Juvenile Instructor » Jane Lead and the Restoration; Or, In Praise Our Heavenly Mother
 


Jane Lead and the Restoration; Or, In Praise Our Heavenly Mother

By: Steve Fleming - December 17, 2012

In 1670, two months after her husband died, Jane Lead had her first of many remarkable visions. Lead said she was out for a walk and thinking about Wisdom [1] in the Bible, when

there came upon me an overshadowing bright Cloud, and in the midst of it the Figure of a Woman, most richly adorned with transparent Gold, her hair hanging down and her Face as the terrible Crystal for brightness, but her Countenance was sweet and mild. At which sight I was somewhat amazed, but immediately this Voice came, saying, Behold, I am God’s Eternal Virgin-Wisdom, whom thou hast been enquiring after; I am to unseal the Treasures of God’s deep Wisdom unto thee, and will be as Rebecca was unto Jacob, a true Natural Mother; for out of my Womb thou shalt be brought forth after the manner of a Spirit, Conceived and Born again. [2]


As cool as this vision is, her “second vision” is even more remarkable.

Now after three days, sitting under a Tree, the same Figure in greater Glory did appear, with a Crown upon her Head, full of Majesty; saying, Behold me as thy Mother, and know thou art to enter into Covenant, to obey the New Creation-Laws, that shall be revealed unto thee. Then did she hold out a Golden Book with three Seals upon it, saying, Herein lieth hidden the deep Wonders of Jehovah’s Wisdom, which hath been sealed up, that none could, or ever shall break up, but such as of her Virgin-Offspring shall appear to be; who will her Laws receive, and keep, as they shall spring daily in the New Heart and Mind. This Appearance, and Words, was wonderfully sweet and refreshing in my Soul; at which I bowed, and prostrated at her Feet; promising to be obedient to all her Laws. [3]

Even more striking than these visions are the “the Treasures of God’s deep Wisdom” that Heavenly Mother unsealed to Lead.  For instance, in her Enochian Walks with God (40 pages), she mentions Enoch, Melchizedek priesthood, Urim and Thummim, a heavenly temple liturgy, a garment to enter the holy of holies, humans becoming angels and gods, humans helping other humans in their post-mortal progression, Elijah turning the hearts of the fathers to the children and children to the fathers, multiple gods, universal salvation after post-mortal purgation, Heavenly Mother, Mary as the embodiment of Heavenly Mother on earth, marriage in heaven, three heavens, and even Heavenly Mother giving birth to spirit children.

The only distinctly Mormon practice that I have not found in Lead’s works (and I’ve only just begun reading them) is baptism for the dead. But the Ephrata Cloister, which did practice baptism for the dead, was heavily influenced by Lead. [4] The chief difference between Lead’s visions and Mormon doctrine is that Lead is more mystical and Platonic, [5] while JS’s visions are more concrete. Lead is also somewhat more spirit-over-body than JS. Yet I would say that this difference is simply one of emphasis; one could say that JS essentially put Lead’s vision into practice. What do we make of these similarities? [6]

As I’ve argued around here, we should not see similarities as a problem. Lead and her followers, called the Philadelphians, made attempts to usher in the New Kingdom toward the end of Lead’s life. Lead hoped for “a selected gathering, as a Heaven-Born Society, which by coming together, may make up the holy Priestly Body, whom God may give witness unto, by pitching with them his Tabernacle-Presence, in great Power and Glory. O for this, how hath my Soul and Spirit been carried forth to seek and wait upon it? and still must it pursue, till my God shall it fulfill, as decreed it is in his Will.” [7]  The Philadelphians soon met with frustration.  Lead was ridiculed as an “enthusiast” and even called a “Doxie,” or whore.  The Philadelphians withdrew their efforts, and waited for a better time. [8]

Lead died shortly after in 1704, but her follower Richard Roach tried to keep the movement alive and wrote a tract on what the coming millenium would be like.  Art, science, and music would advance to new heights and also, Roach asserted, “this Restoration and Advancement of the Female Sex to the same Freedom and Dignity with the Male shall prove in the Event, the Glory of this Age.” [9]

Since we Mormons view the Restoration as an important event, visionaries that prepared the way ought to be embraced by us. The editor of the Millennial Star did just that in 1856, when he came across Lead’s writings.

We have seldom read anything more pointed or expressive of the Latter-day Work than the foregoing. It is another evidence that those who are spiritually minded, according to the light and advantages they have, can seek after God and learn of His ways—that He giveth liberally to all who ask wisdom of Him, and upbraideth not. It was a conviction of this fact that inspired the Prophet Joseph to ask, and in answer to which he received a knowledge of the Latter-day Work and purposed of God, even before he had obeyed any outward ordinances which entitled him to the spirit of inspiration which made him a Prophet and Seer to the World. Many persons have been inspired by God to do certain works, and proclaim truths, who never had an opportunity of embracing the everlasting Gospel. But how much more should those possess the spirit of inspiration and prophecy who have access to God through His only ordinances.-ED [Samuel W. Richards]. [10]

And if we embrace the role of this great prophetess in preparing the way for the Restoration, then it is also worth noting the special role that Heavenly Mother played in those revelations. As Heavenly Mother is one of our special doctrines, I hope that even with all our divisions that we can remember the things that unite us and that we will also remember the many contributions of women in brining about these truths. [11]

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[1] Lead’s notion of Wisdom as Heavenly Mother comes from Jacob Boehme, of whom Lead was a follower.  Boehme’s notion comes from Henry Suso, who popularized the idea in the late Middle Ages.

