2. LETTERS ON PURE DIET (1)
is with the most earnest satisfaction, and presage of good things to come, that
all Food Reformers scattered over the
On the one hand we are able to command the advocacy of Comparative Anatomy and Physiology, Chemistry, Hygiene, and Economy Social and Political; on the other, our cause is pleaded by all the arts which beautify life and civilise
humanity, and – better and worthier still than these – by those just, compassionate, and gentle instincts of man, in virtue of which alone he is man, differing from and surpassing all lower creatures.
The Perfectionist is necessarily an abstainer from flesh. No man who aims at making his life an harmonious whole, pure, complete, and harmless to others, can endure to gratify an appetite at the cost of the daily suffering and bloodshed of his inferiors in degree, and of the moral degradation of his own kind. I know not which strikes me most forcibly in the ethics of this question –the injustice, the cruelty, or the nastiness of flesh-eating. The injustice is to the butchers, the cruelty is to the animals, the nastiness concerns the consumer. With regard to this last in particular, I greatly wonder that persons of refinement – aye, even of decency – do not feel insulted on being offered, as a matter of course, portions of corpses as food! Such comestibles might possibly be tolerated during sieges, or times of other privation of proper viands in exceptional circumstances, but in the midst of a civilised community able to command a profusion of sound and delicious foods, it ought to be deemed an affront to set dead flesh before a guest.
What disfigurement, too, this horrible practice of corpse-eating causes in otherwise civilised cities, replete with beautiful monuments, cathedrals, fountains, avenues, and all kinds of decorative art; where, side by with pictures, flowers, jewels, statues and embroideries, one meets at intervals of every few yards the loathsome, foul, and indecent spectacle of slaughtered bullocks, sheep, pigs, and other animals hanging in rows, exposed to public view, the blood often trickling down from their mutilated trunks, and coagulating on the pavement!
To me it is simply amazing that human society should tolerate these things, and still more amazing that the person who objects to put carrion into this mouth should be seriously expected to adopt the position of an apologist, and required to make good his case! Surely the case makes itself sufficiently “good” on the face of it; and assuredly, also, the burden of excuse lies, not with the pure food-eater, but with the eater of flesh. He it is who is the innovator, he it is who has departed from the law of nature and from the customs of his ancestors! Shew me then, O man of prey, for what reason you slit the throat of a living creature and devour its tissues and organs,
when you may have nourishment of better value, in purer and stronger condition, without recourse to bloodshed! Shew me why you are not revolted and shocked by the contemplation of all the filthy practices and processes involved in this habit of carnage; how you reconcile the idea of the slaughter-house with ideas of progress, beauty, and gentle manners; and when you have made out your case to your satisfaction, it will be time enough for me to begin making out mine!
We all know the story of the butcher who coaxed his little son to repeat the Church Catechism on Sunday by promising that if he said it nicely he should be allowed to kill a lamb before breakfast on Monday morning. Everybody, on hearing this story, express horror and disgust at the notion of so dreadful a bribe being held out to a child in reward for the performance of a religious exercise. But why? In reason’s name, why? If the slaughter of lambs be a virtuous and humanising business, why should not the child be initiated into his father’s craft as early and as innocently as into any other? If the boy had been promised the treat of baking a loaf or planing a piece of wood by way of reward for his good conduct, the story would have shocked nobody. But, admit that slaughtering is a horrible business in itself, and the instinctive disgust becomes at once explicable. That which is base for the man is, of course, doubly vile for the innocent child.
As I write, I chance to light on a passage from a modern romance, and cannot forbear quoting from it, with slight alteration, a few portions, so well it puts one aspect of the moral side of our question.
