Shakers, the popular name of an American communistic sect who call themselves "The United Society of Believers in Christ's Second Appearing."
I. History. — The Shakers arose as a distinct body in the first half of the 18th century, but are accustomed to trace their origin back to the Camisards (q.v.), or French Prophets. Three of their number went to England about 1705 and propagated the prophetic spirit so rapidly that in the course of the year there were two hundred or three hundred of these prophets in and about London. The great subject of prediction was the near approach of God's kingdom and the millennial state. In 1747 James Wardley, originally a Quaker, headed a party who had no established creed or particular modei of worship and professed to be governed as the spirit of God should dictate. In 1757 Ann Lee (Mrs. Standley) adopted Wardley's views, joined the society, and became its head, the society adopting its distinguishing name of Shakers. "The work," they said, "which God promised to accomplish in the latter day was eminently marked out by the prophets to be a work of shaking." From this time till 1770 Ann Lee professed to have received by special manifestation of divine light those revelations in virtue of which her followers have ever since called her Mother Lee, and have regarded her as the equal of Jesus Christ, head of all women, as he was head of all men. She lived apart from her husband from that time, and he took another wife. SEE LEE, ANN.
In 1774, obeying what she believed to be a divine command, Ann Lee sailed from Liverpool and came to the United States. Their first settlement was in the town of Watervliet, N.Y., seven miles. from Albany, where they remained in retirement till the spring of 1780. In 1779 a religious revival took place, chiefly among the Baptists, at New Lebanon, Columbia Co., N.Y., accompanied by remarkable physical manifestations, and in the spring of 1780 some of those most affected visited mother Lee, and there. as they believed, found a key to their experiences. Mother Lee traveled from place to place preaching and advising; in Massachusetts she appears to have remained two years, and, it is asserted, performed miracles in several places. Mother Lee died in 1784, having already broached the idea of community of property, and having formed her little family into a model for Shaker organizations. Mother Ann was succeeded in her rule over the society by elder James Whittaker, who had come from England with her. He was called Father James, and under his ministry was erected (1785) "the first house for public worship ever built by the society." He died in July, 1787. In the same year Joseph Meachem, formerly a Baptist preacher and a convert of mother Lee, collected her followers in a settlement in New Lebanon, which still remains as a common center of union. In the course of five years, under the administration of Meachem, eleven Shaker settlements were founded — viz. at New Lebanon and Watervliet, N.Y.; at Hancock, Tyringham, Harvard, and Shirley, Mass.; at Enfield, Conn.; at Canterbury and Enfield, N.H.; and at Alfred and New Gloucester, Me. There were no other societies formed till 1805, When three missionaries from New Lebanon established the following: Union Village, Watervliet, White Water, and North Union in Ohio; and Pleasant Hill.and South Union in Kentucky. They number from six thousand to eight thousand souls.
II. Theological Doctrines. — The Shakers hold:
1. That God has given to man four revelations. "They believe, that the first light of salvation was given or, made known to the patriarchs by promise; and that these believed in the promise of. Christ, and were obedient to the command of God made known unto them as the people of God; and were accepted by him as righteous or perfect in their generation, according to the measure of light and truth manifested unto them; which were as waters to the ankles, signified by Ezekiel's vision of the holy waters (ch. 47). The second, light of dispensation was the law that was given of God to Israel by the hand of Moses, which was a further manifestation of that salvation, as water to the knees (ver. 4). The third light of dispensation was the gospel of Christ's first appearance in the flesh, which was as water to the loins (ver. 4). The fourth light of dispensation is the second appearance of Christ, or final and last display of God's grace to a lost world, in which the mystery of God will be finished and a decisive work accomplished, to the final salvation or damnation of all the children of men; which, according to the prophecies, rightly calculated and truly understood, began in the year of our Savior 1747." In the first revelation God was only known as a Great Spirit. In the second; or Jewish, period he was revealed as the Jehovah, he, she, or, a dual being, male and female. In the third cycle God was made known as the Father; and in the last cycle, commencing with 1770, God is revealed as an Eternal Mother, the bearing spirit of the creation of God. Christ they also believe to be dual, male and female, a supermundane being, making in his first appearance a revelation to Jesus, a divinely instructed and perfect man, and who by virtue of his anointing became Jesus Christ.
