It's 11 am on Saturday afternoon and I'm on a big bus traveling backward up a curvy street in the Hollywood Hills. I have no fear as we round a turn at an alarmingly awkward angle. I have faith for I am one of about 30 seekers who have joined author Erik Davis and Esotouric Tours on a five hour pilgrimage to local occult landmarks cited in Davis's 2006 book, The Visionary State: A Journey Through California's Spiritual Landscape.
The Krotona Inn, off Franklin Avenue near the 101, is our first stop. Named for an ancient Pythagorean community, the Krotona Inn housed visitors and guests of an important Theosophical community established by Albert Powell Warrington in the Hollywood Hills in the early 1910s. The retreat space is now a collection of private apartments arranged around a patio courtyard with a lotus pond. Erik pointed out the complex's east wing where colony members once meditated under the remaining Moorish dome. Erik led us up a pathway to inspect a gorgeous stained glass window, the only remaining remnant of the Grand Temple of the Rosy Cross, another Moorish-style structure now subdivided into apartments. Then it was back on the bus. My fellow passengers and I, stuffed with information about Rosicrucian and metaphysical art history, waved at a line of Jehovah Witness proselytizers puffing up the hill on foot. I chuckled over the idea of them proselytizing in a neighborhood that may be even more spiritually susceptible than they can even guess.
Photograph of Erik Davis by Richard Schave
The day raced by as we visited nuns cloistered in The Monastery of the Angels one hill over, intergalactic communicators at the Aetherius Society, devotees at the Vedanta Society, and metaphysicians at The Philosophical Research Society ("PRS"). I've wanted to visit the the PRS since I was 11 years old and never really found the time until now. We had a fantastic welcome from Maja D'Aoust, the PRS research librarian, who shared info about the PRS headquarters and library, designed by that master of Mayan Modernism architectural kitsch, Robert Stacy-Judd, and showed us PRS founder Manly P Hall's personal glass slide collection of symbolic art using an incredibly preserved old slide projector. Attendees geeked out over this piece of ancient tech as much as the occult books on display.
Manly P. Hall's presence dominated the tour and subsequent activities involving Mr. Davis. After visiting PRS, our bus returned us to Skylight Books where advance copies of the new Manly P. Hall biography awaited us. Written by Los Angeles Times staffer Louis Sahagun, the The Master of the Mysteries: The Life of Manly P. Hall is access into the life of a major figure who shaped the Southern Californian esoteric landscape. Indeed, Esotouric hosted a post-tour brunch with Erik at Clifton's Cafeteria on Sunday. Erik told us about the importance of Clifton's in the development of occult salons all over the city. Mystics, gurus and alternative sects treated Clifton's as a recruiting grounds during the Depression. The cafeteria's owner never hid its Salvation Army agenda, offering spiritual sustenance as well as affordable nourishment to L.A.'s down and out. Louis Sahagun joined the discussion, telling us how Manly P. Hall complained to the cafeteria's owners after discovering that a rival evangelical group had installed a mole amongst Clifton's kitchen staff who wrapped sandwiches in the group's hand bills.
As Erik told us that seminal science fiction fan, Forrest J Ackerman, hosted meetings of the Los Angeles chapter of the Science Fiction League at Clifton's in the 30s and 40s, attracting folks like Ray Bradbury and Ray Harryhausen, in a room very likely where we assembled that morning, I thought about his opening remarks on the bus the day before: how these structural bits and pieces left behind by past seekers have formed an embedded mosaic that still resonates with a palpable a mystic ambiance this area and its inhabitants can never truly escape.
Here are some upcoming events involving Erik Davis and/or Manly P. Hall:
June 15, 2008: Occult LA at The Silent Movie Theatre with Erik Davis and Louis Sahagun at 8 PM, Silent Movie Theater, 611 N Fairfax Avenue, Los Angeles
June 21, 2008: Master of Mysteries Slide Show at the Philosophical Research Society to celebrate the publication of Master of Mysteries,
noon-3 PM at Philosophical Research Society, 3910 Los Feliz Blvd, LA
ETA on 6/18/08--Postscript:
We get letters. LA Observed reader Lynda Akin wrote in to offer additional LA sites tied to Theosophy and the occult. She writes
"I am surprised since you were taken up the hill that they didn't include Besant Lodge on Beachwood Drive...it is still owned by the Theosophical Society, and lectures are held there. There are beautiful stained glass windows (http://www.gnosis.org/gnostsoc/besant.html)...
I am also surprised that the involvement of the Theosophical Society in what is now Hollywood Bowl was not mentioned...
[Erik Davis's book neglected] the Highland Park/Mt Washington area [which] is rich in occult/spiritual connections. Swami Parmahansa chose Mt Washington to be the world headquarters for SRF [Self Realization Fellowship]..(and they host a great Halloween party every year--their location has an almost panoramic view of LA, worth visiting for that!), Mystic Dharma Buddhist temple has been in operation for decades (pre 80's)...the first Coptic church is located on Mt Washington...and BOTA (Builders of the Adytum) is on Figueroa, not far from the temple (also around for a l-o-n-g time...). "