“Cookery the divine, can turn a horrible fact into a poetic idealism, can twine the butcher’s knife with lilies, and hide a carcase under roses. Men write stanzas of ‘gush’ on ‘maternity,’ and tear the little bleating calf from its mother to bleed to death in a long slow agony; send the spring-tide lamb to the slaughter; have scores of birds and beasts slain for one dinner, that they may enjoy the numberless dishes which fashion exacts; and then – all the time talking softly about rissôle and mayonnaise, consommé and entremet, croquette and côtelette, the dear gourmets thank God that they are not as the parded beasts of prey! (...) If there be a spectacle on earth to rejoice the angels, it is not man’s treatment of the animals he says God has given to him! I wonder if ever He ask how men have dealt with His gift, what they will answer! If all
their slaughtered millions should answer instead of them, if all the countless and unpitied dead, all the goaded, maddened beasts from forest and desert, and all the innocent, playful little home-bred creatures that have been racked by the knives and torn by the poisons and convulsed by the torments of modern science, should answer instead – what then? If, with one mighty voice of a woe no longer inarticulate, of an accusation no longer disregarded, these oxen with their blood-shot, agonised eyes, driven to death in the slaughter-house; these sheep with their timid, woe-begone faces, scourged into the place of their doom, bruised, terrified, and tortured, should answer instead – what then? Then, if it be done unto men as they have done unto these, they will seek for mercy and find none in all the width of the universe, they will moan and none shall release, they will pray, and none shall hear.”
Well, two classes of men are chiefly to blame for all this demoralisation and suffering: the clergy, and the physicians. Both have erred and continue to err for lack of education and discernment on the one hand; and on the other, for sake of the love of popularity and power. But these questions are deep ones, and will involve a more careful and particular study than, in the limits of the present article, I am able to give them. They will form good subjects for examination at a future time, when I trust to be able to speak at some length of the true bearing both of sacred scripture and of therapeutic science on the question of flesh-eating, and to make it clear that the misapprehension which exists so widely with regard to the teaching of these two authorities, is due, not to the authorities themselves, but to misconception and misinterpretation on the part of their expositors.
We may assume that the public interested in the Food Question – as in every other national question – is divisible into three sections, namely, the section led by ecclesiastical opinion, that led by medical opinion, and lastly, the independent or free thinking section which either despises or ignores the opinions of both clergy and “doctors.”
It may seem at first sight a strange thing that the advocate of pure diet should have any difficulties to contend with on religious grounds; but those who are experienced in the campaign
of Food Reform, know well that the average Christian, of whatever denomination, commonly regards the doctrine of abstinence from flesh as an arrant heresy. He quotes Paul on the subject, hurls Peter’s vision at ones head, and triumphantly cites what he assumes to have been the practice of the Founder himself of Christianity, evidence, which for him, would clinch the argument, even if Moses and the Hebrew code of clean and unclean beasts had never been heard of. What, in the face of such arguments, is to be the reply of our advocate?
Let us deal first with the head and front of the difficulty; its minor points may be set in order afterwards.
Most modern Christians believe that Jesus ate not only fish, but flesh, and this impression constitutes for them clear licence and sanction to do likewise, although a careful examination of the Sacred Writings and a scrupulous comparison of the various statements made in the Gospels would go far to convince them that the probabilities of the case are strongly in favour of a wholly different view.
In the second chapter of Matthew it is stated that Jesus was a “Nazarene.” The fact that the writer refers to prophecy for his authority plainly shows that he means not a Nazarene in the sense of a mere inhabitant of Nazareth, but a “Nazarite,” for the reference made can only be to the declaration of Jacob (Genesis, chap. Xlix, verse 26), in which the word nâzîr occurs for the first time in the Bible, and in the Protestant version is translated “separate”; to the directions given by an angel to the mother of Samson; and to the vow of Hannah in regard to Samuel. According to ecclesiastical tradition, a Nazarene, or Nazarite, appears to have been one who wore his hair long, clothed himself in a single outer garment without seam, abstained from fermented drinks, (1) and, in the higher degrees of the order, as among the Essenes, from flesh-meats also, after the manner of John the Baptist. The belief that Jesus was one of this order is not only supported by Gospel statement, but by legendary art, based on early conviction
and doctrine, as is conclusively shewn by all the Christian representations of the Master, depicting Him invariably in the Nazarite garb, with flowing hair and beard. That He was an adherent of John’s doctrine appears further probable from the fact that He sought and underwent baptism at the hands of the latter, and the very word “Essene” is derived from a root signifying “Bather.” To be “bathed” was, therefore, to profess Essenism.
