As I enjoyed the celebrations of the holiday season, I remembered one aspect of Anne Evans’ personality, which I have not yet had an opportunity to “blog” about. This was her incredible zest for life. Spending any time as her guest was, by all accounts, a rare and enjoyable experience.
- After a few day’s stay at Anne Evans’ mountain home, one guest wrote on behalf of a small group, The hospitality of your friendly home quite overwhelmed us all…Dr. Steiner said ‘in some homes one sees only wealth and material plenty, but In Miss Evans’ home one sees love and a great spirit.‘ I(p. 345)
- In the research about her life, I found several accounts of her idea of hosting children as guests at her home on the Evans Ranch and quoted my favorite: A young niece and nephew, aged 11 and 13, were sent to spend a summer on the ranch with their Great Aunt. They were interviewed. Wide-eyed and apprehensive, they were told that one rule and one rule only must be obeyed. They trembled. “You must have a good time!“ (p. 346)
- Anne Evans enjoyed the creative effort of devising plays and pageantry, both as part of the elaborate summer life up on the Evans Ranch, and as a participant in social and artistic activities in Denver. One such occasion was vividly described by Miriam Washburn Adams, remembering the time she was an art student from Colorado Springs, taking classes in the Denver Atelier headed by architect Burnham Hoyt, a longtime friend of Anne Evans. (pp. 356-8)
Miss Anne told Burnie she had written a medieval play she wanted acted on the stairway in her Mt. Evans home. She wanted ten members of the Atelier to come up Friday and give the play Sunday evening. Burnie sent word to us to be at Willie Mead’s studio by 4:30 Friday afternoon. They had medieval costumes we could be squeezed into…I assure you as we drove through Denver, in the then popular open cars, we were gazed at–catcalls, boos, etc….Miss Anne all but expired when we tumbled into her house all dressed in these costumes! We looked wonderful that evening, in her out-of-this-world house with the enormous logs that made the inside as well as the outside…At breakfast, I will admit, we were a wild sight…
Burnie had us working all day Saturday…making all kinds of necessary crowns, horses, stars, out of cardboard; and believe you me, they had to be perfect–we were working for a perfectionist–but luckily one who could point the way to perfection. One development almost brought the project to a halt. After the most delicious lunch Saturday…it turned out a poisonous toadstool had been lurking in the lunch bowl. Sunday produced a sorry lot of actors. Burnie was the color of chalk. I was all right if I could sit down. By three in the afternoon most has recovered and they started rehearsing. At six, they gave the play.
Margaret Evans Davis (Anne Evans’ niece) read the words on the other side of the screen as she wove her tapestry. Most of us were holding positions and draped up the stairs–Burnie and another man having a big tilt or joust on wooden horses at the top of the stairs. It really must have been fantastically lovely.
The audience for this intense effort was small (seven in all including Anne Evans) as it was for many other efforts on the ranch over the years. The reward was apparently more in participating than in the applause.
This is the second of a three-part blog post concerning Anne Evans’ article about the Hopi Indians, their art and their Snake Dance, which was discovered after the publication of her biography.
To read the previous article, click here.
Anne Evans concluded her Fortnightly Club paper with a sensitive and well-informed description of the the Hopi Snake Dance. This was the subject of an earlier article, The Hopi Snake Dance, a Religious Ceremonial, the third of those that have surfaced since the biography’s publication. This article was published in the Theosophical Quarterly in April, 1912. In both articles, Evans gave a brief description of her own experience of watching parts of the Snake Dance, or, as she preferred to call it, “the dramaturgy of the Sun-serpent Myth.” It is not easy to find a satisfactory definition of dramaturgy that fits the sense in which she is using it. Perhaps the best one is “shaping a story into a form that may be acted.” She wrote both descriptive pieces in the present tense.
The Snake Dance, she says, “is an elaborate nine-day prayer for rain that the crops may ripen and our children have food–then, afterwards that we too may have to eat.” In the Hopi world, the snakes are wise Elder Brothers who, because they live underground, have “intimate relations with the spirits of springs and the germinating seeds.”
Only the dramatic events of the eighth and ninth days are performed publicly, but she observes that the entire ceremony had already, in 1912, been witnessed and written about by scientific observers, who had gained the trust of the Hopi and so were freely admitted to the kivas where much of the first parts of the ceremony take place. As a broad generalization, Evans says, the first seven days are devoted to preparation and consecration.
- Altars, symbolizing rainclouds and lightning and the serpents of the four world quarters, are painted with colored sands: always yellow for the North, green or blue for West, red for South and white for East.
- Pa-hos or prayer sticks, of which eagle feathers are an indispensable part, are prepared and consecrated, and deposited by bearers at surrounding shrines on the plains.
