Human Child Befriends Bird
“What are those little white things good for, Noah?”
This bird, a magpie named Penguin, was rescued in infancy by
photographer Cameron Bloom and his son Noah, and became a member
of the family. She has free access to the outdoors, but always
comes back, sometimes bringing fellow magpies with her for a
visit. For further appealing photos of these two friends, see
Editor’s Corner Essay: Wings
Birds have wings. And (with some exceptions) they fly!
Human beings have decided that we are so vastly superior to all
(other) animals, including birds, that we can do whatever we like
with any of them--kidnap infants from their mothers and adopt --
--them, enslave them for their milk or eggs, hunt --
--and kill them, eat them. But, annoyingly, --
--there is one enviable power birds have that we --
--lack, and that is spreading out their wings and --
--flying. (If we want to travel through the air, --
--we must depend on contraptions modeled on --
How unfair! Well, we can always cram birds tightly into cages
and prevent them from taking off, but that doesn’t give their
power to us deserving humans, unfortunately for our egos.
Cherubim and Seraphim
Traditionally, humans have tried to make up for the lack of wings
by imagining ourselves as winged, or as linked in some way to
powerful winged beings. Hybrid human-animal images expressing
these feelings were common in the ancient Middle East, and wings
seem to have been a frequent feature. One early instance was the
Babylonian kirubu or karabu (cognate to cherub), who not only had
a human head, and wings, but a lion (or ox) body, suggesting
intelligence, enormous power, potential violence, and the freedom
from gravity that wings give; see photo above. A carved
Assyrian version of such a tri-brid has been found in the area
that was Canaan. Kirubu seem to have been formidable guardian
figures, probably more or less the same as the cherubim with
flaming swords (who apparently had hands to hold the swords) in
Genesis chapter three who were set to guard the entrance to
Paradise after the Fall.
A pair of cherubim facing one another, made of hammered gold,
were made for the lid called the Mercy Seat, of the ancient
Israelites’ sacred chest, the Ark of the Covenant. Apart from
their wings and (we assume) faces, the details of their
appearance are unknown. In the initiatory vision of the prophet
Ezekiel, winged cherubim, probably with lion bodies, seem to draw
God’s chariot; in two Psalms, God rides up into the sky on the
back of a cherub. (In this conception, the cherub must have had
a lion or ox body, because if he had a wholly human form, God
would have been riding piggyback, rather a comedown for the
divine dignity!) However, in time, cherubim did come to be seen
as having completely human shape, but with wings; and now they
are always thought of that way, either as small children or as
That some details are unknown is also true of seraphim, even more
powerful than cherubim, each of whom has three pairs of wings.
They are always in the presence of God, burning with love and
praising him, says the second-century book of Enoch. Similarly,
in Isaiah’s vision of God in the Temple, they cry “Holy, holy,
holy, YHWH* of hosts; the whole earth is full of your glory.”
They are associated with fire, seen in this vision in a seraph’s
touching a burning coal he takes with tongs from the altar to the
seer’s mouth, thus cleansing him from his dangerously sinful and
unclean condition. The temple is filled with smoke, either from
the seraphim or the altar, or both. They evidently had arms and
hands, but further features are not given. Interestingly, in the
passage in Numbers in which the Israelites complained to God and
Moses and were bitten by venomous serpents, seraph is the word
used to refer to the bronze serpent Moses is instructed to make,
to mediate healing to them. Seraphim may also be dragons, who in
Western tradition are still thought of as breathing fire. Could
Isaiah’s seraphim have had part-dragon bodies?.
There are other ancient orders of powerful spiritual human and
animal beings, who may be
*YHWH, pronounced Yahweh, is the name of God; in time it was
considered too holy to utter, and substitute terms were used.
winged, though originally none are close counterparts for human
beings. But human-looking beings, understood to be messengers
(Latin angelus, from Greek ‘aggelos) sent by God to important
biblical persons, are also featured in the biblical texts. It is
common for artists to depict these messengers with wings to
indicate their power to move between the divine presence and the
human scene. According to the texts, they evidently frighten
those to whom they come; in a number of cases they preface their
message with “Fear not.” Often their message is to announce, to a
childless woman or couple, the coming birth of a very special son
who will liberate God’s people from the power of their enemies.
Or angels may be seen as members of a divine army liberating or
protecting God’s people. In the Bible, then, a human-like winged
being doesn’t have wings just for the fun of flying, or to bolster
his or the collective human ego. Wings mean that one is a child
both of heaven and of earth; finite, yet also in the divine
presence. (Are we all, in this sense, winged?)
