Ronald Reagan often spoke of America’s divine purpose and of a mysterious plan behind the nation’s founding. “You can call it mysticism if you want to,” he told the Conservative Political Action Conference in 1974, “but I have always believed that there was some divine plan that placed this great continent between two oceans to be sought out by those who were possessed of an abiding love of freedom and a special kind of courage.” These were remarks to which Reagan often returned. He repeated them almost verbatim as president before a television audience of millions for the Statue of Liberty centenary on July 4, 1986.

When touching on such themes, Reagan echoed the work, and sometimes the phrasing, of occult scholar Manly P. Hall.

From the dawn of Hall’s career in the early 1920s until his death in 1990, the Los Angeles teacher wrote about America’s “secret destiny.” The United States, in Hall’s view, was a society that had been planned and founded by secret esoteric orders to spread enlightenment and liberty to the world.

In 1928, Hall attained underground fame when, at the remarkably young age of twenty-seven, he published “The Secret Teachings of All Ages,” a massive codex to the mystical and esoteric philosophies of antiquity. Exploring subjects from Native American mythology to Pythagorean mathematics to the geometry of ancient Egypt, thisencyclopedia arcana remains the unparalleled guidebook to ancient symbols and esoteric thought. “The Secret Teachings” won the admiration of figures ranging from General John Pershing to Elvis Presley. Novelist Dan Brown cites it as a key source.

After publishing his “Great Book,” Hall spent the rest of his life lecturing and writing within the walls of his Egypto-art deco campus, the Philosophical Research Society, in L.A.’s Griffith Park neighborhood. Hall called the place a “mystery school” in the mold of Pythagoras’s ancient academy.

It was there in 1944 that the occult thinker produced a short work, one little known beyond his immediate circle. This book, “The Secret Destiny of America,” evidently caught the eye of Reagan, then a middling movie actor gravitating toward politics.