The Wisdom of Worn-Out Tapes

March 4, 2022

For everything that is evil and harmful to you has its existence only in the mind.

I’ve been listening to Meditations by Marcus Aurelius in preparation for my move, as I dump the cassette tapes I’ve accumulated over the years, acknowledging that they have reached the end of their shelf life.

Marcus Aurelius. Musee Saint-Raymond. Artist unknown.

Think about how many years you have been putting things off, and how often the gods have given you extra periods of grace.

I was kind of “meh” about this tape when I first heard it, because I was going through a phase of rejecting a lot of New Age rules for living I’d acquired over the years, and I recognized a kernal of New Age philosophy in Marcus Aurelius. That was a revelation.

Marcus Aurelius was a guy who spent his life perpetually trying to talk himself out of a bad mood. He kept a diary of thoughts not for posterity but for his own reflection. He lived in the second century and subscribed to the Stoic brand of philosophy, which emphasized moral character. Also, he was an emperor of Rome.

Watch the stars, and see yourself running with them.

The New Age emerged in the nineteenth century in the experimental mysticism of the western New York state region known as the Burned Over District. It was “burned over” because there was so much religious fever. Joseph Smith (founder of the Mormon sect) got his vision here, the Masons were huge, African Americans were reclaiming their folkloric roots, and the Christian Science that inspired twentieth century New Age guru Louise Hay was born.

While the New Age is rightly criticized as a tool for privileged people to justify the material inequalities of the world, it started out as the polar opposite of this. Religious leaders believed the working class pessimism and resignation endemic in Europe was beginning to infect America. They wanted ordinary people to take more control over their lives.

The mind can transform any obstacle into something new, creative, and purposeful to help us on our way.

Certainly blaming all your problems on fate or other people is not going to get you anywhere. Given a choice between denial of oppression and the competitive victimhood of the Identity Age, I’ll take the New Age. Fortunately, with maturity comes discernment, and if even the Freudians can admit that “sometimes a cigar is just a cigar,” the rest of us can admit that, no matter how “spiritual” we tell ourselves we are, sometimes life is just darn hard.

For I seek the truth, and no man was ever injured by the truth.

Which brings me back to Marcus Aurelius. I’m enjoying what he has to say this time around. I think his philosophy rings true or false, depending on where or how it is applied. Also, it goes down better in small doses. If the dude had just let go and allowed himself to feel sad or afraid or angry for a day, maybe he wouldn’t have had to write all that stuff down.

Review: Occult America by Mitch Horowitz

August 16, 2013

Occult America could have more accurately been titled Occult Roots of the New Age. The focus of this book is on identifying progenitors of phenomena familiar to the mainstream, such as Ouija boards and the daily newspaper horoscope, rather than linking true twenty-first century occult to any historical American perspective. The expected cast of characters appears, including Joseph Smith, Mme. Blavatsky and Edgar Cayce, along with less familiar names such as mail order mystic Frank B. Robinson or scholar of ancient sciences Manly P. Hall.

The foundation of the book is an in-depth look at the Burned-Over District, a swathe across New York State from Albany to Buffalo that was a magnet for unorthodox religious study for about 100 years, starting in the late eighteenth century. So many prophets, mystics, spiritualists, and firebrand preachers traveled through this area that it was said to be “burned over” with religious fervor. I recently made a brief foray into the Burned-Over District while publicizing my own book and I will probably at some point devote an entire post to the history of this fascinating area.

Occult America also explores the occult influence in government, and it seems in this regard there is always something new to learn. Many people are aware that some of the Founding Fathers were Freemasons, and that Ronald Reagan took the advice of his astrological advisors very seriously, but the occult influence on the Lincoln and Roosevelt White House is less well known.

Horowitz does not shrink from describing the unsavory side of spiritualist movements, especially the pro-fascist Silver Shirts of the Depression and World War II era. He gives a balanced view of Edgar Cayce, acknowledging the typically enlightened yet at times prejudiced nature of the material that came through him.

In a chapter on the African American influence on New Age, Horowitz mentions the practice of hoodoo and nearly veers into actual discussion of the occult, but he pulls himself back in time. A person who can walk into an occult store and understand the uses of the various herbs and implements sold there might very well wonder what, if anything, this book has to do with them. The magical legacies of the Pennsylvania Dutch, or New Orleans Voodoo, or Southwestern curanderos are not discussed. The role of America in the popularization of witchcraft is dealt with in one dismissive page. The Goddess Movement is ignored completely. Horowitz is concerned with how the occult shaped conservative and mainstream America. The value of this book for someone with a more sophisticated understanding of the occult is that it shows some common roots to very disparate twenty-first century spiritual philosophies. It filled in a lot of gaps in my knowledge. Though Witches, Pentecostals and New Agers see themselves as very different, they seem to have branched from the same tree.