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Having worked with Manly P. Hall, Tim Buckley, Judi Sill, Barbra Streisand, Oscar Castro-Neves, this cool cat, sideman to legends, is most likely the original Silverlake hipster. Art Johnson started living there in the early 70’s. His monastic cell featured musical instruments of all ages and a fine collection of esoteric tomes. He and his circle of mostly musician and poet friends were definitely up to something, and where else could you see an original edition of Blake, the set put together by the poet Yeats, and then listen to a Barney Kessel solo on electric guitar or a Dowland recital on lute played live? He was a moody bastard, some woman in France. When he’d seen her, music poured out of him like a mockingbird in spring.
Art toured with Lena Horne, Buckley, Paul Horn, The Association, Pat Boone, Engelbert Humperdinck, while working on music for TV shows and movies. He played with Jobim’s band in 1980. Playing in a restaurant Allen Holdsworth happened to visit, Art scored two gigs in California opening solo for Holdsworth’s trio. In the 60s he witnessed the naked nymphs of Laurel Canyon with their silver trays full of illegal treats at the houses of Stills and other mainstays of the hippie scene. Do you know about Skip Battin of The Byrds, the New Riders of the Purple Sage, and the Flying Burrito Brothers? Art was Skip’s guitarist in a pioneer fusion band in Laurel Canyon.
Art played Carnegie Hall, The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the Sporting Club in Monte-Carlo and the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, not to mention Shelly’s Manne-hole. But his gigs in the African American jazz clubs of downtown San Diego in the sixties, and in the last of the Los Angeles joints in Crenshaw, were just as thrilling.
Art was also a member of the Society of Five Fellows, a group approved of by Manly P. Hall that met secretly certain usually rainy nights in the library of the Philosophical Research Society. Art was one. So was a 33 degree Mason. Another was a bass player who recorded with Helen Reddy, Glen Campbell, and other stars, owner of a world class collection of Thomas Taylor first editions. Lynn Blessing who worked at PRS in the shipping department and as a book binder was a professional vibes player with the curious distinction of having on his solo album Sunset Painter an instrumental named after Godfrey Higgins’ obscure masterpiece Anacalypsis. The fifth fellow being a then popular PRS lecturer.
Art is also a dedicated writer, a published poet, and a novelist with a decidedly metaphysical slant. His most recent book Deadly Impression is a mystery exploring the film noir world of a billionaire in Los Angeles. His first book The Devil’s Violin combines a mystery about the disappearance of Paganini’s violin with the deep resonances and hermetic references of occult symbolism.
Art’s amazingly diverse and prolific discography is being re-released by the small Florida jazz label ITI Records, now part of the Capitol/Sony empire. The ITI albums showcase his peerless guitar work and vocals, and his excellent songwriting skills whether playing jazz, country, classical, blues or rock.
Here for the first time Art shares his reminiscences of his time with Manly P. Hall.
Before I begin to describe my experiences with Manly P. Hall, it is necessary to ask a serious question. How does one recount a history, where, upon occasion the truth is more fantastic than fiction?
It’s a challenge.
A history must be presented, conjured from malleable memory and the passing of years. Any attempt to divulge the ‘true-time’ spent absorbed in the presence of such a powerful personality as Manly P. Hall, must be executed thoughtfully. It is all too easy to glorify or deride, as personal preference seems to justify; but this path is unacceptable to the core of discovering truth.
The term truth itself, and the desire to understand it, is the awakening of the personal journey that begins by the inner desire to know; the basis of the philosophical life. As an individual becomes aware of this need to understand, they are confronted by the various tributaries that lead into, and away from, the surging river of life that any time-honored religious/philosophical school of thought should provide.
Manly Hall spent his long life helping individuals from various backgrounds to sort through the entangled and sometimes conflicting rules of spiritual conduct propagated by Eastern and Western traditions. Through his lectures and his prolific writings, it was possible for him to introduce to curious persons, the discipline of understanding the necessity of deciphering the codes of the exoteric before attempting to unravel the complex web of esoteric concepts and their workings.
Devoid of the practical, speculative thought fails to succeed on any level. He once told me that, “…a society, or individual without the capacity to conduct themselves with the acts of common horse sense cannot hope to benefit from the teachings of Plato and the neo-Platonists, a Hindu Shaman or the wisdom of Lao Tzu.”
I get ahead of myself.
