Saturday, April 12, 2008

Strange Prophets -- Joanna Southcott

On April 12th, 1750, Joanna Southcott was born at Tally Farm, in the parish of St. Mary DeVille, in the County of Devon in Western England. The people of Devon in those days had a well-earned reputation for violent, self-centered independence bordering on what now would be considered mass narcissistic rage. Tax collection was nearly impossible in the county with the locals battering down any king’s men half-wit enough to take the job. Weddings were disfavored as contracts for mutual slavery and most lived in a state of free-love, where bed partners were rotated like staple crops. While considered hard workers, Devon laborers did not take to supervision and considered anything other than friendly advice from higher ups as an insult to their dignity. Known as loyal patriots to king and country, they did not take to open displays of either loyalty or patriotism. Instead, they considered it loyal and patriotic enough to decline from tossing rotted fruit at progressing royalty, and keeping to a minium the bleating of tongues through two-fingered salutes.

Back in the early 1700's. most of England knew the phrase " Can any good thing come out of Devon? " It was a jest of Devon’s fellow countrymen over the fact that Devon was the sole county without distinction in personages. Not a single author, painter, composer, or philosopher of note was born or raised there. There is even a question whether any had even crossed its boundaries on a dare to temporarily grace a foot on its unpleasant pastures. As for political leaders, Devon had supplied none except for Lord Hammersham, a secondary official in the Treasury Department . After mere five weeks of service, he had embezzled the queen mother’s pin money (a sum now equal to over 20 million euros) and thereafter fled to Paris. Within three months he surfaced under heavy lipstick, perfume, powder and lace, now known as Lady Hammersham.. Ultimately he opened a salon which was the talk of Paris until he himself was embezzled back into poverty by Lady Levic. She fled with the money to London, and thereafter surfaced under heavy lipstick, cologne, powder and lace as Lord Levic. The play out of this scandal lasted several years and caused Devon much grief in the jibes it allowed competiting counties. It was said that during these years no one in Devon left the county undisguised in dialect and local dress in fear of ridicule.

It was under such circumstances that Joanna grew up on a small apple tree farm. She had neither brother nor sister. As a rare only child she was greatly adored by her mother, father and their steady rotation of lovers. However, Joanna spent most of her youth alone, being typically sent outside by her amorous parents in all kinds of weather and in all seasons to amuse herself. Her favorite past time became to sit under an apple tree, and read books of religious insight, such as Jeremy Taylor’s, "On God and Man, and Sometimes Woman Also," and Frederick Birchwood’s "On the Certain and Total Damnation of the Whole Human Race, Certain Select Christians Excluded " As a result, she became very devout at an early age. Indeed, her parents claimed that her first spoken word was "Jesus" and immediately followed by her second, "Christ". The occasion of the momentous utterings was when a heavy hymn book startled poor two year old Joanna by landing near her tiny bare feet.

Joanna’s parents were poor, and generally self-educated except for about a year and a half between them of what we now call kindergarten. They kept only one book at home, the Bible, but borrowed many others, all of religious thought. Un fortunately, Joanna’s parents did not think formal education a necessity. They believed a well-educated mind was an unnecessary luxury and likely an insurmountable hindrance to social acceptance in their proudly ignorant community. Hence Joanna grew up with little formal education. But this did not hinder nor trouble her, for she knew this has been the case with very many of the world's greatest personalities from Alaric the Goth to Genghis Ghan to Attila the Hun. Despite her lack of formal education she had what her followers called "the divinely inspired intelligence of a pure heart ". Samples of such intelligence are scattered throughout her numerous writings. Further, history is replete with evidence that her reasoning power had such irrefutable persuasiveness that her opponents could only roll their eyes in wonder, smirk in awe or scratch their heads in bewildered defeat.

