Boing Boing guestblogger Mitch Horowitz is author of Occult America: The Secret History of How Mysticism Shaped Our Nation and editor-in-chief of Tarcher/Penguin publishers.Friends, It has been a pleasure to be a part of the Boing Boing nation as a guest blogger these past two weeks. I hope to stay in contact online and to meet some of you at various gigs around the country, including at the Esalen Institute, where Erik Davis and I will be delivering a weekend workshop on February 19-21 titled "The Occult in America: An Adventure in Arcane History." You can also see me next Friday at 9 p.m. EST on a Dateline NBC special about Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol. While I was writing Occult America, the figure I came to most admire was Henry A. Wallace (1888-1965), Franklin Roosevelt's secretary of agriculture and second vice president. Wallace was not only a successful businessman (founder of Pioneer Hi-Bred) and an innovative politician (his policies saved thousands of family farms during the Great Depression), but he was also a genuine searcher into cosmic realms, freely exploring Theosophy, Tibetan Buddhism, astrology, Native American shamanism, and various strands of mysticism. His name may be largely forgotten, but he was a model of how to live with purpose. Read the rest
Boing Boing guestblogger Mitch Horowitz is author of Occult America: The Secret History of How Mysticism Shaped Our Nation and editor-in-chief of Tarcher/Penguin publishers.One of the most interesting aspects of folk religion in America is the enduring figure of Saint Expedite - a youthful, Roman-garbed saint barely tolerated or acknowledged within the upper echelons of the Catholic Church but the subject of loving circles of worship throughout Latin America and many parts of the United States. (I've encountered his statue in a Catholic Church in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico.) Simply put, Saint Expedite is the patron of those who need help in a hurry: with jobs, relationships, money, etc. In Brazil, he is the venerated helper of people looking for work; in America, so says Wired magazine, he is the "patron saint of the nerds," i.e., a figure who can help untangle internet connections and the keep communications networks flowing; to church authorities he is merely an icon of "popular religiosity" who never historically existed. The story of Saint Expedite's existence dates back to logs of martyrs kept in the Roman Empire, where the surname appears. Some speculate that the Saint Expedite cult got started when a box containing the statue of an unnamed Roman sentry got labeled "expedite" for shipping purposes and fell into the hands (and hearts) of a Paris convent. Whatever the case, church authorities step carefully around Saint Expedite, not wanting to alienate his devoted following among many Latin American Catholics; Saint Expedite is also a focus of devotion among practitioners of the African-American magical tradition called hoodoo, among some New Agers, and followers of Santeria. Read the rest
Boing Boing guestblogger Mitch Horowitz is author of Occult America: The Secret History of How Mysticism Shaped Our Nation and editor-in-chief of Tarcher/Penguin publishers.Parade magazine publishes a new poll tomorrow - with a piece on CBS Sunday Morning that I'm part of - which reveals the fluid and expanding meaning of spirituality in America. Fifty-nine percent Americans polled agree that "all religions have validity" and only twelve percent agree that "mine is the only true religion." To an extent, this reflects an attitude introduced into America by Enlightenment philosophy, Freemasonry, Transcendentalism, and, most recently, Theosophy in the late 19th century. Theosophy emphasized the principle that all religions emerge from a universal source. Likewise, the survey reflects the inroads of what might be considered occult or New Age outlooks in America: Seven percent of Americans believe in reincarnation (a concept that few Americans had heard of a generation ago); seventeen percent report having contact with the dead; forty-nine percent read horoscopes "for fun," whereas twelve percent are believers. The poll reveals many other wrinkles, which readers will find cause for cheer or depression, depending upon their outlook. But consider: Gandhi, whose 140th birthday fell yesterday, was making what was considered a radical statement when he declared that "all religions are true" (to which he also added, "all have some error in them"). Today, a majority of Americans agree. CBS Sunday Morning runs its piece tomorrow at 9 a.m. EST in which I will discuss "the history of the occult in the United States." What We Believe (CBS Sunday Morning) Spirituality Poll results (Parade magazine) Previously:Esoteric classics: a list of books - Boing Boing Read the rest
Boing Boing guestblogger Mitch Horowitz is author of Occult America: The Secret History of How Mysticism Shaped Our Nation and editor-in-chief of Tarcher/Penguin publishers. (Mitch will be speaking in Los Angeles at the Philosophical Research Society this coming Saturday, October 3 and Sunday, October 4, at 2 p.m. daily on the history of the occult in America. Details here.)
Below is a rundown of books that were unique sources of inspiration to me as I was working on Occult America. Some of these authors are not esotericists at all; others cover topics that I fleetingly reference. But each work represents a carefully researched, keenly reasoned, and pioneering effort at comprehending occult topics and personas without lapsing into the kind of excessive credulity or a knee-jerk nay-saying that often clouds our ability to evaluate fringe movements. Each is a triumph of that rarest of traits: clear thought.
Al-Kemi by Andre VandenBroeck A window into the intellectual and spiritual world of esoteric Egyptologist RA Schwaller de Lubicz, with an appreciative foreword by Saul Bellow. Posits intriguing ideas about the connections between Ancient Egyptian philosophy and the modern West - and also exposes the ethical failings of this brilliant intellect.
Hidden Wisdom by Richard Smoley and Jay Kinney A 360-degree survey of modern esoteric beliefs by the editors of the legendary Gnosis magazine (the most fondly missed journal on the planet). Their tone is unfailingly judicious, thoughtful, and shrewd.
The Tarot by Robert M. Place Perhaps the sole guide to Tarot that synthesizes a scholarly exploration of Tarot's roots in the Middle Ages with an understanding of the mystical allegory of its images. Read the rest
Hall fancifully spoke of modeling his headquarters after the ancient mystery school of Pythagoras. More practically, PRS provided a cloistered setting where Hall spent the rest of his life teaching, writing, and assembling a remarkable collection of antique texts and devotional objects. His small campus eventually grew to include a 50,000-volume library with catwalks and floor-to-ceiling shelves; a 300-seat auditorium with a throne-like chair for the master teacher; a bookstore; a warehouse for the many titles he wrote and sold; a wood-paneled office (complete with a walk-in vault for antiquities); and a sunny stucco courtyard. Designed in an unusual pastiche of Mayan, Egyptian, and art-deco motifs, PRS became one of the most popular destinations for L.A.'s spiritually curious, and remains so.Read the rest
When discussing the occult, a natural question arises: Just what is the occult? In short, the occult encompasses a wide range of mystical philosophies and mythical lore, particularly the belief in an "unseen world" whose forces act upon us and through us. Here is a piece of my introduction to Occult America that expands on that question....
Occultism describes a tradition--religious, literary, and intellectual--that has existed throughout Western history. The term comes from the Latin occultus, meaning "hidden" or "secret." The word occult entered modern use through the work of Renaissance scholar Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa, who used it to describe magical practices and veiled spiritual philosophies in his three-volume study, De occulta philosophia, in 1533. The Oxford English Dictionary cites the first instance of the word occult twelve years later. Traditionally, occultism deals with the inner aspect of religions: the mystical doorways of realization and secret ways of knowing. Classical occultism regards itself as an initiatory spiritual tradition. Seen from that perspective, the occultist is not necessarily born with unusual abilities, like soothsaying or mind reading, but trains for them. Read the rest