Women have moved from a state of virtual slavery in the 19th century, to near equality in the 21st century through the efforts of many heroic Women who were willing to challenge patriarchy. One such Woman was Mary Baker Eddy, who not only single-handed started her own Christian Sect; she made a powerful demonstration of the power of the mind.
She was born Mary Baker, in New England on July 16 1821, in a strict Calvinist family. Her Puritan background was to stay with her for the rest of her life, and strongly influenced her beliefs, even though she was also to become a radical spiritual innovator.
At the age of 22 she married George Washington Glover and sailed with him to live a new life in South Carolina, yet seven months later she was a widow. George Glover had died of yellow fever and she had to return home, pregnant. She then had a son also called George, but her health began to deteriorate, to the degree her son was taken from her and cared for by a local nurse.
She then married Daniel Patterson, and hoped to have her son back, but her new husband didn’t agree to this, and then the family looking after her son moved to Minnesota. This so upset her that Mary Baker’s health completely broke down and she became completely bed-ridden for months at a time. She found relief in homeopathic medicine, which she studied herself and even prescribe homeopathic remedies for other people, but the effects of this medicine, on her, were never permanent.
She was also trying to cure herself with prayer. She had tried to use prayer to help her first husband George Glover when he became ill with yellow fever, but her prayers then were completely ineffective.
When she had reached the age of 40, the American Civil War started, and both her son and husband fought in it. Her son was wounded but survived and her husband became a prisoner of war. Before he went to war, her husband heard about a Dr Phineas Quimby who help his patients through a mind cure, and wrote to him. This was to be the turning point of her life and changed her completely. When she felt strong enough to travel, Mary Baker journeyed to Dr Quimby and he was able to bring an instantly cure her. His treatment was explaining to her the psychological origins of her illness and then dipping his hands in water and rubbing her head. His cure was so miraculous that she at first felt he must come from God.
She wanted to understand how he was able to accomplish such cures. He explained to her, that it was the mind that cured, but because of her strict Christian upbringing she couldn’t accept this, and believed healing could only come from God. She was then disappointed to find that Dr Quimby wasn’t interested in religion and that he was a mesmerist. It seems, he was willing to accommodate any beliefs the patient might have, if it helped to heal them.
Mesmerism started with the scientific investigations of Franz Anton Mesmer in the mid 18th century that showed that healing like that of Jesus in the Bible was possible, by ordinary people. He was a respectable doctor and was a contemporary and friend of Wolfgang Mozart and his father Leopold. Mesmer started to experiment with magnets on his patients, which a number of doctors at the time were doing, (even today magnetic healing still exists among alternate therapists). He was successful using magnets, which he would hold in his hand and move them over the effected part of the patient. Then he made an astonishing discovery, he could heal patients just as effectively if he passed his hands over the patient without the magnets in his hands.
To explain this, he formed a theory of animal magnetism but his fellow doctors quickly rejected this theory. Yet in spite of this, he was successful in his treatment and large numbers of people came to him to be cured. As his fame spread he visited Hungary, Switzerland and Bavaria to treat aristocratic people. Yet his treatment remained very controversial among doctors who were unable to reproduce the type of healing he performed. In the end he moved to Paris where again he became a great success in healing very many people. Then a panel of doctors investigated him and demolished his animal magnetism theory and dismissed him as a fraud. Yet in doing this; they threw the baby out with the bath water. Because even though his theories didn’t stand up to scientific investigation, the fact was, even his critics had to admit he was getting amazing results. So how was Mesmer able to heal so many people?
The shooting down of Mesmer’s Animal Magnetism theory wasn’t the end of the story because no one could come up with a sensible explanation for the reason for Mesmer’s ability to cure his patients. Other people leant from Mesmer and from this came the practice of Mesmerism. Later on Mesmerism was to be called the more respectable name of hypnotism.
Mesmerist in the 19th century used their powers in very much the same was as hypnotist do today. With many using it as a form of entertainment by hypnotising people, but others tried to continue Mesmer’s work and use it for healing. One of these stage mesmerists was Phineas Parkhurst Quimby (1802-66) who practised in USA. In his act he had another young man called Lucius Burkmar whom he would mesmerise. Then as a side line, Burkmar would also diagnose illness while a trance, and then he would give to patients methods they could cure themselves. Many of these cures outraged Quimby, because to him, they seemed to be nonsensical. Yet he was to find they worked, when the patients tried them out. Burkmar even cured the sceptical Quimby of back trouble using another cranky cure. Quimby then came to the conclusion that it must be the mind that was affecting these cures. He reasoned that if Burkmar could give patients methods of treatment that seem to appeal to their deepest beliefs, then it would heal them. (A better explanation would be that Burkmar was giving treatments that appealed to the patient’s unconscious mind. But this was before Freud made his groundbreaking discoveries.) He put forward the idea that it was the mind that healed patients, and not animal magnetism.
