Radiant Living

By Philippa Hadlow 

Reading time: 12 minutes

In 1941, Sir Edmond Hillary closed a dissertation on ‘Inferiority - Cause and Cure’ with the words “Nothing can prevent us from reaching our desired goal”. It was Hillary’s final test in graduating to become an accredited Radiant Living teacher. The subject of the exam was Intuition and Inspiration in which Hillary ended his efforts with the exhortation “I can!” – a stance that took him to the top of the world in 1953 when he and Tenzing Norgay made history by becoming the first adventurers to conquer Mount Everest.

While my mother never met the 13-years-younger Hillary during her time as a Radiant ‘Liver’, she would have endorsed his positive mental attitude (coincidentally echoed by James Bond’s KGB companion Anya Amasova in The Spy Who Loved Me: “The three keys to survival: positive mental attitude, food and shared bodily warmth, James”).

By Philippa Hadlow 

Reading time: 12 minutes

In 1941, Sir Edmond Hillary closed a dissertation on ‘Inferiority – Cause and Cure’ with the words “Nothing can prevent us from reaching our desired goal”. It was Hillary’s final test in graduating to become an accredited Radiant Living teacher. The subject of the exam was Intuition and Inspiration in which Hillary ended his efforts with the exhortation “I can!” – a stance that took him to the top of the world in 1953 when he and Tenzing Norgay made history by becoming the first adventurers to conquer Mount Everest.

While my mother never met the 13-years-younger Hillary during her time as a Radiant ‘Liver’, she would have endorsed his positive mental attitude (coincidentally echoed by James Bond’s KGB companion Anya Amasova in The Spy Who Loved Me: “The three keys to survival: positive mental attitude, food and shared bodily warmth, James”).

Mum wasn’t quite as risqué as Bond, but she was still quite avant-garde for her time and, like Hillary, also followed ‘New Thought’ teacher Herbert Sutcliffe’s (D.Sc., PhD, F.F.Sc. (Lond.)) 1930s Radiant Living philosophy – a holistic practice, which in my opinion, made perfect sense.

Herbert Sutcliffe, founder of the Radiant Living movement in New Zealand
Photo: Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington

In 1938, English-born Herbie – as he was familiarly known – moved from Australia to New Zealand. Throughout the previous decade, his involvement with the Australian Psychology Society and Ohio-based liberal spirituality group International New Thought Alliance (INTA) gained him doctorates in psychology and divinity. This, plus other pursuits enmeshed in the Laws of Nature inspired him to formulate a package of proto-New Age beliefs based on Christianity, New Thought, and transcendentalism.

Radiant Living: the official organ of the Sutcliffe Schools of Radiant Living
Photo: Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington. Courtesy Hilary Stace

Freemason Sutcliffe believed that good mental health was the key to better physical health and called his philosophy the School of Radiant Living. It met with a ready audience in pseudoscience-liberal parts of the world and the first school of its kind was established in Providence, Rhode Island, USA in 1931. A further 24 more were set up in the US, Canada, Hong Kong, and Australia and there were 12 schools in New Zealand alone.

Mental and Physical Elimination Diet, as recommended by Herbert Sutcliffe
Photo: Courtesy Janice Perry

I wonder why his alternative health advocacy was so well received – in New Zealand, particularly. As a distraction from the second world war, perhaps, it thrived here. During the ‘40s, when Mum was 11 years old, her mother, Nina Roberts, would hold public lectures on the movement. She and hundreds of other followers spoke on the power of connecting mind, body, and spirit as the three cornerstones to good health. As such, practices (many predating current-day mainstream ideology) like thinking positively, affirmations, imbibing, and reflecting colour, exercising, music, detoxing, and eating a ‘radiant’ diet were suggested as therapy.

As an adjunct to good psychological and physical health, public speaking was encouraged – not only to spread Radiant Living credo but to gain personal confidence and poise. A correct posture was to be maintained while speaking, with one’s hands positioned fist on top of fist with the lower thumb grasped by the upper fist – perhaps as a way of keeping the body’s energy connected in a ‘circle of eight’. In repose, one would sit with palms curved and facing up, ready to receive whatever good might fall into them.

Mum talks often about the ‘good begets good’ expectation instilled by the movement, of the importance of recognising the human soul, of learning mental strategies towards gaining good health, and of acquiring the physical resilience to cope, adjust, adapt and be agile against adversity. The Radiant Living motto: “Faith and Persistence Wins Through” is as appropriate now as it was back then – possibly more so – while the mandate Herbert Sutcliffe espoused most was for Peace, Love, and Harmony – again, an approach well needed for our troubled nations today.

In 1942, Sutcliffe moved to Havelock North, eastern New Zealand. The region was already recognised for alternative thought from the early 19th century and has remained so to a lesser degree today. Quakers (members of the Protestant Christian Society of Friends) had settled there in numbers and were known for challenging established religious traditions and for promoting gender, race and class equity, and religious tolerance. Liberal Anglicans, Rudolph Steiner advocates, Freemasons, mystical secret societies, and theosophy groups all bloomed in Havelock as well, gleaning support from those like-minded residents seeking a (w)holistic and spiritual lifestyle. Their endeavours were known as the ‘Havelock Work’ and when Sutcliffe joined them in 1942, he fitted right in.