Do You See What I See?
Strictly orthodox Jews, Christians, and Muslims tend to affirm
that these beings have a literal existence (though most probably
aren’t thinking of cherubim as having lion bodies); the more
liberal adherents tend to hold that the beings are symbolic of
human or divine powers or energies. In fact, however, when a
certain kind of spiritual being is widely affirmed throughout a
culture, a small percentage of members will in fact have visions
of that being. In regard to angels, it is difficult to estimate
the percentage of the number of claimed angel experiencers who see
winged beings, because so many experiences that could be classed
in other ways (telepathy, precognition, contact with the deceased
(including deceased relatives), extraordinary light, or just
hunches, are thought of as angel communications. On a website of
such experiences Angel Encounters , eighty-three readers tell
their stories. Of the ten who saw extraordinary-appearing
figures, only five had wings. It seems likely that when cherubim
were thought of as having lion bodies with wings, a few
visionaries saw them with that appearance.
Co-Creation in Visions
What can be going on? It seems that in the case of any class of
visions, there is a substantial cultural contribution; there is
probably an individual contribution as well, as one can see in the
(non-visionary) mystical experience Faith Bowman had in 1974,
while nursing her baby; she experienced the empowering presence of
an all-mothering God as pouring out life, love, and nurturance to
all living beings, including herself, and though her to her
child. (See “Wound Round with Mercy,” PT49 ). It is evident that
her own present activity and consuming preoccupation with her baby
during that period in her life had a large part in shaping her
conception of the presence she perceived. This may be compared
and contrasted to Isaiah’s perception of God as an evidently
masculine figure seated on a throne in the temple, and concerned
to save the seer from the destructive power of uncleanness. But
both experiences are numinous, powerful, and empowering.
These shaping influences do not, however, mean that the presence
experienced is not real, only that the deep-level consciousness
of the experiencer co-creates, together with the divine or
preternatural presence, the form of what she or he sees and
hears. The presence is real; as the old saying goes, the proof of
the pudding is in the eating. Isaiah’s vision was his prophetic
calling to a career of warning, transforming, and empowering
others. For example, remember that the magnificent image of the
--Woodcut by Fritz Eichenberg
in which both predatory and prey animals, led by a human child,
live in peace together (and after which this journal is named) has
fostered hope and inspired work toward healing the world for more
than 2500 years. The “Holy, holy, holy” cries of the seraphim
have been echoed in hymns and in millions of Masses.
Back to the Birds So
far we have been dealing with wings and the power of flight on the
symbolic level, with particular reference to us human beings. We
are in danger of exploiting real, physical birds again for our own
benefit. So we need to ask: what good does this symbol
exploration do for the chickens, the eagles, the larks, and all
their kin, including bats? Does their power of flight express a
truth about their status as children of both heaven and earth as
It does indeed. Birds and other winged creatures such as bats
are certainly part of the Beloved Community of all beings. Of
course such an idea cannot be proved, but its truth is sounded
and echoed over and over in the stories of medieval saints, and
in the work of religions animal activists today. Francis of
Assisi is the saint best known; stories are told of his love for
and communication with animals, especially birds, of his
preaching to them as well as to people. Also beloved if less
known than Francis is Martín de Porres, the Black saint of
sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Lima, Peru, who had a healing
gift, as well as knowledge of healing herbs, which he used on
behalf of both of animals and humans. Animals, probably
including birds, were said to follow him down the streets.
Milburh or Milburga, a princess and saint of Mercia in what is
now the Midlands of England, was said to have power to
communicate with birds, who would obey her. Similarly,
seventh-century saint Cuthbert, who came to live on the island of
Inner Farne, communicated with the island’s birds, and promised
them “Cuthbert’s Peace,” some kind of punishment for anyone who
harmed them. Of sixth-century Irish saint Kevin it was told that
a bird built her nest and laid her egg in his outstretched hand,
and that he remained in that position until the baby hatched
There are other accounts. Many of these stories, especially
those from the early Middle Ages, are very probably legendary,
but the fact that so many have been lovingly told and re-told
testifies to a deep conviction that humans and animals, including
birds, have a deep spiritual link of love, which was manifest
paranormally in the lives of saints.
