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Forrest, Bob

Omariana Eccentrica - part 3. Bob Forrest.
Website: www.omarkhayyamnederland.com.
November 2013.


Another inhabitant of the stranger shores of Rubaiyat literature is a little book by Dr. Otoman Zar-Adusht Ha’nish entitled Omar Khayyam in his Rubaiyat – with a true History, Life and Biography of the Persian Poet, Astronomer and Statesman published by the Mazdaznan Press of Los Angeles, California, in 1924. It is Potter #331. The book has, as its frontispiece, a picture of the author which I reproduce here so that readers can see who it is that we are talking about. As can be seen from its caption, the Reverend Dr. Ha’nish was “Manthra-Magi of El Kharman”, which sounds impressive.

The Mazdaznan Press takes its name from the Mazdazdnan Movement, which was founded by Ha’nish in Chicago in 1899, spreading from there across America and into Canada, and thereafter to Europe. It is still going, at least in Canada. Basically it promotes spiritual development and physical well-being through a vegetarian diet, sunlight, fresh air and a regime of breathing exercises, set against a religious and philosophical background which is a curious mixture of Zoroastrianism and Christianity, with elements of Hinduism and Buddhism thrown in. Though not so well known today, in the first half of the twentieth century it was quite a popular cult, with the revered Ha’nish – “The Master” - at its head

As might be expected, then, Ha’nish’s take on The Rubaiyat leans towards the Sufic. For more than twenty five years, he tells us in his Foreword, he worked on putting together a better version of the quatrains than had hitherto appeared – one which revealed the true Omar, for whom Wine, Woman and Song were, respectively, Thought, Deed and Word. Not that Omar was a Sufi – on the contrary, the quatrains do refer to wine as the literal juice of the grape, and not as the misleading spiritual wine of the Sufis. But Omar wasn’t just referring to drinking: he was “pointing to the praise of the beauty in ‘wine’” and likewise “to the laud of the beauty in ‘song’, and to the honor of the beauty in ‘woman’” (Introduction p.xxxv) Omar’s drunkenness, he assures us, was merely an act to evade the strictures of both orthodox Islam and the more hostile of the Sufis, “as the old belief had it that the obsessed, the insane, and drunkards cannot be made responsible for their utterances.” (Introduction, p.xxxix.)

Ha’nish’s version of The Rubaiyat, which he hoped would “supply the want of mental and psychic hunger” of his readers (Foreword), runs to 191 quatrains, unfortunately unnumbered. His heavy debt to FitzGerald is easily demonstrated despite his claim of throwing aside all earlier occidental translations (Foreword). Here, for example, is a verse from p.2:

Come! Join your Old Khayyam and leave the lot
Of Kaikobad and Kaikhosru forgot!
Let Zal and Rustum with greater anger fume;
Let Hatim cry: ”To supper!” – mind them not!

This, of course, is suspiciously like verse 9 of FitzGerald’s first edition. Again, from p.6:

With book in hand, reclining ‘neath a bough,
A jug of wine, a half a loaf and thou
Beside me, singing songs of love divine,
Turns deserts into paradise enow.

This too is suspiciously like verse 12 of FitzGerald’s third and fourth editions. Here is another verse, from p.21 this time:

Join Old Khayyam, and leave it to the Wise
Who talk of Hell and Hopes of Paradise!
Life flies – that’s certain, all the rest is – Lies;
The flow’r that once has blown, forever dies.

This, of course, is a conflation of verse 26 of FitzGerald’s first edition and verse 66 of his second (verse 63 of his third and fourth.) And a final example is from p.36:

I scanned Saturn’s rings, and on the road
I solved so many problems with my thot.
But when I came to solve the Human Fate,
My keenest thot was brought at once to naught.

This is clearly based on verse 34 of FitzGerald’s second edition (verse 31 of his third and fourth), but it is an amateurish effort at best, where the rhyming pattern is preserved only by “thot” (= thought) rhyming with “naught”! (One of the peculiarities of this book is that “thought” is consistently mis-spelt thus throughout the book!)

