The Fellowship of Life
a Christian-based vegetarian group founded in 1973

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100 Years earlier

Although generally unheard-of today, Christian vegetarian societies were prevalent within the 'food reform' movement in Britain from the late nineteenth century, onwards.

The Order of the Golden Age (www.ordergoldenage.co.uk) were undoubtedly the most significant but another group to experience longevity originated during the 1870's:


The Order of Danielites
by J.M. Gilheany

If there ever existed a vegetarian group which could be described as a unique product of their age, it would be the brotherhood founded in 1876 by Lt. Col. T.W. Richardson (1852-1920).

A serviceman in the Finsbury Rifles between 1873-1902, Richardson was also a high-ranking Orangeman and an abstainer from alcohol and animal flesh. In 1903, Richardson became Pastor of the Seventh Day Baptist Church at ‘Mill Yard’ in Leman Street, London. Early in 1905, he began publishing The Sabbath Observer - the official organ of the Seventh Day Baptist denomination and which Richardson edited until his death. The proudly Protestant publication remained in print until 1966 whilst the Church retains two places of worship in Britain today.

The Order of Danielites took freemasonry as their model and in due course became synonymous with eccentricity within the wider vegetarian movement. Sparsely referred to in the history of modern vegetarianism, the Danielites have at best consolidated a ridiculed, if underestimated role, in the development and demise of Victorian food reform societies. Indeed before any case could be presented with which to assess the Danielites’ notable merits and curiosities; it should be acknowledged that even their title was a source of controversy amongst their contemporaries. For although the prophet Daniel is reputed to have adopted a successful vegetarian regimen in his youth (Daniel 1: 3 -21) there also exists more than a measure of inference that early ideals became abandoned in later life (Daniel 10: 3).

For over fifty years The Order of Danielites organised regular, if essentially flamboyant social gatherings in addition to lectures and publishing activity. The organisation was inclusive given their basic pledge of abstemiousness and the era from which the society emerged:

“Of course ladies would be admitted and be eligible to any position in the Order, for are not they the chief sufferers through the ravages of strong drink and the curses and evils that of necessity follow the debasing appetite for flesh meat? Besides, woman’s influence in such a reform is far greater than man’s. It is she who wields the saucepans and kettle, and if only the ladies could be got to refuse to cook dead carcasses, the butcher’s knife would soon cease its murderous work.”

From the 1883 pamphlet: “A brief history of the Order of Danielites.”

Although the actual range of Danielite publications was modest their newsletter The Danielite Star appeared between May 1887 and October/December 1931. A brief tract entitled; The Bible and vegetarianism was amongst a handful of more general pamphlets distributed by the group.

It was a society which took over a decade to establish itself due the need to reach consensus on a range of fanciful formalities. Danielite membership activities took on a variation of those developed by the Masons in that their symbolism was derived from Eden. In place of Lodges, the Danielites would meet at Gardens; the Presiding Officer became the Chief Gardener and so on. The Danielites became instantly recognisable upon attending various vegetarian gatherings of their day, due to their emblems and regalia which included a decorated gold sash.

In the period of consensus prior to the actual launch of the Order in 1887 there were inevitably those that proved unable to maintain even the vegetarian grade:

“This Order was intended to draw into a closer bond of union those vegetarians who do not exclude scripture quotations from the argument in favour of their principles. While it purposefully shuts out those who are neither hot nor cold in the matter, who, professing its doctrines do not always adhere to its practice.”

The Danielite Star, No.1, May 16th 1887.

In fact, the Order’s (earlier) historical pamphlet went far further in chastising those that had fallen by the meat-eating wayside. Although only four pages in length, the tract nonetheless devoted an extraordinary quarter of its content to individuals such as “Mr. B.”, who:

“..wished the Order every success but could not join himself as he objects to “pledges” of any sort. (He once led a blushing bride to the altar - perhaps he wishes he hadn’t taken that pledge, if so, it was his own fault for not choosing the right girl), bye and bye, it turns out he eats flesh when he is out as “it would not do to make himself singular!”

Be that as it may (!) the Order were generally just as blunt and forthright in their own expectations of themselves as an organisation:

“Ours is indeed a gospel of love - unselfish love, love which is the essence of our Divine Creator. Christian reader, banish for ever from your mind the sordid worldly considerations which lead people to enquire what they are going to gain by joining our ranks; rather enquire how much good you will be able to do.

“The same idea applies not only to adopting our system, but also to the payment of subscriptions. “Oh you want four shillings; but I can join the V.S. for one shilling.” - Very true; so your object is to give the least possible support to this movement you profess to uphold.”

The Danielite Star, July 1898.

