Faith and Healing

Mary Baker Eddy (1821–1910) was the only woman to found a major Christian denomination.

One of six children, Mary loved her mother deeply, coming to believe that God had both male and female characteristics like those she experienced from her mother. Her stern father insisted that his daughters receive an education.

In the 1840s, she became a journalist, a difficult professional path for women, but her poems were soon being published. She married George Glover but after they moved to South Carolina, he died suddenly leaving her alone and with little money and a child.

Seven years of poverty followed. Her beloved mother died, and her father remarried soon, shocking Mary. She was sickly and could not take care of her boy and placed him with the family nurse who, unbeknownst to her.

She desperately needed a husband and married Daniel Patterson, a dentist, whom she met while trying to treat her severe dental problems. But he was a poor provider and a philanderer and soon the couple was in poverty. Mary began to exhibit hysteria and experience back and stomach pain.

The impoverished couple moved from town to town. Her husband did not allow her son to live with them and he was relocated to Minnesota. Mary began to turn away from the world.


After reading homeopathic materials, she began to consider ‘mental’ solutions to her illnesses and came to associate with Dr. Phineas P. Quimby who explored alternative ‘sciences’ of healing such as mesmerism, a form of hypnotism with clairvoyance. The good health she experienced with Quimby did not last and she began to develop ideas of her own. To Mary, God was at the center. He was the healer and the healing principle was Divine.

She came to rely on a God beyond human comprehension. In early 1864, she gave a well-received public talk regarding the metaphysical dimensions of healing and began to think that there must be a ‘science’ of Christianity.

Her life changed in 1866 when she slipped on ice, badly injuring herself. Helpless in bed that Sunday afternoon, she asked that a Bible be brought to her. While reading it, she felt flooded by the presence of Jesus Christ. When the doctor came the next day, she was up and about.

This was the beginning of her Christian Science.

Though forty-five and poor, she wrote extensively on her new analysis of the Bible. A group of students gathered around her to learn her ideas on healing and she built a practice around these ideas.

Her foundational text on her Christian Science, Science and Health, was published in 1875. Through many revisions this text was an audacious effort by a woman to set forth serous theological ideas despite her lack of any classical education.

She believed that the natural state of human beings was wellness and that sickness could be eliminated by following the laws and examples of Jesus. The soul was more powerful than the body. Her teachings shocked many Christians.

The Christian Science movement grew, and in 1879, the Church of Christ, Scientist, was founded, and a mother church built in Boston with Mary as its pastor. She became now the object of numerous public attacks. She was ridiculed by prominent Americans such as Mark Twain, who described Eddy as a, “sordid and ignorant old purloiner of that gospel.”

Mary Baker Eddy’s life was an extraordinarily rocky ride from a sickly farm girl to being the only female founder of a major Christian denomination, as well as a deep theological thinker, charismatic teacher, administrator and leader.

See below for a biography of Mary Baker Eddy and a musical version of the Baha'i 'Healing Prayer'


Health and Spirituality

Ellen G. White (1827–1915) may well be the most translated female writer in history. She wrote some five-thousand articles and forty books translated into more than 140 languages. Her thoughts and writings shaped an entire Christian denomination: the Seventh-Day Adventist Church.

Born into a Methodist family of eight, she suffered a severe head injury as a child when a rock was thrown at her. Her family became Millerites, believing that the Second Coming would be soon at hand.

She began having visions of the City of God and travelled to the scattered Adventist groups to preach. Some Adventists came to believe that she was an instrument for God’s teaching.

He husband, James, a preacher, began publishing a semi-monthly paper that gave an outlet for her writings. Her first book, A Sketch of the Christian Experience and Views of Ellen G. White, came out in 1851.

The Adventist community spread her teachings which were remarkably forward-looking and modern. She advocated for the importance of healthy eating and a balanced diet in a time in which meat and potatoes was considered the best meal. She spoke out against living a frenetic life and using stimulants whereas “sleep and repose” were “nature's great restorers.”[i] She eschewed the use of tobacco.

White believed that in schools, children should be educated to control their passions by being engaged as thoughtful beings rather than being trained by rote. They shouldn’t be taught in an oppressive way because this prevented them from developing inner-directed self-discipline.

