The Book, Cat, & Cat Book Lovers Almanac

of historical trivia regarding books, cats, and other animals. Actually this blog has evolved so that it is described better as a blog about cats in history and culture. And we take as a theme the advice of Aldous Huxley: If you want to be a writer, get some cats. Don't forget to see the archived articles linked at the bottom of the page.

July 8, 2013

July 8, 1921

Ellen Frederica Oliver (July 16, 1870 to July 8, 1921) , was born in Guernsey, an island off the coast of Normandy and belonging to England. Ellen Oliver is remembered today for her participation in the Panacea Society. This fringe Christian group had a world wide audience in the 1930s and is still extant. The group started with some suffragettes who became interested in the century old story of the Southcottian box, a sealed box containing advice from Joanna Southcott (April 1750 to December 27,  1814). This box was only to be opened by 24 bishops of the Church of England in a time of national emergency. The actual location of this box now is disputed but the Panacea Society presently claims to have had the box since 1957, and are keeping it in a secret place until the bishops of the Church of England can be persuaded to participate. 

Ellen Oliver exhibits in her life the connection of the suffragettes and the Panacea Society. She became part of a Southcottian circle around Mabel Barltrop, the widow of an Anglican priest who since his death had been hospitalized twice for mental instability.  Ellen, according to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography:

 ....was....the third of four daughters of Samuel Pasfield Oliver, a captain in the Royal Artillery and a geographer who was an authority on Madagascar, and his wife, Clara Georgina, nee Dick (1842-1899). ....[S]he .. became a member of the Women's Social and Political Union, and was imprisoned during the suffragette campaign. She became a Southcottian through suffragette networks....

[Ellen Oliver joined the people around Mabel Barltrop, of whom the] ...earliest members were mostly middle-class and female, often spinsters or widows, mostly in their fifties and sixties. Many were the wives, widows, daughters, or sisters of Church of England clergy, disillusioned with the established church because women could do so little in it. The feminine imagery of Southcott's and Octavia's [Mabel's] theology was part of the appeal of the society. These women brought to the society and its beliefs a domestic religiosity. Octavia remarked that what God needed for the establishment of the kingdom on earth was a group of 'sensible, matter-of-fact women to take on the housekeeping on earth, ......'

[Part of the Southcottian theme was the coming of a messiah.]

On 14 February 1919 Ellen Oliver had a revelation that Barltrop was that female messiah, Shiloh. With ratification from other followers, Mabel Bartltrop declared herself Shiloh-the daughter of God. [Her followers] ....gave her the name Octavia because she was seen as the eighth prophet in the Southcottian line. The Trinitarian God of orthodox Christianity was now reconfigured to become 'foursquare': God the Father, God the Mother (the Holy Spirit), Jesus the Son, and Octavia the Daughter.
....
Octavia believed that she received daily messages from God by the means of automatic writing. She sat down every afternoon at 5.30 p.m. to receive that message and then took it straight to the chapel, where it was read as one of the lessons in evening prayer, a service that was otherwise largely taken from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. These scripts were
[later] gathered together and published in sixteen volumes as The Writings of the Holy Ghost.

Here is a sample of what I think are automatic writings.  I found it online as text from 
The Panacea, Volume 9:

[T]he duties of the priesthood...have been successfully forgotten. But the New Hell ...will not suffer itself to be forgotten. ..."Hell" - the underworld-"hath opened her mouth"; the motor bandits, the cat burglars, the bag snatchers, the child kidnappers...

What we have above is a glimpse of urban ills, and their reception by middle class women who may or may  not have identified their source correctly. But the Panacea Society objected to some of the effects of city life.  They were certainly new aggravations to the middle class.

According to the ODNB article we  quoted to start with, the members of the Panacea Society were devout supporters of the British monarchy, and the British empire. They did not fly on airplanes, nor wear the fashionably short skirts. This is how the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography sums up the popularity of the Panacea Society.

At least part of the society's appeal lay in its capacity for a nostalgic version of Englishness combined with a radically heterodox theology, which gave full roles to women.

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