The Great Work of Manly Hall
Source: Occult of Personality
… the great materialistic progress which we have venerated for so long is on the verge of bankruptcy. We can no longer believe that we are born into this world to accumulate wealth and abandon ourselves to mortal pleasures. We see the dangers and realize that we have been exploited for centuries. We were told the twentieth century was the most progressive that the world has ever known, but unfortunately the progression was in the direction of self-destruction.
To avoid a future of war, crime, and bankruptcy, the individual must begin to plan his own destiny, and the best source for the necessary information comes down to us through the writings of the ancients. The greatest knowledge of all time should be available … in a book that would be a monument, not merely a coffin.
– Manly P. Hall in the preface to the diamond jubilee edition of The Secret Teachings of All Ages
Perhaps one of the greatest works of occult reference ever composed, Manly P. Hall’s The Secret Teachings of All Ages is a true masterpiece. Were it to be published for the first time nowadays, the subtitle would of course be included on the cover — “An Encyclopedic Outline of Masonic, Hermetic, Qabbalistic, and Rosicrucian Symbolical Philosophy.” This tome covers all these topics and many more. This is the book that sits on my desk as a reference to be opened first, whenever a question arises or a quote is required. Hall has truly recorded exactly what his title indicates. How this epic tome came to be is a story in itself.
Hall was born March 18, 1901 in Peterborough, Ontario. His parents divorced and he was raised in Sioux Falls, South Dakota by his maternal grandmother, Florence Palmer. A sickly child, Hall spent much of his time reading. At some point, they moved to Chicago and then Hall attended a military school. When Hall was sixteen, his grandmother died. Somehow, a young Manly Hall ended up in the care of a “self-styled Rosicrucian community” in California. Hall lived with this group until, at age nineteen, he became “suspicious of their claims of ancient wisdom” and moved out on his own. From this point, Hall’s star began to rise. He lectured on various esoteric topics and garnered notoriety and sponsorship from many apparently very influential people to continue his esoteric studies. He traveled the world in search of ancient wisdom, including Egypt, India, China, and Japan. He was provided access to libraries containing ancient manuscripts that most men have never laid eyes upon, and most likely never will. Beginning in 1921 this research culminated in a two-year period from 1926 – 1928, during which time the majority of the research and writing was done. The most shocking thing of all is that this amazing book was completed before Hall’s twenty-eighth birthday! Hall did not only research and write this massive book, he raised funds and published it himself. The first printing was primarily for the many who invested in his project. It was such a hit that it has never once been out-of-print.
From his quote at the beginning of this piece, Hall’s motivation for writing, securing financing, and self-publishing The Secret Teachings of All Ages was in reaction to the blatant and reckless materialism he saw in society at the expense of the spiritual and mystical. Hall seemed to realize quite early in life that, for him, and he believed humanity, materialism was a false light that would leave only empty shells. His intent was to stoke the inner flame of wisdom and convince people to turn inward, just as he had done. Throughout his life, Hall was not a social man, somewhat reclusive, he lived the life of an ascetic. He knew the things he wrote and spoke of because he lived the ideals — “He who lives the Life shall know the Doctrine.”
The Secret Teachings of All Ages reads like a book written by a master, someone who has studied these topics for a lifetime, not less than a decade. Hall was clearly a prodigy, or savant, of a sort with the ability to absorb, internalize and decipher esoteric knowledge from many thousands of sources, if not more. However, one must at least ask, is there not some other method that Hall employed to compose this authoritative work? The following exchange illustrates the point:
The first question Mr. Claude Bragdon, American mystic, asked Mr. Hall after their first meeting in New York in 1937 was: â€œMr. Hall, how do you know so much more about the mathematics of Pythagoras than even the authorities on the subject?â€ Standing beside both these dear American friends of mine, I was wondering with trepidation in my heart what reply Mr. Hall would make. â€œMr. Bragdon,â€ answered Mr. Hall quickly, unhesitatingly, and with a simultaneous flash of smile in his eyes and on his lips, â€œyou are an occult philosopher. You know that it is easier to know things than to know how one knows those things.
Is it likely that Hall was assisted in more than just access to materials? No one can answer that for certain, but keep a few things in mind: Hall was raised from age 16 to 19 by a Rosicrucian group, he was associated with a myriad of other societies, including Freemasonry, he was also familiar with most every mystical and esoteric practice that was ever known in the past several thousand years, and probably some that weren’t so well known.
There are also a number of accusations regarding the book and Hall’s association with Masonry that concern Lucifer. In scouring the book to determine the nature of these charges, there doesn’t seem to be much basis. To be clear, let me quote from the text, the main section dealing with Lucifer, in a section entitled, “The Sun, A Universal Deity,” and you can be the judge:
Certain Rosicrucian scholars have given special appellations to these three phases of the sun: the spiritual sun they called Vulcan; the soular and intellectual sun, Christ and Lucifer respectively; and the material sun, the Jewish Demiurgus Jehovah; Lucifer here represents the intellectual mind without the illumination of the spiritual mind; therefore it is “the false light.” The false light is finally overcome and redeemed by the true light of the soul, called the Second Logos or Christ. The secret processes by which the Luciferian intellect is transmuted into the Christly intellect constitute one of the great secrets of alchemy, and are symbolized by the process of transmuting base metals into gold. (p. 142)
As Hall wished during his lifetime for people to turn away from their base instincts toward the spiritual and philosophical pursuits, his great work accomplishes that. The Secret Teachings of All Ages has been recognized as one of the foremost books on spirituality, the occult, and ancient myth and symbolism ever written. Although never out of print, when the Reader’s Edition was published in 2003, the book became even more popular. In an effort to understand Manly Hall and his great work a bit more, we’re pleased to bring you an interview with Mitch Horowitz, the publisher of The Secret Teachings of All Ages, Reader’s Edition. Thanks very much to Mitch for taking time out of his busy schedule to answer a few questions.
