Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Part 2 - Examination of a Mystical Figure Sheds Some New Light on Esoteric Beliefs of Ephrata Cloister

In the first installment of this blog, I introduced the Mystical Figure in Jacob Martin’s papers at Ephrata and established how it was based on a figure in a work by Johann Gichtel that was published in 1696. In this installment I will explain the meaning that Gichtel had for these illustrations.  As I explained earlier, the illustration and writing by Gichtel depict planetary symbolism and the process of spiritual transformation on the body. I also explained that the Gichtel illustration was part of a series of 4 plates depicting a three-stage change in spiritual illumination.  Perhaps it wouldbe  helpful to show all of the 4 Gicthel plates side-by-side, and interpret their meaning. Most of the information for this analysis comes from an excellent book, Wisdom’s Children: A Christian Esoteric Tradition, (1999) by Arthur Versluis.

Plate 1

Plate 2



                                                   Plate 3                              Plate 4

The 4 plates above come from a treatise published by Johann Georg Gichtel in 1696: EinekruzEroffnung und Anwesung der dreiPrinzipien und Weltenim Menschen – (“A brief Opening and Demonstration of the three Principals and Worlds in Man”) As I explained in the last blog, the illustrations and accompanying text by Gichtel depict planetary symbolism and the process of spiritual transformation on the body - from a darkened earthly state to a higher regenerated state.Another way to think of Gicthel’s publication is to think of it as guide along a spiritual path that he himself followed from the dark or wrathful world of fallen man to divinely regenerated man.

According to Arthur Versluis, these are very rare illustrations, the only illustrations he has encountered that depict both the planetary symbolism of the human body and its relationship to the entire process of spiritual transmutation. It has been observed that some of the plates, especially Plate 1 resemble Chakras. However, Versluis cautions against applying eastern disciplines to a subject better addressed in the sphere of Christian Theosophy. Gichtel probably had no knowledge of eastern or tantric disciplines. I will now concentrate on describing what Gichtel depicted in these Plates.

Plate 1

This illustration shows man in the unregenerate state. Man is subject to his elemental self.
This is “finstere mensch” - Earthly Darkened or Sinister Man. Here we see the planetary energies in fallen humanity, manifesting as anger, envy and so forth. In this plate man is wholly subject to his human nature - his elemental self. Unregenerate man is a prisoner to emotional reactions, to desire, envy, jealousy, and anger. “Finstere mensch” carries love in his heart; he is capable of love, but he has not yet realized this potential in himself.  To realize it, he has to turn anger into love; he must transform negative emotions into positive ones through a spiritual process of transmutation.  Unregenerate man possesses the potential for spiritual realization which he must strive for. Gichtel’s 4 illustrations depict this process of striving.  If I was to give this process another name, I would call it spiritual alchemy.
Besides the planetary influences, the 4 elements also had an effect on certain organs or regions of the body:   *The Heart is associated with Fire.  *The Liver is associated with Water.  *The Lungs are related to Earth. *The Bladder is associated with Air.
The planetary symbolism of the body also has a relationship to the elements: *The Moon is related to the generative organs which are associated with Water.  *The Sun is related to the Heart (body’s center) which is also associated with Love.
The heart usually radiates outward and is dry and warm – but in the illustration the man’s heart is encircled by a cold damp serpent. As a result, “finstere mensch” is a prisoner to emotional reactions, to desire, jealousy, and anger.
The planetary symbolism is also linked in a particular order: *The inward spiral shown above also extends in an outward direction starting from the sun. *The Spiral moves outward from sun (masculine) to Venus (feminine) to Mars (masculine) to Mercury (feminine)  to Jupiter (masculine) to the Moon (feminine) to Saturn (masculine). *So, this spiral path follows a natural and astrological polarity both inward and outward.

Verslius also observes that the seven planets correspond to the seven forms or emanations of eternal nature. Jacob Boehme describes them as the seven properties or qualities of eternal nature. It is a very significant part of Boehme’s philosophy. 
Plate 2

Awakening Man
Here we have “Awakening Man” – engaged in spiritual struggle.His body is now only partly subject to the “finster welt” or “Dark World”.In this illustration man is striving toward spiritual illumination. He had made vast improvements, but he still has a way to go towards full spiritual illumination.