It is necessary to return, in memory, to the beginning of a portion of my life spent, more or less, wandering through the corridors of ancient belief and experimenting with systems of imaginative mysticism which continue to exert an influence in my seventy-first year.
I didn’t start that way.
This particular cameo of my life around the hallowed grounds of the Philosophical Research Society, should be described side-by-side with a documentation of the real reason for the beginnings of my association with “…the little world of the PRS.”
One fateful Sunday morning in the mid 1970’s, I was seated, along with several hundred others, in a small auditorium on Los Feliz Avenue, preparing to listen to a lecture offered by Mr. Hall, who, upon first glance, made me think of the actor Lionel Barrymore. Not unusual for someone like myself, a professional LA studio and touring musician, I arrived for this morning’s presentation conflicted with personal problems and full of self doubts.
Amazing. Somewhere, half-way through the lecture, he turned his corpulent body in his chair, looked me straight in the eyes and, without diverging from the flow of the subject at hand, offered up the answers to my current dilemma in a few seconds with a handful of words.
I thought that my ego was playing tricks on me until I ran into others who had the same experience. Needless to say, this occurrence made quite an impression on me which I pondered afterwards for a good deal of time.
My career in music took up most of my time. I lived in Studio City and seldom had the chance to re-visit the PRS prior to the eighties. Through the twists and turns of many personal and business relationships, fate finally deposited me in a small living space only minutes from the society in the fall of 1980: divorced from my second wife, surrounded with few worldly possessions, yet somehow, happy and contented to be on my own once again.
I began to frequent the PRS library with its introspective atmosphere and thousands of rare books after beginning to read the Big Book: unmatched, even in these times of high-speed digital Internet information.
Soon, I found myself at the PRS nearly every day. I began to notice how unique this setting was. Smack dab in the middle of all the LA hustle, there was an oasis; a daily retreat for those individuals who yearned for a little soul food—a dose of receptive quiet and calm.
After touring for weeks or months at a time as a guitar to the stars I found myself longing, even dreaming of entering the carved oak doors of the library or just sitting in the courtyard on one of the stone benches. I was in my mid-thirties at the time and was seeking a path homeward: some facet of existence beyond a lifetime spent in the public eye.
One day in 1981, while studying in the library, Pearl Thomas, the head librarian at the time exited Mr. Hall’s office in a tizzy. The person who had been recording Mr. Hall’s lectures every Sunday for years had just quit on the spot and this being Friday afternoon, there was an immediate need to find an individual with the skills and equipment to be in place within two short days. She was making such a fuss that it was impossible not to overhear her desperation. Being a musician, it was only natural that I had a closet full of recording equipment and often engineered my own projects. When there was a pause in her tantrum I spoke up. I offered to come in Sunday and cover the responsibility of taping the lecture giving them time to make other arrangements for the future. Pearl Thomas had recognized me from my frequent attendance: she took the gamble.
I arrived that first Sunday morning two hours before start time to set up my equipment. There was a pensive looking woman there I had not seen before. She silently scrutinized me while chain smoking. When I finished testing my gear, she approached me and introduced herself. Patricia Ervin was the current vice president and financial adviser for the PRS. An ex Beverly Hills attorney, and as I later found out, a valuable code breaker for the War Department of the US government, she was a sharp one with little time for nonsense. We got along. My years in show business had taught me how to blend in with every personality type: it was part of the job.
Mrs. Ervin wanted to introduce me to Mr. Hall, to assure him that there was someone on the job for his recording that morning. Needless to say, I was a bit nervous. She knocked on the door of his sanctum sanctorum and he bid us to enter. I was expecting to find him in a deep reverie of meditation in preparation for his lecture. As we walked in, he gazed up from the funny pages of the New York Times, with a big smile and greeted me with these words: “I’ve been waiting for you… where have you been?”
That eventful Sunday morning was the beginning of a relationship with Manly P. Hall and the Philosophical Research Society that would last for seven years: in Plato’s definition, a generation.
The first point I’d like to make concerning my relationship with Manly P. Hall, is this: in my seven years at the society, I had the opportunity to be around the philosopher every Sunday morning to tape his lectures, and with time, as I became a regular figure upon the premises, he began to get to know me and we spoke, one to one, on quite a few occasions.
Often, I would be assigned to drive him home at the end of a day’s work. I owned a 1961 Pontiac: it was the only car on the lot which was large enough for the ‘big fellow’ to get in and out of comfortably. I never tried to engage him in conversation during these small excursions. I was intuitive enough to know that he needed his quiet time between office and home.
