with a Jungian perspective, and has authored several books on Jungian psychology and on sexuality.  Joan Borysenko is co-founder of the Mind/Body Clinic at Harvard Medical School, teaching yoga, meditation, and psychoneuroimmunology principles with a strong spiritual slant.  Santa Barbara-based Ligia Dantes teaches a nondual realization of the spiritual Self.  The late Hilda Charlton (d. 1988), a disciple of several Hindu masters (e.g., Satya Sāī Bābā and Bhagavān Nityānanda), profiled in the chapter on Hinduism, returned from 18 years in India in 1968 to N.Y. where, as a clairvoyant healer and genuine guru to thousands, she carried on an extremely potent ministry of love, wisdom and healing. [53]

 

A number of other women are also rapidly emerging as important teachers-guides-healers.  The broadly-defined “New Age” movement of the West to which a number of the above-mentioned women belong is quite pluralistic, being lineage-less, unstructured, and not run by any male-dominated “governing body,” but descending in spirit from New Thought, Spiritualism, Theosophy, “I Am” schools, Hermeticism, and humanistic-transpersonal psychology. (Again I must editorialize and state that the New Age movement is, because of its lack of sense of any tradition, also unfortunately often out of touch with what constitutes real sanctity, as tried and tested and refined in the older, sacred traditions, especially lineages of Buddhism, Sūfism, Christianity and Advaita Vedānta.)  In this New Age movement, therefore, many women have enjoyed the chance to come into the limelight, if not for their “sanctity” (and remember that many of these women are, indeed, quite holy as defined by various criteria)—then at least for their inspirational eloquence, their insights, their charisma, and their psycho-spiritual healing or visionary abilities (in a few cases, it seems, regrettably, that mere marketing prowess is a major factor in propelling many of them into public recognition).  And it is notable that a high percentage of the people who are listening to these New Age teachers are women—seventy percent being a rough estimate, about the same number as found in most Christian churches.

 

As I have said, some of the various women teachers-guides-healers of our day are of undoubtedly greater “holiness” than others — or should we say “wholeness”?  Some are awakened adepts of tremendous sanctity, others are better categorized at the level of “teachers,” not yet having gotten fully free themselves on all levels (such as mapped out by the classic Buddhist, Hindu, Christian and Sūfī texts). 

 

In any event, we can be all be grateful that so many women are leading services, seminars, meditation- and/or growth-groups, writing books and articles, creating audio-video tapes, making television appearances, founding institutions (churches, ashrams, centers, communities) and in many ways bringing important mind-expanding and heart-healing ideas and practices into the mainstream consciousness of society. 

 

To all of these women who are serving with genuine wisdom, compassion, selflessness, and integrity, the power of God/dess is surely behind them.


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