MAZDAZNAN (Religious Movement)

Founder: Otto Hanisch (b. 1844; d. 1936)

Mazdaznan is a neo-Zoroastrian group founded in the US between the two World Wars, which claims, somewhat controversially, to represent a genuine Western branch of ancient Zoroastrianism. Otto Hanisch (1844-1936), later to be known under the pen name of Otoman Zar-Adusht Ha’nish, was born in 1844, probably in Teheran, to a Russian father and a German mother. His place of birth was later disputed, and nothing certain is known about his life until he surfaced in 1900 in Chicago. There, he claimed to have been initiated into a mysterious Zoroastrian order whilst in Iran (and/or Tibet). This order, according to Ha’nish, taught him that, some 3,000 years before the coming of the prophet known as Zarathustra or Zoroaster, another prophet called Ainyahita (later to be worshipped in Persia as the goddess Anahita) spread her teachings from Tibet to the Middle East, Egypt, Greece, India, China, and even pre-Colombian America. Ainyahita’s teachings, thus, form the basis of most world religions, including Christianity, since the three wise men taught them to Jesus’ family. Thanks to Zarathustra’s revival of the original Ainyahita teachings, and to Ha’nish’s contemporary revival of Zarathustra’s teachings, this original religion of the world is now available again in its most pristine form.

Ha’nish quickly gathered a number of American followers and in 1917 established, in California, an organization known as Mazdaznan, which claimed to offer ‘the Eternal Religion that stands behind all other religions’, ‘the oldest and most comprehensive system ever devised by man or revealed by God’. Among the early followers were Maud Meacham (1879-1959) and Swiss-born David Ammann (1855-1923), who was instrumental in spreading Mazdaznan into Europe. Ha’nish died in 1936, and his successors are known as ‘Electors’. Whilst in the US Mazdaznan led a comparatively quiet existence, the organization became quite controversial in Europe. Critics claimed that Mazdaznan was not a genuinely Zoroastrian religion, and put great stress on Ha’nish’s idiosyncracies. His ideas about the Aryan race, for instance, brought accusations in several European countries of his being racist and anti-semitic, although he was also critical of Nazism. The Mazdaznan organization was banned in Nazi Germany in fact as early as 1935.

Crucial to Mazdaznan philosophy is the idea of converting Earth into a garden again, where God would converse and cooperate with humans. Breathing exercises are also very important, and in fact their practice spread from Mazdaznan to a number of other groups, in German-speaking Europe particularly (together with Mazdaznan songs and ideas about food and diet, which in turn attracted a number of medical doctors to the movement). At the end of the 1990s, Mazdaznan launched the ‘Life4Sys’ programme, which proposes a combination of breathing practices, exercise and diet, which, although obviously rooted in Ha’nish’s teachings, is presented as inherently secular and available to people of all faiths. Mazdaznan’s headquarters are currently located in Bonita, California.

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