Brotherhood of the New Life

A utopian spiritual community rooted in esoteric Christianity.

Religion: Spiritualism
Founder: Thomas Lake Harris
Founded: 1861
Ended: Early 20th century
Size: 2,000 members
Location: United States (primarily in New York and California)

The Brotherhood of the New Life was founded in the mid-19th century by Thomas Lake Harris, a spiritual leader and poet who gained prominence in the United States during the mid-19th century. Born in England in 1823, Harris immigrated to the U.S. and was involved in various spiritualist and utopian communities before establishing the Brotherhood. Combining the visions of Emanuel Swedenborg with his unique mystical insights, Harris advocated for a form of spiritualism that emphasized personal transformation and the realization of a divine plan on Earth.

Distinguishing itself from purely communistic groups, the Brotherhood’s community in Amenia, New York, practiced cooperative living in which they engaged in farming and industrial activities not as communal property owners but as a collective of individuals contributing to common goals while retaining personal ownership rights. Harris’s teachings incorporated unusual practices, such as a specific breathing technique he believed enabled possession by Christ, offering believers a mark of immortality. Harris also promoted the use of wine and tobacco, arguing that the wine he prepared was divinely inspired and thus free from negative effects.

Harris later moved the community to Brocton, New York, on the shore of Lake Erie, and eventually to Santa Rosa, California, where he founded the Fountain Grove community. This move reflected his quest for a conducive environment that matched his advancing ideals, including a more holistic approach to living and spiritual practice. Under Harris’s leadership, the Brotherhood claimed a substantial following of around 2,000 people in the United States and Great Britain.

Throughout its existence, the Brotherhood of the New Life attracted attention not only for its spiritual beliefs but also for its contributions to the communities it was part of, particularly in winemaking in California. The leadership eventually passed to Nagasawa Kanaye after Harris’s death, marking a continuation of the community’s influence until 1934​​, a year marking the end of its most active phase and transitioning into a more historical legacy.

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