Monday, January 13, 2014

AUSTRALIA’S FIRST POSITIVE THINKER

‘The positive thinker repels disease:
the negative thinker invites infection.’ 

Who wrote that? Please read on.

On a recent trip to Tasmania I made a pilgrimage of sorts to Bruny Island, an island off the south-eastern coast of Tasmania, where, in a little cemetery at Lunawanna, are the mortal remains of a fascinating and highly eccentric woman who was a pioneer and veritable giant of New Thought in Australia. The name of this woman? The ‘Reverend Sister’ Veni Cooper-Mathieson (also known as Mrs Amanda Malvina Thorley-Gibson) [pictured left].

Sister Veni was born in MaitlandNew South Wales, Australia, in 1867, and was initially engaged in newspaper work before embracing New Thought, spending three years (1906-09) in Great Britain and USA studying metaphysics. She died on Bruny Island, Tasmania, Australia, in 1943, aged 75. During her lifetime she founded several New Thought centres in various states of Australia, her pioneer work commencing in 1903. Sadly, she came to grief in Tasmania, the last Australia state in which she settled, when in May 1934 she was fined in the Hobart Police Court for 'practising as a physician.' She was a metaphysical healer, and many such healers ran afoul of the law in those days. After the rather nasty incident in court, Sr Veni appears to have kept a fairly quiet profile.


The twice-married Sr Veni was the archetypal New Thought leader of the day---itinerant speaker, teacher and writer, prolific self-publisher, self-proclaimed ‘healer’, and self-promoter extraordinaire. She taught that Australia was the ‘land of the dawning’ and advocated female emancipation (albeit in some rather odd ways---read on). 

Sr Veni cofounded the Australian New Thought Alliance (conferences held in 1916 and 1928), and also founded many other religious organizations including The Women’s White Cross Moral Reform Crusade (a society to promote celibacy among young women, there being a companion group for young men---not surprisingly not-so-successful), The Universal Truth Healing Fellowship, The Esoteric College and Home of Truth, The Bethany Healing Centre, The Church of Truth Universal (and Metaphysical College), The Truth-Seeker Publishing Company, The Universal Truth Publishing Co (of Australasia), and The Order of the Prince of Peace. 

I should also mention that for a few years during the 1920s, and (it seems) also around 1931, Sr Veni operated a home for unmarried mothers and their babies in Mount Victoria, New South Wales, for a time at the historic home of Closeburn House [pictured below].


Needless to say, all of the various entities and organizations founded by Sr Veni are long gone---although New Thought is still alive and well in numerous new incarnations. 

Some of Sr Veni's books include A Marriage of Souls: A Metaphysical Novel (1914), The Soul’s Immaculate Conception (1923), and The Universal HealthRestorer (1929). She also published and edited the Australian New Thought journals The Truth Seeker, The Healer, and The Revealer. All in all, she was a very busy woman—and she was no doubt sincere in her beliefs whatever others (and the law) may have thought of her.

Sr Veni had an interest in Rosicrucianism---often lecturing and writing on the subject---and she supported the English-born Australian occultist Frank Bennett in his attempt to found a lodge of the OrdoTempli Orientis in Sydney New South Wales, in 1915. (For better or for worse---the latter in my opinion---Aleister Crowley was the best-known member of the order.)

Consistent with New Thought teaching Sr Veni emphasized the innate divinity of every human being. ‘We are all Sparks of the One Eternal Flame, the Great Life Principle, which men call God.’ And what of Jesus? Well, he is ‘the revelator and demonstrator of Good or God in man … our Great Exemplar.’ She wrote that ‘if you are not prepared to go through the entire process [of spiritual transformation and psychological mutation] within your own souls, then the crucifixion of Jesus and the resurrection of Christ has no real meaning for you.’ She also wrote, ‘Mankind has worshipped the personal Jesus, and rejected the Universal Christ, which was individualized and so manifested in and through Jesus.’ I couldn’t agree more. The ‘Christ’ is not a person but a power, a potentiality, and a presence for good---in each of us. The sooner we stop worshipping the Jesus of the Churches, and start worshipping each other---well, the Good in each one of us---the sooner our world will improve for the better. Sr Veni expressed it well in her book A Marriage of Souls:

'Then, of course, all things are possible to us if we will but believe it. We shall have dominion and power over all things; indeed, the power is now latent within us, just as the full-grown man is lying hidden within the babe, only waiting to be developed and hence revealed. When we come to this stage of consciousness we naturally are able to do the works of a Son of God, just as His first-begotten, or eldest son, Jesus, did. He said we were His brethren, and that His Father was our Father, and that Truth is for all eternity and for all Humanity: not only for one people or one age; for God is no respecter of generations or nations any more than He is of persons, He is God of all the earth. This was so … for it came from the Source of all truth, the Spirit within every man that giveth understanding. …'

On the subject of sin, Sr Veni wrote, ‘Sin means “missing the mark” [IEJ: indeed it does] or falling short of the higher ideals of life which you have set up for yourself, and know to be your soul’s true goal. To do or be, less than you are able or capable of doing or being, is sin.’ That, too, sits very well with my Unitarianism. Sr Veni preached a ‘Fourfold Way to Life Eternal’---right feeling, right thinking, right speaking, and right acting. (Does that sound familiar?) Like all New Thoughters, she taught that ‘every thought is a living force.’ ‘When you think a thought, you give life to a created idea. You have used the essence that brings forth a Word; then the Word becomes flesh in the earth of your being. It must produce according to tis quality and character.’

In 1929 Sr Veni wrote and published The Universal Health Restorer. That book, written almost a quarter of a century before the publication of Norman Vincent Peale’s classic book The Power of Positive Thinking was published, contains the following piece of New Thought wisdom---‘The positive thinker repels disease: the negative thinker invites infection.’ 

There you have it---the power of positive thinking (well, the principle, if not that exact phrase which appears to be Dr Peale’s alone).

Rest in peace, Sister Veni. You were one of a kind.


Note. The November-December 2013 issue of New Dawn magazine features an interesting article by Walter Mason on Sister Veni Cooper-Mathieson. You can download a digital version of that magazine issue as well as other back issues of the magazine at the New Dawn website




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