Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Manly P. Hall and the Philosophical Research Society

Manly Palmer Hall -- an occult Magus at 27.

He was the Grand Old Man of Southern Californian occultism.

During his unprecedented 70-year career, he delivered over 8,000 lectures, authored over 150 books and monographs, and wrote countless millions of words in periodicals. A self-taught authority in subjects ranging from alchemy to Eastern religion to symbolism, he amassed in his lifetime thousands of rare and obscure books, manuscripts and documents, and created one of the world’s biggest private libraries of religious and metaphysical titles. And he was one of the first authors and speakers to cast a light on the Western spiritual tradition’s more esoteric corners, and make its doctrines accessible and applicable to three generations of seekers through his lectures and his books, as well as the organization he founded.

His name was Manly Palmer Hall, and the organization that promoted both his teachings, and those of the sages and seers who he brought into the modern world, was the Philosophical Research Society. No occult figure of the 20th century matched his literary output or his durability, and although his Society lacked the global reach of groups like the Theosophists and the Rosicrucians, his writings made him one of the era’s most influential metaphysical authors.

Hall’s life touched quintessentially Californian themes. After he arrived in L.A., he cast off his humble past, and reinvented himself as a guru and prophet in the region’s wide-open spiritual marketplace. He rediscovered ancient ways to expand consciousness, and indulged in unorthodox health treatments. He marketed his ideas to Hollywood, and saw them take shape on screen and reach mass audiences. And, tragically, he ended his life in the shadow of intrigue and violence, as a victim of one of the Southland’s many officially unsolved murders.

Like his fellow Angeleno avatar Aimee Semple McPherson, Hall was an Ontarian Canadian by birth. Abandoned by his mother in infancy, Hall was raised by his grandmother, and spent his childhood crisscrossing the United States with her. A voracious reader from an early age, Hall nevertheless ended his formal schooling after the sixth grade, and wound up in New York during his teens, where he found work as a Wall Street clerk. There, he also hung out at the Martinka Brothers’ “House of a Thousand Memories” store, a stage-magician’s supply emporium where the great illusionist Harry Houdini held court. At the store, Hall often debated the famed conjurer about magic, insisting that Houdini’s hard-nosed, materialistic approach to phenomenology failed to explain all that was truly mysterious and miraculous in the world.

When his grandmother died in 1919, the 18-year old Hall quit his job, and moved to Los Angeles. There, he reunited with his mother, who had remarried after a career as a chiropractic healer in the Alaskan gold fields, and settled in Santa Monica.

In Los Angeles, Hall met Sydney J. Brownson, an elderly phrenologist who had dedicated his life to esoteric studies after having a mystical experience in the midst of a Civil War battle. Impressed by Hall’s interest in spiritual arcana, as well as his obvious intelligence, Brownson took on Hall as a personal student, and taught him a wide variety of occult lore.

Noting that the handsome, articulate, quick-thinking young man had a natural gift for speaking, Brownson invited him to give a talk before a small meeting in Santa Monica. At the gathering, Hall spoke on reincarnation, and then passed the hat, collecting sixty-five cents from the eight attendees. It was the first of Hall’s thousands of paid lectures.

Weeks later, Hall got a chance to speak at the Church of the People, a liberal, neo-Transcendentalist sect based in downtown Los Angeles. He was an immediate hit with the congregation, who had just been abandoned by their regular minister and desperately needed a new leader who shared their metaphysical interests. When they offered him leadership of the church, the teenaged occult scholar accepted the post, and soon not only manned the pulpit, but counseled elderly church members.

A young Manly P. Hall, sporting his Rosicrucian cross.

Although wholly untrained in pastoral work, Hall discharged his ministerial duties with aplomb. Years later, he recalled: “I didn’t know exactly why I was leading a church, but it was one of those accidents or circumstances of fortune that you do not question…[W]hen these people came to me with their problems, I sat back with the supreme wisdom of a teenager and told them what I thought common sense would dictate, what seemed to me reasonable. And it worked in many cases.” The faithful at Church of the People must been satisfied, since they soon gave their young pastor a Rosicrucian cross of gold, platinum and diamonds as a gift for his services.

