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Making the Ordinary Extraordinary

My Seven Years in Occult Los Angeles with Manly Palmer Hall

Foreword by Danny Goldberg
Published by Inner Traditions
Distributed by Simon & Schuster
LIST PRICE: AU$ 13.99

• Details how the author and her boyfriend developed a close friendship with Manly Hall and how Hall at first mistook her boyfriend as his heir apparent

• Explains how Hall adopted the author as his “girl Friday” and personal weirdo screener, giving her access to the inner circles of occult Los Angeles

• Richly depicts the characters who worked and gathered at Hall’s Philosophical Research Society, including Hall’s wife, the famed “Mad Marie”

In the early 1980s, underground musicians Tamra Lucid and her boyfriend Ronnie Pontiac discovered the book The Secret Teachings of All Ages at the Bodhi Tree bookstore in Los Angeles. Poring over the tome, they were awakened to the esoteric and occult teachings of the world. Tamra and Ronnie were delighted to discover that the book’s author, Manly Palmer Hall (1901-1990), master teacher of Hermetic mysteries and collector of all things mystical, lived in LA and gave lectures every Sunday at his mystery school, the Philosophical Research Society (PRS). After their first tantalizing Sunday lecture, Tamra and Ronnie soon started volunteering at the PRS, beginning a seven-year friendship with Manly P. Hall, who eventually officiated their wedding in his backyard.

In this touching, hilarious, and ultimately tragic autobiographical account, Tamra shares an intimate portrait of Hall and the occult world of New Age Los Angeles, including encounters with astrologers, scholars, artists, spiritual seekers, and celebrities such as Jean Houston and Marianne Williamson. Tamra vividly describes how she used her time at the PRS to learn everything she could not only about metaphysics but also about the people who practice it. But when Tamra begs Hall to banish a certain man from the PRS--the same man who inherited Hall’s estate and whom his wife Marie later alleged was Hall’s murderer--Tamra and Ronnie are the ones banished.

Tamra’s noir chronicle of an improbable friendship between a twenty-something punk and an eighty-year-old metaphysical scholar reveals Hall not only as an inspiring esoteric thinker but also as a genuinely kind human being who simply wanted to share his quest for inner meaning and rare wisdom with the world.

The Big Book

Ronnie and I joining our fates, as you can imagine, could have led to all kinds of mayhem. Ronnie was troubled, more troubled than me. We discovered we had the same feeling of having to get somewhere, without knowing where or why. Ronnie was already searching for something better. But his definition needed a little elevation. Maybe the destiny he was feeling might be as something other than a musician who dies young to his everlasting fame, especially since he had never done anything to make himself famous.

Ronnie’s parents showed a rare optimism when they gave him money for a haircut on his birthday. Maybe they knew he would spend it on something he wanted but they didn’t wish to appear nice or approving. We promptly went to the Bodhi Tree Bookstore instead, to find something special in the used branch. We were looking for a copy of Atlantis, Mother of Empires. No such luck, so we searched for a worthwhile substitute.

Ronnie had taken me to the Bodhi Tree on our second date. I met their mascot, a big ol' ginger cat named Bear. We became friends, a tradition I kept with every Bodhi Tree cat, including Lucia, whose reign ended when the store closed and she was taken home by an employee.

In that converted West Hollywood cottage of a used bookstore, Ronnie found a 1936 edition of a tome with an extremely long title by a guy named Manly Palmer Hall: An Encyclopedic Outline of Masonic, Hermetic, Qabbalistic and Rosicrucian Symbolical Philosophy: Being an Interpretation of the Secret Teachings Concealed within the Rituals, Allegories and Mysteries of all ages. Everybody called it The Secret Teachings of All Ages, or simply the big book. It seemed older than 1936. It looked like something from another century. Ronnie had to put it on lay--away because it cost fifty bucks.

When Ronnie paid it off and brought it home he went through a life changing adventure, a chapter a day, and he took me with him. The art and the diagrams alone brought out the artist in me dormant since childhood. Schools of thought I had never heard of before beckoned like old friends. The secret languages of plants, art, math, science, and music seemed to reveal the meaning behind all.

