I can’t have a blog about folk healing without talking about some of the faith healing traditions I’ve encountered over the years. One such tradition comes from my own faith, the Religious Society of Friends, more commonly known as Quakers. This faith healing tradition has deep roots that go back to the fervent Protestant movements of 16th Century England. The Religious Society of Friends was only one of several movements that emphasized a personal and direct relationship with the Divine, simple worship, and radical political reform. Friends were a wily bunch in those days, there’s one story I like to tell about 16th century Friends running naked through churches as a protest against the greed and intolerance of the Church of England at that time.
Friends also inherited a rich healing tradition, influenced in part by folk healing traditions of England that were still prevalent in the 16th century, and in part by this idea of the inner Light of God that permeates all things and can heal all things. When we look at the early healing traditions of Friends we have to mention George Fox’s “Book of Miracles” an account of over 170 miracles performed by early friends. The original manuscript has been destroyed, but pieces have been collected that give us a good picture of early Quaker healing.
This movement of miracles and healing went hand-in-hand with the radical nature of the religion at that time. To say that folks were passionate about their faith is an understatement. It permeated every part of people’s lives. Early Friends thought that the second coming was nigh, that they were living at the time of a second Pentecost, and just like the disciples of Christ were called out into the world to heal the sick and drive out demons, early Friends took this same call upon themselves.
The healing tradition associated with early Quakers (and modern Quakers as well) bears a lot of similarities with other European Spiritual Healing traditions, e.g. German braucherei, the French coupeur/barreur de feu, the Danish kloge folk, etc.
The difference seems to be with the use of external tools for healing that would be found in other traditions. Quaker folk healing emphasizes silent embracing of the inner Light that may be passed to the patient through touch. This is similar to the braucherei practice of passing the hands along the body to manipulate the natural energies present. This can also be found with the French coupeurs/barreurs de feu who use no other tools but their hands and silent prayers. This form of healing is far from dead. The Friends Meeting that I attend even has a healing group that meets once or twice a month. While a lot of the passion of the early Friends has been calmed and refined, there is still this idea of the immanent Divine, always present, always working, that permeates through the Meeting. Many today, much like their ancestors, believe that the call to go out and heal the sick is still a responsibility of Friends in the modern world.
Here are a couple good articles about early Quaker healing practices. I think I’ve posted them before, but they’re great so I’ll link to them again.
I’d like to conclude with a wonderful article from Friend Barbara Stanford of the Little Rock Monthly Meeting about Quakers in Arkansas and the Ozarks. While Friends don’t have a long history here they do have an important one.
“Religious Society of Friends”
Barbara Stanford, Little Rock Monthly Meeting
For More Information
Quakers in Arkansas, though small in number, have played an important role in education and race relations, providing teachers and schools for African Americans after the Civil War and organizing interracial programs during the school integration crisis.
The Religious Society of Friends, commonly known as Quakers, began in England during the religious ferment of the 1600s through the ministry of George Fox. Quakers believed that all people could develop a personal relationship with God without the intervention of traditional priests or rituals. They worshiped in silence until led to speak by the spirit. They developed testimonies of peace, simplicity, equality, and integrity. Friends’ local congregations are called Monthly Meetings and may affiliate with Quarterly and Yearly Meetings based on both geographical region and doctrinal relationships.
Quakers played an important role in the development of democracy in the United States. Pennsylvania was founded by William Penn to be a Quaker colony with a government developed around Quaker principles, including a peaceful relationship with Indians, religious liberty, and a democratic government.
The first evidence of Quakers in Arkansas is Charlotte Stephens’s memory of attending a Quaker school during the Civil War. The school was founded by a former slave, William Wallace Andrews (Stephens’s father), whose former owner, Chester Ashley, gave him a parcel of land on which to build a church and school. When Quaker missionaries came to set up schools, he gave them his school and went north to study. In 1868, when Little Rock (Pulaski County) organized its own public school system, it bought the school building.
After the Civil War, the Indiana Yearly Meeting founded a Freedmen’s Committee to assist people newly freed from slavery. In 1864, they sent to Arkansas Calvin and Alida Clark, who founded an orphanage and school in Helena (Phillips County). The school and orphanage later moved about nine miles from Helena, added a teacher training program, and was named Southland College. A number of students and neighboring black families joined the Society of Friends, and in 1873, the Indiana Yearly Meeting recognized the seventy-eight Southland Friends as an official Monthly Meeting.
By 1886, when the Clarks retired, there were five permanent buildings on the campus and nearly 300 students. Over 300 teachers had graduated by that time. Southland Monthly Meeting had a membership of nearly 400 members in three different locations. The school went through many difficulties during the first part of the twentieth century and eventually was “laid down” in 1925 as public schools became available. The Friends’ meetings that surrounded the school declined as families moved away. The last recorded meeting was in 1922.
The DeWitt Monthly Meeting was founded by Frank Fox in the 1930s. A native of DeWitt (Arkansas County), Fox studied religions and decided that the Quaker faith was closest to Christian values. He did not own a gun and selected for the meeting site “the worst part of town because they needed Christianity the most.” The church has moved twice since then. The DeWitt Monthly Meeting is affiliated with the Central Yearly Meeting, which is a group of Orthodox Friends who focus on the message of the living, indwelling Christ.
A Quaker worship group began informally in Little Rock in 1953. The Little Rock Meeting affiliated with the South Central Yearly Meeting and the Friends General Conference. Little Rock requested preparatory meeting status under Dallas in 1959 and became an official monthly meeting in 1981. The meeting purchased its present meetinghouse at 3415 West Markham in 1995. The Little Rock meeting in 2006 had seventeen members and thirty attendees. Meeting members have been active in civil rights and peace activities and, after Hurricane Katrina, built bunk beds for survivors. Tina Coffin of the Little Rock Monthly Meeting publishes a monthly magazine, the Carillon, for Quakers in Arkansas.
During the mid-1950s, the Little Rock Meeting organized interracial work camps for college students, giving black and white students from segregated campuses the opportunity to work together on projects such as painting and planting trees. The American Friends Service Committee also sent representatives who led small workshops to help black and white young people get to know each other. Quakers were involved with the Arkansas Council on Human Relations, which supported integration. During the desegregation of Central High School, Robert Wixom tutored Little Rock Nine member Ernest Green in physics once or twice a week and attended his graduation. After the schools were closed during the Lost Year, Thelma Babbit was sent by the American Friends Service Committee to organize race relations forums and promote dialogue. They organized two conferences on community unity, which brought together black and white leaders to talk about issues facing them.
Friends began meeting in Fayetteville (Washington County) in the late 1950s. They requested preparatory status under Little Rock in the late 1980s and became a monthly meeting affiliated with the South Central Yearly Meeting in 1998. They meet in United Campus Ministry and have eleven members and twenty-eight attendees.
The Caddo Worship Group began in 1989 with isolated Friends from southwest Arkansas, Texas, and Louisiana who meet once a month for worship and study. It is now the Caddo Four States Preparatory Meeting under the care of the Little Rock Monthly Meeting and currently meets in Texarkana (Miller County). In 2006, it had ten members and thirteen attendees.
While Quakers remain a very small group in Arkansas, numbers—particularly in the Fayetteville and Caddo groups—have grown. Friends continue to be involved in human rights issues and play an active role in the peace movement.