- The bearers, on four successive days, make a complete circuit around the base of the mesa. They visit the farthest shrines on the first day. The circuit is contracted on each succeeding day, in the hope that the gods may “likewise so approach, the dry river-beds be swollen with water and the farmers hear the pattering of rain.”
- Four days are also allocated to the capturing of the snakes. The hunt is ritually conducted, one day each to the North, East, South and West. “…afterward these formidable Elder Brothers must perforce undergo the priestly purification by water, smoke and breath before being duly laid upon the altar.”
This is the first in a series of three blog posts about Anne Evans’ article on the Hopi Snake Dance.
A recent controversy involving the Hopi Indians of Southwest Mexico reminded me that I had promised to write a blog post about the last of several articles, written by Anne Evans, that have come to light since the publication of her biography. The article, Hopi Snake Dance, was published in 1912.
Hopi and Eagles
The recent controversy was about whether the Hopi should be allowed to continue an age-old tradition. Each Hopi village raises a young eagle, feeding them with rabbits hunted by young boys, until the time of the Home Dance “when the Katsina spirits perform and the eagle absorbs their song-prayers.” When the ceremony is over, the eagles are taken to a quiet place and quickly suffocated. “Their spirits are sent home with the Katsinas until the following year, when both are petitioned to return with their blessing power. Their bodies are taken to the kivas, where feathers are carefully plucked and arranged by religious purpose.” The bodies are then buried with great reverence in a special cemetery, treating them exactly the same as human beings.
The Denver Post of May 26, 2013 carried a “pro and con” discussion of the issue. I believe Anne Evans would have deeply appreciated the viewpoint of David Whiteley, Curator of North American Ethnology at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, and a long-time student of Hopi culture and history, who wrote the “pro” side of the debate, (from which the quotes above are taken) supporting the Hopi right to carry on their ancestral tradition.
Whiteley notes that the Hopi have lived on the Colorado Plateau for at least a thousand years and that their whole culture, and interaction with their “landscape of little water,” is essentially conservationist “The strongest surviving indigenous tradition in North America, Hopi religion focuses on seasonal and daily attention to preserving the world in balance.” The real threat to the survival of raptors, he writes, lies in residential and municipal development in the region, and in industrial development throughout the West “Self-righteous blame of Hopi eagle-gathering is myopic scapegoating, and neglects true threats to those species and possible means to avert them.”
Anne Evans and the Hopi
Anne Evans wrote two articles about what she learned from her many visits to what she called “Hopi Land.” She made no secret of her sheer delight in this experience.
I understand that many good Americans when they die, are going to Paris. I’m secretly hoping that when one American dies, she may alternate Paris with Hopi land – about half and half, with a slight preponderance in favor of the latter.
I wrote about one of these articles in my biography of Anne Evans (pages 305-311)1. It was prepared for a 1920 presentation to the Denver Fortnightly Club. Her subject was The Art Impulse of the Hopi Indians2. In it she said that her intention was not to deal with the artifacts of Hopi culture, but to try to understand the “art impulse and the conditions which produce it.” After reviewing the life and accomplishments of the Hopi potter Nampayo – interwoven with the experience of choosing one of her pots to purchase, and have decorated by her husband – Anne Evans concluded that the mainsprings of the Hopi Art Impulse were “Contemplation, Concentration, and Vision.”
Perhaps, she says, these are universal wellsprings of art, but it is difficult in our complex “modern, everyday world” with its “mesh of native and foreign influences to be disentangled” to achieve what she saw in Hopi culture.
… their joy lies in their arts; in the patient production of pottery and textiles and baskets – in the songs which they sing at work and play and ceremonial – and in their dances and dramaturgies – all springing from a spontaneous desire of creation, so universal that no dividing line exists between audience and actor; between artist and creator.
1 Sternberg, Barbara E. with Jennifer Boone and Evelyn Waldron. Anne Evans – A Pioneer in Colorado’s Cultural History: THE THINGS THAT LAST WHEN GOLD IS GONE. Evergreen: Buffalo Park Press with Center for Colorado and the West Auraria Library. 2011.
2 Anne Evans, “The Art Impulse of the Hopi Indians,” Denver Public Library, Western History Department, Denver Fortnightly Society Collection. 1920. 7.
Anne Evans wrote her article about the life and contributions of George Fox just over a hundred years ago.* She described him as a man sufficiently like ourselves – “speaking our own tongue, to a people of like traditions, within our own historical consciousness” – that reading his journal enables us “to actually feel the solid reality of the man…It is as though a portrait had been painted for us by his great Dutch contemporary, so Rembrandt-like is its compelling domination of the varying background, so golden the light, so rich and sombre the shadow.”