Flying is Fun, Too
I commented above on the painful irony that birds, especially
chickens, who can fly when they grow up in normal
conditions--high enough to roost in trees--are the animals most
often enslaved and virtually immobilized before being murdered
and eaten. Admittedly, chickens can’t soar, but for birds who
do, like the waterfowl featured in the first poem below, flying
is often seen as a serious and tiring business, which, especially
for migrating birds, it is. But it can also be fun. Jonathan
Balcombe in his eye-opening 2006 book The Pleasurable Kingdom
points out that animals normally have many pleasures, including
enjoying doing something they are really good at. (See Review
and lead essay in PT 23 .) The second poem below, featuring a
kestrel having a great time on a windy morning, is an example:
“. . . the achieve of, the mastery of the thing! . . .”
We activists are rightly concerned to open the hearts of our
fellow humans about our race’s appalling sins of causing terror,
anguish, and death to other animals. But we must also help people
to realize that we human animals also sin against them in
depriving them of the various pleasures inherent in their natural
ways of life. As the staretz (spiritual counselor) Father Zossima
in Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov says, "Love the animals:
God has given them the rudiments of thought and joy untroubled. Do
not trouble it, don't harass them, don't deprive them of their
happiness, don't work against God's intent."
Baby Bird Taking the Adventure
Don’t stop them from flying!
Feeding Displaced Animals
The Australian government dropped 4000 pounds of food, mostly
carrots and sweet potatoes, to starving wallabies, koalas, and
kangaroos displaced by the out-of-control fires. See Saving
---Contributed by Marjorie Emerson
New Impossible Product
At the 2020 Consumer Electronics Show, Impossible Foods introduced
their latest product, Impossible Pork. As pig flesh is the meat
most often consumed worldwide, that Impossible Pork should be
successful is extremely important. See Debut
--Contributed by Karen Borch
“As we eat, so we are.”
“Our lives begin and end the day we become silent about things
--Martin Luther King Jr.
”You’re taught that murder is wrong, but only if a human is murdered.
You’re taught that serial killers are bad, but hunting is a sport.
You’re taught that Auschwitz was evil, but slaughterhouses and fur
farms are humane.
You’re taught that jail is for punishment, but zoos are a fun place
They do a lot of “teaching” you.
Isn’t it time that you think for yourself?”
--T. J. Jessep Contributed by Idarmis Rodriguez
Letters: Rosemary Carlson, Marian Hussenbux
Thank you for keeping the Peaceable Table Newsletter going.
The history of those who made it their life mission to respect all
beings is not always made available in our media. Often, it would
appear that a choice to be vegan is exotic and radical in a modern
world of abundant processed food.
Without people like you and your family, we would still be in the
dark. . . .
Thank you very much for the latest issue.
The Holy Family in cages is an interesting and disturbing
matter. . . .
I am very wary when people say--as some did in the case of the cage --
--display--it is 'politicising' an
issue. [It] is desirable, in my view.
Politics affects us all, every thing we
do, and vote to be done, [and] is part
and parcel of being a 'civilised'
society in which we delegate people whom
we expect to act thoughtfully, to effect
change for the better. . . .
--M.H. (Pictured above)
Pioneer: Annie Wood Besant, 1847 - 1933
Annie Wood Besant, International President of the Theosophical Society
and committed vegetarian, was a woman of many life stages, as is
suggested by the titles of a biography by Arthur H. Nethercot.
Its two volumes are named, respectively, The First Five Lives of
Annie Besant and The Last Four Lives of Annie Besant. All these
various lifetimes, though, were for her merely waystations on a
pilgrimage which culminated in her widely-known final Theosophical
role as popular speaker and sensitive writer on spirituality, as
Indian political activist, and as vegetarian.
Annie Wood was born in London; her father was a physician who died
when she was only five, leaving her mother, who was a devout
Anglican, in financial straits. Annie herself was likewise
naturally religious, and also given to good works for the poor, of
which there were all too many in Victorian England. The
consummation of this particular life was a reluctant marriage at
age twenty to a clergyman, the Rev. Frank Besant.
This union quickly dissipated any illusions she may have had about the
Church and its ministers, for he turned out to be not only
domineering but cold-hearted, extremely rigid, and violent. They
had two children, a son, Arthur, and a daughter, Mabel. Annie had
a crisis of faith when Mabel contracted a severe case of whooping
cough and nearly died. The seamy side of priestly life as seen in
Frank, together with a God who seemed unable to care about a
child's suffering and closeness to death, led her to doubt
orthodox Christianity. Indeed, by 1874 she was anonymously writing
pamphlets questioning the divinity of Christ, and she refused to
receive Holy Communion in her husband's church. At this Frank
Besant insisted on a legal separation, unless she returned to the
sacrament. She did not.
