cults, communes, or just creepy?



For The Anthroposophical Society, see Anthroposophical Society.

Anthroposophy, a philosophy founded by Rudolf Steiner, postulates the existence of an objective, intellectually comprehensible spiritual world accessible to direct experience through inner development. More specifically, it aims to develop faculties of perceptive imagination, inspiration and intuition through cultivating a form of thinking independent of sensory experience,[1][2] and to present the results thus derived in a manner subject to rational verification. In its investigations of the spiritual world, anthroposophy aims to attain the precision and clarity attained by the natural sciences in their investigations of the physical world.[1]

Anthroposophical ideas have been applied practically in many areas including Steiner/Waldorf education, special education (most prominently through the Camphill Movement), agriculture, medicine, ethical banking, organizational development, and the arts.[1][3][4][5][6] The Anthroposophical Society has its international center at the Goetheanum in Dornach, Switzerland.

So how many of you know that in Chester County is a hub for Anthroposophy? And other commune-ish beliefs for lack of a better word? Don’t want to use the word “cult” although I am hard pressed not to.

What, don’t believe me?  Heard of Kimberton-Waldorf School or Camphill Special School?

I fully admit I am a traditionalist when it comes to religious beliefs.  I am not one for magic underwear and double Jesuses. Not quite sure what to do with eurythmy or social finance.

I try to be live and let live, but I am amused to rediscover that in a sense the art of commune is alive and well in Chester County.  Only it’s not your good natured hippies of 1960s San Francisco. To me, while I mean these people no ill will, I find it all a little creepy.  Kind of like how I find polygamists creepy.

And there is a Big Love Chester County community that has been approved by London Grove Township for this West Grove thing called Three Groves EchoVillage:

HOMES Imagine living in a beautifully crafted home with no energy bills, a home filled with daylight and free of chemical toxins, a home that will save you money and support your family’s health, a home built to build memories. Welcome to Three Groves Ecovillage.COMMUNITY LIVING Imagine living in a place where your kids can play safely outside without supervision, a place rich with elders and youngsters, a place where neighbors look out for one another, a place that makes you feel really happy. Welcome to Three Groves Ecovillage.

Can you say commune boys and girls?   It might end up being LEED certified (another acronym for expensive building), but this is communal living. How do you feel about your neighbor washing your underwear?

Chester County Press: Supervisors give final approval to Ecovillage construction  15 Aug 11:35 , Published by ACL,  Categories:  In Print News

By Richard L. Gaw  Staff Writer

The London Grove Board of Supervisors gave final plan approval at their Aug. 7 meeting for the development of the long-awaited Three Groves Ecovillage in West Grove, an environmentally conscious development that is expected to break ground adjacent to Goddard Road this September.

Located on the corner of Prospect Avenue and West State Road, Three Groves will be a 37-unit complex that will incorporate sustainable and energy-efficient practices. It will include a common house, a natural pool, a rain garden, an orchard and walkways. The community has been designed to meet Net Zero Energy and LEED Platinum Certification.

Prior to receiving the 5-0 approval, representatives from Three Groves asked for and received waiver requests that asked for a reduction in township recreation fees for residents of  Three Groves; to remove a sidewalk to the end of the Three Groves property along State Road; as well as requests for waivers on various internal parking and roadway concerns.

Think I am being a ninny?  Check out a site called “Waldorf Watch”. They say right on their front page:

Anthroposophy, the bizarre religion concocted by Steiner.

There are nearly 1,000 Waldorf schools in the world today. Advocates of Waldorf education boast that theirs is the fastest growing independent-school movement in the world. Many thousands of children attend Waldorf schools — where they are subjected to covert occult indoctrination.
Despite the religious nature of Waldorf education, efforts are increasing — in the United States and elsewhere — to secure taxpayer support for the schools.
Humanity faces bigger problems than the proliferation of Waldorf schools and the spread of Rudolf Steiner’s esoteric doctrines. Nonetheless, the Waldorf movement should alarm anyone who is opposed to occultism.
My name is Roger Rawlings. I attended a Waldorf school from second grade through high school. My mother was secretary to the headmaster at that Waldorf school. Because I was in the school for so long, and because I occasionally questioned the headmaster, I gained some insights into Waldorf schools’ secret, occult agenda. More to the point, as an adult I have studied approximately one zillion books, booklets, and essays about Waldorf education and Rudolf Steiner’s doctrines. (It feels like a zillion, anyway.) Some of these materials were written by Waldorf educators, but the great majority were either written by Rudolf Steiner himself or they contain transcripts of lectures, meetings, and private conversations conducted by Rudolf Steiner. **  My objective here at Waldorf Watch is to share the results of my research with anyone interested in understanding the educational program that Rudolf Steiner laid out and that Waldorf schools embody today. There is nothing for sale at this website; there are no advertisements; I do not solicit anyone’s financial support. I am not looking for money or applause. My purpose is simple: It is to tell you the truth about Waldorf schools.