Joanna’s followers claim that her early life spent under the apple trees was the fulfilment of the prophetic words, " I raised thee up under the apple-trees, thereby to be my warrior in faith " (Song of Solomon). Her mother, a deeply religious woman despite her sexual license, and insatiable amorous appetite, also had said: "God had made great promises to me before she was born that she should be both a no bars fighter and a I’s-a-told-you-so’er prevailer ." These prophecies were abundantly fulfilled if one thinks of Joanna’s intellectual strength, for Joanna was a relentless, Don’t-you-walk-away- I’m-not-finished-yet debater, and a tough thinker who was utterly fearless of facts or logic. However in her private dealings with others, she was kind and demure, and rarely if ever elbowed aside the poor, lame or infirm, and only pushed or shoved through crowds to make her way. Indeed, one biographer claimed that Joanna was so sensitive in nature that she could not even be troubled to wave away a fly. There is even a pretty story told on her regarding this. It involved her famous debate with Bishop Herford in an open field in Westchester Circle. According to this story, just as the debate had begun Joanna suffered an impertinent fly landing to perch on her nose. Despite Joanna’s gentle efforts throughout the debate to dislodge her winged guest by gentle nostril flaring and snorting, and even whole face twitching and flinching, the fly would not leave its advantageous seating. Not even a nearby field full of cow pies could tempt the insect away. In the end, however, Joanna was able to win the day with the bishop without needing to batter away the, black, buzzing winged dot of God’s creation. A fanciful addition to this story has it that at the debate’s conclusion, the winged creature finally flew off and, as if in sorry penitence for its imposition, the winged annoyance then buzzed the ears of the horse pulling the defeated bishop away in his gig. This story ends colorfully with the horse allegedly startled into rearing up and then running off amuck until it fell into a nearby ravine, killing itself, the bishop and his two young charges.

Before becoming a prophetess, at an early age, as typical of girls of her generation, Joanna was sent out in to the world to earn her living in unskilled labors. She was able to obtain advantageous positions for a number of different households by working as a demi-servant. Demi-servants were specialized personal servants assigned the sole task of assisting their masters in proper daily defecation through oil and water based enemas. Joanna’s work took her across England, including to such low fiber places as Honiton, Heavitree, Okehampton, and Exeter. Her employers testified later to her unfailing honesty, upright character, and honorable conduct in all her relations with them - a testimony of questionable value given their dealings were limited to the privity where they were at the mercy of her judgment and hose.

Joanna was eighteen when the " Spirit of Truth" first became her guide and guard. She had been walking a crowded city lane on an off day, looking for nothing but exercise since her sparse wages gave her little extra to spend on purchasable enjoyment. Suddenly, she felt drawn to a nearby alley, full of drunkards, imbeciles and booksellers. Called to prayer by a skeletal half-naked mystic among the human refuse, she took his grimy hand and knelt to her knees, stopping only to pull up her skirt from the muck and evidence of close but unordered human habitation. They prayed together and as they prayed she alone saw a light descending from heaven. The light sparkled once and transformed into a dove, one with a piece of papyrus in its beak. She reached up and plucked the parchment from the mouth of the divine bird. Evidently this imprudent action exceeded the pace and timing of her expected role in this divine ritual and the mystical feathered animal squawked in outraged surprise. Perhaps forgetting its divine agency, the beaked Lord’s messenger swopped down and tried pecking her bulbous eyes. She cried out, Lord, Lord, deliver they servant! Suddenly, the Lord intervened, the bird de-ruffled its feathers, and she was allowed the paper. The bird then disappeared with a contentious squawk , leaving the divine message in her hand along with a messy reminder of its presence on her head.

The words on the parchment have become so well know in history that only great patience bears their repeating. The words stated, "Thus out of many cometh the one upon my favor doth rest – the Lord":
From then on, Joanna was the Lord’s own.

Despite the message, from 1772 to 1792 Joanna continued working as a demi-servant while she waited for the particulars of her calling to manifest. Oftentimes she lost hope thinking her vision was mere madness, or but the delusion from the working of a stuck, fattened piece of lunch laboring to down itself through her gizzard. Sometimes she thought of her whole life was wrongly guided and she thought of becoming a godless philosopher or even a follower of Joshua McHalter, a Scottish mystic. This red faced, red-breaded prophet preached the end of the world was a-neigh and that only complete poverty could save one from the predicted fire and brimstone showers of final damnation. As the willing scrape goat for the blighted generation, McHalter took the risk of damnation off his followers by pocketing their unholy lucre and burdening himself with their sinful possessions, while they awaited for final judgment, huddled in expectant wonder unsheltered outside the walls of his mansion.

Finally, in 1792 the Lord visited her in great power, to "warn her of what was coming upon the whole earth." In this year she began writing under the power of the Spirit. All of her writings were considered to have the authority of divine scripture and were all were placed in a great box (The Great Box) which was kept in the custody of one of her friends, a Margot Churlish. Her inspired writings were done in a unique manner. She would sit at a writing table in a well-lit drawing room, but then be covered in a large white lace curtain washed and laundered only in holy water. Only the broad outlines of her features could be determined. There, in this semi-privacy, whilst her disciples watched in wordless and frozen mystic wonder and delight she would scribble scribble,scribble across rough second hand parchment using a sharp quilt pen and pure black India ink. Sometimes she would write only a few minutes; others times as long as an hour. Only once did she exceed an hour, when she was inspired by the Lord into a small treatise on the financial obligations of followers. Once her inspiration was burned off her, she would put down her pen on the table, lick the envelope where the inspired parchment would be sealed for the ritual seven days, and then enclosing and sealing that recorded vision, she would give a sharp whistle towards where her senior follower sat, indicating she was done.

