18. VEGETARIANISM AND ANTIQUITY
I ASSUME that we are, all of us, rational beings, and, being so, that we desire earnestly to be the best that we have it in us to be, and to turn to the best possible account the share allotted to us of the universal Life and Substance.
This is to say, I assume that we are, all of us, men, in the true and high sense of the term, and this whether we be of the masculine or of the feminine gender; for humanity is of two sexes, comprising man male and man female; so that in order fully to represent humanity, and to be perfect man, or perfectly human, it is necessary to combine in ourselves the essential qualities of both sexes, namely, the force, the intellect, and the courage of the man, and the love, the intuition, and the endurance of the woman. It is only in virtue of our manifestation of the qualities of both sexes that we can justify our claim to be made in what is called the Divine image, the image, that is, of God; since God is all of the qualities of the two sexes in their highest perfection.
It is, then, we may assume, as men that we desire to know what is the proper food of and for man; what is the food best fitted to make us whole men, after the image I have just described, and so to enable us both to be the best that we have it in us to be, and to turn our existence to the best possible account – the best possible account, of course, in the long run, considering what, though a certainty for a few only, is a probability for many, and a possibility for all, namely, that we are permanent beings, continuing after the life of our bodies, and that according to the tendencies we encourage here, we determine our nature and condition hereafter.
Since it is as whole men that we want to learn the proper food for man, and since, also, in this, as in other matters, experience is the only safe guide, it is necessary that we turn to those whom the world has recognised as being whole men,
having, in the highest degree, the qualities of both sexes, and being in virtue thereof made in man's proper divine image, and representatives at once of God and of man.
Doing this, we shall at once follow the common-sense course, and ascertain the common-sense view on our subject. For, although we shall not necessarily arrive at the conclusion agreed in by all or even most men, we shall assuredly arrive at the conclusion agreed in by – and this alone is the true criterion – all parts of man. For only those who, in being whole man, have developed in themselves the consciousness of all the different spheres or regions of man's nature which together constitute and make man, only those can by any means be possessed of the common sense of man.
Now, the chief divisions in man's system – not to trouble ourselves about their subdivisions – the regions or spheres in man the consensus or agreement of which constitutes common sense, are four in number, and they are, counting from without inwards, the body, the mind, the Soul, and the Spirit. And as all these go to the making of the man, in the absence of the consciousness of any of them he is not yet a whole man, but is, however great he may be in respect of any one or more of them, only a rudimentary man.
It will be interesting as well
as instructive to state that, in being thus constituted, man is made exactly
like the universe of which he is the outcome, and so constitutes an epitome of
it, being a microcosm to its macrocosm. It is this fourfold nature at once of
the universe and of man which the Bible and other sacred books of the ancient
religions describe under the symbol of the fourfold River of Paradise, the
fourfold Chariot of Ezekiel, the four Beasts or Living Creatures both of Ezekiel
and the book of Revelation, and the number, characteristics, and symbols of the
four Gospels, all of which are intended to denote the fourfoldness of every complete entity, small or great,
manifested in Existence, and to show the order and respective value of each
sphere or department. For the Ox of St Matthew represents the material part, the
body or earth; the Lion of St Mark represents the electric or mental part; the
Angel-headed man of St Luke denotes the Soul; and the Eagle, or bird of the air,
of which the innermost, or Spirit, is the centre and sun, the radiant point which, while receiving of the substantial essences of all the particles of which the system is composed, redistributes of these in the form of light and life to every part, vivifying and illumining the whole man, and this precisely in proportion to the purity of his manner of living, thinking, acting, and wishing, so that one Will actuates and rules every part – "on the earth," or body, "as in heaven," or divine part – and this the Will, not of the body, but of the Spirit, which is the God of the man, and which, when pure, is God in the man. For pure spirit is God. Attaining to this condition, the man is at the summit of humanity, perfect as man, and having the "gift of God which is eternal life." And in order to attain this condition, or in any way to make approach to it, not only must the man's food be pure in itself, but it must be purely come by, that is, without fraud, rapine, violence, or bloodshed. Divine ends can be attained only by divine means; and the truly human is divine, as regards both ends and means. And the flesh of corpses is not pure food, nor is the slaughter of harmless creatures for selfish purposes a pure act. "They shall not hurt or slay in all my holy mountain, saith the Lord." And "He that killeth an ox shall be as if he slew a man" – such is the burden of all true prophets whenever, forced by the degeneracy of the times to speak plainly, they have departed from the mystic language usual to them.