The Essence of Fox’s Message
Fox left his home village as a young man and describes himself as “a man of sorrows…Traveling up and down as a stranger in the earth…” He had a powerful personal revelation which transformed his values and established his mission for the rest of his life. “…all things were new, and all creation gave unto me another smell than before…I saw all the world could do me no good; if I had a king’s diet, palace and attendance. all would have been as nothing, for nothing gave me comfort but the Lord by his power.”
His message to one and all was simple and profound, “There is that of God within you. Hark!” If he could only express this truth with sufficient power, his work would be finished. His audience would be able to “shift for themselves and he was free to pass on to the work of arousing other men.” Fox made no distinction between different social classes, “regarding each and all as equal in their high heritage.” He paid no attention to the normal niceties of social manners or conventions.
In fact, writes Evans, “the seemingly trivial eccentricities of his manner and speech were what first riveted attention and insured him a hearing.” He could have preached rationally about the equality of men, and met with little resistance. But because he refused to take off his hat, he “roused such a storm of rage and abuse among the smug class-worshippers, that all his powers of argument and eloquence were given full scope in lulling it.” Fox was frequently imprisoned for refusing to take the oath of allegiance, and this meant that magistrates were forced to listen his arguments for refusing.
Fighting for Justice
One aspect of pre-reformation England that most infuriated Fox was the “devious and procrastinating methods” of the courts of justice which made justice for ordinary people “almost non-existent.” The conditions in the prisons, in which Fox and thousands of his Quaker Friends found themselves so frequently, were absolutely deplorable. It is no wonder, writes Anne Evans, “that the Quakers have then and now felt prison reform as one of their sacred trusts.”
Evans marvels at Fox’s powers of endurance. He carries on with his mission, in all seasons, frequently without shelter or food. He is severely beaten, often bleeding, he endures violence “not merely with stoical calm, but with grim joy in his opportunities.” She attributes the poise and equilibrium which he maintained “without deviation” to “an entire freedom from ambition, a high resolve to make use of all spiritual gains for the common good…”
There were a few times when the constant persecution of himself and his followers became overwhelming. One such time was in the year 1670 when he suffered a “remarkable psychic crisis.” Seriously ill, he took refuge in the home of a faithful Friend. Few thought he would survive. Under successively more repressive laws, simply to be a Quaker was grounds for imprisonment. “It was a cruel, bloody time, yet in due course it pleased the Lord to allay the heat of this violent persecution….As persecutions ceased…I began to recover beyond all expectations.”
Fox lived for more than twenty years after this episode, spending most of his time in London. These years “were largely concerned with organization, certain disruptions during his long imprisonments proving that the Society was too loosely knit to insure future usefulness.” He was also constantly involved in the founding of schools, for he felt it important that the members of his Society be taught “whatever things were civil and useful in creation.”
Until his death in 1691, Fox oversaw phenomenal growth in the Society of Friends. In England alone there were fifty thousand followers, and flourishing branches in Holland and in America, where William Penn had succeeded in instituting his “holy commonwealth.”
George Fox’s Legacy
Anne Evans writes that Fox “undoubtedly believed that his Society…would become universal, each member a vital organic part, acting freely for the good of the whole…Why should it not embrace the world?” But she says that he greatly underestimated the power of his own personality. When de died without having arranged for effective successors, “he left his people without a leader who could march forward gathering recruits by the mere force of his presence. The remarkable growth inevitably slackened…”
Nevertheless, Fox left a challenging legacy. The religion of the Friends is both an inward religion and a call to action. Fox was against war, and refused to fight. He spoke out against slavery and for the admission of women to the ministry. He wanted both boys and girls to study “everything practical and useful under creation.” He believed that all human beings have “that of God within them,” a potentially powerful inner voice to guide them. Because of this conviction, Fox believed that all – whether they were king or beggar, friend or enemy, English or (American) Indian or African – deserved equal respect.
Anne Evans concludes that it was a hundred years before an advocate for spiritual awakening and social justice as powerful as George Fox was heard in Britain. The “new prophet” was John Wesley. Anne Evans’ account of Wesley’s life and contributions was the subject of previous blogs.
* George Fox by Anne Evans. Article in Theosophical Quarterly Vol. 8, No. 3, pages 203-209, January, 2011.
Church Fire Spares Ronnebeck Sculpture
At 3:02 a.m. on the morning of Monday, May 13, 2013, the Denver Fire Department was called to a fire at the Episcopalian Church of the Ascension at 6th and Gilpin. The fire, which had started among some bushes outside the church, had spread to the inside.