According to her closest disciplines thoughts which formed in her mind dropped upon the page with the rapidity of a spring cloudburst dropping phalange sized raindrops. Her prophecies all bore the signatures of at least two or more witnesses, sometimes three, or even four if literacy in the room was particularly prevalent.

In 1797 Joanna, for the first time, visited Exeter, where she made the acquaintance of the Rev. Joseph Pomeroy of St. Peter's. He was a stout, balding, man of forty-five with a mutton chop beard and a strange mixture of both strong male and female mannerisms. He had a unique and irritating habit of incessantly snapping his fingers in people’s faces doing conversation to quicken the laggard pace of their thought or speech, He became Joanna’s chief disciple and her life-long advocate in face of fierce opposition from the established clergy and the scoffers in the pews. He started a small monthly publication, called End Times, in which he published Joanna’s prophecies, editorialized on her wisdom, and entice others to follow whom he called his divine mistress of mysticism. For the first six years of his acquaintance he upheld her cause, but owing to the ridicule of his brother clergyman, Robert "Bobby" Pomeroy of St. Paul’s, he gave it up for s short period. In anger, during this breach, Joanna wrote that Pomeroy was a type of the clergy, "who doth think they shall doth save their honor by being mockers and despoilers of the doth whole; not seeking to have the truth doth cleared up, doth tried and doth proved, as I have doth commanded it. Doth, doth, doth, doth!." (Book 34, p. 39). Thus, chastised, Pompory returned to the fold, a wiser man. He would remained a believer to the very end of his life, converting to Hinduism only upon his deathbed.

In 1801 Joanna published her greatest work The Strange Effects of Faith. This treatise on faith extended over three thick volumes published simultaneously. The volumes each contained six hundred sixty-six short chapters, some of which were comprised of only two to three words and in a single instance one word. The three volumes were named like children for Joanna always considered these her divine bestowed offspring. Volume I was called Daniel Thomas , Volume II Frederick William , and the last Volume III Geraldo Petticutt. To this day church scholars still use these terms exclusively when discussing these works. Due to the sales of these works, Joanna was able to live a comfortable life.

The most controversial aspect of her controversial life was at the near end of her life and involved the birth of the Messiah Shiloh. At the age of sixty-eight, she received a revelation that she was to be the mother of a new Messiah.. At the time she received this momentous message from her Creator, Joanna lived in complete virtue and chastity with five muscular, trim, young bachelors who but for her mercy and kindness would have been homeless. They all lived in a quaint, singe-bedroom cottage, high up on a slice of English green turf, set against the a rocky shore and three-quarters surrounded by an old-world garden full of God’s mixture in wonderful disorder but plenty. In that veritable miniature of paradise to come, Joanna was prepared for the momentous event of her life - the birth of the new Messiah, to be named Shiloh. Per the revelation the child was to be fathered by the " power of the Most High " and the child was to grow to be; " a man that was to rule the nations with a rod of iron." The language of the revelation naturally caused immediate excitement and even semi-hysteria among her women followers until a further revelation clarified the meaning of rod.

To her followers, that Joanna was to be the mother of the new Messiah undoubtedly seemed the crux of her mission, and to those enamored with her writings, its only logical termination. According to Joanna the role of the new Messiah would be to establish God’s kingdom on Earth for one thousand years. What would occur after a thousand years was left open. There is no clear indication in Joanna’s writings whether Shiloh was merely Christ returned under a new name or incarnation or whether this Messiah was something else altogether. When Joanna was pressed to clarify the issue via revelation, she answered that the Lord had advised her it was an impertinent inquiry and that He was expecting his new Messiah would be given a polite greeting and hospitality no matter who showed up.
The unbelievers mocked at Joanna, claiming that it was madness to think a woman in her mid-sixties could give birth, even with her natural advantages of a wide breeder’s girth and likely chute -like birth canal. They laughed of hr divine pretensions and her relations. The derision was such that even the little ones, boys and girls of the street, joined in. Soon Joanna could not even walk in any city or sizable town without being pelted by tiny grimy hands tossing stones, rotted produce and excrement. In one incident, a group of boys–all under ten– surrounded her while she was at market on a quick trip to pick up yeast. She had been without followers or protectors and they surrounded her and with sharpened sticks, they poked her until she bleed at twenty to thirty points. Only through the intervention of a sympathetic butcher, who, noting the boys’ grimy anonymous poverty, felt free to swipe away at the boys utilizing meat cleavers in both hands.

