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Formally, it may not imply that Mother Ann was the Christ, but this fine distinction was probably lost on most of her followers who simply treated her as the female incarnation of Christ something that, predictably, aroused a lot of repulsion and hostility, especially in the Puritan New England. Shakers also reject the trinity dogma, regarding it unscriptural.

Christ and the Holy Ghost are the highest ranking spiritual entities rather than being identical with God. Instead, God continues to guide his people, speaking to them through prophets and other inspired instruments Potz — The spiritual gifts abundant in the early period, both in England and America, and later during the Era of Manifestations, are an obvious sign of that. It contains truth, because the authors were inspired, but is not the ultimate and only source of truth Johnson — Finally, Shakers are millenarian, but their millennialism is specific: the thousand-year kingdom on earth, instead of being preceded by cataclysmic events, has already come quietly with the descension of the Christ spirit on Ann Lee.

All believers who accepted her teachings and live a Shaker life in Christ spirit, partake in the millennium. This aspect of Shaker doctrine made it particularly attractive for potential converts disappointed in their millenarian expectations aroused by date-fixing prophets of the sort of William Miller Potz — As regards the afterlife, Shaker beliefs are fairly similar to Protestant notions: hell and heaven are non-physical states in which the soul is, respectively, separated from or united with God.

True to their name, Shaker worship was from the very beginning marked with ecstatic practices initiated spontaneously during meetings and interpreted as signs of the operation of the Holy Spirit.

These enthusiastic forms of worship were gradually curbed and formalized into more conventional services with readings, sermons and group dances, such as the famous Shaker circular dance. But the charismatic element was not lost entirely, at least until mid-nineteenth century, and it manifested itself strongly during the Era of Manifestations, when hardly a meeting could pass without spirit possession, revelation and other spiritual gifts.

No comparable revival occurred later, and the ecstatic elements gradually evaporated from Shaker worship. In the twentieth century, no outward occurrences of spiritual possession accompanied Shaker worship, which came to resemble mainstream Protestant services.

Living a Tradition

Later on, in most of the surviving villages all forms of communal worship were abandoned altogether to be revived since the in Sabbathday Lake , giving way to individual prayer and contemplation. Songs were another important element of Shaker life and worship. The most famous perhaps, Simple Gifts by elder Joseph Brackett, which penetrated to American popular culture, is just one of estimated 10, songs of various kinds hymns, working and dancing songs etc. Many of them originated during the Era of Manifestations, the time when some of the finest examples of Shaker religious art, with the famous Tree of Life by Hannah Cahoon, [Image at right] were also created these pieces of art, received under inspiration, were called gift songs and gift drawings, respectively; see Patterson Communism or communalism : the quadruple community of goods, production, consumption and living.

Apart from small personal belongings, Shakers held all property in common. They worked together, rotating various tasks in farms and workshops to avoid dull routine. They had communal meals and received other goods and services according to their needs. And they lived together in large communal buildings. Already in England, Ann Lee came to a conclusion that sexual desire is at the root of most evil in the world, a conviction that was no doubt influenced by her forced, unhappy marriage and miscarriage of four children.

Hence Shakers were forbidden any intimate relations whatsoever. Men and women lived together but separately: they slept in the same buildings, but at the opposite sides; they used separate stairs, dined at separate tables, sat at the opposite sides of the meeting house at worship services and had little direct contact during daily chores. To alleviate some of the tension it must have created, weekly meetings were organized where male and female members could enjoy a more or less free conversation, on, to be sure, innocent topics.

If families joined the Society together, they were separated. All children were brought up communally. Despite a high level of social control within the communities, Shakers rejected the use of physical force between themselves and tried to avoid it whenever possible in relation to strangers, even in self-defense. They were pacifists: they objected to military service and, when forced to it, many of them refused to accept their pay. Thus, the religious status of an individual was strictly conditioned upon the economic sacrifice he or she was supposed to make Desroche — All Shakers were also bound by the so-called Millennial Laws , a lengthy code of conduct developed in the phase of routinization of early charismatic authority, which comprised extremely detailed and stringent regulations of virtually all spheres of life in the community, down to which foot one is supposed to start ascending stairs or which knee should touch the floor first while kneeling right in both cases, if you are curious or what distance to keep when looking out the window Millennial Laws [].

These legal norms thus paved the way to high level of political control [this paragraph is adapted from Potz Chapter 4].

