Manly Palmer Hall (March 18, 1901 – August 29, 1990) was a Canadian-born author and mystic. He is best known for his 1928 work The Secret Teachings of All Ages, of which Apollo astronaut Edgar Mitchell wrote: “Manly Hall’s great work is a classic in the world’s literature. It will guide historians, philosophers, and lay seekers of esoteric wisdom for centuries.”
Manly P. Hall was born in 1901 in Peterborough, Ontario, Canada, to William S. Hall, a dentist, and Louise Palmer Hall, a chiropractor and member of the Rosicrucian Fellowship. In 1919 Hall, who never knew his father, moved from Canada to Los Angeles, California, with his maternal grandmother to reunite with his birth mother, who was living in Santa Monica, and was almost immediately drawn to the arcane world of mysticism, esoteric philosophies, and their underlying principles. Hall delved deeply into “teachings of lost and hidden traditions, the golden verses of Hindu gods, Greek philosophers and Christian mystics, and the spiritual treasures waiting to be found within one’s own soul.” Less than a year later, Hall booked his first lecture, and the topic was reincarnation.
A tall (6′ 4″), imposing, confident and charismatic speaker who soon took over as preacher of the Church of the People in 1919, at Trinity Auditorium in downtown Los Angeles, he read voraciously on comparative religion, philosophy, sociology and psychology, and seemingly overnight became a one-stop source of an astonishing range of eclectic spiritual material. Hall was ordained a minister in the Church of the People on May 17, 1923, and a few days later, he was elected permanent pastor of the church.
His first publications consisted of two small pamphlets, “The Breastplate of the High Priest” (1920), and “Wands and Serpents.” Between 1921 and 1923 he wrote three books, The Initiates of the Flame published in October 1922, The Ways of the Lonely Ones published in 1922, and The Lost Keys of Freemasonry published in March 1923.
During the early 1920s, Carolyn Lloyd and her daughter Estelle—members of a family that controlled a valuable oil field in Ventura County, California—began “sending a sizeable portion of their oil income to Hall,” who used the money to travel and acquire a substantial personal library of ancient literature. Hall’s first trip around the world to study the lives, customs and religions of countries in Asia and Europe, which commenced December 5, 1923, was paid for by donations from Carolyn Lloyd and his congregation.
Later in 1928, at the age of 27 years, he published An Encyclopedic Outline of Masonic, Hermetic, Qabbalistic and Rosicrucian Symbolical Philosophy: Being an Interpretation of the Secret Teachings concealed within the Rituals, Allegories and Mysteries of all Ages, which is more commonly referred to as The Secret Teachings of All Ages. The major books which followed include The Dionysian Artificers (1936), Freemasonry of the Ancient Egyptians (1937), and Masonic Orders of Fraternity (1950).
Hall became sufficiently known and respected as a lecturer and interpreter of the writings of the ancients, and the most useful and practical elements of classical idealism, that he successfully crowd-funded, through advertisements and word of mouth, to finance the book that became The Secret Teachings of All Ages. It’s original cost of publication in 1928 was estimated to be $150,000, although the price of individual copies varied. According to original subscription agreements on file at the Philosophical Research Society, editions were sold by subscription for $75 on a pre-publication basis, but “the price of this edition after delivery by the printer is understood to be One Hundred Dollars.” Under the subscription terms, $15 was due at signing of the agreement, and “the balance of Sixty Dollars in four equal monthly payments each.” The H.S. Crocker Company of San Francisco agreed to publish the book “if Hall could secure the interest of book designer John Henry Nash, who once worked as a printer to the Vatican.”
After The Secret Teachings of All Ages was published, Hall went from being just another earnest young preacher in the City of Angels to becoming an icon of the increasingly influential metaphysical movement sweeping the country in the 1920s. His book challenged assumptions about society’s spiritual roots and made people look at them in new ways. Hall dedicated The Secret Teachings of All Ages to “the proposition that concealed within the emblematic figures, allegories and rituals of the ancients is a secret doctrine concerning the inner mysteries of life, which doctrine has been preserved in toto among a small band of initiated minds.”
As one writer put it: “The result was a gorgeous, dreamlike book of mysterious symbols, concise essays and colorful renderings of mythical beasts rising out of the sea, and angelic beings with lions’ heads presiding over somber initiation rites in torch-lit temples of ancestral civilizations that had mastered latent powers beyond the reach of modern man.”
