Elders Down the Memory Hole

All summer I have been editing and laying out a biography of the American Pentecostal evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson (1890-1944). I just sent the galleys to the writer, a professor in Arizona, and am working on my own corrections as well.

There have been the usual hassles—missing “essential” photos, notes that did not match the text, etc.—but we are working through all of that.

I mentioned the project on Facebook once, and got a response from a former student who was raised in the Assemblies of God, one of the larger Pentecostal denominations (the largest, says Wikipedia).

She had heard about Aimee when she was younger, but thought of her as a “scary” person.

Having lived with Aimee’s biography for six months, there is much that I could say about her, but “scary” is not a word that I would use. (I sent the student a PDF of the chapter about Aimee’s revival tour through Denver in the early 1920s.)

Do Pentecostal Christians send their elders down the memory hole as effectively as Pagans do?

Or does that process happen in all religions that do not have formal processes of canonizing saints or the equivalent—something that fixes them in memory?

I am still waiting for a serious academic biography of Gerald Gardner, who is after all the founder of a world religion, now that Wicca is in India, Brazil, Germany, and other places.

No doubt many young Wiccans have  either (a) not heard of him or (b) think that he was some “scary” old guy.

Philip Heselton (interviewed here), the author of two earlier books about Gardner, is supposed to have a new biography coming out from Thoth, although as of today I cannot find it on their fancy-but-unsearchable website.

I judged the earlier books as being strong on research and legwork, but weak on analysis and contextualizing. Credulous, even.  There is probably still room for a biography written by someone with a background in discussing new religious movements.

Meanwhile, Oberon Zell is at work on some new encylopediac work about “wizards of the world.” He has been trying to convince me to a write an entry about Gleb Botkin. Now there is someone who should be kept from sliding down the memory hole of Pagan history as well.

9 thoughts on “Elders Down the Memory Hole

  1. I’ve run into a few Pentecostals in my day and I would describe many of them as “scary.” However, there are a few that are compassionate, loving and accepting individuals – a rare find for me with Christians. What got you into editing this particular biography?

  2. meg Evans

    Hey Chas, Will you be including the “Book keeper for god” who used to live across the street from me? I think she was someone who has probably been dumped into the never as world.

  3. Here’s what I find scary: Pentecostalism started in 1906 in LA, and there were nearly simultaneous “outpourings” of the Holy Spirit in Wales (1904-1905), India (1905) and Korea (1907-1908). That’s scary enough, but the proximity to Aleister Crowley’s channeling of the Book of the Law in 1904, & Einstein’s “miracle year” in 1905 along with other world shaking events one could pile on with (the Great San Francisco Earthquake, the 1905 Revolution in Russia, etc) — well, it kind of freaks me out.

  4. Willow: One element of Pentecostalism today (in some churches) that seemed absent from Aimee’s ministry was all the “spiritual warfare” and
    “casting out of demons.” Those practices can indeed lead into some scary spaces.

    Meg: I am not including anything; I’m just the production editor.

    Apuleius: Hmmm, interesting. Maybe you could do a book like the historian Bernard De Voto’s Year of Decision, 1846.

  5. Pitch313

    I think that Aimee Semple McPherson influenced the occulture of California with her “big show” approach to evangelizing and celebrity image. An early exponent of what we’d later call “the New Age.” It’s not so much the content, maybe, as it is the development and presence of fairly large often DIY religious-spiritual organizations that use mass communications and gossip interest. As more and more appeared, they sort of extended the permissible boundaries for occulture within the overall California scene.

  6. Pitch: Absolutely. A lot of this book is about her showmanship (mostly stage-managed by her mother, “Ma” Kennedy). The writer quotes many newspaper articles of the time–it is interesting that she rapidly became a one-name celebrity, like Cher or Madonna.

  7. re: Elders down the memory hole

    I suspect that the problem is that way too many pagans–especially the younger generation–are “uncuriouser and uncuriouser”.

  8. Pitch313

    Some of these proto New Age celebrities and movements had staying power beyond their lifetimes and beyond the boundaries of occulture, too.

    I’m fairly sure that I picked up on McPherson, I Am, and such from idle talk among my parents and parents of my school mates 10-20 years after the passing of the founders. Because these celebrities and movements got into the mass media to promote interest in them. And left temples and edifices and gossipy stories behind.

  9. Michael Lloyd

    I would concur with your observation about Gleb Botkin. I have included a paragraph about him in the book I am writing, as well as information on W. Holman Keith. Keith was a former member of the Temple of Aphrodite who migrated to Feraferia in the 1960s (some of his correspondence was published in Green Egg in the 1960s/1970s). Keith’s writings helped to shape Feraferia.

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