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Heaven's Bride: The Unprintable Life of Ida C. Craddock, American Mystic, Scholar, Sexologist, Martyr, and Madwoman Hardcover – December 7, 2010

4.3 out of 5 stars 10 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Schmidt (Restless Souls), a Harvard University specialist in American religious history, illuminates the darkened life of Ida Craddock by aiming a spotlight at each subtitled role. Craddock (b. 1857) was a clairaudient of a husband who appeared to her only in spirit; a self-taught scholar (Schmidt calls her "a dedicated egghead"); an unmarried sexologist who specialized in studying phallic worship and in reforming marriage; a martyr hounded to suicide in 1902; and a maniac, at least according to her embarrassed mother. In telling Craddock's story, Schmidt ably crisscrosses time lines, beginning with Craddock's defense of belly dancing as foreplay at the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago and ending with a rundown of her loves. His erudite-lite style turns a bit purple only in the last paragraph ("the paired wings of eros and Divine love"). Mostly, he lets sources speak for themselves--not easy with Craddock herself, given how much of her writing was destroyed by her mother and censorious nemesis Anthony Comstock. When the words are Schmidt's, he writes with sobriety, reaching for double entendres only occasionally. (Dec. 7)
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.


Ann Taves, Professor of Religious Studies, University of California at Santa Barbara
“Leigh Schmidt offers us a compulsively readable account of the tragic, fantastic, and utterly idiosyncratic life of Ira Craddock, self-taught scholar, mystic, sex reformer, and psychoanalytic subject.  Sympathetic toward Craddock, yet even-handed in his treatment of both her admirers and her vehemently critical detractors, Schmidt opens a window on the fierce ideological cross-currents at the intersection of sexuality, psychology, and religion at the turn of the last century. This is serious scholarship in a form that everyone can enjoy.”

Kathi Kern, author of Mrs. Stanton’s Bible
“With a novelist’s grace, Leigh Schmidt tells the absorbing, astonishing, and long-forgotten story of Ida C. Craddock, religious seeker and sex radical. Through Craddock’s life, Schmidt restores the spiritual pulse to the sexual revolution of the early twentieth-century. Heaven’s Bride is a masterful contribution to the entwined history of religion, sexuality and American reform.”

Richard Fox, Professor of History, University of Southern California, and author of Jesus in America: Personal Savior, Cultural Hero, National Obsession
“No other scholar of American culture ranges as widely and deeply across so many thematic frontiers as Leigh Eric Schmidt.  In this gripping tale of Ida C. Craddock’s edgy frontier crossings he shows his mastery of the borderlands between science and religion, secularity and faith.  Readers will blink in wonder at the worldly inventiveness and mystical vision of this long forgotten American original.”

Jeffrey J. Kripal, J. Newton Rayzor Professor of Religious Studies, Rice University, and author of Authors of the Impossible: The Paranormal and the Sacred
“The life and work of Ida C. Craddock show all the signs of a genuine erotic mysticism, as profound as any in the history of religions.  Her attempts to express the full measure of this love—from secularism and religious liberalism, through psychical research, British occultism, and Indian Tantra, to marriage reform, sexology, and women’s rights—were as diverse and as passionate as the censorship campaigns, familial condemnations, criminal prosecutions, and mental pathologizing that finally silenced her.  Leigh Eric Schmidt, with his trademark erudition, balance, and humor, has effectively resurrected Ida for us from all of this cruelty.  She speaks again.  This is historical scholarship at its most liberating and most redeeming.”

Nancy F. Cott, Trumbull Professor of American History at Harvard University
“The mix of madness and method in Ida Craddock’s extraordinary life makes for a rollicking read, amplified by exactingly researched context. Was she a century ahead of her time? You decide.”

Martin Garbus, First Amendment lawyer and author of The Next Twenty Five Years
“In Heaven’s Bride Leigh Eric Schmidt has done an admirable job of rescuing the remarkable Ida C. Craddock from the ashes of history and places her before us in her full glory: a brilliant autodidact, a sexual researcher, writer of sex manuals, and wife of an angel named Soph. Craddock is a classic American iconoclast in the spirit of Walt Whitman and her fascinating story is far-reaching, touching on abuses of free speech, early feminism, and America’s still-ongoing obsession with sex and purity.”

