Devotion vs. Perception
written by volunteers Rachel Carter and Esme Hill
Joanna Southcott was born in 1749 and was believed to be the second prophet of the ‘Visitation.’ Whilst she had no former education herself, she had a scribe, who wrote down all her prophecies. Just prior to her death in 1814, she sealed all her writings, which were to be opened in a state of national crisis, away in a box. Her stipulations of revealing the boxes contents, were that 24 bishops were present and that the box was opened in a particular manner.
A replica of Joanna's box, on display in the Panacea Museum
As the presence of the bishops were a crucial factor in the box’s unveilment, the Panacea Society were constantly on guard for their arrival. The museum contains a reconstruction of the sitting room as well as a bedroom and bathroom that was to be used by the visitors. The Society’s sitting room would contain a dining set as well as polished silverware in preparation for the arrival of the bishops. The bathroom would have also been stocked up with a supply of soap and hot water bottles. This demonstrates the perpetual state of readiness the members found themselves in, this continued even up until the last members died. This illustrates the dedication the Society members felt towards the cause, and their belief that the world was doomed to end.
For an organisation known for a lack of connection to the outside world, a rejection of Edwardian norms, and a tendency to hark back to the ways of the Victorian era, their advertising campaign was somewhat surprising. The Society created numerous petitions and posters calling for bishops to help open the box. They also wrote various letters to the bishops personally, pleading them to aid the cause. This makes it more evident that the members felt that some sort of apocalypse was imminent and relied on the box for a source of hope and a sense of security.
Despite the Panaceans’ devotion to the cause, not everyone felt the same way. The Church of England bishops did not share the same ethos as the Society and many of the numerous letters addressed to them went unanswered.
Similarly, many of those who became aware of their campaign believed that the members were delusional – which was not helped by how secluded the group were in later years.
The Panacea Society's 'Open the Box' campaign
The main point of contact the Panacea Society had with the outside was through their campaigns promoting Southcott’s box (for example London billboards in the 1970s) and their 'panacea' cure for all ills (that 120,000 applied for globally). Their isolation from the rest of the world made them seem strange to the public and more often than not, those who are not understood, are feared.The reaction from the bishops and the outside world represents this fear.
When non-members and non-believers saw confusion and even delusion, the Panaceans themselves saw Truth and had a genuine belief that the end was coming. It is important to remember that this, to them, was a reality.