Behmenism, also Behemenism and similar, is the English-language designation for a 17th-century European Christian movement based on the teachings of German mystic and theosopher Jakob Böhme (1575-1624). The term was not usually applied by followers of Böhme's theosophy to themselves, but rather was used by some opponents of Böhme's thought as a polemical term. The origins of the term date back to the German literature of the 1620s, when opponents of Böhme's thought, such as the Thuringian antinomian Esajas Stiefel, the Lutheran theologian Peter Widmann and others denounced the writings of Böhme and the Böhmisten. When his writings began to appear in England in the 1640s, Böhme's surname was irretrievably corrupted to the form "Behmen" or "Behemen", whence the term "Behmenism" developed. A follower of Böhme's theosophy is a "Behmenist".
Behmenism does not describe the beliefs of any single formal religious sect, but instead designates a more general description of Böhme's interpretation of Christianity, when used as a source of devotional inspiration by a variety of groups. Böhme's views greatly influenced many anti-authoritarian and Christian mystical movements, such as the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), the Philadelphians, the Gichtelians, the Society of the Woman in the Wilderness (led by Johannes Kelpius), the Ephrata Cloister, the Harmony Society, Martinism, and Christian theosophy. Böhme was also an important source of German Romantic philosophy, influencing Schelling and Franz von Baader in particular. In Richard Bucke's 1901 treatise Cosmic Consciousness, special attention was given to the profundity of Böhme's spiritual enlightenment, which seemed to reveal to Böhme an ultimate nondifference, or nonduality, between human beings and God. Böhme is also an important influence on the ideas of the English Romantic poet, artist and mystic William Blake. After having seen the William Law edition of the works of Jakob Böhme, published between 1764-1781, in which some illustrations had been included by the German early Böhme exegetist Dionysius Andreas Freher (1649-1728), William Blake said during a dinner party in 1825 “Michel Angelo could not have surpassed them”.
Despite being based on a corrupted form of Böhme's surname, the term Behmenism has retained a certain utility in modern English-language historiography, where it is still occasionally employed, although often to designate specifically English followers of Böhme's theosophy. Given the transnational nature of Böhme's influence, however, the term at least implies manifold international connections between Behmenists. In any case, the term is preferred to clumsier variants such as "Böhmeianism" or "Böhmism", although these may also be encountered.
- An early English language example is provided in Anderdon, John. "One blow at Babel, in those of the People called Behmenites, Whose foundation is...upon their own cardinal conception, begotten in their imaginations upon Jacob Behmen's writings." London: 1662.
- Hutin, Serge. "The Behmenists and the Philadelphian Society." The Jacob Boehme Society Quarterly 1:5 (Autumn 1953): 5-11.
- See Schopenhauer's On the Fourfold Root of the Principle of Sufficient Reason, Ch II, 8
- The Spiritual Side of Samuel Richardson, Mysticism, Behmenism and Millenarianism in an Eighteenth-Century English Novelist, Gerda J. Joling-van der Sar, 2003, p. 140.
- See for example B. J. Gibbons, Gender in mystical and occult thought: Behmenism and its development in England. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996.
- Thune, Nils. The Behemenists and the Philadelphians: A contribution to the study of English mysticism in the 17th and 18th centuries. Uppsala: Almquist and Wiksells, 1948.