Michael Kazin, author of A Godly Hero: The Life of William Jennings Bryan and professor of history at Georgetown University
“Leigh Eric Schmidt has written not just an enthralling biography of a remarkable woman who both defied and honored Victorian sexual conventions. In delicious prose, he lays bare the search for spiritual fulfillment that gripped millions of Americans in the Gilded Age.”

Courtney Bender, Associate Professor of Religion at Columbia University
“Schmidt’s lyrical, compelling, and captivating story of a truly unique American religious experimenter is a rare gift. In Heaven’s Bride, Craddock’s sometimes amusing, often tragic interactions with bellydancers, vice informants, the police, asylums, freethinkers, scholars, mystics (and even a disapproving mother and a range of spirit friends) come to life, and provide a window into the unsettledness of American religious life one century ago. Yet Craddock’s story is much more than an entertaining and tragic narrative. In Schmidt’s story, Craddock’s refusal to live within the social boundaries taking shape around her and the consequences that she suffered expose the enormous and often violent efforts that have been required to solidify the distinctions that modern Americans take to be self evident. For all those readers think they know the difference between science and religion, mysticism and sexuality, amateurs and experts, psychosis and devotion, Craddock’s life – and Schmidt’s analysis – presents perspicuous challenges. This enormously fascinating book inspires and unsettles, prompting ‘curiosities and hopes and suspicions all in equal measure.’ Miss Ida C. Craddock would be pleased.”

Robert Orsi, Professor of Religious Studies and History at Northwestern University
“In this compelling and exciting biography of an extraordinary woman, Leigh Eric Schmidt shows that liberal religion was fundamental to the making of modern American sexuality. Ida C. Craddock battled fiercely and paid dearly for her vision that sexuality and spirituality, pleasure and piety, were intimately connected, both in ancient religions and in contemporary experience. The story Schmidt tells has striking contemporary resonance—the struggle for a more open and inclusive sexual ethic has always been a religious one in American culture. This elegantly written, deeply researched book is a great and timely contribution to current public debates and to the history of American sexuality by one of America’s leading religious historians.”

Stefanie Syman, author of The Subtle Body: The Story of Yoga in America
Heaven’s Bride is a lucid and moving account of a woman whose vision—of sacred sex and gender equality—exposed the fault lines of American liberalism. It’s also a poignant reminder that our constitutionally guaranteed division of church and state has needed constant and energetic defense.”

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Schmidt illuminates the darkened life of Ida Craddock by aiming a spotlight at each subtitled role.”

Kirkus Reviews
“The compelling life of a turn-of-the-century free spirit and free-speech activist who was silenced by the evangelical zeal of the vice squad. . . . A colorful contextual study of Craddock and her teeming era.”

Wall Street Journal
“Fascinating.... Craddock is reanimated by Mr. Schmidt's biography.”

“Schmidt deals sentences just as lapidary as his subtitle (The Unprintable Life of Ida C. Craddock, American Mystic, Scholar, Sexologist, Martyr, and Madwoman) leads us to expect.... [His] research is extensive, the details he includes are delicious.”

Heaven’s Bride paints a vivid portrait of an idealistic reformer whose idiosyncrasies reflected the hopes and anxieties of turn-of-the-century America...fascinating.”

American Historical Review
“Schmidt has mined every possible archive to find evidence of Craddock’s life, and despite the obstructions of censorship, he has unearthed much new information.... Schmidt’s book, beautifully written and imaginatively wrought, lures readers into Craddock’s world where being a heavenly bride to a spirit husband seems almost reasonable.”

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; First Edition edition (December 7, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465002986
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465002986
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,083,035 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Walter Five VINE VOICE on April 11, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Ira Craddock was so far ahead of her time. At the turn of the century she was a Sufferagette, a Sexologist, a religious scholar, and an amazing mystic who clearly showed that she was in communication with her "Heavenly Bridegrooms", the Angels.
The author begins to show her bias in the title-- a "Martyr" certainly, but a "Madwoman?" No dear friends, Ira was an Adept who achieved what the Qaballists call "The Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel" and a Heavenly Marriage with an Angel, Soph.

