Horowitz seeks to demystify the occult, especially as expressed through modern New Age thinking, and present it as something more than "a softheaded jumble of spiritual-therapeutic remedies or bromides." Not every reader will agree, but all will be entertained.
The Washington Post
America has provided fertile ground for alternative spirituality, particularly the form known as “occult,” whose American leaders, unlike their more grandiose European counterparts, “sought to remake mystical ideas as tools of public good and self-help,” says Horowitz, editor-in-chief at Tarcher. Looking back at the growth of the spiritualist and utopian movements, he introduces the reader to a parade of personalities, both familiar and obscure: “dreamers and planners who flourished along the Psychic Highway.” He begins with Shaker Mother Ann, who arrived in America in 1774 followed by, among many others, “pioneer prophetess” Jemima Wilkinson; “Poughkeepsie Seer” Andrew Jackson Davis; Madame Blavatsky, who founded the Theosophical Society in 1875 and popularized the word “occultism”; Frank B. Robinson, the “Mail Order Messiah”; and Edgar Cayce with his “past-life readings.” Horowitz covers a wide variety of topics, from voodoo to the tenets of the New Age, psychics in the White House, Rosicrucianism, Wicca, arcane Masonic imagery, Tarot cards, the controversial reincarnation of Bridey Murphy and the origin of the science fictional Shaver mystery. Employing extensive research while writing with an authoritative tone, Horowitz succeeds in showing how a “new spiritual culture” developed in America. (Sept. 15)
How have mysticism and occultism affected the shape of American history? In his first book, Horowitz (editor in chief, Tarcher/Penguin), who has published many articles on themes related to metaphysics, discusses those individuals—mystics, magicians, psychics, preachers, and motivational speakers—whose unorthodox beliefs have been instrumental in shaping the cultural and spiritual landscape of this country. Covering the 17th to the 20th century, he focuses mostly on personalities, such as spiritualist Andrew Jackson Davis, mail-order preacher Frank Robinson, and magician Black Herman, rather than broader movements, which leads to spotty coverage of some topics, such as astrology and magic. Some figures, including 19th-century African American spiritualist Paschal Beverly Randolph and early 20th-century Rosicrusian mystic H. Spencer Lewis, are mentioned only briefly, while satanist Anton LaVey and the rise of Santeria are not mentioned at all. VERDICT The leaps in time make this work less than comprehensive, but what Horowitz does cover he handles with insight and humor. In addition, the extensive notes on reading will be a boon to those likely to be intrigued to seek out further sources. Recommended to general readers and students new to this topic.—Daniel Harms, SUNY at Cortland Lib.
Haphazardly assembled history on the genesis of spirituality and mysticism and its impact on American culture. Tarcher/Penguin editor in chief and metaphysical enthusiast Horowitz charts the movement of mystical philosophies from their origins in the late 1600s. He begins with young mystic Johannes Kelpius who fled his war-torn German homeland for America, a reputedly safe haven from Old World intolerance for free-thinking people like himself who believed in "breakaway faiths" such as Mormonism and Christian Science. But it was the faction known as the "occult" that most closely unified radical communitarians like Kelpius. Seeking to identify the "mystical doorways of realization and secret ways of knowing," Horowitz asserts that occultism brought forth a revolutionized thought process but concurrently generated a newfound fear in the unseen and the unknown among nonbelievers. The Shakers, having laid ground in central and western New York State in the late 1700s, created a sanctuary for folk religions and their evangelism. Self-proclaimed prophets sought out angels to deliver divine guidance as the freemasonry brotherhood prospered alongside mesmerists and seers. This gave rise to the popularity of Mary Todd Lincoln and a host of politically fueled Spiritualists. The astounding sales of Ouija boards, the rise of the New Thought movement, media evangelist Frank B. Robinson's faith sensation Psychiana and New Age psychic healer Edgar Cayce all precipitated the negative criticism occultism received as it was blamed for everything from world conspiracy theories to Nazi fascism. Horowitz confines his research to decades far removed from contemporary times; those interested in the role ofmodern mysticism should look elsewhere. Though occasionally intriguing, the disorganized dissemination of information amounts to a mishmash of dates and occurrences within chapters rather than a uniform chronicle. A hodgepodge of theocracy and occultism. Agent: Laurie Fox/Linda Chester Literary Agency