In 1988, Hall himself wrote: “The greatest knowledge of all time should be available to the twentieth century not only in the one shilling editions of the Bohn Library in small type and shabby binding, but in a book that would be a monument, not merely a coffin. John Henry Nash agreed with me.”
More than 80 years later, with more than a million copies sold, The Secret Teachings of All Ages remains one of the most popular introductions to esoteric traditions. The 1928 first editions of The Secret Teachings of All Ages are considered classic examples of the printing and bookbinding arts, with the later reprinted versions in the original format of considerably lesser quality.
In 1934, Hall founded the Philosophical Research Society (PRS) in Los Angeles, California, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the study of religion, mythology, metaphysics, and the occult. He was a Knight Patron of the Masonic Research Group of San Francisco, with which he was associated for a number of years prior to his Masonic affiliations. On June 28, 1954, Hall initiated as a Freemason into Jewel Lodge No. 374, San Francisco (now the United Lodge); passed September 20, 1954; and raised November 22, 1954. He took the Scottish Rite Degrees a year later. He later received his 32° in the Valley of San Francisco AASR (SJ). On December 8, 1973 (47 years after writing The Secret Teachings of All Ages), Hall was recognized as a 33° Mason (the highest honor conferred by the Supreme Council of the Scottish Rite) at a ceremony held at the Philosophical Research Society (PRS).
In his over 70-year career, Hall delivered approximately 8,000 lectures in the United States and abroad, authored over 150 books and essays, and wrote countless magazine articles. In 1942, Manly Hall spoke to an attendance-setting audience at Carnegie Hall, on “The Secret Destiny of America,” which later became a book of the same title. He returned in 1945 for another well-attended lecture at the famous venue, titled: “Plato’s Prophecy of Worldwide Democracy.” It was reported in 2010 that President Ronald Reagan adopted some ideas and phrasing from Hall’s book The Secret Destiny of America (1944), using them in speeches and essays. For more on that, see here:
Hall and his followers went to extreme lengths to keep any gossip or information that could tarnish his image from being publicized, and little is known about his first marriage, on April 28, 1930, to Fay B. deRavenne, then 28, who had been his secretary during the preceding five years. The marriage was not a happy one; his friends never discussed it, and Hall removed virtually all information about her from his papers following her suicide on February 22, 1941. Following a long friendship, on December 5, 1950, Hall married Marie Schweikert Bauer (following her divorce from George Bauer), and the marriage though stormy was happier than his first. Marie Schweikert Bauer Hall died April 21, 2005.
One authority on Manly Hall, the executive editor of Tarcher/Penguin in New York, Mitch Horowitz, has written extensively on the mystic’s life and influence, particularly in his well-regarded book “Occult America”. Below is an article he wrote for New Dawn Magazine on the subject (offered in its entirety):
“The late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries saw an explosion of spiritual teachers and impresarios dealing in “secret wisdom.” Their ranks included hacks and frauds – as well as more than a few genuine scholars of esoteric traditions. Most have vanished from memory, their writings a historical footnote.
There exists one distinct figure, though, whose movement and teachings not only survived his passing but are even experiencing a revival in our day. His name is Manly P. Hall. While few academicians will ever know of him, Hall was among the twentieth century’s – and perhaps any century’s – most commanding and unusual scholars of esoteric and mythological lore. Yet the source of his knowledge and the extent of his virtuosity can justly be called a mystery.
While working as a clerk at a Wall Street banking firm – the “outstanding event” of which involved “witnessing a man depressed over investment losses take his life” – the 28-year-old Hall self-published one of the most complex and thoroughgoing works ever to catalogue the esoteric wisdom of antiquity, The Secret Teachings of All Ages. Hall’s Secret Teachings is almost impossible to classify. Written and compiled on an Alexandrian scale, its hundreds of entries shine a rare light on some of the most fascinating and little-understood aspects of myth, religion, and philosophy.
Today, more than seventy-five years after its initial publication, the book’s range of material astonishes: Pythagorean mathematics; alchemical formulae; Hermetic doctrine; the workings of Kabala; the geometry of Ancient Egypt; the Native American myths; the uses of cryptograms; an analysis of the Tarot; the symbols of Rosicrucianism; the esotericism of the Shakespearean dramas – these are just a few of Hall’s topics. Yet his background betrays little clue to his virtuosity.