At the Church, Hall began to develop both the metaphysical philosophy and speaking style that would characterize his life’s work. In his 90-minute talks to the congregation, he would stick to one topic, yet draw on Egyptian mythology, Christian mysticism, Classical philosophy, Theosophy, and many other sources of spiritual wisdom to illustrate points. He portrayed God as an invisible creative principle permeating the universe and expressing itself in the material world, with its essential nature veiled in the symbols and rituals of humanity’s religious faiths and secret societies. This God rewarded balance, moderation, and healthy habits, and punished evildoers with karmic retribution. Sometimes, he said, God would bring forth special people – saints, mystics, Boddhisattvas – to teach these principles to the rest of humanity through their words and actions.

Around this time, Hall began to assemble a private library of religious and spiritual lore. His aim was to create a comprehensive survey of occult teachings across the centuries, from different civilizations and faith traditions, and find the common themes in them. Using both these writings and his own talks for material, he also started publishing a monthly periodical, All-Seeing Eye, as well as illustrated booklets on topics like shamanism, ancient mystery schools, and Freemasonry.

The All-Seeing Eye, Hall's monthly journal of occult teachings.

 The printed matters, and his popular weekly talks at the Church, brought Hall attention in influential circles. Augusta Heindel, the widow of Rosicrucian Fellowship founder Max Heindel, noted the young scholar’s interest in and knowledge about the Fraternitas Rosae Crucis, and made him welcome at the sect’s hilltop compound in Oceanside. More importantly, Hall befriended oil heiress Caroline A. Lloyd and her daughter Alma Estelle, who hosted his lectures at their palatial home in L.A.’s Los Feliz district, and paid him a generous stipend for his work. They would also leave him handsome legacies in their wills.

The Lloyd money freed Hall for full-time research and writing, and allowed him to travel the world, seeking arcane lore and lecturing audiences in Asia and Europe. When he returned, he made All-Seeing Eye a weekly publication that featured news of mysterious and miraculous doings from around the globe. He also ramped up his work on a full-length book about the wisdom traditions of the world, and spent four hours each day dictating it to a stenographer. Hall promised that when it was published, the book would be “the most elaborate and most beautiful volume ever printed on the West Coast.”

After seven years of work on the book, he pitched it to San Francisco publisher H.S. Crocker. The firm agreed to publish it, assigned famed book designer John Henry Nash to do the graphics, and then sank an estimated $150,000 into the project. Much of the initial publishing cost was raised from advance sales.

When the book finally appeared in 1928, it stunned the publishing and metaphysical worlds. Published as Encyclopedic Outline of Masonic, Hermetic, Qabbalistic and Rosicrucian Symbolical Philosophy, it would become better known by the title The Secret Teachings of All Ages.

Hall's masterwork. Over one million copies are in print.

 An atlas-sized tome with dense script, and Roman numerals for page numbers, The Secret Teachings of All Ages was an exhaustive survey of esoteric teachings and lore. The book covered a dazzling variety of topics: ancient Egypt, the Pythagorean School, Freemasonry, Christian mysticism, Kabbalah, alchemy, Rosicrucianism, Native American traditions, symbolism, and the occult powers of gemstones and precious metals, to name a few. The volume also featured over 200 black-and-white illustrations copied from rare alchemical manuscripts and similar curiosa, and 54 full-color plates by famed illustrator J. Augustus Knapp that depicted Gnostic deities, glowing angelic beings, Atlantean temples, alchemical rituals, mystery-school initiations, Buddhist mandalas, and similarly fantastic subjects.

Nobody had ever seen anything like The Secret Teachings of All Ages. It was almost as if a fairy-tale wizard’s Book of Secrets and Spells had been published, and could be had by anyone with $100 in their pocket. The book’s first two editions quickly sold out, and it garnered rave reviews, as well as reams of media attention for its 27-year old author, who had suddenly become the hottest property on the late-Twenties American lecture circuit.  

By 1930, Hall was being hailed as one of the world’s most promising young thinkers and scholars. It didn’t hurt that he had not only a considerable intellect and writing talent, and a commanding presence as a speaker, but also movie-star good looks. Photos of him from the time show a tall, powerfully-built man with a high forehead and long, wavy dark hair, fixing the camera with a piercing stare worthy of a Blavatsky or a Rasputin. Hall often played up his Byronesque image by wearing a cape, and an observer from that time remembered the young autodidact sweeping into a bookstore one day with his entourage in tow, nodding to books on the shelves that his acolytes would instantly fetch for his perusal.