Each chapter introduced new heroes to my pantheon. I learned what a pantheon was, and I had one! Thrice Great Hermes, Pythagoras, Hypatia, Paracelsus, Jacob Boehme, Francis Bacon, Christian Rosencreutz, and of course the ever elusive, and yet oh so popular, St. Germain: people who had lived lives according to the concepts of a more exceptional conscience. People who articulated things I had sensed, but who refused to be bound by the social constructs that cloistered my consciousness.

The subtle harmonies of nature I had experienced had been dismissed by me and by everyone around me as a simpleton's flights of fancy. Now I knew these were the perceptions of a sensitive soul, a gift to be used to better myself and to help others. There was more to life than the physical world. “I like this Manly Hall dude, when did he die?” I asked. Ronnie looked at the author’s picture. He resembled a vintage thespian. The date of the book was 1936 and that was the sixth edition. According to the manager at the Bodhi Tree Used Branch, the first five editions were more than twice as tall, and had full color plates instead of black and white.

It didn't seem like Manly Palmer Hall would still be among the living. So we were shocked when Loreen, a friend of ours, told us that he was lecturing every Sunday at a place called the Philosophical Research Society, in Los Feliz, just a short drive away. She mentioned a little something about how popular he had been with her girlfriends back in the day, when she was young, and touring America as a dancer in carnivals.

When Ronnie expressed doubt that a man like Manly Palmer Hall would engage in such behavior, Loreen laughed. Besides reminding Ronnie that men are men, she explained: “He was single. He was handsome. He’d take weekend excursions with ladies up toward Santa Barbara to some romantic hideaway.”

I was preoccupied with the revelation that the woman teaching me etiquette had been a carnival dancer scheming with her friends over how to seduce Manly Hall, so at first I didn’t notice how quiet Ronnie got. I thought he’d want to drive out there that very Sunday. But no, he didn’t mention it again. He just read his book.

My First Sunday at PRS

When confronted with the idea of facing the author of the big book, Ronnie became apprehensive and rather sheepish. For many Sundays there were excuses. I finally asked him why he was stalling. He explained that his nefarious past would be an open book to everyone he met associated with this man. I reassured him I wouldn't be with him if I thought he was really a criminal.

Driving through the dappled light of the sun peeking through clouds, we were greeted by a chain and a Parking Lot Full sign. So we found a spot down the street. We would walk many times along Los Feliz Boulevard under every kind of sky, but the first time on a beautiful Sunday morning.

Across the street, Spanish Colonial Revival houses with big lawns looked as if they may have belonged to directors of silent movies. We passed a duplex with a charming courtyard, where sparrows bathed in a fountain, and moss clung to the bricks, under a balcony of red, pink and white geraniums. The roots of old cedar trees were busy slowly breaking concrete. The weeds flowering purple and yellow in the cracked sidewalk caught my eye. Seniors walking their elderly pets eyed the PRS crowd with open skepticism. At least it made Sunday more interesting for them.

First, we heard the murmur of distant greetings. Then we saw the surprise of the almost pink Mayan--Aztec Revival buildings, with a nod to Ancient Egypt. Later, we would wonder if they were Robert Stacey Judd’s idea of the architecture of Atlantis. As we reached the top of the concrete steps we entered into the crowded courtyard. These gatherings of students of the esoteric, enjoying each other’s company, had been happening every Sunday for decades. Some were dressed up as if for Sunday Service. Others were more the mad professor types, male and female. Some looked like hermits who would not interrupt their research for anything less than a Manly Hall lecture pertaining to their specific course of study. Some were Buddhists and others Christians, many armchair philosophers, a few Sikhs, even a couple of nuns. Like students arriving for a favorite class many brought notebooks and pens.

We seemed to be the youngest people there. They were pleased to see us even though they didn’t know who we were. We were young people, and therefore proof that Mr. Hall’s wisdom translated across the generations.

Sunlight lit the carved wooden doors of the library. They were obviously based on Buddhist scrolls where colossal Buddhas sit stately above the students who revere them. On the left door a severe Confucius, on the right Plato as Zeus, but I didn’t know that yet.