2. The new revelation teaches the doctrines of the soul's immortality and its resurrection, which they believe to be the quickening of the germ of a new and spiritual life, denying a bodily resurrection. Those who marry and indulge in the earthly procreative relation they term "the children of this world." They do not condemn them, but believe themselves called to lead spiritual and holy lives, free from lust and carnal indulgence, and therefore refrain from marriage. Thus, like the Egyptian hermits in the 3d century, they place holiness in a life of celibacy. They hold that Christ revealed to Jesus the doctrines of non-resistance and non-participation in any earthly government.
3. The second appearing of Christ the Shakers believe to have taken place through mother Ann Lee in 1770 who, by strictly obeying the light in her, became righteous even as Jesus was righteous. The necessity for this appearing of Christ in the female forum resulted from the dual nature of Christ and of deity. This second appearing of Christ is the true resurrection state and a physical resurrection is to be repudiated as repugnant to science, reason, and Scripture.
4. The Shakers assign to each revelation or cycle its heavens and hells. The first revelation was to the antediluvians, and its heaven and hell were for the good and bad among them; the wicked of that cycle being "the spirits in prison" (1Pe 3:19). To the second hell, Gehenna, they consign the Jews and heathen who died before the coming of Jesus; the second heaven being Paradise, which was promised to the thief on the cross. The third dispensation is that of the Church of the first appearing of Christ, and to its heaven Paul was caught up. The fourth heaven is now forming; in it Jesus and mother Ann reside, and to it all will go who have resisted temptation until all their evil propensities and lusts are destroyed. It is the heaven of heavens, and to it will be gathered all who accept the doctrines of the Shakers here, and all in the lower hells and heavens who shall yet accept them.
5. They hold to oral confession of sin as neessary to receive power to overcome it. They also believe in the power of some of their members to heal diseases by prayer and dietetics. They believe themselves to be under the immediate guidance of the Holy Spirit, and maintain that it is unlawful to take oaths, to use compliments, or to play at games of chance.
6. The Shakers are spiritualists in a practical sense. They hold Swedenborg to be the angel of spiritualism mentioned in Revelation 18, and regard the spiritualistic movement as a preparation of the people to receive their doctrines. For a study of their peculiar views we refer the reader to A Selection of Hymns, etc. (Watervliet, O., 1833); Millennial Hymns (Canterbury, N.H. 1847); Fifteen Years in the Senior Order of Shakers, A Holy, Sacred, and Divine Roll and Book, etc. (1843); The Divine Book of Holy and Eternal Wisdom (Canterbury, N.H., 1849).
III. Worship. — In their mode of worship they are remarkable for their habit of dancing to express the joy they have in the Lord. They enter their house of worship and kneel in silent prayer, then rise and form in regular columns, the men on one side and the women on the other. Several men and women then commence a tune, while every other person dances, keeping time admirably for at least half an hour. The hymns or "spiritual songs" which they sing are believed by the Shakers to be brought to them, almost without exception, from the "spirit-land;" also the airs to which these songs are sung. When dancing is over, the seats are placed and an exhortation begins, then, rising, they sing a hymn, another exhortation follows, and the meeting concludes. They neither practice baptism, nor observe the Lord's supper, holding that these ceased with the apostolic age. They hold general fasts, and have no order of persons regularly educated for the ministry.
IV. Temporalities. — The Shakers have a ministry composed of two brethren and two sisters, who have the oversight of from one to four societies; also each family in every society has four elders, two brethren and two sisters, who have charge of the family. There are three classes of members:
(1.) Novitiates: those who accept the doctrines of the society, but do not enter into temporal connection with it, remaining with their own families and controlling their own property.
(2.) Juniors: those who become members of the community and unite in labor and worship, but who have not surrendered their property to the society, or, if so, only, conditionally, and with the privilege of receiving it back, though without interest.
(3.) Seniors: those who, after a satisfactory probation, enter into a contract to consecrate themselves, their services, and their property to the society, never to be reclaimed by them or their legal heirs. Before joining the society the candidate must pay all debts, discharge all bonds and trusts, renounce all contracts, and, in short, separate honorably from the world. The Shakers are republican in their ideas of government, never vote nor accept office from the government. They are orderly, temperate, and frugal, cultivating the soil with great success, and also engaging in other branches of trade. They have published since 1870 the Shaker and Shakeress, a monthly, edited by F.W. Evans and Antoinette Doolittle (Mount Lebanon, N.Y.). See Burder, Hist. of Religions; Gardner, Faiths of the World; Harper's Magazine, 15, 146 sq.; Marsden, Dict. of Churches; Nordhoff Communistic Societies of the United States (N.Y. 1875), p. 117 sq.