Click below for the following:

1)     A talk on Baha’u’llah’s “Tablet of Medicine”

The life of Ellen White from an Adventist perspective

A talk from the U. of California on Spirituality and Health from a secular point of view

Low Expectations

Olympia Brown was strongly encouraged by her mother to pursue her education, so she enrolled in Mount Holyoke, founded by Mary Lyon, an active proponent of women’s education in the 19th century. Holyoke was one of the original efforts to create institutions of higher learning for women.

Even at Holyoke, Brown found low expectations for female students, so she transferred to Antioch College. Antioch was one of the first colleges to admit black American students.

Its president was the hugely influential American educator Horace Mann. Mann proposed a broad range of progressive—often unpopular—ideas such as:

·       Public education should be paid for by public taxation

·      Public schools should be open to children of all backgrounds

·       Teachers should be trained

·       A common curriculum to inculcate a sense of common citizenship and to educate the public rather than leave it ignorant

Brown received such an excellent education there, that her entire family moved to Antioch to enable all her siblings to attend the school.  

Olympia wanted to become a minister and chose St. Lawrence University in Canton, New York. Even though its president “did not think women were called to the ministry”, she was accepted and became its first female graduate.

She achieved the distinction in 1863 of becoming the first woman ordained by a whole denomination, the Unitarian Universalists—the one in which she had been raised. She preached for forty-eight years.

By 1880, there were one-hundred and sixty-five ordained female ministers with parishes.

Click the first video to learn more about Horace Mann’s efforts to advance the common school

Olympia Brown (1835-1926) dedicated her life to opening doors for women. Among only a handful of women to graduate from college, she received her Bachelor of Arts degree from Antioch in 1860 and three years later became the first woman graduate of a regularly established theological school at St. Lawrence University.

First Female Minister

On a Sunday morning in Western New York State in 1833, a minister was astonished to see a nine-year old girl come up to request to be accepted into the church. Antoinette Brown (1825–1921) remembers being as “deeply and truly religious at that time…as I have ever been at any age.”

Her family had settled in the ‘Burned-Over District’ where the Millerites, the Latter-Day Saints, the Shakers and passionate revivals were thriving.

Antoinette’s father wanted her to get an education, so she attended the Monroe Academy where she was taught a more rigorous curriculum than most girls received. At fifteen, she was hired to be a teacher.

She really wanted, though, to become a minister. She needed a school that taught more than home-making skills and found one in Oberlin College.

The college was aflame with the abolitionist cause. There were several African-American students and ten percent of the town’s population was African-American Though female students could take academic courses, they were not allowed to speak in public settings. The Ladies Board discouraged Brown in her study of theology because she could never be wise enough to compare to the “great men of the past.”[i]

Brown continued with her theological studies but when she graduated at age twenty-five, her name was not included on the list of graduates because a woman was not supposed to study theology in any official capacity.

At the National Women’s Rights Convention, her public-speaking talents were validated, and she decided to try to make her living as a public speaker. In those times, lectures were a source of evening activity for people as there were no radios, televisions, or movies. Soon, Brown was lecturing throughout New England, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York.

On a speaking trip through central New York State, the village of South Butler offered her a position as pastor in its church. Brown agreed to take the position. She had become the first woman to be ordained a minister in the history of the United States.

Click the first video to learn a little about Oberlin College and its ties to African-American history

Click the second video to hear a reenactment of a talk by Antoinette Brown

Click the third video to learn more about the Faiths of the Burned-Over District

The Pentacle

In June of 1850, the Bab sent a special locked coffer to Baha’u’llah, containing letters, seals, pens, and rings. On a scroll of delicate blue paper, He wrote five hundred verses containing three-hundred and sixty derivations of the word ‘Baha’ in the form of a pentacle.

He may well have known that his earthly ministry was coming to an end. The authorities had signed His death warrant and killed many of His Apostles.

But thousands more had responded to His Divine Call:

“I am the Mystic Fane, which the Hand of Omnipotence hath reared. I am the Lamp which the Finger of God hath lit within its niche and caused to shine with deathless splendor.”

On July 9th, 1850, in a public square in the northeastern city of Tabriz, the Bab, the former young merchant who had caused a spiritual revolution by proclaiming to be the revealer of a new holy book and the forerunner of another manifestation of God, was shot to death by firing squad along with a young believer who had begged to ascend with him.