That year, he married Fay B. de Ravenne, his secretary of five years who had transcribed The Secret Teachings of All Ages from his dictation. But the marriage proved to be an unhappy one, as Hall was away much of the time, speaking to capacity audiences in Chicago, New York and other distant cities while his young wife suffered from various physical ailments and depression. (Eventually Fay committed suicide, leaving behind a note that said she was heartsick, sleepless, and desired only death. After her passing, Hall never mentioned her in public again.)

Sample page from the Ripley Scroll (Yale University copy)

Still, the young scholar pressed on. Now flush with cash from lectures and book sales, he traveled through Depression-era Europe and bought up rare alchemical manuscripts and occult treatises at cut-rate prices. Hall picked up original works by legendary mages like the Comte de Ste. Germain, Nicolas Flamel, and Michael Maier, and also obtained a copy of the fabulous Ripley Scroll – a 20-foot long, hand-painted 17th century alchemical treatise packed with colorful esoteric symbolism.

Hall didn’t obtain such items merely as collectible investment pieces to be hidden in some vault or closet. He wanted to bring their doctrines to the Twentieth Century, which in his opinion, had casually discarded far too much historical teaching in the name of modernization, and desperately needed to hear the ancient spiritual traditions’ perennial truths. Mainstream academia, he said, was dominated by scientism and materialism – a new University of Wisdom was needed to create “the center of a new way of life in the midst of the great Pacific theater of the future.”

To realize this ideal, Hall founded the Philosophical Research Society in 1934. The Society’s stated purpose was to assist “thoughtful persons to live more graciously and constructively in a confused and troubled world. The Society is entirely free from educational, political, or ecclesiastical control. Dedicated to an idealistic approach to the solution of human problems, the Society's program stresses the need for the integration of religion, philosophy, and the science of psychology into one system of instruction. The goal of this instruction is to enable the individual to develop a mature philosophy of life, to recognize his proper responsibilities and opportunities, and to understand and appreciate his place in the unfolding universal pattern.”

That year, the PRS bought a ¾-acre lot in Los Angeles’ fashionable Los Feliz district from a holding company for a paltry ten dollars. British architect Robert B. Stacy-Judd, famed for his quasi-ancient-Egyptian/Mayan structures which dotted Southern California’s landscape, contributed the design for the site’s main building. In a midnight ceremony timed to coincide with an astrological alignment, Hall laid the cornerstone for the building; when it was eventually completed it became the library and publishing center for the Society, and also housed his personal office.

Color publicity still from When Were You Born? starring Anna May Wong

 But Hall’s ambitions reached beyond the lecture circuit and library reading room. By the late 1930s, he was writing screenplays based on occult lore, hoping to take messages of ancient wisdom to Hollywood and a movie-going audience. Warner Brothers took his cinematic aspirations seriously enough to hire him as a story-developer, and even produced one of his scripts – When Were You Born? – as a feature movie. The film, which starred Anna May Wong as a detective, was an astrological mystery story whose twelve main characters each represented a different sign of the Zodiac. Although the movie had a gala premiere that featured movie starts mingling with psychics and holistic healers at Hall’s Frank Lloyd Wright-designed home, it was a box-office dud. 

Still, Hall retained enough movieland moxie to work with Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi on stories and screenplays. Lugosi eventually became a close friend of Hall’s, sought his help to cure his morphine addiction with hypnosis, and accepted the PRS head’s largesse during lean periods in his movie career. In 1955, Hall even performed the private ceremony where Lugosi married his fifth and final wife, Hope Lininger.

Hall officiating at the wedding of Bela and Hope Lugosi

World War II brought a distinctly flag-waving flavor to PRS. Years earlier, Hall had predicted that the USA and Great Britain would face serious troubles between 1940 and 1942, and when Axis bombs rained down on London and Pearl Harbor, he saw it as a confirmation of his prophetic skills. An immigrant who’d worked his way to wealth and fame in his adopted land, Hall was an unabashed pro-war patriot, and wrote in the Society’s new quarterly magazine, Horizon, that the rigors of boot camp endured by millions of American men could effectively discipline them for the even more strenuous demands of spiritual discipleship.

Hall’s own biggest contribution to war-era patriotic propaganda was The Secret Destiny of America, a book that portrayed America as the physical embodiment of ancient esoteric ideals about democracy and freedom – Lord Francis Bacon’s “New Atlantis” here to lead the world to a new Golden Age.

