PösChel, tHomas

Pöschel, Thomas a German religious enthusiast, was born March 2, 1769, at Horitz, in Bohemia. He entered the ministry, and was ordained Sept. 6, 1796. While he was vicar at Braunan he had to prepare for death the unfortunate bookseller Palm, and to accompany him to the place of execution (Aug. 26,1806). This incident seems to have exercised a detrimental influence on his mind, so naturally inclined to mysticism. When, in 1809, Braunau passed from Austria to Bavaria, Pöschel was placed under the dependency of the bishop of Salzburg; and in 1815, when the city became Austrian again, he returned to the diocese of Linz. Soon afterwards his insane behavior caused him to be sent from Braunau to a country place called Ampfelwang. He now considered himself a martyr of the faith, and preached his "new revelation." Christ, he says, dwells in the hearts of such a rare pure, and directs all their actions. To them appear God and the Virgin, and make them the recipients of their revelations. He who does not get purified incurs damnation, and deserves death, which alone can purify him. This doctrine must be obeyed even if it should exact the sacrifice of life itself, if the fruit of the new revelation is not to be lost and given to the Jews. For God has determined that the Jews shall be converted. Judaism and Christianity melted together into one general, catholic religion, the millennial kingdom is to commence when these events have taken place. The new doctrine found proselytes not only in Ampfelwang, but in the surrounding localities Azbach, Unkenach, Gampern, Schafling, etc. The Poschelians affected great piety, prayed with deeply bowed heads, some stretched on the ground; they made uncommon use of all religious practices, as pilgrimages, fasting, communion, with or without previous confession, solemn invocations of the Virgin and the saints. But the tide of extravagance rose apace. Women heard confessions and gave absolution. They are said to have committed most indecent acts in their assemblies. The ceremony of purification preceded the admission of new members: a kind of oil or a powder which the proselyte was made to swallow produced dreadful convulsions, while a crowd of maddened females performed a savage dance around the sufferer, to expel the devil, who had hitherto held possession of the new member. The escape of Napoleon from Elba strengthened the belief that he was the Antichrist, and that, as a consequence, the millennium was at hand. Disorderly tramps roamed about, prophesying and preaching, held themselves for chosen members of the kingdom of God, and resisted both the ecclesiastical and civil authorities. At last government took the matter in hand, nightly raids were made upon their assemblies, their doings were investigated, and Pöschel was put into custody at Salzburg. This intervention of the police did not appease the fanaticism of the sectarians, who were misled several times even to sanguinary excesses. A mother tried to torture her child to death, to honor the Lord; a father to kill his child in prison. The insanity of these people reached its pitch in the Holy Week of 1817. In the night that followed Palm Sunday it was resolved, in a meeting held near Ampfelwang, to offer a sacrifice to the Lord. A peasant, of the name of Haas, was to be the victim. His mother and an old man were dragged to the scene of the holocaust: the woman was killed with one stroke, while the man died only a few days afterwards of his wound, the ceremony becoming by this postponement devoid of effect. Haas prevailed on his adopted daughter, a girl of nineteen years, to give her life for him. The monsters killed her most cruelly, and are even said to have drunk her blood, as being the blood of Christ. The scene of these horrors was on the ensuing day occupied by the militia and the actors arrested, but only six i f the leaders were kept in custody. The sect, which did not count over 126 members, thereafter disappeared rapidly. Pöschel, who had always condemned the horrors committed by his disciples, was transferred to Vienna, where, his insanity being clearly demonstrated, he was placed under severe ecclesiastical custody. He died in 1837. In a wider sense, the name of Pöschelians was for some time used to designate fanatics of Pöschel's and the Pöschelians' description. See Alzog, Kirchengesch. 2, 680; Giesebrecht, Kirchengesch. der neuesten Zeit (Bonn, 1855), p. 338 sq. (J. H. W.)

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