Occasionally he would chat about current affairs. I would listen to his view-point on everything from illegal drug use to useless global conflicts and just enjoy the moment of intimate conversation
One evening while I was escorting Mr. Hall back to his Los Feliz residence he seemed particularly withdrawn. As usual, I made no attempt to engage him in conversation as he always needed time to cool out between his long day at the PRS and the short ride home to his wife, the Baconian scholar, Marie Bauer Hall.
For myself, my mind was swimming in thoughts during the drive about poetry. I had been composing verse for around two years at the time and had been collecting source material: books on arcane subjects, which poets such as Blake, Shelley and Yeats had referred to for symbols. I had just recently acquired the three-volume set by Jacob Bryant on mythology which contained within its pages the lavish plates by an engraver to which William Blake had been apprenticed. My mind was afloat on a cloud as I entertained the thought that perhaps the hands of William Blake may have touched these pages.
When I pulled the car into the driveway, he turned towards me with one of his playful smiles and said without introduction, “…Poetry is one of the purest forms of initiation into the mysteries.” He then opened the door and bounced his way up the front steps offering a small wave of the hand as he entered his home.
Yes, it seemed as though Mr. Hall were reading my thoughts, but the most important aspect of this experience is that this wise old man never, on any occasion which I witnessed, exhibited any pretense of being deep. You could just feel that he knew.
During my years with the society, I found him to be kindly, and that he enjoyed a humorous moment more than most. You could easily win his affection with a whimsical story or a bawdy joke. If you attempted to share your philosophical insights, he would more than likely change the subject, asking you immediately if you were an L.A. Dodger fan.
Mr. Hall was perceptive, extremely shrewd—cunning and always observant of the people around him, without ever seeming to be so. He had no time to waste. He was constantly researching and writing—continuing to explore his interior world to promote the evolution of human existence. Yet, at the same time he was totally aware of the need for periods of relaxation: that hard work and dedication must be shared with time out for your own personal form of meditation—that the creative process was like the cycles of breathing; intake and output. Hobbies were important to him. He was a stamp collector par excellence. He loved to watch cartoons on television, telling me once, “…all of the archetypes of the universe can be found in the fantasy world of cartoons.” He thought playing the card game solitaire was a way to keep the mind alert.
While I was recording his lectures and duplicating them for sale in the gift shop, I began to read incessantly and started to build my own library of rare books on metaphysical subjects. At the time, the early nineteen-eighties, Hollywood still sported great rare book shops like Cherokee, Gilbert’s and William and Victoria Daily’s on Melrose.
I purchased glass paneled oak book cases and began to stuff them with first editions of Thomas Taylor: Mr. Hall personally sold me the complete writings of Plato, translated by Taylor, London 1803. At the time, a set was going on average for around $2000.00. He asked me if I would be willing to contribute one-hundred and fifty dollars to the library book fund. I agreed. It was a gift. Real Class.
Along with Taylor and his translations of the neo-Platonists, I utilized the bibliography of the Big Book and gathered works by A.E. Waite, Godfrey Higgins, H.P. Blavatsky, Jacob Bryant, Hargrave Jennings, Mary Ann Atwood and on and on. It was a very strange process to experience. As I began to collect Hermetic/Magical works of speculative philosophy, books I needed would find me as if through some magnetic connection: scarce and rare books that would normally be impossible to find would show up in the oddest places.
Will Daily sold me my first truly rare item: Thomas Stanley’s, History of Philosophy London, 1687, in the original boards and including the treatise on Chaldean Magic. The price in 1981; three hundred dollars –and Will Daily, having never met me before I wandered into his shop, allowed me to take the item with me that day and make payments. I soon began to realize what a trusting, and intuitive fraternity rare book dealers were.
The day I discovered through reading W.B. Yeats’s prose that he had belonged to a magical society, known as The Golden Dawn, in Great Britain during his lifetime, which still exists, in an altered form today, books on the subject of their history and rituals began to chase me around in bookstores. At the time, all Golden Dawn fans were scouring the bookshelves for Virginia Moore’s ground-breaking work issued in 1954. The Unicorn was the first independent study to look in depth at Yeats’s magical life and it consequences upon his writings and his personal life.
While on tour, I walked off of an airplane in Pittsburg which had a used bookstore in the airport and the first thing my eyes spotted was that item—in fact…two copies! I purchased them both for the sum of $10.00! Pre-Google days here.