Havelock North spurred Sutcliffe’s love for the colour blue (from the sky) and yellow (from the gorse) and he bought a large, Quaker-style home on the slopes of Te Mata Peak, naming his 26-acre property after his pledge for PEace, LOve, and HArmony: Peloha. There, he held Easter services, offered a health retreat, teaching centre, and conference facility. He wrote a monthly magazine called Radiant Living and provided detailed organisational requirements for each of his 12 schools as well as continuing with his nationwide lecture tour circuits.

The upshot of Sutcliffe’s tirelessly charismatic promotional work meant that the movement made an impact well beyond the minority ‘alternative’ sector and penetrated mainstream organisations – like political entities – who thoroughly approved. Annual banquets were often attended by mayors, MPs and other dignitaries and at a meeting in Wellington in the 1940s, Prime Minister Peter Fraser apparently suggested that if more people followed Radiant Living health principles, he would be closing hospitals rather than opening them.

Peace, love, and harmony may sound hippy-era, but Radiant Living was a very early precursor to The New Age Movement of the ‘70s and ‘80s. The founding ‘parents’ of Radiant Living’s New Thought philosophy were: Phineas Parkhurst Quimby (1802-1866) who believed in the healing power of Jesus, Mary Baker Eddy (1821-1910) who established Christian Science (of which my grandmother was a devout follower), and transcendentalist writer Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862).

While the New Age looked forward to a time of love and light, personal transformation, and healing based on the idea of acquiring mystical knowledge (popular in the West since the 2nd century AD), Radiant Living was already streets ahead.

Radiant Living certainly worked as a new kind of groundbreaker in teaching spiritual (inner) health, but physical and psychological healing were equally valid. Sutcliffe was influenced by Sigmund Freud, Alfred Adler (who developed the inferiority complex personality concepts harnessed by Sir Edmund Hillary), and Carl Jung’s emphasis on personal counselling which incorporated a metaphysical element. He believed that one must acknowledge the existence of the soul, “the invisible which can be visualised as a (radiant) source for good within us all and which outlasts our physical life on earth”.

As an adult, Mum would attend Herbie’s Radiant Living (RL) classes with fellow-minded friends. While practising the loose Christian tenets proposed by the movement, she would sing the RL song ‘In my Heart there lies a Melody of Love’. She would build brightly coloured salads to feed her RL-designated thoracic, joyous-alimentive personality type, influenced by the statement that “Colour, beauty, exquisite artistry find joyous expression in the Art of Salad Making. The homemaker who serves salads so deliciously and artistically tempting that the family cannot resist is thereby blessing all with the glorious gift of health” – Radiant Living Dec/Jan 1958-59.

Mother refused to say or hear a bad word about anyone and though she was relentless in her futile attempts to keep family relations harmonious, she still managed to forgive us our fiery personalities – a tolerance no doubt aided by her Radiant Living Ten Day Elimination routine.

Each morning, she would rise from bed, stretch in the prescribed manner, and utter the mantra three times: “Thank God I am alive! I harmonise myself with the foods that cleanse and heal the body. I fill my mind with life, love and power.”

At 10am, she would follow this affirmation with: “All anxiety is passing from me to the Infinite Life, and congested body-cells are being dispersed now.”

At noon she would say: “I maintain my peace with the universe, and with the vitalising processes of radiant living,” and at 4pm: “I unfold all problems and place them in the hands of divine wisdom. They are no longer mine. Nature is adjusting my physical body for perfect health.”

Radiant Living follower Janice Perry and writer daughter Philippa

As a child growing up in a modern version of the New Age, I could relate entirely to Mum’s conviction. Watching the actions typifying Radiant Living gave me a sense of hope, health, and faith. It instilled a feeling of being at one with life rather than at odds and that yes, we do have some control – not so much over what happens in our own tiny world, but in how to deal with it. Seeing the merging of positive esoteric, nutritional, and mental practices made perfect sense and what’s more, it made me feel good.

In 1971, Sutcliffe died peacefully at his beloved Peloha. His once numerous followers faded – though not entirely. Many devotees continued with his work, sometimes assimilating aspects of it into other pseudoscience practices.

In 1981, his second wife Phyllis Sutcliffe also died and later that decade, Peloha estate was sold to Weleda, manufacturers of herbal medicines and homoeopathic health supplements.

Sutcliffe’s legacy has lived on in various positive social contexts. Following the sale of Peloha, in 1989, a large endowment was made to Victoria University of Wellington to establish the Herbert Sutcliffe scholarships for disadvantaged students. Other educational institutions, such as Hōhepa Homes which assists children with learning difficulties, were also given endowments. In 1998, one of his earliest texts, How to re-make your life (1931), was republished by Sally Fallon and the Ascended Master Teaching Foundation.

In a lecture held in Palmerston North on September 28, 1940, newcomer Herbert Sutcliffe emphasised to a curious crowd: “The paramount thought in every mind today, is that we must do something about the terrible catastrophe through which the world is passing.” It seems likely Sutcliffe was referring to the turmoil of World War Two in a positive sentiment we could now apply to our current pandemic and worldwide unrest.

 

 

Image source: nzhistory.govt.nz/culture/radiant-living (Ministry for Culture and Heritage)

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