-I’m researching the Father Divine movement right now and came across this uplifting video from the 50th Wedding Anniversary of Father and Mother Divine held on April 16th, 1996. The context of my research, conducted for a future book by Dr. Victoria Wolcott, concerns the utopian origins of the civil rights movement. Numerous projects of inter-racial cooperation during the first third of the century paved the course for future strategies utilized by civil rights groups. The Father Divine movement not only promoted a racially-inclusive faith, but started interracial co-operative farms in Ulster County, New York, as well as  co-op restaurants and business in New York City during the 1930s and ’40s. 

Video: The Father Divine Project




Religion and Madness

“The rolling exercise consisted in doubling the head and feet together, and rolling over and over like a hoop…The jerks consisted in violent twitches and contortions of the body in all its part” This description refers to a variant of religious expression carried out by a group labeled The Holy Rollers. Such religious behavior–eccentric, physical, emotional–was and continues to be considered aberrant, indicative of a pathology rather than reflective of “appropriate” religious interpretation and worship. The following will examine how the intersection of religion and madness, as it has manifested historically since the 19th century and into contemporary culture, has been addressed in six sources. These treatments explore the understandings of those religious believers whose modes of religious expression have been interpreted as madness. First, there is a pervasive understanding across the authors that the labeling of religious actors as insane was reflective of the fringe and therefore threatening quality of those actors’ religious affiliation. Second, due to the widespread medical practice of labeling religious behavior as deviant, thus stigmatizing religious adherents and religious practice more broadly, there is an attendant prescriptive tone advocating increased cultural sensitivity in approaching cases of purported irrational religions. Ultimately, the literature on the subject of religion and madness reveals a decided lack of familiarity with religious practice, and, by extension, a resolute lack of investigation of religious practice as it was experienced by the individual deemed mad.

Read the rest here.

it’s a start?

This treatment concerns the material ways in which religious identity is predicated through an examination of two self-declared nineteenth century American Hebrew prophets,Mordecai Noah and Robert Matthews. According to their contemporaries’ perceptions, Noah and Matthews each exhibited extremes of performative religious activity in terms of their dress,rituals, public identity and religious interpretations. As embodiments of fringe religious beliefs, this work argues that each man distinctively self-stylized their bodies and public presences in an effort to give credence their unorthodox religious identities and prerogatives. The following seeks to uncover the ways in which these historical actors physically represented themselves and their belief systems. Specific attention therefore is paid to the material culture of religious adherence and promulgation in an effort to explore the activity of religious belief on a trans-sensory scale. By re-imagining the stories of Mordecai Noah and Robert Matthews in this theoretic framework, new attention is brought to the dimensionality of nineteenth fringe religious culture especially in the practices of ceremony, propaganda, and display.

the one before one

The discovery of the gnostic gospels at Nag Hammadi in 1945 is one of those historical events I can hardly believe is true. What is done for knowledge? What will be done to conceal it? What is it to to seek knowledge, to write it down, to suppress it, bury it in earthenware jars, to literally unearth it, to bring it back into the folds of human consciousness sixteen centuries after it was concealed, for it to reveal itself to us again, to be rediscovered by two brothers in the midst of a blood feud? For knowledge of God? For knowledge of oneself? And are they the same?

My god, my mind, my thought, my soul, my body.  -Monoimus

They say that God is light, not light like one sees, nor like the sun nor fire, but to them God is discourse, not that which finds expression in articulate sounds, but that of knowledge (gnosis) through which the secret mysteries of nature are perceived by the wise.  -Hippolytus

Scholars today conclude that what we refer to as gnosticism was a composite tradition drawing from a variety of sources–Christianity, Egyptian mystery cults, Platonism, and Buddhism among the dominant influences. Gnosticism co-arose with orthodox Christianity, which sought (quite successfully) the consolidation of Christians under an organizational hierarchy headed by bishops and deacons, their power understood to be derivative of the apostles and Christ before them.

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Gnostics sought no ecclesiastical hierarchy, in fact some sects are recorded as deliberating undermining such power dynamics by daily rotating all spiritual responsibilities across genders and perceived spiritual status (a practice which Irenaeus truly detested). True status was inside the gnostic himself, only measurable by the extent to which he had dispelled ignorance and sought the experiential knowledge of God, or gnosis.

Many gnostics provided alternative explanations for what later became orthodox Christian creed. Did Jesus truly rise from the dead? Was the virgin birth literal or symbolic? Did Christ die on the cross or was that just his corporeal form? Was his spirit body laughing above the Christ as he was crucified? Who is the God we call God? Is it a name for God the creator, a linguistic stand-in for the ineffable? Is God male or female or both? Who holds spiritual authority? What is the way to God? Through ritual or the leadership of bishops? Through self-examination and mediation? Is man synonymous with God?

Before 1945, much of what we knew about the gnostic tradition was aggregated from sources penned by men passionately opposed to “heretical” questions. Irenaeus and Tertullian were especially incensed–who are these heretics, they asked, who understand intuition to be the ultimate arbiter of the truth, who eschew the power of bishops, who speak of perceiving not seeing, of knowing mysteries otherwise unknown, who deny the church of Rome? Who is this God beyond God they speak ok?

Why do you not examine your own self, and see that you have arisen? -Treatise on Resurrection

For whoever has not known himself has known nothing, but whoever has known himself has simultaneously achieved knowledge about the depth of all the things. –Gospel of Thomas

According to gnostic scholar Elaine Pagels, such gnostic views were antithetical to the power structure orthodox Christians sought to predicate the church upon.  Authority would be derived from bishops, those who could claim direct appointment by the apostle Paul and Christ before him. The Gnostics ridiculed such presumption of spiritual authority, instead heralding the individual’s ability to seek the truth inside themselves, in their own experience, without the mediation of any bishops of Rome.

Gnostic ascetics dotted the desert. They took residence in caves. They eventually consolidated into monasteries, sharing duties of sustenance and home. And when Athanasius sought to purge Christianity of “apocryphal books” in the 4th century, we imagine such monks quickly took the codices of the gnostic gospels from their extensive library, deposited them in meter-high jars and buried them in the cliff of Jabal-al-Tarif. They hid the texts from destruction, from the eyes of those who sought to stamp out the sight, from the reach of those who could not defeat an internal resurrection.

I am perception and knowledge, uttering a Voice by means of Thought. I cry out in everyone, and they know that a seed dwells within. -Trimorphic Protennoia

on the old

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beautiful mistakes c/o Google Books.

“For it would have been better for the dust not to have been born, so that the mind might not have been made from it.” -the Prophet Ezra