The Shakers

Watched an interesting hour-long PBS/Ken Burns documentary on The Shakers last night via Netflix Instant.

I knew of their furniture-making and had remembered something about them being celibate, but I didn’t know that the woman who essentially founded them was originally a Quaker and that they were called the Shaking Quakers at first.

They were called Shakers (or Shaking Quakers) due to the ecstatic, joyous singing and dancing they did in their worship.

The Shakers are sort of an intriguing version of Protestant monasticism, only with men and women living together (but separately). They’d have separate entrances and stairwells for men and women. The women were mostly seen as equals, much like the Quakers. Only because of the separation of the sexes, women couldn’t do men’s work and vice versa. They believed that was both male and female. Men and women were equal in the eyes of God. As such, women were not below men.

But they were celibate, only took their members from converts, and orphans that they raised and were an American phenomenon.

They believed that their labor was a form of prayer, which explains the craftsmanship they put into making each chair or piece of furniture. They were also known for their simple but sturdy architecture. Many of the original Shaker buildings still stand.

Like the Quakers, they were pacifist. They believed in peace, in simple living, but unlike the Quakers, did it communally. They built everything themselves and worked hard to have a life of quality.

It’s difficult to find that sort of quality anymore. I think we approach it when we look at monasteries that make items to sell for money to keep their community alive.  Amish furniture is also know for its quality, and they are similar to the Shakers (without the celibacy, naturally) in that they are Christian communities that believe in peace, simple living, and in building things of quality. Like the Shakers, they shun the modern world.

Surprisingly, there are still Shakers. Wikipedia give their current number as 5. That’s it. Just 5 Shakers. They’re probably all old as well. It’s sad to realize that such a wonderful American religion is dying.  All at a time when our society desperately needs the message and gifts of the Shakers. The call to simple living, the giving up of sexuality, the belief in making quality long-lasting products by hand. The message of simplicity.

~ by R.M. McGrath on 06/02/2012.

One Response to “The Shakers”

  1. The Shaker Museum in Kentucky is, unfortunately, haunted by unhelpful personalities.


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