The definition I have given you of man and humanity is one which fits very many other occasions than that which has called us together here. And it is also one for which, in this age of ours, there is peculiar need. For it is precisely because the world's habits in respect to eating and drinking have become so gross and depraving that it has forgotten what it once knew about the nature and lofty possibilities of humanity, and has come to think that not the Mind and Soul and Spirit, but the outward form, makes the man, and that to be man it is not necessary to have the qualities of man. This comes of the prevailing materialism, itself due to grossness of the diet, first physical, then mental, on which we nourish our bodies and minds. And so low has become the conception of humanity and of existence at large, that people are to be found expressing their doubts as to whether life is worth living at all! Having given you a definition and a doctrine – a definition
of man, and a doctrine concerning his nature and destiny,– I am bound to give some examples and their practice. That I have given a definition at all of man, is because until we know what man is we cannot possibly determine what his food ought to be.
Now, for the best examples it is necessary to go a long way back in the world's history, to a time when there were men who regarded being above seeming or even having, and who cared to know only in order to be, and who, therefore, made the one object of their lives the attainment of personal perfection.
But we must not suppose that this object, though personal, was a selfish object. Their pursuit of perfection in themselves was prompted, first, by love of God, as the supreme perfection; and, next, by love of man, to whom they desired to point the pathway to perfection by showing in their own persons how lofty are the possibilities of the existence we all share. Their motive was thus not selfishness, but love – the love which recognises in the universe one omnipresent self, and that self God. As seekers after perfection, they were necessarily seekers after God; and according to the intensity of the love which impelled them, did they succeed in their quest for themselves, and in raising others towards their own level. Such were those true heroes of the far past, those redeemers and saviours of men from the grossness of mere animality long before our era, who were as steps in the ladder at the summit of which we are wont to place the Christ – a Zoroaster, a Moses, a Pythagoras, an Apollonius, a Buddha. And so transcendent were the powers exercised by them, alike over men and over the forces of nature, by virtue of their own pure spirits, that while by scoffers they were regarded as magicians, by the devout they were regarded as divinities.
And their method was worthy their motive; for it, too, was divine. Reformers, not of institutions merely, but of men themselves, and reformers of the most radical kind, they went straight to the very root of man's nature, seeking to change at once their spirits and their bodies by means of that inward purification which is the secret and method of Christ. And as a first step towards this, they required of their disciples the total renunciation of flesh-food, of stimulating drinks, and, so far as was practicable, of fire in the preparation of their food: and not only did they object to heating food and drink, but they objected to hot foods and drinks.
All the reasons on which the case for a vegetarian regimen rests are scientific reasons, but some of them belong to a science which is not of the physical, but of the mental and moral, and some to a science which is neither of these, but is what is termed occult, in that it deals with the inmost and spiritual essence of man, and all that relates thereto. Of this science the ancients were masters, having become so primarily through the purity of their mode of living, by which they were enabled to develop faculties of which the modern world hears only to deride and deny them, that world having, through the grossness of its modes of living, altogether forfeited them. They are, nevertheless, now in the process of recovery through a return to the ancient regimen; and in virtue of what has been thus recovered, both of faculty and of knowledge, we are able to confirm positively the truth of the ancient doctrine concerning the nature both of man and of his proper food; the food, that is, which at once enables man to be his best, and makes the best man.
It was in virtue of such
knowledge that the practice was adopted of dividing mankind into the different
grades called castes. These were regulated, not according to social position,
race, or wealth, but according to the involutional
development, or interior unfoldment, of the
individual; and each caste denoted a different step upon the ladder of
evolution, by which one on the lowest might climb to the highest. Any man was of
high caste, however lowly born or placed, who had developed the consciousness of
the inner and higher part of his nature, that of the Soul and Spirit. And any
man was of low caste, however highly born or placed, who had not developed the
consciousness of these, but only that of the body and superficial reason. The
higher the caste of the man, the purer and lighter was the food on which he
could sustain himself, the purest of all being sun-ripened fruits and sunbaked cakes of grain. Those who were of this grade could
be initiated into the sacred mysteries of the god or arch-angel of the sun – in
the materialists of those times, persons so devoid of spiritual perception as to be incapable of discerning anything beyond the material world, and so narrow in their sympathies, and deficient in their sense of beauty and fitness, as to renounce the pure and exquisite products of the soil, and to slaughter inoffensive animals and make themselves tombs for their corpses. In the Mysteries of Hermes, also called Raphael and Thauth, the Divine Spirit of Understanding, and the second of the Elohim, it was especially forbidden to eat anything that could see, the initiates being charged in this wise: –
"Purify your bodies, and eat no dead thing that has looked with living
eyes upon the light of Heaven.
