THE SOCIETAS FRATERNIA

ITS HEADQUARTERS NEAR ANAHEIM

Some of the Queer Notions and Beliefs of the Society – Their Peculiar Diet – Their Sublime Reliance upon Nature

(Anaheim Semi-Weekly Gazette, May 7, 1879)

            There are a great many religions in the world, – some good, some bad, some absurd, some disgusting. Some people believe in heaven and not in hell, some in hell and not in heaven; some people believe in heaven and hall, and others scout the idea of the existence of either. “Man is a curious animile,” wrote Johnny, and in nothing is he more curious than in his religious beliefs and disbeliefs. He runs from one extreme to the other, and so earnest is he in the advocacy of his views that, no matter how absurd they may be to the mind of the listener, he cannot but be impressed to a certain extent with the ideas so earnestly advanced. It is only when removed from the atmosphere and influence of the fantastic that one can discover the fallibility and flimsiness of the arguments with which the theorists bolster up their peculiar views.

            There is living a few miles from Anaheim a society whose peculiar beliefs and mode of life have made them the subject of public criticism for some time past. The rumors in regard to them were evidently so at variance with the facts, that, some weeks ago, the editor of the Gazette sought an interview with them for the purpose of obtaining authentic information as to their religious views. He fortified himself for the interview by asking Rev. Mr. Trew to accompany him as a sort of theological mentor and support, fearing that without the presence of some orthodox personage he might succumb to the seductions of the new religion.

            In 1876 there arrived in Anaheim an Englishman named George P. Hinde, accompanied by his wife and children. He bought a fine tract of land about four miles northeast of Anaheim, and began the erection of a house whose architectural peculiarities were the talk of the neighborhood. It is a large two story frame building, of quite handsome external appearance; but all the rooms, hallways and closets are either oval or round in shape. The effect is rather novel, but pleasant withal, and the waste space, which the peculiar construction made necessary, is utilized by closets – those convenient receptacles so dear to the heart of the housewife. It is claimed, also, that such shaped houses are superior in a sanitary point of view, allowing a free circulation of air, and consequently being cooler and more pleasant residences for this climate than the ordinary home.

            But these points were not taken into consideration by the builder of the house. He gave up a lucrative and prosperous business in England at the command of the “spirits,” and under their guidance crossed the ocean, and, still under their guidance, kept on until Anaheim was reached. The tract of land which he bought was pointed out to him by the same invisible power, and the house of which we have spoken was reared under inspiration from the same source.

            Two years later, there arrived in Anaheim an oldish gentleman named Dr. Schlesinger. He, too, was impelled by influences in the spirit world to come here. He had never met Mr. Hinde; in fact, had never even heard of him, but the mysterious power led him direct to that gentleman’s house. When the two men met, they were instantly imbued with the knowledge that they had been thrown together in order to accomplish some grand purpose, and it was subsequently revealed to them that they were destined to be the founders of a Society which would in time grow to grand proportions, and which in its beliefs and practices would be entirely different from, and immeasurably superior to, that of any other society or sect in the world.

            Shortly after Dr. Schlesinger’s arrival, the Societas Fraternia was organized – not, as they explained, in a worldly sense, but only in a spiritual way. The Doctor occupies a position analogous to that of President, Mr. Geo. R. Hinde is Secretary, and Ira Carpenter, Treasurer. The Society, as has been stated, is in many respects entirely different from any other of which any account has been given. Spiritual communion is the great central truth – the anchorage, as it were, of the Society. The leaders claim to receive direct instructions from the spirit world as to every act. Nothing is done of their own volition. The mass of spiritualists have only a blind belief in their faith, but these people have actual knowledge of the spiritual world, an in this respect are far above the ordinary believers in spiritualism. It is vouchsafed to them not only to see the spirit forms, but also to feel them and converse with them just as if they were of veritable flesh and blood.

