Quakers, Witchcraft, and Pentecostals
October 17, 2023
Season 2 episode 5. In this episode of Quakers Today we ask, Outside of Quaker Worship, where do Quakers seek inspiration, spirituality, and community?
Whether you’re looking to understand the charismatic charm of megachurches, the deep-rooted history of Pendle Hill, England or the mysticism of Howard Thurman, this episode invites listeners to broaden their horizons and embrace the myriad ways the Spirit speaks to us.
You will find a complete transcript of this episode below after the show notes.
Host Peterson Toscano and his guests delve into Quaker spirituality beyond the confines of traditional Quaker worship.
“Regardless of your feelings or beliefs about charismatics and Pentecostalism or pagans and witchcraft, I invite you to listen with the same openness and curiosity that both Sara and Andy brought to the conversation.” -Peterson Toscano
Quakers and Mental Health
Join Carl Blumenthal as he shares an intimate connection between Quakerism, spirituality, and mental illness, revealing his personal struggles with bipolar disorder and how it intersects with spiritual highs and lows. This is just an excerpt from the QuakerSpeak video entitled, Quakers, Spirituality, and Mental Health. You will find a full version of this QuakerSpeak video on the YouTube QuakerSpeak channel. Or visit Quakerspeak.com. Carl’s also has written about Quakers and mental health for Friends Journal.
“The reason I’m interested in the connection between Quakers and mental health is that George Fox himself, I think, was going through, you might call it an existential crisis, you might call it a severe depression when he found himself on Pendle Hill.” -Carl Blumenthal
Intersections of Faith: Modern Reflections on Ancient Roots
Sara Wolcott and Andy Stanton-Henry discuss their unique spiritual influences—charismatic worship and paganism—and how they find common ground in their differing beliefs. Can we listen without prejudice and let the Spirit move us in surprising ways?
We navigate the realms of Charismatic Christianity, embodied spirituality, and even witchy traditions, exploring how Quakerism might be embracing an animistic world view and listening to fresh winds of the Spirit from unexpected places.
The Pendle Witches from The History Press
“For a long time ‘witch’ hadn’t necessarily meant ‘evil’, and could often be used interchangeably as a term for a healer or wise woman, and though Demdike and her family had received accusations of casting curses from their neighbours before, it was an event in March 1612 that caught the attention of Pendle’s justice of the peace, Robert Nowell, and sealed the family’s fate.”
Quakers, radicals and witches: a walk back in time on Pendle Hill by Chris Moss for The Guardian
Sara Jolena Wolcott, M.Div., directs the eco-spiritual ministry, Sequoia Samanvaya. She teaches on circular time and origin stories, especially the intersections of colonization/climate change/spirituality. A member of Strawberry Creek Meeting in Berkeley, California, she lives with her partner alongside the River That Runs Both Ways (Hudson River).
- All the Way Back To George Fox: Experimenting with Quaker Charismatics
- Friends Journal Author Chat Video with Andy Stanton-Henry
- Ken Jacobsen’s review of Andy’s book Recovering Abundance: Twelve Practices for Small-Town Leaders
Andy Stanton-Henry is a writer, Quaker minister, and chicken-keeper. He holds degrees from Barclay College and Earlham School of Religion. He carries a special concern for rural leaders, leading to his recently published book, Recovering Abundance: Twelve Practices for Small-Town Leaders. A native Buckeye, Andy now lives in East Tennessee with his spouse, Ashlyn, blue heeler Cassie, and 11 laying hens.
A Spiritual Walk with Howard Thurman: Dive into Loretta Coleman Brown’s new book, What Makes You Come Alive: A Spiritual Walk with Howard Thurman, which highlights the transformative spirituality of the black American theologian and mystic, Howard Thurman. Discover a road map to psychological and spiritual freedom. Read the review by Ron Hogan.
After the episode concludes we share voicemails from listeners who answered the question, When it comes to activism, do the ends justify the means?
Question for next month
Outside of Quaker Worship, where do Quakers seek inspiration, spirituality, and community?
In this episode you heard about Quakers looking outside the Religious Society of Friends for something more. They are asking, “Is something missing in Quaker worship?” It may be something we once had that is now lost. Some may be seeking new infusions of influences for a new time in history. Peterson has often heard Quakers say something like, “I attend Quaker meetings for worship, AND I also…” then they tell him about the other faith traditions or spiritual practices that feed them, center them, or enhance their Quaker faith and practice.
