Friday, October 10, 2008

Vegan MoFo Day 10: Theosophical Society Appreciation Post


The Vegan Month of Food continues. As people seemed to like the SDA post, here's another chapter of the veg story:

The Theosophical Society was founded in New York City in 1875 by H.P. Blavatsky and her associates. The story of the TS is a long and interesting one, but for our purposes, it may be enough to know that this society played a crucially important role in increasing awareness of Asian religions (especially Hinduism and Buddhism) into the West, and that it is the great-grandparent of many of the new religious movements of our day. The TS and its spin-offs have also made a significant contribution in promoting veg*nism.

From its beginning, the TS has advocated but not required vegetarianism. This was a radical position in the late 19th century. A close associate of Blavatsky, Countess Constance Wachtmeister (photo above) composed a cookbook called Practical Vegetarian Cookery to help members make the dietary transition. From the recipes posted on-line, it appears the Countess relied rather heavily on eggs and dairy. Ah well. Theosophical vegetarian cooking continues today. I have had wonderful vegan meals in the cafeterias of the Olcott Center in Wheaton, Illinois (the national center of the TS in the United States) and the Melbourne Theosophical Society in Australia. In Sydney, Australia, the local TS lodge is next door to (and in some way associated with) a great cafe called the Bar Adyar, where I had a lovely spinach-pumpkin salad for lunch. If you are near a branch of the TS, check them out. Their bookstores almost always have veg*n cookbooks as well as works on spiritual vegetarianism, and you might find a hidden cafeteria. It was a delight to discover the Melbourne cafeteria, which is open to the public, but tucked away on an upper floor of the TS building on Russell Street.

Like all organzations, the TS has had its splits over the years. One of the most important schisms was the exit of Rudolf Steiner and a large part of the German Section in 1913. Steiner and his students then founded the Anthroposophical Society. Steiner is perhaps best known for his central role in the origins of Waldorf education and Biodynamic agriculture. Much like Blavatsky, he often recommended vegetarianism to his students, but did not require it. (See his lectures collected as Nutrition and Stimulants, Biodynamic Farming & Gardening Assoc., 1991) Steiner gave some interesting indications to bakers which are included in the Nutrition and Stimulants volume. You can find a (veganizable) bread recipe worked out from Steiner's guidance here. The Waldorf and Biodynamic movements have produced a number of books on food and cooking, few of which are strictly vegetarian, but most of which are veg-friendly. The books of Wendy Cook are a good example, and one might note the forthcoming lacto-vegetarian cookbook by Hermann Spindler.

To give only one more example, travelers to southern California may have encountered the Rosicrucian Fellowship's beautiful headquarters in Oceanside (between San Diego and Los Angeles), complete with a vegetarian cafe. This organization was founded in 1909 by a former Theosophist named Max Heindel, who also had connections to Rudolf Steiner. Heindel's organization promotes vegetarianism and publishes a couple of veg cookbooks.

The world of late 19th / early 20th century occultism can be a strange one indeed, especially to the newcomer. Regardless of one's evaluation of these organizations and their teachings, we owe them a debt of gratitude for promoting a veg*n diet for ethical and spiritual reasons, long before it became fashionable.

I am headed to Asheville later today. If I can get internet access, I'll post from there. Otherwise, MoFo posting will return on Monday.

1 comment:

Liz (EFCliz) said...

I have loved reading these last 2 posts. They have both made me re-evaluate my thinking on organised religion. I was brought up a catholic and couldn't really believe that people's religious views could affect the way they eat. Thanks for bringing this to my attention.