Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Mitch Horowitz's "Occult America"

Mitch Horowitz is the editor-in-chief of Tarcher/Penguin. He has written for Esopus, Parabola, Fortean Times, and Science of Mind.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Occult America: The Secret History of How Mysticism Shaped Our Nation, and reported the following:
I wrote Occult America to shed light on the little-known people and ideas – specifically of an occult or esoteric bent – that have impacted our history, religion, and culture. For example, the therapeutic tone of so much of today’s spirituality, from New Age bestsellers to the pulpits of evangelical media ministries, got started in America in the mid-19th century with the advent of the “mental healing” movement, the spread of Mesmerism (or hypnotism), and some aspects of Transcendentalist thought. The same is true for many elements of today’s natural or alternative medicine. America is not exactly an “occult nation” – it’s many things – but occult or arcane ideas do underscore a very wide range of how we see ourselves.

In that respect, I face a lively challenge with “the page 99 test.” My page 99 is actually a widowed page at the end of a chapter. It contains the seven closing lines of a story about how the Reverend Norman Vincent Peale – the famous minister and mega-bestselling author of The Power of Positive Thinking – owes a great intellectual debt to a little-known California mystic named Ernest Holmes. Holmes’s 1919 book, Creative Mind and Success, was a very early source of inspiration to Peale, the positive-thinking icon, just before he entered seminary school. My seven lines on p. 99 conclude:

While Peale was gracious in tone and lavish in praise when asked about Holmes in 1987, the minister otherwise appeared to go little out of his way to credit the California mystic. Biographies of Peale, including his personal memoirs, make no mention of Ernest Holmes. Ten years after Peale’s death, a staff member conducting a tour of the minister’s headquarters in upstate New York had never heard the name.

If you’re interested in that kind of elegiac tale, then you’ll probably enjoy the rest of the book.
Learn more about the book and author at Mitch Horowitz's website.

--Marshal Zeringue