In graduate school I did a little more digging and found many fascinating facts about the magician of the legends I heard as a child. Unfortunately, I have found that most adults are not as interested in finding the truth as I was. So, a recent visit by a friend which led me to take him to see the sites associated with the legends if not the facts, has led me to publicly right a few of the most commonly circulated errors.
The small band of German pietists who settled in the Wissahickon Valley in 1694 were initially recruited by Johann Jacob Zimmerman, a former Lutheran minister and professor at Heidelberg University, disenfranchised by the church and dismissed from his academic post for his Pietist and millennialist beliefs. Religious wars devastated much of Europe throughout the seventeenth century, particularly Germany, then the Holy Roman Empire, during the Thirty Years War from 1618-1648.
|Root Cellar not really associated with Kelpius|
During his life, Kelpius witnessed the growth of the religious and mystical movement called Pietism. It originally began as a faction of Lutheranism in Rome, but spread across Europe and grew particularly in Germany. Pietism rejected reliance on institutionalized religion and instead advocated deeper personal relationships with the spiritual world. Mystics especially found Pietism attractive because of its similarities to their own beliefs. Pietism's popularity spread quickly in Germany's intellectual community and shaped the academic environment that Kelpius studied in.
Although Kelpius guided the Pietists to America, he was not the group's original leader. Johannes Zimmermann, a noted mathematician and astronomer, took to mysticism and became convinced that Jesus Christ would descend from the heavens to begin the millennium in March of 1694. To prepare for the Second Coming, Zimmermann organized a group of forty devotees (including himself) to await the return of Christ in the New World. The work that Fabricus and Kelpius published impressed Zimmermann, and he sought out and recruited Kelpius as his Deputy Magister.
According to Philadelphia legend, they marched to Fairmount. For those of you unfamiliar with the historic names of Philadelphia geography, that is the location where several centuries later Rocky Balboa ran up the museum steps in the movie. where they lit fires and celebrated St. John's day.
|Ephrata Song Book|
|"Lady in the Wilderness" from Ephrata|
Beissel, went on to lead a group to found a similar Pietist community in Effrata, Pennsylvania in 1730. The community prospered while Beissel lived, but began to decline after his death. In 1814, the scant few remaining dwellers of Ephrata Cloister incorporated themselves as the Seventh Day German Baptist Church, a title which survived until 1934. With its future in limbo during the late 1920's, these few members recognized the end of their communal experiment but strongly disagreed on how to best dispose of the grounds, buildings, and artifacts which held considerable monetary and historical value. The arguments escalated into legal action against each other to such a degree that the courts revoked the incorporation of their charter and placed the property under receivership. The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission assumed ownership of the grounds and buildings in 1941, with a program of research, interpretation, and careful restoration.
Nothing remains of the original Temple built by Kelpius and his followers, and while we know the general area where it was located, we do not know the exact location. The Monastery House most likely was built after Kelpius' death and is understood to have belonged to the group under Beissel's leadership which subsequently moved to the Cloisters in Ephrata, Pa. Of course, it might also have been used by the Dunkers, another Pennsylvania religious community which coexisted in the Wissahickon.
|Böhmeian Philosophical Illustration|
Kelpius was a follower of Böhmeianism We might today call him a Bohemian, as the modern term it is claimed has been influenced both by the term Böhmeianism and the region known as Bohemia. One of Boehme's most influential works was named Aurora. In that book, he defined seven major qualities, planets and humoral-elemental associations:
1. Dry - Saturn - melancholy, power of death;
2. Sweet - Jupiter - sanguine, gentle source of life;
3. Bitter - Mars - choleric, destructive source of life;
4. Fire - Sun/Moon - night/day; evil/good; sin/virtue; Moon, later = phlegmatic, watery;
5. Love - Venus - love of life, spiritual rebirth;
6. Sound - Mercury - keen spirit, illumination, expression;
7. Corpus - Earth - totality of forces awaiting rebirth.
In "De Tribus Principiis" or "On the Three Principles of Divine Being" Böhme subsumed the seven principles into the Trinity:
1. The "dark world" of the Father (Qualities 1-2-3);
2. The "light world" of the Holy Spirit (Qualities 5-6-7);
3. "This world" of Satan and Christ (Quality 4).
|Grave of Conrad Beissel|