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Black Elk

A Universalist Temple

July 7th, 2008

I used to think that the Bahai’i faith was the religious equivalent of Esperanto – combining all the world’s faiths into one universal religion that united all humanity. In reality Bahai’ism is a religion that is essentially Abrahamic, with Baha’Ullah being seen as the next great world saviour.

An attempt at a more universal approach was made by the Universalist Church, which originated in the 18th century, but even then it was decidedly Christian in its approach. In 1961 it became absorbed into the Unitarian Church, but when it was still a separate organisation it was championed in England by the founder of the Ancient Druid Order, George Watson MacGregor Reid. He was an eccentric and a maverick, and injected a more egalitarian approach – trying hard to amalgamate concepts and texts from all the world’s religions into their religious services. And since MacGregor Reid also held Druid ceremonies at Stonehenge, aspects of this approach slipped into his version of Druidry, and as a result of this one can still  find Buddhist ideas in Druid ceremonies being used today, for example.

London Universalists used to meet for their ‘Esperanto-like’ services in MacGregor Reid’s house in Clapham, and Dr Adam Stout recently unearthed a fascinating planning application while researching the old Chief’s life for the Mount Haemus award. The house had been destroyed by a bomb during the blitz, but a phoenix was designed to rise from its ashes – a temple or church that combined elements from many faiths. Have a look at the drawing below. I think it looks splendid! Imagine walking around a corner in Clapham and discovering half of the inner circle at Stonehenge inviting you to walk towards a building that combined elements of mosque, church, synagogue and temple architecture.

I love the Art Deco typeface used too! Click on the image to see it in full. Click on that image and you can enlarge it.

8 Responses to “A Universalist Temple”

  1. I hope offence may not be taken, but the idea that Esperanto is a religion, is open to question.

    If Esperanto is open to everyone, then all should have equal access?

    If you have a moment you might like to check

  2. It’s beautiful to the eye but at the same time it looks disturbing (to me)- not sure how – I think perhaps by mixing such powerful elements together it ‘s a bit overwhelming…. it’s like having a three course meal all on the same plate sprinkled with Belgian Chocolates.

  3. It was interesting to see the mention of Esperanto here. Your readers may gain from this the idea that Esperanto is something historical or experimental. In fact this planned second language is spoken by a growing population of people across the world. Take a look at

    Whilst not every Esperanto-speaker is motivated by it, Zamenhof’s “homaranismo” (a sort of universalism) was the guiding force behind the movement for many decades.

  4. Hello Brian & Bill,

    Nice to see some Esperantoists here! Brian I hope its clear that I didn’t think Esperanto was a religion, but thank you for making it clear to avoid any misunderstanding. It’s good to know it is alive and well!

  5. I have ambiguous feelings about a Universalist approach. The desire to be inclusive is wonderful and I really respond to this, however, I guess I fear the potential homogeneity. I like diversity – it feels healthy to me. I like the challenge and the joy of difference. I guess I believe that a sense of togetherness is not necessarily dependant on us all doing and believing the same thing.

    I have been watching the BBC4 programmes about Albert Kahn recently. He was a French banker and philanthropist, who during the early part of the twentieth century, endeavoured to create a photographic record of all the peoples of the world. As a committed pacifist and internationalist, he believed that such a project could promote peace and understanding between differing cultures. Prior to the first world war, he travelled France, photographing the many diverse groups that made up the nation at that point. He sensed that the growing movement to shape a more unified France, would destroy the dialects, regional customes and dress, and felt a sense of sadness at their loss. He also documented the extraordinary mix of peoples, religions and cultures that populated eastern Europe prior to the chronic unrest and horrific ethnic cleasing that erupted there prior to the Great War. His wonderful colour photographs celebrate the differences and yet at the same time communicate our common humanity. This to me seems like a good balance to aim for (although not always easy to achieve).

    I guess we are all cultural and spiritual magpies to some extent, drawing from many different sources, but the Universalist potential for shoehorning in the ‘best’ bits of various beliefs and practices might rid those very beliefs and practices of some of their beauty and complexity. There again, they might morph into something else equally complex and beautiful. I feel a little undecided on this one.

    I agree – it would be quite a sight to see such a building in grey old Clapham!

  6. I think you are right Philip. Nature thrives in diversity. I think tolerance, understanding and respect should always be our guides. Having radicallly different ideas or beliefs co-existing with each other can work if we never loose sight of our common humanity and empathy. We don’t all need to be in the same place at the same time – I find it exciting that life is so infinitely varied and complex.

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