Lord Bacon, and his alleged doings in the New World, figured heavily in the life of one of Hall’s most enthusiastic supporters, Marie Bauer. A married mother of two, Bauer saw Hall speak in New York City in 1937, and was so taken by his message that she soon had read all of his books. Eventually she convinced her family to move from the East Coast to Southern California just to be near him.

Marie Bauer Hall

While volunteering at the PRS Library, Bauer met a Shakespearean scholar there who told her the story of the so-called “Bruton Vault” The scholar, who firmly believed that Lord Bacon had written the works ascribed to the Bard of Stratford, maintained that his plays contained hidden codes that revealed the existence of a fabulous treasure hoard buried by Bacon in a vault beneath Bruton Episcopal Church in Williamsburg, Virginia. The vault supposedly held copper cylinders containing unpublished “Shakespearian” plays, gold chalices, and keys to more treasures secreted across the globe, as well as a Bacon-designed blueprint for civilization that would establish Utopia on earth.

Bauer became absolutely obsessed with the Bruton Vault, and spent years enlisting supporters and sponsors to help find the Williamsburg cache. In 1938, she actually conducted a Rockefeller-Foundation endorsed excavation of the Bruton churchyard, which failed to unearth the vault, and was called off when diggers started hitting seventeenth-century coffins. Still, she wrote several books about the Bacon treasure, and discussed it endlessly with friends and strangers alike for the rest of her life. Largely because of the obsession, her marriage collapsed.

Scene from the fruitless 1938 excavation of the "Bruton Vault".

A colorful woman, who often wore brightly-hued clothes and serpent-shaped metal bracelets, and painted turned-up eyebrows onto her face, Bauer turned her amorous attentions to Hall, who himself had recently buried his wife. If Hall was put off by her Bruton-vault obsession, her claims of receiving secret messages from billboard signs and similarly unlikely oracles, or her generally loud and overbearing manner, it didn’t seem to matter, and he was smitten by the woman. Finally, the couple married in December 1950, at the home of Hollywood astrologer Blanca Holmes.

Although Hall and Bauer worked as a team, hosting parties and gatherings at their house, it soon became obvious who was the dominant member of the couple. Friends of Hall’s said Marie often bullied and berated her husband in public, and commandeered social events so that she could deliver hours-long rants about Francis Bacon’s alleged treasure-trove. Throughout the Fifties and Sixties, Marie endlessly pestered the FBI by letter and in person about the Bruton Vault’s immeasurable importance to national security; eventually the Feds labeled her a “chronic nuisance,” and ordered her to cease communications with them.

Hall himself lacked both the time and energy to rein in his monomaniacal spouse. Now in his fifties, the middle-aged mage, who was still writing and lecturing at a feverish pace, was suffering from glandular problems and weight troubles (despite his advocacy of living a healthy, active life, Hall himself was a junk-food addict and a physically inert bookworm). He countered his health complaints with the unorthodox treatments popular in Fifties Los Angeles, such as chiropractor James Sabia’s “electro-stimulating machine,” and William E. Gray’s “healing touch” cure that could supposedly “blow out” cancers from the body. Hall was especially fond of Biblical pseudo-scholar Edmond Bordeaux Szekely’s “water angel” – a colonic-irrigation technique that Szekely claimed Jesus Christ had advocated in the apocryphal “Secret Essene Gospel.”

The Philosophical Research Society building, circa 1965.

Meanwhile, the PRS was slowly inching towards its goal of becoming a degree-granting institution. Don Ingalls, a Los Angeles policeman and Society member who later became a successful Hollywood producer and screenwriter, designed a PRS course called “The Basic Ideas of Man,” which would teach philosophy, psychology, and comparative religion as accredited academic studies. And Robert Stacy-Judd drew up a immense Mayan-temple-style building to building to serve as the Society’s lecture hall; the city planning commission eventually forced him and the Society to scale it down to a modest 400-seat theatre, but Hall once again commemorated the erection by laying the corner stone at an astrologically-auspicious moment.

Despite the grand buildings and plans, at the beginning of the Sixties the PRS’ visibility and influence was fading. Hall’s lecture audiences and students were aging, and even though occult and paranormal themes permeated the Sixties pop culture, few young people found their way to the Society’s headquarters on Los Feliz Boulevard. Although the PRS’ dynamic Vice President Henry Drake got noted figures like religious-scholar Huston Smith, parapsychologist Stanley Krippner, and experimental psychologist Bruno Bettelheim to speak at the Society, Hall himself remained badly out of synch with the times, and was widely perceived as a relic of the pre-war Los Angeles metaphysical scene.