Chester County is also a hub of many off-shoot churches and extremely evangelical churches. These churches are off-shoots of traditional religion. One example?  Vineyard Community Church in Chester Springs. Ironically,  I know a Vineyard church pastor with a church in Ardmore.  Very nice guy, very spiritual. But this new-age approach to religion isn’t my cup of tea and these Vineyard Churches in my opinion are like a religious pyramid scheme. I know they will all be praying for me now, but I just don’t get it.  Kind of like how I do not get these new breeds of  evangelical Born Again Christians.

I guess this all goes back to my belief that I do believe religion should be part of your life if you so choose, I just don’t feel it should be captain of your life ship.  Religion like many other things in life is something I believe should be experienced in moderation.  And yes, I have touched on religion before on this blog. I try to be careful about it, because I don’t want to offend or cause villagers to raise up pitchforks, but there is stuff that just escapes me.  But I don’t have magic underwear so what do I know anyway?

Communes have a politically correct name now – “Intentional Communities”.  I found a website called Fellowship for Intentional Community and they list on their website a handy directory of your local communes.  Here is what they have listed for Chester County:

Camphill Village Kimberton Hills/Kimberton, Pennsylvania, United States:

Camphill Village Kimberton Hills is one of 10 North American communities in the Camphill movement–each one unique, yet all with similar purposes. We seek to create a renewed village life and to establish healthy social forms of human interdependence. Our approach is based on the inspirations of Rudolf Steiner’s anthroposophy, which allows each person to evolve to their potential as a respected individual

Altair Cohousing, Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, United States

Altair has been active for twelve years and currently consists of five families who have invested in cohousing. We follow the traditional cohousing model and are looking to build 30-40 units ranging in size from studios to four-bedroom units. We have our eye on sites in Kimberton….We seek people of all ages and income levels. At the moment, we need a solid group of investors!  You can visit our website or contact us by email or phone.

Concord Ecovillage/Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, United States/Newark, Delaware, United States/West Chester, Pennsylvania, United States

Concord Ecovillage envisions 30-40 very environmentally friendly homes, clustered around a central walkway, with a lively, well-used common house. We will have a community organic garden, native plantings, play space for the children, and many other amenities. We are actively seeking individuals and families with or without children and value diversity. We will be located within walking distance of a small town in southern Chester County PA or New Castle County, DE. We are both a cohousing community and an ecovillage. We place an emphasis on excellent facilitation of meetings, building social ties before we build homes, and honest group dynamics.     Status: looking  for land.

Three Groves Ecovillage, West Grove, Pennsylvania, United States (Corner of State Road and Prospect Ave.)

Three Groves Ecovillage is an organization of local people seeking to build and reside in an environmentally and socially sustainable neighborhood. We will break ground in Fall 2013! We have land in London Grove Township, on the south edge of West Grove PA, and intend to build a LEED-certified Platinum ecovillage neighborhood…An inter-generational, friendly atmosphere that is safe for children and conducive to visiting with neighbors.

* A large Common House, for optional shared meals and other activities.    * A pedestrian village that is clustered around walkways and the common house, with cars parked on the periphery of the site for safety and to maintain open spaces for nature and recreation.

There is even a magazine about this stuff called “Communities” :

Since 1972, Communities has been the primary resource for information, issues, stories, and ideas about intentional communities in North America—from urban co-ops to cohousing groups to ecovillages to rural communes. Communities now also focuses on creating and enhancing community in the workplace, in nonprofit or activist organizations, and in neighborhoods, with enhanced coverage of international communities as well. We explore the joys and challenges of cooperation in its many dimensions.

This whole “group process” stuff is just weird. When did being in a traditional religion or even being in your own home or whatever it is go out of fashion? Is communal living a new trend? Are we morphing into some Logan’s Run society where soon we will make no decisions, they will be made for us? Of the sheeple, by the sheeple, for the sheeple?