Hall was born in Peterborough, Ontario, in 1901 to parents who would shortly divorce, leaving the young Manly in the care of a grandmother who raised him in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. He had little formal schooling. But there was a spark of some indefinable brilliance in the young man, which his grandmother tried to nurture in trips to museums in Chicago and New York.
Tragedy struck early, when his grandmother died when he was 16. Afterward, a self-styled Rosicrucian community in California took him in. At age 19, suspicious of the community’s claims to ancient wisdom, Manly moved on his own to Los Angeles where he began a precocious career in public speaking – first giving an address on reincarnation in a small room above a bank in Santa Monica, and soon rising to the rank of minister at a liberal evangelical congregation called The Church of the People.
Word spread of the boy wonder’s mastery of arcane and metaphysical subject matter. He attracted benefactors and eventually began travelling the world in search of hidden wisdom. Yet Hall’s early letters from Japan, Egypt, China, and India are, in many respects, fairly ordinary: They contain little of the eye-opening detail or wonder of discovery that one finds in the writings of other early twentieth-century seekers encountering the East for the first time. More often they read like prosaic, if somewhat sensitive, linear travelogues of their day.
Like a bolt from the blue, however, one is astounded to discover a short work of immense power from the young Hall – a book that seems to prefigure that which would come. In 1922, at the age of 21, Hall wrote a luminescent gem on the mystery schools of antiquity, Initiates of the Flame. Though brief, one sees in it the outline of what would become The Secret Teachings of All Ages. On its frontispiece, Initiates of the Flame boldly announces: “He who lives the Life shall know the Doctrine.”
The short book goes on to expound passionately and in detail on Egyptian rites, Arthurian myths, and the secrets of alchemy, among other subjects. Feeling the power and ease in its pages, the reader can almost sense the seeds of greatness that were beginning to take hold in Hall’s grasp of esoteric subjects.
Hall soon returned to America, where he tried his hand at banking – though he found his true path in the beaux arts Reading Room of the New York Public Library. Entering this cavernous space today, it is not difficult to picture the large-framed, young Manly P. Hall surrounded by books of myth and symbol at one of the room’s huge oaken tables. Like a monk of the Middle Ages, Hall copiously, almost superhumanly, pored over hundreds of the great works of antiquity, distilling their esoteric lore into his volume.
By the age of 28, having pre-sold subscriptions for nearly 1,000 copies (and printing 1,200 more), Hall published what would become known as “The Great Book” – and it has never gone out of print since.
Indeed, Hall is an exception to most of his contemporaries as someone whose work is actually building in influence today. In its day, the Secret Teachings was expensive, hefty, and cumbersome. As a result, the book spent much of its existence as an underground classic. In late 2003, however, the Secret Teachings found new life in a reset and redesigned “reader’s edition,” which has sold a remarkable 40,000 copies in less than three years. (1) A little-known 1929 companion volume by Hall, called Lectures on Ancient Philosophy, has also been recently reissued.
After publishing his magnum opus, Hall opened a campus in 1934 in the Griffith Park neighbourhood of Los Angeles called The Philosophical Research Society (PRS), where he spent the rest of his life teaching, writing, and amassing a remarkable library of esoterica. A self-contained property designed in a pastiche of Mayan, Egyptian, and art deco styles, PRS remains a popular destination for LA’s spiritually curious.
Following Hall’s death in 1990, PRS barely survived simultaneous legal battles – one with Hall’s widow, who claimed the group owed her money, and another with a bizarre father-son team of con artists who, in the estimation of a civil court judge, had befriended an ailing, octogenarian Hall to pilfer his assets. The Los Angeles Police Department considered Hall’s death sufficiently suspicious to keep it under investigation for several years.
For all his literary output, Hall revealed little about his private life. His most lasting record is a frequently trite, unrevealing childhood memoir called Growing Up with Grandmother (in which he refers to his guardian as “Mrs. Arthur Whitney Palmer”). As an adult, Hall’s close relations were few. He did not marry until well into middle age, in a union some surmise was never consummated.