There is no evidence, written or traditional, that Jesus ever partook of flesh. The phrase, “the Son of Man is come eating and drinking,” is plainly shewn by the context (in the revised edition) to refer to the eating of bread; and it implies that Jesus did not push abstinence to asceticism, as did John. The Paschal Lamb difficulty (in connection with the Last Supper) arises out of a simple misunderstanding, easily rectifiable. The Last Supper is shown in the gospel of John, who himself was a prominent figure on the occasion, (1) to have taken place on the evening of the thirteenth day of the month of Nisan, that is, as is many times distinctly affirmed, before the day of the Paschal meal, which was the fourteenth of Nisan. On this latter day (Friday) the Crucifixion itself took place, for we are told in all four Gospels that this event occurred on the preparation day of the Sabbath, which Sabbath, being also the Convocation day, was “an high day.” The date of the Crucifixion is unmistakably fixed by John in the verse: “They led Jesus, therefore, into the palace (or pretorium); and it was early; and they themselves entered not into the palace, that they might not be defiled, but might eat the Passover.” That the Crucifixion took place the day after that of the Last Supper is clearly stated by all four Evangelists, and this fact affords plain evidence that the mention of the “eating of the Passover” in relation to the Supper is an erroneous interpolation, for all of them agree that it was held on the thirteenth of Nisan (Thursday), on which day the Passover could not have been eaten.
But that Jesus ate fish is, if the Gospel records are to be accepted in their literal sense – an assumption I emphatically contest – pretty well established. Let me point out the strong indications which exist why the fish-eating and fish-catching
Jesus and His disciples have, not a literal, but a parabolic and mystic meaning,
precisely as have also the many references to the “cup” and to wine-drinking in
the same narratives. All these allusions are related to astronomical
symbology, and identify the Hero of the Christian Evangels with His
ancient prototypes. It is admitted by most critics of the Sacred Scriptures that
they are largely base on and governed by reference to that science, which, in
earlier times, and in Eastern lands – whence both the Hebrew and Christian
oracles are derived – dominated and directed all expressions, whether tabular or
written of psychic truths. The science was founded on the study of the Celestial
Planisphere, and its earliest and most universal text-book was the
Zodiac. The phenomenon known as the Precession of the Equinoxes causes a
different sign in the Zodiac to appear at the vernal equinox about every two
thousand years, and to the character of this vernal sign, prominent expression
was given by the initiated, in the theological cultus
of the period. Thus history has shewn us successively the Bull (Apis)
and the Lamb (Aries) as the dominant emblems of Egyptian and Jewish worship; and
this latter sign has survived in Christian symbolism because Aries is always the
first Zodiacal hieroglyph, and thus the permanent emblem of the one eternal year
or great Sun-cycle. But the sign which actually ushered in the Christian
dispensation, and which, therefore, we should expect to find reflected in the
sacred legends of the period, was Pisces, or the Fish. Hence the
Messiah, who appeared under the auspices of this sign, is portrayed as being
followed by Fishers; as distributing Fishes (“the two small fishes” of the
Zodiac) to His disciples; as preparing Fish for the food of His Apostles; and as
Himself partaking of Fish after His resurrection. Besides, the fish is the
maritime emblem, and Jesus is said to have been born of Maria and the Holy
Ghost, or of Water and the Spirit. The prophet Esdras
(Esdras, book ii, chap. 13) sees Christ in a vision coming
up out of the sea; and the ceremony of “passing through the sea and the cloud”
is still connected with the initiation into Christian doctrine. For these
(of the Sea-nymph), or the Anchor.” All these symbols are found in the Celestial Planisphere. In the Roman catacombs – the home of primitive Christian art – the most remarkable and the most general symbol employed to express the name of Christ was that of the Fish, which affords, significatively, a combination of everything desirable in a tessera, or mystic sign. The Greek word for fish – ’IXθYΣ – contains the initials of the words – ’Iησους XρισTòς θєοû Υιος ΣwTήρ (Jesus Christ, Son of God, the Saviour). Sometimes the word ’Iχθυς was written at length in place of the graven symbol. Augustine also applies this emblem to Jesus, and says that “He is a Fish which lives in the midst of waters.” Paulinus, speaking of the miracle of the five loaves and two fishes (the mystic number of planets), alludes to Jesus as “the Fish of the Living waters.” Prosper refers to Him as “the Fish dressed at his death.” And Tertullian calls the Christians “fishes bred in the water, and saved by one great Fish.” Jerome, commending a disciple who sought baptism, tells him that, “like the Son of the Fish, he desires to be cast into the