“Leaving the cloistered tabernacle behind, Kelpius ventured farther into the Wissahickon woods, climbing the rocky deciduous into himself, while exploring the eternal evergreen of the universe.”

Hermit of the Wissahickon

The Hermit of the Wissahickon

“Revelation is the book of the apocalypse, & in 3:12, ‘Him who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will he leave it…’[i]Our Philadelphia is the new Jerusalem & I will be the pillar, eternal in our kingdom of heaven, readied to welcome the second coming & have a place prepared for God,” spoke Johannes Kelpius, voice profound with postulation, as the glittering eyes of his fellow scholars followed him, & his every word, transcendentally & actually, across the ocean of Atlantic, & predictions of impending doomsday[ii]toward William Penn’s Holy Experiment.[iii]

Frau Kelpius’ circle was vast:  followers, ideals, reason, & pure belief in a landscape of fresh understanding & ever growing interpretations of renaissance comprehension.  With 40[iv]disciples to the 40thLatitude, the 40-foot Tabernacle was built [v]on a prominent point on Wissahickon pinnacle under the shade of an already ancient forest & prodigious magnolias. An astronomy tower telescoped into the canopy, searching the stars for divinations to the end.[vi]

The Wissahickon[vii]wind was welcoming, kind, & connected to the high vibrations.  Ground-breaking academia migrated to The Americas with greatest minds in Europe to practice the venerable Rose & Cross[viii]lessons that had sprung forth from the pyramids, was spread by Knights Templar, made perpetual by DiVinci, & returned back to the fertile banks & into the minds of the new lands’.  Kelpius & his community of learned mystics gathered at The Tabernacle for Socratic study that resonated across disciplines, arts, & philosophies:  Pietist[ix]science in the wilderness, alchemical Theologians administering millennial medicine.

Hymns were composed; a pipe organ’s sounds made anatomy a hollow reed for feeling to pass through, the congregation a vessel for mystic allegories & hidden love[x]to be sung.  No portrait could capture his dimensional essence, no book his devotion.[xi]

“That which gives the Spirit nourishment is the reading of profitable books, … actual prayer …, [and] the often-repeated looking inwardly or collection of the mind all day long…”[xii]

Leaving the cloistered tabernacle behind, Kelpius ventured farther into the Wissahickon woods, climbing the rocky deciduous into himself, while exploring the eternal evergreen of the universe.  Kelpius was alone in the group of hermits on a mountain of mystery.

Shocking flecks of sparkle lit the rocky terrain from within, the mica[xiii]mountain a shimmering geological inspiration reverberating to the trees with perspective far taller than our comprehension: Kelpius’ mind connected the transmogrifying thoughts to an alchemist’s formula, transcending far away by fastening atomically.

“ ‘Accordingly we must pray and walk in the divine presence, be not too busy with outward things, keep the flesh in subjection… Without inward prayer there is no conquest over the flesh, and without this conquest over the flesh, no true inward prayer; and without this the one and the other there is no conversion, no true internal life, no perfection…’  Transmute thyself to become divine.”

To control the mind is to have dominion over the flesh, & Kelpius, the alone Hermit of the Wissahickon, lead his ever-growing cloister congregation of transcendental mystical men to continue becoming beatitudes, & on the fringes of their 6thforest year, the cloister still waited for the blessed end.[xiv]

“But this treasure is by them who keep themselves hidden and make not much show of themselves, since their fire is concealed inwardly.”

The Hermit followed the path etched in the ridge to a cave[xv]offset into the side of the shimmering monolith, & entered, mind first, foremost, & forever. In his mica meditation chamber, The Hermit gathered the webbed connections of the universe, thoughts so elegantly adept they wafted through the pages of time, intellect so open it received particles of energy reserved for botany, forming a gateway to waiting for the apocalyptic millennium with grace & welcoming it like a woman with governess over the wilderness.[xvi]

While The Hermit’s astral eminence & celestial anatomy examined existence, nature happened all about him, to him, & through him: dim from shadows, fingernails & dirt blooming, a man of the earth, soul, cerebral sunshine, grew dark & dirty, shiny & radiant, draped in furs, thoughts schist slabs of vibrating mineral matter.

The Hermit meditated sheltered in a cave of astral transistors, emanating energy while absorbing essence.  His intellect slipped away, but connected to the winds & water of the Wissahickon.  The sparkle of the mica meshed with the fires of mind & became his flesh; The Hermit’s Wissahickon became one with his nature & his humanity transmuted into that of the secret wisdom of the forest.

The Hermit passed into a place of transcendence, his teachings to the trees, his soul to the tributaries, becoming the philosopher’s stone itself, his existence eternal.  His brilliance is the seeds that germinate the blooms of the magnolia that tower over the Tabernacle’s consecrated ground.  The Hermit moved into a place of intellect everlasting & embodied myth, & the mystic secrets infused into the wisdom of the new world. [xvii]

Hermit of the Wissahickon

Endnotes, “The Hermit of the Wissahickon”:

[i]Professor Thomas Constable notes, “God promised that He will not just honor overcomers by erecting a pillar in their name in heaven, as was the custom in Philadelpia. He will make them pillars in the spiritual temple of God, the New Jerusalem.”  Thomas Constable, Notes on Revelationhttp://soniclight.org/constable/notes/pdf/revelation.pdf.

