"Uncertain Places: Essays on Occult & Outsider Experiences," is a trip

As trite a cliché as it sounds, we live in "uncertain times." So, why not pay a visit to "uncertain places?" Uncertain Places is also the new book by Mitch Horowitz. His title references the last active sites of pagan ceremony and worship in the early Middle Ages—and the shifting belief systems of our own era.

Horowitz is among the most articulate and respected voices in the contemporary occulture scene. After the still-relevant Occult America: The Secret History of How Mysticism Shaped Our Nation, One Simple Idea: How Positive Thinking Reshaped Modern Life and The Miracle Club, How Thoughts Become Reality, Mitch continues his work to bring occult and esoteric ideas into the public discourse, giving them the serious intellectual attention they deserve.

Uncertain Places: Essays on Occult and Outsider Experiences is a fast-paced collection of essays covering a wide range of controversial topics—among them: the creative agency of the mind, the dynamic interplay of inner and outer realities, paranormal research, causality of thought, the metaphysical dimension of the human experience, and alternative spirituality. This book serves as a compass to navigate the tricky maze of occulture's house of mirrors, with its seductive dead-ends, alluring distorted images, and misinformation galore. Horowitz's essays are erudite yet accessible, persuasive and pragmatic, full of striking observation casting a new light on how we see and interpret the world. Right off the bat, Horowitz says:

To write on metaphysical themes is to live in a state of constant uncertainty. Or at least it ought to be that way. The simple fact is: we do not know the foundations of reality and when or whether anomalous experiences are "real" or subjective; whether repetition equals validity…and finally, how to weigh individual testimony.

Yes, it takes courage and high doses of "Negative Capability" to face uncertainty; it's much easier to get out of the discomfort by dismissing metaphysical themes as bullshit and topics good for dunces. Nowadays, anybody taking the stand of a hardcore skeptic and debunker is just plainly ignorant—in the etymological sense of the term—which is nothing to be proud of. It's a sad fact that materialism remains a dominant ideology of our times, impeding honest and rigorous scientific research of unusual phenomena, fringe experiences, and inquiry into "damned ideas," as Charles Fort defined concepts banned and excluded from serious public discourse.

As in his previous works, Horowitz's reflections are grounded in his history and a life of personal experimentation. He is not proposing yet another "system," nor asking the reader to believe or agree with him; instead, his invitation is to follow him to the fringes of reason, and try things out for oneself:

If I have succeeded in these essays, it is not in convincing you of my point of view: agreement or disagreement is the lowest form of engagement with an idea. Rather, it is framing spiritual issues in ways that encourage your own experiment, query, and unimpeded search.

The highest honor you can give my ideas is absorbing what is useful and throwing out the rest, including terminology. Whether I like it or not. Now go and experiment…As all the previous architects of mental metaphysicsindependent explorers and adventures seeking to map their inner worldtested their ideas primarily through personal experiments.

What Horowitz is steadily advocating is that one should be the sole object of one's experiments and explorations in matters of practical metaphysics: see what works for you, hopefully to expand one's sense of possibility and agency in relationship with whatever we call "reality."

One final thing strikes me as worth mentioning: Horowitz shows an unfettered intellectual integrity and uncompromising stance. As a restless rebel, his spiritual search is relentless and vexed. He's a man who takes a stand, is vocal about his ideas, is unafraid to be unpopular, and is willing to pay the price his intellectual honesty entails. Walking the talk, a few of these essays are accounts of a man who lives by the light of his ideas. And that, in and of itself, is a great achievement, setting an example for others to do the same.

All in all, Uncertain Places brims with exciting and philosophically stirring ideas, that will haunt the curious minded who dare to venture beyond the ordinary, mundane ways of interpreting reality to see more of what is really going on around us.

Uncertain Places: Essays on Occult and Outsider Experiences [Amazon]