In the early eighties, the rare book market was still affordable to those who were not successful film or rock stars. I began to read and compile Hermetic notebooks and journals. I became obsessed, often spending entire days locked up in my apartment reading the source works of Blake, Shelley and Yeats, while investigating alchemical and Rosicrucian symbolism. Candlelight shadowed along the walls while thick velvet curtains hid the light of day.
I was living a dream.
About this time in the fall of 1981, I was engaged by a famous entertainer to go to London for two weeks for concerts and television performances. I agreed to the terms with one thing on my mind – London bookshops!
It must be noted here that after I became involved with Mr. Hall and the PRS that I continued my career as a professional musician in the recording studios, night clubs with some touring. I kept my life at the society a secret from the entertainment industry: they would be hard-pressed to comprehend the desire to seek something other than a Grammy or an Oscar.
After arriving in London and enduring the usual useless rehearsals and panicked sound checks, I was cut loose and on my own schedule in the west end until show time each evening. One of my goals was to scour through the Atlantis bookshop on Great Russell Street near the British Museum. I was looking for a copy of D.P. Walker’s book, Spiritual and Demonic Magic, and I was sure that this shop would have a copy. Visiting this particular bookshop was two-fold. I knew from my Golden Dawn research that this was the original location of the London temple when the G.D. was founded.
I grabbed a cab and arrived in the morning hours. I always dressed somewhat formally when shopping for books in London: it just seemed right and besides, in general, you were treated with more respect as a customer. I was greeted cordially by the owner of the Atlantis who, after I made my request, was surprised to find only one copy of the Walker item in stock. I purchased it and was looking over other items when the front door burst open and two white-haired men came charging through the portal. The smaller of the two was immediately greeted by the owner.
“Dr. Regardie, what a surprise, we had no idea you were in London.”
The man bellowed out, “I need a copy of Walker’s Spiritual and Demonic Magic right now!”
Shop owner: “I just sold the last copy to this young man”, pointing in my direction.
Dr. Isreal Regardie, member of the Golden Dawn, right-hand of Aleister Crowley and author of the controversial book in which the rites and rituals of the Golden Dawn were made public, took one look at me and said,
“…So, you’re the son of a bitch who bought it!”
I could think of nothing else to do but laugh. Here I was in London, at the former temple of the Golden Dawn being dressed down by one of the premier transcendental magicians of the twentieth century.
I told him I worked for Manly P. Hall. His face lit up and he asked me if he could look at my copy of Walker’s book. I handed it to him, he checked a reference in the back then returned it to me and we chatted for a few minutes. The end result being his offering to me an autographed copy of his ‘Practical Magic’ and an invitation to come and visit him in Coffee Cup, Arizona. I never took him up on his offer.
Another example of unique experiences encountered while under the influence of MPH.
A few days after returning from London to the PRS a strange incident took place. Mr. Hall’s book binder Lynn Blessing and I discovered a secret panel in Pearl Thomas’s office while looking for something Mr. Hall asked us to fetch for him. I bumped into a bookcase on the northern wall and it popped opened like a giant door to expose a room about ten feet square. On the floor sat box after box full of reel-to-reel tapes: dozens of them.
I scooped up an armful of tape boxes to peruse the titles. Jesus Christ! Lynn and I looked at each other in disbelief. It was all of Mr. Hall’s lectures done in the 50’s through the 70’s. Five part in-depth series on ‘The doctrines of neo-Platonism’ – ‘Mysteries of the Qabbala’ – ‘Atlantis and the gods of antiquity’- ‘The Implements utilized in Ritual Magic’. Box after box; topics he had not spoken on for years.
I stood there with my mouth hanging open.
Backing up to get a better view of the amount of cartons full of tapes, I backed into an industrial style metal three-rack storage unit. On the top were dozens of black-covered journals. They looked really old. I flipped open one: ‘La Grande Clef du Mystère’. It only took a few seconds to realize that this pile of hand written manuscripts were Eliphas Levi’s notebooks. It seemed to be the first drafts of all of his works: just sitting there scattered around in a hidden vault at the PRS. I informed the powers that be that Levi’s journals were in the open unprotected and I was shocked when this particular individual asked me who Levi was?
I then had a realization. Some employees of the Society did not truly understand or had not taken the trouble to investigate Mr. Hall’s life’s work. They thought of him as a kindly old man who gave self-help lectures on Sunday morning and sat in his office five days a week reading, writing and enjoying a nice glass of milk with a chocolate chip cookie.