What about you? Outside of Quaker Worship, where do Quakers seek inspiration, spirituality, and community? And if you are not a Quaker, Outside of your usual spiritual or religious tradition, where do you seek inspiration, spirituality, and community?
Leave a voice memo with your name and the town where you live. The number to call is 317-QUAKERS, that’s 317-782-5377. +1 if calling from outside the U.S.
Season Two of Quakers Today is sponsored by the American Friends Service Committee. Do you want to challenge unjust systems and promote lasting peace? The American Friends Service Committee, or AFSC works with communities worldwide to drive social change. Their website features meaningful steps you can take to make a difference. Through their Friends Liaison Program, you can connect your meeting or church with AFSC and their justice campaigns. To learn more, visit AFSC.org Feel free to send comments, questions, and requests for our new show. Email us at email@example.com. Music from this episode comes from Epidemic Sound. You heard Mischievous Operations by Alfie-Jay Winters, Chicken Nuggetz by Baegel and JOBII, Being Nostalgic by Flyin, The Bards Tale by Christoffer Moe Ditlevsen, Sunday Morning Sermon by Duke Herrington, Jaybird by Boone River, Mindful Endeavors by Amaranth Cove, Million Years (Instrumental Version) by Sture Zetterberg, You’ve Got It (Instrumental Version) by John Runefelt.
Season Two of Quakers Today is sponsored by the American Friends Service Committee.
Do you want to challenge unjust systems and promote lasting peace? The American Friends Service Committee, or AFSC works with communities worldwide to drive social change. Their website features meaningful steps you can take to make a difference. Through their Friends Liaison Program, you can connect your meeting or church with AFSC and their justice campaigns. To learn more, visit AFSC.org
Feel free to send comments, questions, and requests for our new show. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Music from this episode comes from Epidemic Sound. You heard Mischievous Operations by Alfie-Jay Winters, Chicken Nuggetz by Baegel and JOBII, Being Nostalgic by Flyin, The Bards Tale by Christoffer Moe Ditlevsen, Sunday Morning Sermon by Duke Herrington, Jaybird by Boone River, Mindful Endeavors by Amaranth Cove, Million Years (Instrumental Version) by Sture Zetterberg, You’ve Got It (Instrumental Version) by John Runefelt.
Transcript for Seeking Inspiration and Spirituality Outside of Quaker Worship
[0:01] Peterson Toscano: In this episode of Quakers Today, we ask, outside of Quaker worship, where do Quakers seek inspiration, spirituality, and community?
Carl Blumenthal talks about Quakers, spirituality, and mental illness.
I will share with you a new book about the black American theologian and mystic Howard Thurman.
And two Quakers consider each other’s spiritual influences.
One is inspired by ancient and modern paganism, and the other by the charismatic church.
I am Peterson Toscano.
This is Season 2, Episode 5 of Quaker’s Today podcast, a project of Friends Publishing Corporation.
This season of Quaker’s Today is sponsored by the American Friends Service Committee.
Part One: Carl Blumenthal: Quakers and Mental Health
Carl Blumenthal: Okay, so my name is Carl Blumenthal, I live in West Flatbush, Brooklyn, New York, and I had been an urban health planner for like 25 years and decided it was time for me to give back to the community that I hadn’t acknowledged as being part of, which is people living with mental health conditions.
[1:10] I became what’s called a peer counselor. That’s what I’ve been doing for the last 20 years or so.
[1:17] During the pandemic, when I was working for NYC Well, it’s the city’s mental health hotline, crisis line.
I had many encounters of a spiritual kind. It’s amazing how deeply you can connect with people over the phone or even through chats and texting.
You’re recognizing that of God in everyone.
The reason I’m interested in the connection between Quakers and mental health is that George Fox himself, I think, was going through, you might call it an existential crisis, you might call it a severe depression when he found himself on Pendle Hill and discovered or rediscovered Christ and realized that Jesus spoke to his condition.
[2:03] As a result, he went on to heal a lot of people, I think, both psychologically as well as spiritually.
Lately, in the last few years, I’ve had more what I would call, quote unquote, spiritual experiences. They’re hard sometimes to separate them from psychological ones.
As I mentioned before, the fact that I have a mental illness, bipolar disorder, you can be very high or very low, especially on the times when I’m very high, that’s when I feel more in touch with the universe.