He spoke to the crowd as the firing squad raised their rifles:

“O wayward generation! Had you believed in Me every one of you would have followed the example  of this youth, who stood in rank above most of you, and would have willingly sacrificed himself in My path. The day will come when you will have recognized Me; that day I shall have ceased to be with you.”

The Bab had made his claims known gradually; only with time did Babis come to realize their breadth.
This poem may give us an idea of Tahirih’s emotions during this painful period with this theme of separation:

“I am lost in the heartland of your love,
and yet you do not even seem to care
Look down in pity at this foreigner,
you truest ruler of the kingdoms here,
and tell me, love, how have I sinned, and where?
And why, my idol, does your love prepare
with each breath banish me, strip me bare
like some murderer exiled to nowhere?
I have waited for you day after day.
I’m weary now. I’m wasted, worn away
to bone, a flute that sighs away my care—
sorrows sung to the wind, and lost in air.
Is there a mind that knows your perfection?
A passion to utter your perfection?
A path that leads me to your perfection?
Beyond you, nothing, and no direction
And when the wandering wind reaches you,
it carries our tormented words to you
Look at these tear-filled eyes, this pallid face—
Can you refuse them? Whom would it disgrace?
Will you not come at daybreak to my bed,
with kindness ravish me, and end my dread?
Lift me, love, on the wings of my desire
Lift me to you, to safety in your fire
Only take me up, away from this place
Set me down in the place that is no place
Yet keep me close to you, far from strife,
since in this empty world, I have no life”
(translation: Banani/Kessler)

A Brilliant Sun

Tahirih was captured and brought back from Northern Iran to house arrest in Tihran where the aristocratic women in the royal circles of the capital soon met her for the first time and learned of the exciting claims of the Bab and the new day.

Shams-i-Jahan, grand-daughter of a former king and a prominent poet, was among those who sought her out. She arrived one morning at the home of the Mayor where Tahirih was being kept in a second-floor room. As she got close, she said a prayer beseeching God that if Tahirih’s teachings were true, she would be allowed to see her. A window on the second floor opened in which Tahirih appeared “like a brilliant sun.” and called down to her.

The princess asked her about her imprisonment, and Tahirih answered that it was because she proclaimed the truth. The ‘truth’ spoken of had to do with the teachings of the young Siyyid from Shiraz as the princess learned. Their exchange was cut off by the men guarding Tahirih, and the princess went home longing to resume their conversation on these spiritual questions.  

At a wedding feast held at the Mayor’s house, aristocratic women dressed in all their finery sent a message to the mayor asking that he allow Tahirih to come and speak to them. Shams-i-Jahan remembered Tahirih spoke with such power that the women forgot the wedding. She moved them to tears with expressions of her trials and tribulations and then comforted them with humorous stories. She finished by walking among them chanting her poems. After this night, even the maids and helpers in the home became deeply attached to Tahirih.

Click below for an article on the women’s movement in Iran which begins with a summary of Tahirih’s life from a secular point of view and then a short video overview of the Persian literary tradition:

I am the Word

Tahirih believed that the Bab was the new Messenger from God sent with a new Revelation and that these days were an ‘in-between’ time: the Shari’a and the law of prayer were now replaced by the new Law of the Bab. 

But other Babis had not understood it this way.

So it was that one day, Quddus, one of the most respected of the Bab's Disciples, and several others were meeting in the tent of Mirza Husayn Ali. Suddenly Tahirih entered their gathering showing her face without the covering of a veil and proclaimed that that “the Trumpet is sounding! The great Trump is blown! The universal Advent is now proclaimed!” These were words from the Qur’an and the Book of Isaiah. 

She, Tahirih, a woman, was that trumpet blast. 

The Babis were shocked by this display. They regarded Tahirih as the holy Fatimih, Muhammad’s daughter, and to look upon her face was blasphemous. They also may have remembered the Islamic tradition in which Fatimih appears unveiled on the Day of Judgement. Could this be the Day of Judgement for them?

Quddus sat with a furious expression on his face. One Babi even cut his own throat as a gesture of atonement. 