water.” As thus the Messiah of the Gospels is associated with the sea and with redemption through and by water, so, with perfect reason, the successors of Peter, His chief apostle and vicar, claim as their distinctive title the name of the “Fisherman,” and the ring with which each successive Pontiff is invested, in token of his office and authority, is known as the “Fisherman’s Ring.” It has been observed also that the mitre, characteristic of ecclesiastical authority in the Christian Church, represents a fish’s head, and expresses, therefore, the relation of the wearer to the Founder of the religion inaugurated under that sign. Fish were connected in primitive Christian times with all theological ceremonies; the Saints in the sacred mysteries were called “pisciculi” (little fishes), and to this day the water vase at the entrance of Catholic Churches bears the name of “piscina.” The custom of eating fish on Friday, in commemoration of the chief event in the history of Him whose Mother is identical with the genius of that day, is still common in the larger section of Christians.
We might insist at greater length on the peculiarly symbolical character of the whole twenty-first chapter of John’s Gospel containing the account of the final fish-miracle, which chapter is appended as an epilogue to the Gospel itself, whose formally concluding verse closes the preceding chapter. More than one
critic has pointed out the strong probability that the episode referred to, with its curiously emphasised numerals, – seven, two hundred, a hundred and fifty and three – and the unlikely character of its literal interpretation (see the Rev. Malcolm White on the symbolical numbers of Scripture), is altogether mystical and, perhaps, prophetical in meaning. But enough has been said to indicate the reasons for attaching a sense, not historical but symbolical, to the various statements contained in the four Gospels on the subject of Christ’s connection with fish and fishery, and the reason of the substitution of the fish for the lamb, which represented the former dispensation. (1)
Before entering on the subject of the present letter, I wish to observe concerning it and its predecessor of the last number, that she sole object of the criticisms and interpretations I am now placing before the readers of this Magazine, is to suggest to conscientious Christians a ground of reconciliation between the tenets of their faith and the practice of vegetarianism, so that they may not fancy themselves forced to conclude that religion sanctions and even inculcates that which their own secret sense of morality condemns. It may be that in the course of my exposition I may offend some, who, despite personal conviction and rule of life, yet prefer to abide by the popular exoteric sense attributed to the text of the Old and New Testaments. I beg such to have patience with me for the sake of others, who, like myself, are bent on systematising their thought, and to whom it is a serious difficulty to be unable to regard the personages whom sacred tradition presents to us as types of perfection, as failing in respect of one of the
chief articles in the moral code by which they regulate their own lives.
In my last letter I pointed out some of the many reasons we have for supposing that the fish-eating and marine occupation attributed to Jesus and his Apostles are, as admittedly are many Bible histories, allegorical and mystical in character. And this appears the more probable, when, in support of the facts already adduced, we remember that in Hebrew scripture many passages occur connecting Messiahship and the office of the Prophet of Mercy with the Sea and Fishery; while, on the other hand, the Avenger and the function of the Prophet of Wrath are symbolised under the figures of Hunter and the Arrow. Thus, in Jeremiah xvi, 16, “Behold, I will send for many fishers, saith the Lord, and they shall fish them; and after I will send for many hunters, and they shall hunt them.” And in Ezekiel xlvii, “There shall be a very great multitude of fish, because the waters shall come thither, for they shall be healed, and everything shall live whither the river cometh. And it shall come to pass that the fishers shall stand over the waters. From Engedi even unto Eneglaim there shall be spreading forth of nets, their fish shall be according to their kinds, as the fish of the great sea, exceeding many.” (1) For the net of the Fisher gathers, draws, and encloses, as does the doctrine of the Messiah of Peace, taking men’s souls, not by violence, but by the attraction and subtleties of love. But the arrow of the Hunter strikes, wounds, and destroys, as does the vengeance of the Lord by the hand of those whom He appoints to be Ministers of Wrath. The first are the Sons of the Water, or of the Virgin, whose robe in all legendary art is characteristically depicted as blue; the latter are the Sons of the Fire, bearing the flaming sword of justice, and purifying the Earth as fire purifies, not by cleansing but by consuming. The perfect balance and combination of these two colours, blue and red, produces the royal purple, as the perfect harmony of love and justice characterises the Divine King.