In 1813, the Prophetess bade farewell to the quiet country retreat so dear to her, and at the command of the Spirit of God, set to go to the Great Metropolis, her name for the City of London, named by the Lord as the birthplace of Shiloh. She took up in a townhouse thought owned by a believer. Unfortunately, the believer was a renter and within a month, there were eviction proceedings instituted. Joanna’s followers tried to furnish the rent but the owner refused their offer, outraged at the use of his townhouse for the birth of some divine interloper and fearful that the faithful might at some point seize the place to enshrine it into some unspeakable Seat of Glory. When he had them all kicked out, Joanna found refuge in another townhouse, this time owned by a follower. She stayed there until the end of her pregnancy. The situation was followed by the press. Indeed, one enterprising reporter secreted his way into her house and reported his findings under a daily column entitled, Today’s Laugh. Though this reporter was repeatedly found out due to his inability to keep a straight face during afternoon prayer circles, he was able to continuously sneak back into Joanna’s closed inner circle through such inventive disguises as being a magical walking and talking lamp-post. After an extended pregnancy period of 13 months, by September 1814, Joanna’s signaled she was ready to give birth to Shiloh.

The birth of Shiloh is of great dispute. Many say he was not born at all and all that fell out during Joanna’s great labor and trembling were a large dictionary concealed in Joanna’s undergarments to mimic the state of pregnancy. Others claimed Joanna was in a pure delusion, dying at the height of her supposed arborous labors, where, before she expired, she gave laborious birth to but only a great fart. Others claim the Messiah was born and did come forth as prophesied by Joanna, fully alive at his birth, but immediately raised to heaven in his little body and great spirit, after his great Slipping Out. Per this verison, the Lord changed the timing for the new Messiah and Shiloh was thus pulled him upwards home again. The reason behind this Great Change of Plans is in dispute amongst Southcott scholars and need not delay us in closing our story on Joanna.

Upon Joanna’s death there was much angry disputing between three groups of her follower as to the proper disposal of her body. The strict constructionist of her early writings claimed that the proper disposal of her considerable remains should be by burning the body preferably on a beach, or, if need be, in a large open field, but in either case much down wind.. These advocates noted that, cremation had been favorably commented upon by Joanna in her book The Many Flavors of God." The opposing group, the loose constructionists pointed that Joanna had praised cremation only in connection with describing the proper end for her critics. As for herself, however, they argued she preferred a gentler means of body disposal such as being humbly entombed. in a large three storey, three acre, granite edifice encrusted with emeralds and diamonds. There was a third group as well, though this "group" was actually comprised of only Gerald Thanpopieni. Thanpopieni was a seven foot giant with vigorous debating skills, a complete inability to see more than one side to any question, and vocal cords amazingly resistant to lactic acid build up. He claimed that that Joanna wished to be buried in the very earth she treaded during her years of suffering and of which she took so little care of washing off from her copious body folds while alive.. While these groups debated vigorously in the parlor using open handed slapping about the body interspaced with short periods of mutual rest, a fourth group, the self-named Practicals stole the body out a back door wrapped in a large shag carpet. Even the outside mob of spectators and reporters fell for the ruse and allowed a free inspectionless pass. The Practicals swiftly brought Joanna’ remains to an abandoned beach, burned the body over a day and a half with the aid of copious amounts of whale oil and kerosene, and then with the help of two borrowed wheel barrels took the large remainer pile of burnt bone and charred dried fat to bury it in nearby St Timothy’s graveyard. Thereafter a tomb was thrown up over the grave. All this was done in three days–the Miraculous Three as church history called it. This means of disposal met the begrudging approval of the other warring groups and the church was gloriously united again in divine sanctity. This God ordained unity lasted until the great schisms of 1817, 1818, 1823, 1824, 1834, 1837, 1846, 1849,1850, 1851, 1852, 1863, 1872, 1888, 1889, 1891, 1892, 1897,1903, 1917, 1923, 1936, 1937, 1939, 1941, 1952, 1956, 1958, 1961, 1962, 1964, 1968,1971, 1972, 1976, 1977, 1982, 1987, 1990, 1992, 1994, 1997, 1999, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, and 2007.

As for Joanna’s place in history. It remains in flux. Some call her a false prophet who lead others down a path certain for hell and damnation. Others claim that she was a poor woman mislead by mental illness into thinking she was one of God’s special offspring among a family of billions. For her followers however, she remains God’s greatest prophetess who rests now for a period but who will again in better and healthier times, return to bring with her the long awaited Shiloh...