Then he cured Mary Baker Eddy and it was through her efforts, the ideas of mind cure were brought to a wider public, in spite of the derision, ridicule and criticism of her beliefs. When she left Quimby she lapsed back into her old pattern of illness, which disappointed her. Then one winter as she was going to a Temperance meeting she slipped on the ice, and fell heavily. suffering from concussion and internal injuries. She then decided that she would heal herself with the power of her mind, so after reading the healing passages of Jesus in the Bible she got up and dressed. She then walked into the next room where those, with whom she was staying, were shocked by her immediate recovery. A doctor was called, but he couldn’t explain how she seemed to be suddenly healed but his disbelief in her recovery undermined her confidence and she collapsed and had to be taken back to bed. The next day she determinedly done the same thing, she again read of Jesus’ healing in the Bible and dressed and got out of bed. This time she refused to be swayed by others who tried to persuade her to go back to bed and her healing was complete.
She also became a successful healer and she set about with great determination to teach others how to heal also. For years she lived in poverty, as she also divorced her husband who had been continually cheating on her, she had to support herself. Divorced women in the 19th century were considered outcasts of ‘respectable’ society, so she had little support from her friends and family. She was at first unsuccessful in promoting her ideas and beliefs, as people were incapable of comprehending what she was saying to them. She once hired a hall and gave a talk about her ideas on mind cure, then seeing the blank faces of her audience, she stopped her talk and told them to; raise their hand if they understood what she was saying. No one put up their hands. In spite of setbacks like this, she had single-minded personality and kept on persisting.
Slowly she gathers a number of students around her, and made a living teaching others how to heal. She also married a Gilbert Eddy, but unfortunately he was to die a few years later in spite of the healing powers of his wife. Yet nothing was allowed to stand in her way and she created her own Christian sect called Christian Science, which she ruled with a rod of iron. She then claimed that her form of healing was very different from Quimby and this created a controversy that is still being disputed today.
The biggest difference between them both is that Quimby stated that it is the mind that makes a person ill and it is the mind that heals them. So it doesn’t matter what from of healing that is used on the patient, as long as the patient has faith in the healing procedure, they will be healed. Mary Baker Eddy on the other hand claims it is God that heals. She states that God is omnipotent, omnipresent, and infinite and loves us all. So God will always heal us if we allow him or her, to do so. (She also brought forward the concept of a Mother and Father God). It is only our lack of faith and wrong thinking, that blocks this healing power from God.
Her authoritarian nature forced many people to leave her organization and these people created their own healing organizations. One of these people was Emma Curtis Hopkins. When she became a Christian Scientist she quickly moved into the inner circle around Mary Baker Eddy and was made the editor of the Christian Science Journal, where she done a very good job in increasing its circulation. As editor she strongly attacked anyone who violated and appropriated Mary Baker Eddy’s teachings and showed herself to be staunch supporter of her leader.
Then in 1883, Julius Dresser who worked with Quimby, wrote an article in the Boston Post claiming that Mary Baker Eddy had pirated Quimby’s work. Hopkins in attempting to defend Mary Baker Eddy of this charge, decided to investigate Quimby’s writings to see if they had any substance to Dresser’s claims. By reading the written works of both Quimby and Dresser she came to the conclusion that both systems of healing were very different. Yet because of this, Mary Baker Eddy dismissed her as editor. Why this happened is in dispute. Some claim that even taking Dresser’s charges seriously, Hopkins was seen as disloyal to Mary Baker Eddy by other Christian Scientists, who felt she should accept what their leader said, without question. Others claim that Hopkins was also showing to be such a very intelligent and capable woman, and being a generation younger that Mary Baker Eddy, was seen as a possible successor to her. So she had to go, because she was a potential rival leader who could take Christian Science in a new direction. Hopkins also became friends with Mary Plunkett an outspoken and strong minded individual who was also causing dissent in ranks of Christian Science.
Emma Curtis Hopkins then moved to Chicago with Mary Punkett and for a while wrote to Mary Baker Eddy to try and overcome their differences, but this didn’t work out. So both women set up her own Christian Science organization, with Punkett being the organizer and Hopkins the teacher. She later became know within the New Thought movement as; “the teacher of teachers”. Her teachings were similar to Mary Baker Eddy’s but she was far more flexible and was able to appeal to a larger number of people. She taught Malinda Chramer and the three Brook sister who later created the organization; Divine Science. Then she taught the married couple Charles and Myrtle Fillmore who created the organization; the Unity School of Christianity. Then she taught Ernest Holmes who later created the organization Science of Mind. These three originations were to become the backbone of the New-Thought movement, but Emma Curtis Hopkins has since become forgotten. Although she may have been a great teacher, she had little interest in forming a organization around herself. Also her writings were far too heavy for the average reader. Her main work, “High Mysticism” was never a popular book and quickly dropped out of print. This was also the problem of Mary Baker Eddy’s original writings but her book, “Science and Health”, the main textbook of Christian Science, was revised many times in her lifetime to make it more assessable to the average reader.