They looked to Mirza Husayn Ali for guidance. He told them to read the Surih of the Inevitable from the Qur’an:
“When the Day that must come shall have come suddenly…Day that shall abase! Day that shall exalt….” 

Tahirih appeared radiant and peaceful even in the face and concluded by looking at Mirza Husayn Ali and Quddus and saying: 

“‘Verily, amid gardens and rivers shall the pious dwell in the seat of truth, in the presence of the potent King.”

She was the word of this revelation:

“I am the word that the Qa’im will utter, the word that shall put to flight the chiefs and nobles of the earth.” 

This was the day to celebrate:

“This day is the day of festivity and universal rejoicing, the day on which the fetters of the past are burst asunder. Let those who have shared in this great achievement arise and embrace each other.”

Tahirih’s actions divided the Babis. Some now doubted the truth of the Bab, and a few even left the Faith...

Click below for a discussion on the Baha'i Faith as a new religion from the perspective of Shi'a Islam:

Who was the Bab?

What were the true meaning of the claims of the Bab?

This is the question that His followers were debating when they decided to gather at the village of Badasht in 1848.

Was he announcing a new Revelation or was he the promised reformer of Islam? If this was a new Revelation, what were its teachings and who were its leaders? 

There had been extensive correspondence between the Bab and Mirza Husayn Ali (Baha’u’llah) regarding preparations for this gathering. 

The Bab had revealed His holy book, the Bayan (the ‘Exposition’), that previous winter of 1847-48 from His prison cell in the fortress of Mahku but it took time for it to disseminate.

Tahirih arrived with her personal escort after having traveled across the main east-west highway near the foothills of the Alborz Mountains. 
To avoid suspicion, Mirza Husayn Ali followed a few days later. He rode with several other Babis and the supplies needed for the gathering. 

Mirza Husayn Ali rented three gardens in Badasht, a rural village that had been a resort for the nobility. There were several small gardens with a large open area in the middle where the Babis could gather to meet. 

One was for himself, another for Quddus, and a third for Tahirih; other believers pitched their tents near them. Each garden had a large tent with mats and carpets. There was a stream which ran through the great open field. 

Eighty-one Babis eventually gathered at Badasht in the beginning of the summer of 1848. Quddus, the 18th Letter of the Living of the Bab and among his most respecetd, arrived after hearing about the location of the gathering from Babis whom he had met on the road. 

In the intense discussions that were about to take place.
Quddus was seen as the exponent of the more conservative view that the Bab was the renewal of Islam, while Tahirih expressed a more iconoclastic view—that He was the bringer of a new Revelation.

Click the video below for an overview of Baha’i origins; the Conference of Badasht is at 6:42.

The End Time

In early 1848, most of the followers of the Bab believed He was the Mahdi (meaning the “Guided One”).

This traditional Islamic was that a messianic figure, the Mahdi, would emerge at the end of time to signal the day of judgement. The appearance of the Mahdi is not found in the Qur’an, and the beliefs about him changed over the centuries.

‘Mahdi’ seems to have originally meant a liberator who would bring the Arab tribes of Southern Arabia back to their ancient glory, like the idea of a ‘Messiah’ for Jews, a king who would liberate the Holy Land. This idea then merged with beliefs about righteousness against corrupt rulers, the resurrection of the dead, the day of judgement, and, in Shi’a Islam, the occultation (a ‘disappearance’ from which he would one day return) of the last Imam as well. In the Sunni tradition, the ‘Mahdi’ seems to have been thought of more as a ruler in this world.

Over the centuries, there were many claimants to being the ‘Mahdi’—from rebels, to founders of dynasties and Sufi mystics, who emerged in Persia, Central Asia, and the Sudan, among other places. 

The Bab, though, was claiming to be much more—that he was the bringer of new Divine Revelation and the forerunner of a second Manifestation of God, referred to as “the One Whom God will make manifest.”

One of the prophecies regarding the Mahdi was that he would appear in the Eastern province of Khurasan with a black flag as its standard. The Bab instructed Mulla Husayn to initiate this episode by raising the black standard in the province of Khurasan and journeying westward. The Bab moreover issued a general call to his disciples to rally to the black standard.

In that same province, other Babi leaders gathered in the village of Badasht to ascertain the true nature of the Bab’s claims.

