In podcast episode 70, our good friend Mitch Horowitz returns to discuss his excellent book, Occult America: The Secret History of How Mysticism Shaped Our Nation published by Bantam Books. Mitch is the editor-in-chief of Tarcher/Peguin in New York and has appeared 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 the interview by describing the esoteric history of the United States of America. American occultists evangelized esoteric ideas and planted the seeds for alternative New Age spirituality and self-help concepts, like positive thinking, that have spread around the world today. The intertwining of this occult history and the social development of the country is very often overlooked, glossed-over, or written out of mainstream history. Then Mitch relates the intriguing story of the Publick Universal Friend, a spirit channeler that was the first public female religious figure in the country.
Next, Horowitz talks about the speculation about America’s role as a laboratory for religious exploration. Freemasonry and its philosophy played an integral role in the formation of the United States of America and its influence towards greater religious tolerance and liberalism cannot be overstated. Mitch also discusses the origins of the Craft and the real requirement for secrecy in the past and employment of ancient symbolism.
Next, the Hoodoo experience of abolitionist, editor, orator, author, statesman and reformer, Frederick Douglass, at a crucial moment in his life. We also spend some time on writer and spiritual teacher Ernest Holmes and his philosophies of mind power and positive thinking.
The last historical figure we address is Henry A. Wallace, a progressive public servant who served as President Franklin Roosevelt’s secretary of agriculture and the 33rd vice-president. Wallace was an avid esoteric student and is responsible for suggesting the placement of the reverse of The Great Seal of the United States on the one dollar note. The controversy surrounding the public disclosure of Wallace’s letters to mystic Nicholas Roerich was the undoing of his public career.
Finally, we consider the modern acceptance of the ideas of people, schools, and movements that are considered New Age. Horowitz lists these as:
“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 highly recommend Occult America: The Secret History of How Mysticism Shaped Our Nation by Mitch Horowitz. It is a comprehensive, well-researched, and masterful history that is an instant classic!
Check out the second part of our interview and…
The chapter about Paul Foster Case from Occult America is now available in the Occult of Personality Membership Section.
Occult America: The Secret History of How Mysticism Shaped Our Nation by Mitch Horowitz
“Jemima Wilkinson” Wikipedia entry (Publick Universal Friend)
“Burned-over District” Wikipedia entry
“Mediumship” Wikipedia entry
“Frederick Douglass” Wikipedia entry
“Hoodoo (folk magic)” Wikipedia entry
“Ernest Holmes” Wikipedia entry
“The Science of Mind” by Ernest Holmes
“365 Science of Mind: A Year of Daily Wisdom” by Ernest Holmes
“Love and Law” by Ernest Holmes
“Prayer: How to Pray Effectively from the Science of Mind” by Ernest Holmes
“Henry A. Wallace” Wikipedia entry
“Great Seal of the United States: 1935 dollar bill” Wikipedia entry
intro music by HipGnosis
background music by Darkfold – “Nomads”