Shaker Heritage Society

Joseph Meacham instituted a four-member Central Ministry, composed of two male and two female members. The succession procedure within the ministry was co-optation by the surviving members, which contrasted with the acclamation, typical of the succession of the first three leaders in the charismatic period. Both procedures were theocratic in that they sought to transmit and confer on the new leaders a divine sanction more on Shaker succession procedures and other aspects of their political system, see Potz [this paragraph is adapted from Potz ].

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Shaker economy was based on farming and various related industries, such as the very profitable sale of seeds. Some Shaker crafts came to be very highly valued.

History of the Shakers (U.S. National Park Service)

This is true especially for their furniture, [Image at right] which entered antique market with the closure of many settlements in the twentieth century and commanded prices going into tens of thousands of dollars. In the 18th century, their image as a radical sect with unorthodox doctrine, weird worship practices and female leadership aroused almost universal hostility: Shakers were harassed in various ways, tarred-and-feathered, accused of sexual licentiousness and, in America, of being British spies to boot Stein — The most serious challenge, however, was, by far, the dwindling membership, a trend initiated in mid-nineteenth century and never to be reversed.

As the years went by, Shakers had been unable to keep the children brought up by the Society when they reached adulthood, and the adult converts, increasingly coming from the cities, very often joined for economic, rather than spiritual reasons. In fact, these three variables: long time spent among Shakers in childhood, urban origin and joining at a time of economic recession were the strongest predictors of apostacy Murray After a period of revival at Sabbathday Lake lasting from the s into the twenty-first century, with new members joining and the community religious life resuming, Shakers are again facing the existential challenge of survival.

With only two members remaining, this seems a long call indeed. With their decline, as the celibate, communitarian Shakers ceased to be perceived as a challenge to the American core values of individualism, private property and traditional model of family, they were absorbed into the mainstream of American culture. This romanticized, sentimental image of Shakers as peaceful spiritual seekers inhabiting simple yet harmonious interiors furnished with their beautiful chairs and multi-drawer chests, has become a fixture of American popular culture Potz She noted that Hancock, in its heyday, had 60 buildings and 4, acres, while nearby Mount Lebanon had 6, acres.

This round barn replaced an older barn that burned. By way of ramps, cows or horses walked directly into either of the barn's lower two levels. Walking inside ourselves, we almost gasped. Stanchions circle a vast open core. Far overhead, at the building's apex, a cupola acts as a vent. Rafters radiate from the cupola to support the round roof. Sunbeams illuminate an intricate array of vertical masts supporting the floors, the rafters, the roof. But this cathedral was practical. Kennedy described the brothers bringing in their herd for the morning milking.

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Each cow, unsupervised, walks around the outer circle to its own stanchion and pokes its head through, attracted by the core's tons of hay, tossed down from above. Shakers embraced technology because it saved time, which was God's. Also, it saved their own energy, for worship. Brooms of the s were merely bundled twigs tied to a stick. Shakers invented the more efficient flat broom we use today. They invented washing machines with powered agitators, and adjustable water temperatures and soap concentrations, selling them to hotels nationwide.

They were the first to package and sell seeds. They also came up with a rotary harrow, wrinkle-resistant fabric, a pea sheller, a revolving oven, a machine for coring and quartering apples. Shakers embraced innovations from the world too. They were among the earliest photography bugs. Usually, they were their localities' earliest to get in electricity and buy automobiles. Machines and architecture were not the sole Shaker "gifts. It is a stunning green-leafed tree, displaying intensely green and orange fruits. Shakers also had a "gift" for chairs and tables.

Curator Starlyn D'Angelo showed us examples of the elegantly simple Shaker chairs that inspired Danish modern furniture.


By the s, Mount Lebanon's chair factory was selling these chairs nationwide through an illustrated mail-order catalog. Furniture made by Shaker hands sells for many thousands of dollars today. Hank Williams, a former New York State commissioner of environmental conservation, now director of the Shaker Heritage Society, drove us to the Shakers' small, fenced-in graveyard. It is only a short walk from Albany's airport, and jetliners roar overhead. Here Shakers lie as regimented as in life, headstones arranged in phalanxes. It is in the center of the sixth row, thigh-high rather than just knee-high, like the other stones.

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The People Called Shakers: A Search for the Perfect Society

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