Friday, November 11, 2011

The Daughter of God

Salon has an interesting review up today of a book about a British woman named Mabel Barltrop and the religion that she founded in 1919, the Panacea Society. Even though I'm fairly knowledgeable on new religious movements of the last century, this organization is one that I had never previously read about. The group has survived until the present day, though there are only a couple of living members left still dwelling at its communal headquarters.

In February 1919, a small group of middle-class English women received a life-changing revelation. What they learned, Jane Shaw explains in “Octavia, Daughter of God: The Story of a Female Messiah and Her Followers” (Yale), was that Mabel Barltrop, a 53-year-old former mental patient living in the town of Bedford, was the incarnation of God. Mabel, whose late husband had been a priest in the Church of England, announced a new Christian theology, in which the Trinity was replaced by a foursome: God the Father and God the Mother, Jesus the Son and Mabel (or, as her followers began to call her, Octavia) the Daughter. She had come to conquer death and was guaranteed never to die. She had healing powers so strong that if she breathed on water or a piece of linen, it was transformed into a cure for any bodily ailment.

Octavia’s followers named themselves the Panacea Society, and they advertised her cures widely. Some 70 people came to live near her in communal housing in Bedford, and thousands more around the world wrote in to ask for a piece of the sacred linen. Over the years, Shaw writes, Mabel announced many refinements of her doctrine. She was forbidden to go more than 77 steps from her house; her garden, in Bedford, was the location of the original Garden of Eden; her late husband had been the incarnation of Christ; the souls of the departed were not dead but had flown to the planet Uranus to bide their time until they returned.

Now here's the part of all this that struck me as particularly intriguing. Aleister Crowley's The Book of Lies, first published in 1912 or 1913, contained the original version of the Star Sapphire, Crowley's Thelemic ritual of the hexagram. As part of that ritual the magician is instructed to make a series of statements, one at each of the four quarters.
  • East: Pater et Mater Unus Deus ARARITA (Father and Mother are one God ARARITA).
  • South: Mater et Filius Unus Deus ARARITA (Mother and Son are one God ARARITA).
  • West: Filius et Filia Unus Deus ARARITA (Son and Daughter are one God ARARITA)
  • North Pater et Filius Unus Deus ARARITA (Father and Daughter are one God ARARITA)
ARARITA is a notariquon or acronym for the Hebrew phrase "Achad Rosh Achdotho Rosh Ichudo Temurahzo Achad", meaning "One is His Beginning, One is His Individuality, His Permutation is One." So in effect the end of the phrase means something to the effect of "one God in unity." The Thelemic Star Sapphire therefore replaces the idea of the Christian trinity with Father, Mother, Son, and Daughter, just like the theology of the Panacea Society. I'm left wondering if Barltrop at some point got her hands on a copy of The Book of Lies or if this represents an independent emergence of the same basic theme around the same time period. Either way, the book sounds like it makes for some fascinating reading.

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