There’s probably a history of creative people who’ve also had mental health conditions, particularly those who’ve had bipolar disorder.
I feel like I’m in that tradition. I guess you could say I’m a descendant of George Fox in that way.
I’m sure on Pendle Hill he was pretty high.
[3:00] That was Carl Blumenthal in an excerpt from the QuakerSpeak video entitled Quakers, Spirituality, and Mental Health.
You will find this QuakerSpeak video and the QuakerSpeak channel on YouTube or visit QuakerSpeak.com.
Part Two: Sara and Andy: Charismatic Quakerism and Paganism
[3:16] Peterson Toscano: Two recent articles from Friends Journal jumped out at me. Andy Stanton-Henry’s “All the Way Back to George Fox, Experimenting with Charismatic Quakerism,” and if Quakers were (Also) Witches by Sara Wolcott. Andy is not charismatic or Pentecostal. You’ll hear the two terms being used almost interchangeably in this conversation.
Sara is not a pagan, but Sara has experienced and appreciates charismatic worship. For Andy, though, as an evangelical friend, witchcraft and paganism are not only taboo, they’re forbidden.
Yet, as I read their articles, I heard a common theme emerge, a message for Quakers and Seekers to go deeper and maybe even reclaim something that has been lost.
I asked Sara and Andy to read each other’s articles. They then spoke to me individually, then to each other.
Regardless of your feelings or beliefs about charismatics and Pentecostalism or pagans and witchcraft, I invite you to listen with the same openness and curiosity that both Sara and Andy brought to the conversation.
[4:32] Andy Stanton-Henry: You don’t have to give up anything about your identity to listen to somebody else.
Sometimes our failure to dialogue is an expression of our spiritual insecurity.
Sara Wolcott: It’s so easy in our world to be caught up in a particular way of listening.
From Quaker Meetings to Megachurch Worship
[5:00] Andy Stanton-Henry: Every Easter, you will find me worshiping in a megachurch. Now, what’s a good Quaker boy doing in the middle of a charismatic megachurch?
I’m there because my parents like to attend the church on holidays and I want to join them.
But I’m also there because the worship is a refreshing change of pace from my usual experience in Quaker meetings.
[5:23] Sara Wolcott: I was surprised when one of my Quaker elders told me that for much of the world, Pendle Hill was far more closely associated with witches in the 1612 witch hunts shortly before Fox’s birth than with Quakerism. Pendle Hill is a popular spot for local ghost tours. It was, featured in Doctor Who. And the 400-year anniversary of the Pendle Witch Trials in 2012, There was a huge art exhibition on Pendle Hill with the date 1612 featured in honor, of those women who had died. It’s not uncommon that friends today know, or they might have heard, that early Quakers were often accused in similar language as witches, sometimes directly, sometimes indirectly. George Fox was accused of being a sorcerer. And Mennonites actually have a similar trend. Other Anabaptists of the same time period or similar time period had a similar thing happening to them. To be a witch was very negative at that time and it still has some of those connotations today.
Andy Stanton-Henry: I’ve actually heard critics of charismatic Christianity calling it witchcraft because there’s kind of this more embodied spirituality. People seem to be in a trance and they might fall over and they might be repeating these prayers that are kind of shifting. The atmosphere and whatnot.
The Witchcraft Comparison: Charismatic Christianity and Embodied Spirituality
Exploring Charismatic Worship and Quakerism
[6:54] Andy Stanton-Henry: In the spirit of full disclosure, I’ll let you know that I went through a, quote, charismatic phase as a teen.
Sara Wolcott: When I was in seminary, I was at Union, and I ended up not going to my local Quaker meeting. I didn’t find much spirit there.
Andy Stanton-Henry: Like Quaker worship, charismatic worship is a mix of divine presence and human personality, and sometimes visitors have no idea what’s going on.
Andy Stanton-Henry: Over the years, I’ve experienced a mix of beautiful and troubling things in charismatic worship environments. Quakerism is my spiritual path, but I still appreciate some things about charismatic worship and wonder if friends can benefit from some light experimentation with Pentecostalism.
Sara Wolcott: Honestly, that’s where I learned to preach. I had my coming to the altar moment, and I experienced the movement of the Holy Spirit. That Church was the closest thing to Quakerism that wasn’t Quakerism that I may have experienced.