In some of her writing Hopkins also wrote about the future role of Women. She encourage Women to take on leadership roles and her theology was based on the medieval work, of Joachim of Fiore who claimed there were three eras in history. The first was the patriarchal idea of "God the Father", the second was a time of freedom for the general population which was signified by the birth of Jesus, and the third, "the Spirit, the Truth-Principle, or the Mother-Principle," that focused on the power of women.
The main difference between Mary Baker Eddy and Emma Curtis Hopkins is that the former claims that; “matter has no reality, all is infinite mind” while Hopkins rejected this as being too extreme. She pointed out that there was also life in matter as well. So although patients may of created their own illnesses through their own thoughts, the illness was still real to the patient. Both women agreed that, “God was good”, and loved us all. Therefore they reasoned that if God loves us all, then he or she wouldn’t inflict illness or suffering onto us. Now this was a revolutionary concept in Christianity, because many Christians believed that God, as a form of punishment, created illness and suffering. While some other Christians claimed this was done by the Devil, but if God is omnipotent, omnipresent, and infinite then there cannot be any other power outside of God. This then means that creator of illness and suffering must be ourselves, as we inflict illness onto ourselves through ‘error’. Because we have lost faith in God and his or her Goodness, then we allow negative thoughts to take over our minds and these lead to illness and suffering. Which only can be relieved by the reaffirmation of our faith in God and his or her love and goodness.
While both women were active, both the New Thought movement and Christian Science continued to grow but when both Women died the power of healing began to die with them. In the 20th century the healing aspect of New Thought movement has petered out. Even the Christian Scientists no longer do the same amount of healing as before. It seems that after Mary Baker Eddy died Christian Science Practitioners, (Healers) continued to be very effective, and the movement continued to grow. Then about the 1930s and 40s all the practitioners that Mary Baker Eddy personally taught began to die or retire. The next generation didn’t have the same confidence in their ability to heal and the healing power of Christian Science declined. The same thing seem to have happened with New Thought, which turned more into just positive thinking. Early on in her teachings, Hopkins also taught that not only could we heal ourselves of illness but heal ourselves of poverty. This concept was passed on to her students who also taught this. Some of these students found that although people were not that interested in healing they were very interested in making money. And New Thought books began to be written that only discussed this aspect of Hopkins’s teachings. Ernest Holmes taught Norman Vincent Peale, and he wrote many popular books on Mind Science, like “How to Win Friends and Influence people” and popularised it, but in the process watered-down the teachings in the form of “positive thinking”. Which is New Thought without the healing aspect within it.
Today the most popular books on positive thinking are the ones about making lots of money. Which although there is nothing wrong with this, I feel it is a shame the Healing aspect of New Thought was allowed to die out.
Many people today see Christian Science as a cranky Christian Sect who will not allow their children to be treated by doctors. This is very unfortunate, but the whole concept of mind cure is still very difficult for people to understand. We are all taught from a very early age that we live in a material world, and our bodies are seen as just a complex piece of machinery. So if we become ill, it is because our bodies either has a design fault or has broken down, in much the same way a car breaks down. Therefore a doctor is seen as a sophisticated mechanic who repairs broken down bodies.
Christian Scientist claim that the problem is within the mind, our thoughts are so powerful that negative thoughts about ourselves can make us ill and even kill us. Though he good news is that, our thoughts can also heal us as well.
Quimby and some New Though healers had no problems with people being treated by doctors. Quimby had the attitude that provided the patient believes in the treatment, he or she will be healed no matter what the treatment is. Mary Baker Eddy had a different attitude to this; claiming that only God can heal, and it is error that makes us ill. So to her, if we use another method of healing, then she would say; it was error that made a person ill and it is error that healed them. So the healing can never be permanent, because the person’s mind will be open to other errors later on, that could make them ill again. This is what happened to her; Quimby healed her but when she returned back home, she fell back into her old thinking patterns, and her illness returned. So she finally had to heal herself through the Bible and her faith in God, to achieve a permanent cure.
Even people with Christian Scientist parents who had a Christian Science upbringing have had problems grappling with these concepts. Simply because in their family environment they are taught one form of reality, that we live in a world of mind, but in the outside world, they are taught a different reality, that we live in a material world. So they find themselves living in a world of conflicting realities. This is also true of people who are converted to Christian Science. Although Mary Baker Eddy’s teachings might make sense to them, they still have to live in a society that rejects the concept, we live in a world of mind.
Mary Baker Eddy practised what she preached throughout her lifetime and demonstrated the power of mind. As a middle-aged woman she had endured years of illness with a husband who was continually having affairs with other women. Yet once she learnt the principles of mind power from Quimby, she made good use of it. She not only healed herself, she had the strength of mind to divorce her philandering husband, at a time when divorce was seen as a shameful act and had to find ways to support herself, in a time when women were actively discouraged to be independent from men. She then tried to teach the principles of healing and mind power to a disbelieving world, in an age when women’s voices were not heard. And yet in spite of the all the insurmountable odds against her, she persisted until she gathered enough followers around her, to start a new Christian sect.
So she showed what a woman could do, even in the 19th century patriarchal world when women had as few legal rights as black slaves, and as such she was an inspiration for other women of the period.