Note:  Ancient Philadelphia, in the region of Turkey, was the name of one of The Seven Churches of Asia, or The Seven Churches of the Apocalypse, to receive a letter from the Lord  “The church steadfast in faith, that had kept God’s word and endured patiently (Revelation 3:10).” Much is made in numerology about the spiritual wholeness of numbers 3 & 7.

[ii]Johann Kelpius (b.1667, Transylvania) & his followers were originally lead by scholar Zimmerman, who studied, among other disciplines, astronomy, mathematics, numerology, & biblical prophecy; he used his skills to conclude that the turn of the century would bring along a cataclysmic end of days. He studied biblical prophecy to determine that Philadelphia, in the Wissahickon specifically, was the place to be for the second coming of God. Zimmerman called his disciples, who were all university-trained, scholars, the “Society of Perfection”.  Right before their pilgrimage to Pennsylvania in 1694, Zimmerman died & Kelpius, who had earned his MA in Theology, took his place as leader at age 22.

 [iii]William Penn was an original investor in the New World, the largest private landowner in the whole world, & a convert to Quakers/Religious Society of Friends; this conversion would have been extremely dangerous had it not been for his social position.  He subsequently founded Pennsylvania on open ideals, & 1682, opened the ports of Philadelphia as a place of religious tolerance.  Dubbed William Penn’s “Holy Experiment”, Philadelphia was also conceived as a marketing campaign to attract numerous settlers & positive attention to his land.  Penn welcomed & treated all with fairness, including the persecuted indigenous tribes:  simply put Quakers believed everyone has a light within them & that light is God.

Pennsylvania’s name as a location in Revelation, as well as a location of freedom, was taken as a sign by the prophets.

[iv]A tabernacle is a meeting place for worship, mystic initiations, or community activities.  The scholars often helped neighboring communities with their understanding of medicine, etc. including the local Lenni Lenapi Indians.  The Kelpius Tabernacle was on the land that The Hermitage Mansion still occupies.

[v]The number 40 vibrates with deep meaning in numerology & another clue that drove the mystics to the Wissahickon was its’ position on the 40th longitude.

[vi]The1682 sighting of Halley’s Comet (which coincided with the founding of Penn’s Holy Experiment) continued tipping the scholars toward astronomy study for doomsday prophecy.

[vii]Wissahickon translates to “yellow catfish creek” in Lenape. Wissahickon Valley Park is a National Landmark of 2,042 acres in the city of Philadelphia & Wissahickon Creek runs right on through the pristine preservation, a tributary that feeds directly to the Schuylkill River.

[viii]The Rosacrucian Order, Ancient Mystical Order Rose Cross (AMORC).  Their study of the secret wisdom began in Egypt 1500BC, & subsequently passed the mystical studies through to the greatest minds our world has ever known, including (directly because of Kelpius) educating our founding fathers.  www.rosicrucian.org

[ix]The Luthern church became very rigid during the 30 Years War that ravaged Europe.  While religious, Pietists did not turn to a central clerical authority & held other millennial beliefs & practices, which caused persecution.

[x]“The Lamenting Voice of the Hidden Love”, a collection of hymns written by Kelpius, is thought to be the first book of music written in the colonies.

[xi]Kelpius is the subject in one of the country’s first oil portraits, painted by his acolyte Charles Witt , still on view at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania

[xii]All quotes, unless otherwise noted, are from Kelpuis book on individual worship, “The Method of Prayer”

[xiii]Mica, noun – a shiny silicate mineral with a layered structure, found as minute scales in granite and other rocks, or as crystals. It is used as a thermal or electrical insulator.

[xiv]The turn of the 17thcentury came & went without discernable incident.  The mystics lived together until the passing of Kelpius, then most of the mystics disbanded for marriage, some stayed on in the Wissahickon & others joined Conrad Beissel’s Camp of the Solitary in Lancaster.

[xv]The Cave of Kelpius is still present in the Wissahickon (& my house shares it’s longitude & latitude to the thousandth decimal place!)

[xvi]Kelpius & his fellow mystics called themselves the “Society of the Woman in the Wilderness”, from Revelation 12:6 –  “And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she hath a place prepared of God, that they should feed her there a thousand two hundred and threescore days.”

[xvii]Kelpius passed into transcendence on January 1, 1708


Brandt, Francis Burke, et al. The Wissahickon Valley within the City of Philadelphia. Corn Exchange National Bank, 1927.

Kelpius, Johannes.  “The Method of Prayer”, 1700.  Copyright Kessinger Publishing

The Hermits of the Wissahickon.  Oswald Seidensticker, John Kelpius and N. N. The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. 11, No. 4 (Jan., 1888), pp. 427-441.  Published by: The Historical Society of Pennsylvania.  Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/20083229

Johann Gottfried Seelig and the Hymn-Book of the Hermits of the Wissahickon.  Samuel W. Pennypacker.  The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. 25, No. 3 (1901), pp. 336-340.  Stable URL:  http://www.jstor.org/stable/20085981


Creative Team:

Story:  Dena Merlino Scott

Photography:  Victoria McConnell

MUA/FX:  Jamie Leigh Matteucci

The Hermit of the Wissahickon:  Ed Robb

Props: Brian McConnell

Costuming: Shannah Warwick

Assistants: Kyle Quinn, Siona Pearson


Read the first story in our Wissahickon Portraits series, “Tombstone Shadow”, set in Laurel Hill