A visit to the Ephrata Cloister, Ephrata, Pennsylvania

In March, I was in Pennsylvania and made a point to visit the Ephrata Cloister. It’s an historic, religious site that I heard of in Occult America. The official history is that Conrad Beissel moved to America seeking religious tolerance, eventually founding this cloister where a community of celibates awaited the end–whether individually or apocalyptically, I’m not sure. In 1814, after the last celibate member died, the Cloister became a community of the German Seventh Day Adventists. The literature from the Cloister itself calls Beissel a “mystic,” and maybe I’m reaching, but glossing over any “mystical” component to the Cloister seems to be an attempt to make it sound more mainstream.

Maybe it was mainstream. Maybe “mysticism” is so common in America that we don’t really consider it odd that a group of celibates who lived in a commune pretty easily transformed into a common denomination. But it seems a stretch in my mind to differentiate between this historic community and, say, Heaven’s Gate. If you’re interested in a little more history, I appreciated this discussion of it. The history provided by the Cloister itself is also interesting. (more…)