I was distracted by a small, yet well--stocked gift shop filled with people. Books, spiritual accessories and symbolical jewelry in the case up front. A room devoted to the very numerous works of Manly Hall. And a strangely incongruous small shelf of what looked like revolutionary pamphlets, all of them by one Marie Bauer Hall.

A plaque outside the auditorium read, “Dedicated to the truth seekers of all time.” The portrait of young MPH in the lobby was dashing but had a touch of the Haunted Mansion about it. In this nostalgic mirage in modern Los Angeles I felt a sense of familiarity amid the strangeness of the unknown. It seemed like going to church, but this certainly wasn't my mother’s Church of Christ.

With unabashed pleasure in each other’s company everyone found their seats. I heard snippets of talk about astrology, auras, tarot, alchemy, and astral bodies. I heard for the first time phrases like the Higher Self and Akashic Records, and romantic names like Ramacharaka, Ramakrishna and Ramana Maharshi. I hadn’t yet studied any of it, but these magical words and names were portals to worlds I knew I wanted to explore.

First Lecture

We found seats and surveyed the scene. Beautiful floral arrangements on stage provided a lovely setting. I noticed a dark--haired guy with a limp glancing at the crowd from the small backstage area; he had the smirk of a musician. He fiddled around with a mic set up next to a big green chair with carved wooden handles. I found out later his name was Arthur Johnson and indeed my suspicions were confirmed, he was a musician. Little did I know then that I was destined for the same despicable fate. Eventually, he would become the person most responsible for convincing me to write this book.

At 11 A.M. sharp the crowd settled down. A large white--haired man with a cane moved slowly across the stage to the big chair. He sat down, graciously greeting everyone with friendly nods and waves. Warm round of applause. And then he dives into a 90 minute lecture, note free, without a pause. Lucid all the way through. Took us all on a little excursion, with proper names, dates, publishers of books, Japanese and Chinese words, little asides about the authors, never a trip up.

Now for some reason unbeknownst to me, but probably the lingering effects of PTSD, I decided this was not Manly Hall. I thought this was a substitute. Midway through the lecture he looked directly at me and started talking about weeds that grow in the cracks of sidewalks, an apt symbol of the opportunity for the soul to evolve through even the harshest conditions. He articulated what I had just seen walking to the lecture, and what I always believed but I didn't dare express, because when I did I'd get laughed at. But no one was laughing at him. I thought, “If Manly Hall is half as good as this guy he must be amazing.”

At the end of the lecture he made a couple of announcements, and informed his audience that refreshments awaited them in the courtyard. While the others left their seats we remained in ours. I turned to Ronnie and asked: “Who was that guy?” He seemed confused by my question.

It turned out Ronnie had the same he looked right at me and said something directly to me experience. A classic case of retribution anxiety for ill behavior, Ronnie had caught Edgar Cayce earth changes fever from the same friend who had told us we could still go see Mr. Hall lecture. We were practically on our way to Virginia Beach. Loreen had already moved there. But that old man looked right at Ronnie and mentioned irrational fear of earthquakes as a sign of a guilty conscience. Plucked.

Many people would later tell us about their own uncanny moments when it seemed Mr. Hall was talking directly to them about something that deeply troubled them. When I worked with Mr. Hall, I realized there was no way he could see us in the audience. His vision was very poor by then. We were a colorful collection of blurs out there in our seats. The right words going to the right places, call it guided by a higher consciousness, or alignment with the Dao, or call it Zen; whatever you call it, he had it.

Tamra Lucid is a founding member of the experimental rock band Lucid Nation. She was a writer and editor for Newtopia Magazine and the principal interviewer for the original Reality Sandwich. She has produced documentary films, including Exile Nation: The Plastic People, End of the Line: The Women of Standing Rock, and the award-winning Viva Cuba Libre: Rap Is War. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, Ronnie Pontiac.

  • Publisher: Inner Traditions (October 26, 2021)
  • Length: 160 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781644113769

“Beautifully written, touching, historical, fast-paced, and fun. This is a book magical people everywhere will love and learn from.”

