Pennsylvania's Spiritual History
A Primer on the Spirituality of a place once known as the land of forests
In Pennsylvania, you can get your herbal medicine from the local Apothecary, your milk and eggs from the Amish Deli, your incense and candles from the Hex Shop, and your Angel figurines from the Victorian Rose shop, all in a single afternoon.
Understanding Pennsylvania's history, specifically regarding spirituality, starts with understanding the origin of the name Pennsylvania.
Pennsylvania as a word can be broken down into two sections.
Penn and Sylvania. The second part, "Sylvania" comes from a Latin word meaning "of the forest" and the first, "Penn" refers to a man named William Penn.
William Penn settled the area, now known as Pennsylvania in 1683, as a spiritual refuge.
First English settlers, then for German, and then later Polish, Italian, Irish, and others came. All who wanted practice their religions freely, without persecution from their home country.
So, in short, Pennsylvania was settled as a forest land where people could practice their spirituality, any type they liked, safely, and freely. And it still largely remains this way to this day.
While William Penn's settlement and the current naming of the now territory Pennsylvania has a lot to do with how the current culture of the state has evolved and how our society has been shaped over the past 400 years, Pennsylvania's first record of human settlement dates back 10,000 years. That's from before Mesopotamia. So, people have been here for a long time.
In fact, Pennsylvania is also home to one of the world's first known archeological sites.
The eastern part of Pennsylvania is also home to the Lenape Indians, who are and have always been known across the Americas as the grandfather peacemaking tribe, which is likely part of the reason why anyone could settle Pennsylvania in the first place; there were peaceful people living here who allowed it.
The Lenape are known as the Ancient Ones among all Algonkian peoples, and they are often called to resolve many conflicts, even among their American Indian peer groups.
At the time of Pennsylvania's settlement, and the land was then being populated by English and German seekers, Chief Tamanen (Pronounced TA - MON - AN) was head of the Lenape people.
Tamanen was and is known to this day, as a leader who has known no equal.
From the beginning, William Penn, as a Quaker himself, was determined to befriend Tamanen. Penn, a peaceful man himself, believed as all Quakers do that human beings are entities of Divine Light who each, have God spark within them, thus, are capable of receiving divine wisdom. In other words, he believed all people were equals and thought of Tamanen as his equal.
Here's a quote from Burt Froom's Article, The Lenni-Lenape Meet William Penn, which describes this concept:
From the beginning, he was determined to treat the Indians as brothers and win their confidence and friendship. In this, Pennsylvania was unique among the English colonies.
It was Penn’s conviction that the Indians, no less than the whites, were children of God, entitled to love and respect. He wrote to the Indians of Pennsylvania a message, translated into the Algonquian language, in which he told them that “the king of the country where I live, hath given me a great province therein. But I desire to enjoy it with your love and consent that we may always live together as neighbors and friends."
Tamanen, also spoke this, of Penn:
“We will live in love with William Penn and his children as long as the creeks and rivers run, and while the sun, moon, and stars endure.” - source: Penn Treaty Museum
And so it was - Penn and Tamanen, his people and their people, for about 100 years.
During that time, the Penn settlement was not without its problems.
William Penn frequently took trips back to Europe, sometimes for years at a time, where he was not present to help settle disputes among his colonists and the Lenape.
Then, Chief Tamanen passed away. Sometime between 1697 and 1701, these are the last recorded dates of his presence. Penn died just a short 16 years later, in 1718. After that, is when things began to devolve or so they say.
The Lenape lived alongside settlers for many years. Then eventually, the advent of the railroad, the discovery of oil, and the popularity of other spirituality groups in the area, this invited other settlers and many other groups began to populate the region. It is these settlers and their descendants who largely populate the area now.
sacred sites and groups
There are many sacred sites in Pennsylvania, some Lenape, some related to earlier settlers, and many people of the region find these places fascinating.
Pennsylvania is home to several singing boulder fields and rock circles. Pennsylvania is home to America's first German-born folk healer and many native and old world healers. Pennsylvania is also home to many practitioners of traditional English craft and an old sect of German folk healing called Powwowing, along with many other new and old world practices, none of which, anyone bothers you about.
If Penn were living today, I believe he would be proud. The state he founded, for the people to do as they please in these woods, stays largely this way to this day.
Pennsylvania is a spiritual haven. It's a place for spiritual experimentalists, folk magic practitioners, Buddhist temples, and Old and New world groups, the Rosicrucian practictioners and many others. All walks of life have practices here and continue to practice to their crafts to this day, here in Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania is a very culturally diverse place.
Here's an example of my own: I practice mediumship, also known as ecstatic divination. If you look around my website, you'll see a lot of material to that effect. Mediumship is a somewhat common spiritual practice here on the east coast, with the first officially recognized Mediumship Group actually being from PA (I know a lot of people think it's New York, but Philadelphia actually calls this one on legal technicality).
Anyway, at least part of the reason mediumship thrives in this area (be it Pennsylvania, or New York) is due to the rich traditions and old world roots that still carry on here to this day.
forests and nature sites
Ancient Trees and Old Growth. While you may think frst of California when it comes to Ancient Trees, Pennsylvania is home to 2.2 million acres of forest land, with over 2,000 of those acres being Old Growth: forests pre-dating the 1500s colonial settlements.
Many of these stands have been preserved as natural temples for human spirituality.
Gifford Pinchot, America's first conversationist and mentor to California's Join Muir, found his first home in conservation here in Pennsylvania, as did James John Audubon, America's famous and most noted ornithologist.
In addition to vast woodlands and birding culture, though, Pennsylvania is also home to plentiful waterfalls, rivers, streams, scenic byways and vistas, boulder fields, hawk sanctuaries, and one of the oldest known mountain ranges in the world.
Til' this day, Pennsylvania remains the rich forested woodland of spiritual practice it always was, with all peoples practicing freely throughout it. Rich with culture and heritage, driving through the backroads of Pennsylvania, and you'll find story after story of old temple, Rosicrucian sect and pyramid, Schwenkfelder group, Plain Dutch mystery, High Amish society, Spiritualism history, the list goes on and on.
As my uncle would say, Pennsylvania is similar to its New York and New Jersey counterparts, but with "more woods, less people," what's not to love?
Amanda Linette Meder