Wednesday, October 7, 2009

History of Alternative Spirituality in America

“Self-trust is the first secret of success.”
~Ralph Waldo Emerson

I read an interesting interview in the September 28 edition of Publishers Weekly Magazine with Mitch Horowitz, editor-in-chief at Penguin/Tarcher Publishing, and an author, and scholar. Tarcher’s list has always had a significant number of New Age, New Thought books. Horwitz has published some of the leading titles in world religion, metaphysics, philosophy, and spirituality. As a writer and speaker on metaphysical topics, he has appeared on television shows such as The History Channel, Montel Williams, and various radio shows such as Coast to Coast AM. His articles have appeared in various magazines.

He is author of Occult America: The Secret History of How Mysticism Shaped Our Nation.
In the interview with PW, Horowitz was asked what political and religious values characterize today’s New Age movement. He spoke of the very diverse nature of New Agers, geographically and demographically but that they do seem to hold in common belief systems such as “liberal politics, the equality of all religions, body-mind-healing and the principle that our thoughts to some extent can influence outer circumstances.”

He went on to say: “they also believe that you can obtain spiritual understanding without belonging to a specific faith or religion, and there is a lack of emphasis on membership in a particular congregation or an allegiance to a particular doctrine. They move freely among religious movements and ideas, and believe that humans have some kind of intuitive faculty, and that it is possible for the mind to evolve to some kind of higher level. It is a theology, an ethics, a psychology and an outlook. In terms of politics, they tend to associate with various progressive political movements. And this is not a recent thing. Politics and esoteric spirituality grew up together in America. When Spiritualism began to sweep this country (in the 19th century), it created the first opening in the modern world for women to serve as religious leaders, in that case as trance mediums. So you had a tremendous crossover between the Spiritualist movement and the Suffragettes and voting rights activism. This was a civic, spiritual movement that provided an opening for women both politically and religiously. New Age has always been reformist.”

I discovered that to be so true while doing research on Spiritualism in the 19th century that I’ve done over the years and recently for my latest ebook, How Thin The Veil! 150 Years of Spiritualism. There was a merging of the Spiritualist movement with women’s rights but also with the abolitionist movement. Many of those leading Spiritualist, men and women, were interested in equality, religious and otherwise, were progressive and visionary and I believe a big part of the forward movement of America.

Although we often use the term New Age, there is really nothing new about it. Our country was founded on progressive and visionary ideals.

Mitch Horowitz had an interesting answer to this question by PW: “You also write about the positive-thinking approach that characterizes much of the esoteric, or New Age, philosophy. Do you see a vein of that in the mood that brought President Obama into office?”

His answer: “Yes. The positive-thinking approach is in the groundwater of our country. People who would never think of themselves as New Agers embrace the idea of positive or motivational thinking. This viewpoint arose partly out of transcendentalism. In 1870, Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote an essay called Success in which he discussed the power of enthusiasm. That aspect of the American character is so basic it travels across all our religious or political lines. Barack Obama identified Emerson’s essay Self-Reliance as an influence on him. This tone of positivism is a key part of American spirituality.”

Horowitz’s book sounds like a good look at the founding of America around the mystical elements that have moved us forward through the years to today.

I believe you can read more of his interview here, and more about him at his website.



book*addict said...

Wow. great post. I'm minoring in religion and have about 7 religion classes under my belt and none of them have ever put esoteric religion in this sight.
I don't think any of my professors have thought to relate historical events with religion. It makes a lot of sense, and it goes with history. Thanks for the interesting post. =)

Nancy said...

Wonderful post. As always you inform and educate and we very much appreciate your input. I sincerely hope we are on the edge of a great change. It certainly is time, and we have always heard there would be a tipping point.

Linda Pendleton said...

Book addict, Thanks for your comments. That is odd that your religion professors have never identified historical events with religion. It seems it only stands to reason that they influence one another.

Nancy, Thanks and I'm glad you find my posts informative. I always look forward to your postings, and your comments here.

Anonymous said...

A valuable post on positivethinking

Karim - Positive thinking

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