Reagan and the Occult

A couple of weeks ago Steven Levingston’s Political Bookworm blog shared a story about Ronald Reagan, Manly Hall, and the secret destiny of America that Mitch Horowitz included in his Occult America: The Secret History of How Mysticism Shaped Our Nation.

As Reagan told it, a mysterious man in a black cloak appeared in the statehouse in Philadelphia on July 4, 1776 and exhorted the faltering delegates to sign the Declaration of Independence. “God has given America to be free!” he thundered, before he just as inexplicably disappeared. Reagan used it as the centerpiece of an article about the meaning of Independence Day that he personally penned for Parade magazine in 1981; it also featured largely in the commencement address he delivered at Eureka College in 1957 (Eureka was his alma mater and the speech bears his personal touch; it’s not canned-sounding at all, though a sour note does creep in when he goes off on a rant about how after heroically purging the communists from its unions, Hollywood had allowed itself “to become a sort of a village idiot on the fringe of the industrial scene fair game for any demagogue or bigot who wants to stand up in the pulpit or platform and attack us. We are also fair game for those people, well-meaning though they may be, who believe that the answer to the world’s ills is more government and more restraint and more regimentation. Suddenly we find that we are a group of second class citizens subject to discriminatory taxation, government interference and harassment.” The personal is never far from the political where Ronald Reagan is concerned–a great source of his strength and, I believe, of his insufficiently acknowledged strangeness).

Horowitz says that Reagan first encountered the story in the spiritualist Manly Hall’s short 1944 book, The Secret Destiny of America.

Was this, Manly Hall wondered, “one of the agents of the secret Order, guarding and directing the destiny of America?” Hall himself adapted the story from an 1847 anthology of speeches put together by George Lippard (who admitted to pretty much making it up). Lippard’s version–which for all its gothic Poe-like touches, is decidedly non-supernatural and far more Jacobin than anything Reagan would have approved of–can be found here.

The notion of American Exceptionalism, of course, is as old as America–it goes back at least to the Puritan John Winthrop’s Arabella sermon about the City on the Hill (another trope that was dear to Reagan’s heart). Reagan, like many other Hollywood types on both the right and the left, had an equal taste for the histrionic and lite spiritualism like astrology; it’s not surprising that he would have taken to this Twilight Zone-worthy scenario. Reagan’s Fundamentalist friends wouldn’t have approved of Hall’s Masonic and Theosophical inclinations and they would have been alarmed by the notion that a secret society of necromancers has been pulling America’s strings. But if the mysterious visitor were understood to be angelic, they’d have no problem with the story at all.

I just finished reading Jeff Sharlet’s THE FAMILY, which traces American evangelicalism’s identification of salvation with corporatism, of Jesus with free enterprise. It’s weird and disturbing and not at all intuitive, but it helps explain why, for all his Hollywood airs, fundamentalists love Reagan so deeply–and also Glenn Beck’s disdain for the Social Gospel.

11 thoughts on “Reagan and the Occult

  1. In ‘Secret Destiny’, Hall specifically cites Robert Allen Campbell’s “Our Flag” as the source of the tale, while admitting that it is difficult to gauge where Campbell had got the information. How does Horowitz get Lippard from Hall’s specific citation of Campbell? The latter, by the way, was a Theosophists as well and was one of the founders of the Hermetic Brotherhood Of Luxor.

    1. I was just paraphrasing Horowitz and Levingston, but Horowitz might have noticed that the copyright on Campbell is 1890 and Lippard is 1847.

      But I dug a little deeper and as it happens, the Hall can be found on-line, here.

      Here is what Hall says about his source for the speech: “SOME years ago, while visiting the Theosophical colony at Ojai, California, A.P. Warrington, esoteric secretary of the society, discussed with me a number of historical curiosities, which led to examination of his rare old volume of early American political speeches of a date earlier than those preserved in the first volumes of the Congressional Record.

