The Forgotten Religions That Worshipped Electricity

The Rev. Aaron Bickley stood on a rough wooden crate inside his revival tent in the middle of an open field in Salem, Ohio. It was the summer of 1875, and the sun blazed mercilessly over the holy man’s makeshift church. He could tell that his parishioners, most having come out of bored curiosity, were becoming drowsy and disinterested. Suddenly, a young woman in the crowd stood up, perfectly erect, and pointed her dainty finger toward a boy waiting to be miraculously healed by Bickley. The boy, supposedly cured, later reported that he felt as though he had been “hit by an electric current.” The woman then proceeded to zap several other attendees before falling to the ground, exhausted. Bickley said the woman had become a lightning rod upon which the Spirit concentrated His “electric battery through her magnetism.”

This story, recounted in an essay called “Electricity and Religion,” from 1876, is one of countless examples of how electricity was incorporated into the religious landscape. Much like the so-called “cargo cults” of the South Pacific Islands that, when first exposed to modern technologies during World War II, erected religious monuments in the shape of airplanes and radio telescopes, certain 19th-century groups in England and America began to worship electricity as it revolutionized the Western world.

“Religions are constantly balancing tradition and change,” says Erik Davis, author of TechGnosis: Myth, Magic, and Mysticism in the Age of Information. “With its weird, invisible powers and suggestion of vitality and mind power, electricity played a major role in the religious imagination.” 

In America, one of the more scandalous examples of electric religion was the Oneida Community of New York. Founded by John Humphrey Noyes in 1848, the Protestant commune believed that Jesus Christ’s power was a form of liquid electricity that could be transmitted to believers through touch. As the most intimate form of touch is sex, the group also believed that, if they had enough of it, they’d create a spiritual battery that would make them immortal and create heaven on earth. So the community encouraged polygamy, orgies and generally engaging in as much sexual activity as possible. Needless to say, the Oneida members were a happy bunch, and the commune lasted more than three decades.

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SOURCE: Ozy Magazine
Addison Nugent

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