Hence, when Hall disclosed something about his background, it was purposeful. He wrote this in a PRS newsletter in 1959:
“As a result of a confused and insecure childhood, it was necessary for me to formulate a personal philosophy with which to handle immediate situations.”
Here was someone with a tremendous interest in the arcane philosophies of the world, in the occult and metaphysical philosophies, but he wasn’t fixated on immortality, or a will to power, or on discovering keys that unlock the universe. Rather, he was focused on harnessing inner truths in a very practical way. How, he wondered, could such ideas lend clarity to daily life?
We’ll take a byroad that steers us in another direction before returning to this point. Our byroad involves one of the most famous novels in history, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. The work has many facets, among them a portrait – not sympathetic, but not as unsympathetic as one might suppose – of the European occult in the Enlightenment era. The portrait comes in the character of a young Victor von Frankenstein, a budding scientist torn between the occult teachings that drew him to science as a child and the prevailing rationalism of his teachers. Victor confides his interest in the great alchemists and occult philosophers, such as the Renaissance-era magus Cornelius Agrippa, but his professors dismiss him with complete condescension.
One day in his room, Victor ponders the unbridgeable gap between his magical visions and the scholasticism of his peers:
“I had a contempt for the uses of modern natural philosophy. It was very different when the masters of science sought immortality and power; such views, although futile, were grand; but now the scene was changed. The ambition of the inquirer seemed to limit itself to the annihilation of those visions on which my interest in science was chiefly founded. I was required to exchange chimeras of boundless grandeur for realities of little worth.”
In a sense, Victor spoke for generations of occultists when describing his ideal of boundless grandeur, immortality, power, and visions. (And who wouldn’t sympathise with the rebellious young Victor – whose dreams and ambitions, while hopeless, exist on a grand scale – versus the certainties of his crusty professors?)
An occult scholar born at the cusp of the twentieth century, Manly P. Hall signalled a different kind of ideal. Hall told of “a personal philosophy with which to handle immediate situations.” After Hall’s death, a reporter in the Los Angeles Times noted, “Followers say he believed in reincarnation and in a mixture of the Golden Rule and living in moderation.”
For Hall, the very act of writing The Secret Teachings of All Ages was an attempt at formulating an ethical response to the age he lived in. While the book is at times speculative and some of its sources are limited by the constraints of their era, it is the only codex to esoteric ideas that treats its subject with total seriousness. Contemporaneous works, such as The Golden Bough, regarded indigenous religious traditions as superstition – interesting museum pieces worthy of anthropological study but of no direct relevance to our current lives. Hall, on the other hand, felt himself on a mission to re-establish a connection to the mystery traditions at a time when America, as he saw it, had given itself over to the Jazz-Age materialism he witnessed at his banking job.
“After I thought the matter over,” he wrote a few years before his death, “it seemed necessary to establish some kind of firm ground upon which personal idealism could mingle its hopes and aspirations with the wisdom of the ages.”
In this sense, the prodigious scholar achieved more than a cataloguing of esoteric truths. He turned the study of occult ideas into an ethical cause.”
1. For further details, see “Bringing the Secret Teachings Into the 21st Century” by Mitch Horowitz at http://www.lapismagazine.org.
Mitch Horowitz is an editor and publisher of many years’ experience with a lifelong interest in man’s search for meaning. The executive editor of Tarcher/Penguin in New York, he adapted the present article from his book in progress on the American occult. His history of Ouija Boards will appear in the Fall issue of Esopus, a biannual of arts and culture. You can visit his website at http://www.mitchhorowitz.com.
© Copyright New Dawn Magazine, http://www.newdawnmagazine.com. Permission granted to freely distribute this article for non-commercial purposes if unedited and copied in full, including this notice.
A website dedicated to Manly P. Hall can be found here:
Some selected quotes from Manly P. Hall:
“Man’s status in the natural world is determined, therefore, by the quality of his thinking.”
“If the infinite had not desired man to be wise, he would not have bestowed upon him the faculty of knowing.”
“Experiences are the chemicals of life with which the philosopher experiments.”
“To live in the world without becoming aware of the meaning of the world is like wandering about in a great library without touching the books.”
“Universals cannot become particulars and particulars cannot become universals, but universals exist according to degrees and particulars exist according to conditions.”
