Elwin, Verrier – Revivalism, trance states and speaking in tongues
Type of Spiritual Experience
I have provided this observation firstly because it provides some background to Verrier and his longings – and those of his mother – for mystic experience, but also to show that this longing for the experience was not just theirs and in fact was being obtained in a very minor way [speaking in tongues is spiritually not very helpful in propelling one along the spiritual path]by revivalist movements even in the early 1900s.
A description of the experience
The Tribal World – Verrier Elwin
I hardly ever saw my father, for he was constantly on tour in Africa, and my own memories hardly go beyond two occasions when he gave me a beating for being naughty. One of these, which I still remember vividly, was for running off at the age of six to the railway station, against his orders, to say good-bye to my mother who was going away somewhere.
My mother was a beautiful, intelligent and imaginative woman. Witty and well-read, she liked all the right things, poetry, music and art, but unfortunately her fundamental interest was in a form of religion that was the negation of all of them. Had my father lived and we had gone to Bristol to the beautiful Cathedral Close to live in dignity and with financial security, her life would have been very different. As it was, my father's death left a gap which could only be filled by a passionate devotion to her children and an equally passionate devotion to religion.
There was hardly any money. All her life my mother was afraid of boredom. Apart from us children there was nothing for her to do. She could not settle down and so we lived in 'rooms'-furnished apartments, generally one bedroom and one sitting-room with a bathroom which we shared with the other lodgers. My mother was continually moving from one place to another, for she could not get on with landladies and we grew up in an atmosphere of catastrophic rows with these formidable women. This meant that as children we had few friends, there was never a garden to play in, very little privacy, and we were generally on 'tour' or 'transfer'.
Always religious by temperament, mother turned to Jesus to fill the emptiness of her heart and give an interest to life.
Evangelical Anglicanism, or 'low Church', which was that aspect of religion which claimed my father's allegiance, is one of the dullest types of religion in the world and it certainly did not satisfy my mother. While remaining loyal to her church, therefore, she sought consolation in the revivalism which characterizes some of the evangelical groups. This was much more exciting: one might fall into trance, speak with tongues, dance in ecstasy before the Holy Table.
Dear mother tried very hard, but she never succeeded in reaching these heights. Nor did I, little boy with wondering, expectant eyes, hoping for the best.
But there were three big things. There was an unswerving belief in the Bible as the literally inspired word of God, almost a book of magic ; we sometimes opened it at random to get a 'message'. Then there was a conviction that at any moment Jesus would come again in clouds of glory, that those who believed in Him would be caught up to meet Him in the air, that He would destroy the bad old world and create a better one.
Thirdly, there was a strong faith in the possibility of immediate communion with God and possession by the Holy Ghost.
These beliefs had very practical results. We could never go to a theatre, cinema, circus or other place of entertainment, for it would have been rather embarrassing if Jesus had arrived in the middle of the programme. I remember, in a house where mv bedroom was above my mother's, creeping downstairs almost every night to listen outside her door for her breathing in case she had been caught up into the air after going to bed.
I never could really believe that I was sufficiently good to earn this distinction and the possible sudden disappearance of my mother was a constant cloud on my happiness.