      He made particular mention of a speech by an unknown man at the time of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. The particular book was not available at that moment, but Mr. Warrington offered to send me a copy of the speech, and he did; but unfortunately neglected to append the title or the date of the book. He went to India subsequently, and died at the Theosophical headquarters at Adyar, in Madras. Then, in May, 1938, the speech appeared in The Theosophist, official organ of the society published in Adyar. In all probability the original book is now in the library of the Theosophical society. There is no reason to doubt the accuracy and authenticity of Mr. Warrington’s copy, but I am undertaking such investigation as is possible to discover the source of the speech.”

      Hall cites Campbell as his source for the origin of the American flag.

  2. My bad. Wrong chapter. Chapter 15 also talks about a mysterious man, called the professor, in nearly the same language.

    The more I read lore of occultists, the more it feels like bedtime stories told to incredulous children. a lot of conspiracy myths come from these same sources.

  3. On another note: I have a first edition of that Hall book, in pristine condition. What do you suppose I could get for it? I think I only paid 30 or 40 bucks for it on ebay a while back.

    1. a couple of people have the first edition listed on alibris (none of them in pristine condition); they’re asking about $50. You’d probably get a higher price from a collector of occult books rather than simply rare books.

  4. Thanks.

    It just occurred to me that the reason Gorbachev and Reagan got along so well was that they – and their wives – had similar mystical inclinations. Raisa Gorbachev is said to have been a devotee of Roerich’s Agni Yoga teachings, i.e. beliefs based upon Blavatsky’s Master Morya and theosophical currents in general; and Gorby himself endorsed it and helped Roerich’s son institute a cultural center in Moscow to preserve his father’s legacy.

  5. Sorry for the multiple comments. Another thing is that Jim Garrison, the founder and president of the Gorbachev Foundation, is an adherent of Hall/Bacon America-as-new-Atlantis teaching. He talked about it a few times in New Age magazine interviews as well as in his book, America As Empire, speaking with reverence about the purpose and mission of Freemasonry and the mystic significance of the Great Seal (mentioning Bacon and his New Atlantis).

  6. Don’t apologize. This is really interesting stuff–and I suspect it’s been completely overlooked in the historical record.

  7. I totally agree. A large tome could be written on the esoteric proclivities of famous politicians and heads of state, say, from the Enlightenment to the present, or even multiple volumes spanning a 1000 years or so! I thought that Gary Lachman’s book might have been along these lines, but it was basically an introduction to the territory more thoroughly covered by James Webb.

  8. [This intriguing web piece was recently encountered by me]

    “Three R’s” a Collector’s Item

    Journalist/historian Dave MacPherson’s controversial book “The Three R’s” names and discusses evangelical leaders who have not only heavily plagiarized others but have even been caught quietly using the forbidden world of the occult in order to defend the pretrib rapture view!
    MacPherson, the world’s authority on the 180-year-old history of the same view which has made millionaires of leading Religious Rightists including Lindsey and LaHaye, has authored the nonfiction bestseller “The Rapture Plot” and many web articles including “Pretrib Rapture Dishonesty.”
    The plagiarists include J. A. Seiss, E. W. Bullinger, Hal Lindsey, C. C. Carlson, David Jeremiah, Chuck Missler, and even Dallas Seminary professor Merrill Unger!
    “The Three R’s” (packed with many more discoveries than just the plagiarism and occultism) has been out of print for several years and is now a very rare and pricey item. Check out online bookstores and you will find these typical prices for a USED copy of it: Alibris ($33.94), Amazon ($33.94), Amazon UK ($73.08), and Archives Books ($36.93). They also charge several dollars for shipping.
    As the only publisher of this 149-page exposure, we’re glad to announce that we’ve located three small boxes of it. For a $30.00 donation we’ll mail you one free copy – or a limit of two free copies for a $50.00 donation. We’re a nonprofit corporation and our IRS E.I. number is 74-2420939.
    All donors will receive NEW, POSTAGE-PAID, SIGNED (by Dave MacPherson) copies of “The Three R’s” along with a valid tax-deductible receipt. Send checks in US funds to:
    P.O.S.T. Inc., PO Box 333, Beloit, Kansas 67420 USA.

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