The Messiah of the Gospels is thus associated with the sea, and redemption through and by water, as are His prototypes,
Noah, Moses, and Jonah, all of whom were saviours, and messengers of mercy.
It remains to speak of the sense in which, from the vegetarian Christian’s point of view, may be understood certain allusions to flesh-eating in the parables recorded by the Evangelists. The most notable of these allusions occurs in the story of the Prodigal Son, on whose return home “the fatted calf” is slain. We may, I think, regard this statement and others of a similar character, – including the account of Peter’s vision, (1) – as belonging to a class of illustrations – frequent in both Old and New Testaments – which, though based upon common and popular practices and customs, cannot be taken as intended either to sanction or to perpetuate them. For if such illustrations are to be held commendatory of flesh-eating, we should, on the same ground, be forced to admit that Jesus approved the institution of slavery; since, not only in His own teaching and in that of His apostles, nothing appears against it; but in Luke xvii, 9, we find a verse which can hardly be regarded as representing our modern views of what should be the conduct of a Christian master towards his servant. It may be noted also, that the word translated “servant” in this verse, and generally so translated throughout the New Testament, is not μισθwTης – one who serves for hire, – as in the parable of the Prodigal Son, and in Mark i, 20; or even οìkéTης as in Peter’s admonitory address, but δοûλος, – a slave, a bondman. We do not need to be reminded that for many years serious opposition to the Anti-Slavery movement was
offered by “religious” persons, on the ground that the inspired writers of both Old and New Testaments not only abstain from condemning the institution of slavery, but even provide codes of laws, penal and otherwise, for regulating the mutual relations of masters and bondmen. Precisely the same observations apply to questions concerning the social position of women, which, in spite of biblical and apostolical restraint, tends every year to grow worthier and nobler. In our times no Christian community exists that would not be ashamed to accept the laws formulated in the Old Testament with regard to marriage, plurality of “wives”, the punishment of infidelity in the woman, the relations between parent and child, the conduct of war, the treatment of prisoners, and the like; to none of which, however, do we hear that Jesus took any serious exception. For even in the story of the woman “take in adultery,” the law which adjudged her to death by stoning is not condemned, but only its administration by the hands of those present on the occasion. In the same manner modern thought and experience have greatly modified the powers and authority of princes, which at the time of the Apostles were despotic and tyrannous. Yet the principle of this tyranny is nowhere condemned. Instances still more startling may be found in the prophecy of Hosea, who, as a “sign,” is twice commanded to commit what Christians would consider a gross offence against morality (Hosea i, 2, and iii, 2); in Kings xxii, 22, 23, where we find the “Lord” giving a direct sanction to falsehood; in the blessing pronounced on the treacherous and cruel Jael: in the Divine instigation attributed to the act of the murderer Ehud (Judges iii, 15), and in analogous cases, too numerous even for mention.
Truth to tell, the “letter” of the scriptures is not that which Christians should regard as itself the veritable “word,” for not only is the “letter” in most instances unimportant, but it even “killeth”; that is to say, that, if exclusively venerated, it destroys the reason and the moral conscience. The “spirit” alone it is which “giveth life,” and it is precisely this “spirit” of Christ, which is also the spirit of freedom and justice, that has led men step by step to liberate their fellows from hereditary chains and slavery; to curtail the despotism of monarchs; to observe international courtesies in time of war; to spare the families of the vanquished from outrage and murder; to emancipate women from servitude and enforced seclusion,
– a work yet far from completion; – and, last and latest, to recognise the rights of dumb beings and the duties their human brethren owe them. The living Christ in man it is who has done and is doing work like this; the Christ-spirit which reforms institutions by first reforming men.