                                                   Plate 3                                        Plate 4
Illuminated Regenerated Man, Front & Back

In these 2 plates we see Illuminated Regenerated Man, from the front and back. You will notice that there are 4 plates, but only 3 Stages.
Both of these illustrations show hell and Satan in the generative regions of the body. So man is never completely free from the dark regions influences as illustrated by the lines of smoke that reach up from below in Plate 4.  In this illustration, man is no longer subject to planetary influences only.  He has gone beyond this limiting factor.
The most significant illustration is Plate 3 – illuminated man from the front.  In this illustration, the sun/heart/Jesus illuminates the whole body with its rays. Where Mercury sat before has been replaced by Jehovah. Where Saturn (top of head) and Jupiter (fore head) once sat can now be found the Holy Spirit.  In the area of the throat, once influenced by Mars is now Sophia.  The darker region still exists, but it is confined to the generative regions.   The process of regeneration and transmutation to a higher state has gone as far as it can in with the human body.

Some Observations Concerning These Illustrations
It’s important to note that the these illustrations depicting the process or physiology of the soul and spirit  represent a form of spirituality not separate from the body as in earlier Christian Mystical accounts of the spiritual process. These illustrations represent a spirituality firmly grounded in the body.  The body need not not be rejected. Great spiritual truths can be realized here on earth in our current human bodies.
Another characteristic of Gichtel’s spiritual path that distinguishes it from other earlier examples of Christian mystical experience is the use of images and illustrations depicting spiritual transformation through the means of spiritual physiology- A spiritual change achieved by planetary and elemental influence on the physical body.

In this blog-post we have described what Johann Gichtel intended to portray in these illustrations. In the third installment of this blog, I will compare the Jacob Martin illustration with its counterpart by Gichtel and show how previous interpretations of the “Mystical Figure” by another author are incorrect. I will then address the most challenging aspect of my research - attempting to discover the significance that this “Mystical Figure” held for Jacob Martin from Ephrata. 

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Examination of a Mystical Figure Sheds Some New Light on Esoteric Beliefs of Ephrata Cloister

Mystical Figure from Jacob Martin Papers, Ephrata
The drawing on the left (which for the sake of convenience, I will refer to as the “Mystical Figure”)   part of Ephrata’s collection, is part of the papers of Jacob Martin, a married member of the Ephrata Congregation.  Little of Jacob Martin is known before his association with Ephrata which can be documented no earlier than 1761. He was born in Europe on June 10, 1725 and died as a “Good Christian” (as stated on his tombstone) on July 19, 1790. The tombstone also states that he was a “High Philosopher”.

The papers of Jacob Martin contain Astrological charts and writings with Alchemical  and spiritual themes. Some of these writings have been translated by Elizabethtown College professor, Jeff Bach, and they are addressed in his book, Voices of the Turtle Doves(2003), but  little attention was given to the drawing of the Mystical Figure at the time, and it was set aside for later consideration.

