How To Do Footnotes In Chicago Style With Multiple Authors The Origin of the Master Key System by Charles F Haanel

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The Origin of the Master Key System by Charles F Haanel

I received an email from a reader named Derek L. who wrote:

Thanks for your great posts/blog. It’s refreshing to see someone telling the truth and not selling more snake oil.

I have a question…

I am intrigued by the lineage of thoughts related to this topic. Since you have a lot of exposure to this stuff, I wonder if you have any idea where Haanel got his original concepts from?

I am often asked that question because there is a lot of mystery surrounding Haanel and his perennial work, The master key system. Was he part of a Masonic conspiracy? Did he receive his knowledge through arcane means? Someone even theorized about some kind of Russian wizard sharing his knowledge with Haanel.

The story is pretty interesting, but more blasphemous than some of the stories would have you believe. The master key system it must be considered in the context of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. New Thought philosophy was in full swing with many books and magazines publishing the new beliefs to an apparently voracious audience. Based on Christian Science, as advocated by Mary Baker Eddy, Christian Scientists and many new thinkers have held firmly to the belief of what Jesus Christ said about the powers available to each and every person.

Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe in the evidence of the miracles themselves. I tell you the truth, whoever has faith in me will do what I have done. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may glorify the Father. (John 14:11-13)

Thus, with enough faith and belief, one could perform miracles as Christ did. Even a cursory reading The master key system would reveal to anyone that this was something Haanel believed in deeply. That said, the monotheistic ideas Haanel espouses are more than likely derived from his involvement in Freemasonry; although Freemasons do not define their God, their only requirement is belief in one God. It is then through this God that miracles and extreme human potential can occur.

Before we get further into this, it should be noted that there were at least two other publications that emphasize the words “The Master Key” prior to the 20th century. The actual phrase was used from the 17th century by Freemasons and for a publication in the 18th century: Hiram, or the Master Key to the Door of Freemasonrypublished in 1760. Another use of the phrase can be found in Madame Helena Blavatsky’s famous (or should that be infamous) 600-page. Isis Unveiledwith its subtitle A Master Key to the Mysteries of Ancient and Modern Science and Theologypublished in 1877. The popularity and influence of Blavatsky and those who followed her teachings—the Theosophists—should not be underestimated.

In the 20th century, two authors released books with “Master Key” in the title. The first comes from L. Frank Baum, the author of The Wizard of Oz fame, and is one of the first science fiction novels. It was called The Master Key and subtitled An electric fairy tale. It told the adventures of Rob and the Demon of Electricity. This was published in 1901.

Another book came out around the same time Haanel was working on his correspondence school. His ad showed a book and a man reading a book inside an hourglass. The ad said:

The Master Key ~ reveals things you never thought possible. The hourglass of success. You will never get another book like “The Master Key”.

It was written by LW de Laurence and published by The de Laurence Company of Chicago, Illinois, USA. USA, in 1914. To quote a few lines from it, we will show obvious similarities with Haanel’s master key system.

“THE MASTER KEY is divided into six parts: it contains thirty-seven complete chapters covering thirty-five lessons of graduated difficulty covering forty individual numbered exercises in which the fundamental principles of concentration and mental discipline are fully explained.”

LW de Laurence, whose full name was Lauron William de Laurence, was an American author, publisher, and owner of a mail-order house in Chicago. He was accused of plagiarism and illegal publication of several hidden works. The number of posts by this man seems to be considerable.

De Laurence was active at the same time as Haanel and was in fact only two years younger than him. De Laurence, who was born in 1868 and died in 1936, had connections with AMORC. It is unclear whether there was any connection between the two authors.

This then brings us to Charles F. Haanel’s main influence: the New Thought Movement.

When you read Haanel’s master key system, it doesn’t take long before you start using terms that can be crossed. To be fair to Haanel, many of the quotes he uses have nothing to do with the New Thought Movement. He was a man of his time and well read. He used references from eminent figures of the 19th century and talks about the inventions of that time and the first years of the 20th century. Other quotes come from the Bible, but they are all quite enigmatic and symbolic, which could indicate that they are influenced by New Thought writers, Christian Scientists, Freemasons or Rosicrucians. There are several indications of a possible knowledge of Hinduism, but Haanel’s exact knowledge of that subject is unclear as references such as Pranic Energy or Pranic Ether may be from Rosicrucian teachings or possibly, and more likely, Theosophy.