According to the Denver Post, the building sustained heavy smoke damage and one of the stained glass windows was shattered. But the “massive wood carving over the altar was untouched. Beloved by church members, it was created by Arnold Ronnebeck, a German-American artist…”
About Arnold Ronnebeck
Arnold Ronnebeck was born in Prussia in 1885 to a well-educated family. He studied art in Berlin and Munich and then moved to Paris, deciding to focus on sculpture. He studied with Maillot and Bourdelle and attended Gertrude Stein’s salons where he met Mabel Dodge, Pablo Picasso and American painters Charles DeMuth and Marsden Hartley. After serving in the German army in World War 1, he came to New York in 1922 where he was welcomed into Albert Stieglitz’s circle of avant garde American artists. Ronnebeck was a skilled lithographer and prolific writer about artistic subjects, as well as a fine sculptor.
In 1925, Ronnebeck made a visit to Mabel Dodge Luhan in Taos, New Mexico, at her home, an artists’ gathering place. There he met Philadelphia painter, Louise Emerson, whom he married the following year in New York. The couple were making a trip west on their honeymoon, and stopped in Denver.
Anne Evans and Arnold Ronnebeck
By 1926 what had started out in 1893 as the Denver Artists’ Association had matured into the Denver Art Museum. Some of Ronnebeck’s sculpture had been exhibited in its galleries and he was invited to give a pubic lecture on his own sculpture, and on modern sculpture in general. The lecture was well-received and Ronnebeck was invited by the Museum’s Director to serve as its Art Advisor. The Ronnebecks moved to Denver, and remained here for the rest of their lives. Since Anne Evans had been on the Board of Trustees of the art group continuously since 1896, and was deeply involved in all its activities, it is certain that she was involved in Ronnebeck’s appointment, and welcomed the new additions to the artistic life of Denver. Of her many interactions with the multi- talented Arnold Ronnebeck, I shall here highlight three:
- Not long after Ronnebeck was named Art advisor to the Art Museum, the Director, George William Eggers, resigned. With no change in his title, Ronnebeck was placed in charge of the Museum. He brought a prestigious show by his French mentor, Aristide Maillol, to Denver and persuaded the Trustees to purchase a cast of a life-size Maillol bronze nude. In 1929, the Board appointed Samuel Heavenrich, former curator of Harvard’s Fogg Museum, as executive secretary to take over museum operations. Unfortunately, the two men were soon at loggerheads over what were the functions of an art museum and what kind of art the Denver Art Museum should be collecting. When their disagreements spilled out into the press, their services were terminated. The Board turned to long-serving trustee Anne Evans to take over as Interim Director until a qualified successor was found.
- This episode could have resulted in a cooling of relations between Ronnebeck and Evans, but obviously it did not. Ronnebeck was soon deeply involved in Anne Evans’ Central City project. The renovation of the old Opera House and initiation of the summer festival there was the project in which she, and her equally capable friend Ida Kruse MacFarlane, invested the last years of their lives. Ronnebeck was a talented actor and played a substantial role in the 1932 Festival debut play, Camille. Ronnebeck was also the sculptor of a fine bronze bust of Anne Evans, which was presented by friends to the Denver Art Museum in 1933 in recognition of her dedication to the advancement of art in Denver.
- But then came the event that did deeply divide Arnold Ronnebeck and Anne Evans. This was over the design of a memorial to Mayor Robert Speer to be placed on the Civic Center. It was 1933. Vaso Chucovich, a Denver business man and friend of Mayor Speer, left $100,000 in his will to pay for the memorial. The design had to be approved by the Denver Art Commission, of which Anne Evans was a long-time member. I will not here recount the many unsuccessful attempts made to select a sculptor, but in the end the Trustees of the Chucovich Estate selected a design by Arnold Ronnebeck. Anne Evans declared it a sculptured atrocity and said, in so many words, that over her dead body would it be placed on the Civic Center. You will see no Speer memorial sculpture on the Civic Center. In the end, Mayor Stapleton persuaded the Trustees that it would be more appropriate to spend the money on a greatly needed Children’s Wing at Denver General Hospital.
This is the last in a blog post series about Anne Evans’ article, “John Wesley and the Methodists”, written in 1909 for the Theosophical Quarterly. The article, which surfaced after the publication of my biography of Anne Evans, was about the life and teachings of the founder of Methodism, that religious denomination so fervently embraced by her parents, Governor John Evans and his wife, Margaret.
Wesley and the Moravians
In her article about John Wesley and the Methodists, Anne Evans noted how impressed John Wesley was by the behavior of a small group of Moravian Church members during the voyage to America. He kept in touch with them after landing. Attending the consecration of their bishop, he found it so simple, “so lacking in all usual pomp that he forgot the seventeen centuries intervening and imagined a time when pomp and state were not – when Paul the tent-maker or Peter the fisherman presided, yet with the demonstration of the Spirit of Power.”
When he returned from America, fully conscious of his miserable performance as a missionary, John Wesley became the disciple of a young Moravian pastor. “The teaching seems to have been simple enough; merely the primal fact which, differently described, has inspired the teachers of the world – that God speaks directly to the heart of man.” Anne Evans noted that Wesley described this, in Methodist terms, as “Justification by Faith.” In broader, theosophical, terms, she translated this into “The Voice of the Silence.”
