Shakers, the popular name of a religious sect who call themselves the "United Society of Believers in Christ's Second Appearing." They originated in England about the year 1770, but are now confined to the United States, where they have 17 societies and about 4,000 full members, besides some hundreds of novitiates. They were at first an offshoot from the Friends or Quakers, and generally held similar views relative to spiritual illumination, giving testimonies, objecting to the legal oath, to war, slavery, etc.; but in their theological ideas, as well as in their practice of celibate life, and in community of goods, they now differ entirely from the Friends. In 1747 some members of the society of Friends near Manchester, England, formed a distinct association, of which Jane and James Wardley were the leaders. Of this society the parents of Ann Lee were members, and in 1758 she became one of its adherents. For several years this little company were only remarkable for greater physical manifestations of their spiritual illumination than most of the assemblages of Quakers, such as dancing, shouting, trembling, speaking with tongues, etc. These manifestations excited the hostility of the populace, and even of some magistrates and clergymen, who charged them with thereby violating the sabbath.
Several of the members, including the Wardleys and Ann Lee and her family, were imprisoned, fined, and roughly used. In 1770 Ann Lee professed to have received, by a special manifestation of divine light, those revelations in virtue of which her followers have ever since given her the name of Mother Ann, and have regarded her as a person inspired by the Christ of the female order, as Jesus was inspired by the Christ of the male order. Christ is applied by them, as a generic term, to the highest or innermost sphere, exterior to the deific sphere, called in the Scriptures eternity: "the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity." In 1774, under authority of a revelation to Mother Ann, ten of the more prominent members of the society, including Ann Lee, emigrated to America, arriving in New York Aug. 6; and eight of them subsequently settled at Niskayuna (now Watervliet), 7 m. from Albany. Here they remained, without any considerable accession to their numbers, for 3 1/2 years. In 1779 a religious excitement, or revival, occurred at New Lebanon, Columbia co., N. Y., accompanied by those extraordinary physical manifestations which subsequently characterized a similar revival in Kentucky. When these manifestations had subsided, in the spring of 1780, some of those who had been most affected by them visited Mother Arm at Watervliet, and there, as they believed, found the key to their religious experiences.
The number of adherents to her doctrines increased rapidly up to the time of her death in 1784, and indeed for some years after. - The idea of a community of property, and of Shaker families or unitary households, was first broached by Mother Ann, who formed her little family into a model after which the general organizations of the Shaker order as they now exist have been arranged. In 1787 Joseph Mea-cham, formerly a Baptist preacher, who had been one of Mother Ann's first converts at Watervliet, collected her adherents in a settlement at New Lebanon, and organized them in this form, probably adding some principles not found in Mother Ann's revelations. Within five years, under the administration of Mea-cham, 11 Shaker settlements were founded, viz.: at New Lebanon, N. Y., which has always been regarded as the parent society; at Watervliet, N. Y.; at Hancock, Tyringham, Harvard, and Shirley, Mass.; at Enfield, Conn.; at Canterbury and Enfield, N. H.; and at Alfred and New Gloucester, Me. No other societies were formed till 1805, when three missionaries from New Lebanon visited Ohio and Kentucky, and were ultimately successful in founding four societies in Ohio (Union Village, Watervliet, White Water, and North Union), and two in Kentucky (Pleasant Hill and South Union). These settlements are composed of from two to eight "families," or households.
A large house, divided through the middle by wide halls, and capable of accommodating from 30 to 150 inmates, is erected for each family, the male members occupying one end and the females the other. The property is owned by each family as a community. The societies all possess considerable tracts of land, averaging nearly seven acres to each member. They believe idleness to be sinful, and every member who is able to work is employed. They have usually very extensive gardens connected with their settlements, and the culture of flowers, medicinal herbs, fruits, and vegetables has been a favorite business with them; and they have dealt largely in garden and flower seeds, dried herbs, and medicinal extracts. Of late years they give more attention to agriculture and to manufacturing than formerly. The broom business is extensively carried on by all the societies. They usually have at their villages storehouses and separate buildings for dairy or mechanical purposes, a school house for the children they adopt or who come in with their parents, and a meeting house or hall. Their schools are supplied abundantly with apparatus and libraries. - In their mode of worship they exercise both soul and body.