Click below for an overview of the Life of the Bab and a documentary on a political claimant to be the Mahdi from the Sudan:


The Bab and Jesus

In April, 1848, the authorities moved the Bab moved to an even more remote prison fortress in northwestern Iran, Chihriq, which He called the “Grievous Mountain”. Soon the officer in charge, the local people, and the important clerics in the region were moved by the Bab’s holiness. 

A seeker travelled all the way from India after having seen Him in a dream.

The authorities decided that the Bab had to be put on trial. All along the road, the Bab’s presence generated excitement as stories of his miraculous deeds were spread among the people. The most prominent clerics in the area and the future King gathered to question the Bab.

The Bab entered and sat in the seat of honor. When questioned about His claim, he answered:
“I am, I am, I am, the Promised One! I am the One whose name you have for a thousand years invoked, at whose mention you have risen, whose advent you have longed to witness, and the hour of whose Revelation you have prayed God to hasten.”

The astonished clerics responded with a series of very specific questions on obscure issues not related to the Bab’s claims. A cleric asked that he describe the trial in Qur’anic language, and just as the Bab began to do so, he was cut off by his questioner who mocked him His highly unconventional Arabic.

At that point the Bab uttered the Qur’anic verse, “Far be the glory of thy Lord, the Lord of all greatness, from what they impute to Him, and peace be upon His Apostles!” He then got up and walked out of the trial which descended into chaos.

Both the Bab and Jesus were put on trial. Both proclaimed the Kingdom of God. Both possessed extraordinary wisdom as youth. Both had brief and turbulent ministries. Both were transfigured. Both were executed. Both gave a mission to their apostles.

Jesus’s commission to His Apostles:
“Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."

The Bab’s address to the Letters of the Living:
“O My beloved friends! You are the bearers of the name of God in this Day. You have been chosen as the repositories of His mystery.… Ponder the words of Jesus addressed to His disciples, as He sent them forth to propagate the Cause of God. In words such as these, He bade them arise and fulfil their mission: ‘Ye are even as the fire which in the darkness of the night has been kindled upon the mountain-top. Let your light shine before the eyes of men. …..’ O My Letters! Verily I say, immensely exalted is this Day above the days of the Apostles of old….. You are the first Letters that have been generated from the Primal Point, the first Springs that have welled out from the Source of this Revelation. Beseech the Lord your God to grant that no earthly entanglements, no worldly affections, no ephemeral pursuits, may tarnish the purity, or embitter the sweetness, of that grace which flows through you. I am preparing you for the advent of a mighty Day. Exert your utmost endeavour that, in the world to come, I, who am now instructing you, may, before the mercy-seat of God, rejoice in your deeds and glory in your achievements. The secret of the Day that is to come is now concealed. It can neither be divulged nor estimated. The newly born babe of that Day excels the wisest and most venerable men of this time, and the lowliest and most unlearned of that period shall surpass in understanding the most erudite and accomplished divines of this age. Scatter throughout the length and breadth of this land, and, with steadfast feet and sanctified hearts, prepare the way for His coming. Heed not your weaknesses and frailty; fix your gaze upon the invincible power of the Lord, your God, the Almighty....’

Click below for photographs of Chihriq and a video on the life of the historical Jesus (the Jerusalem period begins @ 39:30)


In prison

In the year before Seneca Falls, the Bab’s influence in Iran had spread so much that the authorities had him moved him to the far northwest near the border with Russia and shut him up in a mountain prison. A lone path connected its front gate to the town of Mahku at the foot of the mountain.

On the way to their fields in the morning, the local Kurdish farmers often stopped to look up at the mountain prison hoping to receive a blessing from the holy man within. The very presence of the Bab affected the warden and the guards. After seeing the Bab in a vision walking outside the castle, the warden relaxed all the rules pertaining to the prisoner and allowed the growing stream of visitors to come in and meet him.

The Bab saw his imprisonment in the path of God as the essence of freedom--and himself as the incarnation of God’s will:

“This solitary room (wherein I am) which has not even a door, is today the greatest of the gardens of Paradise, for the Tree of Truth is planted herein. All the atoms of which it is composed cry out, ‘In truth, there is no other God but God, and there is no other God beside me, the Lord of the Universe.”