Intellectual conviction was not enough: “he still had to undergo a season of humble seeking…a gradual widening of his sympathies and of his nature is apparent until…he tells of his moment of the great silence.” Anne Evans then quoted directly from Wesley’s writings, “My heart was strangely warmed; assurance was given me that my sins were taken away, even mine, and that I was saved from the law of sin and death.”
Anne Evans described how Wesley “drew a gracious margin of peace…around this pivotal centre of his life by a grateful pilgrimage to the Moravian colonies at Marienbad and Herrhut.” After spending a month in their community guest-houses, attending religious services and talking with bishops and laymen, he came away with a deeper insight into spiritual life – but also questioning whether the Moravians were not too insistent on the glorification of their own church, too spiritually exclusive? These questions were soon to prove “the rock that turned aside the little rill of Methodism from the Moravian stream, to run its own independent course…”
No Welcome Home from the Church of England
Although Wesley returned to London eager to engage in the work of teaching, organizing and preaching, he soon found that the pulpits of the church were promptly and universally closed against him. This in spite of the fact that he “never considered himself as other than a devout churchman, or the Methodists as aught save a society for the purpose of spiritual culture and philanthropic work, strictly within the church’s fold.”
Trying to discover why Wesley’s efforts aroused so much antagonism from church leaders, Anne Evans concluded that it was because the moving spirit of the times, both in society and within the Church of England, “was a tepid rationalism; the mildest enthusiasm was enough to bring the word into disrepute…”
The “Wonder-Story” of Wesley, Preacher and Organizer
The closing of church pulpits forced Wesley to “turn commons and bowling greens into churches.” And so unfolded, in Anne Evans’ words, “The wonder-story of the next fifty years…Up and down the length and breadth of England, preaching, teaching, exhorting, never resting, rode the indomitable little man, blessing providence for the hatred against him which brought the lowest and most profligate within the circle of his listeners. Such preaching had not been heard in phlegmatic England for a hundred years and more...”
In addition to his unparalleled gifts as a preacher (“The rabble and mobs who came full of hatred to scoff and jeer and do him bodily harm were held, subdued, and won, departing with a new light by which to live“) Wesley’s concern for the well-being of those who came to hear him preach, developed him into a brilliant organizer. Whenever he preached, he organized a Methodist group, “and as soon as he organized a group he studied the cause of their misery and spared no effort to remove it.”
He organized charity after charity; “hospitals, schools, orphanages, free medical dispensaries, provident loan associations, each to meet some crying want of his people.” Similarly, as the movement spread throughout Great Britain and Ireland, “he worked out bit by bit the organization of his society, still one of the most highly centralized, most flexible bodies in existence.”
Principles of John Wesley’s Methodism
According to Anne Evans, the conditions on which individuals could be admitted to membership in the Methodist society were testaments to “the liberality, the toleration, the open-mindedness of the great founder.” There was no limitation of opinions imposed on would-be members, according to Wesley’s own writings. “Let them be Churchmen or Dissenters, Presbyterians or Independants, it is no obstacle. The Quaker may be a Quaker still and none will contend with him about it…Is there any other society in the habitable world so free from bigotry?”
The major Wesleyan principles that Anne Evans describes in her essay are:
- The only test of fitness to join the Methodist enterprise was “Dost thou love and serve God? It is enough; I give thee the right hand of fellowship.”
- Wesley “always affirmed that he would abandon any teaching that could not safely make appeal to his reason, but he did not limit his reason to the narrow realm of past-proven facts and skeptical logic. An eager explorer, he haunted the borderland of science…“
- When he was a student at Oxford, John Wesley found that he could live on less than his yearly allowance of thirty-five pounds, and so have seven pounds left for charily. As his earnings grew with his fame, his expenses for living remained the same. “In a world of want, he could not permit himself wealth.”
One historian, according to Anne Evans, believed that the most notable accomplishment of the Wesleyan movement was its continuing effort “to remedy the guilt, the ignorance, the social degradation of the profligate and the poor.” Another historian designated Wesley as “the power which prevented the French Revolution from spreading through England.” But Anne Evans believed that it was important to remember that the great size, power, and volume of good works of the Methodist Church of her day “were but …the practical fruits of a life of applied devotion. Its great strength, its inherent growing power, came from the fact that it was from first to last primarily a religious revival – a revival of the practice of the presence of God.”
Source of almost all quotes:
Evans, Anne. “John Wesley and the Methodists.” Theosophical Quarterly Magazine 7.1 (1909): 50-58.
Anne Evans does not give an exact source for her direct quotes from John Wesley’s writings.