There are several words and phrases that may be of interest:

“The Great Architect of the Universe”

“Secret Place of the Most High”

“Universal Mind”

the “me”

“The Law of Attraction”

The “Great Architect of the Universe” is a phrase often used by Christians, Freemasons and Rosicrucians to represent God or the Supreme Being. It may date back to the Middle Ages or beyond. Thomas Aquinas used a similar phrase but with “Great” instead of “Great”.

“Secret place of the Most High” can be found in the Bible in Psalm 91:1 –

He that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High shall abide in the shadow of the Almighty.

The “Universal Mind” seems to come from Friedrich Von Schelling and was expanded upon by Georg WF Hegel. Ralph Waldo Emerson also made use of this term.

The concept of the “I” also seems to have its origins in the works of early German philosophers. It seems that “I” was the first principle of Johann Gottlieb Fichte’s Wissenschaftslehre – “Doctrine of Science”.

The phrase that is on the tip of many tongues today is “The Law of Attraction”. Like the other terms used by Haanel, this one was probably not of his own invention. It seems to have come to light first in the works of William Walker Atkinson (1862 – 1932) and particularly in Thought Vibration or The Law of Attraction in the Thought World published by The New Thought Publishing Co., Chicago, Illinois, USA, 1906. Although the phrase itself is much older, its meaning has become somewhat different with Atkinson and Haanel.

The Law of Attraction is also featured in the program of SRIA – The Society of Rosicrucians. However, it is not known how old this program is and it is likely to be quite modern. The SRIA was formed in 1909 with the idea of ​​teaching the general public rather than Masons like the previous Rosicrucian groups. Some other aspects of the SRIA program bear similarities to Haanel’s work. However, it may be that both this program and Haanel’s ideas are from an older source, or simply a coincidence. It is unknown which came first.

Ultimately, it may be possible to trace the idea of ​​the Law of Attraction back to certain phrases that were put into the mouth of Jesus Christ in the New Testament of the Bible.

Ask, and it shall be given; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto him: for every one that asketh receiveth; and he who seeks finds; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. (Matthew 7:7-8, King James Version)

Another book that cannot be ignored was published in 1908 and was called The Kybalion: Hermetic Philosophy by Three Initiates and published by The Yogi Publication Society, Masonic Temple, Chicago, Illinois, USA. It cannot be ignored that this book may have played a role in the development of Haanel’s master key system. It was certainly not a collection of lessons and exercises, but the wording throughout this book is remarkably similar to Hannel’s publications. At one point the phrase “Mental Chemistry” is used. And while there is nothing similar to Haanel’s work in the title, the phrase “Master Key” is used in the Introduction and several times in the body of the book. The Kybalion also delves into the power of thought.

…(The) Hermetic Philosophy is the only Master Key that will open all the doors of the Occult teachings… One of the old Hermetic Masters wrote, long ago: “He who understands the truth of the Mental Nature of the Universe is well advanced on the Path of Dominion.’ These words are as true today as when they were first written. Without this Master Key, Mastery is impossible, and the student knocks in vain at the many doors of the Temple… The Principles of Truth are Seven; who knows these, understandingly, he possesses the Magic Key at the touch of which all the Doors of the Temple open.

It is believed that The Kybalion is not an ancient document, but was written by William W. Atkinson and the other “initiates” were guessed to be Paul Foster Houses and Mabel Collins. Atkinson was certainly active in the years leading up to the publication of The Master Key System and it is hard to believe that Haanel was unaware of the man or his works. Master Key Arcana includes short pieces from the writings of various members of the New Thought Movement, including William W. Atkinson, James Allen, Florence Scovel Shinn, Henry Drummond, and Phineas P. Quimby.

However, whether Haanel was influenced by Atkinson or any other member of this Movement is another matter and it is difficult to be sure what his sources were.

Much of Haanel’s life is a mystery. Not many records were kept or preserved and the lack of many living descendants who knew him adds to the fact that not much is known about him. CW Evans-Gunther has researched and examined Haanel’s life as much as possible. His full biography can be found at

Investigating Haanel’s influences and his play in his works is somewhat simpler. As noted at the beginning of this article, when examining the times in which Haanel lived, you can see the influences and how Haanel used those influences to shape his thoughts and works.

In the time period that Haanel lived in, the self-help/personal development movement (although it wasn’t called by those terms) was quite large and actually very similar to the scene today. As the saying goes, times may have changed but things stay the same. In some ways, Haanel was a somewhat important player, although he never had the infamy of Blavatsky or some others of the time.

It was all these elements (at least) that came together in Haanel’s mind to form one of the best books on personal development.

[Please note: This article was researched by C.W. Evans-Gunther. He is also responsible for writing the majority of it. Additional information was added by me. I am also responsible for additional editing and any mistakes that one might find. More information can be found at]

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