Manly P. Hall Gets to the Heart of Homer’s “Odyssey”

mphall_89yearsYou won’t hear this interpretation in the storied halls of academia.

Manly P Hall – author, mystic, examiner of all things esoteric – teases apart the obscurities of Homer’s epic to reveal its secret meaning. Namely, what certain elements represent and how it relates to the inner life of man (mental/emotional/spiritual) and consciousness by and large.

Clocking in around an hour-and-a-half, it’s a bit of an undertaking – but it’s well worth the listen:

For more of Hall’s complete talks, check out the Apollyon Productions channel on YouTube:

10 Comments on "Manly P. Hall Gets to the Heart of Homer’s “Odyssey”"

  1. btwforever | Aug 26, 2013 at 6:25 pm |

    Interesting in that “lightweight trying to seem serious that it is almost funny” kind of way but really it’s just nonsense. His William Jennings Bryan “Cross of Gold” speech pattern gets old pretty quick…

    • Matt Staggs | Aug 26, 2013 at 9:32 pm |

      Zounds! Manly P. Hall a lightweight? Could you point me in the direction of some more worthwhile scholars? I am always on the lookout for more to learn on these kinds of topics.

  2. btwforever | Aug 26, 2013 at 11:24 pm |

    “Zounds!”? LOL Really? Matt, I would ask how old are you but I know you weren’t born in a 1920’s movie! (I kid, I kid…)

    How, exactly, was hall a “scholar?”

    As for universal symbology I can point to the obvious, actual scholars: Freud, Jung, and Campbell who found limits to “speculation” to be the real world (i.e. Science/Medicine/History) not whatever speculative bullshit you could imagine (ok, Jung lost it towards the end…) Not that anyone stays completely in the lines but whoever Mr. Hall is he just completely loses it. Worse, the study of Homer in the 1920’s was a pretty heavily traveled road by the some of the best minds. I’m sure they’d laugh at the Cliff Notes, rice paper thin grasp of history and literature Hall displays.

    Hall seems more at home with his own mystical conclusions. In the recording he expresses the religiously themed hyperbole like “all Greeks think this” and that “everyone knows that.” You can’t forgive this type of silliness just because it’s old. The 20’s and 30’s were the heyday of physics, medicine, history, and literary criticism. Plenty of works eschewed this type of sloppy work and, instead, grounded themselves in the knowledge of the age while advancing knowledge considerably. LOL, Hall just didn’t study any of that not even the historical Homer! He was content to concentrate on his own “theory” which was nothing more than a heavy handed reflection of the “anti-established church” mysticism of the time that began much earlier in the 18th century. He (and Crowley) were parroting the same line of “naughtiness” that got it’s start at the beginning of Masonry, the Hellfire Clubs, and the nascent humanism movement. Hell, toss in some “crazy” Joseph Smith-like Egyptology and ultra-right, ultra-secret Catholic church mysticism and you’ve got a full house! All this was in the air long before Hall was born.

    I note that most information I can find of Hall on the internet is of the “mystical woo” variety and most are quick to point out his Masonic connections as if that in some way is supposed to impress. But virtually nothing talks about his education, profession, personality or even his death! For me this raises some red flags, namely that others today are just lifting nonsense from the past to buttress their own new age mystical apologetics by hoping that “old=true.”

    Also, although I’m not exactly an admirer, Hall can’t hold a candle to Blavatsky who actually tried and often succeeded in expressing religious philosophical ideas within framework of history. Skewed and often, at least scientifically, wildly wrong but still impressive in its own crazy way.

    And Matt, you really couldn’t find any other…ahem… “scholars?” Zounds!

    • Hate to burst your bubble, but Jung was always that way. His entire oeuvre was inspired by an ongoing “mystical” experience, as he explains in his Red Book:

      “The years… when I pursued the inner images, were the most important time of my life. Everything else is to be derived from this. It began at that time, and the later details hardly matter anymore. My entire life consisted in elaborating what had burst forth from the unconscious and flooded me like an enigmatic stream and threatened to break me. That was the stuff and material for more than only one life. Everything later was merely the outer classification, scientific elaboration, and the integration into life. But the numinous beginning, which contained everything, was then.”

      Joseph Campbell was equally sympathetic to mystics, and adhered wholeheartedly to experiences “of the transcendence.” Mystical woo, indeed.

      I’m curious, which part of Hall’s analysis do you disagree with, specifically? His take on the Sirens, the Cyclops (and the significance of its eye being pierced), what Penelope symbolizes, what the suitors represent, the significance of Odysseus/Ulysses traveling by sea, or his framing of the hero cycle? Something other than a caustic, broad-brush dismissal.

      And I would challenge your charge of Hall’s supposed penchant for hyperbole/wanton generalization. I’ve heard plenty of his talks where he establishes exhaustive qualifiers, and/or clearly distinguishes between something like the idea of “Eastern thought” and the reality of “modern Eastern peoples” (where a generalization could not be made in either case in the first place).

      • btwforever | Aug 27, 2013 at 2:58 am |

        I have no real problem with mysticism as a reflection of personal understanding of the self and universe. (And not a part of a physical or mental illness, to be clear.) The “woo” part is what bothers me, especially when it becomes a tool of narcissistic egotism – a definite trait of the latter Jung. Kind of like collecting art just so you can invite a potential paramour to your pad to look at your etchings.

        I pretty much had Campbell shoved down my throat at the University and I can say he really didn’t write anything “scholarly” like what you wrote. I need a better reference on that info.

        You may have heard other “talks” of Hall where he was more qualifying but I’ve only heard this one and, well, it really sucks from historical perspective. Despite work in the 20’s and 30’s on the historicity of Homer, Hall is blithely unaware that “Homer” was massively revised for centuries until at least 500BCE. And worse, Hall simply didn’t understand the milieu of the ancient Greek. Let me give a brief example.

        He used an extremely late, not quite Greek philosopher like Porphyory (234-305CE) for his touchstone about “allotments” in Greek stratifications between the natures of man. Porphyry was a philosopher, born about a 1000 years after Homer, who crystalized Greek thought through a *Roman* mind. He used Neptune in his works but the real Greek god name was Poseiden. He mixed in Plato freely, particularly in regards to the “soul”, and his writings were just generally a reflection of his time. In “His Treatise On the Homeric Cave of the Nymphs” (available on the internet) Porphyry is essentially giving *his* own educated view of Homer. Current thought (in the last 100 years) would find that Porphy simply was unaware of the milieu of the ancient Greek and the genesis of the “Odyssey.” (Duh, no internet.)

        Hall is unaware that Porphyry didn’t actually describe ancient Greek thought. Reading Homer today with a good grounding in ancient Greek history and culture would simply not support Hall/Porphyry reasoning. Hall is not aware “soul” (psuchê) in Homer simply meant “life” not the later Platonic meaning elaborated in the “Republic” (ca. 380BCE) and later adopted by gentile Christians (not Jewish Christians who believed in resurrection from death/Sheol/Hades.) Early Greeks simply didn’t have anything like that belief. Important fact: Porphyry was a neoplatonic philosopher! If you remove that meaning of “soul” from Hall’s talk it just totally deflates. And that is just one small example – don’t get me started about when he uses the word “neurosis.”
        If Hall had studied history and culture of Homer (really just the period from 800 to 600BCE) he would not have based *so much* on false ground. Much of this was untangled early in the 20th century but Hall is intellectually sloppy. He casually tosses in and mixes popular current understanding of Stoicism, Epicureanism, Aristotelian, Zoroastrian, and, of course, Freudian thought in a way no ancient reader of Homer would even begin to recognize. It would be nonsense in 600BCE as it is to a historian today: a big puddle of muck. And Hall doesn’t care – he’s delivering a secular sermon about his understanding and belief in symbols. He “reads into” Homer all sorts of modern silliness; really piling it on – which would take *hours* to critique and document.
        A big pile of mystical woo, you might say.

        • Campbell tried to toe a fine line (Moyers famously said he was a man without “an ideology or a theology”), but I sensed a distinct pantheistic (or, arguably, panentheistic) bent in his personal beliefs. He often freely discussed ” a oneness like a Life Force [that] underlies and permeates all that is real,” which he appeared to embrace. Along with the possibility of an absorption of the “I” into said Life Force (what might be termed, among other labels, samadhi).

          From Inner Reaches of Outer Space, he writes:

          “The first step to mystical realization is the leaving of such a defined god for an experience of transcendence, disengaging the ethnic form of the elementary idea, for any god who is not transparent to transcendence is an idol, and its worship is idolatry.”

          And, while that may seem like Joe Friday “just-the-facts-ma’am” exposition, he states more force-fully (sorry, couldn’t resist) in The Power of Myth:

          “I have a feeling that consciousness and energy are the same thing somehow. Where you really see life energy, there’s consciousness. Certainly the vegetable world is conscious. You can see it in the Bible. In the beginning, God was simply the most powerful god among many. He is just a local tribal god. We have today to learn to get back into accord with the wisdom of nature and realize again our brotherhood with the animals and with the water and the sea.

          The transcendent is unknowable and unknown. God is transcendent, finally, of anything like the name “God.” God is beyond names and forms . . . . The mystery of life is beyond all human conception . . . . We always think in terms of opposites. But God, the ultimate, is beyond the pairs of opposites . . . . Eternity is beyond all categories of thought . . . . God is a thought. God is a name. God is an idea. But its reference is to something that transcends all thinking. The ultimate mystery of being is beyond all categories of thought.

          When you see that God is the creation, and that you are a creature, you realize that God is within you, and in the man or woman with whom you are talking, as well.

          There’s a transcendent energy source . . . . That energy is the informing energy of all things. Mythic worship is addressed to that. That old man up there has been blown away. You’ve got to find the Force inside you. [Your life comes] from the ultimate energy that is the life of the universe. And then do you say, “Well, there must be somebody generating that energy?” Why do you have to say that? Why can’t the ultimate mystery be impersonal?”

          There are two ways of thinking “I am God.” If you think, “I here, in my physical presence and in my temporal character, am God,” then you are mad and have short-circuited the experience. You are God, but not in your ego, but in your deepest being, where you are at one with the non-dual transcendent.”

          The last part reminds me of this bit from Alan Watts:

          “To know that you are God is another way of saying that you feel completely with this universe. You feel profoundly rooted in it and connected with it.

          You feel, in other words, that the whole energy, which expresses itself in the galaxies, is intimate. It is not something to which you are a stranger, but it is that with which you, whatever that is, are intimately bound up. That in your seeing your hearing your talking your thinking your moving, you express that which it is that moves the sun and other stars.

          And if you don’t know that, if you don’t feel that, well naturally you feel alien, you feel a stranger in the world.”

          So, that’s why I offered my impression. Plus, he ran with the crowd at Esalen in Big Sur, which was ground zero for the Western spiritual/Gestalt/transcendent-type movement. Doesn’t implicate him into any belief system, necessarily, but he clearly shared certain metaphysical views with the likes of some of his peers like Watts.

          On another note, one could accuse Campbell himself of being just as reductionist and loose with his logic (at times) as your take on Hall. For example, there’s no single religion with a single set of teachings called “Hinduism”. Hinduism is a term, applied by foreign invaders, for all the religious and philosophical systems native to the Indian subcontinent. Dualist forms like Vaishnavism have next to nothing in common, for instance, with non-dual (advaitic) Indian philosophies, such as Advaita Vedanta and Kashmir Shaivism – an overarching distinction I don’t recall Campbell making clear, even if discussing different schools of thought. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of the guy, but you could probably pick apart any scholar if you had a particular axe to grind.

          I can’t attest to the degree of Hall’s accuracy of the historical backdrop, but you don’t have to throw the baby out with the bath water. For one, no one’s got a time machine to go back and ask the author’s (or, as the case may be, authors’) intent, or get a reading of the Ancient Grecians’ general consensus (if there even was one). Still, I found his to be a unique and penetrating interpretation – and one not at all obvious – which, at the very least, might inspire one to look at that story with a fresh set of eyes and/or from a different angle/perspective. Unless you are a “sometimes a cigar is just a cigar” guy.

          • btwforever | Aug 28, 2013 at 12:39 am |

            With all due respect (and I mean that) I simply don’t sense what you sense about Campbell. He was first and foremost a scholar and extremely objective. His writings show empathy with mystics and the religious but he always maintains his distance. I’m well aware that others read more into his work usually to seek scholarly approval for there beliefs (particularly pantheism.) You can usually tell by “extension semantics” or colloquially “weasel words.” Like: “but I sensed…”, or “it is not clear in his work but I think…”, “he seems to…” and so on.

            The problem is that Campbell’s chosen subject to shine an analytical light is also a pulsing, breathing leviathan that some groups have deeply embraced. They confuse empathetic, scholarly discussion with belief and begin to see connections and inferences that just aren’t there.

            For those that might not be following this, pick a political party you truly despise. Now, imagine having to write an objective, scholarly work detailing and analyzing that party but not a total hatchet job. To write a good paper you will really have to let your guard down and read with precision. Sooner or later you’ll learn that the only way to *really* understand is to actually empathize and embrace the culture of the party. This doesn’t mean that you become a party member – you just want a way to unwind the core of something where paradoxes and inexplicable logic, found in all human endeavors, are constantly trying to ensnarl you. Of course, there always the chance that you’ll “go native” but that’s another discussion.

            Campbell carefully regurgitated a process through which others said they found…well, let’s just say something mystical: connections between things that had no obvious connections or something unknowable in the normal state of being. He really didn’t pass judgment nor have I ever read anything in Campbell that made me think he “went native.”

            As for using “Hinduism” as a label, scholars do it today using the term almost like a upper level biological classification. If they constantly had to recite the entire lineage and context of a religion like “South American, Pacific Side, Catholic, Dominican, with traces of Inca and Mayan Rituals” instead of “Christian” just to differentiate it from “Islam” or “Buddhism” then you would be bogged down in useless minutia. Instead, scholars start at the most general and work down as needed. I simply do not remember Campbell’s writing about Hinduism to say if he used Hinduism sloppily. But Hall’s use of hyperbole and generalities were very specifically wrong – not just inaccurate.

            I thought your allusion to a baby being tossed out was pretty apropos – but it is just Hall doing the tossing. By ignoring the work from the viewpoint of the ancient Greek and the obvious (non-mystical) standpoint he misses the mark entirely. The mystical/divine/symbolic is baked right into the text! For example, in Book 3, Paris is being dragged around by his helmet by Menelaos and the goddess Aphrodite breaks the chin strap to save him. However, Menelaos has reacts quickly and dives at Paris with his spear. At this moment Aphrodite descends in a miasma swoops Paris away back to his pad. Right to his *bed.* Aphrodite. Yeah, pretty obvious. Meanwhile, Menelaos is wandering around trying to find Paris who disappeared before his eyes. The Iliad is a tad short on why Menelaos doesn’t running horrified or why he isn’t afraid of the judgment of the gods. (I have a theory but whatever.) But you can see the divine in action, miracles performed and obvious symbols right in front of mere mortals.

            This isn’t sophisticated enough for Hall, he needs to dress it up in a synthesis of treacle straight from popular literature from the very early 20th century. If he did this to “The Great Gatsby” he’d be laughed out the room (or hired by Baz Luhrmann) by F. Scott Fitzgerald devotees. That’s because we know about Fitzgerald and his world: it not painful to imagine that milieu. But trying to see it from the viewpoint of the ancient Greek is difficult and time consuming. You have to leave the values of the last 2500 years behind and imagine a totally different world. Hall can’t do that and I don’t think he even tried. So why is it worth the time? Are you entertained? Are you a historian of the early 20th mysticism?
            I’d rather watch “Workaholics.”

          • BTWForever,

            I’m rather surprised at your commentary, and I mean that quite literally with no offense intended.

            Campbell was a mystic, you say that you don’t get the sense that he went “native,” yet he spoke quite extensively about being “guided” in his life by outside forces, and is quite clear that his comparative mythological studies are based on his belief in a form of perennial philosophy. What surprises me is that in other areas you demand exactitude on dates and facts yet you don’t seem to show this in your representation of any of the figures that you’re discussing.

            In one of your comments you speak of Hall and Crowley courting “naughtiness,” yet Hall was extremely chaste in his work. You also imply that this “naughtiness” has a beginning in Masonry? and the Hellfire Club? The beginnings of Masonry can be dated (through manuscripts) to at least the late 14th Century, the Hellfire Club is an 18th century phenomena (here is an academic blog that details it’s history:,) and is in no way connected to any form of orthodox Masonry. I’m not sure what sort of “naughtiness” you think goes on in Masonry, but you’d be hard pressed to find Hall as anything but a very chaste and upright gentleman. Your mention of humanism in this context is confusing as well, as Masonry has long been divided into a number of different positions on the topic of mysticism, and has always had branches that favored a Royalist and Traditionalist stance.

            What you may object to in this video, which you’ve admitted is your first encounter with Hall, is his use of ahistorical continuity as a means to support an active social philosophy. In his public speeches Hall sought to encourage a specific moral and ethical approach, and he used examples from the past to support that. In so doing historical fact, such as whether Porphyry was influenced by Roman ideas or not, and the span of time between his work and Homer’s, become rather useless and pedantic.

            That is not to say that in an academic sense these details don’t matter, but this was not Hall’s purpose with these talks. The reason that Hall’s Masonic connections are so lauded is that he was given the great honor of becoming a 33 degree Mason without ever having been initiated, it was given to him in honor of his social service and understanding of esoteric (not academic) philosophy.

            As it’s clear you are very keen on detail and accuracy, I would encourage you to support those virtues with more depth before blocking off your understanding with unfounded opinions.

            Here is a link to an article from Ronnie Pontiac, who was a long time student of Hall’s, which will give you a better idea on who Hall was as a man, that is a real, living, breathing person who you’ve gone to great pains to discredit based on unfounded opinions that you hold:

            You’ve proven your ignorance in your posts, under what appears to be the influence of some offense you’ve taken with Hall that has lead you to insult the memory of an honorable man. Please take this opportunity, as he would have, to dig deeper into these subjects which you’ve jumped into with such bravado, and learn a bit more before expressing this kind of biased judgement.

          • btwforever | Aug 29, 2013 at 7:23 pm |

            I stand by what I said earlier about Campbell. You’ll need some better references than what you provide to change my mind. Clearly, it will have to be a hell of a reference because many people more astute than myself can attest to his objectivity. (See Drokhole replies.)
            I know little of Manly P. Hall with the exception of the recorded lecture I heard here at Disinfo and a brief survey of his biography and works on the internet. But even with that it is easy to make the case that Hall was “naughty” with a single word: astrology. His belief and active support of astrology was strong – so strong he wrote a movie screenplay based on astrology! During his heyday that made him the enemy to many religious people because Christian church has opposed astrology since about 200CE up to, well, now. Granted, this didn’t put Hall in the league with Crowley because as far as I could tell Hall doesn’t say much about sex. And it wouldn’t matter anyway because by the 60’s most of the Victorian sexual values that Crowley thumbed his nose at were being jettisoned. But Hall took a conservative, easy road to “naughtiness” which is pretty common in the world Hall grew up in (phrenologists and chiropractors.) And although this kind of thinking as an established history (see: Quimby, Phineas) in the US it still runs wildly counter to both scientific and common religious belief of then as well as now. And I can get a whole crowd of rabid anti-astrology and anti-Mason people together in about 10 minutes who would agree me about Hall’s “naughtiness”, although they would use stronger words. So, yeah, he belongs to the same school Crowley, he’s more timid and searching for approval.
            This brings me to why I mentioned Prophyry: Hall seems to lift much of the beginning of his lecture from a book published in 1823 translating the Prophyry treatise “Homeric Caves of the Nymphs” and, more importantly, from the *appendix* of the translation written by neoplatonist Thomas Taylor. And I mean “lifted!” See for yourself – the book is in the Google Library just search “Select Works of Porphyry” and you’ll find it. (Or you can come over to my house and read my copy I got at Half Priced Books!) If you can’t read the whole thing then just read the Homeric Treatise and the Appendix. Then listen again to Hall. Where he doesn’t quote Taylor (and his understanding of “allotments”) precisely he paraphrases. And Taylor filters most of his understanding of Homer through Porphyry causing him, and subsequently Hall, a have totally anachronistic bent towards Plato. Who, it should be noted, was *not* explaining Homer! So Hall was passing old ideas as his own without the benefit of a reference or credit.
            I noticed in your reply you really don’t address my comments – you just call me ignorant. That’s ok. The more I learn the dumber I get. And I’ll bet if you pick out someone at random and try to explain this post and it’s comments I think you’re going to sound pretty pedantic as well. You clearly admitted that Hall was delivering a “secular sermon” with out any real regard for Homer. So, really you don’t disagree with me on the facts – you just don’t like my opinion and you call me names. Fine. But spending time listening to such a minor figure propound incorrectly about Homer because he was blithely unaware of the scholarly work he could have easily availed himself was more than a bit of a bore. Particularly because there is a wonderful modern correlation between Homer and todays better TV series: the style, the language, and even the format is eerily similar. So there are interesting things to say about Homer – just not the not warmed over, late 19th century kitsch spread by a guy in the 20th century!
            But I bet you’re a bit of a woo pusher yourself! Am I right? (Ha! You know I am.) And that’s the real reason why you disliked my comments.
            You have to love Where else can a woo-pusher and anti-woo guy mingle? Zounds!

    • Matt Staggs | Aug 28, 2013 at 10:10 am |

      I used “Zounds!” in hope of amusing you, and it appears that I did so. I’m familiar with the others that you’ve mentioned, of course. It seems that you’ve perhaps interpreted some sarcasm in my response that was entirely unintended. I think that your question regarding my description of Hall as a scholar was (to put it kindly) rhetorical, but I’m happy to clarify by defining scholar as a “learned person.” Would you not agree that he was learned, even if you disagree with some of what his conclusions? How familiar are you with his work, and what have you read by him? This isn’t meant as any kind of stab at your conclusions. I’m only wondering if they’re just based on this video and whatever you could find online.

      I was hoping that you might, in the spirit of inquiry, provide some additional titles or authors that I might enjoy. I would suggest, however humbly, that you might want to try just a little bit harder to find biographical information on Hall: I was able to assemble a reasonably acceptable biographical sketch by Googling his name. I have respect for Freud as a pioneer in his field and a great cultural force, but I’m not ready to consider his work especially scientific or grounded in the real world. I’m no expert on Jung or Campbell (I’ve read their work for years, but I’m only a layman), but I think that you may be surprised to learn that both Jung and Campbell were very much invested in the “mystical woo” as being central to their practice. I find Blavatsky to be as intriguing a character as Freud, but even a casual survey of her work will reveal that it’s hardly historical: Secret Chiefs, forgotten lands, “root races”. There’s a reason that authors like Robert E. Howard found her work to be inspiring. (Incidentally, I’m a big Robert E. Howard fan.)

      Woo woo,

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