[2] Jane Lead, A Fountain of Gardens Watered by the Rivers of Divine Pleasure ad Springing up in All the Variety of Spiritual Plants; Blown up by the Pure Breath into a Paradise Sending Forth Their Sweet Savours and Strong Odours, for Soul-Refreshing (London J. Bradford 1696) 18.  Leads works can be found online.

[3] ibid., 19-20.

[4] The Ephrata Cloister began baptizing for the dead because, just as Lead has encouraged, they felt they had the Melchizedek priesthood.  But their ancestors had not been baptized by that authority so they were baptized by proxy for the dead based on 1 Cor 15:29.

[5] Lead uses Platonic terminology much more than JS.  JS, like Lead, refers to Christian Platonic ides and practices.

[6] While some of Lead’s writings had been reprinted in English, I think if unlikely that JS or his first followers read Lead directly (the English converts would have had easier access).  However, Lead influenced a number of thinkers and movements that did influence JS and the first Mormons: Swedenborg; German groups like the Dunkers; John Wesley’s early mentor, William Law, was a fan of Lead’s.  I’m also curious if Lead had any influence on the Freemasons with all their talk about temples.  I also understand that someone is writing a dissertation on Lead and Mormonism.  While Lead is going in my dissertation (the second comment), it is not my intent to write a dissertation specifically on Lead and Mormonism, but to use Lead in my thesis on Mormonism and Christian Platonism.

[7] Jane Lead, The Tree of Faith or The Tree of Life, Springing up in the Paradise of God from Which All the Wonders of the New Creation, in the Virgin Church of the –First born of Wisdom Must Proceed (London: J. Bradford, 1696), 9.

[8] Paula McDowell, “Enlightenment Enthusiasms and the Spectacular Failure of the Philadelphian Society,” Eighteenth-Century Studies 35 no. 4, (2002): 515-33.

[9] D. P. Walker, The Decline of Hell: Seventeenth-Century Discussions of Eternal Torment (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1964), 248-49; Julie Hirst, Jane Leade: Biography of a Seventeenth-Century Mystic (Aldershot: UK: Ashgate, 2005), 142.

[10] “Extracts for the Revelations of Jane Leade,” Millennial Star 20, no. 8 (Feb 20, 1858) 124-25.  The Millennial Star printed two “extracts” from Lead’s writings, which look like prophesies of the coming forth of Mormonism.  But as I haven’t been able to find those exact quote, I think the translator of the work (Lead had a bigger German than English following and her works were all translated into German; the Millennial Star translated the passage from English to German) may have taken liberties.  Lead does discuss many Mormon-looking ideas, so I can understand the editor’s enthusiasm.

[11] The Philadephians saw Lead as one of the great prophetesses of their day along with Madam Guyon and Antoinette Bourignon as  the “TRIUNE WONDER OF THE WORLD,” that would usher in the New Kingdom.  Hirst, Jane Leade, 142. Guyon and Bourignon are also very interesting.

 

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9 Comments

  1. Amazing find, Steve! Any more light we can gain re Heavenly Mother and Her prophetesses is wonderful.

    Comment by EdwardJ — December 17, 2012 @ 5:51 pm

  2. Fascinating!

    Comment by John T. — December 17, 2012 @ 11:26 pm

  3. Steve– this is fantastic, and there’s much richness here that women’s historians will want to claim or at least tinker with. There are two points that I find especially interesting. The first is that here we have a Heavenly Mother who gives birth to spirit children. Many feminists might find this troubling in light of recent interpretations of the “clothing or organizing intelligences” as the process of spiritual creation, as opposed to the literal embodiment of spirits that runs throughout Mormon folklore about Heavenly Mother. With that in mind, did Lead ever reference any forms of spiritual plurality of wives or how spiritual procreation would take place?

    Second observation is the notion of “this Restoration and Advancement of the Female Sex to the same Freedom and Dignity with the Male shall prove in the Event, the Glory of this Age.” You see this idea repeated over and over in early Mormon women’s discourse, the Exponent, and RS narratives by Eliza, Emmeline, and others, with their specific tack being that it was the organization of the RS that paved the way for that ultimate emancipation of women. But most compelling was how they could so easily juxtapose that emancipation with the practice of polygamy, and in a patriarchal culture. So, did Lead see that emancipation taking a specific form? Was it spiritual, political, sexual/familial, or did it involve throwing off forms of earthly or eternal patriarchy? Richards doesn’t seem to be as interested in the gendered significance of her prophecies, but it begs some comparisons.

