Joanna Southcott, English Prophetess
I'd like write a few lines about this colorful character, now often forgotten, and hear if you know more about her and her antics.
Joanna Southcott was born in 1750 in Gittisham, Devonshire, in a farming community. Her parents were members of the Methodist Church.
She was a deeply religious chracter and had her first "mystical" experience at around seventeen. She was praying besides the deathbed of a fellow villager when the man rose and started screaming about "hellhounds" and "devils". Of course many would have put this down to a dying man' fear but not Joanna. She felt an evil presence in the room and asked the Lord Almighty to give her the power to drive away the Evil One. Soon after the mean went back to sleep and died peacefully a few hours later.
Later she married to an Exeter man and moved there, joining the local Methodist congregation. At around forty she heard a series of thumps on the walls and her bed at night and a voice announced to her "The Lord GOD is about to awaken from his slumber and will shake the World from its very foundations. There will be wars and more wars. nations and kingdoms will fight each other. There will be hunger, pestilence, earhquakes. The sigh of the Son of Man will appear in the sky and He will come on a throne of clouds in all His power. Be ready because the time has come for the Lord GOD to manifest Himself". That's more or less what the voice said to her.
She tried to get her message to her congregation, but the Methodists refused it completely as the ramblings of a mad woman. But an Anglican pastor gave her the opportunity to test her "gift". He had her write one of her prophecies and then it was sealed in an envelop and closed in a chest of drawers. It was to be open on Christmas 1800. The envelop was opened and the prophecy was quite clear: the Bishop of Exeter will be dead by the time this envelop will be opened. And, truth to be told, the good bishop had died a few weeks earlier. Now this has often been taken as a proof of either her powers of prophecy or that the letter was forged a posteriori. It is now believed that the pastor helped Joanna by suggesting her that the bishop was not in such a good shape as he said to be...
Anyway the aforementioned pastor (I would like to know his name since I have been unable to find it anywhere) persuaded her to publish her prophecies in a book. This was duly published the following year as Strange Effects of Faith.
Now, the war with France was a constant in those years and the rising star of Napoleon provided a fertile ground for Joanna and her followers. By 1803 she already had 15.000 devoted followers and hundreds of thousand were aware of her work.
Now, we do not know what strange trigger got pulled in her head, but as is often the case she became obsessed with the Book of Revelation (also known as the Apocalypse of St John), thinking that many passages clearly referred to her person.
In meantime she struck a lucrative deal with the engraver William Sharp by which seals bearing her effigy were manufactured and sold to her devotees and collectors: more than a 100.000 are said to have been manufactured, with prices ranging from twelve shillings to a guinea. This provided an easy target for the ferocious satirists of the time (as had been the case with Mary Toft, the "rabbit breeder").
As Joanna's fame grew and her followers numbers swell she became increasingly obsessed with the "End of Days". Both MPs and members of the Church of England were bombarded by her letters.
Finding little satisfaction, she gave to her followers a chest which was to be opened after her death in the presence of no less than 24 bishops. This chest was said to contain writings of unbelievable importance.
At this point things started to go downhill.
In 1813, aged 63, she pubblished The Book of Wonders in which she gave the earth-shattering revelation that she was to give birth to the new Messiah, Shiloh. Satirists had a field day: a 63 years old woman announcing she was going to be pregnant!
Next year she gave to the prints another book Prophecies announcing the Birth of the Prince of Peace in which she gave the date of birth of the new Messiah as 19th October 1814. At the time of the printing Joanna had a swollen abdomen, a thing which put her followers into a frenzy. They provided many expensive items for the yet-unborn Shiloh, including a cradle worthy of a king. Satirists again hit very hard, but this time not without reasons.
On 19th October 1814 Joanna announced a new date for the birth of the Messiah: 24th December 1814. But on that day she was too ill even to leave bed and died three days later. An autopsy was carried out, revealing she had some kind of bowel illness 8if you have more details please let me know). Whatever this was simply an hysterical pregnancy or a serious illness which eventually led her to the grave we'll never know.
But this was not to be the end.
Her followers were still in possetion of the famous chest and steadily refused to have it opened, unless 24 Bishops from the Church of England were present. In 1927 Harry Price (who else?) managed to obtain the chest to carry out x-rays. The results revealed that it contained nothing more than a handful of coins and some other mundane items. A little later Price opened the box in front of a large crowd, including one very reluctant Bishop, revealing to the world what the x-rays had already shown. The chest contained nothing of value.
But there was to be another twist in the story.
In 1954 The Panacea Society announced through a massive campaign (which run on both newspapers and billboards) that the chest opened by Price was not the real one. It had all been a fraud and the true chest is still awaiting the 24 Bishops to show up.
The Society is still up and running to this day and they even have a website: http://www.panacea-society.org/
"Louhi spoke in riddled tones of three things to achieve: find and catch the Devil's Moose and bring it here to me. Seize the Stallion born of Fire, harness the Golden Horse. He captured and bound the Moose, he tamed the Golden Horse. Still there remained one final task: hunt for the Bird from the Stream of Death"
-Kalevala, Rune XIII-