This is the second in a three-part blog post series about John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist Church. The quotes are from Anne Evans’ article titled John Wesley and the Methodists. Click here to read the first blog post.
Charterhouse and Christ Church College, Oxford
“Neither the Charterhouse School nor Christ Church College…seem to have found him (John Wesley) an especially noteworthy denizen, though a good and tractable pupil.” So wrote Anne Evans in her 1909 article about Wesley. However, she noted that Wesley later credited “much of his physical endurance to the fact that for years of his early life he scarcely tasted animal food, his portion of meat being invariably stolen and devoured by the school bullies.”
“A Systematic Life of Ceaseless Toil”
After graduation from Christ Church, Wesley was ordained a minister of the Anglican Church and was admitted as a fellow of Lincoln College, where he prophetically wrote that “Leisure and I have parted company forever.” The (not particularly complimentary) nickname of “Methodist” was given to Wesley by more happy-go-lucky Oxonians, because of “his methodical planning and utilizing of each minute of each day, both for himself and for the group of like-minded youths who straightway gathered about him.”
The small group accepted the nickname with good humor, and soon reinforced its meaning by their strict observance of the rituals of the Anglican Church and “their strenuous philanthropy, both consciously calculated for a high return in personal spiritual gains.” Anne Evans comments that of course, the movement did not become popular, “for it was exclusive and self-seeking and righteous over much.”
So, in spite of the fact that John Wesley was personable, had good manners, a quick wit and a “keen logical faculty,” his years as an Anglican minister in Oxford were something of a failure. But not as much of a failure as his next religious venture.
Missionary to the American Colonies
John Wesley was dispatched to the Colonies in 1735 to take up duties as an Anglican minister in Savannah, Georgia. Anne Evans describes his two years there as “grotesque in their solemn futility.” He courted a woman who rejected his advances and married another man. His insistence on exact religious ceremonial form did not go down well with “frontiersmen, careless of proprieties, struggling with raw, half-savage conditions.” In fact, his congregation rebelled. He made no attempt to reach the Indians with his message because, he wrote, “there was not one to be found desirous of his teaching.” He had to return to England, dispirited and at a loss as to what to do next.
What happened to transform this good but despondent man into a firebrand, preaching “unflinchingly to a half-mad rabble, who howled their anger and derision and repeatedly threatened his very life,” but who, by Wesley’s preaching, “were held, subdued, and won, departing with a new light by which to live“?
The Humble Moravians
Wesley’s transformation began when he encountered, on the voyage to America, a small band of members of the Moravian Church. He was strongly attracted by their “simplicity, their cheerfulness, their willingness to serve in the humblest offices, unpaid and unthanked…” (These qualities undoubtedly appealed greatly to Anne Evans, for they were ones she strove to follow herself. She spent a good deal of time researching the history and tenets of the Moravian Church for an article she wrote on the subject, which I covered briefly in my biography of her.) Wesley discovered some extraordinary characteristics of these Moravian passengers: “No neglect could rouse them to protest, no insult to anger, no danger to terror.” He saw these characteristics in action on the voyage, when a huge wave washed over the ship, throwing “all the other passengers into a wild panic while the Moravians, undisturbed, continued the hymn they were singing at evening worship.” Wesley asked their bishop, “Do not even your women and children know fear?” The bishop replied confidently, “Not fear of death, certainly.”
The End of the Story of John Wesley and the Methodists – to be discussed in the next blog post.
Evans, Anne. “Foundations of the Moravian Church.” Theosophical Quarterly Magazine (1917-1918): 267-273.
Evans, Anne. “John Wesley and the Methodists.” Theosophical Quarterly Magazine 7.1 (1909): 50-58.
Sternberg, Barbara E., Jennifer Boone, and Evelyn Waldron. Anne Evans – A Pioneer in Colorado’s Cultural History: THE THINGS THAT LAST WHEN GOLD IS GONE. Denver: Buffalo Park Press and The Center for Colorado and the West, 2011. 284-85.
The Unity at the Heart of All Religions
Another of the articles written by Anne Evans for the Theosophical Quarterly, which surfaced after the publication of my biography, was about the life and teachings of the founder of Methodism, that religious denomination so fervently embraced by her parents, Governor John and Evans and his wife, Margaret.
In this article, as in several covered in my book (On Norse Mythology, The Eastern Church, The Foundation of the Moravian Church and The Bhagavad-Gita) and others discovered after the book’s publication (George Fox, Quaker, and The Snake Dance, A Religious Ceremonial) Anne Evans was developing the theosophical theme of the essential unity at the heart of all religions.
Her article, John Wesley and the Methodists, was published in July of 1909. Although Anne Evans knew that many books had already been written about “John Wesley and the great Methodist movement” her intention was to “draw special attention…to the tenets of Methodism which were most markedly theosophic.”