            But the most remarkable feature of this Society is the strange views they hold as to what should be eaten – or, rather, as to what should not constitute man’s diet. They eat no meat of any kind, no eggs, milk, butter, cheese, bread; in fact, nothing but fruits and vegetables, and then only such as can be eaten uncooked. They believe that nature furnishes everything necessary for man’s subsistence. Nothing passes their lips except that which grows from the ground, and it must be eaten just as it grows. They hold that it is as sinful to diet on dried or preserved fruit as it would be to lunch on roast beef, plum pudding, and limberger cheese. They run to the very extreme in everything. The ordinary vegetarian, we believe, cooks his cabbage and potatoes, and uses salt on his radish, but the Societas Fraternia take theirs untainted by fire or condiments. They contend that “all substances in nature contain a spiritual essence which goes to build up the body, and which is the clothing of the soul after leaving mortal life.” Anything which needs cooking, nature never intended should be eaten. Cooking destroys that spiritual essence which pervades everything in nature. Not only does the consumption of gross things tend to man’s debasement, but it is necessary, in order to obtain the luxuries craved by his perverted system, to toil like a slave from morn till night. But as nature provides everything actually necessary to man’s existence, the necessity for continual toil does not exist; and man, if he so wills it, has ample opportunities for rest, recreation and mental improvement.

            To the question as to how members of the Society could live up to their profession in cold countries, where fruit and vegetables were at certain seasons not to be had, the Doctor replied that only in countries favorably situated, like this, could perfection in their religion be reached. It would therefore be necessary for believers to either join the Society at Anaheim or establish another at some point equally favorable for the production of these staple articles of diet.

            All the property of the Society is held in trust by Mr. Carpenter. There is no separate property, everything being held in common. Neither does the Society desire to accumulate wealth; nature furnishes them with food and they have little need of money. Anyone who desires to join their Society is welcome, whether they wealth or now, if they will agree to live in accordance with the established rules. Mr. Carpenter is now in New York, and it is understood that he will soon return here with a large accession of members.

            It is perhaps needless to say that they hold the marriage ceremony in contempt. Their views on this subject are not greatly dissimilar to those held by the Oneida Community. They say that if this world is to be redeemed, it has to be by a purer system than at present exists of introducing human beings into the world. They hold it to be sinful for the sexes to cohabit (not even excepting married persons) except for the single purpose of pro-creation, and that the diet of the Society makes it impossible for members to sin, in that respect.

            We have thus given a brief sketch of these peculiar people, knowing that there was a growing desire among our readers to obtain some authentic information concerning them. It only remains for us to chronicle the proof given us by Dr. Schlesinger of his spiritual power. He asked Mr. Trew to write on slips of paper a number of names, one of them to be of some dead friend. These slips Mr. Trew folded up carefully, placed them in a hat, and shook them up. They were then handed to the Doctor, one by one, and when he was handed the slip bearing the name of the dead person, he announced the fact. He then wrote the name Archibald McLean, “back-hand,” on a piece of paper, and triumphantly asked our reverend companion to explain the mysterious power of the possession of which he had just given evidence. Mr. Trew was forced to take refuge in the Shakespearian quotation: “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in our philosophy.” A similar, but in some respects more difficult test was given to the writer.

            We have refrained from touching upon the purely theological questions connected with the beliefs of the Society, contenting ourselves with the mere presentation of facts and leaving everyone to form his own opinion. It is not difficult to foresee what that opinion will be; but the members of the society are not in the slightest degree sensitive in regard to public opinion, and are perfectly indifferent as to any expressions concerning them….