Hall did little to dispel this image. He counted among his celebrity supporters not the movie stars and pop idols boasted by other gurus, but such staid figures as former Republican governor Goodwin Knight, and Los Angeles’ hard-Right mayor Sam Yorty, who once presented Hall with an official plaque of appreciation in a private ceremony. Hall may have even inspired the greatest American conservative politician of the 20th Century; Occult America author Mitch Horowitz heard much of The Secret Destiny of America’s mystical-nationalist rhetoric echoed in Ronald Reagan’s speeches, and has speculated that the future California governor and U.S. president read and absorbed the 1944 work back when he was still a liberal film-star.

Hall in 1962. He rejected Sixties "Aquarian" occultism, and influenced noted conservative political figures of the era.

Unlike the optimistic Aquarian Sixties occultists, Hall predicted doom and disaster for civilization and the planet, and felt that the hippie counterculture was escapist, immature and anti-intellectual. He especially opposed the psychedelic subculture, comparing drug-users to Homer’s “lotus eaters” and claiming that LSD was worthless for consciousness expansion. Despite this, his Secret Teachings of All Ages remained a perennial best-seller at metaphysical bookstores and the more cerebral head-shops, and a few hipsters glommed onto Hall’s teachings despite his seeming disdain for their kind.

One of Secret Teachings’ biggest latter-day fans was Elvis Presley, who, like Hall, was a self-taught student of esoteric doctrines. According to Larry Geller, Elvis’ hairstylist and spiritual adviser, the King desperately wanted to go to the PRS and meet Hall, but was afraid he’d be mobbed if he set foot in the building. (He sent his wife Priscilla instead, who was bored stiff by Hall’s lectures.) However, Geller scored a deluxe copy of Secret Teachings and had a flattered Hall personally inscribe it to Elvis; according to him, the rock legend once spent a night in an L.A. recording studio showing the big book to his musicians, and lecturing them about its teachings.

By the 1970s, Hall was a sick, aging man. He stopped lecturing outside of Los Angeles, since he was usually too frail to travel. Arthritis and his weight problem made it almost impossible to walk without pain. His gall bladder malfunctioned, and was eventually removed. And his eyesight was failing; only surgery on a detached retina slowed the advance of blindness.

In his eighties, Hall was granted high honors by both John F. Kennedy University and the Freemasons.
Still, Hall was well enough to accept two major accolades around the time of his 80th birthday. In 1981, John F Kennedy University granted the self-taught middle-school dropout an honorary Doctorate. And the Scottish Rite of Freemasonry presented Hall with its highest honor, the Grand Cross. (Hall, who had spoken and written extensively about Masonic secret teachings since his late teens, finally became a Mason in 1954, and eventually attained the Scottish Rite’s elite 33rd Degree. True to his Masonic oaths, once he became a member, he ceased discussing the Brotherhood around non-Masons.)

And Hall even retained a slight celebrity cachet through the 1980s. His Masonic Brother, folksinger and actor Burl Ives, became a close friend, although their wives often clashed (reportedly, the troubles started when both Marie Hall and Dorothy Ives claimed to have been the Comte de St. Germain’s mistress in their former lives.) Another notable, singer-songwriter John Denver, befriended the Halls and often hung out at their house after his Los Angeles concerts. And Hall’s hipness quotient rose appreciably in July 1985 when he presided over the wedding of hard-drinking and –living writer Charles Bukowski to his longtime girlfriend Linda Lee Beighle.

But none of these figures became as close to Hall as one Daniel Henry Fritz. A former banker and computer salesman, Fritz was an L.A. New-Age fringe-figure who ran a colonic-therapy center in Santa Monica and a “water-birthing” retreat in Hawaii, hung out with Bulgarian mystic Omraam Mikhael Aivanhov, and held a Bishopric in a breakaway faction of the Church of Antioch (q.v.)

Initially, Hall distrusted Fritz, and labeled him a phony. But Marie was smitten by him, and invited him along with the couple on a 1987 trip to Sedona, Arizona, where she spoke at a “Harmonic Convergence” gathering. Hall endured the flu throughout the trip, and may have suffered a stroke during it; at any rate, he was never the same afterwards.

When the trio returned to L.A., Fritz volunteered his services to Marie as a live-in caregiver for the aging sage. She accepted his offer, and the would-be male nurse and his teenage son moved into the Hall residence.

Although Marie thought that Fritz was caring for Hall merely in return for room and board, later evidence proved he was milking them for a fortune. Fritz became a co-signer on the Halls’ checking account and credit cards, and charged thousands of dollars worth of personal expenses alongside his employers’, never keeping records of such expenditures. He also talked the couple into loaning him $25,000 for his Biogenics Health Foundation, and thousands more for the Independent Church of Antioch. And he convinced them to invest $200,000 in a colon-cleaning and air-purifying business, of which only about $70,000 was ever accounted for as business expenses. Fritz never created business plans or partnerships for any of these ventures, and never paid the Halls back a dime on their loans and investments.

To many PRS staffers, Fritz looked like nothing less than a con artist attempting to take over not only the Hall estate, but the Society itself, both of which were worth many millions in real estate, collectibles, and intellectual property. Society employees who tried to meet with Hall were either ignored by the ailing octogenarian, or shooed away by Fritz, who had also taken on the roles of personal secretary and bodyguard. Back at the Society, rare books, artworks, photographs, and even gold coins started disappearing from the premises whenever the ostensible caregiver was around. At one point, some PRS employees bugged the phone of Fritz’ associate Mogens Brandt, desperate to get incriminating info about the caregiver and his shady operations. Their efforts were for naught; Fritz and Brandt deftly maneuvered their way into PRS’ Presidency and Vice-Presidency, and became the Society’s effective leaders.

Hall, who by now was mostly confined to a wheelchair and never strayed far from an oxygen tank, bonded strangely with Fritz. Marie, who’d once called Fritz “my angel from heaven” for his seemingly selfless work with her husband, now looked with alarm on their odd doings. She said that the two men regularly performed a “healing ritual” where they would urinate together at dawn, mix the liquids, and then pour the concoction down the side of a backyard tree. Worse still, she claimed that during his daily colonic irrigations, Fritz masturbated her husband (Marie had long suspected that Hall was bisexual). The regular colonic treatments also worried the Halls’ regular doctor, Sterling Pollack, who believed they were destroying the sick old man’s intestinal lining and leaving him vulnerable to infection and disease. But Hall refused to hear any criticism of Fritz.

Hall at 89. Though sick and bedridden, he still lectured regularly at the PRS.

By mid-1990 Hall was mostly bedridden, yet still lectured regularly at PRS. That year, the frail scholar also published his first serious book in many years: Meditation Symbols in Eastern and Western Mysticism: Mysteries of the Mandala, which got rave reviews and attracted new attention to Hall and the Society. Shortly after it appeared, The Los Angeles Times published its first major story on Hall in decades – a human-interest piece titled “Last Western Mystic Thrives in Los Feliz.”

The story’s title was grimly ironic. By midsummer 1990, Hall was near death, and there was much ugly speculation on August 23rd, when he rewrote his will to make the PRS his beneficiary. This made Fritz and Brandt, who occupied the PRS’ top posts, effective heirs to not only Hall’s personal $2.3 million estate, but also to the vast wealth held by the Society.

Five days after the will was rewritten, Fritz urged the Halls to travel to Santa Barbara. He told Marie that he would take Hall up in his motor home, while she could travel separately in her own car. While Marie was on the road, Fritz called her and told him that his vehicle was overheating and that they were turning back to L.A. for repairs. He assured her that he’d stay with Hall at the house during the night, and would ferry the ailing octogenarian and himself up to Santa Barbara when they obtained reliable transportation.

At about 6:30 AM on August 29th, Fritz walked into Hall’s bedroom, noticed he wasn’t breathing well, and claimed he smelled a “sweet odor of high frequency” around his body. Instead of calling 911 or attempting to resuscitate the old man, Fritz instead chanted and prayed, hoping to ease Hall’s “transition” into death. Minutes later he called Dr. Pollack and said that Hall was dead, but then called him again to say Hall was merely “dying”. He followed this with a third call claiming that Hall was, indeed, deceased.

Dr. Pollack arrived to a most curious death scene. Although Hall had only been dead an hour, according to Fritz’s initial call, his body was already stone-cold, with rigor mortis setting in. Lines of ants streamed out of the corpse’s ears, nose and mouth as if he’d been lying for many hours on open ground. Pollack also noted that housecleaners were furiously scrubbing strange reddish-brown stains off the bedroom floor, and that Fritz’ son David was busily emptying out Hall’s closets. Suspicious, the doctor refused to issue an on-site death certificate, and instead authorized an autopsy for the body.

Hall’s initial autopsy was a sloppy, error-ridden work. Among over 60 other glaring mistakes, it mentioned the presence of Hall’s gall bladder, which had actually been removed decades earlier.  Later, a second, independently-commissioned autopsy not only corrected the errors of the first, but noted suspicious details such as bruises and needle marks on Hall’s body. The presence of the ants, as well as other clues, implied that Hall hadn’t died in bed, but had instead expired face-down on a dirt surface, probably from asphyxiation. Faced with the new information, the County Coroner eventually ruled his death was due “unknown causes” under “suspicious circumstances” that suggested “foul play.”

Infuriated, Marie Hall accused Fritz and his associates of murdering her husband in order to take over the Society and the Hall estate. Fritz countered, saying that Marie had badgered and bullied her second husband into his grave, and was a certified lunatic who’d been committed several times, once by Hall himself.  Although the Los Angeles police took an active interest in the case, and questioned Fritz about his actions, there was never enough hard evidence to charge him with murder, and Hall’s death remains officially unsolved.

Fritz tried to have Hall’s body cremated, but Marie and her extended family blocked him, thinking that the corpse might soon yield enough clues to bring charges of murder against the erstwhile caregiver. Hall’s body was put on ice at Forest Lawn cemetery, but began to rot after several months of storage, and was temporarily buried in an unmarked grave. Eventually it was disinterred in Marie’s presence, and cremated.

For the next few years, the nonagenarian widow pressed her case against Fritz in civil, rather than criminal court. She and the Hall faithful in the PRS fought a long, expensive and vicious legal battle to overturn Hall’s last will; after four years they prevailed, and accepted a settlement where Marie got the house, along with Hall’s art and stamp collections and a hoard of 214 rare alchemical manuscripts that the Getty Museum later bought for $750,000. Marie eventually lived to be 100, dying at a Los Angeles convalescent home on April 21, 2005.

Fritz, who’d been publically labeled a con artist by the judge in the will case, lost his PRS presidency in 1993 to Obadiah Harris, who occupies that post as of this writing. Forced completely out of the PRS along with Brandt, Fritz eventually ended up in Reno, Nevada, where he died in 2001 of adrenal cancer, still boasting of his close relationship and happy years with the legendary occult scholar.

The PRS' current main Web page.

Over twenty years after Manly Palmer Hall’s death, the PRS is once again thriving. It maintains a sophisticated Web site, publishes and sells scores of titles by Hall and other metaphysical figures, and holds regular lectures and classes at the Los Feliz headquarters. On the twelfth anniversary of Hall’s passing, the PRS achieved one of its founder’s dreams by achieving State accreditation for its Masters Program in Consciousness Studies; six years later, the Federal government followed suit.

But despite the Society’s success and prominence three-quarters of a century after its inception, it will never be the same without the living presence of its founder. A man who, despite a lack of formal education, spent seven straight decades researching, writing about, and lecturing on the most arcane of spiritual and philosophical topics. A man who, even though bedridden and near death, was still lifted onto his “throne” at the PRS lecture hall every week to speak clearly and insightfully about the deeper meanings of life and existence. And a man who, whatever his failings and weaknesses, inspired countless thousands of people across the world to delve into the world’s wisdom teachings so that they could live saner, healthier and fuller lives.

There will never be another Manly Palmer Hall. For that, the PRS, and the world, are much poorer.

The Manly P. Hall Archive (huge collection of materials, including the complete The Secret Teachings of All Ages, and a video of When Were You Born?)
Sahagun, Louis. Master of the Mysteries: The Life of Manly Palmer Hall (Port Townsend, WA: Process Media, 2008) (superb biography of Hall)


  1. Great post. Keep this series going.

  2. I heard recordings by Hall lecturing on the Zodiac. He took the superstition out of it while affirming its meaning in the cycle of life. As one knowing next to nothing about these topics, Hall was fascinating.

  3. Yes, I'm sorry I never got the chance to see the man lecture back in the day.

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. Fantastic and very informative post! I recently acquired two 10" LPs of Hall's: My Philosophy of Life and Personal Security in a Troubled World. I just cleaned and listened to them today and he was certainly an astute student of many various religious and otherwise leaders and teachers. Both recordings were very thought-provoking.

  6. Thank you for this succinct overview of an extraordinary life. I am inspired to learn more.

  7. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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