During the bitterly cold winter of 1847-8, the Bab revealed in his dark stone cell his Holy book, the Bayan (the ‘Exposition’).

The opening of the Bayan, echoing the timeless opening invocation of the Qur’an, consists of nineteen letters, symbolizing the First and Primal First Unity:

“In the Name of God, the Most Exalted, the Most Holy…”

Click below for photos of Mahku at the time and today and then for an uplifting video on the Shrine of the Bab that begins with an appreciation of His time in Mahku:


Mahku old.jpg
Mahku new.jpg

Women be silent

On July 13, 1848, Elizabeth Stanton, Lucretia Mott, and several other women decided to hold their women’s convention in Seneca Falls, NY. Lucretia Mott was the principal organizer of the Convention; Elizabeth Cady Stanton was its driving intellect.

On the morning of July 19, 1848, the bumpy roads around Seneca Falls, NY, were crowded with carts and horses coming to the Wesleyan Church. The Convention that began the journey for American women’s suffrage was opened by a man so as not to offend public sensibility. Stanton’s father travelled to Seneca Falls fearing his daughter had gone insane, while his eldest daughter wept over her sister’s involvement in such a gathering.

Only women were supposed to have been in attendance that first day, but forty men showed up anyway. Stanton, who had experience in front of an audience, spoke courageously: “…we are assembled to protest against a form of government existing without the consent of the governed - to declare our right to be free as man is free…The right is ours. Have it, we must. Use it, we will.…”

The draft of the Declaration of Rights and Sentiments was read aloud. It followed the format of the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident,” but then made the bold assertion “that men and women are created equal.”

The following day, the audience had grown considerably as word spread of the ideas being discussed. Out of the eleven resolutions, only one encountered opposition: “Resolved, that it is the duty of the women of this country to secure to themselves their sacred right to the elective franchise.”

Stanton argued passionately for the right to vote, pointing out that “drunkards, idiots, horseracing rum-selling rowdies, ignorant foreigners, and silly boys.” all could vote—but not women. Other participants, including Lucretia Mott, found this a difficult resolution to adopt.

Frederick Douglass, who had been born into slavery and escaped its horrors, rose up to speak on behalf of the resolution:  

“In this denial of the right to participate in government, not merely the degradation of woman and  the perpetuation of a great injustice happens, but the maiming and repudiation of one-half of the moral and intellectual power of the government of the world.”

Douglass’ words carried the day and the resolution passed. All the resolutions of the Declaration had been passed by the convention. That evening the Declaration was signed by women and men.

But only one of these signatories lived to see the right to vote for women become part of the United States Constitution in 1920. 

A glorified presence

Lucretia Mott (1793-1880) founded the first female anti-slavery society in the world. Born into a Quaker family on Nantucket Island, she learned of the horrors of slavery from the stories she heard.

The Motts were so committed to abolitionism that they refused any products made from slave labor and James Mott even changed his business from cotton to wool, a very courageous act in a time when northern businessmen were still very much tied into the southern slave economy.

Lucretia Mott became a Quaker minister and frequent public speaker. Frederick Douglass remembered her oratorical skills:
“In a few moments after she began to speak I saw before me no more a woman, but a glorified presence, bearing a message of light and love.”

Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton went as two of the American delegates to the 1840 London anti-Slavery Convention. Organized by a Quaker, this Convention’s purpose was to fight slavery on a worldwide scale—the British had already outlawed it in general.

Women attendees were not allowed to speak—90 percent of male delegates voted against allowing this. Instead, the women were relegated to sitting in the galleries behind a curtain. While walking the streets of London together and discussing the affairs of women, that Mott and Stanton decided to hold a convention for the rights of women when they returned to the United States.

That convention would be very long in coming but the fight for abolition would soon succeed.

Click below for an excellent documentary on the abolitionists:

After you die

In March, 1848, a movement spontaneously brought thousands of American women into the public arena for the first time: spiritualism.

This mass movement began in the unlikeliest of places: the bedroom of two teenage girls who claimed to hear the sounds of knocking. This continued night after night, attracting neighbors and townspeople.

Beliefs in ghosts, spirits, and witchcraft were prevalent especially here in the ‘burned over’ district which was the geographical heart of the Second Great Awakening and a center for social reform movements.