***

THE SOCIETAS FRATERNIA

Our Orange Correspondent visits them and is Invited to Dinner – His impressions of the Society and its Members

(Anaheim Semi-Weekly Gazette, August 30, 1879)

            Having read your account of a visit in company with Rev. Mr. Trew to the “Societas Fraternia,” and from other sources learned of the dietary peculiarities of the members of the association, I had determined to pay them a visit of inspection as soon as time and circumstances would permit. Accordingly on Friday of last week, in company of my family and Dr. Grover, of Riverside, who was desirous of making the acquaintance of Mr. and Mrs. Hinde, we rode over to their place, a distance of about seven miles. The locality which they have selected, as they claim, under the direction of their Spirit guides, certainly does credit to their judgment and discrimination. It is situated near the foot hills upon the tract known as the “Cajon Rancho” and has a climate unsurpassed, is free from malaria, and is surrounded by the most sublime and beautiful natural scenery. If our friends who have passed to the “Summer Land” beyond are attracted and influenced by the quiet and loveliness of nature, together with agreeable and harmonious surroundings here, this society of mediums, who are believed to be in communication with disembodied spirits, ought to receive inspirations and communications of a superior order. Their mode of living, system of diet, and freedom from corroding cares is also well calculated to develop the growth and progress of the spiritual. We arrived there about noon and were cordially received by Mr. and Mrs. Hinde. Dr. Schlesinger came in soon after, when the principal trio of the Society were before us. They are refined and intelligent people, capable of giving substantial reasons for their seeming peculiarities, or for the faith that is in them. As the bill of fare was somewhat peculiar I will give it entire: First, musk melon, nutmeg melon and cocoanut melon. These were cut into lengthwise strips and served on china plates. Then we had grapes, apples, pears, watermelon and cucumbers nicely prepared, sweet corn on the ear (uncooked), tomatoes, and a dessert of raisins, peanuts, walnuts, etc. All was fresh from the garden except the dessert, and prepared with artistic skill well calculated to whet the appetite of even the grossest meat-eater. The table was set with neatness, the crockery and all appliances arranged with that exquisite taste in which women so excels the sterner sex.

            We enjoyed our dinner. It was excellent. We enjoyed the social connected with the hour spent at the table. We believe that their system of living if generally adopted would do away with the great mass of disease that is now so rapidly, under our false civilization, decimating the race. We know that physiological law sanctions it, and that reason and common sense approves it. We know that woman would be the emancipation from that kitchen slavery which is now so rapidly unfitting her from being the mother of healthy and well formed men and women. These people believe that cooking food deprives it of its spiritual or life principle, and that it thus merely supplies nutriment to the physical organism, tending to animalize man, instead of developing him intellectually, animally and spiritually in harmonious proportions. They exclude animal food in all its forms, and believe in subsisting upon the various fruits in their season, together with the cereals in their natural state. Their testimony is that they are fare more healthy and hardy, physically, than when under the common system of living. Their children are models of health, and intellectually remarkably bright and intelligent, and even that little baby is now a healthy, bright and beautiful child. To the Christian church they can triumphantly say, “Follow the example of Jesus, your pattern and exemplar. When he was contemplating the great work to which his life was to be devoted, and saw that a pure and spiritualized body was necessary in order to receive from God the Father those high and holy inspirations with which he was to elevate and save man, he went up into a high mountain by himself and fasted, living for forty days upon such fruits and berries as that portion of Judea offered. After thus strengthening his intellect and quickening his spirituality, he was enabled to give to the world that great speech, the Sermon on the Mount, the like of which the world had never seen and which has been handed down for the instruction of mankind through the ages.”

            After three hours spent with these people, we returned laden with matter for thought. For ourself, we have concluded that, like the system of Charles Fourier, it is ideally beautiful, but that the world can practically adopt it as once must not for a moment be supposed. That in the progress of mankind the time will perhaps ultimately arrive when this ideal may become real, we may venture to predict. In the meantime let up lop off our physical errors as fast as we become cognizant of them, and we are doing what we can toward the full fruition of the “good time coming.”…. [s] E.M.J.

[No full history of the Societas Fraternia has ever been written – nor perhaps should be. The "Placentia Grass Eaters" (as they were sometimes known) later collapsed under charges of rape and murder. For a general outline, see Virginia Carpenter's Placentia, A Pleasant Place (1977). "E.M.J." was Dr. Eliab M. Joslin of Orange. – P.B.]