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1847-1981 :

A thesis presented to the London School of Economics, University of London,
for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy, by Julia Twigg
©AUTUMN 1981 - Thesis Index

The author is now Professor of Social Policy and Sociology at Kent University, England, and has given permission for this previously unpublished thesis to be published on the IVU website. The ownership and copyright remain hers and no part of this thesis may be used elsewhere without her express permission.


[Numerical links are to the author's footnotes, use your back button to return to the same point in the text. Text links are to relevant items on the IVU website, all open in new windows. The original was text-only, all pictures have been added.]


Ha'nishMazdaznan is an American-based cult founded by Dr Otoman Zar-Adusht Ha'nish [click on photo right for a bigger version] and established in Britain just before the First World War. As with the Order of the Cross, success was at that time very limited; however in the late 1920s, the group began to expand, until by the early thirties, it had regular meetings in over forty centres. Who the Mazdaznans were is not easy to discern from their magazines; few names are mentioned and then usually in ritual form - like Mother Ashoi, for example. (1) There are no biographies or obituaries, and once again the approach stresses the impersonal, gnostic nature of their truth. (2)

Personal interview has suggested that the membership included many from 'modest professional' class, frequently teachers. (3) The spread of their centres is remarkable, for the expansion in the early 1930s occurred in a series of northern towns – Halifax, Harrogate, Huddersfield, Ilkley, Keighley, Leeds reads part of the list - and of thirty-nine centres in 1931, thirty-five are in the north. What such an expansion means just as the Depression hits the north of England cannot be confidently discerned from the material. In terms of meeting places the movement reached its peak in 1937 with fifty-two centres. Dr Ha'nish claimed that his system was descended from ancient Zoroastrian beliefs, characterised as ‘the religion that stands behind all other religions’. (4) The transmission of this knowledge is given an elaborate semi-occultic history, culminating in Ha'nish's own induction as a young man in a Zoroastrian community in Iran (some versions Tibet): there are obvious parallels with Blavatski and again with Gurdjieff. Zoroastrianism itself seems to play a slightly minor part in the ideology and validation is almost as often in terms of nature; thus no authority, it is stated, is recognised except truth found in the 'open book of nature’, (5) and right living according to nature's laws is the central theme, and in this the direct physical experience of nature played a part in spiritual development. (6)

Though Mazdaznan, as we shall see, shared certain common ideas with the Order of the Cross and the esoteric tradition generally, it was much less spiritual in emphasis and there are reasons to think that in the 1930s it recruited more as a cult of health and physical exercise than as a religion. (7) Mazdaznan was essentially an individualistic system of self development, presenting itself as a practical philosophy and. way of life: 'above all intensely practical. . . Nothing is taught or considered that cannot be used today - here and now'. (8) It is clear that Ha'nish emerged out of New Thought and Mazdaznan bears its influence in its concern with practical psychology, and with forms of self-manipulation as a means to various states of well-being. Central to their techniques was the idea that the 'thought processes are reached through the physical senses', (9) and the emphasis is very much on the body: 'We are not troubled so much about your soul', Lt. Col. Gault declared in a lecture in Brighouse in 1931, 'because we know if you get a perfect body you will have a perfect mind and perfect soul'. (10) In these tendencies the thirties display signs of two developments that come to be increasingly important in the later twentieth century: the first is the increasing conceptualisation of this tradition in terms of psychology, and the second is the growing use of physical exercises as a means to spiritual and psychological states.

The cornerstones of the system were: 'Breathing, Diet, Exercise and Prayer - all scientifically applied'. (11) The exercises were in the form of yoga-like postures, known as Egyptian exercises, which were accompanied by controlled breathing - 'Breath is Life' was their motto - humming and singing. (12) By these means they aimed to stimulate the circulatory system and the glands - the glands were of particular significance to Ha'nish, and were indeed rather an interwar fashion - awakening the brain and the senses, making them alert and full of energy, and also producing a heightened state of spiritual discernment.

