Note that I am only writing from my experience of British Quakers I am not trying to convert anybody! This is a factual writeup about my observation of the Quakers
At its most basic level the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) are group of people who all agree that there is 'something special' in everybody and everything, and who wish to seek out a greater understanding of that 'something'.
I will dispel a few important misconceptions that I used to have about Friends (that's what Quakers call themselves)
They don't have any rules. They agree on basic principles such as "Murder is bad" but, contrary to popular belief (and even some Quakers will get this wrong) none of them are fixed in writing. No rule can apply to all situations in all places and in all times. Therefore tales of draconian laws and totalitarian-style religious rule are the essence of what Quakers oppose.
They don't have any Priests. They get jumpy at the word. One of their central beliefs is that everyone is equal and they see a Priesthood as contradicting that.
They don't claim to 'know' the truth, they want to find it.
Quakers are not all teetotallers. Some are, some aren't, just like in any other area of society. Most would say that having the odd drink socially isn't a bad thing, after all good old JC had a couple. I think all would agree that getting wasted is bad because you can hurt yourself and more importantly; innocent bystanders.
They are not puritans, you don't have to renounce your laptop and mp3s to be a Quaker. Quakers generally feel simplicity is a good thing, but I doubt that many dwell in caves living off nuts and berries.
They don't all eat Oats ;-)
What about The Bible?
Quakerism is descended from the ardent Christian George Fox in the 1650s, so you might expect it to be a bit fundamentalist in the nasty sense of the word. Quakerism is very much about questioning and searching, two things that don't sit well with a fundamentalist authoritarian group. As a result a Quaker is not likely to scream that you are a blasphemer and cast you down if you question the divinity of Christ. A Quaker is more likely to shrug and say that the important thing is to learn from Jesus' way of life - and get on with it.
I think it would be fair to say that most Quakers in Britain consider the Bible to be their primary source of printed inspiration, but it is not the only one. Important books were written before and after the bible. Most Quakers don't see the Bible as the literal truth of God (if they did there would be far too many stonings), but as a very useful source of guidance.
Quite a lot of Quakers find inspiration in the writings of other great thinkers and religious leaders. I have spoken to many Quakers who follow the teachings of Buddha, have read about who considers herself Wiccan and have heard of a Jewish Quaker and of an Islamic Sufi who considers himself a Quaker. The point of the Quaker ethos is that each person seeks the truth, it is not for them to judge which path another should take.
What About God ?
Well what about God then? I think all Quakers believe in God, though the terminology and imagery might be very varied. Most Quakers come from a Christian background. Most that I have met were brought up in the Anglican church, and so naturally tend towards traditional Christian imagery. Quakers use a lot of different words to try to do the impossible and describe God.
A common term used for 'God' is 'The Light'. Quakers believe that 'The Light' exists in every time, every place and every thing. Therefore all things are sacred. Some Friends may talk of an Inner Light when referring to ones conscience or a feeling of inspiration. They may also talk of an Outer Light when referring to spiritual feelings from without. How one visualises or interprets this is utterly up to the individual. Whether you feel that 'the light' is the presence of God the Father, Allah, Tao, Gaia, the Universe or anything else really isn't worth going on a crusade about. All are equally valid descriptions of 'The Light'. The same applies to the gender of God, while individual Quakers may have opinions it is generally viewed as unimportant in the grand scheme of things.
What about Services?
OK so they don't have Priests right? The services must be pretty quiet eh? Well...yes. Firstly Quakers don't have anything resembling the official ritual of communion. If all things are sacred then all times and places are equally holy. One may experience communion in one's own way, by walking in the woods, by reading the Bible, through meditation, or even washing the dishes. Whatever method you use to feel at one with 'The Light' the effects are the same, Quakers often quote an early Quaker's statement that he "felt the evil weakening in me and the good raised up.".
Despite the fact that all times, places and people are sacred, it can get lonely if you sit by yourself communing with the universe all day. Quakers gather in 'Meetings'. In my experience of Quaker meetings (I've been to several) the Quakers all turn up, say hello and chat a bit before entering the actual Meeting hall. There they sit down in a circle of chairs (this isn't a mystic circle, it's just that it's the most logical shape if there is nobody in charge). They then pray/meditate/read in silence. This silence can become very deep, something you have to experience to understand. There is no set plan, but if someone feels moved to speak they might stand up and briefly speak what is on their mind. This isn't a sermon, just a personal insight, concern, question or problem that overcame them during the silence. After they sit down everyone returns to their praying/meditating/reading, probably pondering what the person has just said. This can be a quite moving experience
After about an hour the mad dash starts for the coffee and biscuits.
Quaker Related Links
P.S. Quake is cool, but Half-Life is better.