In truth, this last part was true, but the average concept of Mr. Hall as a person, I believed, was a tad shallow for many individuals who spent so much time with him.
I informed Pat Ervin of our discovery about the treasure-trove of recorded lectures. I told her that I thought that it would be worthwhile to go through the tapes to see if any had survived being in storage for over two decades. Recording tape is an oil based product and is highly subject to temperature and humidity. The fact that most of the esoteric subjects on this archive of tapes had not been listened to since their presentation represented a gold mine of spiritual thought and in depth analysis of the material.
When I also suggested to Mrs. Erwin that a substantial income might be derived from the mass production and sales of these lectures for the PRS, she thought very highly of the project. She was beginning to think that I had a bit of a brain, to the point of inviting me to a meeting of the LA chapter of the United Nations and nominating me to sit on the board. I accepted. Not bad for the last guitar player to tour with Tim Buckley before he died.
For the next two years I spent several days per week listening to and editing these ancient lectures then known as the ‘archival series’ onto cassette tape from their reel to reel masters. That’s right folks, no cell phones, very few computers, and no possibility of home-spun CD’s.
This is 1982. To re-master these decades-old lectures was an extremely delicate task. It was like opening a vault that had been sealed up for centuries. I was the first person to hear his voice as it sounded in the 1950’s. There were many days that I left my mastering booth in the auditorium of the PRS in a complete daze from the hours of listening to his erudite and compassionate stream of consciousness as it glided across the eternal into my head phones. It was as if I were in the same room with Paracelsus, Agrippa, Taylor, Blavatsky, and Levi. This privilege I shall never forget.
The dream continued.
Another quote from Manly Hall’s pamphlet ‘Melchizedek’: “…the great spiritual truths are not that deeply concealed as might be supposed. Most of them are exposed to view at all times, but are not recognized because of their concealment in symbol and allegory. When the human race learns to read the language of symbolism, a great veil will fall from the eyes of men.”
This concept is scattered throughout the works of the maestro, in one form or another, from the ‘Big Book’, to his own volume of poetry entitled ‘Space Born’: that the depth of human existence is right before one’s senses if they are aware and ‘tuned in’ to the technique of receptivity. The word ‘occult’ loosely translated means ‘hidden’. To lift the veil, one must simply observe and interpret properly their surroundings. To internalize the external is half the key to the Mysteries. Great books are only a portion of the path to enlightenment. This may best be explained by an eyewitness account from 1984.
One Sunday morning, a young Indian shaman showed up for Mr. Hall’s lecture. He was a gentle person who constantly smiled and when you spoke to him, he closed his eyes and pursed his lips to take in every word. His white outfit with a saffron colored scarf was a pleasant change of scenery from occidental suits and ties. He observed me recording the lectures and approached me afterwards with many questions about Mr. Hall. The inevitable question was soon to be forth coming—“…Would it be possible to arrange an appointment with Mr. Hall?” I told him to speak with Mrs. Erwin. Me—“I’m just the guy who pushes buttons”.
The following day, Monday, I was by myself in my office upstairs in the library. The library was always closed on Mondays. It was peaceful to be in the building on these days so I often went in to duplicate the cassette tapes for the archival series, which had become very popular. I was reading while the tapes were being made when I heard the murmur of voices coming from the library floor.
I crept out of my office and crouched down on the upper level walk-way to see who was inside. I heard the shuffling of chairs. I saw Mr. Hall seating himself at the huge library study table along with the young shaman I had met the day before. Evidently his persistence for a rendezvous with the Master had paid off.
Mr. Hall spoke first in a very soft voice. “How may I be of service, young man?”
The shaman began to rock back and forth in his chair with his eyes closed and replied,
“I want you to be my teacher—please be my Master oh, Great One…”
Mr. Hall did not reply. I noticed that now, he too had his eyes shut. The Indian repeated his request. Silence. For a third time, the Shaman made his plea. Finally, in a very soft yet firm voice, Mr. Hall began…
“…Let the sand beneath your feet be your teacher. Let the leaves of all the trees be your Master. Let the blueness of the sky or the infinitely changing clouds be your guide…”
Mr. Hall continued with this prose, chanting variation after variation of these phrases, yet the Indian just kept on repeating his request.
Mr. Hall’s voice rose in volume while at the same time, retaining its gentle tone.