“We can only escape from the world by outgrowing the world. Death may take man out of the world but only wisdom can take the world out of the man. As long as the human being is obsessed by worldliness, he will suffer from the Karmic consequences of false allegiances. When however, worldliness is transmuted into Spiritual Integrity he is free, even though he still dwells physically among worldly things.”
“The criers of the Mysteries speak again, bidding all men welcome to the House of Light. The great institution of materiality has failed. The false civilization built by man has turned, and like the monster of Frankenstein, is destroying its creator. Religion wanders aimlessly in the maze of theological speculation. Science batters itself impotently against the barriers of the unknown. Only transcendental philosophy knows the path. Only the illumined reason can carry the understanding part of man upward to the light. Only philosophy can teach man to be born well, to live well, to die well, and in perfect measure be born again. Into this band of the elect–those who have chosen the life of knowledge, of virtue, and of utility–the philosophers of the ages invite YOU.”
“Though the modern world may know a million secrets, the ancient world knew one – and that was greater than the million; for the million secrets breed death, disaster, sorrow, selfishness, lust, and avarice, but the one secret confers life, light, and truth.”
“Man is given by Nature, a gift, and that gift is the privilege of labor. Through labor he learns all things.”
“What nobler relationship than that of friend? What nobler compliment can man bestow than friendship? The bonds and ties of the life we know break easily, but through eternity one bond remains – the bond of fellowship – the fellowship of atoms, of star dust in its endless flight, of suns and worlds, of gods and men. The clasped hands of comradeship unite in a bond eternal – the fellowship of spirit.”
“The accepted theory that the serpent is evil cannot be substantiated. It has long been viewed as the emblem of immortality. It is the symbol of reincarnation, or metempsychosis, because it annually sheds its skin…It was also believed that snakes swallowed themselves, and this resulted in their being considered emblematic of the Supreme Creator, who periodically reabsorbed His universe back into Himself.”
“Few seek wisdom for its own sake; most desire it only as a solution to the discomforts of life. While wisdom certainly releases man from bondage to trivial annoyances, it also bestows upon him a larger responsibility than he ever knew.”
“If, as Plato has so nobly written, philosophy is the greatest good which the gods have ever conferred upon men, it naturally follows that the possession of it bestows the greatest wealth that any person is capable of accumulating. A philosopher is not one who reads, studies or memorizes the thoughts or opinions of others, but one who so cherishes the great ideals of the race that he lives a harmless and creative life.”
“Ignorance is not overcome by brute force—it is overcome only by enlightenment.”
“Philosophy is the perfect science and the science of perfection.”
“The living of philosophy is the most noble of all arts.”
“Wisdom is a condition of consciousness rather than an attitude of mind. Wisdom is that state of being in which an individual finds himself when realization has tinctured and transmuted all attitudes and opinions. A wise man is one who has experienced wisdom, wisdom in this sense being a mystical experience.”
“In order that you may have a working knowledge of philosophical fundamentals, it is first necessary to lay a metaphysical foundation, that is, a foundation in superphysical principles. Visible nature is but a small part of existence. Although we are limited to visible nature in our present state, we can never live intelligently or think accurately until we have some understanding of that larger world which extends beyond the physical shell of our environment.
According to Metaphysics, Being is an eternal unchanging Principle and is denominated the First Cause. Pythagoras defines God as an immeasurable and inconceivable Being whose soul is composed of the substance of truth and whose body is composed of the substance of light.
Metaphysics teaches us that God is not a personality but rather that Divine Life upon which all things subsist and that this One Life manifests attributes which are also divine principles.”
“We all desire to achieve security—spiritual, mental and physical. We know that security is conferred only by wisdom and only a wise man can rise above the ills “the flesh is heir to.” Heraclitus of Ephesus said: “Character is fate.” This is probably one of the most significant statements ever uttered by man. Our destiny is measured by what we are. If we would come to a good end we must possess a character which justifies that end. Character is made up of several factors. Chief of these is our philosophical perspective. WE live upon the level of our thoughts and ideals.”
“Our first lesson is to seek to understand, at least in part, the origin of the universe and our own place therein, and to sense the sublimity of the divine plan. Contemplation of the transcendent beauties of this mystical theology will elevate our minds above those narrow and unworthy concepts which bind us to an ignoble state. It will give us a spiritual perspective by which we can live more usefully, happily, intelligently and completely. We cannot consider lightly, or as merely speculative, the old metaphysical philosophies, for what can be more practical or more useful than a discipline which directs our attention to the nobler aspects of life and invites us into a mystical communion with that Eternal Spirit which dwells in the furthermost and the innermost?”
