From Wilderness to Eternity
written by volunteer Adrian Bean
Are you wandering in the Wilderness, or lounging in a deckchair on the shore of the Dead Sea, or are you a Water-taker, or best of all, in a Company? That’s the question set by committed Panacea Society member Muriel Gillett in an edition of The Panacea, a magazine that Society members would read avidly, as this was a major form of communication from HQ to followers all over the world. As with much of what the Society did, the language is arcane and in keeping with the rituals and processes in which the members followed.
'The Panacea' magazine on display in the printing room at the museum
Gillett was one of the select number of members who were privy to the mysteries and workings of the Society’s Healing Department. The department was known as “CSS,” short for the Latin “Communitas Sancti Spiritus,” meaning “Community of the Holy Ghost.” This was the Society’s name until 1926, when the word “panacea” became a more appropriate one to sum up this very significant part of the Society’s activities.
The term “Wilderness People” was used to sum up the situation of people not yet involved with the Society, who the Society considered are like nomads wandering in an arid wasteland, wondering what way to take in Life. At some point, they might ask for information on the Society, and be sent literature. They might take the interest further, but might equally just carry on without any more contact with the Society. It seems to have been Mabel Barltrop’s express instruction that such enquiries from the Wilderness should be followed up at a later date, as she wanted to do “the very best for any persons who have the very smallest Hope in the Appearing,” and tried to keep even the smallest of flames alive. Detailed records of such Wilderness People making enquiries were kept. One, in December 1968, has 58 names with Bedford addresses, including a local chiropodist and a local dentist. I suspect that existing members actively tried to get these people interested whilst going about their normal lives, such as going to buy shoes or going to a dentist.
If a Wilderness person chose not to respond to the literature but to go back to a life outside the Society, then they were visualised as people living on the margin of the Dead Sea or the Sea of Mortality, deciding to go back to sitting in their deckchairs rather than take the first steps to Society membership and a better and more meaningful existence. They became “Dead Sea People.” A special filing cabinet was kept for following up with these people annually, for the hope was that as the Day of Revelation couldn’t be far off, these people would remember the Society and get in touch again for help and advice.
On the other hand, rather than return through the Wilderness to the Dead Sea, some people would take the first step to becoming members, and the most usual “entry level” would be to become a Water-Taker. Well over 100,000 people became connected with the Society in this way, but they weren’t members proper. They were given instructions of how to use the small pieces of linen, water and relevant prayers so that they might be cured of illnesses. The key point in this was that they had to report to Communitas Sancti Spiritus at regular intervals on how they were progressing. In turn, CSS would give them advice, and through this correspondence they maintained a channel of communication, which would make it a smooth uncomplicated process for them to become members in due course. The detailed records were maintained and updated up to the end of the Society’s existence in 2012.
Blessed linen squares, which were posted out and added to water to cure illnesses
To become a fully sealed member was an extremely complicated process, and the terminology used was similarly complex. The four stages were lengthy, but included, for example, in Phase 1:
The Marriage Vow
The Casting of Controls
The Command to the Solar Plexus
After a phase called “The Destruction of the Mortal Soul”, the third phase “The Withering of the Mortal Mind” included “The Opening of the Door by the Divine Mother, that the black birds might fly forth.”
The final phase was “The Cursing of the Fig Tree.”
For most members the whole process took a long time (although Peter Rasmussen went through with flying colours in just a few days) after which they would then be given a Seal and become a member of a “Company.” There were various seals, including the White, Crimson and Royal seals. The whole process was full of Ritual and Ceremonials, and the terminology used would impress or even strike fear in the supplicants, especially if ‘The Divine Mother’ Emily Goodwin, was present. At one point, Peter Rasmussen would use a sword to ceremonially pierce holes in pieces of paper.
Ultimately, the member might become worthy of Salvation on the Day of Revelation. Of course, as members sat in their Garden of Eden they didn’t find Christ physically joining them there, but even so they would have considered it far better than the alternative…sitting staring out hopelessly over the Dead Sea.