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Quakers

Category: Mystic groups and systems

Egbert van the Elder Heemskerk:A Quakers Meeting

The Quaker movement was a Christian religious movement founded in England in mid-17th century England and Wales.

Its aim was to enable every member of the organisation to have direct spiritual experience. 

Being Christian, they believed the experience was of ‘God’ or ‘Jesus’ since  their beliefs precluded any other form of communicant in heaven, but it is clear that they received all sorts of communication.  George Fox played an important part in founding the Quakers who came to be known as the Religious Society of Friends.

Ministries

 

Quakers these days generally do not have visions [although there are exceptions], but 'ministries' – voices relayed to them during Quaker worship in their Meeting Houses. Both men and women are allowed to minister.

In effect they are voice hearers

Many Quakers who minister, say they find themselves on their feet and are unable to remember what they said, which is consistent with a trance state.  Ministry is not normal speech.  In length it can vary from 20 seconds to over 10 minutes.  In one survey of 14 meetings, 70% of the spoken contributions were less than 3 minutes in duration.  The giving of a message is never interrupted. 

Messages can be for an individual or a group and can be shared outwardly or kept within the person.  If shared with the group, it can be shared during the Meeting or kept till later.  Quakers believe the messages are from 'God', but God in this context really means the spiritual world at large.  

Ida Chamness, Quaker Minister, 1927

As a consequence there is also recognition that the people may receive unwanted messages  - in a sense they have tuned to the wrong station on the spiritual radio dial, a little like schizophrenics may do - and there is a rule that prohibits friends from passing on or transmitting 'insults', 'contributions requiring an answer', 'items apparently having no relevance to the group' or 'any communication that does not respect the values and sensibilities of members'.

There is never any pressure to Minister.  Practically no one  Ministers in the first 3 months of attending and most of those who subsequently do minister, find it can be upwards of three years before they do speak.

There is no music or sound used in the meetings.  Silent worship is thus key to achieving ministry – in effect the Friends adopt similar techniques to those who meditate.

 

Quaker Faith and Practice
In our meetings for worship we seek though the stillness to know God's will for ourselves and for the gathered group.  Our meetings for church affairs, in which we conduct our business, are also meetings for worship based on silence, and they carry the same expectation that God's guidance can be discerned if we are truly listening together and to each other … It is this belief that God's will can be recognised through the discipline of silent waiting which distinguishes our decision making process from the secular idea of consensus.  We have a common purpose in seeking God's will through waiting and listening, believing that every activity of life should be subject to divine guidance.

There is a real danger with voice hearing, which is explained in the section on this form of experience.  There is, however, no doubting the sincerity of the people who belonged and belong to this movement - they wished for direct and not indirect experience of the spiritual world.

Quakers 'dancing'

Quaking

The approach used today to achieve ministries is quiet contemplation, but at one time, the direct experience achieved by Quakers could be ecstasy.

It is almost as if we are dealing with two mystic groups here, one which aimed at ecstatic experience and one which aims far 'lower' [with no intention here to be derogatory]. 

Voice hearing is a far cry from ecstasy.

Spiritual experience was induced by the practise of ‘Quaking’ – a form of physical movement which involves shaking, shouting, shuddering, shivering – all of it deliberately - Extreme physical exercise.  Groups of ‘Friends’ gathered together in silence and stood and shook and quaked until they achieved breakthrough.

 Why Did the Quakers Stop Quaking?

Two Quakers Hung, but Mary Dyer is Freed, Boston

The quaking movements were highly effective, so it begs the question – why did the Quakers stop quaking?  These days all meetings are executed in quiet contemplation, no quaking takes place.

David Yount, a Quaker, wrote an article in 2002 entitled, “Why Did the Quakers Stop Quaking?” The essay was prompted by an incident following a public lecture where Yount was challenged by a Pentecostal minister who suggested that Friends had lost touch with the fervour of their forbears when they ceased to quake. “I'm not good at thinking on my feet,” Yount wrote, “but I believe the response that popped into my head that day was pretty good. I suggested to him that Quakers stopped quaking when we stopped being persecuted.”