Andy Stanton-Henry: I found it fascinating looking at George Fox climbing up Pendle Hill, and also realizing there’s a lot of other spiritual history to that place.
Discovering a New Truth within Quakerism
[8:15] Sara Wolcott: What if there is something within Quakerism that is the truth that Quakerism speaks to; it’s a truth that is in the tradition of Jesus and in the tradition of land-based peoples around the world. Of course, Jesus himself was very much a land-based person. Ched Myers and others have done a lot of work on watershed discipleship.
Andy Stanton-Henry: She (Sara) said, “It wasn’t that long ago that such ecstatic moments of bodily motion were ridiculed as pagan and distinctly non-Quaker. We are a mystical tradition. A spirit can move through us in all of those places, and maybe spirit is asking something different of us now.”
And so I feel very similarly about my article, in that maybe we can consider how the Spirit might be inviting us into something new that is actually not very new and enduring traditions that we’ve kind of cut ourselves off from. You don’t have to give up anything about your identity to listen to somebody else.
Embracing Different Identities and Perspectives in Quakerism
[9:16] Sara Wolcott: I just led a workshop retreat called If Quakers Were Witches at Ben Lomond Quaker Center. I was really surprised at how much response we got. You know, we got a good turnout, but more than that, how many people wrote and were just ecstatic that this was happening? So grateful. And a few people who were like, how dare you? I mean, it actually elicited both responses.
Andy Stanton-Henry: It’s part of the gift of Quakerism to focus on the Spirit rather than rituals, rather than practices and that kind of thing. But it’s also part of our limitations that sometimes we spiritualize so much that we forget the kind of embodied and earthy spirituality. I mean, it sounded like the Wiccan practices and traditions that you were talking about maybe help us connect more to the earth and its rhythms and the natural world.
Correct me if I’m misunderstanding, but I think that’s part of the things, something that we can learn and recover.
Sara Wolcott: At this moment in time, we’re both looking to the past. We’re both seeing this need and this, I would say need, to broaden what is considered worship and to deepen into the Holy Spirit in that, and to let the Spirit move through us, even if it doesn’t look the way we quote-unquote think it should look.
Embracing the Animist World: Quakerism and Witchy Tradition
[10:34] Sara Wolcott: And what if both of the traditions, the witchy tradition and the Quaker tradition, are listening to something similar, and that today there is a listening to the animist, more-than-human world in which the Holy Spirit dwells, that has always been within Quakerism and can continue to feed friends and friends of friends.
Andy Stanton-Henry: Yeah, I agree. I think there’s that common sense of maybe it’s time to open to some new fresh winds of the Spirit, and those might come from surprising places.
Actually you were talking, I was thinking about the story of Pentecost, the speaking in different languages, the speaking in tongues.But also part of the miracle was hearing in a way that could be understood and hearing the Word of God from surprising sources. Some people use the language of listening in tongues.
Sara Wolcott love listening in tongues. I love that framing.
Introducing Sara Wolcott and Andy Stanton-Henry
[12:11] Peterson Toscano: That was Sara Wolcott and Andy Stanton-Henry. Sara directs an eco-spiritual ministry.
Andy just published a new book that provides insights for local leaders.
Learn more about both of them at friendsjournal.org.
I encourage you to read their full articles, “If Quakers Were (Also) Witches, and “All the Way Back to George Fox, Experimenting with Charismatic Quakerism.”
Visit our show notes at quakerstoday.org for links to their work and for a full transcript of today’s show.
Part Three: Exploring Loretta Coleman Brown’s Book on Howard Thurman
And if what you heard on today’s show has made you curious about where you can find fresh inspiration, you may be interested in a new book by Loretta Coleman Brown, What Makes You Come Alive? A Spiritual Walk with Howard Thurman.
[13:01] In his review of the book, Ron Hogan writes, Loretta Coleman Brown identifies deeply with the black American theologian and mystic Howard Thurman. It goes back to when she read his 1949 book, Jesus and the Disinherited. It was a game changer of a spiritual text that offered her a deeper understanding of Jesus’ liberating and transformative spirituality.
It also provided a road map to a place of psychological and spiritual freedom for everyone.
Thurman offers high praise for the book.
In What Makes You Come Alive, Brown seeks to distill the essence of Thurman’s spiritual philosophy for a contemporary audience, and it’s a solid effort.
You can read the full review and reviews of other excellent new books in the October 2023 issue of Friends Journal and over at friendsjournal.org.
