A lower class deep libertarian Protestantism, perhaps really a freeing up of social and spiritual forces always bubbling under in England and given a chance to surface in the glorious chaos of interregnum England. They refused the chains of convential morality, and used tobacco and alchohol in a parody of communion to heighten the spiritual atmosphere at their meetings.

Said Abiezer Coppe "My spirit dwells with God, sups with him, in him, feeds on him,with him, in him,. My humanity shall dwell with, sup with, eat with humanity; and why not (for a need) with publicans and harlots?" They advocated blasphemy because it showed a freedom from the constraints of contemporary moral dogmatism.

An emanation of the free spirit that millenia of suppression never killed in hidebound Europe, ever arising anew and unexpected in popular uprisings and movements across the continent down the years. The leaders were imprisoned and forced to recant in the early 1650s but the Spirit lived on. In 1656 William Bond of Lacock in Wiltshire said there was "no God or power ruling above the planets, no Christ but the sun that shines on us." His fellow villager Thomas Hibbord said "God was in all things; whatever sins he did commit, God was the author of them all, and acted them in him. He would sell all religions for a jug of beer." (Quoted in Christopher Hill's 'The World Turned Upside Down, p.228)

Ranters were an English radical group of religious libertines c. 1649-54 who engaged in a wide written campaign of spirited religious and political pamphleteering (though their spelling and grammar were apparently, for want of editors, horrid) while also carrying on, at the street level (allegedly), with frenzied drunken orgies and immoral wantoness. One of the best works on the subject is the amazing overview, The pursuit of the millennium : revolutionary messianism in medieval and Reformation Europe and its bearing on modern totalitarian movements by Norman Cohn (NY : Harper, 1961)

The most infamous Ranter was Laurence Claxton, a tailor by trade, who flirted with numerous Protestant denominations before joining the Baptists in 1644. His first tracts, The Pilgrimage of Saints and Truth Released, appeared in 1646 and by 1649 he'd attracted a following of Ranter spiritualists in London. His most notorious Ranter prinicple was that a 'true believer is free from all traditional restraints, that sin is a product only of the imagination, and that private ownership of property is wrong,' all of which appeared in his classical Ranter tract, A Single Eye (1650).

Ranterism had its beginnings with the medieval Brethren of the Free Spirit or the Beghards, a 14th century heretical group who started the so-called Heresy of the Free Spirit. "Ranting principles" according to Gerrard Winstanley (1609?-60?), one of the groups most fervent political enemies, included a 'general lack of moral values or restraint in worldly pleasures'. Excess, excess, excess in other words; and Alehouses, brothels and pubs were apparently hotbeds of Ranter insurrection, centered primarily around London. Some were also social reformers, affiliated also with agrarian communists known as the Diggers who actually had the gall to demand of the government of England that the common lands should be returned to the common people. Their most theologically dangerous belief was that the Holy Spirit, by its nature, removed sin from even their most reprehensible acts.

Ranters and some Quakers of the period were known to cavort in the all together. They were also millenniarianists, who expected and prepared for the imminent Second Coming of Christ at any time. And yes, there was talk of orgies and streaking and all other manner of lewdness. (After all, getting naked has been big with the saints, holy men, and prophets since pre-Biblical times).

"Shock value, the rejection of worldly goods, and all men being equal in the sight of God were common motivations to undress"; so indeed the Ranters (and some Quakers even, if you can imagine such a thing) paraded nude in public. Ranters were accused (usually by their opponents) of wife swapping, sodomy, child-lust and other wanton activities which ran contrary to the societal morals of the day.

Between 1650-51, the London newspapers picked up on the Ranter movement and in January of 1651, in the City of London at Moor Lane, there was reported some 'wanton behavior at a local alehouse' and the subsequent arrests, interogations and trials were publicized outrageously (in the manner of the 'yellow journalism' of the time) but by 1652, they had exhausted media interest as a protest movement. Some scholars speculate that the pamphlets and printed sermons of the Ranters may have been the work of other sectarian and secret societies of the period.

Sources :
1. The pursuit of the millennium : revolutionary messianism in medieval and Reformation Europe and its bearing on modern totalitarian movements by Norman Cohn (NY : Harper, 1961)
2. The Ranters. from Exlibris. http://www.exlibris.org/nonconform/engdis/ranters.html. Accessed 17 August 2000.
3. "Claxton, Laurence" Encyclopædia Britannica Online. {http://www.eb.com:180/bol/topic?eu=24648&sctn=1} (Accessed 16 August 2000).
4. "United Kingdom, history of" Encyclopædia Britannica Online. {http://www.eb.com:180/bol/topic?eu=120045&sctn=12} (Accessed 16 August 2000).

Ranterism can be basically summed up in three parts:
Antinomianism: the belief that sin does not exist and therefore all behaviour is permitted;
Pantheism: the belief that god is in everything;
and Millenarianism: the belief that the Third Age was coming with the return of Jesus Christ.

Rant"er (?), n.


A noisy talker; a raving declaimer.

2. Eccl. Hist. (a)

One of a religious sect which sprung up in 1645; -- called also Seekers. See Seeker.


One of the Primitive Methodists, who seceded from the Wesleyan Methodists on the ground of their deficiency in fervor and zeal; -- so called in contempt.


© Webster 1913.

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