For the eye is the symbol of brotherhood among you. Sight is the mystical
Let no man take the life of his brother to feed withal his own.
But slay only such as are evil, in the name of the Lord.
They are miserably deceived who expect eternal life, and restrain not their
hands from blood and death. (1)
Such was the institution of Caste as originally conceived, the grades being four, in accordance with the fourfold nature alike of man and the universe. The disuse of fire in the preparation of their food by the superior caste was for this reason. Fire disorganises the component particles of the substances submitted to it, thereby destroying their magnetic properties and impairing the vitality which constitutes their highest virtue as food, so that instead of ministering directly of their own consciousness to that of the man, and so heightening his powers of perception alike of body and mind, they serve but to dull both sense and understanding. One of the purposes in the famous parable of Prometheus was to illustrate the mischievous effect of fire in respect of food. Not only does it enable man to use the flesh of animals and thus, while over-materialising himself, to habituate himself to carnage, but by supplying him with hot foods and drinks, it dries up the magnetic power of his nerves, dulls his senses, and shortens his life. Matter itself, moreover, is the product of heat, being due to motion, which is a mode of heat. And matter (though essentially Spirit, as are necessarily all things) is the antithesis of Spirit in its original condition. And hence, in the parable, the appointed punisher of Prometheus is no other than Hermes,
the representative of the
Understanding, and called also the Physician of Souls, since that alone is the
true faith – the faith which saves and cannot be shaken – which is founded on
the rock of the Understanding. And as the promoter of a diet directly at
conflict with the intuition, and incompatible with the full development of the
mind, Prometheus was regarded as having invaded the
It is, of course, impossible in our climate to dispense with fire in the preparation of food, as we have so few things which we can eat without cooking them. But the evil can be greatly mitigated by taking our food cold, or at least not hot; and a still greater gain would come of such an increased production of fruit as would enable all to use it as a main article of their diet. On the score of physical health alone, the gain would be immense. For, as many a medical man has said, if only people would take fruit at their breakfasts, they would rarely require a doctor.
It will be seen from what has been said that the grounds on which our practice rests are very far from being restricted to the physical, or even to this present life, since it has relation to the permanent as well as to the temporary element of man. For it is founded on the Common Sense, not merely of the great majority of mankind – that would be a very narrow definition of Common Sense – but of all parts of man – the physical, the intellectual, the moral, and the spiritual. And it is precisely because it has the concurrence of every region of man's nature that all generations of men who have, by the development of the consciousness of all these regions, become whole men, and thereby representative of humanity, have both made it their own practice and required it of all who have sought of them the secret and method of that pearl of great price, personal perfection. The quest of this, or, in other words, the culture of the Soul, at once individual and universal, was the supreme object of the initiates in all those prae-Christian Churches known as the Sacred Mysteries of Antiquity, alike in Hindostan, Egypt, Persia, Judaea, Greece, and other lands.
But this was prior to the invasion and consequent degeneration of these Mysteries by Materialism. For then the prophet was overborne by the priest; the minister of the intuition by the minister of sense; and for the "Lamb" of a pure and gentle heart, men offered of "the fruits of the ground," or lower nature, sacrifices material merely, and stained with innocent blood the pure altars of the Lord, as well as their own bodies, which ought to be as temples of God. And so was abandoned, until well-nigh forgotten, that Perfect Way which, beginning with a renunciation of a diet of flesh, properly followed, ends with the Finding of Christ.
Recalling the world's experience, and confirming it by our own, we are absolutely convinced that no perfection of the individual, no civilisation of the general worthy to be so called, can be attained while violence and injustice, even to animals, prevails, and men sustain themselves by methods at variance with the nature and needs of every region, unvitiated, of their nature.
(211:1) See An Exhortation of Hermes to his Neophytes, C.W.S., Part II., No. xii. (2) vv. 17-21; and see Biographical Preface, pp. 32-33 ante.
(212:1) See Biographical Preface, pp. 26, 37.