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The United Society of Believers in Christs Second Appearance: Unraveling the Shaker Myth

Other Important Shaker Beliefs

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While the Three C's are at the forefront of Shakerism, that is not to say that the other three beliefs and practices are any less important. Rather, it is more that they are important themes that run through the practice of Shakerism.

Simplicity:

Of all the themes which run in the radical beliefs and practices of the Shakers, simplicity is perhaps the most acknowledge yet also the most misunderstood. For the Shakers, simplicity is part of their religion and is evident in every aspect of their life from worship to work. This is particularly evident in their architecture and design styles which they have become so well known for. What many people examining the Shakers often forget is that their simplicity extends beyond this surface level; it goes deeper into their daily lives as they seek to incorporate their religion fully into their lives. Shaker cookery is a prime example of this; Sister Frances put this concept best when she said, “Shaker cookery, like everything Shaker-designed or Shaker-created is traditionally simple and functional,” this allows, “the Shakers to eat to live;” but “not live to eat” (Carr 16).[i] The simplicity in their cooking allows the Shakers to expand beyond simply eating for the sake of eating. Eating is solely a means of maintaining the body which their spirit presently resides.

 

Dual Godheads:

In much the same way that pacifism is intergraded into the way and life of the Shakers, the idea of a Dual Godhead extends into their everyday lives. To the Shakers, God is a spirit that has no body; therefore, God does not have a sex or gender in the sense that humans on earth have. Going along with this train of thought, the Shakers view God as having both male and female attributes. The reach this concept of a Dual Godhead has within their society can be seen in both their architecture and their system of leadership. All building where males and females were likely to be residing in at the same time are designed to minimize possible contact between the two sexes. For example, the Meeting House and Dwelling House are both built in a completely symmetrical manor. This allows the sexes to remain separated but completely equal at the same time. Women enter on the north side of the building, while men enter on the south side. If either building was split in two, the result would be two separate buildings that were the identical mirror image of each other. The dual nature of Shakerism is also seen in their system of leadership. For every leadership position held within the village, there is a male and female who each hold the same position with equal power. An example of this would be the position of Elder and Eldress within each Shaker community.

 

Pacifism:

The Shakers practice pacifism in two ways. The first is more visible to the outside world than the second way. From early on, Believers and the Shaker community as a whole have resisted the call to arms by the American military. This made them some of the very first conscientious objectors in America. Prior to the Civil War, objectors had dealt with the government on a fairly individual basis. However, during the fall of 1862, two Shaker brothers, Benjamin Gates and Frederick W. Evans, traveled to Washington, D.C. to meet with Abraham Lincoln and other members of the government. There they successfully made their case and secured the status of conscientious objectors for all Shakers. Their beliefs in pacifism spread far beyond this role as conscientious objectors, as it extends into their every day life. The Shakers aim to put their beliefs into practical terms. To the Shakers, this means that they are required to ‘never feel bitterness, never to feel any desire for revenge, but always to seek only the highest good of every person no matter what they may do”.[ii]



[i] Sister Frances Carr, Shaker Your Plate: Of Shakers Cooks and Cooking (Sabbathday

Lake, Maine, 1985), 16.

 

[ii] The United Society of Shakers, “About the Community,” http://www.shaker.lib.me.us/about.html

(accessed December 5, 2008).