The caption says 'Friends or Quakers going to execution'

Bradford Kenney, a non-Quaker however believed that the opposite was true: “Quakers stopped quaking because they were persecuted, even imprisoned, for their wild ecstatic experiences.”  And from what I can see, he is right.  Quakers didn’t stop quaking when the persecution ended; they stopped quaking to end the persecution. The turnaround in the treatment of Quakers began with the Toleration Act of 1688, however the quaking had stopped many years before.

Richard Baxter was no friend of Quakerism and he wrote in 1664 that the persecution had all but stopped the quaking by then………….

At first they did use to fall into violent Tremblings and sometimes Vomitings in their meetings, and pretended to be violently acted by the Spirit; but now that is ceased, they only meet, and he that pretendeth to be moved by the Spirit speaketh; and sometimes they say nothing, but sit an hour or more in silence, and then depart.

But it was not just persecution that may have caused the cessation of quaking.  There are indications that there was an intentional effort on the part of the second generation Quaker leadership to prohibit ecstatic behaviour and then to censure all reference to it from surviving manuscripts. As the movement grew and became more organized in the latter half of the 17th century, ecstatic experiences were increasingly seen by the leadership as an embarrassment.

These people were theologians and not mystics. 

During a time of extremely repressed sexuality and puritanical beliefs, male Quakers experienced considerable discomfort about the effects the experience had on the body (particularly its sexual effects) and on its effects on women - women were the most likely to exhibit ecstatic behaviour.  

Ministers and elders were advised to “avoid all imagined, unseasonable and untimely prophesying.” Next all travelling ministers were required to have certificates, something unheard of previously. And then there was the creation of the all-male Second-day’s Morning Meeting. This body was responsible for approving all publications issued by the society. The purpose of the organization, as revealed in its minutes, was to ensure that the Friends’ “weakness and nakedness may not be expressed in print to the whole world.”

Quaker forum – Internet
Encountering this material as a twenty-first–century Friend, I felt saddened and robbed of my spiritual heritage…….. Modern Quakerism is in many respects an invented tradition, constructed by the movement’s second generation in an attempt to replace a “corporeal, experiential spirituality with a rational, philosophical one".     We are all the lesser for it.

 

One of the most blatant acts of censorship by Quaker leaders was the mysterious disappearance of Fox’s “Book of Miracles” shortly following his death. This account of the miraculous healings performed by Quakerism’s founder was not to emerge again until 1948, and then only in the form of a very incomplete reconstruction.

A number of people in the Quaker movement on understanding and reading of their spiritual heritage and what had been expunged and lost set about trying to recreate it in a ‘Quaker Revival movement’.  This movement started in the twentieth century, but lasted only a short time…..

So effective was the revival in some quarters  - whilst it lasted - that they had much the same experiences as their early predecessors……..

Quakerism is marked with trances, shaking (like convulsions), glossolalia, and visions, comparable to mystics of the occult. ……… adherents would fall backwards often accompanied with a trance-like state, facial and body contortions, trembling or laughter and so on.

The Quaker revival took place at much the same time as the Pentecostal revival.  The Azusa Street Revival was an historic Pentecostal revival meeting. It began with a meeting on April 14, 1906, and continued until roughly 1915. The revival was characterized by ecstatic spiritual experiences accompanied by speaking in tongues, “dramatic worship services, and inter-racial mingling”!! The participants received criticism from secular media and Christian theologians for behaviors considered to be “outrageous and unorthodox”. Today, the revival is considered by historians to be the primary catalyst for the spread of Pentecostalism in the 20th century.

 

Richard Riss
“…here were also many signs of trembling, speechlessness, holy laughter, and drunkenness in the Spirit at Azusa Street during the outset of the Pentecostal revival... Continuous meetings were held there every day for a period of three years beginning in mid-April, 1906. The mission on Azusa Street published the well-known newspaper, THE APOSTOLIC FAITH [William Seymours Paper]… contains many accounts of these manifestations. For example…In the fourth issue (p. 4), G. W. Batman wrote, "I received the baptism with the Holy Ghost and fire and now I feel the presence of the Holy Ghost, not only in my heart but in my lungs, my hands, my arms and all through my body and at times I am shaken like a locomotive steamed up and prepared for a long journey."

and

 

 J. Roswell Flower
“The meetings began in the mornings and continued for at least 12 hours… There were no hymnals, no liturgy, no order of services. Most of the time there were no musical instruments. But around the room, men jumped and shouted. Women danced and sang. People sang sometimes together, yet with completely different syllables, rhythms, and melodies…’’

So as time went on the quaking stopped  as a method, but its equivalent continued in the form of frenetic dancing.  Even better………

William J. Seymour
…spiritualistic manifestations, hypnotic forces and fleshly contortions…

sounds quite intriguing....