The two sexes are frequently arranged in ranks opposite to and facing each other, the front ranks about 6 ft. apart. There is usually an address by one of the elders upon some doctrinal subject, or some practical virtue, after which they sing a hymn; then they form in circles around a band of singers, to whose music they "go forth in the dances of them that make merry." At times the excitement and fervency of spirit become very great, and their bodily evolutions, while maintaining the order and regularity of the dance and the music, are almost inconceivably rapid. They believe themselves to be frequently under the immediate influence of spirit agency, both of angels and of departed members of their own fraternity, who have advanced further in the work of the resurrection or redemption from the generative nature and order than those still in the body. They have a ministry, composed of two brethren and two sisters, who have the oversight of from one to four societies; also each family in every society has four elders, two brethren and two sisters, who have charge of the family. The temporalities of each family are cared for by two deacons and two deaconesses.
There are three classes of members: 1. The novitiates, who, receiving the doctrines of the Shakers, and living up to the general requirements of their faith, still prefer to reside with their own families, and manage their own temporal concerns, for a time. They are not controlled by the society, either as to their property, families, or children, and enjoy their spiritual privileges in connection with it, unless they violate its rules and principles. 2. The junior class, composed of persons who have become members of the Shaker communities, and unite in their labors and religious exercises, but who have not relinquished their property to the society, or, if they have given the society the improvement of it, may at any time resume it, though without interest. 3. The senior class, comprising those who, after full experience of the system of the Shakers, voluntarily and deliberately consecrate themselves, their services, and all their property to the society, never to be reclaimed by them or their legal heirs. Those belonging to this class are called the church or senior order. No difference is ever made in this order on account of the amount of property any individual may have contributed.
They, as well as all who retain their connection with the community, are amply provided for, in health, sickness, and old age. - The Shakers hold that the revelation of God is progressive; that in the first or antediluvian period of human history, God was known only as a Great Spirit; that in the second or Jewish period, he was revealed as the Jehovah, He, She, or a dual being, male and female, the "I am that I am;" that Jesus, in the third cycle, made God known as a Father; and that in the last cycle, commencing with 1770, "God is revealed in the character of Mother, an eternal Mother, the bearing Spirit of all the creation of God." This last they regard as a revelation of God's affectional nature, as a manifestation of the divine love and tenderness. The Christs they believe to be also dual, male and female, supramundane beings. Jesus, in their system, was a divinely instructed, pure, and perfect man, and by virtue of his anointing became Jesus Christ. Among the doctrines of the new revelation are the immortality of the soul, which Moses never taught, and the resurrection of the soul, by which they understand the quickening of the germ of a new and spiritual life, after the death of the first Adamic or generative life.
All who marry and are given in marriage, or who indulge in the earthly procreative relation, they term "the children of this world," and followers of the first Adam. They do not condemn them for living in the marriage relation, provided they confine its use simply to the purpose of procreation, the production of offspring being the only justification of sexual intercourse; all beyond that they designate as "the unfruitful works of darkness," and they sincerely condemn it as mere sensual gratification. But Shakers, as Christians, hold that they are called to lead a spiritual and holy life, not only free from all lust and carnal sexual indulgence, but even to rise above the order of natural and innocent human reproduction (proper enough for the "children of this world," and in a measure for gentile Christians), Shakers being the "children of the resurrection," daily dying to the generative nature, as Jesus and the apostles died to it, and thus becoming new creatures who are able to comprehend the "mysteries of God." Another doctrine, in which they believe "Christ instructed Jesus," is human brotherhood, and its development in a community of goods, according to the example of Jesus and his apostles.
The doctrines of non-resistance, non-participation in any earthly government, and the necessity of a life of celibacy and virgin purity to a perfect Christianity, they regard as having been communicated to Jesus by a Christ Spirit; and, though neglected by the church in the past, of prime obligation to the true believer. The second appearing of the Christ, "without sin unto salvation," they believe to have taken place, through Mother Ann Lee, in 1770. She, "by strictly obeying the light revealed in her, became righteous even as Jesus was righteous. She acknowledged Jesus Christ as her Head and Lord, and formed the same character as a spiritual woman that he did as a spiritual man." The necessity for the appearing of Christ in the female form resulted from the dual nature of Christ and of Deity. "Still it was not Jesus nor Ann, but the principles already stated, which were the foundation of the second Christian church. Their importance is derived from the fact of their being the first man and the first woman perfectly identified with the principles and spirit of Christ." This second appearing of Christ they hold to be the, true resurrection state, and repudiate a physical resurrection as repugnant to science, reason, and Scripture. As they recognize four dispensations or cycles of human religious progress, so they believe there are heavens and hells to each cycle, which are still places of probation.