While her very rare works have been embraced by the Ordo Templi Orientis due to favorable reviews of her work by Sir Aleister Crowley over 90 years ago, and her two books, "Heavenly Bridgrooms" and "Psychic Wedlock" republished 30+ years ago in the Equinox Vol. V. No. 4., she has unjustly remained an obscure figure outside of Thelemic Circles. It is about time that her life and actions recieved a wider audience. Sexual techniques from Craddock's Psychic Wedlock were later reproduced in Sex Magick by Louis T. Culling, otherwise best known for his account of The Great Brotherhood of God, or G.'.B.'.G.'. and are much closer to the "Anseiratic Mysteries" of Dr. Paschal Beversly Randolph than the Gnostic Sexual Communion practiced by the 3rd Century Ebionites and sybollically incorporated into Aleister Crowley's "Liber XV" The Gnostic Mass. A much more sypmpathic biography Sexual Outlaw, Erotic Mystic: The Essential Ida Craddock has recently been writted, and a "new" book of previously unpublished material,

An additional, previously unpublished edition of her work "Lunar and Sex Worship" was printed in early 2011. It is already sold out. Some may find her religious and sexual views a bit parochial, having been written in the Victorian era. But there are many gems to be gleaned from Ms. Craddocks works for the student who can study them.
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"[Ida C.] Craddock's legal problems began when she offered a spirited defense of belly dancing...thereafter she became a persona non grata... [and] she had become by the end of her life a favorite free speech defender and women's-right activist."

Craddock had published 6 primary pamphlets on sex for married couples between 1893 and her death by suicide in 1902. All of these were suppressed by that Victorian pillar of virtue, Anthony Comstock, who was himself accused of having an affair with his sister in law. Comstock had become a special agent of the US Postal Service and the bane of free thinkers and liberals of his day, yet a hero to the religious right. Obviously someone Jerry Falwell would have looked up to. Comstock had her imprisoned on obscenity charges and due to her mother's, Lizzie, embarrassment, she was committed to an insane asylum, under the pretext that she spoke to spirits and in fact was married to a spirit or ghost, whom Ida referred to simply as Soph. Ida ran further afoul of the Protestant religion of the time in that she had the verve to found her own religion which she called the Church of the Yoga. Although for various reasons, not the least being financial, this church only lasted for about six months from late 1899 to early 1900, but this certainly made her an enemy of established religions.

Ida's life began with her birth in Philadelphia on 8/1/1857 and ended with her death on 10/17/1902; along the way were many interesting detours as her unsuccessful attempt to become the first female undergraduate student at the University of Pennsylvania in 1882. Ida would very much be considered a self-promoter and feminist in modern society.
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...it is at the same time very superficial in how it touches the occult aspects of Ida Craddock's life. There are a couple of other recently published books which reprint her writings, and they should be taken as mandatory further reading either while reading this book, or immediately after. Of course, a biography must center around the facts, and this one succeeds magnificently given that a lot of Ida's life must remain unknowable, having lost her at a young age and none of the principals still being alive. This book also illuminates the time she lived in, and the challenges faced by both free thinkers and women. As such, it will be of great interest to any student of Women's Rights, Religious Freedom and late 19th to early 20th Century American history.

However, Ida's motivation, thoughts and metaphysical outlook can only be found by reading her writings, which as I mentioned, and to our great fortune, are also available via at least 2 other books. The fact that this book cannot stand on its own without recourse to her writings is what cost it a star, in my humble opinion. It would have benefited had those been included either chronologically after the chapters covering her life when she wrote each one, or as a quite voluminous appendix. Still, I am quite happy I bought it, and more so that I read it as soon as it arrived.
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Making a historical figure come alive - that's what Leigh Eric Schmidt does in this wonderful biography. Ida Craddock tried a lot of things in her life, and struggled with many challenges, both personal and professional, and her death was tragic, but the reader, if she or he is willing to jump on board this narrative and ride along to the finish, won't be disappointed. The subtitle is a little misleading. It lists all the possible roles that Craddock arguably filled in her life, but the emphasis should really on the first one: American Mystic. That identifier could incorporate all the rest. As a mystic, she marched to the beat of a different drummer, even among fellow mystics! This persistent individualism in all things spiritual and cultural on her part brought her into the orbits of Theosophists and other fringe figures in late 19th century America. That she also had liberal views (according to the conventions of the day) on hot button issues like sex and gender should come as no surprise, since as a mystic she was less concerned with what other people thought than what her inner guiding light taught her.
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