“…Let the myriad of flowers and the scents that they offer be your teacher. Let the wind that blows in all directions guide you…”
The young man continued with his persistent demand—then it happened. In a voice I had never heard emitting from Mr. Hall’s mouth; a tone of Moses-like command, the maestro continued with his chant. The sound was deafening.
“Let the heavenly songs of birds in every land be your guide…let the rain fall upon your body as a healing of the heart…Let all of God’s gifts carry your soul into the infinite and eternal wonderment that is this life we are so cherished to endure.” His voice had risen to a peak at these last words. The young shaman had ceased to talk. The echo of Mr. Hall’s voice trailed off. Complete silence.
The would-be disciple and Mr. Hall sat with their eyes closed without a murmur for a few minutes. Slowly and silently, the Indian rose from the table and quietly exited the library.
Mr. Hall remained in what appeared to be a meditative pose with his head slightly bowed and his hands folded in his lap for around five minutes. He then came out of his trance, and pushed his bulk away from the table to return to his office.
I remained frozen in place. I felt that years had passed by in a matter of minutes.
Throughout his long and productive career, Manly P. Hall continually promoted the technique of Contemplation, which is not the act of thinking or meditating: “…it is the unpremeditated, unforced motion of absorption within.” (Self-Unfoldment – MPH 1945)
Mr. Hall continually referred to the art of poetry throughout his writings and lectures. Poets of all ages with a valid vision were near and dear to his psyche. From ancient Greek and oriental prosody, to the Golden Age and into our modern symbolist eras, Manly Hall continued a quiet and reserved campaign in support of the enlightenment that poets of all ages and civilizations continue to contribute to the interior life of all who partake of their visions.
It made me curious. I knew that he had written a small volume of poems while in his twenties, prior to the final arrival of the ‘Big Book’. In one of my lecture series presented on Tuesday evenings at the PRS lecture room, I offered a five part series on the poets of mysticism and included Mr. Hall’s Space Born collection on the final night of the series.
Recently, I listened to my lecture delivered in the mid 1980’s. My few discoveries about Mr. Hall and his philosophical vision are personal experiences, yet, impersonal thoughts, about his dedication to his belief system regarding his place in the world around him at that time of his development.
The evening that I was scheduled to lecture on Mr. Hall’s poetry, I was invited at the last minute to dine with the maestro at his home before my talk. In the hour I spent supping with him there was no mention of my upcoming lecture. He had been ill for a time and had not delivered a Sunday morning lecture in over a month. Mr. Hall’s life had always been a secret; its beginnings and influences that charted the course of his existence were virtually unknown. Only at the annual Christmas party held for employees in the library every season, were facts about his background divulged by him in a casual manner of brief anecdotes.
At one such gathering he told those present that he had been born with webbed feet and hands, as an amphibian (the sign of a deific soul) – that he was raised by his grandmother who gave him William Law’s elaborate publication of the works of Jacob Boehme when he was thirteen years of age.
As I was curious about the source of his poetic inspiration that led to his volume of poetry, I took a chance and asked him for some background as to the inspiration for the work.
He told me that the poems contained in this slender volume were written in “drips and drabs” over a four to five year period commencing when he was around twenty four years of age. His original intention was to publish them in his monthly journal, but the stock market crash of 1929 prevented him from doing so. The work was eventually published in 1930 and re-published in 1978 by the PRS.
In his introduction to Space Born, Mr. Hall states that, “the art of words was highly regarded in ancient times—particularly by the Greek and Chinese cultures. That there was a style of poetry that was somewhere between poetry and prose that relied on the impulse of the soul rather than the dictum of mathematics.”
This concept would co-inside with the formula or stylistic trends in poetry from the nineteenth century up to our current times.
He also said that “…the style of poetry that lies between theories of scansion and meter coupled with the inert intuitive faculty of the individual’s imagination, that is a synthesis of these two qualities of the analytic and the intuitive set forth in the language of the times is true poetry, and that rhythm is a very natural tendency for great poets are all musicians at heart.”
Poets as philosophers—philosophers as poets: drawing their inspiration from the same well. The Neoplatonic movement, which concentrated on reviving the mystical aspects of Plato’s teachings in the first few centuries after Christ, became source material for poets from the great Renaissance onward, along with the Hermetic Traditions of alchemical and Cabalistic symbolism.
