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Pang Yang & The Publick Universal Friend

Posted by Peter Lamborn Wilson on June 24, 2010

Press Release:

Vanishing temporary landscape installation #2.

April 7, 2010, Wednesday in the Octave of Easter

PANG YANG & THE PUBLICK UNIVERSAL FRIEND

And might it not be, continued Austerlitz, that we also have appointments to keep in the past, in what has gone before and is for the most part extinguished, and must go there in search of places and people who have some connection with us on the far side of time, so to speak?—W.G. Sebald

1. Undead Savioress

In 1776 a 24-year-old Quaker woman in Rhode Island died of a mysterious disease, and then came to life again in her coffin on the way to the graveyard. She announced that she was no longer Jemima Wilkinson, but was now the Publick Universal Friend—in short, a kind of female messiah (like her contemporary Mother Ann Lee of the Shakers). Although she herself never claimed to be the Second Coming of Christ, some of her followers were not so shy.

Rejected by orthodox Quakers in Philadelphia, she made her way in 1788 to The Finger Lakes frontier of Upstate NY and founded her new Jerusalem on Lake Keuka. Later this settlement grew into the present town of Penn Yan (so-called because her followers were Pennsylvanians and Yankees). The pioneer cultists got along well with the Iroquois but not so well with the later white settlers who suspected her of fraud and chicanery and called her a hermaphrodite (many people commented on her “masculine” looks and manners). Legend has her walking on water and raising the dead. In 1819 she herself died for the second and last time and was buried in a secret unmarked grave. Her commune lingered on for decades and her big house still stands today.

In 1799/1800 a group of her followers set out from Connecticut to join her at Penn Yan. But when they got as far as New Paltz they ran out of energy and decided to “have their own Penn Yan” on some cheap unsurveyed land in the Platte Binnewaters section of the old Patent, now in the town of Lloyd, where they squatted in the woods around the lakes and built primitive stone thatched-roof cabins.

The Publick Universal Friend never visited them, but while she lived she sent them religious instructions telepathically by dreams. After her second death (when “she left Time”) she began to appear as a ghost—the Lady in Gray—in their graveyard. Little by little the community began to “degenerate,” as “Penn Yan” was corrupted to “Pang Yang”—until in 1899 a newspaper reported “they live like foxes in holes in the ground” and claimed they were descended from “Hessian deserters, runaway slaves and rogue Indians”—totally untrue. Some however did begin to practice witchcraft. It’s a wonder the Eugenicists never discovered them.

In 1901 (or 2) Warren George Sherwood was born in or near Pang Yang, although not to one of the old families. He was a bright youth, went to college, became a folklorist and local historian. He and he alone preserved the memory of Pang Yang, its inhabitants and their life legends, in a slender volume of verse and a few newspaper articles.

The Pang Yangers will be laughed at

And honored and heard.

They will win by losing

And succeed by coming to naught.

Warren Sherwood himself turned into a kind of Pang Yanger. Alcoholic and neurotic, in and out of institutions, he worked as part-time gravedigger and seasonal apple picker, and lived in a shack near the Union Cemetary in Lloyd. He himself saw the Lady in Gray. Perhaps he was “touched” or cursed. He died in 1947 and is largely forgotten, although the local library preserves his papers.

The Pang Yang graveyard (which took me a long time to locate) is described accurately by Sherwood:

Off in the backwoods

On a back road

Where God forgot

And no man cares…

This was the setting for my second “poem act,” in honor of the Publick Universal Friend and Warren G. Sherwood.

2. This Is Not Necromancy

April 7th is not significant in Jemima’s life but I chose it (a) because winter was over and I was eager to get outside again; (b) in honor of birthdays of Charles Fourier, William Wordsworth, Flora Tristan, Gustave Landauer, Harry Hay and Billie Holiday; (c) a seven and a Wednesday—good for Hermetic work.

Rachel Pollack and I picked up a huge funeral bouquet of flowers—which I had designed and ordered a week in advance and paid $220 for—from Burgevin’s, the oldest florist shop in Kingston, founded 1834 (but in a new location since 1901)—white lilies, white snapdragons, white carnations, ferns, etc.—because there are no gray flowers—to evoke “The Lady in Gray.”

George and Susan Quasha and Charles Stein (collectively Station Hill Press of Barrytown) followed us to Pang Yang, where I carried the flowers (on my head—quite heavy—and it was 93 degrees F that day) up the unmarked trail through the woods to the ruins, which took about 15 minutes.

Pang Yang and its graveyard are situated on a rocky knoll surrounded by swamp. All that remain are stone walls and the stone foundations of several crude huts. Someone owns the land and takes care of it—keeps the trail clear, cuts dead trees, etc. One grave is marked with a little American flag signifying a veteran, but the stones are all uninscribed (a Quaker custom) and in fact unhewn, so I can only guess that Pang Yang families still live around here and remember their forebears.

After placing the flowers against the cemetery wall I told the story of The Publick Universal Friend, Pang Yang, and Warren Sherwood. Then I fired up a packet of Sufi rose agarbathies (devotion to the divine beloved) and lit two pale violet votive candles around the portrait of Jemima.

We left the flowers, candles (extinguished) and picture in the graveyard to rot away or be discovered by others, and drove about three miles to the Union Cemetary in Lloyd, where Warren Sherwood is buried in the Potters’ Field in an unmarked grave. I left a lily and a spray of snapdragon from Jemima’s bouquet next to a stone cross, in honor of Sherwood. The cemetery was full of Easter-flower-adorned graves.

3. Vanishing Art

Vanishing Art is meant to act somewhat like hermetic magic, somewhat like “embodied poetry,” and somewhat like a deliberate re-enchantment of the landscape. This piece, “Pang Yang,” will eventually have a Map drawn and an Essay handwritten to explain and to “document” the vanishing art. The next event will be “Stupa for the Jukes,” spirits permitting, in honor of our endangered local bats, and of Rosendale Cement, and the Jukes, another “degenerate” “tri-racial isolate community,” who were unfortunately noticed by the Eugenics movement. After that I plan an enormous seven-part work devoted to the Esopus River.

Peter Lamborn Wilson is a writer, essayist, translator and poet who formerly taught at Naropa University’s “Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics” and has published numerous books and articles on hermeticism, anarchism, Sufism, pirate utopias, and neopaganism. His books include Drunken Universe: An Anthology of Persian Sufi Poetry (with N. Pourjavady) and Green Hermeticism: Alchemy and Ecology.

Read more about Peter Lamborn Wilson

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24 June 2010

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