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Occult America

The Secret History of How Mysticism Shaped Our Nation
Written by: Mitch Horowitz
Narrated by: Richard Powers
Length: 10 hrs and 43 mins
4.3 out of 5 stars (3 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

Americans have long had a fascination with the occult. Now, well-known writer and expert on the occult Mitch Horowitz presents a meticulously researched, compulsively listenable history of the mystical and spiritual experience in our country. 

Focusing on the impact that the 19th-century movements of Freemasonry, Spiritualism, and transcendentalism have had on America, Horowitz portrays a colorful cast of characters as he explains the origins of the Ouija board, the political influence of Spiritualism on the Senate, and the source of the mysterious slogan on the back of the dollar bill.

©2009 Mitch Horowitz (P)2009 Blackstone Audio, Inc.

What the critics say

"What a fascinating book. So it happens that another equally compelling take on our complicated national narrative lies just beneath the surface of things, not the grand procession of presidents, generals, and wars but something more hidden, more mysterious, but often no less revealing." (Ken Burns, award-winning documentary filmmaker)

What listeners say about Occult America

Average Customer Ratings
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    5 out of 5 stars

a cohesive historical accounts of modern occultism

Mitch Horowitz presents an excellent historical account of each branch of occultism as it made its way to America in the 19th century and how each play the part in the shaping of the North American psyche

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Not quite what I’d thought it would be.

Focuses on the history of occult in America rather than going into the details of any particular occult system or belief. It is what the title suggests, I suppose and in that regards it’s a decent book.

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Ray
  • 2009-12-08

Exploring America's spiritualist roots

Those serious about understanding America and Americans will find Occult America a fascinating and indispensable addition to their libraries. This book fills in some puzzling blanks in the nation's history as it is usually told, exploring the realities and personalities behind the Burned-Over District, Mesmerism, the importation of Eastern philosophy, and even the Ouija Board. Horowitz argues convincingly that spiritualism and mysticism never served as mere sideshows as American society developed, but rather they shaped profoundly the way we think today.
The book will perhaps find its most appreciative audience among readers who, like me, are "not typically given to occult enthusiasms" (as the author describes one mid-20th century writer), yet hope to understand the origins of the New Age philosophies that now run through so much of American thinking. Listening to Occult America, I was repeatedly impressed at Horowitz's ability to recount the course and effects of spiritualism in America without falling into either of the side-by-side traps of open-minded credulity or of snooty dismissiveness. The writing is lively and witty, and Paul Michael Garcia's narration matches the style and the subject well.

12 people found this helpful

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  • MarkM
  • 2012-03-21

Fascinating Summary

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

I would recommend this to friends because it summarizes the roots of the occult in America.

What did you like best about this story?

I saw the roots of what is now the occult. I also learned details that I had not know before.

Any additional comments?

I was curious to hear about the darker side of the occult as I know its out there and most likely related to what was discuss. I know there is a whole practice related to Aliester Crowley, which is only mentioned in passing in this book several times. There are other occult practices that have large followings as well that were not discussed and, again, most likely come out of what was discussed.

5 people found this helpful

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  • Deborah
  • 2010-10-28

Informative and well written.

Informative and well written. My grandmother told stories of and believed in the faith-healers, seances and spiritualism that were commonplace in her youth (US during the late 1800's and early 1900's). These were not "out there", but commonly held beliefs in the lower middle class of America during this time.

4 people found this helpful

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 2016-05-21

Very Informative!

This book was not what I expected, but nonetheless I found it very informative. I've always known America was not created as a "Christian nation" at least as we have been taught. Our country has since 'Day 1' always had an occult history, most of which has been suppressed.

I was not very thrilled with the 'narrator's voice, ' finding it at times a hindrance to getting through this read, luckily the 'content ' is what got me to the finishing line. There were a few sections in the middle of the book which I found to be 'dull. ' Otherwise I may have very well have given this book a '5 star' rather than overall 4 star rating.

If you're interested in something 'different' I'd recommend this book. If you're into 'history, ' again I'd also recommend this book. Especially knowing how most of what we've been 'taught in schools is wrong!'

2 people found this helpful

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  • Micki
  • 2011-10-02

Very Interesting and Thorough.....

Where does Occult America rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

Since books on occultism are very rare in audiobook form, it is difficult to find good ones. The chapters in this book seemed like it might have been dull, but it was not. Even to someone well versed in occult history, there was a wealth of information explored very intimately here. A good achievement in esoteric literature.

What other book might you compare Occult America to and why?

Peter Levenda's "The Secret Temple" is very similar. It is also somewhat juicier and written from a more esoteric perspective. "Cults, Conspiracies, and Secret Societies" by Arthur Goldwag covers more material but is not quite as in-depth.

What does Paul Michael Garcia bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

He is sort of the ideal narrator because he reads in a way that is very matter-of-fact without too much inflection to influence the tone f the actual text.

If you were to make a film of this book, what would be the tag line be?

"Little known streams of occult philosophy and activity operating within infuential circles and movements in occult history."

5 people found this helpful

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  • MQ
  • 2018-08-15

Insightful timeline of American spirituality

I loved this book. The author presents historical facts and accounts in such a way that it illustrates the evolution of American spirituality and mysticism and how these things were both impacted by, and left an impact on society.