Richard Riss [describing William Durham and his jerking and quaking as he was “worked” by the spirit at Azusa Street.
“…February-March, 1907), On Friday evening, March 1, …. I jerked and quaked under it for about three hours. It was strange and wonderful and yet glorious. He worked my whole body, one section at a time, first my arms, then my limbs, then my body, then my head, then my face, then my chin, and finally at 1 a.m. Saturday, Mar. 2, after being under the power for three hours, He finished the work on my vocal organs, and spoke through me in unknown tongues.”

 

BUT here I found shameful evidence that the persecution continues.  Read any Christian USA based fundamentalist Internet site comments and they still call this form of practise – ‘the work of the Devil’; or ‘shameful’ or somehow ‘wrong’.  The persecution persists ………….

“People falling, violently shaking and levitating, shouting and screaming, making all manner of animal noises, howling, screeching, and laughing hysterically and uncontrollably, creates an atmosphere of physical chaos confusion, in which demonic activity is commonly mistaken for a “wave of the Spirit.”

Here, a totally bizarre statement….

Some people are natural healers...that is not a biblical observation, ………. "Natural healers" are what shamans, witches and mystics claim to be. These peoples are trained in their practice; they are not gifted by the Holy Spirit.

Aaaah ……..the Inquisition lives and it appears to live in the USA……….

The Quakers today

 

The Quakers as a mystic movement may no longer rely on the sort of direct experience they once did, but the legacy of this experience, one free of dogma and creeds, one which went back to the fundamental teachings of Jesus and one with a strong sense of community and ethical values, lived on and still lives on.

Quakers have over the years made an enormous contribution to many cultures.  Many of the men who founded businesses succeeded because they both looked after their employees,  - in some cases even providing them with housing, schooling and medical care, - and were honest and ethical in their business dealings.  In a sense they lived Christianity as it was intended to be lived.  And they were very successful as a result.  Examples include

  •  
    ironmaking  -  Abraham Darby I and his family;
  • banking - including Lloyds Banking Group (founded by Sampson Lloyd), Barclays PLC, Backhouse's Bank and Gurney's Bank;
  • life assurance  - Friends Provident;
  • pharmaceuticals  - Allen & Hanburys;
  • chocolate  - Cadbury, Terry's, Fry's;
  • confectionery  - Rowntree;
  • biscuit manufacturing  - Huntley & Palmers;
  • match manufacture  - Bryant & May, [Francis May and William Bryant]
  • shoe manufacturing - Clarks.

Quakers were also very prominent in providing schools.  In England, many Quaker schools sprang up, with Friends School Saffron Walden being the most prominent.

 

Later in America they founded both schools and colleges – for example, Wilmington Friends School (1748), Haverford College (1833), Guilford College (1837), Pickering College (1842), Earlham College (1847), Swarthmore College (1864), Wilmington College (Ohio) (1870), Bryn Mawr College (1885), Friends Pacific Academy (now George Fox University) (1885), Friends University (1898), and Whittier College (1901).

 

Some Quakers in North America and Great Britain also became well known for their involvement in the abolition of slavery.

Quakers are also still against war and campaign ceaselessly against the use of violence in any conflict. 

As Jesus said ‘blessed are the peacemakers’. 

Isaac Penington

References

  • Cadbury Bournville Village and factory
    The Quakers – A Very Short Introduction [Pink Dandelion]
  • Let your words be true – Symbolism of Speaking and Silence amongst 17th C Quakers – Richard Bauman
  • The Beginnings of Quakerism – William C Braithwaite
  • A Brief Recollection of Remarkable Passages and Occurrences relating to Margaret Fell – Margaret Fell
  •  
    ‘Works’ – George Fox
  • The Later Periods of Quakerism – Rufus Jones
  • Theology in Post Liberal perspective – Daniel Leichty
  • The Quaker way
  • The Journal of George Fox – John Nickalls
  • Faith and Practise – various books of discipline published by Meetings of the Religious Society of Friends e.g. North Carolina, North Pacific, Oregon, California, South West, Britain etc

 

Observations

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