|International Vegetarian Union (IVU)|
A thesis presented to the London School of Economics, University of London,
The author is now Professor of Social Policy and Sociology at Kent University, England, and has given permission for this previously unpublished thesis to be published on the IVU website. The ownership and copyright remain hers and no part of this thesis may be used elsewhere without her express permission.
CHAPTER SEVEN: THE GREAT WAR AND THE INTERWAR PERIOD
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The order had been founded in 1904 by the Reverend J. Todd Ferrier (1855-1943), an ex-Congregational minister, and it bore some relationship to an earlier vegetarian Order of the Golden Age. Its journal, the Herald of the Cross, was published from 1905; in these early years the writings of Maitland and Kingsford were featured prominently, but as the issues progressed the journal increasingly became a vehicle for Todd Ferrier's writings. It is clear from Todd Ferrier's later account that these early years produced no real following; the Herald ceased publication in 1911 and Todd Ferrier had to rely on the hospitality of favourably inclined societies to publicise his ideas. (1) In the late twenties and early thirties however, Order of the Cross groups were established at Russell Square, Woodford Green and Streatham Common, and by 1934 the order was sufficiently flourishing to move to 10 De Vere Gardens, Kensington, which has remained its headquarters, and to publish again the Herald of the Cross. During these years the order was very much centred around Todd Ferrier himself; and it is his teaching that remains its basis. The order is still active - though the 1930s were its formative period. Numbers are hard to judge; the supplements for the thirties refer to summer schools which attracted about 300 people, and to reading and meeting groups in some twenty-four centres (fairly evenly distributed). Members of the order were actively involved in the Vegetarian Societies. (2)
The order stands out among similar groups through its distinctive commitment to vegetarianism. Todd Ferrier in his two particular statements on the issue, On Behalf of the Creatures and The Inner Meaning of the Food Reform Movement, puts forward the full range of arguments, though these are hierarchically arranged, with the spiritual as the most highly valued. (3) The 'inner meaning' of food reform is precisely that it is a religious, or rather as Todd Ferrier characteristically stresses, a spiritual movement. The scheme is strongly anti-materialist, and this is fundamental in the rejection of meat-eating, which is regarded as a taking-in of low, carnal vibrations that build up a dense, material body and that obscures spiritual vision. (Their objections to tobacco and alcohol are on the similar grounds of their being stimulants that de-sensitise).
In their ideas, the Order of the Cross typify a range of gnostic groups that emerge out of theosophy and the esoteric tradition generally. The cosmos is conceived as being originally pure spirit, less limited and gross than in its present material form: 'The deterioration of the world's condition was a gradual process in which every part of the structure suffered, from the elements and substances that composed it, to the minds and hearts of men and women. (6) In terms of the self, this has caused a division in which individual egotism has obscured the divine consciousness within and causing men to forget their true spiritual nature. The Fall was a fall into materiality. Though man was involved in the Fall, it was not of his choosing, but was a cosmic accident; and since man was created divine, he retains the urge and capacity to recover divine consciousness. The evolution towards a recovery of the original state of spiritual consciousness is at the heart of their concerns. God is not perceived here in personal or transcendent terms, but is regarded as both consciousness in the universe and the divine in man. The sun is the central symbol in their approach, standing for the divine shining in the cosmos and in man, for the evolution of the planet towards a state of light and pure spirit, and for dawning consciousness. They elide the use of solar and soul. (7)
There is the characteristic syncretism found in this tradition. All religions are believed to bear aspects of the truth, when properly perceived. (8) They repudiate all creeds: 'religion is a spiritual attitude rather than a belief in specific doctrines'. (9) The approach is the familiar esoteric one of inner interpretation, with a strong flavour of the reverent-unveiling-of-truth, and ancient-wisdom-concealed-from-vulgar-eyes. This hidden aspect is carried through in their dealings with outsiders and in the absence of personal information in their writings; thus though the order in the thirties clearly revolved institutionally and emotionally around Todd Ferrier, information about his background is absent. (10) This is part of the tradition, whereby the truth is presented as emerging from abstraction and universality; and though its origins are inner, they are not personal in the biographical way that is relevant in, for example, certain protestant traditions. Sometimes – as in Mazdaznan - the mysterious origins of the founder are stressed.
Despite the inclusion of various traditions (and they follow a familiar selection - ancient Egyptian, Hindu, Zoroastrian, neo-Platonic) the order is notably Christian in its base, more so indeed than theosophy, Mazdaznan or some of the more Indian-centred groups. It is however a reinterpretation of Christianity. Thus it is believed that in the process of the transmission of the teaching of Christ into the gospel narratives, certain gross errors and distortions have crept in. Most notably, they believe that John the Baptist and Jesus were in fact one person. The names Jesus and Christ apply to that one person but as titles not personal names; and it is John the Baptist whom they refer to as the Master and whom they describe as the one who came as 'the cleanser and purifier'. The Master was not the son of God in the orthodox Christian sense, but was a special one who achieved the Christ-consciousness towards which all men should aspire. His existence was a fully physical one. His parents are believed to have been Essenes, though he himself was 'above any sect'. (The Essenes feature relatively frequently in the context of vegetarian religious connections since they are believed to have been vegetarians and involved in 'natural' medicine).
The gospels are reinterpreted through allegorisation, and the early years of the Herald of the Cross contain an extensive rewriting of scripture, whereby actions, objects and stories are made symbolic of spiritual states. Todd Ferrier believed that the original teaching of the Master had been in the form of mystical allegories of the soul, but that people had distorted it into literal, materialist and institutional terms, and in this process Paul is especially singled out.
The reinterpretation is also used to explain something that had been a traditional embarrassment in vegetarianism, that Is the absence of any special concern shown by Christ for the animals. Earlier Christian vegetarians - though by no means all, some just left the point - periodically recast scriptural evidence to show that Christ could have been a vegetarian, something many felt he must have been. Todd Ferrier explains the discrepancy through the distorted nature of institutional Christianity, especially evangelicalism. (11)
The order subscribes to reincarnation (though not as animals) and to the law of karma.
Ferrier had instituted at Kensington a sanctuary with golden cross, lilies, candlesticks, incense and ruby lamps and in this ritualistic and ceremonial approach, the order resembles the Liberal Catholic Church of Leadbetter and the theosophists. Emphasis was placed on the beauty of worship and on the symbolism of colour, often described in glowing and mystical terms. The unity of inner and outer was also symbolised in the use of dance and movement.
There were no priests in the order, worship was led and interpretation given by Todd Ferrier and later by leading mernbers. (12) There is no baptism as such and membership is not sacramentally defined. The ethic remains one of seekership. There is a stress upon the feminine principle, though the aim is a balance of male and female qualities; at a more 'cosmic level, they pray to the father/mother.