Making the Bitter Sweet, Making the Tragic Comic

My Seven Years in Occult Los Angeles with Manly Palmer Hall is the subtitle of Tamra Lucid’s beautifully written memoir, Making the Ordinary Extraordinary. My own seven years of annual visits to occult Los Angeles lasted from 1981 to 1988, coinciding roughly with the period in which Tamra and her husband as newlyweds were involved in Hall’s Philosophical Research Society and its library.  I wish I could have known them then, but this book makes readers feel as if we have.

Instead of a biography of Hall and or his wife Marie, or an autobiography, what we have is a series of colorful anecdotes, humorously retold, about a diverse cast of characters in a unique subculture of eccentrics. The humor becomes an alchemical transformation of lead into gold, in which the author tells the story of these seven years with the benefit of thirty years of hindsight, finding many levels of meaning that were not apparent at the time.

My last trip to the LA area in any official capacity was to speak at the 1988 Secret Doctrine Centenary in Pasadena which had Mr. Hall as the featured keynote speaker, the same day I spoke about the Chaldean Book of Numbers.  In the 1990s I had a comparable amount of experience with occult Virginia Beach. The tragic circumstances of Hall’s death resonated among the milieux of Cayce and Blavatsky fans I had met; his PRS Library was the closest analogue to those in Virginia Beach, Altadena, or Wheaton I had consulted where his name was instantly recognizable, along with his magnum opus The Secret Teachings of All Ages.  Grace Knoche, Leader of the Pasadena TS which organized the event spoke of him by first name as a personal friend before this event and was the convener of the conference.

The astrology-savvy readers of this blog will appreciate Tamra’s frequent astrological references.  Chapter nine, Pluto, describes Ronnie Pontiac’s initiation into the mysteries of astrology: “Of course, Edith knew about the astrology challenge, and gave Ronnie a carefully chosen list of books, including several early editions from C.C. Zain’s Religion of the Stars set. She wanted to see our charts for herself so we got another lesson in interpretation.  She got a kick out of blowing our minds.”

I am mentioned in reference to Marie Hall’s infamy in my native southeastern Virginia on page 74: “Marie upset the locals.  I know she traumatized the town because of friend of mine, Paul Johnson, was a young man there when it happened.”  Marie Hall’s psychic visions told her and dozens of fanatical followers that Bruton Parish church yard in Williamsburg contained not just the original manuscripts of all Shakespeare’s works in Francis Bacon’s handwriting, but various kinds of other buried literary treasures revealing all the secrets of the universe.  Years of legal harassment and vandalism against the good people of Williamsburg ensued. 

Both Halls fell into the hands of unscrupulous characters among the motley crew they had collected, as described by Tamra: “And so I met many casualties of spirituality gone wrong. The seekers of wisdom who were actually seeking dominion. The ceremonial magicians who opened portals they could not close into realms they could not understand. The positive thinkers whose shadows erupted into inexplicably negative predicaments.” The most ominous line appears on page 109: “his name was Daniel Fritz, and he claimed to be a reincarnated Atlantean priest.” He claimed a great many other things, and did tremendous damage to the organization, but very soon after his appearance on the scene, Tamra and Ronnie were shown the door. “Mr. Hall asked Ronnie to see him at home, not PRS.  ‘Ron,’, Mr. Hall said, `I want you to go.’  Naturally, Ronnie wondered why.  Mr. Hall explained that all those wonderful elders, including himself, who had shown such kindness weren’t long for this world.  He did not want us to witness the demise of PRS.  ‘This is my flock,’ he told Ronnie, and I have to take them home.’

Readers of this blog may recall that my enthusiasm for Thomas Moore Johnson and Alexander Wilder was largely inspired by Ronnie’s 2013 Newtopia articles about them and Hiram K. Jones.  Very soon after reading them, I learned that Patrick Bowen had obtained permission to transcribe and publish the entire voluminous incoming correspondence to Johnson, with Wilder the most prolific correspondent by a wide margin.  Now Ronnie’s research into Johnson, Wilder, Jones, and associates is part of a forthcoming book which I will feature here when it appears. Both Tamra and Ronnie have vivid “authorial voices” which is something I have tried to avoid in a lifetime of scholarly writing with mostly academic publishing outlets. Making The Ordinary Extraordinary deserves the popular and critical success which is inevitable (or deserves to be so in my estimation.) In addition to being a book, it will also become an audiobook and subject of several podcast interviews to which I will give links in the comments. Her “voice” needs to be heard.