Can you describe your initial reactions to reading The Secret Teachings of All Ages and why you and others (myself included) find it such a compelling work?
I was astounded at the depth of learning in the book and at the author’s willingness to take seriously subjects that were often dismissed as fantasy. When Hall wrote the book, for example, mainstream academia was closed off to questions of re-dating the great pyramids or of whether the Delphic oracle provided a mediumistic experience similar to that of Victorian spiritualism. Due to current archeological research, academics have now come around to seeing the Oracle at Delphi in the manner presented by Hall — i.e., as a kind of ancient channeled reading — and, while there remains overwhelming resistance to the pyramid question within academia, that subject has come to public attention through the interest of legitimate independent scholars. So, the Secret Teachings was not only ahead of its time, but took measure of all range of unusual subject matter that had not been given its proper due.
Would you please trace the path from your introduction to the book to publication of the reader’s edition in 2003?
Like most readers I was dismayed that the book was so physically difficult to read, being oversized and featuring small typefaces and so forth. I thought: What if this book could be re-set in standard text and read a more straightforward manner? I found that such an approach brought out a readerly dimension to Hall’s writing that was not otherwise apparent. So, I had the entire work scanned, re-typed, and fully redesigned. In so doing, I attempted to retain as many of the original illustrations as possible — and certainly those that were key to the text. It was a really interesting experience turning the Secret Teachings back into a veritable manuscript and seeing it as a might have looked when it rolled off Hall’s typewriter.
Several times in your article, you alluded to the fact that Hall completed this massive tome that is still the standard before his thirtieth birthday. I find it amazing that one so young, and not even a professional researcher or academic, was capable of producing a book so crucial that any library is deficient without it. Would you care to speculate: is it more likely Hall was what we call today a prodigy, that he was being directed and assisted by one or more teachers, or some type of spiritual inspiration and communication? Perhaps some combination?
It really is astonishing that he wrote the book by age twenty-seven. That is one of the true mysteries of his achievement. Especially since some of his earliest writings — such as his letters from abroad — reveal no particular virtuosity. Some people have speculated that he had a photographic memory or was a kind of savant, which I think may be valid. Regarding other possibilities, such as some kind of supernormal communication or some such, it it simply too speculative to say. But this is an area that I am in real question about.
Do you think Hall’s private life (secluded, not social) is a result of his fascination with occult secret teachings? Do you believe there to be any connection to the spirituality and mysticism that Hall studied and the ascetic lifestyle which he seemingly lived?
That’s an interesting question. In once sense, it is a matter of sobering caution that Hall’s vast knowledge of different spiritual systems failed to feed his own personal life in certain obvious ways — for example, he was taken advantage of by various figures toward the end of his life. He did, of course, maintain some friendships (Bela Lugosi, Burl Ives). But as far as his general existence, he was a fairly ascetic man — probably as a result of his single-minded work style than anything else.
Did you have any contact with the Philosophical Research Society for your research?
Yes, I am friendly with the current director of PRS Obadiah Harris and have had the privilege of entering Hall’s vault there, among other things.
What are some other authors and books on the occult that you enjoy?
I very much admire the writing of Richard Smoley and Jay Kinney, the founders of Gnosis magazine. Their book “Hidden Wisdom” is as good a primer to esoteric subjects as one is likely to find. I also like a classic work called (unfortunately!) “The Black Arts” by Richard Cavendish — a much finer book than its title might reflect.
Can you ‘talk’ a little about Hall’s hope to bring his contemporaries’ consciousness to spirituality? Do you believe that with the publication of the new edition that Hall’s work is reaching a wider audience beyond the usual?
It is remarkable that the new edition is building a contemporary readership for Hall. He is probably one of the only occult writers of his era who is actually growing in popularity. One could argue that our times reflect his own: A wide gap between haves and have-nots; an entertainment-obsessed society; a great deal of emphasis on money-making at the expense of ethics. But I think the popularity of his book has to do mostly with the fact that the new edition permits the book to be discovered for the very first time among many readers — and the quality of his work is of a kind all its own.
Please describe the reaction and feedback you’ve received about the reader’s edition.
Overwhelmingly positive. I’ve not gotten a single negative remark that I can recall. People are delighted that book is not only readable, but also affordable. It creates a first-time experience for many people who owned but could never read the previously edition because of its physical unwieldiness.
Would you mind sharing a bit about your upcoming book?
Sure — I actually just made an agreement this past Friday with the publisher Bantam. Here is blurb that is just now being sent to the publishing media:
“Tarcher/Penguin Editor-in-Chief Mitch Horowitz’ first book, OCCULT AMERICA: The Secret History of How Mysticism Conquered America, was preempted by Bantam. A book populated by a wonderful cast of spiritual gadflies, adventurers, and impresarios, OCCULT AMERICA tells the story of how a young America hosted, transformed and was ultimately transformed by the mystical philosophies and practices of the Old World.”
The book deals with personalities such as Manly P. Hall, Paul Foster Case, Edgar Cayce, and many, many others who remade the occult in America in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and, in so doing, helped lay the groundwork for the revolutions in alternative spirituality that marked our own generation.
Thanks again to Mitch Horowitz for all his efforts with the Reader’s Edition of The Secret Teachings of All Ages and appearing here. Mitch’s article entitled, “The Mysterious Career of Manly P. Hall,” in episode 6 of Sub Rosa Magazine was the main reference and inspiration for this article and interview.
Although available online here — http://www.sacred-texts.com/eso/sta/, the Reader’s Edition is so well done that your home library deserves a copy.
Copyright 2007 by Occult of Personality. Licensed under Creative Commons.