American Z-Men: Otto Hanish

American Z-Men: II
by Dr. Stephen Flowers

Otto Zachariah Hanish (or Hanisch) [1856?-1936] is the founder of Mazdaznan, reputed to be the first revival of Zoroastrianism in America. A study of Mazdaznan materials shows some influence of the Mazdan Way on Hanish, but many of the most essential aspects of what constitutes the philosophy of Zarathustra are missing. Hanish also wrote under the name Otoman Zar-Adusht Hanish and his biography is full of strange events. It appears most likely that he was an American of German (some say “Russian”) ancestry. He may have been born in Germany or Iran or in the USA. He began teaching his system in 1890 in Chicago, eventually going to Los Angeles. Hanish was hounded throughout his later career by legal problems, mostly the result of hysterical followers and authorities who did not like the contents of his books, especially one called INNER STUDIES which contained tantric sexual practices.

A review of his works, including the infamous tome INNER STUDIES reveals a system that has much in common with German Reform-ideology and Theosophy. In Germany the Mazdaznan movement was taken into the general folkish movement, although the Nazis banned it along with all other such groups in 1935.

Mazdaznan is a philosophical school of positive thinking (the word Mazdaznan is said to mean “Master-Thought”), dietary practices, and breathing exercises. Hanish did not make Avestan texts or Mazdan ritual a central part of his teaching.

The center in California closed in 1980 and the organization is no longer active in the USA. The German and Hungarian branches have several thousand members.

Hanish deserves a book to be dedicated to his life and ideas. The web is full of information about him and his work. If anyone is interested in writing a 60-80 pp. book on him, contact me at