“Absolute knowledge exists only in the Divine Nature itself and is alone discoverable by the inner perceptions of an enlightened soul. This is because the soul itself, being part of the Divine Nature, partakes subjectively of divine knowledge.”
“Truth is a divine light, invisible to mortal eyes, but all-penetrating. Matter is a prism. The light of truth, striking this prism, breaks into a spectrum—a spectrum of intellectual colors. These colors considered separately are the departments of knowledge. Thus knowledge is truth conditioned and broken up, but all real knowledge contains within it some element of truth. Some part of the whole is in all of the parts, even as some part of God is in every part of nature.”
“The individual absorbs knowledge, but Truth absorbs the individual.”
“From perception the intellect rises to examination, from examination to reflection. What we call education today is merely the racial inheritance of things seen, examined, and reflected upon. From reflection the reasoning part (commonly termed the mind) rises to knowledge, which is a synthesis of the three former processes. From knowledge it rises to understanding; from understanding to wisdom; and from wisdom it ascends finally to Truth.”
“Below knowledge lies instinct and the physical perceptions. Above knowledge rises intuition and the spiritual perceptions. Thus, knowledge unites the two worlds—the divine and the animal. Conversely, knowledge also divides them.
Knowledge, illumined by spiritual purpose, lifts the soul to understanding. Knowledge, unillumined and undirected, depresses the soul into a sphere of criticism and skepticism, an evil state into which, alas, most of our educational institutions have fallen.”
“Truth is God as fact. In other words, Deity is the consummation of every condition and extension of energy conceivable by man. Thus, God, in terms of time or extension, is Eternity. God, in terms of emotion, is Divine Love; and God, in terms of fact, is absolute Truth. To know Truth, therefore, one must know God and to know God man must have discovered divinity in all of its manifestations and have become one with that divinity.
The search for Truth is life. The realization of Truth is illumination. The practice of Truth is virtue. Truth is the Hermetic medicine, the universal panacea, the balm of Gilead which cures all of the diseases which are caused by ignorance.”
“By philosophy, we come to know that we live, move and have our being in a sea of Divine energy, supported by the Infinite Wisdom, and nourished by the Infinite Life. Energy as capacity or capability is also opportunity. As the infinite opportunity to do, it is by reflex the opportunity to be or to accomplish through action. Energy is that “magical agent” of the old transcendentalists, by the proper use of which, we build character, and through the perversion of which, we destroy ourselves and our world. Virtue and vice are manifestations of our capacity for action. No man thinks, feels or moves of himself but because of God (energy) within him. Every thought, emotion and action is a sacred mystery and not a meaningless accident, as materialists would have us think. Wisdom arises out of the right use of mental energy; virtue out of the right use of emotional energy; and health out of the balance and integrity of physical energy. Life is a spiritual adventure in the use of divine forces and energies. He who uses them well lives well and is himself in a state of well-being.”
“The divine quality which the ancient theologists discovered in all parts of nature has been destroyed by the modern attitude towards learning.”
“The wise man sustains his reason by feeding upon a sufficient diet of thoughts. He abstains from that which will bring sickness to his mind by eliminating from his thinking and living all thoughts and actions which are unreasonable and destructive.”
“All human beings have latent faculties and powers, but all are not privileged to develop them at this time. Before it would be safe to loosen the tongue of the malignant creature who calls himself a man, it would first be necessary to transmute the bitterness in his heart.
In a similar manner, before it would be advisable to liberate man from the natural paralysis of ignorance, there should be assurance that the newly awakened faculties shall be a blessing to humanity and not a curse. Before the Masters give man the power to loosen his tongue, his heart must be purified so that the power which is given him shall not frustrate the plan of true spiritual unfoldment. This is the real reason for the periods of probationship. During these periods the mind and heart are cleansed of those things which, if given power of expression, would work evil. When the supreme forces of Nature are placed in the hands of the newly raised initiate, his heart, his mind, and his soul must accept these gifts with divine humility without thought of self, and use them for the greatest good to the greatest number.”