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Occult America by Mitch Horowitz

Occult America is a fascinating look at a part of American history that is largely unknown. It focuses on a variety of spiritual and religious movements and experiments and leaders. Some of these you have likely heard something about (Edgar Cayce, Madame Blavatsky) but many that are likely new to you, as they were to me (Andrew Jackson Davis, Frank B. Robinson), and some whose names you might know but never knew their connection to the mystical (Abner Doubleday, Henry A. Wallace). Most interesting to me were the sections on early America and some of the movements of the early 20th century.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, but I think it might have been better titled “Mystical America” than “Occult America.” This is because there is much that is not covered that relates to Paganism, magic or some of the darker aspects of the occult. Many of the paths discussed have at least a veneer of Christianity. For example, in the 20th century, Gerald Gardner and Wicca constitute less than a page and there isn’t anything on any of the other (Neo-)Pagan paths. Anton LeVay isn’t mentioned at all. Aleister Crowley pops up in a couple of paragraphs. While these are subjects with which I have some familiarity, most of mainstream America does not, and it is mainstream America that is the target audience for this book. That seems to be the constraint on what is covered here, subjects and paths that may be palatable for the mainstream. Having said that though, there is much of interest for the Pagan or magician as well. In the first couple of chapters, there seemed to be an interesting nugget of information on every other page. Andrew Jackson Davis’ mystical insights, in which he describes an idyllic afterlife he called the “Summerland” made me perk up. Some of the books Horowitz mentions gave me the context for works that our coven has in its library but that I didn’t really know much about (moving them higher up in my reading list).

I do recommend this book, it is an interesting read with some off-beat information that I will follow-up on with research of my own. As long as you aren’t expecting hard-core occultism, I think you will enjoy it.

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