How would the Panaceans have coped with the Coronavirus if it had happened in their era: some personal speculations
by Adrian Bean
How would the Panaceans have coped with the Coronavirus if it had happened in their era. Would lockdown restrictions have changed the way they went about their mission? Would they have been at all concerned? After all, they wouldn’t need to worry as in theory they had the panacea in their hands….
On the face of it, you’d think they would cope well. Particularly in the early days they were resilient people, driven by an unbreakable belief in their leader, people living in a confident community with a strong common purpose. Of course, they had no worries about any kind of virus as their Healing Mission was based on the belief that they had the cure for all illnesses. Many thousands of “water-takers” used the small square pieces of linen which Mabel Barltrop had breathed upon as a way of curing themselves of anything (apart from Cancer). Even though Mabel herself had long-term physical and mental illnesses, they firmly believed in the power of Faith, water and the linen. From all over the world, letters from those cured seemed to prove this.
They took things further. The linen sections could protect their money if hidden in the relevant Bank, a protection card would stop them being injured in a road accident if kept in their wallet or handbag, and between the wars they even suggested that a tactic to protect the country from German bombers in any future war would be to drop the holy water on the attacking aircraft from above. But their communal way of life would surely have been under great strain if the 2020 virus had happened a century before.
In their heyday of the 1920s and 30s, a normal day would include time spent working in the offices or elsewhere at the Campus, being close to like-minded believers, close to their leader, attending the evening service at the chapel and then returning to Community houses that were mostly in the Albany Road area. To some extent they already had a form of Social Distancing, in that although they were part of the Bedford community generally, they were considered “different.” Yes, they went shopping in town (to certain more friendly shops such as Braggins, Dix or Laxton’s), yes they went to the Cinema and Theatre (but restricted to a small number of occasions) and yes they were quietly active in helping the War Effort in the 1940’s, but they were known as the “Bedford Witches” or the “Bedford Loonies”; they kept themselves to themselves, with their own particular lifestyle and ways of conducting themselves. In principle, they could cope with isolation, but formal restrictions would have given them problems.
Mabel 'Octavia' Barltrop
Mabel’s self-imposed restrictions on how far she could travel from her home at 12 Albany Road meant that she could visit only a few of her Community houses nearby, so members would come to the Garden of Eden to meet, walk and talk, just as they believed one day Christ would meet, walk and talk with them there. Our 2020s restrictions on groups meetings would have completely changed this way of life, and perhaps communication would have been reduced to a member delivering copies of the Daily Scripts to Community Houses on the route of their hour-long walk for exercise along the Embankment. Members living in other parts of town distant from Albany Road, such as Major and Mrs Bean at 116 Foster Hill Road, would have felt marooned, wondering what was happening. I suspect that Alice Jones would have been frustrated by having to stop her weekly visits to London’s Speakers’ Corner, where she would stand on a soap-box and despite the heckling, bravely publicise the campaign to open Joanna Southcott’s Box of Prophecies.
Some early members would have lived during the massive loss of life in the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918/19, but would not have been aware of its full extent, whereas nowadays we have perhaps too much information thanks to modern mass communications. The Community didn’t have a “wireless set” until 1923, and relied mainly on such right-wing newspapers as the Morning Post, which were complicit in playing down the extent of the death toll (possibly 50 million worldwide including 250,000 in Britain). At least that meant the media didn’t feed the flames of “panic buying” as in 2020.
Medical practice of the era didn’t have our modern knowledge of vaccines or antibiotics, and the movement and demobilisation of troops worldwide would have vastly increased the speed that the flu spread. Young people were hit worst by the flu pandemic, whereas Coronavirus is most serious for the elderly…and of course, many Panacea Society members were elderly, often quite frail and lived in housing with few “modern” facilities such as hot water and electrical equipment. There was no NHS. Despite the linen, the houses would be homes for many elderly and vulnerable people, isolated and secretly worried.
Emily Goodwin 'The Divine Mother'
But Mabel and Emily Goodwin were clever, astute leaders. I suspect that they would have used their initiative, single-mindedness and differing personalities to strengthen the Society in its beliefs. Mabel was strong-willed and stubbornly persuasive; she might well have told members to ignore the instructions of politicians about group meetings. After all, if she felt it was God’s will for members to congregate, then it would be only right for her to carry on as before. She might have seen the virus as a test set for mankind, a punishment for the unbelievers but a way for her Community to get closer to their eventual Heaven on Earth. It might be a sign for the 24 Bishops to finally congregate to open Joanna Southcott’s Box. And if they didn’t, then this would be another indication that Mankind was not yet worthy of the long-awaited Millennium. Evils such as a virus might well be the work of Satan himself, but equally they might show the path to redemption. Mabel could be a charismatic empathetic woman, and I suspect members would have done as they were told.
They would have scoured the Old Testament to find predictions about the virus, probably quoting the Plagues of Egypt and especially the apocalyptic visions in Revelation. I imaging Peter Rasmussen in particular spending hours and hours doing this. Everyone would be waiting for the next instructions from Emily Goodwin as the voice of the Divine Mother, waiting with some hope and probably trepidation.
Even into the 1970’s, members listed in great detail all the known disasters of the year, such as earthquakes, floods and railway accidents, as these could be an indication that the dramatic events in the Book of Revelation were imminent, that the Millennium was imminent. All turned out to be false-starts, as did the great anticipation of the few remaining members as they waited for the year 2000 to arrive…surely this must be THE Millennium. It wasn’t.
So how would they have coped? Well, a lockdown would have been less uncomfortable for them than for most people, as they had servants to help them in their comfortable existence, but restrictions would have to be overcome one way or another. They still had Hope, and I think they would have coped stoically with the 2020 Coronavirus if it had happened a hundred years before; just as Mabel had to suffer all her illnesses for the sake of mankind, so too would they have to experience this suffering.
They hoped that a New and Better World would result, just as we hope that a better society will result from the 2020 virus; but their Better World didn’t come, and I suspect we will be disappointed as well.