On leaving the vicarage, Annie Besant took up with the National
Secular Society of the well-known atheist and political radical
Charles Bradlaugh, who offered her a job as a reporter for his
newspaper, The National Reformer. She also lectured for the
cause, quickly displaying a remarkable talent for this endeavor;
indeed, in time there were those who called Mrs. Besant the
greatest public speaker in the world, and many later Theosophists
and other activists attributed their calling to first hearing her
Bradlaugh and Besant were soon involved in a notorious 1877 court case
over their publication of a book on birth control, The Fruits of
Philosophy, written by an American physician, Charles
Knowlton. The charge was pornography! The two secularists defended
themselves brilliantly in court, and were acquitted on a
technicality; the book sold over 200,000 copies world-wide. An
interesting side note: Bradlaugh was elected to parliament in
1880, but was unable to take his seat until after a prolonged
struggle over his refusal, as a non-theist, to take the oath of
Around 1885 Besant increasingly went her own way apart from Bradlaugh,
enrolling in London University, working with the non-violent
Fabian Society on behalf of socialism, getting elected to the
London School Board. In the last capacity, she helped secure free
meals for poor children and persuaded the Board not to buy goods
from sweatshops. In 1888 she undertook her famous work on behalf
of exploited match girls in their unhealthy working conditions
(they had to work with dangerous chemicals) by organizing a
strike, which in turn did much to advance the trade union
In these same years Annie Besant was inwardly becoming more and more
dissatisfied with the materialism of her atheist position. She
found herself reading, and writing about, comparative religion,
all the while wondering if social and political reform alone were
enough to make humans as fully happy as they ought to be, or if
some deeper kind of transformation was also called for.
At this point, in 1889, the famous reformer-journalist W. T. Stead,
with whom she has worked before, asked her to review
H.P. Blavatsky's massive just-published work, The Secret Doctrine,
in his Pall Mall Gazette. The Secret Doctrine is a foundational
Theosophical treatise portraying One Existence and a pervading
ancient wisdom underlying the universe, expressing itself through
the planet's many religions and cultures, and working from within
to advance all beings to higher and higher levels of spiritual
evolution. Altruism and service are important parts of this
upward movement. Totally entranced by this book and its vision,
Besant sought out Blavatsky, then living in London, joined the
Theosophical Society, and thereafter made it the focus of her
untiring work for wisdom and the good of all.
Annie rose rapidly in the Society, writing and speaking with her
exceptional oratorical gifts on its behalf. On the passing in
1907 of the first International President, Blavatsky's erstwhile
companion Henry Steel Olcott, Besant was elected his successor by
a wide margin. She continued in that capacity until her own death
in 1933, residing at the International Headquarters, Adyar, just
outside of Madras (now Chennai) in south India.
Her Theosophy did not in the end mean the giving up of her natal
Christianity as did the secularist stage in her life. She wrote a
Theosophical book on esoteric Christianity, and she worshiped, and
on occasion preached, in the Liberal Catholic Church (after its
founding in 1916), a small denomination closely linked to
We cannot here trace most of her presidential activities. It must be
noted that, besides in-house Theosophical administration, she lost
none of her commitment to social action. Coming to love Indian
culture, she labored to found schools up to the university level
which emphasized Indian traditions rather than the Europeanism of
much British and missionary education. She also worked actively on
behalf of respect for India's women and lower castes.
Politically, she actively promoted "home rule" or dominion status
for India (though she did not favor complete separation from
Britain), and served a term as President of the Indian National
Congress, the organization shortly to be led by M. K. Gandhi
(though she differed with him on home rule versus independence,
and on some of the Mahatma's tactics). She and other leading
Theosophists were interned for a time during World War I by
India's British rulers because of the alleged disruptive effect of
Vegetarianism is promoted by Theosophy, though not mandated as a
condition of membership in the Society. Besant, however, took it
up when she joined, and characteristically spoke powerfully on its
behalf. (In the 1920s she became a vegan.) In an 1894 lecture,
later published, "Vegetarianism in the Light of Theosophy," she
emphasized the human place in the world, as "viceregent in a very
real sense, ruler and monarch of the world, but with the power of
being either a bad monarch or a good. . . Take then man in
relation to the lower animals from this standpoint." She then
vividly contrasts two kinds of people going out into the woods.
“On the one hand come those whose presence instinctively brings misery
and fear to the animals, creatures of feather or fur clearly
sensing and dreading the emanations of intruders who come with the
mind of the hunter, the killer, the meat-eater. Then, on a
kindlier day, the wild may brighten to the very different aura of
one who comes in peace as friend, the sort of person like
St. Francis and not a few of the saints of India whom animals
approach in love. Birds settle on him or her, and larger beasts
nuzzle or rub against this beloved human companion. Which will
bespeak the human future?
