I saved this book for Thanksgiving weekend because I'd met the author years ago, and I knew it would be a treat. I was right.
Mitch Horowitz is the Editor-in-Chief for Tarcher/Putnam (full disclosure: they published my God's Dictionary in 2002). Mitch has been writing for publications in the intervening years. Every article I've found has been illuminating and deftly written. This book is no exception. Occult America: The Secret History of How Mysticism Shaped Our Nation is a treasure trove of little-known and, at the same time, obvious facts. What Mr. Horowitz has done is link the mystical history of the United States into a coherent, fascinating narrative. Being of a mystical bent myself, his words confirmed ideas I'd long harbored though not articulated. I'm so glad he wrote it.
Our story starts in 1693 with German mystic Johannes Kelpius leading a group of outside-the-box thinkers to Philadelphia. Eventually, a psychic highway is established in upstate New York. This locus would be the genesis of much of the mysticism that created America.
Mother Ann Lee and her Shakers had a community there. Joseph Smith of Mormon fame started there. Freemasonry bounced through. The Poughkeepsie seer, Andrew Jackson Davis, was born there. Mesmerism had a hey-day there.
Fast forward historically. The Ouija Board reigned as the country's best-selling novelty. People were both intrigued and horrified by it.
Wallace Wattles, author of the book that inspired The Secret, pioneered the science of right thinking. Phineas P. Quimby, the Maine healer, inspired thousands of spontaneous healings. (Among whom was Myrtle Fillmore, co-founder of Unity Village, who had been told to expect her own death quite soon.)
Early America was a spiritually rocking place. For what it's worth, it remains so to this day for those with eyes to see and ears to hear.
Mary Baker Eddy studied with Quimby and created her own Christian Science. She trained Emma Curtis Hopkins who became known as the teacher of teachers when Eddy banished her. Ernest Holmes, who founded Religious Science; Charles and Myrtle Fillmore, who founded Unity; and Nona Brooks, who founded Divine Science, all studied with her.
The Sleeping Prophet Edgar Cayce was part of U.S. history as well. He did thousands of trance readings which helped people both to heal and to understand their past patterning. Mr. Horowitz writes a well-deserved paean of praise about The Secret Teachings of the Ages author Manly P. Hall. His section on Fascism and the Occult is the clearest I've ever read. There's a kind exposé of Baird T. Spaulding, the author of Life and Teaching of the Masters of the Far East--a book series I never was able to take seriously. Now I know why.
Most people, thought schools, or movements identified as New Age from the 1970s through the early twenty-first century shared these traits:
1. Belief in the therapeutic value of spiritual or religious ideas.
2. Belief in a mind-body connection in health.
3. Belief that human consciousness is evolving to higher stages.
4. Belief that thoughts, in some greater or lesser measure, determine reality.
5. Belief that spiritual understanding is available without allegiance to a specific religion or doctrine.
I agree with every statement, and if you're reading this, you probably do too. This book is a must-read for anyone in America who takes their spiritual path seriously.
Bravo, Mitch Horowitz. The occult lives in the U.S. of A.