One of the Rare Women of All Time
John Wesley was born in England in 1703 and died in 1791. Anne Evans declared that he “was mainly the child of his mother, Susannah Wesley, one of the rare women of all time, in whom a tendency to ponder deeply on spiritual matters, to judge independently and then stand steadfast, was a characteristic both inherited and early developed.” Her father, a prominent clergyman, had been “severely persecuted for his refusal to conform to the established (Anglican) church.”
Susannah established the routines of family life for the eight Wesley children, starting with one hour of meditation daily, solitary except for the very youngest. This practice, according to Anne Evans, “developed a beautiful power of concentration” in all the children, so that Mrs. Wesley was able to teach each one to read in a few days. “She began always, on the morning of the fifth birthday, which was solemnly set aside and guarded from interruption, that the alphabet might be mastered before evening, once and forever!”
Strange Happenings at the Wesley House
Two happenings during John’s childhood influenced the man he grew up to be. The first was “an almost miraculous escape from the burning rectory.” This “gave him a singular sense of divine immanence and protection, which perhaps fathered the vein of credulity, the faith in powers unseen, always a striking factor in the man’s temperament.” This characteristic was accentuated by a series of curious phenomena, which came to be known as “the Wesley noises,” and which occurred in the Wesley family home while John was still a boy. These happenings were described in letters from various members of the family, from neighbors and from servants.
“The noises continued for a period of two months, were usually heard in the late afternoon or evening, and began with a sound of whistling wind about the house, with a clattering of the windows and a ringing of all the brass and iron in the room. There were rappings which grew louder and more insistent when any effort was made to drown them by a counter-irritant of noise…doors were clapped or thrown open; the mastiff barked loudly at it the first day, but ever afterward ran trembling and whining for human protection … They dubbed it “old Jeffrey” and treated it with a bored toleration, even when it declared Jacobite propensities by never allowing the King to be prayed for, or when it upheaved the bed on which two of the daughters were card-playing … The phenomena were all trivial enough, seemingly with small purpose or result yet as they undoubtedly established faith in themselves as marvels of the supernatural world, they may be accredited with serving the same purpose as the phenomena of the early theosophist, or as other miraculous signs vouchsafed to prophets and leaders. They helped break down the tendency to incredulity and skepticism which John Wesley shared as a child of his age, and opened a channel through which much other worldly wisdom might freely enter.” (emphasis mine.)
In the next blog, we’ll follow John Wesley’s education at a prestigious boarding school and Oxford University, and his ill-fated years in the American colonies.
(All quotes are from Anne Evans’ article John Wesley and the Methodists, in the Theosophical Quarterly of July, 1909 Vol.7, No.1, P. 50-58)
This is the last in a series of four blog posts about Anne Evans’ journey with theosophy. All quotes are from an article written by Anne Evans in 1909*, which came to light after the publication of my book on Anne Evans.
Learning more about Theosophy
In following Anne Evans’ long journey to becoming a member of the Theosophical Society in America, I ended the last blog with her decision to become better informed about this organization she found herself defending against numerous critics. She started by borrowing issues of the Theosophical Quarterly and discussing the contents with her growing circle of theosophical friends. Here she “had an amusingly lively time” for she seized on the strong points to present to critics and the weak ones “to discomfit my friends.” On a serious level, she was weighing all she was reading in forming her own independent judgment.
At Theosophical meetings “the grace to keep quiet.”
“I also frequented the theosophical meetings, where I had the grace to keep quiet.” She was obviously deeply moved by the experience. “The membership was small, but the evenings were very beautiful, very simple, marked by a spirit of restraint and tolerance; the devotional atmosphere distinctly to be felt.” Only once before had she experienced this same atmosphere and it couldn’t have been in a more different setting, “one that had every outer aid to heighten and abet it; a great cathedral, a concourse of devout peasant worshippers and the wonderful voices of the Greek Catholic priests.”
Plunging into Waters Too Deep for Me
In the actual subject matter of Theosophical beliefs, Anne Evans found much that she found familiar and acceptable, but “also many things absolutely baffling in their newness and incomprehensibility.” These were expressions and similes and symbols which she would have said were nonsense – except for her respect for those to whom they were so meaningful. The other alternative was to try to understand, to confess “that I had met something beyond my mental depth, something my mental smattering did not permit me to grasp…It was alluring and I splashed and plunged in waters too deep for me, occasionally bringing up a pebble or a pearl, but chiefly discovering new depths, new mysteries.”
Exactly What do Theosophists Believe?
She arrived at a point where she was “practically a convert” to the overall philosophy of the organization. and anxious to learn more about what exactly Theosophists believed. Of course their tenets included the universal brotherhood of man, but so, she wrote, did socialism, communism, most churches, the constitution of the United States and the French Revolution. So that was not grounds enough for embracing Theosophy. Tolerance for all religions, and an emphasis on constant widening of one’s knowledge, were worthy principles but weren’t “All scholarly, cultured and social people more or less enlisted under such a banner?”