My first encounter with this figure was about 2 years ago when I was researching possible connections between Ephrata and the early Mormon Church. I was reading a book, Early Mormonism and the Magical World View, an important book in Mormon scholarship, by Michael D. Quinn (1987). Quinn was here at Ephrata in the 1980’s researching the book in which this image is included. His interpretation of the image was as follows:
        “a member of the Rosicrucian Ephrata commune, in Lancaster Pennsylvania, in the late 1700’s drew a picture of a man wearing a religio-magical garment featuring the salamander.  The astrological symbol for Saturn was on the man’s crown and the symbol for Jupiter on his far head.  On the left breast of his garment, surrounded by flames, was the Sacred Heart of Jesus with a stick figure of an ascending bird (apparently either the Christian symbol of a dove as the Holy Ghost or the mythical Phoenix symbol of resurrection), and on the garments right breast was a stick figure of a four footed reptile – obviously a salamander, which figured prominently in the Rosicrucian philosophy of elemental spirits that the Ephrata commune had mixed with its Christian mysticism.” 
Earlier scholarship on Ephrata was greatly influenced by the German American Historian, Julius Sachse, an important source on Ephrata, but some of his conclusions and claims, based on questionable, non-documented, or non-existent evidence, leads to the conclusion that his writings should be carefully read. Many subsequent writers seemed to take Sachse completely at his word, and Quinn appears to be following in this vein.  Quinn goes on to write,
              “At the crown of the head is an astrological symbol for Saturn, on the forehead the symbol for Jupiter.  Over the left breast, surrounded by flames, is the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which is dripping sanctifying blood upon the planet earth.  From the heart is the stick figure of an ascending bird (the Christian symbol for the Holy Ghost or the mythological Phoenix). Over the right breast is the stick figure of a four-footed reptile (representing the Ephrata Commune’s Rosicrucian theology of the salamander as the elemental spirit of fire). The sash belt reflects descriptions of both biblical and magic vestments.  However, the Ephrata garment was of skin-tight, wrist to ankle construction, with fastening seam from chest to navel.
I don’t claim to be an Ephrata scholar, or specialist on Alchemical or Rosicrucian history, but I do know a good deal about the history of Ephrata and some elements of what Quinn wrote regarding the Mystical Figure, appeared to me to be completely wrong. Subsequent scholarship on Ephrata has called into question the Rosicrucian connection, and the actual description of this “religio-magical” garment featuring the salamander was extremely questionable. There is simply nothing like that garment in any of the depictions of Ephrata clothing or garb at the time, nor in the art work, or in any firsthand accounts of what they wore. The heavy significance of the salamander is also something that I’ve never encountered before at Ephrata. I just assumed that Quinn was following Julius Sachse and E.G. Alderfer on faith without looking into any more recent scholarship.  I asked our Curator Kerry Mohn to look at the Jacob Martin papers, and finally saw the actual drawing up close and in person.  I thought the drawing was very interesting and assumed there may be some spiritual and possibly alchemical influences, but at the time, I was more interested in other things Quinn had to say about the early Mormon Church, so I let the issue of the Mystical Figure slip from my concern.
"Awakening Man", from Gichtel, Eine kurze
Eroffnung, 1696. An  individual on the
 spiritual path, engaged in spiritual struggle
About 6 months ago I was reading Wisdom’s Children: A Christian Esoteric Tradition, by Arthur Versluis, and was startled to find this same Mystical Figure staring back at me from the page. I believe the illustration from the Jacob Martin papers of the Mystical Figure pictured above is a depiction of the illustration on the left. This illusration was published about 70 years earlier than the Jacob Martin creation, but I believe that they are one and the same.

The illustration  on the left is actually from a series of 4 plates and it comes from a treatise published by Johann Georg Gichtel in 1696: Eine kruz Eroffnung und Anwesung der drei Prinzipien und Weltenim Menschen – (“A brief Opening and Demonstration of the three Principals and Worlds in Man”)
Johann Gichtel,  (1638-1710) was a writer, visionary and theosophist, who promoted the work of early 17th-century visionary and mystic Jacob Boehme and compiled the first complete edition of Boehme’s works.  He also distilled the ideas and writing of Boehme and was extremely important in spreading Boehme’s ideas and thought to Conrad Beissel and other radical pietists.  The illustrations and writing by Gichtel depict planetary symbolism and the process of spiritual transformation on the body. Other Alchemical and symbolic representations also appear.  The Mystical Figure from Ephrata is a representation of the 2nd plate, “Awakening Man. Arthur Versluis also describes this figure as “an individual on the spiritual path, engaged in spiritual struggle.” 

What what was the significance of Jacob Martin's Mystical Figure? Why was it created and what purpose did it serve the religious beliefs of Jacob Martin and The Ephrata Community?  In the next blog I will delve further into the meaning of Gicthel’s illustrations and compare his interpretaions of the figure with that of  D. Michael Quinn, and speculate on the the significance it held for Jacob Martin and Ephrata. 

Nick Siegert

Thursday, August 27, 2015

What do These Two Men Have in Common With The Ephrata Cloister?

Henry Rankin Poore
Joseph Pennell

Both of them were artists and both visited the Ephrata Cloister in the in early 1880’s working together to depict the Ephrata Cloister in artistic renderings for an article written by the historian, Oswald Seidensticker.
Walk in the very footsteps of these renowned artists as you visit the places they depicted back in the 1880’s with this once in a year opportunity.  Special upstairs tours of the historic structures at the Ephrata Cloister during our Founders Day/Block Party, September 12th, 2015.
In 1881 The Century Magazine decided to do a story on the curious decaying old buildings and community of Ephrata.  They hired Oswald Seidensticker, professor of German Language at the University of Pennsylvania, and a specialist in the history of early German immigrants to Pennsylvania, to write the story.  To illustrate the story, “A Colonial Monastery,” The Century Magazine commissioned two young artists who were sharing studio space in Philadelphia: Joseph Pennell and Henry Rankin Poore.  Both artists had studied at the prestigious Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and were early in their respective careers, and both would go on to become well known in the art world. 
Henry RankinPoore was the son of a prominent clergyman and would have likely followed his father’s profession until he saw paintings at the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. The works inspired him to take up art and after studying in New York, he came to Philadelphia.  Later he would paint the south-western United States, France, and England where he became known for his sporting and landscape painting.  Joseph Pennell was a native of Philadelphia where he studied and first worked.  Later, he would travel and make his home in England.  He became known for his lithography and illustrations.  During World War I, he produced a shocking poster in support of Liberty Bonds showing the New York harbor under attack and in flames along with the Statue of Liberty in flames. It was an extremely effective piece of war time propaganda, helping to bring the United States into World War I on the side of the Allies.  
Joseph Pennell's Liberty Bonds Poster