In the same current of energy, Manly Hall’s poems are similar to the Hymns of Orpheus, or the Chaldean Oracles or Homer’s odes: an evocation to the gods or prayers to the hierarchy which offer a gift and at the same time request a type of divine intervention.
His poem Despair is a good psychological analysis of his state of mind while in his early twenties. With phrases like “In wild despair I cursed the heavens that decreed me” – “I prayed that oblivion would descend upon my spirit, that I might find rest in the state of not knowing”.
These exposures of inner turmoil are extremely telling from the mind of someone so young. He was in his mid-twenties and in the midst of compiling and editing the big book while at the same time searching for financial backing for the publication. This task was obviously weighing heavily upon his shoulders. He was already experiencing the longing and frustration of his chosen path of life: the isolation of a person seeking knowledge.
There are trade-offs in life. One could be envious of Mr. Hall’s lifelong accomplishments, his travels and discoveries, both ancient and modern, in the fields of speculative philosophy and their application to daily existence. Very few persons who studied his work were aware of his concern for the individual: for the growth both inner and outer states of existence within the person and their responsibility to their indigenous culture and civilizations. He worshiped, in a sense, the simplicity of cultural rituals from the Japanese tea ceremony to the American Indian sweat lodge, or the Russian folk art of carving and painting wooden dolls. He perceived the archetype of a nation by its unique display of cultural artifice. Mr. Hall was more aware of the “breaking down” as he put it to me, of separate belief systems as the world was becoming smaller through the advancement of the digital age of information.
In his early twenties he abandoned his future in the lucrative field of investment in the New York Stock Exchange and headed west to that suspicious state of California, at the time, a region feared by all of the intellectuals east of the Mississippi. He self promoted himself as a lecturer, author, antiquarian and in general, an entrepreneur of the esoteric and all that it implies. He became widely associated within Hollywood film circles, in particular those actors and actresses that expressed an interest in philosophy and the occult.
I had the opportunity to chat with actor Lew Ayres who often frequented the PRS. He told me that he came to Hollywood as a musician and had never intended to be in the movies.
Burl Ives was often on hand and he firmly believed that he was a re-incarnation of the Civil War General, Albert Pike, who founded Scottish Rites Freemasonry and wrote the hand-book, Morals and Dogma, which is required reading for every serious Freemason.
Many pieces of furniture which adorned the lobby and the auditorium of the PRS were donated to Mr. Hall by Rudolph Valentino. Dracula himself, Bela Lugosi often requested the services of Manly P. Hall to hypnotize him before scenes in his film career which showed very tight quarters: the famed vampire was claustrophobic!
We can admire and even, as some did, worship the genius and soul of Manly Palmer Hall, but it is almost impossible to comprehend his feeling of detachment from the physical world: the inner sense of knowing that much of what he had worked for, his entire life, to enlighten the individual had gone unappreciated. The depth of his well far out measured those around him.
For my money, his slender volume of poetry contains much of his philosophical beliefs and doubts as he perceived his place in the world at that time. Much of the poems contain his philosophical belief systems which did not falter with time.
I seldom observed Mr. Hall to complain about his physical deterioration which began in the early eighties. A telltale grimace of discomfort was usually followed by a joke which he never tired of utilizing to lighten up the atmosphere. The big fellow loved to laugh! He was kindly but very strict in his regard for business and indeed; the “…little world of the PRS”, was that and much more.
His employees worshiped him and rather than letting that attitude prevail, he did his best to downplay any type of hero-worship. I believe that he thought of himself, merely as a man, placed on this planet with a job to do, and he devoted his life’s energy to doing it.
Yet, he took the time to listen to other people’s complaints and offered any consoling that he was capable of donating. He had two axioms that I heard him communicate often: “a good deed never goes unpunished” and “if you want to help make sure you have something valid to offer or stay out of the way”.
Having listened to and re-mastered dozens of his esoteric lectures from the 1950’s and 60’s, I’ve noticed one warning that has frequently appeared in his delivery.
“The more you learn and acquire knowledge, the more you shall naturally distance yourself from those around you. With the evolution of consciousness, not to be confused with intellect, there is the potential to develop a void, a blackness between yourself and others. Some may join you and amongst these you may find comfort, but these individuals are far and few between.”
It has been nearly thirty years since I left the PRS, yet I carry the memory and the experience of having been around Mr. Hall with me in my daily life.
He was a true teacher without ever engaging in the act. He helped you find your own way without pointing in any direction.
Art Johnson / Monaco / September 16th 2016