[14:01] Thank you for joining me for this episode of Quakers Today. Season 2 of Quakers Today is sponsored by American Friends Service Committee.
Do you want to challenge unjust systems and promote lasting peace?
The American Friends Service Committee, or AFSC, works with communities worldwide to drive social change. Their website features meaningful steps you can take to make a difference.
Through their Friends Liaison Program, you can connect your meeting or church with AFSC and their justice campaigns. Find out how you can become a part of AFSC’s global community of changemakers. Visit AFSC.org. That’s AFSC.org.
Visit QuakersToday.org to see our show notes and a full transcript of this episode.
And if you stick around after the closing, you will hear two listeners’ very different responses to the question, when it comes to activism, Did the ends justify the means? Thank you friend for listening.
Introducing of Next Month’s Question:
[15:06] Peterson Toscano: In a moment, you will hear two listeners’ strong opinions about the question when it comes to activism, do the ends justify the means?
But first, let me share with you next month’s question. Outside of Quaker worship, where do Quakers seek inspiration, spirituality, and community?
Outside of Quaker worship, where do Quakers seek inspiration, spirituality, and community?
In this episode, you heard about Quakers looking outside the religious society, friends, for something more, something that might be missing in Quaker worship. It may be something we once had that is now lost. Some may be seeking new infusions of influences for this time in in history.
I have often heard Quakers say something like, yeah, I attend Quaker meetings for worship and I also. Then they tell me about the other faith traditions or spiritual practices.
These feed them, center them, or enhance their Quaker faith and practice.
[16:04] So what about you? Outside of Quaker worship, where do Quakers seek inspiration, spirituality, and community? And if you are not a Quaker, outside of your usual spiritual or religious traditions, where do you seek inspiration, spirituality, and community?
Leave a voicemail with your name and the town where you live. The number to call is 317-QUAKERS. That’s 317-782-5377. 317-QUAKERS. Plus one if you’re calling from outside the USA.
Call for answers outside of Quaker worship for inspiration
[16:37] Now we hear answers to the question. When it comes to activism, do the ends justify the means?
The question was inspired by last month’s episode in which we featured the actress Daryl Hannah along with Jeff Walburn.
He’s part of a mischief-making activist group called the Yes Men.
[16:57] Jeff, not his real name, graduated from Greenwood Friends School, a Quaker elementary and middle school. As a boy, he attended Millville Friends Meeting in Central Pennsylvania. Earlier this year, he and fellow activists posed as representatives from the Mattel Corporation. These are the folks who make the Barbie doll. On behalf of the company, they announced it was going plastic free.
Jeff calls these mischief performances that are intended to reveal the truth of what corporations like Mattel are actually doing wrong.
[17:31] When it comes to activism, do the ends justify the means?
The Ethics of Lies and Half-Truths
[17:36] My name is Cap here in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and I’d like to comment.
No matter what anybody says, a lie is still a lie, and contrary to the whole notion of Quaker truth and spirituality. There are some people who lie just to hide the truth, and then there are other people who tell half-lies. Those people who tell half-lies and have proof, have forgotten where they put the proof.
[17:59] This is Glen from Sunbury, Pennsylvania, leaving a voice memo in response to the question, when it comes to activism, do the ends justify the means? I’m originally from South Africa and my activist background there was in the anti-apartheid movement. So when I think of this question, I gravitate towards the very difficult debates of my formative years. For example, from a Quaker pacifist point of view, was Nelson Mandela wrong to take up arms against apartheid government.
I’m also haunted by dilemmas such as those dramatized by the recent movie Oppenheimer. If I were a Jewish physicist in the 1940s and had good reason to believe the Nazis were racing to develop nuclear weapons, would I have developed a bomb I knew to be deeply evil, to avert a perhaps even greater evil?
So asking this question at a fake press conference about mushroom barbies leaves me a bit dumbfounded. This was an hour-long, witty, non-violent, and practical joke directed at a huge company polluting the earth with vast quantities of plastic.
Are we Quakers really so bothered and confused by a gentle satire that we have to ask whether the end justifies these means?
Voltaire famously admired Quakers but also caricatured us as humorless, a stereotype that’s still somewhat persistent. I fear that by earnestly asking ourselves such an absurd question, whether saving the earth is worth the moral cost of a gentle satire, we are doing our best to live up to the tricky satire that Voltaire once directed at us.