Soon, meetings were being held regularly called séances, spirit circles. The rapid changes in American society shook the personal faith of many, and spiritualism provided evidence of the continuation of life of loved ones who had passed on. 

Within months, women emerged who were considered ‘mediums’. The role of the medium came to be seen as feminine with the primary trait being passivity, so that the spirit could work through the woman without the medium’s will interfering. So ‘spiritual’ meant ‘feminine’.

The movement was woman-centered and stood in contrast to the established churches. As a result it helped bring focus to the position of women in the country. They became committed to working for the emancipation of women and for women’s advancement in such areas as health and education. This rejection of the status quo also extended to the abolition of slavery. Spiritualists connected freedom for women with freedom for all.

The Baha’i Faith does not teach direct spirit communication or encourage psychic practices. The video below depicts young people today experiencing spiritualism much like the people of the 19th c. may have and raises interesting questions about the relationships between the spirit and physicality and the reasons of attraction of spiritualism for people, the psychological dynamics between mediums and groups…

First persecutions

Tahirih’s uncle railed from the pulpit against Shaykh Ahmad, the cleric who had foretold the coming of the Bab. One day while her uncle was at prayer, a follower of the esteemed Shaykh felt impelled to avenge the insult and stabbed him.

A mob forcibly brought Tahirih and her maid to the governor where she was interrogated. Tahirih’s maid was about to be tortured when news arrived that the killer had turned himself in.

Tahirih had played no role in this crime. She was put under house arrest in her father’s house. Her husband and cousins plotted to poison her so she did not eat the household food.

This shocking act gave the authorities the perfect pretext for wiping out the Babis. Tahirih’s husband, now the leading cleric of Qazvin, and his associates rounded up prominent Babis and ransacked their homes. Women were also attacked.

He had several of the leading Babis of Qazvin killed with great cruelty by mobs in the streets who were incited by clerics while government officials did nothing. These were the first public executions of the followers of the new faith in Persia and included the first Babi—one of Tahirih’s Arab followers—to be martyred on Persian soil.

The future persecutions of Babis and Baha’is in Persia followed the pattern in Qazvin—the clerics accused Babis and incited mob violence while the civil authorities allowed the bloodshed to take place to appease the powerful clergy.

Click below to see a segment from US news in the 1980s covering the persecution of the Baha’is in Iran.



When Tahirih returned to Baghdad in the summer of 1847, her family immediately held a family council. It didn’t go well. The family deeply divided by the Bab’s claims. Her time in the holy cities of Iraq had not brought her back to the traditional faith of her father. To the contrary, she was now acknowledged as a leading Babi teachers by the Bab himself.

Her father wanted conciliation between the family members and said that if Tahirih had been born a man and declared herself to be the Bab, he would have believed her, but he couldn’t understand her devotion to this “Shirazi lad” as he referred to the Bab. She told her father that she had come to her faith through reasoned consideration. This enraged her eldest uncle, the powerful cleric Mullah Taqi who cursed the Bab and then struck her. She uttered the warning that she saw his mouth filled with blood.

Tahirih moved into her brother’s house holding classes for women. She corresponded with the Bab who was imprisoned in the stone fortress of Mahku in the far northwest of Persia.
Tahirih’s estranged husband asked her to return to his home but she replied that she could have changed his unbelief into belief had he stood by her, but he hadn’t. Now, because he had rejected the religion of God, she was casting him out of her life forever and, in so doing, divorcing herself from him.

Click the first video to learn about the Bab’s days in the prison of Mah-Ku and the building of the Shrine of the Bab, and the second one to see first-hand a divorce court in action in Iran

The Jews of Iran

On her return home in the spring of 1847, Tahirih stopped in the important city of Hamadanwhere she touched off conversions to the new faith in the important Jewish community there. By the turn of the century, Hamadan had the largest group of Baha’is of Jewish background in Persia.
When she had been in Baghdad, Tahirih debated from behind a curtain a group of Muslim clerics. A Jewish doctor, Hakim Masih, who was accompanying the King of Persia to the holy cities of Iraq, was there and was swayed by her logical arguments expressed with such force and became a believer. Since he had never heard of the Bab, he thought this woman was the Promised One.