Because of the intricate and sometimes dogmatic language in which theosophical tenets were worded by its founder, Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, it was another long interval before Anne Evans came to the full understanding that “theosophical doctrines were held tentatively, subject always to proof or to refutation, subject to immediate revision should anything present itself more unifying, more perfectly explanatory of life.”
Something of Value in Spiritualism? Really?
All that remained now of all of Anne Evans’ difficulties with Theosophy was Madame Blavatsky’s conviction that, in spite of many examples of deceit and chicanery, something genuinely valuable and unique about the human psyche was revealed in the practices of spiritualism. So Anne, in spite of her long-standing prejudices, began to investigate biographies of saints and mystics, and found herself especially moved by the lives of Joan of Arc and St. Francis of Assisi. “Paracelsus, Swedenborg and William Blake helped build an evidential mass of some bulk, to which the bits of other-worldliness which I was learning to trace in poets, painters and musicians, added weight.” To this body of personal research, she added the contemporary “logical and painstaking investigations” of psychologist William James, Sir Oliver Lodge and Myers. “When at length I turned back to those once mistrusted theosophical records, their facts were too easily grouped and classified to provoke challenge.”
Why, in the End, Did I Join?
While all of this long journey of discussion, research and reflection had brought Anne Evans to “the full acceptance of a great philosophy, a profound religious concept,” it was the publication of a book attacking Theosophy in a way she felt was “so manifestly unfair, so unscrupulous in its use of flippant humor” that finally caused her to join the “maligned body.” For, she decided, “if one believed in a cause open to such attacks, one should be in a position to defend the faith from within the ranks.”
More information about the Theosophical movement in America is contained in Chapter 17 (Anne Evans and the Theosophical Movement) of my biography of Anne Evans.
Three other articles written by Anne Evans surfaced at the same time as the one about why she joined the Theosophical Society. The subjects are: John Wesley and the Methodists (the faith that was so vital to Anne’s parents), George Fox, and The Snake Dance (Hopi). Unless some topic more immediate comes up, the next three blogs will deal with these lively articles.
*The article referred to is Why I Joined the Theosophical Society, in the Theosophical Quarterly, January 1909, Vol. 6, No. 3, pp. 220-224.
This is the third in a series of four blog posts about Anne Evans’ journey with theosophy. All quotes are from an article written by Anne Evans in 1909 that I discovered after the publication of my biography of Anne Evans.
Anne Evans’ change of opinion about theosophy was a slow process. She wrote that it began when, “I actually, in person, made the acquaintance of a woman whom I discovered was a Theosophist. I found her a very real person, intensely alive to the finer aspects of life, an awakening and stimulating friend.” At first, she did not discuss religion with her new friend, but realized that, because of respect “for her belief and her attitude of aspiration…Theosophy had become something believable by high-minded and intelligent people.”
Next, her new friend presented her with a copy of the Bhagavad Gita. Anne was honestly able to say how much she liked the work, and how beautiful she found it. (Years later, Anne Evans wrote a paper on the Bhagavad Gita which she read to the Denver Fortnightly Club, and which was subsequently published in the Theosophical Quarterly.) The next gift book presented more difficulty. The Voice of the Silence was written by the founder of Theosophy, Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, and consisted of translations of ancient mystical pre-Buddhist and Buddhist precepts. Over this work, Anne wrote, “I could only shake a puzzled head.” However, the next Christmas, she was happy to “recognize some quotations in a calendar as coming from this source, and to find them full of meat when read slowly and separately.”
There followed a very long stage of “delaying.” What moved her along in her identification with Theosophy was the volume of attacks on it, in the press and elsewhere, which she felt to be unfair and based on misunderstanding. She found herself defending it, with statements such as, “But I really don’t believe that is their stand-point,” giving such reasons as I could, though always adding, “Of course, I’m not speaking from the inside.” Although she was beginning to feel “some real and central beauty dawning upon me … it seemed almost obscured by a murky cloud, which I thought of as occultism and mysticism.”
Anne wrote that, at this point she had no “foreshadowing that I should desert the agnostic party. I was not in search of a faith.” But, since she seemed to be destined “for a semi-defense of something I neither understood nor fully believed, I chose to be better informed, to get more refuting facts at my disposal.”
In the last blog on this topic, I will cover Anne Evans’ long and far from simple process of learning about all the dimensions of Theosophy, and finally deciding to join it, and so being able to speak about it “from the inside.”
The article referred to is Why I joined the Theosophical Society, in the Theosophical Quarterly, January 1909, Vol. 6, No. 3, pp. 220-224.