Book Review: The Secret Teachings Of All Ages

The Secret Teachings Of All Ages, by Manly P. Hall

If a reader is dedicated to reach the end of more than 600 pages of encyclopedic writing, in more than one sense of the word, about esoteric matters, the last words of this book will haunt one’s sleep:  “The criers of the Mysteries speak again, bidding all men welcome to the House of Light.  The great institution of materiality has failed.  The false civilization built by man has turned, and like the monster of Frankenstein, is destroying its creator.  Religion wanders aimlessly in the maze of theological speculation.  Science batters itself impotently against the barriers of the unknown.  Only transcendental philosophy knows the path.  Only the illumined reason can carry the understanding part of man upward to the light.  Only philosophy can teach man to be born well, to live well, to die well, and in perfect measure be born again.  Into this band of the elect–those who have chosen the life of knowledge, of virtue, and of utility–the philosophers of the ages invite YOU (632).”  Why do these words haunt the reader so?  For one, the author takes them quite seriously–this book is a massive discussion of matters of esoteric philosophy from the point of view of an early 20th century defender of the ancient Mystery religions [1] and their contemporary proponents–the sort of people, Masons and Rosicrucians and the like–who are generally considered to be part of the Illuminati.  Basically, the closing words of this book are an invitation to someone who has read a lot of very seriously written prose in honor of an allegorical view of holy texts and a love of layered secret writings and codes to consider themselves a member of the Illuminati too.  That might haunt the sleep of those far less easily haunted than me.

How did Manly Hall, as a young man, create this masterpiece of contemporary occult reference material?  According to Occult America, he went to the local public library to explore the mysteries of the ages, and ended up with the material to make this book.  He ended up with a lot of material, which is somewhat haphazardly “organized” in this volume.  The materials are at least roughly chronologically organized, starting with ruminations on Atlantis and ancient mysteries and secret societies, looking at the Zodiac, the Hiramic legend, Pythagoras, Thoth Hermes Trismegistus, and Isus, as well as a look at solar worship.  Several chapters of the book are devoted to the symbolism of the Pyramid, humankind, and plant and animal worlds, and several more are devoted to Qabbala, the mystery religion of Judaism, as well as a look at Rosicrucian history and doctrine, and alchemy.  There are chapters on Bacon that claim him to be the real Shakespeare, as well as chapters on Islam, mystery Christianity, American Indian symbolism, and an ode to the success of heathen mystery religions at infiltrating Christianity and using it as a way of preserving ancient pagan ways in new wineskins.  The book contains text, images, and even the occasional copy of ancient texts for curious readers.

Although few people are likely to read this book, especially to its conclusion, this is a book that has a good deal of value both on its own terms as well as in a larger context of religious reading.  The perspective of this book is that of a broadminded author who has a great deal of fellowship with elites of any particular religious tradition but a strong devotion to the point of view of the mystery religions.  From an insider’s perspective, this book provides at least some of the approach taken by the Illuminati throughout the ages in hiding the insights of their works in layers of ciphers and symbols, the general symbolic approach that disregards historical truth in favor of the truth of a larger ideal pattern that can be applied over and over again, and the way that those who have sought to transform themselves and their worlds in alchemy have struggled to find safety among hostile and uncomprehending masses, keeping their studies secret enough to avoid prying eyes but not too secret that they cannot be passed down generation after generation to like-minded philosophically inclined readers.  Quite frankly, it is an exhausting read.  One almost feels a sense of sympathy and even compassion for those who have sought to plumb the secrets of the ages.  Even given my general antipathy to the approach of this book, at least in its disregard for literal truth, the author’s wise advice not to attempt to fool or outsmart dark spirits or court popularity among people are wise pieces of advice that adepts of the occult arts would be wise to listen to, although one cannot imagine too many wise people taking up such arts in the first place, it must be admitted.

[1] See, for example:


About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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