When he returned to Tihran, he treated a prisoner who was a Babi and a survivor of Fort Tabarsi who taught him about Tahirih and the Bab. Through Masih’s subsequent teaching, many Jews became Babis.

At the height of the Persian Empire there were 127 urban centers with significant Jewish populations. Click below to hear a talk on the Jews in Ancient Persia



Land of the Kurds

At the demand of her father, Tahirih left Baghdad for her home in Qazvin in the Spring of 1847, accompanied by about thirty of her followers, including Persians, Arabs, and women. In each town, she taught fearlessly about the appearance of a new revelation from God and met with both threats and enthusiastic acceptance.

In the village of Karand, hundreds of people—many of whom were Kurds—gave Tahirih their allegiance and volunteered to serve as her personal.  In these villages of Western Iran, many people followed a religion from the 15th-century CE, called Ahl-e Haqq. This religion whose central rituals were secret for reasons of protection is based on the teachings of Sultan Shak, a Kurdish spiritual teacher born in Northern Iraq who migrated to Iran and his holy book the Kalam-e Saranjam.
Among the teachings of Ahl-e Haqq is the concept that God makes Himself incarnate in successive Manifestations so Tahirih’s claims about the Bab may have resonated with its followers. Similarly to Hinduism, there is a belief in the transmigration of souls, and that the human soul is reborn in successive physical bodies in its quest for ultimate perfection. This religion is practiced today mostly in Western Iran and Northern and Eastern Iraq.
Click below for some beautiful music from this religious tradition and a short TED talk on the Kurds, one of the most numerous trans-national people in the world.

The "daughter of evil"

In Karbila, Tahirih taught the Bab’s message boldly and publicly including in long letters to all the leading clerics of the city even though the written word was the province of educated men whose prerogative it was to instruct, to debate, and to explicate.

She had come to believe that the Bab was both the redeemer foretold by Shaykh Ahmad and Siyyid Kazim and the bringer of a new Divine revelation. God’s Revelation did not cease:

“And day after day the cycle of the universe is in progress and ‘there is no suspension in his emanation’. Praise be to God and our prayer and gratitude [to Him] that the Cause is everlasting.”[i]

She saw that few Shaykhis and Babis understood the true station and claims of the Bab who believed he was a divinely inspired reformer of Islam not the bringer of new revelation.

The leader of these more conservative Babis in that region did not approve at all of Tahirih’s more radical interpretation and of her public teaching, even going so far as to call her, in writing, the “Daughter of evil.”

Despite the opposition, Tahirih gathered a group of fervent followers around her, ‘the Qurratiya’, which included both male and female and Persian and Arab. One of the Arab men became the first martyr for the new religion on Persian soil. Women were attracted to her radical teachings and the possibilities that these created. Her most devoted students carried these new ideas beyond Karbila. Tahirih insisted that her followers observe dietary teachings that included abstaining from smoking or drinking coffee.

Click below to learn about to learn more about the extraordinary life of Rabia of Basra a female Muslim mystic who was a highly influential spiritual teacher--nine-hundred years before Tahirih!

The Return, Arabia

While the Millerites experienced great disappointment at not seeing the return of Christ in October, 1844, the Bab and one of his apostles, Quddus, were making their way to the Islamic holy cities of Mecca and Medina in Arabia to announce that the time of the fulfillment of Islam had arrived.

They crossed the sea from Persia to Arabia and then went by foot and camel to Mecca; located on major trade routes between the near East and East Africa, this city had for centuries been criss-crossed by a great diversity of human beings.

In the heart of the city stood the Kaba’a, the holiest shrine in Islam This ancient, pre-Islamic shrine had stood since the 2nd millennium BCE and was where the Prophet Muhammad destroyed the pagan idols and asserted the truth of Allah, the One God.

There the Bab proclaimed his message. Quddus gave a text revealed by the Bab to the ruler of Mecca who, busy with the management of pilgrims, only realized later the importance of its contents.

From Mecca, they went north to Medina, the city of the Prophet, where the first Islamic community and mosque were established. The Bab prayed intensely to the Prophet of Islam and his saints.

Click below for 1) a video walk through of Mecca during pilgrimage, one of the largest gatherings of human beings to take place in the world and 2) A look inside the Mosque of the Prophet in Mecca where Muhammad is buried.