As I’ve mentioned before, shifting to homemade recipes can sometimes send you in search of ingredients that are new to you. Even if it’s an ingredient that’s not totally new, like glycerin for instance, you might still find yourself wandering around your local grocery store in frustration trying to figure out what shelf might finally (finally!!) have some glycerin on it.
An item that was still new to me a couple years ago was castile soap, and in particular the very popular brand of “Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps”. This soap is often listed in DIY cleaning recipes and is a favorite for being very natural and made with organic oils instead of containing detergents. I started out buying my Dr. Bronner’s castile soap at a local health food store, but have since seen it in Target stores and at my local Meijer grocery store too.
When this product was first new to me, I looked around on the bottle of Dr. Bronner’s castile soap hoping to learn a little more about the natural aspect of the soap. Part of the label was quite normal and helpful in that regard.
BUT, if you’ve ever bought a bottle of Dr. Bronner’s castile soap for your Make Your Own mixtures, AND if you’ve ever looked at more than just that portion of the label, you of course HAD TO notice all the other weird tiny tiny words and quotes circling around the label. Did you start reading them . . . and were you a little freaked out? Confused? Entertained? Baffled?
What the heck is up with those labels ???
A Brief History of Dr. Bronner
Before we continue on with that mysterious soap label, let’s take a quick look at the man behind the soap.
Emanuel H. Bronner was born to a family of soap makers in Germany in 1908. His last name was originally Heilbronner but he dropped the “Heil” when he immigrated to America in part so his name would have no association to that same term that was used by the Nazi party. Dr. Bronner pleaded with his family to also leave Germany and come to America but he could not convince them and they stayed. He later received a postcard from his father simply saying “You were right – your loving father” and never heard from them again. They perished in the Holocaust.
As time moved along Dr. Bronner became more zealous and vocal about his religious philosophy that he called the All-One-God-Faith. In 1947 while speaking without a permit at the University of Chicago he was arrested and placed in a mental institution where he reportedly received shock treatments. However he escaped from that institution, eventually settled in California, and continued his soap making career as well as his great dedication to his All-One-God-Faith. He died in 1997.
The Dr. Bronner’s Soap website used to include a historical timeline that included the excerpt below in the 1950’s portion. (here is a link to their current and more brief historical timeline)
“He sees the need for the world to unite before it destroys itself, and he exhorts all people to unite as one and to respect each other and the environment and he encourages all religions to recognize their universal similarities inspired by the same divine source. Dr. Bronner sees planetariums as being the “All-One!” temples of the future where humanity can realize how vanishingly trivial their differences are on Spaceship Earth within the celestial majesty of creation.
On the side, he sells his peppermint soap. He soon realizes that many people are taking it and leaving without listening to him speak. In response, Dr. Bronner begins to print his philosophy in dense, tiny script on the labels of each soap bottle.”
And that, apparently, is the beginning of the freaky label.
The Strange Ramblings of Dr. Bronner
Yes, Dr. Bronner felt strongly about this religious beliefs, but it’s pretty hard not to refer to many of his statements as strange ramblings. There’s a real stream-of-consciousness feel to them that makes them hard to understand. And they are ALL OVER the labels of his castile soap. Here’s a little sample from a bottle of Eucalyptus castile soap I had around. Some of the sayings are numbered (not sure why?) but probably are references to what he called his Moral ABC’s.
“12th: God bless the persecuted! They alone are his chosen people! Those that did not suffer from persecution remained short-sighted, small! Only those who united worked hard to survive ice-aged persecution evolved into Humane Beings, like Jesus – Mintz – Sills – Straus – Stasz-Zamenhof, brave, to help teach all, every slave, the Moral ABC of All-One-God-Faith, for we’re all-One or none! Listen Children Eternal Father Eternally One! Exceptions? None!”
“14th: Let him who is without fault throw the first stone, for only God is always perfect! So, when our fellow man you measure, take him at his best, with that lever lift him higher, overlook the rest! For we’re All-One or none! Remember, more good is caused by evil than by good. So, do what’s right! Maximize the good, minimize the wrong! Then the Kingdom of God’s Law inspires – evolves – unites. All-One! All-One! All-One!”
Exclamation points! Lots of them!! All over the label!!!!
Should I Still Buy Dr. Bronner’s Castile Soap?
After my initial puzzlement and wonder the first time I actually read an ENTIRE label of Dr. Bronner’s castile soap (and it took me a while to read the whole thing!) my next thought was – what did my money just go to? Am I supporting some weird cult? Should I maybe never buy Dr. Bronner’s castile soap again?? Are his beliefs in direct opposition to MY beliefs?
After some research and thinking I processed my way through it as follows:
1. Dr. Bronner felt VERY strongly about his beliefs.
2. His beliefs are an outgrowth of his Jewish roots and faith and contain many Judeo-Christian references.
3. He was touched by the horrors of the Holocaust and the loss of his family which had a profound impact on him.
4. These life events even more solidified his belief in the need for unity which grew into his “All-One-God-Faith”
5. Most of his ramblings, even though they are pretty hard to decipher, seem to be positive in nature, hoping for the moral behavior of mankind, and peace between earth’s people.
6. Because his writings are so incoherent, whatever message he was trying to get across loses almost all its power
7. If people can’t make any sense of what they’re reading, it is highly unlikely that it can have any influence.
And for those reasons, I came to my final decision that I would still buy Dr. Bronner’s castile soap in spite of the strange sermon that accompanies every bottle.
I think Dr. Bronner had become rather obsessed, and maybe even in an unhealthy way, in his quest for human unity in reaction to the horrors of Nazi Germany. In the long run, I don’t think he was evil or bad, and instead simply held a very unique view and philosophy which was his own hybrid of Jewish and Christian beliefs that he felt was extremely important to share with others.
I’ve been somewhat surprised too that as much as I’m always seeing this product listed in DIY recipes and in references all over Pinterest, it seems that almost nobody talks about that crazy label and what it might represent. Everyone seems thrilled that it’s a natural and organic product, but nobody wants to touch on the religious aspect that the label represents too. I think it’s better to investigate and try to make the best informed decision that we can, rather than just pretend it’s not there at all.
A Few More Links To Check Out
So there you have my opinions on the rather bizarre labels that you’ll find anytime you purchase a bottle of Dr. Bronner’s castile soap.
I’ll wrap it up with a few links to check out for the products I use (affiliate links), as well as a few recipes and other resources.
From the Dr. Bronner’s Website: Dilution Cheat Sheet for Castile Soap
I enjoy this blog by Dr. Bronner’s granddaughter: Going Green with Lisa Bronner
Video suggestion: Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soapbox Documentary DVD
Listen to Dr. Bronner himself in this video: