Ronald Reagan and the occultist: The amazing story of the thinker behind his sunny optimism

Posted: January 5, 2014 at 8:44 am


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Ronald Reagan often spoke of Americas divine purpose and of a mysterious plan behind the nations founding. You can call it mysticism if you want to, he told the Conservative Political Action Conference in 1974, but I have always believed that there was some divine plan that placed this great continent between two oceans to be sought out by those who were possessed of an abiding love of freedom and a special kind of courage. These were remarks to which Reagan often returned. He repeated them almost verbatim as president before a television audience of millions for the Statue of Liberty centenary on July 4, 1986.

When touching on such themes, Reagan echoed the work, and sometimes the phrasing, of occult scholar Manly P. Hall.

From the dawn of Halls career in the early 1920s until his death in 1990, the Los Angeles teacher wrote about Americas secret destiny. The United States, in Halls view, was a society that had been planned and founded by secret esoteric orders to spread enlightenment and liberty to the world.

In 1928, Hall attained underground fame when, at the remarkably young age of twenty-seven, he published The Secret Teachings of All Ages, a massive codex to the mystical and esoteric philosophies of antiquity. Exploring subjects from Native American mythology to Pythagorean mathematics to the geometry of ancient Egypt, this encyclopedia arcana remains the unparalleled guidebook to ancient symbols and esoteric thought. The Secret Teachings won the admiration of figures ranging from General John Pershing to Elvis Presley. Novelist Dan Brown cites it as a key source.

After publishing his Great Book, Hall spent the rest of his life lecturing and writing within the walls of his Egypto-art deco campus, the Philosophical Research Society, in L.A.s Griffith Park neighborhood. Hall called the place a mystery school in the mold of Pythagorass ancient academy.

It was there in 1944 that the occult thinker produced a short work, one little known beyond his immediate circle. This book, The Secret Destiny of America,evidently caught the eye of Reagan, then a middling movie actor gravitating toward politics.

Halls concise volume described how America was the product of a Great Plan for religious liberty and self-governance, launched by a hidden order of ancient philosophers and secret societies. In one chapter, Hall described a rousing speech delivered by a mysterious unknown speaker before the signing of the Declaration of Independence. The strange man, wrote Hall, invisibly entered and exited the locked doors of the statehouse in Philadelphia on July 4, 1776, delivering an oration that bolstered the wavering spirits of the delegates. God has given America to be free! commanded the mysterious speaker, urging the men to overcome their fears of being hanged or beheaded, and to seal destiny by signing the great document. Newly emboldened, the delegates rushed forward to add their names. They looked to thank the stranger only to discover that he had vanished from the locked room. Was this, Hall wondered, one of the agents of the secret Order, guarding and directing the destiny of America?

At a 1957 commencement address at his alma mater Eureka College, Reagan, then a corporate spokesman for General Electric, sought to inspire students with this leaf from occult history. This is a land of destiny, Reagan said, and our forefathers found their way here by some Divine system of selective service gathered here to fulfill a mission to advance man a further step in his climb from the swamps. Reagan then retold (without naming a source) the tale of Halls unknown speaker. When they turned to thank the speaker for his timely words, Reagan concluded, he couldnt be found and to this day no one knows who he was or how he entered or left the guarded room. Reagan revived the story in 1981, when Parade magazine asked the president for a personal essay on what July 4 meant to him. Presidential aide Michael Deaver delivered the piece with a note saying, This Fourth of July message is the presidents own words and written initially in the presidents hand, on a yellow pad at Camp David. Reagan retold the legend of the unknownspeakerthis time using language very close to Halls own: When they turned to thank him for his timely oratory, he was not to be found, nor could any be found who knew who he was or how he had come in or gone out through the locked and guarded doors.

Where did Hall uncover the tale that inspired a president? The episode originated as The Speech of the Unknown in a collection of folkloric stories about Americas founding, published in 1847 under the title Washington and His Generals,or Legends of the Revolutionby American social reformer and muckraker George Lippard. Lippard, a friend of Edgar Allan Poe, had a strong taste for the gothiche cloaked his mystery man in a dark robe. He also tacitly acknowledged inventing the story: The name of the Orator . . . is not definitely known. In this speech, it is my wish to compress some portion of the fiery eloquence of the time.

For his part, Hall seemed to know almost nothing about the storys point of origin. He had been given a copy of the Speech of the Unknown by a since-deceased secretary of the occult Theosophical Society, but with no bibliographical information other than its being from a rare old volume of early American political speeches. The speech appeared in 1938 in the Societys journal, The Theosophist, with the sole note that it was published in a rare volume of addresses, and known probably to only one in a million, even of American citizens.

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Ronald Reagan and the occultist: The amazing story of the thinker behind his sunny optimism

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January 5th, 2014 at 8:44 am

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