What, then, of the promised “Life of Omar”, given in the introduction of the book ? Of particular interest is Ha’nish’s account of Omar’s love for Shahreen, the beautiful daughter of his teacher Imam Mowaffak. It is a tale involving “the fluttering of hearts, and the tongue uttering kaleidoscopic sounds, while the silvery laughter reveals the happiness of enraptured souls” (p.viii) Unfortunately Shahreen had been promised by her father to the Sultan; their romance was hopeless; and after a few brief clandestine star-lit meetings in which “the two lovers basked in the radiations of their pulsating hearts” (p.x), Shahreen was taken away, at dawn, to the Sultan’s palace (p.xii). It was apparently at this point that Omar penned the opening verse of Ha’nish’s Rubaiyat:

Awake! For Korshed now has thrown the Stone
Into the Bowl, and all the Stars are gone;
While arrows reach the Sultan’s turret first,
And strike with greater speed his golden throne. (1)

But that wasn’t quite the end of it. It appears that the Sultan rejected Shahreen because she was pregnant with a daughter by Omar, though this was not known to Omar until twenty years later, when Shahreen was discovered in a brothel (p.xv).

Unfortunately, Ha’nish gives no sources for his information on all this, and one wonders if it has any more basis in fact than the romantic element introduced into the Omarian novels of Nathan Haskell Dole, Haldane Macfall and Harold Lamb (2). Readers may be interested to know that Ha’nish also wrote a “Life of Christ”, again based on unspecified sources, in which we learn that Christ trained as an adept in both Greece and Egypt, then later in India; and that he didn’t really die on the Cross at all – it was just made to look as if he did!(3)

So who was Ha’nish ? According to one of his followers (4), Ha’nish was born in Iran of royal lineage in 1844, and at the age of 20, after arduous training, he graduated as Manthra-Magi (a sort of Doctor of Spiritual Philosophy) from the Mazdayasni Temple Community of Math-EI-Kharman in the Mountains of Iran – hence the caption on his photo. He died (or “joined the immortals” as his follower put it) in Los Angeles in 1936.

A rather different version was given by Upton Sinclair in his book The Profits of Religion (1918), in Book 6, “The Church of the Quacks”. According to Sinclair, Dr Otoman Ha’nish, “prophet of the Sun God, Prince of Peace”, was actually a former “German grocer-boy” named Otto Hanisch, and he had had a very varied career indeed. Sinclair wrote:

“I have traced his career in the files of the Chicago newspapers, and find him herding sheep, setting type, preaching prestidigitation, mesmerism, and fake spiritualism, joining the Mormon Church, then the “Christian Catholic Church in Zion”, and then the cult of Brighouse, who claimed to be Christ returned. Finally he sets himself up in Chicago as a Persian Magus, teaching Yogi breathing exercises and occult sex-lore to the elegant society ladies of the pork-packing metropolis. The Sun God, worshiped for two score centuries in India, Egypt, Greece and Rome, has a new shrine on Lake Park Avenue, and the prophet gives tea-parties at which his disciples are fed on lilac-blossoms – “the white and pinkish for males, the blue-tinted for females.” He wears a long flowing robe of pale grey cashmere, faced with white, and flexible white kid shoes, and he sells his lady adorers a book called “Inner Studies,” price $5 per volume, with information on such subjects as:

The Immaculate Conception and its Repetition; The Secrets of Lovers Unveiled; Our Ideals and Soul Mates; Magnetic Attraction and Electric Mating.

A Grand Jury intervenes, and the Prophet goes to jail for six months; but that does not harm his cult, which now has a temple in Chicago, presided over by a lady called Kalantress and Evangelist; also a “Northern Stronghold” in Montreal, an “Embassy” In London, an “International Aryana” in Switzerland, and “Centers” all over America. At the moment of going to press, the prophet himself is in flight, pursued by a warrant charging him with improper conduct with a number of young boys in a Los Angeles hotel.”