Besant goes on to talk about the ghastly atmosphere of a
slaughterhouse, above all from the perspective of the animals
about to be slain. "Notice the terror that strikes them as they
come within scent of the blood! See the misery, and the fright,
and the horror [with] which they struggle. . ." And Besant goes
on to argue that "As we eat so we are. What's on our plate today
is not just a meal, but can shine a light down the corridors of
time to illumine, and help make, the world of the future.
“For if we cast out into the onrushing stream of planetary life
the misery of the aughterhouse, so are we infecting the world with
those blood-laden thoughts and energies, bound to come back to us
in human violence now and for as long as its energies
continue. But the more we eat platefuls of peace, so in the
direction of peace and love goes the world on all levels.”
For as Ms. Besant summed it up, "The evolution of the world
depends upon us." How we dine, though not the only factor in that
process, is an extremely powerful and significant force for
shaping the world to come, since eating affects us intimately
several times a day, and what we send out at every meal will come
back tomorrow and maybe for many tomorrows.
So taught Annie Besant. Let us hear and heed this gifted,
powerful, and compassionate woman.
For a longer quotation regarding animals from the writings of
Annie Besant, go to PT 9 . For more on the importance of
meditation and a nonviolent diet in the world’s spiritual
evolution, see “The Animals Are Waiting,” PT 66 .
Recipe: Cheeze Scones
1 cup sifted flour
2 tsp. baking powder
½ tasp. salt
1 tsp. dry mustard
½ C plus 2 T grated Daiya cheeze
¼ C vegan butter, broken up into pieces if too firm
¼ C plus 2 T vegan milk
1 egg equivalent (e.g. 1 T ground flaxseed, 3 T. warm water; stir,
let stand 5 minutes)
2 T. grated Parma or other parmesan cheeze
Sift flour, baking powder, and salt together into a large bowl.
Add the dry mustard, cheeze shreds and butter, blending in
quickly. In medium bowl, beat soy milk and egg substitute. Add
to flour mixture to form a soft dough; wrap in plastic wrap and
refrigerate 30 min. Move oven rack to upper portion of oven, and
preheat oven to 400 degrees. Generously “butter” baking sheet and
set aside. Roll out dough on floured board to ½ inch thickness.
Cut into 12 (2-inch) scones with an oval or round cutter. Arrange
on the baking sheet, sprinkle with the Parma or other parmesan
cheeze and bake until puffy and golden, about 8 to 10 minutes.
Test for doneness. They may need up to 3 minutes more.
Veganized from The Peaceable Kitchen Vegetarian Cookbook, produced
by Sandpoint (Idaho) Worship Group. Permission to reproduce by
Poetry: William Cullen Bryant, 1794 - 1878;
Gerard Manley Hopkins, 1844 - 1889
To a Waterfowl
Whither, midst falling dew
While glow the heavens with the last steps of day,
Far through their rosy depths, dost thou pursue
Thy solitary way?
Vainly the fowler's* eye
Might mark thy distant flight to do thee wrong,
As, darkly painted on the crimson sky,
Thy figure floats along.
Seek'st thou the plashy brink
Of weedy lake, or marge of river wide,
Or where the rocking billows rise and sink
On the chafed ocean side?
There is a Power whose care
Teaches thy way along that pathless coast,--
The desert and illimitable air,--
Lone wandering, but not lost.
All day thy wings have fanned,
At that far height, the cold, thin atmosphere,
Yet stoop not, weary, to the welcome land,
Though the dark night is near.
And soon that toil shall end;
Soon shalt thou find a summer home, and rest,
And scream among thy fellows; reeds shall bend
Soon, o'er thy sheltered nest.
Thou’rt gone; the abyss of heaven
Hath swallowed up thy form . . . .
He who, from zone to zone,
Guides through the boundless sky thy certain flight,
In the long way that I must tread alone,
Will lead my steps aright.
*Fowler: Bird hunter
To Christ our Lord
I caught this morning morning's minion, king-
dom of daylight's dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawFalcon, in his
Of the rolling-level-underneath-him steady air, and striding
High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing,
As a skate's heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and
Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding
Stirred for a bird, – the achieve of, the mastery of the thing!
Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here
Buckle! AND the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion
Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!
No wonder of it: shéer plód makes plough down sillion
Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,
Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermilion.