Aloha, Bahooka, and thanks for all the fish! Off-Ramp for February 23, 2013

Mysticism, esoterica and an Egyptian Book of the Dead at LA's 'Little Library of Alexandria'

Philosophical Research Society Library

Rebecca Hill/KPCC

Philosophical Research Society Librarian, Edie Shapiro, opens a copy of "Pilz's Anatomical Manikin."

Philosophical Research Society Library

Rebecca Hill/KPCC

Philosophical Research Society Librarian, Edie Shapiro, examines one of the library's antique scrolls.

Philosophical Research Society Library

Rebecca Hill/KPCC

The Book of the Dead. Facsimiles of the Papyri of Hunefer, Anhai, Kersher and Netchemet, with Supplementary Text from the Papyrus of Nu. With Transcripts, Translations, by E. A. Wallis Budge.

Philosophical Research Society Library

Rebecca Hill/KPCC

A hand-written detail from a Pali Buddhist book from Cambodia with Thai commentary. The book dates back to the 19th century.

Philosophical Research Society Library

Rebecca Hill/KPCC

The entrance of the Philosophical Research Society Library, Wednesday, February 13, 2013.

Philosophical Research Society Library

Rebecca Hill/KPCC

A hand-painted detail from a Pali Buddhist book from Cambodia with Thai commentary. The book dates back to the 19th century.

Philosophical Research Society Library

Rebecca Hill/KPCC

Philosophical Research Society Librarian, Edie Shapiro, examines one of the library's scrolls that depicts Darwin's Theory of Evolution.

Philosophical Research Society Library

Rebecca Hill/KPCC

A rare photograph of Miss Benedicion Santa Ana de Branconiere. The library also contains several volumes of her class notes and teachings.

Philosophical Research Society Library

Rebecca Hill/KPCC

A painting of Rabindranath Tagore hangs in the offices of the Philosophical Research Society.

Philosophical Research Society Library

Rebecca Hill/KPCC

Philosophical Research Society Librarian, Edie Shapiro.

Philosophical Research Society Library

Rebecca Hill/KPCC

A copy of "The Story of my Life,"signed by Helen Keller for Philosophical Research Society founder Manly P. Hall on May 27, 1935.

Philosophical Research Society Library

Rebecca Hill/KPCC

A few of the many treasure in the Philosophical Research Library including a carved marble head of a Bodhisattva, (center), and a religious cape in the form of a cross consisting of extensive sections of the Koran, (top left).

Philosophical Research Society Library

Rebecca Hill/KPCC

"Treasure of the World," a statue of Russian philosopher Nicholas Roerich, is prominently placed in the center of the library.

Philosophical Research Society Library

Rebecca Hill/KPCC

"The Science of Being," by Baron Eugene Fersen. The original copies of the book are very valuable, as only 5,000 copies were originally printed.

Philosophical Research Society Library

Rebecca Hill/KPCC

Philosophical Research Society Librarian, Edie Shapiro, points out a hand-painted detail from a Pali Buddhist book from Cambodia with Thai commentary. The book dates back to the 19th century.

Philosophical Research Society Library

Rebecca Hill/KPCC

Six volumes of writings by Philologist Sir William Jones.

Philosophical Research Society Library

Rebecca Hill/KPCC

"The Great Seal of England." The wax seal and attached document date back to 1846.

Philosophical Research Society Library

Rebecca Hill/KPCC

Philosophical Research Society Librarian, Edie Shapiro, opens a copy of "Pilz's Anatomical Manikin."

Philosophical Research Society Library

Rebecca Hill/KPCC

A copy of "The Secret Teachings of All Ages," by Manly P. Hall. The Canadian-born author and mystic founded The Philosophical Research Society in 1934.


At the Philosophical Research Society on Los Feliz Blvd., there's a plaque that reads, "Dedicated to the truth seekers of all time."

That dedication might seem out of place in Los Angeles, a city that made its name with movie sets, facades and props. But as Hollywood was being built, so was a self-proclaimed grand wisdom library near Griffith Park.

The Society's research library houses more than 30,000 esoteric artifacts -- from the writings of Francis Bacon to books on the occult -- all for the purpose of helping 'truth seekers' on their journey.

Obadiah Harris, the Society's current president, knew from a young age that he would be a teacher. It all started one day in high school when his English Literature teacher gave an assignment on Ralph Waldo Emerson. Emerson came to Harris in a dream and after explaining his dream to his teacher, she convinced Harris that it was a sign that he should go on to study the metaphysical and become a teacher.

Dr. Harris went on to learn from as many different teachers as he could, from a Yogi to a Jewish Mystic Sage, eventually earning his Ph.D. in Education from the University of Michigan. But, in Harris' mind, no one could take the place of the Society's original founder -- and teacher -- Manly Palmer Hall.

Hall's life story is ripe for a movie script. He came to Los Angeles in 1919 looking for his mother, who had abandoned him when he was very young. Soon after arriving in Los Angeles, Hall, still a teenager, immersed himself in the occult subculture that was becoming increasingly popular in the 1920s. He wrote extensively and gave lectures in Los Angeles -- all with a focus on the arcane.

After receiving a hefty donation from a wealthy Ventura oil family -- they were enchanted by his public speaking -- Hall traveled everywhere from Egypt to China collecting books -- like a massive 1846 print of the Egyptian Book of the Dead. Hall brought all of his treasures back to Los Angeles, eventually storing them in his library -- built for him in the 1930s by Mayan Revival architect Robert Stacy-Judd.

Now a historical landmark, Hall's library still stands as a storehouse of esoterica. As soon as you pass through the library doors  carved with images of both Confucius and Plato, you get a sense of Hall's obsession with the mysterious. You'll find Augustus La Plongeon's daguerreotypes of Mayan ruins, Rosicrucian journals with bright red covers, and even artwork by Hall himself -- a bust of ancient wisdom scholar Helena Blavatsky.

Called the Indiana Jones of Books, Hall got the attention of at least one other famous collector of the time. Dr. Harris says that, according to more than one account from a rare book-buyer, "When William Randolph Hearst and Mr. Hall were at the same auction, he would see Manly Hall make a bid on something. They said, Mr. Hearst would not bid against him."

And while the area has definitely changed since the 30s, Dr. Harris sees a future for the library beyond himself, Hall -- and even Los Angeles. Harris has developed the Society's mission to encompass the University of Philosophical Research, which offers calsses s in everything from Buddhism to Transformational Psychology.

"I knew that I could take this legendary place, and reach out with this material to aspiring students all over the world. And that's what we're doing now," Harris says.


blog comments powered by Disqus