I don’t get it. But Chester County has a history of cults and communes and group living.  I am told it just exists out of the normal view shed.  Here check out the “Battle Axe” Cult of North Coventry Township of the 1840s:

A quote from the Bible explaining the name. The actual quote is from Jeremiah 51:20, not 51:6: “Thou art my battle axe and weapons of war: for with thee will I break in pieces the nations, and with thee will I destroy kingdoms;”

Religious cult spread through Norco in mid-1800s

Sunday, January 4, 2009 2:31 PM EST

By Michael Snyder, Special to The Mercury

One Sunday in 1843, the members of Shenkel Church, in North Coventry Township, Chester County, had their weekly service interrupted by a procession of interlopers cavorting down the main aisle waving their arms and crying out. Not only were they noisy, they weren’t dressed in their Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes; in fact, they weren’t wearing any clothes at all.

These cavorters were not outsiders. Most were former members of the Shenkel congregation and relatives of the people seated in the pews. They weren’t thrill seekers or practical jokers, but members of the Battle Axes, a cult that made its appearance in northern Chester County in 1840.

The Battle Axes, one of the many cults that sprang up during the Second Great Awakening, a religious revival that swept through America in the early 19th century, was the creation of Theophilus Ransom Gates….

Almost all of Gates’ recruits came from northwestern North Coventry Township. This was called Shenkel’s Valley, but after the Gatesites began practicing their faith, the name Shenkel lost out to Free Love.

There probably were never any more than 35 Battle Axers. Strangely, even though Gates continued as their leader, he is seldom mentioned as having an active role in that sect in the Coventry area. According to North Coventry historian E. Spencer Claypoole, Gates and his wife, Mary, lived with Samuel Reinhard in East Coventry Township. He died Oct. 30, 1846, and is buried amongst members of the Reinhart family in the Union Cemetery in Parker Ford.

The movement was so poorly organized; there were no written codes of conduct, no formal liturgy was developed, and there doesn’t seem to have been a set time or location for their meetings. However anecdotal records reveal that group nudity, emulating the pure state of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, played an important role in Battle Axe service.

They were known to have had meetings in Hannah Shingle’s spring house, present day 1525 Shenkel Road, and at the farm of George Snyder on Unionville Road. One of their favorite ritual spots was a pond on the west side of Cold Springs Road. Here, according to the historian Charles Sellers, “they would enter the water in single file.” “It was the greatest sacrilege . . . to look behind,” but “once in the water the ‘natur’of ‘em’ broke lose.”

From Farm Community to Haven for Free Sexual Affairs

Sunday Local News, West Chester, PA, pp A17-A18, March 29, 1987 Identical text to original article – added to this site Oct. 6, 1997

 By ELIZABETH HUMPHREY of the Local News Staff

In the northernmost wooded country side of Chester county lies a village called Shenkel, its serenity only a cover for the tumultuous hedonism of the past.

Consider the mid-19th century – as straight laced as women’s corsets, covered by the layers upon layers of frills and enshrouding societal “lace.” Somber and reserved.

Ironically considering the severity of repression at the start of the Victorian age, the era brought on the antithesis of reserve in many an unassuming American town.

Such was the advent of Free Love Valley (so designated on certain old Chester County maps): religious cult, nudist colony, alleged Utopia. The transformation of the small North Coventry township corners from a peaceful farming community to a haven for sexual exchange and un-inhibited nudity followed the arrival of an evangelist by the name of Theophilus Ransom Gates.

The story is told in detail by Charles Coleman Sellers in “Theophilus the Battle-Axe.” A sickly boy, born in Connecticut in 1787, he was haunted by visions of the pits of hell.

Thrown into Philadelphia’s Old Arch Street Prison for debt, Gates gained note for an impassioned public plea in which he attacked the practice of jailing debtors.

I remember in the 1980s someone telling me of some sort of communal living thing somewhere off Route 926 in Westtown.  It was described as more of a Shaker-like community. Of course, Shakers were religious commune communities, weren’t they? There was that whole Utopian mind-set and communal living, right? The Shakers gave us many things interestingly enough. Beautifully simple architecture, form meets purpose.  Baskets? Chairs? Furniture? Yet everything in its simple beauty had a purpose.

And students of history? Owenism? A communal Utopian community was in Valley Forge based on Ownenist principals – Valley Forge Community, Valley Forge, Chester County, PA (1826). Also known as “Friendly Association of Mutual Interests.”  (Check out the list of Communal Societies from the late 1600s)

I guess we can safely say communes and quasi-religious communal living is as American as apple pie.  We are a land of religious freedom, but these groups seem to forgo both religious and individual freedoms for group mentality, don’t they? Our founding fathers provided this right when our country was formed, but do these groups in fact, harken back to  (in a sense) what people were escaping from in the first place?

Any thoughts? Do we call these communities cults, communes, or just creepy?

Some further interesting reading? An old, old  book called History of Chester County, Pennsylvania, with genealogical and biographical sketches (1881) – you can read it online or get for Kindle, etc.