In podcast episode 71, our good friend Mitch Horowitz returns for the second part of our conversation about his excellent new book, “Occult America: The Secret History of How Mysticism Shaped Our Nation” published by Bantam (if you haven’t already, please listen to the first part of the interview – Mitch Horowitz and “Occult America” pt.1). Mitch is the editor-in-chief of Tarcher / Peguin in New York and has also been our guest previously in podcast 21, Podcast 42 – The Life and Work of Paul Foster Case, and Podcast 48 – The Life and Work of Col. Henry Steel Olcott.
Mitch begins this interview by recounting the story of Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism. Smith was raised in the Burned-over district in upstate New York and he and his family were steeped in supernatural ideas and practices, including astrology and magic. Knowledge of the occult and folklore traditions of the Burned-over District are integral to understanding Smith and his family. For example, as a young man, Smith earned money using “seer stones” to find buried treasure.
Mitch explains how the background knowledge about Joseph Smith may allow us to understand his later experiences that led to the founding of his church in a different way. Smith was also a Freemason and Masonic philosophy, rites, and symbols influenced his religious practices.
Next, Mitch reviews the origins and continued popularity of the Ouija Board. Although it is marketed as a toy or game, there are many examples of paranormal activity associated with its use.
Last, Mitch delves into the story of Edgar Cayce. An extremely popular medium, Cayce is notable for the tremendous number of accurate predictions and readings that he gave while in a trance state. Mitch also highlights the high moral character of Cayce and its importance in the growth of New Age ideas and philosophies.
Again, I highly recommend “Occult America: The Secret History of How Mysticism Shaped Our Nation” by Mitch Horowitz. It is a well-researched, well-written and a crucial record of the hidden history of the United States.
“Occult America: The Secret History of How Mysticism Shaped Our Nation” by Mitch Horowitz
“Burned-over District” Wikipedia entry
“Joseph Smith, Jr.” Wikipedia entry
“The Magus” by Francis Barrett
“Three Books of Occult Philosophy” by Henry Cornelius Agrippa of Nettesheim
“Book of Mormon” Wikipedia entry
“Mormonism” Wikipedia entry
“Latter Day Saint movement” Wikipedia entry
“William Morgan (anti-Mason)” Wikipedia entry
“Joseph Smith Birthplace Memorial” Wikipedia entry
“Ouija” Wikipedia entry
“The Changing Light at Sandover” Wikipedia entry
“Edgar Cayce” Wikipedia entry
intro music by HipGnosis
background music by Darkfold – “Nomads”