Mitch Horowitz is one of the most respected contemporary historians of the occult and related spiritual movements, such as New Thought (the movement that gave birth to the idea of “positive thinking” as a practice to change oneself and one’s life for the better). We recently spoke with him about the influence of occultism, Freemasonry, Hermeticism, and esotericism on the modern world (especially America), and what he believes authentic spiritual practice requires.
Phalanx: You’re the author fo the widely-acclaimed Occult America, as well as the more recent One Simple Idea, which explores the positive thinking movement from its origins in New Thought. Can you tell us what drew you to these subjects, and why you feel they’re relevant to our understanding of the world?
MH: I felt that the figures and ideas in these cultures were getting lost to mainstream history, as most of the historicism was being written by people who had no sense of the values that emanate from the spiritual search. Also it occurred to me that we cannot understand ourselves when we draw neat lines between “alternative” and mainstream culture. Ideas tend to enter our society, and all societies, from the fringes. This phenomenon is true not just for trends or popularizations, but it goes to the foundation of American history. Continue reading “Committing to The Spiritual Search: An Interview With Mitch Horowitz”
From antiquity to just a few centuries ago, trade guilds tended to have their own mythologies and initiation rituals. According to Mircea Eliade, the smiths of primitive tribes functioned also as priests or shamans. In the early modern era, we find a number of guilds, with their mythologies, in France, grouped under the name of the Compagnonnage (“Companions”).
The earliest recorded example of a mythology of the stonemasons’ guild in Britain is more than six hundred years old, and the society of Freemasonry emerged from it, almost 300 years ago, in 1717. From the rituals of the stonemasons the fraternity developed its own initiation Ritual, and, after it spread to Europe, not long after, new Rites and rituals were created, often drawing on Hermeticism, alchemy, Rosicrucianism, and chivalry. Though many of these fizzled out, though many others are still conferred today, especially through the “higher degrees” of the so-called “Scottish” and “York” Rites of Freemasonry.
During the 19th century, a number of the more spiritually- and esoterically-inclined Freemasons founded their own, entirely independent Orders, including the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and the Ordo Templi Orientis. Continue reading “Ritual, Freemasonry, and Allegory: Julian Rees in Interview”
A few months ago I was lucky enough to attend the opening of one of the more unusual exhibitions in NYC: “Mystery and Benevolence: Masonic and Odd Fellows Folk Art from the Kendra and Allan Daniel Collection” at the American Folk Art Museum.
The “art” on display — ritual objects from various fraternities and secret societies, especially the Odd Fellow and Freemasonry — is rarely seen outside of a few small museums dotted around the US. Wooden hands on the end of poles, paintings of mythical scenes, skulls and crossbones, banners decorated with various symbols — all present in the exhibition — appear strange and alien today. Yet, a century ago or less, when membership in one or other fraternity was extremely commonplace, such art would have been familiar to the vast majority of men. Continue reading “Symbols and Their Purpose in Initiation”