    Comment by Andrea R-M — December 18, 2012 @ 1:53 am

  4. Really interesting stuff, thanks for writing about it. I’ll piggyback on Andrea’s comments. It strikes me that this vision of a divine female is much more detailed than the vision of the Mother in Heaven that Eliza Snow and her contemporaries had. For them, it seemed that Snow’s revelation that there WAS a Heavenly Mother was the main focus. The details of who she was and how she interacted with mortals remained vague and usually explored in literary rather than overt revelatory visions. This is interesting in light of Andrea’s questions and observations that these early women had rather concrete and detailed understandings of how women would increase in status and spiritual power. Don’t know what to make of it yet, but interesting! In many ways these visions seem more similar to contemporary descriptions/visions of the Heavenly Mother which tend to be much more physically detailed and interested in how this figure interacts directly with humans. Again, thanks! Good stuff!

    Comment by Susanna M. — December 18, 2012 @ 11:10 am

  5. Edward and John, thanks.

    Andrea, there has been some scholarship on Lead, but relatively litte considering that she was the most prolific female author of her era.
    On spiritual birth, she kind of conflates pre mortal birth and mortal spiritual rebirth. Here’s a quote:

    “Now it was shewn me that this Glorious Virgin was She of whom the Lord Christ was born in the Flesh, who is the Figure of the eternal Virgin, which was from Eternity, by whom is recover’d all of Eves Generation of Lost Births, in which the Virgin-Purity was deflowred; but out of this Virgins Womb brought forth, and made manifest in time, Angellical Births again for a new created Host of Spiritual born Creatures, begotten by the Holy Ghost, wherein the unfathomable Mystery of the Wisdom, and Love of God is made manifest to the lapsed state which came in by Adam and Eve, so that we are to reckon our selves born anew into the unity tending to all Purity of Perfection with Christ our First Born from the Dead, and for to appropriate this Eternal Virgin for our supernatural Mother; It is to be observed those Words which our Lord did let fall when he was upon the Cross, to the beloved John, saying to him, Behold thy Mother (which was the Virgin Mary, who was the Representation of the Eternal Virgin.) So that from this it may be concluded, that the Lord doth transfer this privilege of Adoption, whereby we may entitle this Virgin for our true Mother;” Enochian Walks with God, 27.

    In terms of polygamy, Lead talks about a big heavenly marriage of all the saints. In the holy of hollies, or highest heaven, everyone is married to each other. The Philadelphians were accused of free love, which they vigorously denied.

    I did not know that line was often used in RS journals; I’m glad I put it in. In terms of how Lead viewed the emancipation, she believed that she was ushering in the millenium where all these problems would be fixed. She felt the culture of her day was rotten and she was crying repentance. I have a lot more to read, but I’ve read that some scholars are frustrated with Lead for not being political enough, not advocating for reform. Reform for Lead is purifying the soul, so that we can all be like Enoch and talk with God.

    Susanna, while Mormon notions of Heavenly Mother remain vague, I’m interested in Lead’s vivid descriptions in comparison to JS’s detailed descriptions of angels like Moroni. Boehme was much more amorphous in his descriptions of Sophia. Among these visionaries, things became more concrete over time.

    As I mentioned to Andrea, Lead didn’t have much of a political agenda. Her job was to spread the word and hope the righteous would flock to her. When that didn’t happen to the degree she hoped, she withdrew and waited (but died soon after.)

    Comment by Steve Fleming — December 18, 2012 @ 11:46 am

  6. REALLY cool stuff. Thanks for digging this up, Steve.

    Comment by Jeremy Orbe-Smith — December 19, 2012 @ 5:33 am

  7. Possibly my favorite post yet. I had no idea Heavenly Mother was a motif– as a distinctive figure, and not just the mother Christ figure of Julian of Norwich, etc.– during this time period.
    I am curious why I continue to see an association of polygamy with a Heavenly Mother figure; this happened also in the Meridian Magazine piece a week or two ago (in the comments). Is this simply because a early male Saints incorporated polygamy (what they thought was the “celestial order of marriage” until the early 1900s) into the divine model, or because of some other theologically compelling necessity?

    Comment by Rachael — December 19, 2012 @ 1:31 pm

  8. Thanks Jeremy.

    That’s particularly flattering, Rachael. As far as why people link polygamy with Heavenly Mother, I’m not sure, except to say that maybe because Heavenly Mother implies marriage in heaven, and for some reason when people think of marriage in heaven they come up with all sorts of creative ideas. The belief that Christ married his mother when she ascended to heaven was standard in the Middle Ages. Mystics use marriage language when talking about God all the time. As mentioned, Lead talked about a big group marriage in heaven; Lead even talked about marriage when describing her relationship with Heavenly Mother. Go figure.

    Comment by Steve Fleming — December 19, 2012 @ 5:41 pm

  9. Very cool stuff, Steve. These parallels remind me of the similarities between Mormon doctrine and the teachings of the Protestant reformer Thomas Muntzer.

    Comment by Pete Wosnik — December 20, 2012 @ 7:44 pm