The artwork that accompanied the article, written in the romantic literary style of the day, greatly complimented the air of decay and decline and captured the mood perfectly. On Saturday, September 12th, see Ephrata through the eyes of these famous artists and see what they saw in the early 1880’s
“..odd looking antiquated buildings , the larger of which are the convents, the former abodes of the Ephrata Monks and nuns. Their high gable roofs and the irregularly distributed little windows give them a peculiar appearance of a little known place where one can breathe the musty air of langsyne.” 

“In one of the cells of the sister’s house, the Saron, we noticed a huge hamper, much too large for the apertures of the incasing cell.  How was this overgrown basket ever squeezed through so narrow an opening? It never was.  An industrious nun, bent upon doing some good and useful work for the monastery, plied in her cell, for many days and weeks, her busy hands, to weave for domestic needs that extraordinary piece of wicker-work.  She did not discover, until she had finished it, that it was much too large to fit through the door of her cell. And so it remains there, in perpetuam rei memoriam. “

“In the Saron, also, a number of families and single women have been accommodated.  A large number of these rooms are vacant or stored with old furniture, spinning wheels, or household utensils, and the remnants of old five plate cook stoves, the metal plates long gone and only the bricks remaining.”
Learn about these artists as well as Howard Pyle and Andrew Wyeth, both of whom visited and depicted the Ephrata Cloister in their art work. On Saturday, September 12th, you too can take advantage of a rare opportunity to walk in the footsteps of these famous artists as well as visit a part of the Ephrata Cloister rarely open to the public. This coming September 12th, from 10AM-4PM, join us for our Founders’ Day – Block Party Event. A limited number of special guided tours will be given of the upper floors of the Sister’s House and Meetinghouse by reservation only at 10AM, 11:30AM, 1PM, and 2:30PM. See our website for more details.
Nick Siegert

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Andrew Wyeth Was Here! And You Can Be Too!

Andrew Wyeth was here!  And you can be too!
Photo by Deb Grove, Lancaster Online
The photograph above shows Ephrata Cloister Director, Elizabeth Bertheaud standing in the third floor of the 1743, Sisters House or Saron.  She is holding a print of an Andrew Wyeth watercolor the Chester County artist painted in 1949 of the same spot. The painting is titled "The Cloisters."
Wyeth never forgot that painting, and in 1996 he returned to the Cloister to revisit the humble room that a celibate sister of the religious community called home years before the American Revolution. Wyeth died in 2009.
On Saturday, September 12th, you too can take advantage of a rare opportunity to walk in the footsteps of this and other famous artists as well as visit a part of the Ephrata Cloister rarely open to the public.  This coming September 12th, from 10AM-4PM, join us for our Founders’ Day – Block Party Event.  A limited number of special guided tours will be given of the upper floors of the Sister’s House and Meetinghouse by reservation only at 10AM, 11:30AM, 1PM, and 2:30PM. Curator, Virginia O’Hara from the Brandywine Museum of Art will be on hand to speak about Andrew Wyeth and Howard Pyle, another well know artist that portrayed the Cloister in the late 1800’s.  The works of other artists, Henry Rankin Poore, and Joseph Pennell will also be addressed during these special guided tours. 
The Sisters House and Meetinghouse, built in 1743 and 1741 respectively, are open regularly for guided tours on the first floor only. It is only once a year that the upper floors are opened to visitors. 
V.I.P. tickets for this special event are $20.00 each and include a print of Andrew Wyeth’s The Cloisters (1949).  Also included will be a special Q & A opportunity with Ephrata Cloister curator Kerry A. Mohn about Henry Rankin Poore’s painting Plowing of the Brethren(1899) on special exhibit. Tour tickets provide access to the site-wide Block Party event which includes a silent auction, live music, games, and food trucks: (Gourmand from Reading, Pa. & Lickety Split from New Holland, Pa.). For an additional $10.00, purchase an exclusive Founders Day t-shirt.  Call Today to make your reservations for the upstairs tours. Tickets are limited to 25 people per tour. No more tickets will be made available after they sell out. Call for tickets: (717) 733-6600.
General admission tickets will also be made available allowing access to the grounds and first floors of the historic Sisters House and Meetinghouse, but not the special upstairs tours.  General admission tickets will also include access to live music, games and art activities, the silent auction, and food trucks.
 -Nick Siegert

