MU History Department Lecture Series- The Society of the Woman in the Wilderness

Miskatonic University Department of History Lecture Series:  The Society of the Woman in the Wilderness Presented by: Dr. Charles Gerard Of all the colonies in the New World, William Penn’s Colony had one of the most open policies for religious freedom and tolerance. Because of that, it was a magnet for groups with unusual beliefs. One of those groups was founded by German mathematician John Jacob Zimmerman. Zimmerman’s teachings were taken from a secret mystical brotherhood known as the Rosicrucians, and included alchemy, geomancy, astronomy and astrology. Zimmerman developed a following in Hamburg, where he predicted the world would end in 1694, based on strange formulas and an obscure quote from the Book of Revelations. “And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she hath a place prepared of God, that they should feed her there a thousand two hundred and threescore days.” So, he founded the Society of the Woman in the Wilderness to ring in the new world, and determined that 40 of his followers, all men, should set up camp at the edge of known Western civilization at the time, in the frontier colony of Pennsylvania. He died just as his followers were preparing to sail to America, but a disciple, Transylvania-born Johannes Kelpius, took up the mission and led the group to the new city of Philadelphia. From there, the brotherhood of scholars moved to nearby Germantown and began building a log structure, with a chapel and sleeping cells for the followers, much like a monastery. On the top of the building was an observatory with a telescope. Each night, one of the followers was to watch the skies for celestial signs of the Rapture. After Zimmerman’s predicted date for Armageddon passed, the group reset their predictions for the end of the world to come in 1700. On Midsummer Night’s Eve that year, members of the brotherhood reported seeing a white figure descend as they were about to light a fire. They described it as a glorious angel, which quickly receded into the hemlock trees and faded into the forest. But after three sleepless days of prayer, the world still appeared to remain intact. Kelpius died in 1708, and the group dissolved soon after. One account claims he possessed the philosopher’s stone, and placed it in a nearby creek before he died. The cult’s influence helped give rise to a strange form of folk magic still practiced in southeastern Pennsylvania known as “Hexing” or “Pow-wowing.” The practice involves casting “Heaven’s Letter” spells for healing and divination, and a “Devil’s Letter” for curses. For more information about the Woman in the Wilderness, read Jonathan Scott’s excellent historical novel by the same name. This lecture was sponsored by the Miskatonic University Department of History.]]>

Scroll Up