The second means was diet, in which the avoidance of meat was central. (13) Though Ha'nish did subscribe to the moral and humanitarian reasons, it is the health and spiritual aspects that are to the fore in Mazdaznan writings. (14) The Mazdaznans believed that meat, and also over-cooked, over-refined modern food, was bad for people and led to illness and unhappiness: 'For it is largely a truism that "Man does not die: he kills himself" and this is largely due to erroneous eating and drinking'. (15) The animalisation theme is strong; animals exist at a lower evolutionary level, . . and thus eating them perpetuates our lower existence and prevents further spiritual advance: 'in eating flesh, they take on animalistic traits of lowering and transmigratory nature'. (16) 'Animal propensities come from animal ways; and eating the poor beasts, makes Beasts of men'. (17) Meat was also presented as an over-stimulant and bearer of death: 'Bating death means death'. (18) The Mazdaznans follow the general pattern of diet reform (19) with its particular concern over the avoidance of constipation, which Ha'nish together with others, regarded as a form of self-poisoning with the re-absorption of waste products into the blood stream. Ha'nish significantly refers to this state as one of 'auto-intoxication.' (20)

The central aim of Mazdaznan is the achievement of self regulation and autonomy. This is partly achieved by means of self discipline and control, whether in child rearing, sexual relations or bodily functioning; and there is a strong anal preoccupation, both actual and psychological, in Ha'nish's writings.  (21)

In their writings Christ is a revered figure, though his life is given an occultic re-interpretation, his true message having been lost or perverted by orthodox Christianity. Once again Paul is one of the cuiprits: Original Sin is rejected, and the death on the cross denied. (22) They attack all 'magical' and 'superstitious' aspects in religion; thus Christ's healing powers were not miraculous but based on natural therapeutic techniques. (23) They took the view that there should be nothing in religion contrary to logic or science. Like many groups in this tradition, they were strongly against ritualistic religion - typified by Roman Catholicism - and yet strangely fond of symbolism. (24) Like Anna Kingsford before them, they regarded the two as quite different; one representing the 'mumbo-jumbo' of superstition, the other the true symbolism of deeper things.

They believe in the karmic law and in reincarnation; and they show signs of extending this into a social theodicy: 'Without these teachings to justify the inequalities among men, duty has no basis, and justice is a myth'. (25) Their political inclinations are not clear: though they have Social Credit connections and put much stress on the need for 'moral 1eadership. Ha'nish certainly put forward racialist theories. (26) These are not prominent in the literature, nor are any direct conclusions evident from them concerning political or social issues in the thirties. Whether such were drawn, or whether racial theories were part of its appeal in England as opposed to America remains uncertain. Whatever is the case, the Mazdaznan’s are unusual in the English vegetarian tradition in adopting such theories, though aspects of old American vegetarianism and nature cure have sometimes been linked with right-wing, petit-bourgeois political ideas.