Sunday, November 9, 2014

A Sunday Conversation Preview

Why do Amish accept rides in cars and hire vans for transportation, but forbid the ownership  by Amish of them?


Why do some Amish talk on cell phones, but don’t allow them in their homes?

 Why do the Amish use tractors around the farm, but not for plowing?

The answers to these intriguing questions and many more will be given at our next Sunday Afternoon Conversation. Nick Siegert will present The Amish and Technology: How the Amish Deal with Modern Technological Challenge, Sunday, November 16th, 3:00PM. One of the defining characteristics of the Amish is that they put definite limitations on their use of technology, but the Amish do not reject technology.  They are very careful and selective in its use.  They utilize many aspects of modern technology, but are very careful to control its impact on their culture. Nick Siegert will give a PowerPoint presentation and answer questions. The public is welcome.  Admission is Free.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Reflections on our apple orchard and the beloved PA Dutch treat of Apple Dumplings

 The apple tree casts its shadow so still,
Where the lilies abound by God’s Holy will.
-Chronicon Ephratense, 1789

This passage is found in the Chronicon Ephratense, the history of the community published in 1789. Perhaps the author considered the apple tree a symbol of the tree of life while referring to members of Ephrata Cloister as the lilies.  Certainly apple trees were found throughout the community providing food for the residents.  Several visitors to 18th century Ephrata mention an orchard located in the center of the “town”—remember in colonial days the “Cloister,” with about 40 buildings, was the town. 
A woodcut basket of apples from the book called Golden Apples in Silver Bowls
One of the first issues of the Brother’s printing press was a book called Golden Apples in Silver Bowls.  The book, printed in 1745 for the Mennonite community, included a woodcut of a basket of apples.  The Brother’s used the same image on other printed items, including a memorial hymn written for Conrad Beissel in 1768.
We don’t know the varieties of apples grown here historically.  Today, the orchard planted in the mid-20th century behind the Visitor Center contains old varieties like as Johnathan and Smoke House.
Householder Michael Miller sold fresh apples, cider, and dried apples to his neighbors.  The dried apple schnitz were like candy to children in colonial days, and I can imagine mother’s carrying a few to settle the children during a long worship service.  Who doesn’t love a slice of bread with apple butter and  schmierkaes, a kind of cottage cheese?  In all these ways, apples were probably on local tables for most of the year.
Today, our apple dumplings that provide another harvest for Historic Ephrata Cloister.  Thirty-four years ago members of the Ephrata Cloister Associates, inspired by the apple trees on the site, began selling dumplings to raise money for the Back to the Cloister Fund.  This dedicated pool of money has permitted the return of numerous original artifacts to their place of origin. 
Somehow, I’m not sure the apple dumplings of today are made just like those that Swedish visitor Peter Kalm tasted in Pennsylvania during the 18th century.  He wrote:
One apple dish which the English prepare is as follows:  take an apple and pare it, make a dough of water, flour, and butter.  Roll this thin and enclose apple in it.  This is then bound in a clean linen cloth put in a pot, and boiled.  When done, it is taken out, placed on the battle, and served.  While it is war, the crust is cut on one side.  Thereupon they mix butter and sugar which is added to the apples; then the dish is ready”
Boiled apple dumplings?  Where’s the cinnamon? 
An old legend says that the three circles or balls on William Penn’s coat of arms represent apple dumplings!  While I doubt the truth to this claim, I’m sure he would have enjoyed apple dumplings.    Who can’t make a meal of these tasty treats—especially with ice cream!

-Michael Showalter, Museum Educator
The views contained within do not necessarily reflect those of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC), Historic Ephrata Cloister or Ephrata Cloister Associates, as a whole, nor the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

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