– Amanda YaTeS Garcia, author of Initiated: Memoir of a Witch

“A must-read . . . this MTV-era story vividly recalls the surreal time when Tamra Lucid’s hot mess of a boyfriend became an apprentice to the greatest metaphysical scholar in America, Manly P. Hall. Part witty manifesto, part feminist grimoire, part LA love letter, this book brings to life an unforgettable mystical friendship, and the road to magic it reveals is lined with palm trees, red carpets, and night-blooming jasmine. A very important document for anyone interested in the life and legacy of MPH, especially if they wish for a more intimate portrait of the man and his remarkable relationship with his wife Marie, not to mention the politics and inner workings of the PRS. I’ve yet to read anything else offering such a wonderfully tender inside perspective.”

– Caroline Ryder, coauthor of Dirty Rocker Boys

“A compellingly written portrait of life with one of the most significant occult voices of the last century--a rare, through-the-looking-glass account of an esoteric circle that quietly impacted the outer world in which we dwell.”

– Mitch Horowitz, PEN Award–winning author of Occult America

“Lucid provides a keenly observed account of the southern California spiritual milieu, peppered with scam artists, hungry seekers, sycophants, and bright lights. Importantly, Lucid also highlights the often-overlooked and unsung women working in the background, supporting and often funding the male shining stars of the occult scene. This book is a truly unique contribution to the history of esoteric spirituality in California, providing an honest yet touching snapshot of the spiritual milieu of LA in the 1980s.”

– Amy Hale, author of Ithell Colquhoun

“Tamra Lucid’s warm, engaging, and illuminating account of her years as Hall’s friend brought back memories of a special time and place and reminded me of just how important and eccentric Hall was. Readers coming to Hall for the first time will get an excellent introduction to him from her account. Those, like me, who remember him will enjoy a welcome reunion with one of the twentieth century’s secret teachers.”

– Gary Lachman, author of The Return of Holy Russia and The Secret Teachers of the Western World

“A lovely, soul-stirring, and heart-wrenching tale, culminating in the curious severing of the student-teacher relationship and subsequent mysterious death of the master. This memoir brought Manly P. Hall and the everyday workings of his society more fully to life than anything else.”

– Mary K. Greer, author of Women of the Golden Dawn

“Tamra Lucid tells a story about the spiritual culture revolving around one particular teacher, Manly P. Hall, but her narrative will resonate with all women who have been rendered invisible in male-dominated metaphysical scenes. This book is the first of its kind in that it humanizes Hall, as opposed to lionizing him or probing his weaknesses. After reading Tamra’s memoir, my regard for Hall the man superseded my respect for him as a sage. This is a quintessential LA tale, a wacky tour of the New Age wilds, and a gripping exploration of the pitfalls of personal divinity, as told by a wise-cracking rebel who drifted into the temple off the mean streets of film noir.”

– Thea Wirsching, author of The American Renaissance Tarot

“Tamra Lucid’s prose is playful, poetic, and magical, befitting a novelist. Her subject matter is the stuff of great characters--captivating and ultimately tragic. Yet, it is all true. Manly P. Hall was an enigmatic genius and the genius of Tamra is the ability to capture that world of Manly and Marie, with all its quirks, its vision, and its downfall. This book is beautifully written and the stuff of legend. Tamra lays it out with grace, humor, and empathy. I highly recommend this book.”

– Normandi Ellis, author of Imagining the World into Existence

“Bitten by the Rosenkreutz bug as much as her subject, Tamra writes amusingly, briskly, and sincerely from experience about her engagement with Hall and his Philosophical Research Society--doubtless a boon to history, but the book’s value exceeds its utility. I greatly enjoyed the breadth of the author’s sympathies, her humor, vitality, and her modest, sensible approach, all making for a highly attractive, original, and entertaining book about a transitional period in American esoteric history.”

– Tobias Churton, author of Aleister Crowley in England

“Writing with a clear-eyed, intelligent, and often hilarious voice, Tamra Lucid tells the story of the fascinating personalities surrounding Manly P. Hall, a legend from a legendary time in LA history. As a character in the story herself, she takes the reader to the heart of it all. Especially recommended: her portrayal of Marie Hall, Manly Hall’s wife, and her struggles with the sexism of the time. The world is changing now, and Tamra Lucid is one of its best new voices.”

– Tod Davies, author of The History of Arcadia series