1 person found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • JJ
  • 2010-05-11

Loved It.

So far, the best esoteric book I've found here yet.

Just wish it was longer and went into even greater depth. Some times it seems like it is giving a Cliff Notes overview, other times it goes into exhaustive depth.

Will buy the book when it comes out in paperback this October.

Wish someone would make 'Secret Teaching Of All Ages' an audio book.

5 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Carl
  • 2010-01-01

Great History of Modern New Age Movement and Ideas

This book is not what I expected. I thought it was going to be similar to Dan Brown's "Lost Symbol" who book deals with occult symbols and Mason influences on our young nation.

Instead this book is about the origins of what we today know of as "new age ideas" in America and how these ideas influenced our culture and how many of its ideas were adopted by our major religions.

This ranges from the origins of "positive thinking" to Edgar Cayce. Its also about modern astrology, tarot, and the "mystic wisdom of the ages".

Great book. Well researched and well read.

The only problem I have with it is with what he sees as occult. He doesn't really mention Mormanism, Scientology, and other fringe religions of the U.S. for example.

For those that have loved the Quija or read thier horoscopes in the newspaper this book is a most.

8 people found this helpful

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  • trubadore
  • 2020-10-13

Unexpectedly Good

very interesting content. A true indication of what the world is like. A history lesson

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 2020-10-05

Not perfect, but good

Occult America: The Secret History of How Mysticism Shaped Our Nation, by Mitch Horowitz, is a deeply researched and entertainingly written history of occult/esoteric/mystical movements in America from the early 1800s to approximately 1945. A few personalities and groups from the ‘50s-‘70s are mentioned along the way, but the last 70 years or so are really at best referenced, and never deeply explored. There is a brief summary of 1947 to the 1980s presented as an epilogue, but it barely touches on movements that had huge impacts on American occultism, mysticism, and spirituality. The whole New Age movement, for example, can be found pretty much exclusively in the epilogue. I get the feeling OA was intended to be a larger book but Horowitz ran up against a publishing deadline and simply had to stop writing. I don’t have any special knowledge to that effect, but it is definitely my impression of the narrative’s 200 year detailed portrait, followed by a 40 year hurried sketch (’47 to the ‘80s). Don’t get me wrong, Occult America is a worthy read. That 200 year detailed portrait does a terrific job of tracing America’s occult genealogies. One thing common to nearly all occult movements, past and present, is their claim to originality. Every new guru has his or her own mahatma, spirit guide, blinding vision or gospel. Only rarely is their (often considerable) debt to past human sources/movements acknowledged. At a casual glance, the history of occultism can look like a field of brightly-colored flowers, each sporting its own special bloom. In OA, Horowitz ably demonstrates that the flowers are actually mushrooms – still beautiful, if less colorful. Pretty much all Western occult traditions are closely-related expressions of a single underground mycelium network that connects them all. I took away one star because of a few major contributors to American esoteric spirituality that were left out of, or received short shrift in Occult America: The esoteric “Work” of G. I. Gurdjieff is not even mentioned. Gurdjieff, of course, was not an American, but then neither was Blavatsky, and her influence on America is finely detailed in OA. Gurdjieff toured America in 1924 and established The Gurdjieff Foundation in New York, headed by top pupil Jeanne de Salzmann. From New York, “Work” groups and schools spread across the nation, where they still thrive to this day. Gurdjieff’s esoteric teachings quietly undergird a large and often unacknowledged segment of New Age spirituality. It’s a big thing not to mention, IMO. Even in the breezy epilogue, there is zero mention in OA of the Space Brother/flying saucer contactees of the 1950s. “The Three Georges,” George Adamski, George Hunt Williamson, and George Van Tassel, along with many lesser luminaries, popularized just about every foundational New Age teaching decades before the “official” birth of the New Age movement. A lot of people these days are embarrassed by these guys (and a few gals), but, to my mind, they built the true American cultural bridge between the lodge-based occultism of the past (Theosophy, Hermeticism, Freemasonry, the Rosicrucians, etc.) and the wide open, freewheeling New Age. No history of occultism in America is complete without them. Carlos Castaneda gets a few quick paragraphs in the epilogue, but is mostly dismissed as a potential fraudster whose accounts of his initiation into Toltec sorcery some seekers “found useful.” In reality, whether you take his story at face value or consider it allegory, you’d be hard-pressed to find a single modern occult/esoteric/mystical movement that doesn’t reference, and often borrow heavily from, Castaneda’s oeuvre. Fact or fiction, Castaneda’s writings have imprinted pretty much every occult movement since their publication. That’s worth more than a casual mention. I listened to the Audible audiobook of Occult America, narrated by Richard Powers. The narration is solid and well-paced. Powers does a good job of relating occult history with the same intonation given to any other serious historical narrative. He makes no attempts at sensationalism. He’s just telling you what happened, as someone might describe a series of Civil War battles or the political history of the US Presidents. Which is exactly the right tone for this material. All-in-all, Occult America: The Secret History of How Mysticism Shaped Our Nation is a worthy read. It’s not perfect. But it’s good. 4 stars.