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.
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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 oddest and most enduring occult books of modern times is called The Kybalion. Dan Brown mentions it twice in The Lost Symbol. The book exists in a multitude of editions and claims to be an ancient work of practical occult wisdom. Its pages brim with canny advice on how to get what you want from life. The "author" of The Kybalion is a hidden entity called Three Initiates. Speculation rages online that one of these Three Initiates was a twentieth-century magician, occultist, and writer named Paul Foster Case. Case, so the theory goes, co-conceived the popular book in early twentieth-century Chicago, a city bustling with occult impresarios. I consider the Case connection and The Kybalion in Occult America:
Chicago was a great city for a budding occultist in the early twentieth century. It was home to the influential New Thought teacher Emma Curtis Hopkins and hosted bustling subcultures in "mental science" and metaphysical publishing. A Chicago lawyer named William Walker Atkinson produced an imaginative array of occult books from his Yogi Publication Society based in the twenty-two-story Masonic Temple Building, once a jewel of the city's skyline and later demolished. Atkinson himself wrote many books, under the pseudonyms Yogi Ramacharaka, Magus Incognito, and, most famously, Three Initiates. The Chicagoan used the last of these aliases in 1908 to publish his most successful book, one of the occult classics of the twentieth century: The Kybalion.
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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.Okay, so New York is supposed to be the city of big commerce, literary culture, and high art - no room here for woo-woo spirituality, the odor of patchouli, or anyone who capitalizes words like Light or Truth. Well, actually not. This Sunday, October 11th I'll be conducting a walking tour of occult New York -- and hopefully giving participants a new way of seeing the city: As a once-upon-a-time laboratory for alternative spiritual ideas, which it helped to export to the rest of the world back before there was a New Age. Here are a few of the historic sights - familiar and obscure - we'll be viewing...
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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.
For the story of Saint Expedite, check out LuckyMojo.com and Wired magazine. I also write about him in Occult America.
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)
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.
The Rosicrucian Enlightenment and The Occult Philosophy in the Elizabethan Age by Frances A. Yates
Probably the most authoritative works ever written on the occult mood of Europe in the late Renaissance period. Yates was a world-class historian, a tireless scholar, and a uniquely empathic observer of religious/philosophical movements.
The Secret Teachings of All Ages by Manly P. Hall
The occult classic published in 1928 by the twenty-seven-year old auteur. This encyclopedia esoterica stands up remarkably well - its passages on Pythagorean mathematics, alchemical symbolism, and the competing histories of Rosicrucianism are especially sturdy.
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"Jay-Z: A Master Of Occult Wisdom?"
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.Philosophical Research Society
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
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