To clarify the jail reference in this last paragraph, Ha’nish’s (or Hanisch’s) book Inner Studies, first published by the Sun-Worshipper Publishing Company in 1902, ranked, technically speaking (5), as an obscene publication, and so his mailing of copies across state boundaries was a criminal offence. Not only was he imprisoned for six months, he was also fined $2500 – a considerable sum back in 1912, when all this took place. When he was arrested, “he was found, in all his silken glory, wedged into a niche near the coal bin in the basement.” (6).

Bob Forrest


Notes

1.

This, of course, is partly based on the famous opening verse of FitzGerald’s first edition. Korshed is presumably intended as a reference to the Sun as “Khosru like” or as the “Kai Khosru of the day” – for the former, see E.H.Whinfield’s translation, verse 233 (1883 edition), and for the latter, see Edward Heron-Allen’s Edward FitzGerald’s Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam with their Original Persian Sources (1899), p.3. Ha’nish certainly knew of Whinfield’s and Heron-Allen’s translations (Introduction p.ii.)

2.

Nathan Haskell Dole, Omar the Tentmaker (1899); Haldane Macfall, The Three Students (1926) and Harold Lamb, Omar Khayyam (1936). In Dole, the romantic element is supplied by the Greek girl Agape; in Macfall, by the inn-keeper’s daughter Leela; and in Lamb, by the book-seller’s daughter, Yasmi. Presumably, at its root, all this represents a natural urge to put a name to the Beloved with whom Omar shared his loaf of bread, his flask of wine, and his book of verse, “beneath the Bough.” Quite how much reality there is behind the details in Ha’nish’s story, though, is quite another matter. Hazhir Teimourian, in his book Omar Khayyam – Poet, Rebel, Astronomer (2007), tentatively suggests that Omar did marry, that he died before his wife did, and that by her he had at least two sons and one daughter (p.122-3 & p.161.)

3.

Yehoshua Nazir: Jesus the Nazarite: Life of Christ (1917). In the Foreword, Ha’nish claimed that his narrative was based on information gathered from Johannitan Communities and Coptic Monasteries, though he gave no specific details. For Christ in Greece and Egypt, see p.31-33; for India, see p.34; that Jesus was actually rescued alive from the cross, a dose of hyssop having given him only the appearance of death, see p.70-73.

4.

This comes from an account of the life of Ha’nish, originally published in the Mazdaznan Magazine in 1944 (the centenary of ‘the Master’s’ birth), and reproduced online at: http://mazdaznan.ca/shop/product_info.php?cPath=1&products_id=52

5.

Only part of the book (Lesson 9) dealt with sex, and even that could hardly be deemed “obscene”. The rest of the book dealt with a diverse range of topics from herbal or vegetable medicines (there is a delightful one on p.30 beginning, “first insert into the rectum a long clove of garlic”), colonic irrigation, diet, the dire physical and spiritual effects of constipation, and the dangers of corsets for women.

6.

This comes from a recap of Ha’nish’s earlier crimes, contained in a newspaper account of further accusations of what we would now call child abuse, made in 1918, the accusations being made by girls as well as boys, ranging in ages from 11 to 15 years. The account was published in The Saturday Blade, a Chicago newspaper, on January 3rd, 1920, p.1. It can be found online at http://antiqueclippings.blogspot.co.uk/2008/04/mazdaznan-leader-nabbed-in-chicago.html. The nature of the child abuse is not clear, and one should beware of reading too much into newspaper accounts, but if the Billy Lindsay case of 1912 is anything to go by (and it was this case which prompted the authorities to investigate the Mazdaznan cult), probably a large part of it was child-neglect brought about by parents who had become too involved with the teachings of the cult to look after their own offspring properly.