Among the pleasures and puzzles of the Era of Manifestations are the many messages that Shaker instruments received from personages long dead. The responsibility and perhaps temptation of the scholar is to decode these messages, to analyze the intention of the instrument, the value of the message, and the utility of the experience for the larger Shaker enterprise.
I have chosen two messages to examine; although they are rather dissimilar—one being a life story from Mary Magdalene and the other a confession from John Calvin—they do have several features in common. They exemplify the range of messages recorded by Shaker scribes who preserved dispatches from spirits such as early Shaker leaders, biblical prophets, world leaders, and unnamed Native Americans. And these two, like a number of other messages, are very full accounts so that one can sink one’s teeth into the stories that were saved and thus explore ramifications that may appeal to us today.