  1. 163. Mother Ashoi who specialised in the dietary aspects, was the wife of the Canadian Lt. Col. Arthur Gault, the leader of Mazdaznan in England, and known as Guromano. They use family titles like Mother, Father (or Daddy), brother and sister.
  2. 164. Though Dr Ha'nish was himself the inspiration of the movement - it was his personality and extensive lecture tours that created support – details of his life are not stressed and hard to come by. His followers have pieced together some aspects: he was possibly of Polish parentage, travelled widely in America and Europe and died in 1936. He claimed in lecture asides to have been the colleague and inspiring spirit behind a range of people from Nietzsche and his Thus Spake Zarathustra, Edison and his electric lamp (the Mazda), Wagner and his choice of mythological subjects... the list goes on. I am grateful for the help here of Evelyn & Rex Allen, the current leaders of Mazdaznan.
  3. 165. One of the few individuals to emerge from the literature is a schoolmaster, Harry Marsh, writing as Veritas, who was apparently forced out of his headship of a Church of England school in Halifax for advocating Mazdaznan, which be protested was not a rival religion but a way of life, The British Mazdaznan Jan, 1930, p217. In an account of the 1928 campaign - Ha'nish visited England twice - the British Mazdaznan describes attenders as: 'Teachers, Schoolmasters, and School mistresses, Doctors, Parsons, Musicians, Nature Cure Healers, Churchmen and Church women of all denominations, some Politicians, Psychologists, Spiritualists, Christian Scientists, Theosophists, Anthroposophists, Pyramid Prophets, Press Representatives, and Journalists, (disguised) as well as mere businessmen and women'. Sept 1928, p1
  4. 166. British Mazdaznan, hereafter  BM, April 1914, p40. For brief account of origins see Mazdaznan Science of Dietetics, 1944 p11-13.
  5. 167. BM, Sept 1924, p5. See also Oct 1931, p73.
  6. 168. See for example an account of a Mazdaznan hike from Nottingham and the importance of experiencing the physical feel of things like grass, mud, water etc. BM, Sept 1925, p10.
  7. 169. In 1934 they launched The Mazdaznan Call, produced in magazine format and aimed at a general market; here the occult religious aspects are relegated to the background.
  8. 170. BM, Sept 1924, p3.
  9. 171. BM, Sept, 1924, p4.
  10. 172. BM, Oct 1931, p73.
  11. 173. BM, April 1914, p40.
  12. 174. See June 1927, p297 for the postures; and Oct 1931, p73, for an account of one of their meetings with its communal singing and exercises. One of the early leaders in England, Captain W.P. Knowles, later broke away and founded a secular and 'commercial' version of the breathing exercises in the Knowles Institute of Breathing.
  13. 175. For the diet and meat issue see Ha'nish, Mazdaznan Science of Dietetics, 1944.
  14. 176. Mazdaznan did not ignore the animal issue, and in 1930 suggested that members write to their MPs concerning their views on a series of issues like vivisection and blood sports; though the magazines do not normally focus on these.
  15. 177. BM, Dec 1924, p123, Mother Ashoi.
  16. 178. BM, Sept 1925, p25, also Ha'nish p231-4.
  17. 179. BM, July 1934, p460.
  18. 180. BM, April 1930, p3l7.
  19. 181. They favour raw and lightly cooked vegetables; whole grain, brown bread, as little dairy food and sugar as possible. They also advise avoiding fermented foods; thus yeasted bread should be avoided: 'as it creates fermentation in the system, irritates the intestines, and owing to its stimulating properties, excites the delicate generative organs; it also induces the desire for intoxicants'. See Ha'nish, Mazdaznan Science of Dietetics, 1944, p54.
  20. 182. BM, Jan 1927, p131.
  21. 183. See his Inner Studies, 1902, and Mazdaznan Dietetics generally. For his theories of sexual control and for his version of 'eugenics' see Inner Studies and recurrently in the British Mazdaznan. Ha'nish believed that sex properly involved both pleasure and procreation, but that these qualities were separate. The eugenics involved ensuring that only fit and responsibly wanted children were conceived; and to avoid the conception of children from a thoughtless 'passionate embrace', he recommended not contraception but a form of sexual control whereby intercourse never proceeded to ejaculation (there seem to have been parallels with the practices of the Oneida community). Ha'nish claimed that this could lead to a state where full orgasm was achieved without ejaculation, and he believed that orgasm came from the exchange of sexual energy, and that the loss of semen would lead to debility and a lessening of the individual - and he uses the classic nineteenth-century metaphor of the bank balance. His accounts of sexual functioning and his eccentric theories in Inner Studies resulted in him being briefly imprisoned in 1912 in Chicago for sending obscene material through the mails. The background of the prosecution is unclear. BM, July 1939, p674-6.
  22. 184. For their view of Christ see Ha'nish, The True Story of Jesus Christ entitled Yehoshua Nazir, 1917, Maz Mag, May 1934, p362-3; for role of Paul, see Oct 1930, p61; for Original Sin, see Nov 1924, p82.
  23. 185. Christ was taken down from the cross alive and restored by the higher forms of healing science known to his followers; there was no miraculous rising from the dead end no resurrection (p104, 110). Judas betrayed Christ because he wanted to force Christ into a miraculous action. His true message was 'Liberty, Freedom, Joy and Good Health for all, here and. now, upon this Earth', BM, May 1934, p363.
  24. 186. Ha'nish wore red and gold robes and had a ruby lamp to symbolise the heart of God. The Mazdaznans keep the major festivals like Easter.
  25. 187. BM, June 1927, p.302
  26. 188. Ha'nish's ‘raciology' puts the white Aryan race at the highest level of evolution; it alone has all the qualities of the others, plus full consciousness, BM, Sept 1924, p11. He disapproved of miscegenation as a form of mixing of categories and believed that Jesus was not a Jew. There are some running references to Zionists and Zionist banking systems – for example the jury in Ha'nish's trial is described as being packed with stockyardmen and Zionists, BM, July 1939, p676 – though Phillip Pick, of the Jewish Vegetarian Society, has no recollection of Mazdaznan being anti-semitic.

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