Incidentally, the remainder of the above editorial dealt with tobacco-users:

“The smoking habit is ridiculous, dirty, wasteful, selfish and injurious; and makes its worshippers a most decided nuisance.”

The cover of each edition of the Star also contained a policy statement which included a less than oblique reference to the system of Associate Membership which was introduced into The Vegetarian Society during the 1870’s:

“Vegetarians should join the Order because it really is a Vegetarian Society, consisting of actual vegetarians. It prefers to be, like Gideon’s army, composed of the earnest and true, rather than a multitude of the half-hearted.”

It may have appeared uncompromising but the Order were resolute in their aims and without interest in a strategy of mass-recruitment:

“We are constantly asked the question “What are your numbers?” and it is tempting to reply “Not enough for you to join.”

“Other Orders and societies have grown and are doing good work. Our Order has not grown to anything like the same extent as our pledge is more drastic.”

Jubilee editorial, The Danielite Star July/Sept., 1926.

Yet despite containing a regular measure of brusque carping the Danielite newsletters also reveal a theological vegetarian response to the meat trade which remains essentially unchanged within today’s non-secular campaigning societies:

“During the last few days the scene has been one of wholesale slaughter and bloodshed. The disgusting sight of innumerable dead carcasses hanging up in the shops of the butcher, the poulterer and others, has been forced upon our view, to our sincere sorrow. Sorrow for the poor innocent victims, slain to gratify man’s depraved appetite and sorrows that such depravity should still continue to be evidenced in a civilised land.

“Peace on earth, good will towards men. What a mockery these words seem in the light of present customs. See the awful amount of misery that has been brought about through “mistaken kindness.”

“Let our kindness be joined with judgement. Let the bloodless diet be preached in all the Churches of Christ as part of the Gospel of peace. And then we may reasonably believe the time will be near when ‘they shall not hurt nor destroy’ and ‘the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea’.”

The Danielite Star, January 1900.

An editorial of October 1901 further serves to elucidate the Danielite position:

“On all sides people are ready to remind us that ‘the Bible is not a cookery book’ but strange to say, though they object to our appealing to the sacred volume, they invariably drag it into the debate to oppose us.

“God undoubtedly permits man to eat flesh, though, He places a limit by absolutely forbidding ham, hare, bacon, ‘black pudding’ (blood sausage), lobster, winkles and suchlike. It is however, not what He permits but His will that we are seeking.”

The fundamentalist doctrine of The Order of Danielites inevitably led to consternation within other vegetarian organisations. The Danielite Star of July/Sept. 1914 contained a recurrent assertion in that:

“The beard on a man’s face may be the mark of his veneration for his Almighty Creator: while the shaven chin is necessarily a mark of contempt for the one who made the beard.”

It was a tenet which was to become the subject of rigorous reproof, a year later:

“I have found one of the greatest causes of opposition to vegetarianism to lie in the foolish conduct of my brother vegetarians. Too many of these are cranks first and vegetarians second, and the result is the discrediting of the whole movement.
“As an example of what I mean, there is an excellent little article by Lieut. - Col. T.W. Richardson, in your last issue, disfigured here and there by absurdities. These almost reach the ‘limit’ surely in the statement - “In spite of insults and persecutions I have never shaved, as I believe a Christian has no right to disfigure the ‘image of God’.”

“Carry this a stage further and we shall have vegetarians ‘as Christians’ refusing to have their hair cut or pare their nails. Such things are not to be made into principles.”

Percy A. Scholes,
Letter to The Vegetarian Messenger, August 1915.

A comparitively more ludicrous quirk was instituted in the Danielites’ Book of Rules which was first published in September 1876. In the course of a short Creed it was asserted that prior to the Fall the average lifespan was a distinct “930 years.” Yet whatever the Biblical basis of such a calculation may have been; there appears little to suggest that the particular form of fundamentalism adopted by the Danielites was ever a cause for genuine concern.

In their own bold sense, The Order of Danielites comprised a fellowship of Christians first and vegetarians, second. Throughout their existence and until their demise during the inter-war years, the Order exemplified a tenacity of conviction which stood removed from any influence of human objection, or approval.

Publications

Book of Rules or Constitution of The Order of Danielites (1876)
A brief history of The Order of Danielites (1883)
The Danielite Star: (May 16th 1887 - October/December 1931)
The Danielite Herald (shorthand circular initiated on September 10th 1878)

Leaflets/Tracts
The Bible on Diet
What are the Danielites?
Send to the Butcher
Physicians on Tobacco

From a forthcoming history of 'recent' Christian vegetarianism by John M. Gilheany © 2006

Reproduced with the kind permission of the Vegetarian Society: www.vegsoc.org

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