(64:1) These Letters on Pure Diet, written by Anna Kingsford, first appeared in The Food Reform Magazine in the months of July and October 1881, and January 1882, respectively. They were reprinted in The Ideal in Diet, which was published in 1898, as vol. ix of the Vegetarian Jubilee Library. The first of these Letters was, in part, incorporated by Anna Kingsford in her Lecture on Food (p. 77 post), and it is reprinted here as revised or added to in such lecture. The second Letter was incorporated (almost verbatim) by Anna Kingsford and Edward Maitland in their third article in the controversy, “The Perfect Way” and its Critics, in Light, in 1882, which followed the publication of their book, The Perfect Way (see Light, 9th December 1882, p. 551, and Biographical Preface, p. 45 ante). The second Letter is reprinted here as revised or added to in the above-mentioned article in Light; and such article has been also reprinted in Appendix III of the new (Fourth) Edition of The Perfect Way. – S.H.H.
(68:1) The wine used by Jesus at the Last Supper is stated by some authorities to have been unfermented grape juice. Those, therefore, who believe that Jesus partook of wine in the literal sense, need not assume that Jesus transgressed the rule of his order. Anna Kingsford was of opinion that the connection of Jesus with bread and wine is equally mystic in its character as is that of Jesus with fish and fish-eating, and “needs no explanation for those who are acquainted with the facts and doctrines of ancient mythology and the relation of the latter to the religion of which they are the lineal ancestors” (Light, 1882, p. 552).
(69:1) This observation is not less pertinent if we suppose the Fourth Gospel to have been written, not by John, but according to John, for in either case it would record his version of the event in question.
(72:1) In a letter dated 11th April 1893, to the Rev. J.G. Ouseley, Edward Maitland, refering to the miracle of the loaves and fishes, says: – “About Jesus eating fish – the Gospels are so mystical that the word ‘fish’ may well be taken as symbolising the doctrine of Love or mysteries of Aphrodite the Sea-Queen, to whom the fish was sacred; while the loaves would imply the fellow mysteries of Demeter the Earth-Mother. For it was no part of a Christ’s mission to provide the materials for a huge physical picnic. The multitude was famished for spiritual sustenance, and the loaves and fishes supplied by him would be of that kind.” In other words: as the “loaves” represent “the Lesser Mysteries whose grain is of the Earth”; the “fishes” – which are given after the loaves – imply the Greater Mysteries, the fish being born in the “waters,” which are, symbolically, of the Soul and its kingdom. The fish, therefore, represents the interior mysteries of the soul (see The Perfect Way, Lecture VIII, par. 28; and Lecture IX, par. 10).
(73:1) A note on this text in the Douay Version of the Bible, says, “These waters are not be understood literally, but mystically, of the baptism of Christ, and of his doctrine and grace; the trees that grow on the banks are Christian virtues; the fishes are Christians, that spiritually live in and by these holy waters; the fishermen are the apostles, and apostolic preachers.”
(74:1) The fact that Peter, while he understood the vision as a command to “kill and eat,” refused to obey the command – a command, be it remembered, thrice uttered, – notwithstanding his hunger and desire to eat, proves, conclusively, that he, like his Master, was, on principle, a non-eater of such foods as come within the description of the animals which, in his vision, he saw let down in the sheet, viz.: – “All manner of four-footed beasts, and creeping things of the earth, and fowls of the heaven”: a description that embraces and includes the very foods which are abjured by non-flesh eaters. Peter declined to do what he was not in the habit of doing, and what was revolting to his moral nature, and it is not without significance that at the time when he so declined to “kill and eat” he was “upon the house-top” of his higher consciousness. He was in the place of communion with God. How, in the face of this, Peter’s vision can be regarded as an argument in favour of flesh-eating, I fail to understand. If it should be argued that Peter’s vision at least represents God as being in favour of or not against flesh-eating, the answer is: – as Peter’s vision, admittedly, was not intended as a command to Peter to kill and eat any animal, but to teach him not to call any man common or unclean, it cannot be used to shew that God has ever commanded or that He approves of flesh-eating. – S.H.H.