Saturday, December 13, 2014

Shakerin' it

The Shakers--not to be confused with the Quakers--defy many of our ideas about the 18th and 19th centuries.

Shakers believed in Christ's immanent return to Earth--as a woman. Many of their preachers were female, and in 1770, one of their leaders, Anne Lee, was declared the Messiah. (Thereafter she was called Mother Anne.)

The Shakers had split from the Quakers, taking with them many of the more charismatic members and leaving behind a calmer set of Quakers. Shakers spoke in tongues, danced, shook, and received divine revelations. They believed that God was both male and female and practiced male/female equality in community leadership and structure. They became conscientious objectors during the Civil War, and as you probably already know, had no children.

They are also an example of successful religious communism--possibly because membership was voluntary, control was local, and the lifestyle agrarian.

Shaker communities managed to attract new members and remained economically successful until the Industrial Revolution radically changed the economic landscape, though I'm not sure it's really the IR's fault. There were 5 or 6,000 Shakers in the US in the 1800s (remember, the whole population of the US was much lower back then); today there are 3, in Maine.

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