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Why Ursula Gestefeld’s Course Notes Is Important

Ursula Gestefeld

Feminist Metaphysics

Hello, Friends,

The Gestefeld Course Notes is a 72 page transcript of 20 lessons given by “Gestefeld” and recorded by an unknown student who refers to herself as “the Amanuensis.” I do not know for fact that the teacher is Ursula Gestefeld, nor do I know who took the notes. I don’t know the year or place the lectures were given.

But I am confident that the feminist Bible interpretation contained this document and the 1896 newspaper article you see to the left are related. Together, they provide insight about how our metaphysical understandings of certain Bible passages can shape our deep-seated political and social beliefs. That is why this document is important.

The document was found in 2013 while I was rummaging the vertical files of Unity Library. These “vertical” files are filing cabinets where less significant odds and ends are tossed—pamphlets, booklets, student papers, etc. You can download a PDF of this document on the Preface and Index page.

Before I get to the contents of the Gestefeld Course Notes document, I encourage you click right now on the 1896 newspaper article you see to the left and to read it, zooming in as needed to enlarge the image. By doing so you will learn that Elizabeth Cady Stanton organized and led a project known as “The Women’s Bible.” The Women’s Bible was a project that Stanton organized and led with the goal of providing commentaries on Bible passages about women.

Most historians say that Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony were the two most important figures in the women’s suffragist movement. At the end of this post I will encourage North Americans to become a PBS Passport member and to then watch the Ken Burns documentary about these two women—Not For Ourselves Alone. Part one of the documentary describes their struggle up to the passing of the 15th Amendment in 1869, which extended voting rights to all men, but not to women. Stanton and Anthony were immensely discouraged. Thirty years later Stanton launched The Women’s Bible project.

The reason I bring this up is that Stanton had come to understand why some women were so hesitant to support universal suffrage: sexist Bible translations and Bible commentary that degraded women. Stanton intended to provide another point of view. Let me say that, 120 years later, and 100 years after women got the right to vote, the subconscious impact of stories about Adam, Eve, ribs, apples, and snakes are still with us. You may be influenced by enlightened quotes of Rummi, Buddha, and Schucman and so many others, but, for most people, the texts that most powerfully impact women’s self-understanding and men's understanding of women, even today, are found in the first three chapters of Genesis. That is where our challenges lie.

Which leads me to Ursula Gestefeld, who, as you can see in the article, was a contributor to The Women’s Bible project, and, I am quite sure, is the unidentified teacher in this 72 page document, Gestefeld Course Notes. Here are some things we find her saying:

God Mind is neither masculine nor feminine, but is dual in nature, being both in one, and is therefore greater than either. Being wholly impersonal in nature, the personal pronouns He or She are inadequate and may not be applied to Principle. (Basic Course 1).

The story of the Garden of Eden is an Allegory of nature and not of Ethics. Adam could not find among all the things brought to him to name, a Help-meet for his soul. Because of its divine origin, soul cannot thrive upon the husks of externality, but demands the spiritual food that nourishes. It must have self-knowledge, for it alone satisfies soul hunger. Eve (or Intuition) the “Mother of All living” supplies this demand, for her office is to minister to the rational or masculine nature and lift the man who “tills the soil” — “up and out” of the “slough of materiality.” (Basic Course 4)

We find that the Woman was not turned out of the garden, but ever dwells in Eden, and makes Heaven upon earth for him who heeds her words of wisdom. Her spiritual insight pierces the veil of materiality and clearly sees what man’s outsight fails to penetrate. (Basic Course 4)

Adam (or intellect) leans wholly upon the outer until Eve, his “better half” shows him the “better part” and thus helps him to forsake the error of his way and turn to the Lord. There is nothing bad or unmoral about the Adam soul, nor is its so-called fall, shameful, but is rather a fall upward or into knowledge. The apple tree is only a tradition, for what Eve gave Adam to eat was not apples, but the fruit of the tree of knowledge. (Basic Course 4)

There was nothing wrong about the tree, nothing wrong about eating the fruit which Eve found was “good for food” for it was all natural. Mortal sense laws are not Nature’s laws, or Law. Infant soul through natural ignorance forges the chains that manacle its own hands. It makes its own burdens, and it alone can unload or unmake them. (Basic Course 5)

The first days work is Light or the “Power to Know”. This is a faculty and to it belongs the power to gain knowledge, and is therefore not the actual knowledge to be gained. That is yet to come. There must be product from product. As the “Power to Know” it is Intuition, and is the nearest to Mind, being the work of the first day. In the New Testament it is Mary who is always overshadowed by the “Most High.” (Genesis Course 2)

Man’s nature is composite, and has in it all other natures. If you will observe, you will find the tiger in one, the fox in another, and various other animal natures shining through the flesh. Jesus said of Herod, “Go tell that fox” — the fox is cunning — the tiger typifies strength, the lion courage; the lamb gentleness, etc. These natures are in us all and are nothing to be ashamed of. Jesus is spoken of as the Lamb of the world. These animal natures come from that aspect of God which is Life. (Genesis Course 3)

As we know, the “rib” of a vessel is its main-stay — the Intuitional Nature (or the woman) is the main stay of the man... When awake, Adam said, “This is now flesh of my flesh, and bone of my bone.” He discovers that the “woman” nature is a part of himself in himself. So, Adam and Eve are the male and female natures in our real Being, and they twain, shall be made one flesh, and this flesh or union shall be eternal. The perfected soul is androgynous. (Genesis Course 5)

These feminist metaphysical ideas are remarkable. Who would argue that a little knowledge is not a good thing? And how come I never noticed that Adam was sent out of the garden, but that Eve, reliant on intuition, never was ejected?

But there are many other innovative metaphysical ideas in the Gestefeld Course Notes beside those related to feminism. Ursula Gestefeld was a contemporary of Emma Curtis Hopkins and both Gestefeld and Hopkins came out of Mary Baker Eddy's Christian Science. Gestefeld's metaphysics is just different enough to expand our vision of metaphysical religion, which has been based on Hopkins teaching. If you're looking for fresh insights, these lessons by Gestefeld are well worth reading.

I don't know why Emma Curtis Hopkins is better known for training ministers, but I find Gestefeld's collaboration with Elizabeth Cady Stanton to be inspiring. New Thought has been often criticized for not having any real sense of "evil" in the world and also for not contributing more to solving social issues. Gestefeld really struggled with a tough marriage and it just may be that her struggle kept her teachings grounded in a way that are more relevant to average people. Maybe that’s why I’m finding Ursula Gestefeld inspiring. There is a fair amount of free content about Ursula Gestefeld on the Internet. Browse around and get a sense of who she was.

This is Sunday, and many of you might be looking for some inspiration. If the story of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Ursula Gestefeld is resonating with you, then let me suggest that you click through to the PBS film by Ken Burns Not For Ourselves Alone. You can watch clips about “Two women. One allegiance. Together they fought for women everywhere, and their strong willpower and sheer determination still ripples through contemporary society. Recount the trials, tribulations and triumphs of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony as they strive to give birth to the women’s movement. Not until their deaths was their shared vision of women’s suffrage realized.” You may need to become a PBS subscriber to watch, but that’s a good thing.

I would be grateful for your thoughts.

Mark Hicks
Sunday, August 23, 2020