BB pal Mitch Horowitz, noted author of esoteric and downright weird books, writes:
The CIA (the funniest guys ever!) is now taking a humorous approach to its UFO files, releasing reams of info and inviting people to play Agent Mulder for a day. It’s a clever PR move to head off a conspiracy-mania growing out of the X Files reboot. And, actually, it’s a good public service: The CIA has lots of public-domain images of flying saucers, which can save time and money for artists/writers/researchers who want flying saucer and boogodie-boogodie images.
"Take a Peek Into Our 'X-Files'" (CIA.gov) Read the rest
Intrepid explorers of high weirdness Mitch Horowitz (author of Occult America) and Ronni Thomas (director of The Midnight Archive) created a fun 13 episode video series called "History of Superstitions." Above is the episode about the number 13. Read the rest
BB contributor Mitch Horowitz, author of the excellent Occult America, has a new book due out shortly that traces the fascinating cultural history of the New Age and self-help movement, titled One Simple Idea: How Positive Thinking Reshaped Modern Life. The roots and impact of "Positive Thinking," from its 19th century occult core all the way to Dale Carnegie's confidence building books and Nike's "Just Do It" campaign, will surprise you. In the video above, Mitch gives a concise summary of One Simple Idea. And over at Time, Mitch wrote a guide to the "The 10 Best Self-Help Books You’ve (Probably) Never Heard Of." Mitch writes, "Critics generally view positive thinking as namby-pamby nonsense. But the philosophy has produced ideas that are deeply useful, even profound. You probably believe some of them already." Here are a couple of his selections: Read the rest
Pam "Phantasmaphile" Grossman and artist Jesse Bransford have organized The Occult Humanities Conference taking place October 18-20, 2013 at New York University. Focused on the intersection of art and the occult, the lineup features some of my favorite writers on esoteric matters and high weirdness including Mark Pilkington, Mitch Horowitz, Gary Lachman, and dozens more. I hope some of these presentation are documented for posterity online! Read the rest
As regular BB readers know, Mark and I are both lifelong fans of The Twilight Zone. Rod Serling and The Twilight Zone were a big influence on my own quest for strange stories, real and imagined. Serling was a champion of equal rights and social justice, and those themes frequently informed his plot lines. Mitch Horowitz, author of the excellent book Occult America and the forthcoming One Simple Idea: How Positive Thinking Reshaped Modern Life, is another BB contributor whose roots lie squarely… in the Twilight Zone. Mitch wrote a new essay for Huffington Post about "Why Rod Serling Still Matters": Read the rest
On December 21, instead of waking up to fire and brimstone, I woke up and read Mitch Horowitz's “Once More Awaiting 'The End.'” Horowitz looks at our apocalypse fetish and sees a society so jaded with the present it dreams of a break from routine, even if that break is a disaster. He also points out that, as we daydream about crisis, we are doing remarkably little to address real—literally real—issues. I like Horowitz's analysis, but there is more to our fixation on zombies, Mayan calendars, and novels about the Rapture than a desire to escape ourselves.
Behind much of the apocalypse talk and the questionably-ironic zombie preparation classes at REI is a sense that something fundamental is out of balance. It may be impossible to articulate but, on a low level, we feel a sense of disquiet.
I began thinking about disquiet as I was working on two sprawling radio projects. After recording long conversations with nearly four hundred strangers about the past and present, I began to hear a common refrain rise out of the clamor: the future was scary. Nobody could agree on the cause, but they shared a narrative structure.
Trespass. Punishment. Redemption—maybe.
The trespass could be anything from capitalist excess to withering family values, but in both cases, it resulted from hubris. Punishment always came in the form of collapse, whether environmental or economic, abrupt or incremental. If the story continued, redemption could look like a Norman Rockwell painting, Star Trek, or a massively depopulated planet of sustainable farms. Read the rest
The real anxieties behind our fascination with apocalysm.
Part two of the mini-documentary on the historical occult underbelly of NYC is now online at The Midnight Archive. In this episode, former BB guestblogger Mitch Horowitz, author of the terrific Occult America: The Secret History of How Mysticism Shaped Our Nation, hips us to Theosophical Society founder Madame Blavatsky's midtown Salon and the mystic side of Gran Central Station.
