“Liberated of Her Ministry”

So, I’m reading Cox’s Body and Soul which is supposed to be some kind of sympathetic history of Spiritualism and, if it is, I don’t quite see it yet. It’s more a perusal around the foundations of what would become Spiritualism and I am just in the part where I have learned about Rachel Baker a girl from New York state who…

wait for it…

Preached in her sleep. To large audiences. She’d go to bed. Sleep. Have a mighty, violent, and toll-taking convulsion and then begin to preach. When she was done, she’d have another violent convulsion and go back to bed. When asleep she was all “Fuck you, Paul, women can preach if we want!” (note: that’s my translation of 19th century sleeping preacher language) while by day she was all “No, women can’t preach, but I’m not just a woman, I’m kind of an idiot, so clearly I’m not preaching, but just reading God’s notes. Totally okay.”

Anyway, she started coughing up blood during one of her convulsions and the doctors were like “Okay, we have to put a stop to it,” while her congregation was like “But who are we to mess with God’s will?”

So, the doctors cured her through drugs and splashing water on her. Yes, the famous opium and water-splash cure. All the sleep-preaching gals use it.

Ha ha ha.

Anyway, towards the end of the chapter, after she has been double-dosed with opium and had water thrown at her, Cox uses that delightful phrase, “liberated of her ministry.”

It’s a nice touch.

And I can see how this is indeed a foundational movement that will lead to Spiritualism. It’s a short walk from “God talks to me” to “spirits talk to me.” But what’s interesting in Baker’s case is that there’s also a discussion of whether she’s mad and whether it matters if what she’s doing is useful to others.

Don’t think that little sliding of concern away from Baker didn’t catch my attention.

2 thoughts on ““Liberated of Her Ministry”

  1. I am so enjoying you learning how delightfully weird the Early Republic was. It’s exactly what drew me to the period.

    I don’t know if you’ve read it yet, but you’d probably also enjoy The Kingdom of Matthias by Wilentz and Johnson.

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