The first dispensation, and its heaven and hell, were respectively for the good and wicked among the antediluvians, and the wicked of that cycle were "the spirits in prison" to whom Jesus preached in the interval between his death and ascension. The second dispensation (by Moses) was designed to teach by revelation God's truth pertaining to the earth-life chiefly. The second hell they name Gehenna, and consign to it the Jews and heathen who died before the coming of Jesus; the second heaven is paradise, where the thief on the cross had the promise of going after his death. They believe that a perfect system of agriculture, horticulture, and hygiene was gradually unfolded in the statutes of Moses, obedience to which, then and now, would give entire exemption from physical disease or bodily infirmity; and that the principles contained in those laws and statutes are to-day as binding upon all Christians as are the ten commandments. (The Shakers eat no pork.) All human sickness, they say, is the result of some physiological sin, direct or indirect, against the teachings of Moses. In proof of this position they cite the promise of Moses to Israel: in obedience, "the Lord thy God shall take all sickness away from the midst of thee;" but in disobedience, he will "bring back upon thee all the diseases of the Egyptians," of which they were afraid, and of which diseases Moses had cured them in the wilderness, by means of the physiological treatment under which he put at least 2,000,000 persons, giving them for food simple manna, for drink and bathing cold water, and to breathe pure air in open well ventilated tents.
The third dispensation is that of the church of the first appearing of Christ, and to its heaven Paul was caught up. The fourth heaven is now forming; in it Jesus and Mother Ann reside, and to it will all those go who have resisted temptation until all their evil propensities and lusts are destroyed, and the life of the generative natural man is dead in them, for such are born of God and cannot sin. No one but Jesus had ever attained to this previous to the second appearing of Christ in Ann Lee. It is the heaven of heavens, and to it will be gathered not only all who accept the doctrines of the Shakers in this world, and attain to the new birth, but all those in the lower heavens and hells who shall yet accept them; and when their decision is finally made, the lower heavens and hells and the earth will be destroyed, and only the fourth heaven for the true believers, and the fourth hell for the finally impenitent, will remain. Each cycle has had its own Holy Spirit, the spiritual influx from the church in the heaven of that cycle to the inhabitants of earth at the time. They hold to oral confession of sins to God, in the presence of one or two witnesses, as essential to the reception of the power to forsake sin.
They also believe in the power of some of their members to heal physical diseases, by means of prayer and dietetics. The Bibles of different races they consider as records of the most divine angelic ministrations to man (for they hold that the natural man never has seen and never will see God), and as more or less imperfect records of the religious experience and history of the Jews and other peoples. They believe that the mental and spiritual condition of those seers and prophets, whose prophecies form a considerable part of all Bibles, has materially modified the revelation, and that it has been further modified and impaired by the translators of the Scriptures; the book of Revelation has suffered less in this respect than any other, mainly because it is utterly unintelligible to the generative man, and could not be comprehended till the second appearing of Christ, as that was the only key to unlock its mysteries. The revelations of Ann Lee, and others of their ministers and elders who have been inspired by God to speak, they regard as valid and important. - The movement of the spiritualists has excited great hopes in their minds of a remarkable influx of disciples to Shakerism, inasmuch as they consider it a preparation of the people to receive their doctrines.
Their increase during the present century has been moderate, only three societies having been formed within the past 60 years, and the growth of those previously in existence having been slow; but it is worthy of note that they are the only people on this continent, if not in the world, who have maintained successfully for nearly a century a system of living, one of the fundamental principles of which is a community of property. The Shakers are spiritualists in a practical sense. They hold Swedenborg as the angel of spiritualism mentioned in the 18th chapter of Revelation. He is their John Baptist. Spiritualism had very much subsided in the order until 1837, when a renewal of it occurred, lasting seven years. This was the commencement of modern spiritualism, four years before the Hydeville rappings. The spirits predicted that after performing a certain work in the world, they would return to the Shakers, and replenish their numbers from the ranks of the spiritualists. According to Elder Frederick W. Evans, this return of the spirits is now occurring in the form of world-troubling materialization.
He visits the most trustworthy of the mediums, and invites them to Mount Lebanon to have their powers tested. - The Shakers have published since 1870 the "Shaker and Shakeress," a monthly, edited by F. W. Evans and Antoinette Doolittle, at Mount Lebanon, Columbia co., N Y.