Mitch Horowitz's Occult New York Walking Tour - Boing Boing
The Midnight Archive: new Web series about the weird - Boing Boing Read the rest
The latest episode of The Midnight Archive weird culture video series talks to my friend Mitch Horowitz, author of the excellent Occult America: The Secret History of How Mysticism Shaped Our Nation, about his popular Occult New York Walking Tour. The Midnight Archive Read the rest
Former BB guestblogger Mitch Horowitz, author of the excellent Occult America: The Secret History of How Mysticism Shaped Our Nation, says:
There's a terrific short teaser on YouTube for a new indie documentary series "The Midnight Archive," which features experts of the weird discoursing on matters ranging from modern mummification and taxidermy to head transplants and secret histories (that's my part in it) . The director is an independent documentarian named Ron Thomas; he's fantastic. He's premiering the series this Friday night at the Coney Island Museum (the greatest museum in the world, or at least Brooklyn).
More info on The Midnight Archive at Morbid Anatomy Read the rest
"Medication," from Andrew Brandou's Jonestown series
When does a religion become a cult? That's the question former BB guestblogger Mitch Horowitz, author of the excellent Occult America, recently tackled in the Wall Street Journal:
To use the term cult too casually risks tarring the merely unconventional, for which America has long been a safe harbor. In the early 19th century, the "Burned-over District" of central New York state–so named for the religious passions of those who settled there following the Revolutionary War–gave rise to a wave of new movements, including Mormonism, Seventh-Day Adventism and Spiritualism (or talking to the dead). It was an era, as historian Sydney E. Ahlstrom wrote, when "Farmers became theologians, offbeat village youths became bishops, odd girls became prophets...."
Many academics and observers of cult phenomena, such as psychologist Philip G. Zimbardo of Stanford, agree on four criteria to define a cult. The first is behavior control, i.e., monitoring of where you go and what you do. The second is information control, such as discouraging members from reading criticism of the group. The third is thought control, placing sharp limits on doctrinal questioning. The fourth is emotional control–using humiliation or guilt. Yet at times these traits can also be detected within mainstream faiths. So I would add two more categories: financial control and extreme leadership.
"When Does a Religion Become a Cult?" Read the rest
In Erik Davis's latest Pop Arcana column, he looks into American hoodoo and the The Lucky Mojo Curio Co. Occult Shop Catalogue, your one-stop-shop for sachet powders, bottle spells, Cast Off Evil Oil, Money Stay With Me Bath Crystals, and the like. From Erik's essay:
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Digging into these pages, one discovers that Lucky Mojo is not New Age nor Neopagan after all, nor does it represent the current of Caribbean religious syncretism that gives us the urban botanicas that in some ways the site recalls. No, Lucky Mojo’s magical current is closer to home than any of these, and yet almost invisible.
That current is hoodoo, although according to Catherine Yronwode, the brilliant and indefatigable woman behind Lucky Mojo, the tradition has many regional names – rootwork, conjure, witchcraft – and for many people remains nameless, as in “that stuff my great aunt did.” Though essentially African-American, hoodoo should not be confused with voodoo or other Caribbean transformations of African spirit possession cults. (If anything, it most resembles Jamaican traditions of obeah, or “science.”) Though hoodoo encompasses a variety of oracular and healing practices, its core moves rely on botanical materials and ordinary household products like soaps and toilet waters, and largely aims for this-worldly results: lottery numbers, love, protection from (or vengeance against) the boss. This pragmatism is also echoed in the tradition’s intensely polyglot syncretism, which fuses African magical styles with streams of, among other things, Cherokee earth ways, Santeria, German folklore, Jewish sorcery, and the popular magic of Scots-Irish immigrants.
We all know that Ronald and Nancy Reagan consulted astrologers, but apparently the 40th president was also well-versed in the writings of occult scholar Manly P. Hall, most famous for his 1928 tome The Secret Teachings of All Ages. Over at the Washington Post, former BB guestblogger Mitch Horowitz, author of the excellent "Occult America: The Secret History of How Mysticism Shaped Our Nation," explores the Reagan-Hall connection. From the Washington Post:
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Hall's concise volume ("The Secret Destiny of America") described how America was the product of a "Great Plan" for religious liberty and self-governance, launched by a hidden order of ancient philosophers and secret societies. In one chapter, Hall described a rousing speech delivered by a mysterious "unknown speaker" before the signing of the Declaration of Independence. The "strange man," wrote Hall, invisibly entered and exited the locked doors of the Philadelphia statehouse on July 4th, 1776, delivering an oration that bolstered the wavering spirits of the delegates. "God has given America to be free!" commanded the mysterious speaker, urging the men to overcome their fears of the noose, axe, or gibbet, and to seal destiny by signing the great document. Newly emboldened, the delegates rushed forward to add their names. They looked to thank the stranger only to discover that he had vanished from the locked room. Was this, Hall wondered, "one of the agents of the secret Order, guarding and directing the destiny of America?"
At a 1957 commencement address at his alma mater Eureka College, Reagan, then a corporate spokesman for GE, sought to inspire students with this leaf from occult history.
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
Mystery book of occult wisdom